– Your Eminence, you recently went to Greece. What was the purpose of this trip?
– With Patriarch Kirill’s blessing, I participated in the annual Saint Paul conferences in Veria. I read there His Holiness’s message and presented a paper. I took advantage of this trip to visit several places where the Apostle Paul stopped. Two years ago, I wrote a biography on the Apostle Paul, and since then I have been trying to walk in his footsteps. The invitation received from His Eminence Metropolitan Panteleimon of Veria allowed me to go to Greece and to visit places where St. Paul stayed during his second and third missionary journeys: Corinth, Athens, Veria, Salonica, Kavala, and Philippi.
– We know that you met with several metropolitans of the Greek Church. Outside the official part, were you able to exchange with them during your visits?
– As I visited the places where the Apostle Paul preached, I had the blessed opportunity to meet with the leaders of the local metropolitanates, and to have fraternal conversations with them. By a combination of circumstances, the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church was meeting at the same time in Athens. His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos offered me to meet with him and his fellow bishops. We exchanged with sincerity and warmth about the situation in the Orthodox world, and about the current relationships between the Orthodox Churches. His Beatitude enjoys high authority not only in the Church of Greece, but also among all the local Orthodox Churches. His voice is very important for world Orthodoxy.
– During your meeting with Archbishop Ieronymos and the members of the Holy Synod, did you discuss the problem of the Church in Ukraine?
– Yes of course, we were able to talk about it. I was very touched by the fraternal love and sincere compassion of the primate and the hierarchs of the Greek Church, with regard to the clergy and the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its primate, Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv and all Ukraine. Although all the Greek media are far from describing what is going on in the life of the Church in Ukraine, especially the churches being seized and the numerous cases of violence against the faithful, most of my Greek interlocutors were well informed about the events in Ukraine, and showed a keen interest in this topic. I have to say, we were warmly welcomed everywhere, and all the hierarchs we met showed understanding and support. I thank God for this trip, it taught me a lot. We left Greece with a sense of spiritual joy and a clear sense of our unity with our brothers, with all the Orthodox world, as if the Apostle Paul himself had given us his blessing.
– In a recent interview, Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria said, “there is a solution to the problem of autocephaly”. Don’t you think that any future meeting between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Moscow Patriarch could give good results?
– I would like to believe it, but unfortunately for the moment, I do not believe that this meeting is possible. The position of the Constantinople Patriarchate is too radical. In 2018, we proposed to Patriarch Bartholomew to study the question together, to begin this work of reflection together, but he replied that he did not have the time. He was in a hurry to give the tomos of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church, while Poroshenko was still in power. But the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has millions of faithful, had not asked for autocephaly. Finally, the tomos was received by a marginal group of schismatics, created artificially on the basis of two existing schismatic structures, and to which was given the name of “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”. Only a few months later, this structure is already in a bad shape: recently, Filaret Denysenko, restored to his episcopal rank by Patriarch Bartholomew, said he was splitting from this new Church, and that he was refounding the so-called “Kyiv Patriarchate”. This is quite natural: a schism always tends to split. In Greece, at one time, there was only one group of old-calendarists. Then there were two, and now, how many? Eight, nine? The same process is under way in Ukraine.
From the very beginning, we had a hard time understanding Patriarch Bartholomew’s logic, and we still do not understand it. Can we imagine the Greek president bringing together two groups of old-calendarists in a single structure, to which the ecumenical patriarch would then give a tomos of autocephaly, declaring the Greek Orthodox Church to be non-existent, and proposing to all its hierarchs to join the new structure ? And yet, this is precisely what happened in Ukraine: a civil leader organized a kind of “unification council” between two schismatic communities, then a tomos of autocephaly was granted to the reunited schismatics, even without them being canonically re-ordained. In fact, these schismatics were never canonically ordained: most of them were ordained by Filaret Denysenko, after he had already been anathematized. Others were ordained by an impostor, a deacon who pretends to be an Orthodox bishop, or sometimes an Anglican bishop. These “hierarchs” are called the “self-ordained”, by the people.
