Standing on the threshold of 2021, once again OrthoChristian.com takes a look back at some of the major events of the past year, covered on its digital pages. 2020 was quite a year to say the least, and so many of its startling events related directly to us as Orthodox Christians. We have tried through the resources at our disposal to report on these events, and to provide wise commentary from qualified people in our Church.
Of course, the first major event that hit us all at the beginning of the year and is carrying on to the next is the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. It has affected many aspects of our Church life, to greater or lesser degrees, in various countries. Some Orthodox majority countries have experienced the complete closure of churches, which made our greatest feast days unlike any we have experienced. Some have had to watch the services online, others were able to come to services in limited numbers, wearing protective facemasks, while others intentionally stayed at home in order to protect their elderly loved ones living with them. We have no doubt that Christ was with all of us who lifted up our hearts in prayer to Him, no matter where we were.
We are aware, including through various comments under our articles, that some Orthodox Christians do not believe in the pandemic. They do not believe that it is truly life threatening, and fear that a panic was artificially created in order to persecute us and destroy our livelihoods. We do not condemn people who feel this way—the media is known to be so rife with fake news and falsehoods that many would not put anything past them. However, we have had to report over and over again about well-known Church figures who were sickened or taken from us during the past year by this spikey, spherical, microscopic scourge. So, we are quite aware that the novel coronavirus is a real thing, and it is in fact debilitating and deadly. Let’s remember a few of these outstanding people who have departed to Lord after struggling with the effects of COVID-19.
In Moscow, one of the first to succumb was a highly respected archpriest, one of the officially appointed confessors of other priests in the diocese, Fr. George Breyev. His wisdom and groundedness in Russian Orthodox tradition and his ability to guide other pastors through complicated parish situations will be sorely missed.
Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov.
Another even more widely known archpriest who recovered from COVID last spring only to finally succumb to its complications in autumn was Fr. Dimitry Smirnov. Fr. Dimitry was mostly known for his outspoken stance against such societal ills as abortion and the encroaching LGBT+ propaganda. However, his most important work always remained behind the scenes—the establishment of homes for unwanted children, aid to pregnant woman who had no one else to rely on, aid to hospitals, the rebuilding of destroyed churches, and boundless love in his tireless pastoral work. Many feel that he is still protecting all these people with his prayers before the throne of God.
Numerous bishops of all the Local Churches were carried off by this illness. It almost seems that the best were taken—Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro, Metropolitan Barnabas of Cheboksary and Chuvashia, and just recently Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria, to name but a few. And most historically, the Serbian Orthodox Church lost its beloved and respected Patriarch, Irenej of Serbia.
In the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, many monks suffered from COVID and quite a few died. One of them was the well-known exorcist, Archimandrite German (Chesnokov). COVID swept through a number of monasteries and convents of the Russian Orthodox Church, including the Autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Belarusian Exarchate, carrying off many monks and nuns who are less known. May this great cloud of witnesses to the reality of this pandemic pray for us in Heaven, that God might protect us and our loves ones from this and other illnesses and catastrophes.
Elections and riots in the United States
The U.S. has had a very, very hard year. After the deaths at the hands of policemen of a number of African-Americans, riots and all manner of pandemonium broke out in U.S. cities. This was despite the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. It is far beyond us to make complete sense of all of this, we can only say that it has divided the United States, and by far not all Orthodox Christians are on the same page concerning these events. We can only hope that OrthoChristian.com articles and homilies might somehow contribute to people’s awareness of spiritual truths and Christ’s love for all creatures, and that they might encourage our readers to rise above political strife and be shining lights to all in these dark days.
Normalization of Church life in Montenegro
Before Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro fell sick with COVID, he made 2020 go down in history as the year Montenegrins came together in peaceful, prayerful standing for the truth. The former Montenegrin government was very close to passing a law that would have enabled it to confiscate the ancient church properties of the Serbian Orthodox Church and to hand some of them over either to the miniscule “Church of Montenegro”, and sell the rest off to secular concerns for money. Rallying around their beloved Metropolitan, Orthodox Montenegrins held cross processions almost all year long until the Lord granted them their request—a new, more pious government came into power and the legislation was revised. This year will always be remembered in Montenegro, Serbia, and Republika Srpska as the year that God’s servant Metropolitan Amfilohije brought everyone together to avert this disaster.
