In an episode of “The Archpastor” TV program (Yekaterinburg), Bishop Irinej of Bačka (Serbian Orthodox Church) spoke about various topics.
Here is what he had to say on the Ukrainian issue:
“We deeply regret that the Ecumenical Patriarch in his personal capacity, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a whole, have (in my opinion and in the opinion of the majority of our theologians and hierarchs), made the greatest mistake in the whole history of the Ecumenical Throne of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
I say it here for the first time, I have never said this before to the media: Ten years ago, maybe more, I told the ecumenical patriarch privately that I urged him not to interfere in the Ukrainian issue, because that would provoke an immense tragedy, not only there, but in the whole Orthodox world.
I am not a prophet, but I knew enough about the situation and history, that it was easily predictable. Unfortunately, he did it.
It is difficult to say for what reasons. Some consider it could be because of some grievance, a bitter feeling against the Patriarch of Moscow and against the Russian Church, due to their absence at the Council of Crete, but many also think it is the result of the pressure from the West, especially from the Americans, and that it is only a part in the general course of Western policy regarding Ukraine, and an attempt to further deepen the gap, to break apart the Russian world, and to ensure that Ukraine and Russia are not only separate, but enemy states.
I fear that this may be true, at least partly. It is interesting that this opinion is shared also by some of my Greek friends, who have no reason to be at the service of the Church of Moscow.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate thus made an absolutely uncanonical decision – or at least a decision that is not based on canons: to enter the territory of an already existing Church, the Ukrainian autonomous Orthodox Church, through negotiations with Ukrainian political power.
As you know, Ukrainian political leaders are not very Orthodox: there are Orthodox in the parliament, but also Uniates and schismatics.
The course of action is quite strange: the Ecumenical Patriarchate delegation does not discuss with the legitimate local Church, which is the majority in Ukraine. For the legitimate Church, the nationality of their members (whether Ukrainian, Russian, etc.), is not important. There is no national or political connection, but only the feeling of the ecclesial people that they are one church, as it has been along centuries. They do not prevent anyone from being Ukrainian or whatever – it is difficult to say how many nations are present in the Russian Church, one hundred, one hundred and fifty.
[The Constantinople delegates] have not even visited Metropolitan Onufriy once. All their discussions took place with politicians and schismatics. And we are not talking here of occasional schismatics, but about people like Filaret Denisenko, who was once a candidate to become the new patriarch of Moscow. But he did not become a patriarch, for known reasons – his personal and moral life, and other factors.
At first, he was opposed to Ukrainian separatism (at the level of the Church and other levels), far more than many in Ukraine. But then, when he was not elected patriarch, he remembered he was Ukrainian. And of course, his broke his oath to the patriarch not to create a schism, and he did create one anyway. He was then reduced to the lay state, excommunicated and anathematized.
And now, the people of the Phanar come and say this is rubbish: “We acknowledged it [the Moscow decision], but we no longer do.”
I read a letter from the Ecumenical Patriarch in which he writes to the Patriarch of Moscow that he recognizes and supports his decision, and that it cannot be otherwise. And now he says now that his own act is invalid. It is impossible in our Church. This is why our Church has made the decision of supporting the Russian Orthodox Church, especially in regard to the Ukrainian issue.
Unfortunately, in Constantinople and in some circles, they think it’s odd. They say that the Serbs who had always been devoted to them and had fraternal relationships with them have now betrayed them and gone with the Russians.
This reflects a very unhealthy feeling of ecclesial life. The Church is one, it is the divine and human body of Christ, it is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the house of the heavenly Father. It is not an ideological, political, or social organization. Autocephaly is not an ontological, but administrative concept. It is a mode of organization for the Churches in the world. Autocephalous Churches are not separate Churches: it is a mode of organization for the one and unique Church.
In this sense, we cannot accept this approach, in which we see ourselves as Greek Orthodox, Phanariots, and that over there, there are Muscovites, Slavs, etc. No: the Church is one. There are no Hellenes, no Greeks, no Russians, no Serbs, we are all one, if we are Orthodox. If we do not understand this, we are not Orthodox enough.
When we are accused of having become Russians, or servants of the Russians, I consider this is not healthy, this is not ecclesial. We are not against one another, nor for one another. We take into consideration the canonical order. A healthy ecclesial life, that’s what we are interested in.
If what Constantinople is doing now had been done by Moscow or Kyiv, we would also react against them. We cannot be against other for selfish reasons or goals. Things can happen, to us or to other Churches, that exists.
But here, we consider that Constantinople acted in an unfair and, unfortunately, irresponsible way. They hurt not only the Russian or the Ukrainian Church, but also themselves and the whole Orthodoxy. And we are getting humiliated and ridiculed, by Roman Catholics and followers of other religions, and even by people without any religion.
Unfortunately, this has been caused by Constantinople unilateral actions.
Source in Russian
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