Constantinople accepts defrocked priests into its jurisdiction, thereby establishing presence in Lithuania

Istanbul, February 20, 2023

Two of the defrocked priests received by Constantinople. Photo: Two of the defrocked priests received by Constantinople. Photo:     

The Patriarchate of Constantinople announced on Friday that it has accepted into its jurisdiction five priests who were defrocked by the Lithuanian Orthodox Church last year.

It thereby establishes its presence in the country, which has been the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate for centuries.

The Patriarchate states that it received the former clerics’ appeal and reversed the canonical discipline imposed upon them. Constantinople alone enjoys the right of receiving clerics from other Local Churches without a release from the canonical authority over them, the Patriarchate claims.

OrthoChristian reported on the defrocking of the first of the five priests, Fr. Ginataras Singaila, in June.

Several charges were leveled against him, including schismatic activity and the organization of the transition to another Church jurisdiction without the blessing of the bishop (Canon 16 of the 1st Ecumenical Council)—a charge that is confirmed by Constantinople’s communiqué:

Some months ago, the Very Reverend Archpriests from Lithuania, Vladimiras Seliavko and Vitalijus Mockus, and the Reverend Presbyters Vitalis Dauparas, Gintaras Sungaila and Georgy Ananiev, who were imposed the penalty of deposition from the priesthood by the Patriarchate of Moscow, addressed His All-Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople – New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch by letter to exercise the petition of appeal before Him, as they are entitled.

Our Patriarch, who exclusively bears the responsibility of receiving appeals, in accordance with the Holy and Sacred Canons (namely, Canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council) and the sanctified practice of the Church, received these submitted petitions.

Following thorough study of the relevant circumstances, it was ascertained on the one hand that these cases were made final before the ecclesiastical authority that imposed these penalties, and on the other hand that the reasons for which the penalties were imposed do not at all derive from ecclesiastical criteria, but from the justified opposition of these clergymen to the war in Ukraine. Wherefore, irrevocably adjudicating these petitions of appeal, His All-Holiness recommended to the Holy and Sacred Synod that the imposed deposition from the priesthood be lifted and that they be restored to their former ecclesiastical rank of priesthood, which was unanimously decided.

Moreover, after the above-mentioned restoration, upon their request, the Ecumenical Patriarch received these clergymen under His venerable omophorion, taking into consideration the long-established right of the Ecumenical Throne, as it is also indicatively reported in the interpretation by Theodore Balsamon of Antioch to Canons 17 and 18 of the Council in Trullo and Canon 10 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (namely: " From this canon, note explicitly that only the Patriarch of Constantinople is allowed to receive foreign clergy, even without a letter of release from their ordaining hierarchy ”).

The defrocked clerics have continually maintained that they were punished for their anti-war stances. However, the Lithuanian Church itself has also repeatedly condemned the war in the persons if its hierarchs, Metropolitan Innokenty of Vilnius and Bishop Ambrose of Trakai, and through a general assembly of hierarchs, clergy, monastics, and lay representatives, which reaffirmed its anti-war stance as recently as late December.

The Lithuanian Orthodox Church published a response later on Friday, rejecting Constantinople’s action on its canonical territory:

The Lithuanian Orthodox Archdiocese does not recognize this decision. Defrocking is not a disciplinary, but a mystical act, and it is final and irrevocable. According to Church canons, clerics who have been defrocked are not subject to restoration and ordination. Thus, the former priests Vladimir Seliavko, Vitaly Motskus, Vitaly Dauparas, Gintaras Sungaila and George Ananiev are laymen and will remain so even if they dare to put on vestments and “officiate.” The Sacraments cannot be performed by a defrocked priest.

It seems that the information received in the name of His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew is neither complete, nor reliable, nor objective. Otherwise, how can we explain the statement contained in the communiqué that “the reasons for which the penalties were imposed do not at all derive from ecclesiastical criteria, but from the justified opposition of these clergymen to the war in Ukraine?” This statement is not true.

The Lithuanian Orthodox Archdiocese has repeatedly stressed that the ecclesiastical court considered the acts of the above-mentioned clerics exclusively in the plane of Church canon law. Their anti-war position did not affect the decision in any way. Moreover, the attitude of former priests to the war in Ukraine is no different from the position of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church. The former clerics are well aware that the Lithuanian Orthodox Church condemned the aggression and war against Ukraine the very next day after it began, on February 25, 2022.

Metropolitan Innokenty condemned the war and expressed disagreement with the position of Patriarch Kirill in his official statements made in March and April of last year. These statements were noticed throughout the Orthodox world. At the same time, the ecclesiastical trial of the clergy took place much later, at the end of June 2022.