Developments in the Ukrainian crisis
With the election last year of the new Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, there ensued a time of relative peace for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Although here and there, nationalist factions continued attempts to seize churches of the UOC and hand them over to the de facto state church that Patriarch Bartholomew stitched together (but which is already coming apart at the seams) from several schismatic groups, now known as the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU), President Zelensky has stayed out of Church business. Recently however, on an official visit to Istanbul he invited Patriarch Bartholomew to the celebrations for the thirtieth anniversary of Ukrainian independence in August, 2021. The U.S. State Department and Patriarch Bartholomew continue to pressure heads of state and Local Churches in the Mediterranean to recognize the non-canonical structure, and this pressure is increasing in Ukraine. The clouds are gathering again over the canonical Church, and the faithful are bracing themselves once more for persecutions. Metropolitan Onuphry, the primate of the canonical UOC, has called upon his flock to increase their prayers but in no wise to answer evil with evil.
In 2020, Archbishop Chrysostomos, primate of the Church of Cyprus, followed in the footsteps of his Greek brothers Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and Theodoros of Alexandria in their about-face concerning the status of the OCU. In late October, Archbishop Chrysostomos, without consulting his synod of bishops, began commemorating the head of the OCU Epiphany Dumenko in the Divine Liturgy. This brought an immediate reaction from bishops of the Church of Cyprus who have always been steadfastly against the formation of this anti-canonical structure, and it continues to cause great scandal in Cyprus.
Constantinople’s uncanonical and frankly obstinate actions regarding the churches in Ukraine have caused a gaping wound to grow on the Body of Christ for the second year now. Although many bishops and faithful in various Local Churches have called for a Pan-Orthodox council to correct this obvious error, the Patriarch of Constantinople has repeatedly and furiously refused to do so, claiming at the same time that only he has the authority to call a Pan-Orthodox council. Nevertheless, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III called together the Amman “Fraternal Familial Gathering” on February 26, hosted in the capital of Jordan. In attendance were primates and delegations from various Orthodox Churches. The purpose of the Gathering was to renew dialogue and promote unity between brothers within the Orthodox Communion. The Patriarch of Constantinople did not recognize the Jerusalem Patriarch’s right to take this initiative, and it goes without saying that he did not attend. Those primates who have supported Patriarch Bartholomew in his actions of course also did not attend. However, the Gathering was historical in that it showed the goodwill of the Jerusalem Patriarchate and other representatives in attendance toward the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church and their concern about this grave situation, which threatens Orthodox unity across the globe.
African clergy. Photo: foma.ru
Meanwhile, hundreds of clergymen in Africa, currently under the Patriarch of Alexandria Theodoros, have applied to the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to be accepted under his omophorion. Other clergy currently under Constantinople in other parts of the world, including North America, have also sought to be accepted by the Moscow Patriarchate. As the reason for their move they have all cited their strong disagreement with Constantinople’s heretical ecclesiology and tacit consent to the violent takeover of churches in Ukraine, and his complete disregard for the existing autonomous, canonical UOC. The UOC continues to enjoy the respect and adherence of the vast majority of Orthodox Ukrainians—in fact, its numbers are only increasing.
Jordanville Monastery in upstate New York, ROCOR's first monastery and seminary in North America.
2020 was also a year of several important anniversaries. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) celebrated 100 years since it began its existence as a Russian Church under the protection of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Due to the Bolshevik Revolution and the intense pressure on the Russian Orthodox Church from the soviet government, the émigré clergy found it necessary to form its own ruling synod with its own elected primate—Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky). Since then ROCOR has carried the torch of Russian Orthodoxy all over the world, and given us such great saints as Holy Hierarchs John of Shanghai and San Francisco and Jonah of Hankow. ROCOR was reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate in 2006.
On October 28, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church prayerfully commemorated the thirtieth anniversary since His Holiness Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow and All Russia gave it a gramota granting it full autonomy and self-governance.
On December 9, the UOC congratulated His Beatitude Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine with the thirtieth anniversary of his episcopal consecration. Metropolitan Onuphry, then Archimandrite, was consecrated as Bishop of Chernivtsi and Bukovina, on December 9, 1990. Since then, he has established himself as a wise, patient, loving, and deeply prayerful archpastor who has earned the love and respect of the millions of the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Orthodox hierarchs, clergy, and faithful throughout the world.
Censored but happy
Finally, just as in late 2019, OrthoChristian.com is again being censored by Facebook. That social media behemoth has for two months now been preventing our posts from reaching people’s Facebook feeds. At the end of 2019 we expressed our gratitude for the reminder that Facebook is by no means God Almighty, and this year we have reached a state of indifference to Facebook in general. As long as God gives us strength we will continue to labor in this field, and people will continue to read our articles. After all, Orthodox Christianity possesses inexhaustible wealth, and there is no lack of articles to post that spread this wealth. We will continue to sow the good seed, and let God bring the harvest… and not Facebook.
With this thought we will close our retrospective of 2021. We wish all of our readers and everyone in the world a blessed, prosperous, and peaceful New Year!