It seems to me that the Ecumenical Patriarch has long been misinformed about the actual situation in Ukraine. He was assured that almost all the hierarchs of the Ukrainian canonical Church wished for autocephaly, but that they feared Moscow. And that as soon as the tomos was signed, they would join the new autocephalous Church. But that did not happen, and could not happen. During his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew on August 31 in Constantinople, Patriarch Kirill had warned him that there would be only one or two bishops likely to join the new structure. And that’s what happened: only two of the ninety hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have joined the legalized schism.
Patriarch Bartholomew said that the purpose of his undertaking was to put an end to the schism in Ukraine. However, it was perfectly obvious that to try to reach this goal by reintegrating the schismatics to the detriment of the local canonical Church which unites the majority of the Orthodox, was a mistake. The Ukrainian people have remained faithful to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. And the new structure, totally artificial, has already begun to disintegrate, because the tensions it contained from the beginning have gotten worse.
– A few days ago, Patriarch Bartholomew announced that the Greek Orthodox Church would soon recognize the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and that other local Churches would do the same after. What do you think ?
– We are grateful to the local Orthodox Churches that none of them has recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Some Churches, in the person of their primates or through their synods, have openly expressed their disagreement with Patriarch Bartholomew’s actions. Others have taken the time to study the matter. It seems to me it is very important not to hurry and make unilateral decisions. Time will put things in their place. If just one or two churches recognized the new structure, it would only deepen the division, because it is obvious that the majority of local Churches will not recognize it. Moreover, in the event of the recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine by a local Church, a division could be created within this Church itself, because a large part of its hierarchy would not accept this decision.
We must wait, pray, hope for divine mercy, and hope that the Holy Spirit will enlighten us all and allow us to make the right decision at the Pan-Orthodox level. I am deeply convinced that the problem of the Ukrainian schism must be solved in this way, with the participation of the whole Orthodox Church. Remember the Bulgarian schism in the 1990s: we managed to get over it. At the time, the Ecumenical Patriarch had gathered the primates of all the local Orthodox Churches in Sofia, and all the Churches had supported Patriarch Maxim, while the schismatics had been invited to repent. We could have done the same thing in Ukraine. But another way was chosen, and we can see its sad consequences.
– We recently published a text by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos. Among other things, he writes that stopping commemorating the primate of honor at the Divine Liturgy is putting oneself in a situation of schism. According to this statement, the Russian Church is schismatic, since it has ceased to commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch. Is it true ? Maybe some concepts are mixed up here, voluntarily or not?
– Of course they are. If we start from this logic, all the local Orthodox Churches have been schismatic since 1054, since they no longer commemorate the Pope of Rome who was formerly the first mentioned in the Diptychs. In the 5th century, Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople became a heretic and was judged by the Ecumenical Council. Should we say then that all the other Churches were schismatic? Or what about all the Churches that did not sign the union with Rome in the 15th century, when the ecumenical patriarch did. Were they schismatic?
Personally, I wonder what theological or canonical arguments can justify the fact of deliberately hurting brothers in faith, their discrimination and violence. But there are too many emotions on both sides, and people lose all sobriety of thought. I would not want to engage in a theological debate with the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos. I will simply point out that the Constantinopolitan Church itself, in recent decades, has more than once resorted to the interruption of communion with the primates of other local Churches, for much less serious reasons.
I must say again that stopping the communion with the Constantinopolitan Church has caused us much sadness. It was a forced measure. But to legalize a schism, to create an “autocephalous” church out of it, to replace the existing canonical Church and its hierarchy, to accept laymen and impostors to the rank of “bishops”, and to actually bless the violence against the faithful, all this contradicts the fundamental principles of the very essence of the Church. In such extraordinary cases, refusing to remain in communion is a healthy reaction, a rejection of a new canonical anomaly by the ecclesial body.
I have exchanged with many Greek hierarchs and other local Churches around the world. Some find the break with Constantinople to be too radical a step: they say we had to continue the negotiations. But nobody considers our position as a schism. Many express their support. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, headed by Metropolitan Onufriy, receives the support of the entire Orthodox community.
We are grateful to those hierarchs of local Churches who support us openly, and to those who simply find it important not to hurry to make decisions. We pray that the Lord will help us together heal the wounds caused to the Church, the old ones and the new ones, so that thus fulfilling the words of St. Paul, “speaking the truth in love, we may grow up in all things into Him who is the head, Christ, from Whom the whole body… according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
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