In a letter sent on January 14 to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and all Albania called for a pan-Orthodox Council “as soon as possible” to avoid “the obvious risk of a painful schism”. Please find here the whole letter in English.
“Most holy and divine archbishop Bartholomew of Constantinople, the New Rome, and ecumenical patriarch, very dear brother in Christ our God, concelebrant of our mediocrity, embracing your most divine Holiness in the Lord, we affectionately greet you.
May “Christ who appeared to us and illumined the universe” illuminate the thoughts, decisions, and actions of all Orthodox during the New Year and lead the Church “which He founded by His own blood” on the path to peace.
Gathered as a synod on January 4, 2019, we diligently read the letter your Holiness sent us on December 24, 2018, and we extensively examined the issue of the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. We summarize here, as always with sincere respect and loving frankness, the evaluation made by the Albanian Church, especially with regard to the actions of the Holy Spirit.
The criticism we sent to the Russian Church concerning their refusal to participate in the Holy and Grand Council of Crete is well-known. Likewise, our recent criticism for their hastiness in breaking the Eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. More particularly, in our November 7, 2018 letter, we pointed out to His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, among others things, “Is it possible for the decision and order of the Russian Church hierarchy to invalidate the action of the Holy Spirit in Churches belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate jurisdiction?… We confess it is impossible for us to agree with such decisions. It is imperative for the divine Eucharist, the mystery of unfathomable holiness and unique importance, to remain outside any ecclesiastical dispute”.
It is the same pain and concern for the preservation of the unity of the Orthodox Church that compels us to express our fundamental doubts regarding the retroactive validation of ordinations celebrated by a defrocked, excommunicated, and anathematized person. The life led by the person who carried out the acts in question, Mr. Filaret Denisenko (the protagonist of the ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine) is revealing. Made bishop by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1962, he served as the chairman of its Department for External Church Relations and as the Metropolitan of Kyiv. He asked for autocephaly in 1991, not from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but from the Moscow Patriarchate, which he said was “the Mother Church”. He was defrocked in 1992, and excommunicated and anathematized in 1997 by the Russian Church, a constituent member of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. These decisions were recognized by all the autocephalous Orthodox Churches.
After being defrocked and anathematized, Mr. Filaret kept celebrating uncanonical services and invalid sacraments. Consequently, the ordinations he performed are null and void, deprived of divine grace and of the action of the Holy Spirit. Among them are the diaconate, presbyteral and episcopal ordinations of his secretary, Serhii Dumenko, now Metropolitan Epifaniy. Your December 24, 2018 letter mentioned: “… restoring them to their same episcopal and presbyteral status…”. We wonder however, to what extent the ordinations performed by Mr. Filaret, an excommunicated and anathematized person, obtained, a posteriori and without canonical ordination, a holy validation and the authentic seal of an apostolic succession.
At the pan-Orthodox level, a fundamental ecclesiological principle is that ordinations performed by schismatics and heretics, celebrated as “sacraments” outside the Church, are invalid, all the more so when celebrated by an excommunicated and anathematized person. We are convinced that this basic principle, indissolubly linked to the Orthodox doctrine on the Holy Spirit, and which constitutes the essential foundation of the apostolic succession of the Orthodox bishops, cannot be circumvented.
It is difficult for us to understand how what is invalid and null could, “through economy”, be the bearer of the Holy Spirit; how acts which constitute a repeated blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (as Mr. Filaret’s invocation, “… let us pray for the Grace of the most Holy Spirit to come upon him”), be recognized a posteriori ” through economy”. Finally, we know that during the recent “council of reunification”, the choice and election of the new primate of the Church of Ukraine were the result of Mr. Filaret’s insistence, today officially called in Ukraine “Most Holy Honorary Patriarch of Kyiv and all Kievan Rus’”. On the basis of all the above, we wonder about the addition of Metropolitan Epifaniy’s name in the holy Diptychs.
The desired pacification among Orthodox Ukrainians, who suffered countless persecutions from atheist regimes in the past, has not been achieved so far, since millions of Orthodox faithful (according to January 2018 statistics, organized in 12,069 parishes, under 90 hierarchs, and counting 12,283 clergy members, 251 monasteries and 4,412 monks) under Metropolitan Onufriy’s omophorion, refused to participate in the process of granting autocephaly. Besides, they broke Eucharistic communion with the ecumenical patriarchate. Whereas previously, the ecclesiastical pleroma of the countries to which autocephaly was granted (Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland, Albania, Czech Republic, and Slovakia) was united.
We regret that the concerns we expressed to the tripartite delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (July 2018), as well as during our personal meeting in Crete (October 2018), proved to be true: instead of the pacification and unity of the Orthodox in Ukraine, the danger of breaking the unity of Orthodoxy is now a threat on the universal level.
For those familiar with the basics of the history of ecclesiastical schisms and the persistence of religious fanaticism, the predictions that the present disorder and the obvious disunity will be short-lived, and that all autocephalous Orthodox Churches will eventually accept the new state of affairs, can only be considered as unfounded estimates. As for the reassuring presumptions according to which it will probably become reality in the next century, they are rather cynical. Serious injuries that were not treated in time will not heal with time. Most often, they extend and develop into incurable wounds.
The situation that has now been created requires new approaches and inspired initiatives in order to promote peace in Ukraine and, above all, to preserve the unity of Orthodoxy, which is dangerously undermined. In this perspective, we firmly believe that the solution lies in the holy conciliarity that was clearly emphasized in Crete: ” The Orthodox Church expresses her unity and catholicity “in Council”. Conciliarity pervades her organization, the way decisions are taken and determines her path” (Message of the holy and great council, 1).
We remain of the opinion that pan-Orthodox synaxes of primates and the holy and great council of the Orthodox Church have constituted achievements of unique value during these last decades, and this thanks to the ecumenical patriarchate’s and your All-holiness’s tireless effort. In keeping with the spirit of the holy and great council on conciliarity, the Albanian autocephalous Orthodox Church fervently appeals to the ecumenical patriarchate, so that using its exclusive privilege as coordinator of the Orthodox Churches, it may convene a synaxis or a pan-Orthodox council as soon as possible, in order to prevent the obvious danger of a painful schism threatening the credibility of Orthodoxy and its convincing witness in the contemporary world.
We deeply wish and humbly pray that the Triune God will lead our steps in favor of Orthodox unity. “May the God of hope fill you [and us] with all joy and peace in believing, that you [and we] may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit! (Rom 15:13)
Embracing you with a holy kiss, we remain with respect and deep love in Christ who appeared to us and illumined the universe.
Tirana, January 14, 2019
+ Anastasios of Tirana, President”