The attack on Ukraine has been condemned at all levels—by the hierarchs, clergy, and laity. The relevant appeals with thousands of signatures were handed over to the president of the Republic of Lithuania. The General Assembly of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church also expressed full support for the position of the Archdiocese.

The former clerics were expelled from holy orders for committing a number of grave ecclesiastical crimes. Their activities were examined in detail by the ecclesiastical court, which confirmed the facts of violating the priestly oath and perjury (Canon 25 of the Holy Apostles), disobedience to the ruling bishop and conducting public activities without the blessing of their bishop (Canon 39 of the Holy Apostles), collusion against their bishop and fellow clergy, as well as the destruction of ecclesiastical peace (Canon 18 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council and Canon 34 of the Quinisext Trullo Council), schismatic activity, the intention and organization of the transition to another Church jurisdiction without the blessing of their bishop (Canon 16 of the First Ecumenical Council), as well as their participation in the campaign to discredit the Church and its bishops (Canon 55 of the Holy Apostles), as well as fellow clergy. Each of the items on this list is confirmed by specific actions and public statements from the former clerics, as well as witness testimony.

The Lithuanian Orthodox Church daily offers prayers for the end of the war in Ukraine, as well as for our Lithuanian country, its people, authorities, and troops.

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Zac3/21/2023 2:11 am
We Orthodox are being subject to a terrible crisis as the powers that be attempt to use the conciliar framework and governance of Christ's Church against itself. The blessed hieromartyr Daniel Sysoev, himself a top seminarian and genius of ecclesiastical law, agreed with Balsamon's interpretation of the canons 9 and 17, in the sense that clergy of other Churches have the right to appeal to Constantinople. But this doesn't simply settle everything. Even by Constantinople's own interpretation of this privilege in the 1600s, such a decision would only become final after the other patriarchs had also approved the decision. The saint was also quick to point out in his own time that the appellate right had been abused and was being employed for ridiculous and unsober reasons. But this nuance is missing on both sides, and Blessed hieromartyr Daniel also note this in his own day. Surely, if Constantinople truly maintained fidelity to Orthodoxy and was not itself become a puppet of the US State Dept, and if the other Patriarchs found his appellate decision to be in keeping with the canonical tradition, then his decision would be valid. This is the same as when the King of France quoted Pope St. Leo to another pope: "St. Peter's privilege exists where it is exercised with St. Peter's equity." In other words, you don't get to do just anything with your appellate authority, and Churches have the ability to resist evil decisions from these canonical organs of dispute resolution. But all of this is a woeful scandal-- these two warring great heads of the Church. It's just like 1054.
Moses Theokistos Gichingiri3/20/2023 8:09 pm
I am Orthodox media personality on Facebook to be precise but for ages, centuries and decades we Africans have been subjected to persecution by the Greeks through the so called "Patriarchate of Alexandria" and we Africans through our Clergymen requested the Russian church to intervene and help us which they have successfully done before. The existence of the Russian church in Africa has become an awakening call to Greeks. Why? They did not see Africa as a continent that has values and that can make its own church but the Greeks have made it it's territory. A basis of religious colonization I call it. There has not been any African Patriarch for over a century. Oppression is the game the Greeks have played all along while the Church of Russia have proved to support locals e.g. in Pakistan, Korea and even china. We need this in Africa. Follow me on Facebook Moses Theokistos Gichingiri
Pfmd3/1/2023 11:56 pm
Just like his hierarch Alexander Schmemann, the OCA and its participants, like Joseph Lipper, will try to change everything in the Orthodox church as a reflection of their Protestantism and their unwavering Russophobia. They call themselves “Orthodox” but they are anything but Orthodox. They respect nothing in the two thousand year religion and hold nothing sacred. They argue without knowledge, insight or spirit but only with the hatred of Satan, blinded by their desire to destroy everything that is Russian.
m. Cornelia2/24/2023 5:57 pm
Joseph: "The Lithuanian government wants this separation for valid national security reasons." So, you consider that the government should decide Church matters? Of course, if the Russian government decided Church matters, then you could possibly argue a threat to national security. But it doesn't. That was called Sergianism in the past. "Lithuania is not Russia". No, that's obvious. But most of the members of the Orthodox Church in Lithuania are ethnic Russians.
Joseph Lipper2/23/2023 5:15 pm
