We present below the point of view of a cleric of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Crete, Archimandrite Romanos Anastasiadis, on the situation of the former Exarchate-Archbishopric of the Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe. This text has been published by the site “Ekklisia online“
His Eminence Archbishop John was initially ordained as assistant bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to assist the then Exarch, His Eminence Archbishop Job of Telmessos, based on the decision of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Later, when Archbishop Job of Telmessos was transferred to another position by decision of the Holy Synod, the Holy Synod, following the recommendation of the Exarchate’s General Assembly, elected Archbishop John Exarch and elevated him as Titular Archbishop of the Ecumenical Throne. His Eminence Archbishop John was never a diocesan bishop, that is, bishop of a particular place. He was only Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch — his representative, in other words — with the authority to act only on behalf of the person and in the name of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The Exarchate was never an Eparchy but constituted a gathering of patriarchal parishes in particular geographical locations, where other local diocesan bishops are already in place.
A titular hierarch, then, does not have a diocese. He simply has an elevated title and is able to act liturgically and pastorally only with the consent of the local hierarch. As titular Archbishop, +John was given the particular task of administering the Exarchate of Parishes of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe. However, from the moment this Exarchate was dissolved, His Eminence Archbishop John had absolutely no right to involve himself — administratively, pastorally, and liturgically — with the parishes, clergy, and faithful of the former Exarchate. He, however, without having any further relevant authorization, continued to act in accordance with his former responsibilities; something the sacred canons punish.
Thus, the 35th Canon of the Holy Apostles punishes with defrocking the hierarch who performs ordinations in another archdiocese, without the canonical permission of the local bishop. The 18th canon of the Synod of Antioch forbids a non-diocesan bishop from involving himself in the ecclesiastical matters of the place he has been permitted to serve. And the 3rd canon of the Council of Sardecia forbids a bishop even to visit another diocese without the permission of the local bishop.
His Eminence Archbishop John was recently released from the clergy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the decision of the Holy Synod, which is the highest judicial body of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This decision was seemingly made without imposing the canonical punishment he should have received. From the moment His Eminence Archbishop John was released, he has no further right to bear the title Charopoulis (he is, rather, Archbishop “Formerly of Charopolis”), for since he no longer belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate it is not possible for him to bear the title of one of its dioceses.
The Statutes of the Exarchate mention that this religious body belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In other words, it has as its highest authority the Ecumenical Throne. Likewise, the Statutes presume, among other things, that the Exarchate is administered according to the sacred canons, which take precedence over the Statutes. In any case, the final stage in the appointment of the Exarchate Archbishop, as envisaged by the Statutes, is his election by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is a legal axiom that the authority which appoints someone likewise has the authority to remove him from the position to which he was appointed. In the same way, for example, the previous Exarch was transferred from his responsibilities at the Exarchate to another position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, without any previous request from or on behalf of the Exarchate. Furthermore, Archbishop John has ‘again and many times’, before witnesses at various times and occasions, expressed his desire and intention to leave the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and join the Church of Russia, something pointed out to him by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch in his letter of canonical release, where he says: “With this our Patriarchal Letter, understanding Your Eminence’s deep desire to come under the omophorion of His Beatitude the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, as you have many times expressed in word and deed, we release you, and only you personally, from our Holy Apostolic and Patriarchal Ecumenical Throne…”. Finally, based on the Statutes of the former Exarchate, which are recognized by the French government, His Eminence Archbishop John no longer has any right to involve himself in the business of the Exarchate, something also underlined in the aforementioned Patriarchal letter: “This means that Your Eminence no longer have any right to involve yourself, in any way, in the matters of the Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe”.
His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, by the decision of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, was on the 2nd of September 2019, made locum tenens of the organization “Union directrice des associations orthodoxes russes” (the former Exarchate), until all of its matters are resolved. In other words, the charge that the Exarchate now operates according to its Statutes and not the sacred canons does not hold water, because the same Statutes say that that the Exarchate must be run in accordance with the sacred canons, which take precedence over said Statutes.
There is also the charge that the Exarchate operates based on the French laws 1901 and 1905. This charge cannot stand because these laws relate only to secular administration and not spiritual administration. In other words, the Exarchate is administered by the Divine Grace which issues forth from the Ecumenical Patriarchate based on the sacred canons, and not by the government based on these laws. The ecclesiastical existence of this organization has as its source the Ecumenical Patriarchate, based on the sacred canons, and not any laws of any government whatsoever.”
(Archimandrite Romanos Anastasiades, Crete)