Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk:
The Actions of Patriarch Bartholomew Do Not Heal Schism But Deepen It
The President of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion, in an interview with the Greek internet portal Romphea.
– Vladyka, can you comment on yesterday’s statement by the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?
The courage and unity of the hierarchs of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onouphry of Kiev and All Ukraine are inspiring. Despite the enormous pressure on one hand from the Ukrainian state, and on the other the Constantinople Patriarchate, the bishops are holding firm, defending their right to live according to Church canons and preserving their unity with the fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose origins were on the Dniepr River, in the baptismal font of the Grand Duke Vladimir of Kiev 1030 years ago.
Over the last centuries, the territory once known as “Kievan Rus” saw its political borders drawn and erased. But the unity of the Russian Church has remained unchanged.
Today, the hierarchy of the Ukrainian Church staunchly declares that it “supports the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” that is, it respects the political order of its government. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, it is emphasized in the statement, “is present in all regions of Ukraine and unites territories that are under the control of Ukrainian authorities with those that are not, thus sharing all the joys and sufferings of its people.” Bishops, clergymen, monastics and the laity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are patriots of their country. They are not some foreigners who arrived from somewhere abroad and settled in Ukraine. The absolute majority of them were born and reared in Ukraine. They love their homeland and do not wish to be identified with other governments.
This is precisely why the Council of Bishops “opposes any attempt to change the name of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” as Russian or any other. This is not the Russian Church, but Ukrainian, fully independent in its administration, not subject to Moscow either administratively or financially or in any other way. Only prayerful communion is preserved, through the commemoration of the Patriarch and through the participation of Ukrainian bishops in the work of the Holy Synod of the entire Russian Orthodox Church.
I would note: neither the Council of Bishops nor the Synod of the Ukrainian Church has a single representative from Moscow. All decisions are taken by the episcopacy and Synod of the Ukrainian Church independently. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Church, through its representatives participating in the Synod of the Russian Church, can influence decisions applicable to the Russian Church. This is a unique situation, permitting the preservation of full independence and self-reliance in decision-making, and on the other hand, the preservation of unity with the fullness of the Russian Church.
This is precisely why the Council of Bishops decreed: “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is self-governed, endowed with all the rights of independence and autonomy that are today necessary for the fruitful service of God and of the people of Ukraine.” This statement was already made last June, and is repeated now. The Ukrainian Church did not request and is not now requesting any autocephaly. That process of offering autocephaly “to the people of Ukraine” initiated by Constantinople is understood perfectly clearly: “The Assembly of Bishops stresses that the process of granting the so-called tomos of autocephaly is artificial and imposed from the outside. It does not reflect the internal ecclesial necessity and brings no real ecclesial unity, but rather deepens the division and intensifies conflicts in the Ukrainian people. Under such conditions, we consider it impossible to unite this episcopacy, clergy, and laity to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church through such a process.”
What is happening today is the first instance in the history of Orthodox Christianity when autocephaly is not requested but imposed. It is instead imposed through force and blatant pressure. The bishops of a canonical Church are expected to participate in some sort of “unifying council” convened by schismatics with the goal of legitimizing its structure. It is remarkable and sad that the Constantinople Patriarchate took the side of schism instead of supporting the canonical Church which unites millions of believers, including 13,000 parishes, over 200 monasteries which are present on the entire territory of Ukraine, including territories which are not under the control of the Ukrainian government.
I heard with my own ears how Patriarch Bartholomew stated in public at the Synaxis of the Primates of the Local [National] Orthodox Churches in Chambesy in January, 2016: “We welcome His Beatitude Metropolitan Onouphry as the sole canonical head of the faithful of Ukraine, and of course, all the bishops subject to him.” What happened? Why did the position of Patriarch Bartholomew flip to the contrary, and preference is given to the leaders of schism, whom they are attempting to cobble together into some new structure? We have no answers. But we cannot in any way deem this situation normal. That is why we were forced to cease Eucharistic communion with the Constantinople Patriarch, as he is one who finds solidarity with schism, and consequently himself fell into schism. The Russian Church announced this at the Synod held in Minsk on October 15.
Yesterday, a similar declaration was made by the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Church: “The Assembly of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church considers that the October 11, 2018, decisions of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople concerning the Ukrainian ecclesial issue are invalid and have no canonical value. In particular, the decision concerning the establishment of the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the territory of Ukraine results from a speculative interpretation of ecclesial history. As for the decision to lift the anathema and other ecclesiastical bans put on the leaders of the schism, as well as the recognition of pseudo-ordinations celebrated by these schismatic leaders, they are the result of a distorted interpretation of ecclesiastical canons. In Church History, there is no such thing as eradicating a schism by its mere legitimization. In making such an anti-canonical decision and in recognizing the schismatics in their present rank, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, according to ecclesiastical canons, has engaged itself on the path of schism. Therefore, the Eucharistic communion of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with the Patriarchate of Constantinople is currently impossible and suspended.”
I would like to point out that we are not alone in rejecting the anti-canonical actions of Constantinople. A few days ago, the Serbian Orthodox Church, with the voice of the fullness of its episcopacy, declared that “the Patriarchate of Constantinople made a canonically unfounded decision to rehabilitate as bishops and recognize the two leaders of the schismatic groups in Ukraine, Philaret Denisenko and Makary Maletich, together with their episcopate and clergy.” The decision of the Council of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church states that the former had been canonically deprived of his rank, then excommunicated by the Church and anathematized, while the latter was deprived of Apostolic succession as belonging to a sect of so-called “self-sanctifiers,” and that “the holy Bishops’ Council resolved that the decision of the Synod of Constantinople is non-binding for the Serbian Orthodox Church.” Stated in the published document, the Council of Bishops of the Serbian Church does not recognize the aforementioned persons or their representatives as Orthodox bishops and clergymen, and, consequently, does not maintain Liturgical and canonical communion with them and their supporters.
