Belgrade, January 3, 2019
The text of the annual Nativity message of His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of Serbia and all the bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church was posted on the official Serbian Orthodox Church’s website today, along with a video of Pat. Irinej reading the message.
In the epistle, the Serbian hierarchs touch upon the sad phenomenon of schism that affects the Orthodox world today, and especially in Ukraine. They begin by reminding the departed “Macedonian Orthodox Church” that autocephaly is an ecclesiastical privilege that does not belong to the political sphere:
With pastoral care and responsibility, we invite our brothers and sisters in Macedonia who are in schism, in the spirit of Christ's love, to realize that autocephaly is purely a Church institution and that it should contribute to the progress and consolidation of unity among the Orthodox Churches. In this sense, the Serbian Orthodox Church has worked and worked all the past eight centuries. If, according to the logic of this world, autocephaly was to be understood in a different way, as an element of state sovereignty, national distinction, or separation, then it does not contribute to unity and the building up of the Church, but encourages self-sufficiency and selfishness, it also becomes paradoxically blasphemy against the the Holy Spirit.
The bishops of the Serbian Church then extend the same invitation to the schismatic “Montenegrin Orthodox Church,” which, “forgets that salvation is not conditioned by the pronouncement of who is a Serb and who is Montenegrin,” and then turn their attention to the crisis situation in Ukraine:
The temptation is the same in our close and brotherly Ukraine, where angry chauvinists, the Russophobes, led by corrupted politicians, and with the assistance of Uniates, and unfortunately with the noncanonical participation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, have deepened and spread the existing schisms and have seriously endangered the unity of Orthodoxy in its entirety. Christ did not come only to save the Jewish people, even though that people was chosen by God. He came as Savior of all peoples, regardless of their name (Rom. 10:12) or what they called themselves at certain periods. We can feel the joy of the given salvation, for which we should all be thankful, only through mutual forgiveness. We pray to the newly born God, the giver of every peace, to let peace enter our hearts, so we could forgive each other, because the Lord has forgiven our sins.
The Bishops’ Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which last met on November 6-7 in Belgrade, officially rejected the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s decisions of October 11, including the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics without repentance, and called on Constantinople to address the issue of granting autocephaly at a pan-Orthodox council.
A joint statement between His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch and Pat. Irinej signed in late October also called for a pan-Orthodox Council to deal with the Ukraine issue on a conciliar, rather than unilateral, basis.
In late May, Pat. Irinej denounced the Ukrainian schismatics and anyone who helps them as enemies of all Slavic Orthodox peoples and of the entire Orthodox world, for which he was branded as an “enemy of Ukraine” by a Ukrainian government-backed website.
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