Athens, August 16, 2019
While the Orthodox Church of Greece has yet to make any official decision regarding the Constantinople-created “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU), new information indicates that that the hierarchs are strongly considering recognizing the schismatic structure.
Moreover, Constantinople’s continuing pressure could lead to a schism among the 20 ruling monasteries of Mt. Athos.
The OCU was created in December and granted a tomos of autocephaly by Constantinople in January, but has thus far failed to achieve recognition by any Church other than Constantinople. Several branches of Orthodoxy, including the Serbian Church, the Polish Church, and the Orthodox Church in America have rejected and explicitly referred to the OCU as schismatics. Several others have expressed serious concerns and called for a pan-Orthodox council to resolve the ongoing issue.
Certain hierarchs of the Greek Church have effectively recognized the OCU for themselves: Several have already concelebrated with representatives of the OCU, and an archimandrite from the Metropolis of Demetrias and Almyros was even released to become a “bishop” in the OCU. There have been no reports of any of these hierarchs being reprimanded or sanctioned by the Greek Synod in any way.
However, the most influential voice in the Greek Church in favor of recognizing the OCU, has been His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos, an internationally-recognized theologian. Met. Hierotheos has not served with the OCU, but has written several essays detailing his view of the prerogatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and arguing that the Greek Church (and, in fact, no Local Church) has no right to object to what Constantinople has done. The OCU must be accepted, he writes, until a pan-Orthodox council can take up the matter.
OrthoChristian has published a critique of some of the Metropolitan’s statements.
His latest essay, “The ecclesiastical ebbs and flows of the Moscow Patriarchate,” notes that “anti-ecumenists in Greece strongly judge and criticize the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and in particular Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, while pardoning the other Orthodox Churches, and in particular the Russian Orthodox Church.”
While it is debatable whether anti-ecumenists give a pass to the Russian Church, His Eminence rightly points to the problematic Havana Document, signed by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Russia and Pope Francis in February 2016. However, the fact that he did not speak out against the document at that time, but only now, more than 3 years later, gives the impression that his critique serves only as a distraction from Constantinople’s invasion of the Ukrainian Church’s canonical territory. The respected theologian also makes the outlandish claim that in signing the document, Pat. Kirill believed he was signing on behalf of the entire Orthodox Church. In playing on fears of the non-existent “Third Rome” doctrine, Met. Hierotheos has only hurt his own reputation.
According to a source familiar with the atmosphere in the Greek Church and with its important figures, Met. Hierotheos’ writings have had a major impact and are one of the main reasons why the Church of Greece is now considering supporting Constantinople in its Ukrainian affair.
“This would be catastrophic for the Orthodox in the Greek-speaking world,” says the source.
Among the more traditionally-minded in Greece, there is a fear that if Constantinople’s power grab and test run for expanded powers is accepted by the Greek Church, the struggle for the purity of the Orthodox faith will only become that much more difficult.
Judging by the number of bishops who are going along with Constantinople and provoking the rest of the Greek Church to accept the OCU, the outcome does not look good, according to our source, who also notes that there have been only a scant few voices speaking out against recognizing the OCU, including Metropolitans Seraphim of Piraeus (and here) Nektarios of Corfu, Paxoi, and the Diapontian Islands, Seraphim of Kythira, and Ambrose of Kalavryta.
While the Greek Church may have decided to recognize the OCU anyways, Met. Hierotheos’ influence has made it much more likely.
The same fears are held by a number of abbots on Mt. Athos. Pat. Bartholomew will visit the Holy Mountain in October, and more than one abbot has resolved to cease commemoration of the Patriarch if he brings “Metropolitan” Epiphany Dumenko, the primate of the OCU, with him. The Ukrainian question has already caused tension and divisions on the Mountain.
It is unclear when the bishops of the Church of Greece will make a formal decision on the Ukrainian question.