Zakynthos, Greece, October 1, 2019
Several Moscow Patriarchate hierarchs and clergy went on pilgrimage recently to the Greek Ionian Islands, where they had a chance to meet with the Greek hierarchs of Zakynthos and Dodoni and to discuss current Orthodox events.
During the course of the conversation, His Eminence Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Dodoni expressed his views on the Ukrainian issue, revealing the influence of the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s particular understanding of the issue on certain hierarchs in the Greek Church.
On Sunday, September 15, His Eminence Metropolitan Isidore of Smolensk and His Grace Bishop Seraphim of Bobruisk of the Belarusian Exarchate and two accompanying priests were warmly welcomed at the Monastery of Strofades and St. Dionysios in Zakynthos by His Eminence Metropolitan Dionysios II of Zakynthos and His Eminence Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Dodoni, formerly the hierarch of Zakynthos, reports nyxthimeron.com.
After visiting the sepulchral church of St. Dionysius, the guests toured the ecclesiastical museum, exchanged gifts, and were served a rich meal, during which Met. Chrysostomos, who has served as a bishop since 1976, expressed his nostalgic love for the two former Patriarchs of Moscow, with whom he had close ties, as well as several other historical figures of the Russian Church.
However, the metropolitan revealed another attitude towards the Russian Church when the guests broached the topic of the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. “With the boldness that distinguishes him, [he] pointed out that any problem could have been raised and solved at the Holy and Great Council of Crete (2016) if the Moscow Patriarchate had not refused, with various excuses, to attend, thereby sabotaging unanimity and unity, and even compelling other Churches. This is because Russia always has aspirations of being ‘Third Rome,’” nyxthimeron.com reports.
Whether Met. Chrysostomos has simply grown fuzzy on the details in the years since the Council or whether he was intentionally distorting the timeline is unclear.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church announced on June 1, 2016 that it would not attend the Council; the Antiochian Church announced on June 6 that it would not attend; and the Georgian Orthodox Church announced on June 10 that it would not attend. Only after these three Churches had withdrawn did the Russian Church announce that it could not attend.
Moreover, the Churches did not simply withdraw, but rather called for the council to be postponed so that their respective issues could be addressed. The Moscow Patriarchate specifically proposed holding an emergency pre-conciliar session for just this purpose, but Patriarch Bartholomew refused to do so, choosing instead to plow ahead with the council without full pan-Orthodox unity.
While the Patriarchate of Constantinople blames the Russian Church for influencing the other Churches to withdraw, this has always remained groundless speculation, as are paranoid fears of a “Third Rome” ecclesiology. A position of respect for the other Local Churches allows them to speak for themselves, and each of the Churches expressed their own seriously-considered reasons for withdrawing from the Council.
And despite Met. Chrysostomos’ contention, the Ukrainian issue would not have been addressed at Crete even had the Russian Church attended, as Pat. Bartholomew publicly acknowledged already in January of 2016 that it was not on the agenda. The official agenda for the Crete Council was published on January 28, and also did not include the topic of autocephaly and how to grant it.
Pat. Bartholomew has referred to the fact that autocephaly was not dealt with at Crete to justify his claim to the right to grant autocephaly whenever to whomever, wherever.
Meeting with the Russian hierarchs, the Metropolitan of Dodoni also stated that every nation has the right to self-determination and to Church autocephaly. Recall, however, that the Patriarchate of Constantinople claims large chunks of Greece for itself, thus there are two Local Churches operating within one nation.
Met. Chrysostomos also noted that autocephaly is typically given by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, as was the case with Russia, Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria. It should be noted, however, that those territories were within the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople before they received autocephaly, whereas Ukraine has not been part of Constantinople for more than 300 years. Moreover, the Georgian Church received its ancient autocephaly from the Patriarchate of Antioch.
Concerning the Russian clerics disquiet concerning “Patriarch” Philaret Denisenko, Met. Chrysostomos again insisted that everything could have been settled if not for the Russian Church’s efforts to “torpedo” any pan-Orthodox council. Recall that His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch, and many other primates, hierarchs, and Synods, specifically called upon Pat. Bartholomew to summon a pan-Orthodox council to deal with the Ukrainian issue, and Pat. Bartholomew flatly refused, citing the failure of the Crete council.
The Greek hierarch also criticized the Russian Church for ceasing Eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, though reports did not mention if he detailed how he thinks a Church should respond to another Local Church non-canonically invading its territory and setting up schismatics as a new church.
Met. Chrysostomos concluded with a very revealing remark, noting that the Church of Greece is of the same ethnicity and race as the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and thus it is inconceivable for it not to align itself with Constantinople.
The Greek metropolitan is echoing the sentiment of Pat. Bartholomew and the Patriarchate of Constantinople with such remarks. Certain Greek and Ukrainian media outlets have repeatedly framed the Ukrainian issue as “Russia vs. Ukraine” or “Russia vs. Constantinople,” rather than considering it through the lens of Orthodoxy.
In October of last year, Pat. Bartholomew himself declared that “Our Slavic brothers cannot tolerate the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and our nation in Orthodoxy,” and “Whether our Russian brothers like it or not, sooner or later, they will follow the decisions of the Ecumenical Patriarch, because they have no other choice.”
A similar attitude was displayed recently when Metropolitan Ephraim of Hydra, Spetses, and Aegina threatened to canonically punish three clerics who had written a letter of support to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine. Viewing the matter as one of ethnic enmity rather than one of holy Orthodoxy, the metropolitan interpreted their support for Met. Onuphry as a declaration of loyalty to the Moscow Patriarchate, rather than as the declaration of loyalty to the sacred canons of which they wrote.
Such an attitude stands in stark contrast to that of many other hierarchs, including His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who recently spoke of how the Serbian Church is autocephalous and equal to all the other autocephalous Churches, as racial or ethnic superiority has no place in the Church of Christ.