Mother Cornelia, I appreciate your comments. To try to answer your question, my bishop, by whose prayers I commune, is in full communion with both the Patriarch of Moscow and the Patriarch of Constantinople. Going back to the topic, a major difference I see between the situation in Africa and the situation in Lithuania is that the Ecumenical Patriarch was actually invited by the Lithuanian Prime Minister to intervene. The Lithuanian government wants this separation for valid national security reasons (that's the prerogative of government), and why not? Lithuania is not Russia. However in Africa, there was no such invitation by government, just by the priests. The Alexandrian Patriarchate is not considered a threat to national security in Africa. Then there's Latvia where we see the Orthodox Church was ordered by the government to separate from the Moscow Patriarchate, and the Latvian Church complied with this by requesting autocephaly from Moscow. However, so far, that request has been completely ignored. Perhaps the Church in Latvia will end up requesting autocephaly from Constantinople instead.
m. Cornelia2/23/2023 10:05 am
Joseph: You have to judge from the point of view of our Church's canons. The Alexandria Patriarchate is in schism by virtue of accepting and being in communion with schismatics. That is not the case with the MP in Lithuania. Look, I can see that you are simply repeating the same tropes ad nauseam, and it's tiresome. If all you want to do is justify the CP in whatever it does, without any understanding of Orthodox canons, then our discussion is over. You didn't answer my questions as to whether you are even Orthodox--forgive me, but from your statements I can only assume you're not. In that case--what business is it of yours?
Joseph Lipper2/23/2023 12:14 am
Mother Cornelia, priests in Africa were deposed by the Alexandrian Patriarchate because they joined Russia's African Exarchate without canonical release. Is this not a similar situation?
m. Cornelia2/22/2023 6:45 pm
Joseph: Perhaps you're not Orthodox and that is why you are having trouble recognizing the canonical irregularity here? Although it's been pointed out to you by a number of other comments. A cleric cannot change jurisdictions without a canonical release from his ruling bishop. When we are talking about a schism, it is especially pernicious of them. As you said yourself, Bishop Innokenty came out against the war, but he did not leave his canonical jurisdiction. Other priests in the MP have done the same, and not left. This is proof that you do not get defrocked for disagreeing with your Patriarch on such matters. So, that is not the reason these clergy were defrocked--you cited the proof yourself. There is no justification for starting a schism in what you yourself said is a very small Church. But there is a motive, and that motive comes from the evil one: to sow division, and grab power.
Joseph Lipper2/22/2023 5:19 pm
Mother Cornelia, thank you for considering my comments and questions. I appreciate this blog because it mostly presents the MP's point of view. I believe we are all trying to seek some clarity here. I read the charges against these priests (which I don't question by the way), and I understand these charges are the very reason why they are no longer priests of the Lithuanian Archdiocese under the Moscow Patriarchate. Yet these priests obviously didn't want to be under the MP anymore, but they were given no recourse. Their bishop condemned the war, but he refused to leave the Moscow Patriarchate. The MP has no communion with the EP anyways. Would it have been better for these priests to have become Eastern Rite Catholic under Rome? No, I really don't think so. Yet from the MP's point of view, how would that be any much different?
m. Cornelia2/22/2023 10:49 am
Joseph: That's what they say, but please read the whole article: "Several charges were leveled against him, including schismatic activity and the organization of the transition to another Church jurisdiction without the blessing of the bishop (Canon 16 of the 1st Ecumenical Council)—a charge that is confirmed by Constantinople’s communiqué". By the way, you didn't answer my question. Do you intentionally obfuscate? Just curious.
Joseph Lipper2/22/2023 1:59 am
Mother Cornelia, it says in this article that "the reasons for which the penalties were imposed do not at all derive from ecclesiastical criteria, but from the justified opposition of these clergymen to the war in Ukraine". If that's true, then I would have to agree they were unfairly deposed. The Orthodox presence in Lithuania is tiny, only about 4 percent of the population. It is 77 percent majority Roman Catholic. Lithuania was also not part of the jurisdiction of Muscovy when Russia was given autocephaly. I fail to see any valid argument against Constantinople's intervention here.
m. Cornelia2/21/2023 10:12 pm
Joseph: neither were these men reinstated--canonically. Do you know if they were unfairly deposed? Do you know anything about them? You are ready to defend them as if they were St. John Chrysostom, but you don't even know for sure why they were deposed.
Alex2/21/2023 5:31 am
Joseph Lipper, the bishop of Istanbul (the patriarch of Constantinople) has no formal power to reinstate clergy from other jurisdictions. This is something that has been conjured up by others in recent years as fact. And yes, just as Mother Cornelia has stated, your circular arguments just draw attention away from the truth of the matter. Please change your tune.
Bob2/21/2023 4:22 am
