Moscow, September 26, 2019
On September 17, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, sent a letter to His Eminence Metropolitan Chrysostom of Mozambique of the Alexandrian Patriarchate, who concelebrated with a “hierarch” of the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU) five days prior in Langadas, Greece.
The local hierarch, Metropolitan Ioannis, had already concelebrated with OCU schismatics on more than one occasion, although the Greek Orthodox Church has not formally recognized the structure that exists on the canonical territory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine.
As the hierarchs of the Church of Alexandria have not made a formal decision concerning the Ukrainian crisis, they therefore also have not entered into communion with the OCU, though His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros has very clearly shown his support for the suffering Ukrainian Church under Met. Onuphry.
In his letter, Met. Hilarion writes that he was saddened to learn of the concelebration, and while he does not doubt that all hierarchs wish a speedy resolution to the Ukrainian problem, hierarchs taking it upon themselves to concelebrate with the unrecognized OCU does nothing to help, but only confuses the matter and the faithful people.
He also calls upon Met. Chrysostomos to remain steady on the path of preserving the Church’s unity, so that problems will not compound and so the good relations between Local Churches will not be harmed.
However, when his letter became public, several Alexandrian hierarchs were offended and have begun responding to Met. Hilarion very sharply and sometimes sarcastically.
His letter, which the DECR also sent to Pat. Theodoros, reads in full:
I was saddened to learn of your concelebration with the representative of the so-called Orthodox Church of Ukraine Archbishop Vladimir of Zhytomyr and Polesia, which, as was reported in the media, took place on September 12 in Langadas, Greece.
News of this event was unexpected for us and caused a great temptation among the faithful, especially among the faithful children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. After all, it is precisely this Church, and not the structure formed last year from two schismatic groups, that unites the overwhelming majority of the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine. It is precisely to this Church, led by Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, that the pious Ukrainian people remain faithful, enduring the trials that have befallen them with humility and firm hope in God.
We do not doubt that the majority of our brother hierarchs in the fraternal Local Orthodox Churches desire a speedy resolution to this difficult situation that has unfolded in the Orthodox world in connection with the granting of the so-called autocephaly to Ukraine. Moreover, dear Vladyka, for us it is obvious that a canonical bishop entering into liturgical communion with persons having no Apostolic Succession does not facilitate overcoming the schism. It only leads to temptation and confusion among the clergy and laity and can even cause irreparable damage to the brotherly relations between our Churches. We pray that this does not happen, and we hope that such confusion is not repeated.
Beloved brother, spiritual strength and fortitude is required from all of us, bishops of the Church of Christ, to maintain the faith unharmed and the Church undivided, so as to together restore the unity and oneness of mind in our Orthodox family. I pray that the Lord might ever strengthen you on this path and that He might preserve unbreakable the brotherly ties that have united the peoples and Churches of our countries for centuries.
Prayerfully wishing Your Eminence peace, good health, and God’s gracious help in your archpastoral ministry, I remain with brotherly love in Christ,
Department for External Church Relations
Metropolitan of Volokolamsk
The first Alexandrian hierarch to respond was His Eminence Metropolitan Ioannis of Zambia, formerly the hierarch of Mozambique, who received the letter in his email. In his own letter, Met. Ioannis expresses his great dissatisfaction at that fact that Met. Hilarion has criticized the hierarch of another Patriarchate, noting that the Alexandrian Church has its own primate and hierarchs who can deal with such issues that arise within their jurisdiction.
“I would remind you that you are totally incompetent to intervene in this style, as if sent by God,” Met. Ioannis writes, adding that if need be, in the end, such matters can be appealed to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Metropolitan Sotirios of Pisidia of the Patriarchate of Constantinople then sent a letter to Met. Ioannis, congratulating him for his response to Met. Hilarion, in turn demonizing the Russian hierarch as an “abuser” or “calumniator of everything.”
Another response came from His Eminence Metropolitan Alexandros of Nigeria, who writes that he was not surprised by the fact that Met. Hilarion wrote the letter, but by the “magnitude of the audacity” of Met. Hilarion, whom he sarcastically calls a “master of theology,” at having addressed the letter directly to Met. Chrysostomos, rather than sending it first to Pat. Theodoros and asking him to forward it on.
“This is an unacceptable insult to the face of our primate. His Eminence Hilarion must also realize that by doing so he insulted all the bishops of the throne!” Met. Alexandros writes. Met. Hilarion has no right to dismiss, correct, consult, or “threaten to escalate the crisis” with hierarchs of another Local Church, the Nigerian hierarch writes forcefully.
“The Patriarchate of Alexandria, is not and will never be allowed to become a protectorate of the Church of Russia,” he writes, demanding an immediate public apology from Met. Hilarion.
In Met. Alexandros’ view, Met. Hilarion’s letter shows Russian “aggressiveness” and should serve as a wake-up call to the Alexandrian hierarchs about the issue of Ukrainian autocephaly.
Rumors have circulated online that Met. Chrysostomos of Mozambique will be retired due to his concelebration with the OCU schismatics, though it remains to be seen how the Holy Synod of Alexandria, which is scheduled to meet in the first week of October, will handle the situation concerning both the concelebration and the matter of Met. Hilarion’s letter.