Serbian-Antiochian joint statement calls for pan-Orthodox resolution to Ukrainian crisis

Belgrade, October 20, 2018

A delegation of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, headed by His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East, paid a fraternal visit to the Serbian Orthodox Church from October 11 to 19. During that time, the Antiochian delegation, consisting of a number of hierarchs, was able to meet with His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of Serbia and a number of other Serbian hierarchs.

In addition to concelebrating Divine Liturgies and other services, and a number of visits to holy churches and monasteries, an important fruit of this visit was a joint statement of the Serbian and Antiochian Patriarchates that has been published on the site of the Serbian Orthodox Church today.

The statement addresses a number of pressing issues facing the Orthodox Church today, in particular in Kosovo, Syria, and Ukraine, but which effect the entirety of the Orthodox Church. The statement places heavy and continuous emphasis on the need for the Churches to act by consensus rather than unilaterally.

It states in particular: “The dangerous state of the Orthodox world, created by the situation in Ukraine, cannot continue, without the emergence of a permanent division between all members of the Orthodox Church, which would bring harm to the fullness of the Orthodox world and its witness in the world today.”

“This visit,” the statement reads, “was … an important opportunity to conduct a fraternal consultation between the two Churches on the principles of the Orthodox Church and the means of avoiding the deepening of the rift between brothers, as well the requirements for consolidating concentrated processes and gaining consensus among the Orthodox autocephalous Local Churches.”

The statement again highlights the danger of unilateral actions and the importance of coming together in consensus: “The conversations between the two Churches were marked by a high degree of the spirit of unity, love, peace, and openness, thus resting on genuine ecclesiastical principles that should be distinguished from unilateralism and self-interested actions, and which give rise to consensus and harmony between the two Churches.”

The delegations also discussed the Serbian Churches ongoing efforts “to preserve its historical, spiritual, and national heritage, especially in Kosovo and Metohija, which is the historic source of the Serbian Church.” The delegations were united in emphasizing the importance of supporting the Serbian Church’s work in this regard based on the principles of human rights and peaceful co-existence between civilizations and religions, with a focus on the importance of the Serbian heritage for the history and self-awareness of the Serbian Church.

The Serbian and Antiochian delegations also discussed the “difficult and painful situation” of the Antiochian Church in Syria, Lebanon, and throughout the Middle East, where it suffers from terrorism, destruction, forced displacement, political and social instability, and so on, which affects people in their dignity and freedom in everyday life. The two Churches emphasized that the Antiochian Christian presence in the Middle East is authentic and ancient and is an integral part of the historical and social fabric of the region. The people will remain, strictly tied to their country and their testimony in this region of the world.

The bishops also emphasize the importance of the supporting the Antiochian Church in all its work in testifying to salvation in the Middle East.

They also call on the world to remember the tragedy of the hierarchs Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo of the Antiochian Orthodox Church (and brother of Patriarch John), and Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna of the Syriac Church of Antioch, who have been missing for five years already, and they especially call on local, regional, and international authorities and organizations to “urgently undertake further monitoring of this subject, to discover the fate of the two hierarchs, and to do everything possible to liberate them and return them to their dioceses and among their faithful.”

The two Churches also lamented the continuing break in communion between the Antiochian and Jerusalem Patriarchates, “owing to the decision of the latter to elect and appoint an archbishop of Qatar, which is in the historical canonical ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Antiochian Patriarchate,” which has yet to be resolved. They also lament that not all Local Orthodox Churches have taken into account the consequences of this conflict for the entire Orthodox world.

The Serbian and Antiochian delegations also “express great concern about the danger of alienation, division, and separation which today threatens the autocephalous Orthodox Churches due to unilateral decisions that concern the basis of consensus and fraternal relations between these Churches and threaten their unity and the influence of the testimonies of the Orthodox Church in the modern world.”

They also call for great discernment and wisdom to solve the present problems facing the Church:

The two Churches believe that the present historical moment is very difficult and sensitive, requiring more than ever much wisdom, patience, and spiritual vigilance in order to preserve the peace of the Orthodox Church and its unity, and to prevent it from escalating, consciously or unconsciously, into the pockets of political axes and political interests of the state, which facts will be reflected in Orthodoxy’s testimony in today’s world and weaken it.

Given all the above considerations, the Serbian and Antiochian Churches make four joint statements:

  1. The unity and peace of the Orthodox world was given us by Christ Himself, and thus its preservation and strengthening are of great importance as the Church “is exposed to the various dangers and challenges of today's world … with its oppositions and divisions and its various social and existential influences on people.”
  2. It is not possible to realize the unity of faith and to effectively testify to the world if the Church does not have its own unity in word and deed and decision-making based on the traditional, canonical order of the Orthodox Church and the consensus of the Churches, regardless of their size. “The Orthodox Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, and it is not a federation or a confederation of Churches that would be separate and independent from one another, acting on the basis of their own interests.”
  3. Given that the Orthodox Church is present throughout the world today, it demands more than ever openness, dialogue, and a unity in its testimony to the world based on the traditional, canonical communion between the Local Churches. Thus, the Serbian and Antiochian Churches emphasize that the Orthodox Church’s interest and preservation of unity and communion “requires self-critical consideration of all unilateral processes and decisions,” and also requires the application of the principle of consensus in issues affecting the Orthodox Churches in common, including questions of Church autocephaly, on the basis of the principles of Orthodox ecclesiology and canonical order.
  4. Only Orthodox conciliarity can effectively avoid the conflicting issues between Orthodox Churches, and this conciliarity is first of all founded in the common Eucharistic cup.

    ​And specifically addressing the ongoing Ukrainian issue, the two Patriarchates harmoniously state:

The dangerous state of the Orthodox world, created by the situation in Ukraine, cannot continue, without the emergence of a permanent division between all members of the Orthodox Church, which would bring harm to the fullness of the Orthodox world and its witness in the world today.

And they appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate:

Based on this foundation, and taking into account the urgent need to avoid further escalation of the current crisis, the Serbian and Antioch Patriarchs turn to their brother, His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch, to establish fraternal communication with the Russian Orthodox Church, with the fraternal support and participation of all other autocephalous Local Orthodox Churches, to resolve the conflict between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Moscow Patriarchate and to return peace to the Orthodox world.

The statement is signed by Pat. Irinej on behalf of the Serbian Church and Pat. John X on behalf of the Antiochian Church, and reflects earlier statements from the Serbian and Antiochian primates and the Antiochian Holy Synod.

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