Belgrade, March 14, 2019
An official statement of the Serbian Church’s position on the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine and the schismatic Ukrainian Church it created there was sent to Patriarch Bartholomew and published on the site of the Russian Patriarchate’s Synodal Department for External Church Relations in late February and subsequently on the site of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
And, as the Serbian site Politika reported on Tuesday, the Serbian hierarchs subsequently sent their position statement to all the Local Churches, informing them that they consider Constantinople’s actions non-canonical, and that the only Church they recognize in Ukraine is that headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine.
The bishops note that they were among the first, in November, to react on an official level to Constantinople’s plans in Ukraine, but unfortunately their voice remained only a “voice in the wilderness,” with only silence from Constantinople. Further appeals were also met with silence.
The statement further includes 5 points:
The Serbian Church does not recognize Constantinople’s non-canonical incursion into the canonical territory of the Russian Church, which historical documents and the common witness of the Church throughout history demonstrate includes the ancient Metropolia of Kiev and the present-day territory of Ukraine.
The Serbian Church does not recognize the so-called “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” which does not exist from a canonical point of view. The schismatics remain schismatics, until they offer sincere repentance.
The Serbian Church does not recognize the incorrectly-titled Kievan “unification council,” which was actually a catalyst for further disunity in Ukraine. The decisions of the council are not at all binding.
The Serbian Church does not recognize the schismatic hierarchs or clergy as valid, given that the “Kiev Patriarchate” traces to the defrocked, excommunicated, and anathematized Philaret Denisenko and the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” traces to self-consecrated bishops with no Apostolic succession.
“And finally, the Serbian Church is naturally compelled to recommend that its hierarchs and pious clerics refrain from liturgical and canonical communication not only with the above-mentioned Mr. Epiphany (Dumenko) and others like him, but also with the hierarchs and clerics who communicate with them, according to the principle of the sacred canons that those, who have communion with the excommunicated place themselves outside communion as well.”
The last point raised many questions among the faithful as to the Serbian Church’s exact stance towards Constantinople, as only Pat. Bartholomew and other Constantinople hierarchs and clergy have served with the Ukrainian schismatics. Some outlets even went so far as to report that the Serbian Church had broken communion with Constantinople.
Having received a number of inquiries about the final point, His Grace Bishop Irinej of Bačka, the head of the Serbian Church’s Information and Publishing Department, has published an explanatory statement on the Serbian Church’s site.
Bp. Irinej first notes that the statement says nothing about breaking communion with Constantinople. Communion is easily broken he says, but it’s not so easily repaired. “In the face of such challenges and temptations, we should not act hastily, but with reasoning, in the hope that the grace of the Holy spirit will soon heal our weakness,” the Serbian hierarch writes.
However, it is impossible to overestimate the generally binding canonical principle articulated in the Church’s fifth point—that there can be no communion with those who are deprived of grace, and that those who commune with schismatics make themselves schismatics. “The essential difference between the Church and schism must not be erased,” Bp. Irinej writes.
The Serbian Church points to this canonical norm, but without applying it in full for now, out of economia. “Our Holy Synod … calls for its application, but without haste … doing everything possible so that the Lord would return the gracious gift of unity to the Church.” Therefore, it is recommended, but not required, that Serbian hierarchs and clergy abstain from serving with those who have communion with the schismatics. Such a heavy decision as breaking communion can only be made by the Council of Bishops, not the Holy Synod, in the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Those who take up the recommendation are applying canonical akrivia, while those who do not are applying acceptable economia, Bp. Irenej says, offering his personal opinion.
As previously reported, there will be separate Sunday of Orthodoxy celebrations in Chicago, with Serbian and Russian clergy serving together, apart from the Greek-Constantinople celebration. OrthoChristian has since been informed by a priest of the Serbian Church in North America that they have been instructed not to serve with Constantinople clergy throughout America and Canada.
If the Local Churches remain in the present common position of not accepting Philaret Denisenko, Epiphany Dumenko, and the rest of the schismatic hierarchs, and clergy, it will signify a general agreement with the Serbian Church’s principled position. However, if other Churches begin to accept and recognize the schismatics, it will bring an end to the period of economia and introduce a long-lasting canonical chaos.
Only the Holy Spirit can heal a persisting schism, the Serbian hierarch affirms.
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