Patriarch Irinej of Serbia addressed a letter of protest to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople about the Ukrainian “autocephaly” and other similar schismatic entities


The Greek agency Romfea published in exclusivity excerpts of a 15-page letter addressed by Patriarch Irinej of Serbia to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew about the Ukrainian autocephaly and other similar problems in Montenegro and in the Republic of Macedonia.

We publish here below the letter as summarized by, with translated quotes from the original document:

"The reason for this letter is the concern of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church and of its patriarch following interference by the hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, regarding the granting of the Tomos of Autocephaly to Ukrainian schismatic entities, "against the will of the Russian Orthodox Church; in the name of the ecclesiastical maternity of the past, a newly-established canonical parameter,". "A similar argument is also planned for 'the Orthodox Church of Macedonia' ".

"The heresy of ethnophyletism  is one of the essential misfortunes of contemporary Orthodoxy," says the letter.

The Serbian Patriarch also highlights that secularized contemporary states are trying to serve their own ideology and authority. To achieve this goal, they resort to an unhealthy ethnophyletism and to a secularized state mentality. The only result is "a threat to the Catholic and universal character of the Church of God, and consequently to its natural mission towards all peoples."

Patriarch Irinej writes: "The States, population and 'peoples', among which autocephaly is requested today, actually foster 'political schisms' and openly justify their disastrous activity by invoking state and national interest (Ukraine, "Macedonia of the North", Montenegro). These states were created by the communists, and most of them are led today by atheists, as is the case of the non-baptized and atheistic ruler of Montenegro [Milo Đukanović] or the "very unifying faithful" at the head of the Ukraine [Petro Poroshenko], so often seen in the canonical Church as well as among the schismatics and the Uniates. These rulers do not ask for an Autocephalous Church as  alleged loyal members of it, but with an opportunistic or rather untimely purpose, using it to consolidate a secular ideology, in fact an atheist one, as well as their petty interests. It is ultimately a maltreatment of the Church and of faith.

"Is the Church's consent to such abuse allowed? Destined to transform and save the fallen world, is it allowed to adapt to it and to please it?” Thus are the questions asked by the primate of the Church of Serbia, first and foremost to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, "our Mother Church, which is called, as a primatial Church, to serve the unity of the Church selflessly and in a spirit of sacrifice".

According to patriarch Irinej, "under all conditions, under all possible influences and pressures, the Ecumenical Patriarchate cannot be allowed to take any hasty action which may endanger Panorthodox unity, and would prolong schisms, which he actually desires to heal and to overcome."

Referring to the Ukraine, the patriarch of Serbia characterizes as "very perilous or even catastrophic, probably as fatal for the unity of Holy Orthodoxy", the act "of exonerating and of restoring schismatics to the rank of bishops, especially the arch-schismatic ones, such as 'patriarch' Filaret Denysenko of Kyiv, and of bringing schismatics back into liturgical and canonical communion, without their repentance and their return to the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church from which they detached themselves. And all without the consent of the Moscow Patriarchate and without coordination with him".

The Patriarch of Serbia emphasizes that the interference of late Patriarch Gregory VII of Constantinople in the affairs of the Russian Church and his position towards the holy Patriarch Tykhon (to whom he had proposed to resign), his support of the schism of the Renovated [modernist schismatics supported by the Bolsheviks] in the 1920s, can in no way serve as an example to imitate.

According to the author of the letter, reestablishing the Ukrainian schismatics "would mean at the same time an unfriendly attitude towards the martyred Church of the Russian countries", which the Serbian Patriarch would not expect "from the Great martyred Church of Christ [ i.e., the Patriarchate of Constantinople].

Examining the issue of the alleged subordination of the metropolitan diocese of Kyiv to the jurisdiction of Constantinople, with the claim that this diocese "has always belonged" to the latter, Patriarch Irinej wonders "how we can then explain the fact that Moscow, for more than three centuries, has been exercising its jurisdiction over Kiev without any protest, including from the Great Church of Christ'. He concludes "the available historical sources do not support the claim that Moscow does not 'actually have jurisdiction over Kiev'.

The letter also refers to the ancient canonical tradition and practice of "seniority", "old usages", and "universally accepted relations" that support the rights of Russians over Kyiv. Patriarch Irinej reminds them that the Council of Crete endorsed the existence of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox Churches within their current canonical territorial boundaries. "This acknowledgement by the Council of Crete implicitly reconfirms the fact that the autonomous Church of the Ukraine is under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate and that it belongs entirely and organically to it."

Stressing the fact that the Church of Constantinople is equally the Mother Church of Kiyv, of Moscow, of Tarnovo and others, the Patriarch of Serbia writes: "The honor and dignity of ecclesiastical maternity does not ipso facto grant to the Mother Church the right to despise and, more importantly, to question the autocephalies and jurisdictions which were historically instituted".

It is clear from the above that the Ecumenical Patriarchate cannot by right make a decision about the future of the Archdiocese of Ohrid and of Kyiv without the Churches of Serbia and Russia.

The letter stresses that the procedure for the acquisition and proclamation of new autocephalies was agreed upon by local Orthodox Churches [at a pre-conciliar meeting in Chambésy]. It was then specified that Constantinople is a simple coordinator: after having received the request of a church concerning the granting of autocephaly to certain of its dioceses, Constantinople transmits this request to all the local autocephalous Churches, and the issue is settled in accordance with their joint decision.

"The final official text relating thereto was published in the periodical "Synodika" of the Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy". The Patriarch of Serbia adds: "Here is the decision as it was accepted by all the Orthodox Churches, and not the opinion of one of the hierarchs of Your Most Holy Church, according to which the Ecumenical Throne alone, without the others , without its equals (sine paribus), grants or abrogates autocephalies, acting thus for 1350 years".

In another passage of the letter, Patriarch Irenej addresses the Ecumenical Patriarch as follows: "Your All-Holiness, know that it does not come to our mind, we do not wish to and the intention itself is foreign to us, to hurt your feelings or to sadden you. However, we feel obliged to remind you of your promise given to Chambésy in the presence of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches, therefore in the presence also of our humble person, that you would not interfere in the affairs of the Ukrainian Church".

The letter of the Patriarch of Serbia grants great importance to the danger of violating the jurisdictional rights of his own Church in Montenegro, where "a parasynagogue or a sect devoid of divine grace" calls itself "Church of Montenegro", while "its elder sister in Skopje believes and trumpets that after the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian schismatics, it too will receive recognition and autocephaly".

Referring to the leaders of schisms in Montenegro and the Ukraine, the Serbian Patriarch concludes that the case of Montenegro is to be related to that of Ukraine, and that the non-canonical clergy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro hopes they will be restored like Denysenko [the "schismatic" patriarch "of Kyiv]. Patriarch Irinej believes that such a thing, from the point of view of canon law, would be tragically absurd.

To conclude, the Primate of the Serbian Church calls on the ecumenical patriarch to be cautious, wishing at the same time that Christ may give strength to the Mother Church "so as not to bow to the pressures, and the wisdom from above, so as to remain forever and ever faithful to herself, to her mission and to her ministry."

Source (in Greek)

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Emma Cazabonne was born and raised in France. She taught English before entering the Cistercian Order. She translated and published articles relevant to her interest in Cistercian spirituality, the Middle Ages, and Orthodoxy. She moved to the United States in 2001, converted to Orthodoxy in 2008, and married. Her husband is an Orthodox priest. She continued to publish articles, a Cistercian texts anthology, then finally launched her career in literary translation, while teaching French. If you are interested in having your book translated into French, she can be contacted here