I hope that other Local [National] Churches will speak out, calling upon the Constantinople Patriarchate to cease its actions, which are ostensibly aimed at healing the Ukrainian schism. In fact, these actions lead to a deepening of the schism in Ukraine and the establishment of an unprecedented situation in the Orthodox Church, wherein the body of world Orthodoxy may find itself fractured.
– In your opinion, what are the perspectives for a “unifying council,” and what should we expect of it?
– I think that the prospects are pretty vague. The date for this “council” has already been set, but we don’t see great enthusiasm about its convening either in the canonical Church or among the schismatics. Various numbers of the possible participation by canonical bishops in this “robber’s council” have been estimated—from 10-25. So far we only see two canonical bishops who did not agree with the general opinion of the episcopate of the canonical Church as expressed in the decision of its Bishops’ Council. But will they attend this “unifying council?” That hasn’t been determined. The peril of this event is obvious to all.
Even among the schismatics there is no unity in this matter. Makary’s group said many times that they will not join a structure headed by Philaret Denisenko. True, Philaret now says that he will not offer his candidacy. At the same time, he continues to call himself a patriarch and hopes that in this new structure he will have the title “Patriarch Emeritus of Kiev and All Rus-Ukraine,” that he will head its “synod” and enjoy special privileges. He even called himself the “schema-archimandrite of Kievo-Pechersk and Pochaev Lavras.”
But this doesn’t fit in with Constantinople’s plan. They want a new person to head this “autocephalous church” and want to unceremoniously send Philaret to the “trash-heap of history.” They did not recognize him as a patriarch, but simply as some bishop “formerly of Kiev.” An agreement has been reached between President Poroshenko and Patriarch Bartholomew about how they will dump Philaret. But will the “episcopacy” subjected to Philaret agree with this turn of events? No one knows.
– Still, if a “unifying council” convenes, then who might head this new structure?
– Various candidates are being considered and discussed. The proposal was made that it will be headed by Metropolitan Simeon of Vinnitsa: this is the only bishop who participated in the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church but refused to sign its declaration.
For Constantinople, of course, it would be important that the structure be headed by a canonical bishop, not someone from among the schismatics. This would lend greater legitimacy to the new structure. This is precisely why it is very unlikely that the structure would be headed by a member of Philaret’s “episcopacy.” More likely, it would be headed by one of the two “exarchs” of Constantinople, Archbishop Daniil (Zelinsky) or Archbishop Iov (Gecha), who has been more active in the Ukrainian matter recently.
Archbishop Iov made a very poor showing in Paris, where he was for a short time the head of the Exarchate of Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition of the Constantinople Patriarchate. As a result of sharp internal conflicts following his appointment there, Constantinople was forced to recall him. It’s possible that they wish to test him on a new stage.
– How do the Local [National] Orthodox Churches react to these events, and what reaction would you expect if Ukraine is granted a tomos of autocephaly?
– First of all I would like to note that not one Local [National] Orthodox Church has expressed support for the actions of Patriarch Bartholomew despite his efforts, which include his representatives visiting the Orthodox Churches. He now acts in complete solitude and now even stresses that he does not require the approval of the other Local [National] Churches. If the Constantinople Patriarchate once acted as the coordinator of the Fullness of Orthodoxy on behalf of the Local Churches, we see nothing of the sort today. Phanar only issues claims of certain prerogatives by the Constantinople Patriarchate which allegedly allow the Patriarch to make unilateral decisions.
Calls to Patriarch Bartholomew to reject this position have been made by a series of Local Churches. Other Churches have taken a wait-and-see position and don’t wish to make any statements. Yet others feel that the matter should be decided based on dialog between the Constantinople Patriarchate and Moscow. Yet there is no such dialog now: there is only Constantinople’s monolog.
It is clear to us now: a question of this magnitude—the granting of autocephaly—cannot be decided by Constantinople alone, even if we did have similar historical precedents. An agreement in principle has been reached during the course of preparing for a Pan-Orthodox Council that henceforth the granting of autocephaly must be made with the consent of all Local Churches. Even if this decision was not ratified, wasn’t presented at the Crete Council, the very fact of there being an inter-Orthodox agreement on this matter is obvious and cannot be doubted.
A necessary basis for autocephaly must be, in addition to pan-Orthodox consent, the firm unanimity of the episcopacy, clergy and people of the Church of a specific nation on the matter. Today there is no such unanimity. There is a profound schism which will be impossible to heal through its mere legitimization. That means that the so-called autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine, even if it is created by a tomos by Patriarch Bartholomew and confirmed by a decree from President Poroshenko and a directive of the Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian Parliament], would be a house built not on solid rock but on sand. And the same thing will happen that the Savior spoke about: “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:27).
As far as the canonical Ukrainian Church is concerned, we believe that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The Lord will reward her bishops, clergymen and laity for their firm and courageous stance in defense of ecclesiastical canonical order. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is today a Confessor-Church, wrestles against “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). She will without a doubt emerge victorious from this battle.