The irony all of all this is what? They went from not wanting to be in agreement with this political war in Ukraine, only to be brought into a religious war, one being waged against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, of which Patriarch Bartholomew has been and currently remains an active party. So these priests would rather be in an institution that is fighting the canonical Orthodox Church. It is worse to in a political war, or against a war that the Ukrainian gov't and the schismatics are fighting against their fellow Ukrainian people? I see no justification and nothing noble in their actions. They are now on the side of those who persecute the Church.
David2/21/2023 3:44 am
Joseph: The Ecumenical Patriarch had the power of the Imperial Throne behind him, and sometimes his interference, while historically accurate, was not always in the spirit of the canons, nor was it brotherly. I deplore the political actions of the Moscow Patriarchate, but I refuse to ignore the political maneuvers that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is making. While it is true that clergy can appeal to the Patriarchate (St. Nektarios did, for years. He was ignored), that appellate authority is exercised ideally in conjunction with the mother Church of the clerics in the dock. Did the EP ask for the documents pertaining to the defrocking? Were there even consultations on this? If there wasn't, that is a problem. Did they take the former priests word for it? This whole thing is suspicious, and lacking in transparancy. The Patriarchate was equally secretive in its rehabilitation of the schismatic former Metropolitan Philaret, a situation that blew up in their face. Nobody's hands are "clean" anymore.
Joseph Lipper2/20/2023 11:26 pm
Mother Cornelia, Nestorius was not reinstated. He was anathematized at an Ecumenical Council. I am just trying to point out that sometimes deposed clergy are reinstated. Sometimes clergy are unfairly deposed also. The former depositions against clergy of the Macedonian Orthodox Church were lifted. Who repented there?
m. Cornelia2/20/2023 11:05 pm
Joseph, are you trying to compare these five priests to St. John Chrysostom? Why not compare them with some other "deposed" hierarch in history, like Nestorius? You are creating a circular argument that only serves to draw attention away from the truth of the matter. Do you do this intentionally?
Steve2/20/2023 10:34 pm
In all fairness, the former Metropolitan Leonid of Klin should be reinstated by Patriarch Bartholomew also. Maybe that would teach Patriarch Theodoros a lesson.
Joseph Lipper2/20/2023 10:25 pm
Mother Cornelia and Andrew, Deposition is the removal of a man from clerical office and return to the rank of layman. When a cleric is deposed, he is no longer a member of the clergy. This is understood as defrocking. St. John Chrysostom was unfairly deposed (defrocked) as clergy, but he was reinstated. Did he repent? The charges against St. John Chrysostom were contrived and ultimately politically motivated because the empress didn't like the fact that he spoke the truth. He didn't sin, so what was there to repent of? The sin was on those who defrocked him, and they repented by reinstating him. Yes, usually reinstatement is done by the same jurisdiction of the deposed clergy, as was the case with St. John. However, the Patriarch of Constantinople has historical precedent for being a last appeal for ecclesial judgement outside of an Ecumenical Council.
m. Cornelia2/20/2023 9:17 pm
Joseph: See Andrew's comment. But I will add that defrocked clergy can only be reinstated canonically by their the jurisdiction that defrocked them, once they have repented. But if the matter went from suspension to defrocking, then it's usually due to a serious problem that the clergyman did not resolve while he was simply suspended. I know that in the U.S. there have been cases where other jurisdictions received defrocked priests from other jurisdictions. This is something that will eventually have to stop, because it usually leads to no good. But in a country where there is a centuries-old Orthodox Church, it's inexcusable from a canonical, and moral, point of view.
K 2/20/2023 8:45 pm
CIA - Geopolitics is what this is. The want to isolate Russia and move in on its territories and turn its neigbours against it. They have agents/clergy who push to create schism, just like in Ukraine after Soros' colour revolution and in Macedonia. Moscow obviously wise to this game defrocked them early and so the CIA stooge black bart steps in. Wonder why Elpidophorous/Bart etc are all so obedient. Almost like CIA have something on this sort (wonder what that could be)? Certainly not something more associated with RCatholic clergy!!!! Bart and Francis will be ordaining women and the rest and joining in parades before the greeks etc know what hit them. Atheists working for the CIA in charge of Diocese #depressing.
Andrew2/20/2023 7:45 pm
Joseph: St. John Chrysostom was not defrocked, he was deposed. Big difference: the former: removed from the ranks of clergy and made a layman, the latter: removed from his post as archbishop of a specific see (diocese) and forbidden to act as a ruling bishop.
Alex2/20/2023 6:10 pm
More chicanery from the bishop of Istanbul! Well, the boomerang will come back his way soon.
Joseph Lipper2/20/2023 5:49 pm
Defrocked clergy are sometimes reinstated. Saint John Chrysostom was defrocked and later reinstated.
Alexander2/20/2023 3:52 pm
They fit into the protestant group of Constantinople. They look like anglican priests. Please forget the greeks! They do not belong to us(orthodox).
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