The Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate deems it necessary to refute the canonically and theologically unjustified accusations made against the Russian Orthodox Church in an interview given by Metropolitan Gregory of Peristeri to the sites ORTHODOX TV on 5th February 2022 and Aparchi on 6th February 2022.
Under the pretext of an ecclesiastical and canonical analysis, His Eminence Metropolitan Gregory has spread false and slanderous accusations to the effect that the Russian Church over the past thirty years has prepared a “strategy” of intervening in the canonical territory of the other Local Orthodox Autocephalous Churches, that she has been laying claim to universal jurisdiction in the Orthodox world and that these ambitions are to be found in her statute. The Department for External Church Relations states with all responsibility that neither the previous, nor the present statute of the Russian Orthodox Church, the text of which is publicly available, has ever violated the canonical boundaries of the other Local Orthodox Churches. The current statute of the Russian Orthodox Church lists the countries that are a part of her canonical territory: “The jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church shall extend to persons of Orthodox confession living in the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the Republic of Belarus, the Republic of Moldova, the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, Mongolia, the Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Republic of Estonia, Japan, and also to the Orthodox Christians living in other countries and voluntarily joining this jurisdiction” (I.3).
Similar accusations by metropolitan Gregory on the Russian Orthodox Church’s ethno-phyletism are equally unfounded and thoughtless. Had the metropolitan of Peristeri bothered to acquaint himself with the statute of the Russian Church, nowhere would he have found any provisions that “people of Russian origin who live around the world” belong to her jurisdiction. However, he would have found in the very first lines of this document these words: “The Russian Orthodox Church is a multinational Local Autocephalous Church in doctrinal unity and in prayerful and canonical communion with other Local Orthodox Churches.” These words completely refute the absurd arguments of the Greek theologian that the Russian Orthodox Church had supposedly annulled her own autocephalous status since she allegedly does not respect the bounderies of the other Local Churches and has broken off communion with some of them.
The Russian Church is in communion with the fullness of the Orthodox Church, she respects the boundaries of the Local Orthodox Churches that have not sullied themselves by communing and concelebrating with schismatics and maintains communion with these Churches. The suspension of communion with those Local Churches and those bishops who have entered into communion with those ‘bishops’ of a schism who have been excommunicated and do not have canonical consecration is founded upon the following canon rule: “If any one of the bishops, presbyters or deacons, or any one in the canon shall be found communicating with excommunicated persons, let him also be excommunicated, as one who brings confusion on the order of the Church” (Synod of Antioch, 2nd canon; Apostolic Canons 10,11).
There are no documented precedents of pan-Orthodox decisions on the temporary or permanent rescinding of autocephaly. The liquidation of the status of a particular Local Church – for example, on the territory of the Byzantine of Ottoman empire – was made by the secular authorities and on the basis of secular legislation.
Such decisions, even more so, cannot be taken at a so-called ‘Council of the Pentarchy’ that the metropolitan of Peristeri Gregory talks about. We are obliged to remind readers that the theory of the ‘Pentarchy’ arose in the Orthodox East between the sixth and eighth centuries, but was never universally recognized throughout Christendom. Firstly, it was not recognized by the Church of Rome. Secondly, this theory left out of account the other autocephalous Churches which existed at the time, such as the Church of Georgia and the Church of Cyprus.
At the end of the sixteenth century, when the four Eastern Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem accorded the Primate of the autocephalous Russian Church the dignity of Patriarch, he then occupied fifth place in the diptychs of the Local Orthodox Churches.
In its time the idea of the ‘Pentarchy’ was used by some theologians as a symbol and image of the equality of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches as a counterweight to the ambitions of the iconoclastic patriarchs of Constantinople and the absolutism of papal authority in the Roman Church. It is sad to see today how His Eminence the metropolitan of Peristeri uses the concept of “the accord with one mind of the five patriarchs” (Saint Theodore the Studite, Letter 478) to nullify the equality of the Local Orthodox Churches in favour of the latest papal ambitions of the Church of Constantinople.
The Russian Orthodox Church has always treated venerably the Eastern Patriarchates, for centuries she has shown them support and today she tirelessly struggles for these Patriarchates to be preserved on their historical territory in conditions of ever-growing persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
As regards the Patriarchal exarchate in Africa, then the sole reason and circumstances for its creation have been laid out in the statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of 28th January 2022. In particular, it was emphasized that the creation of this exarchate “is not an expression of claims to the canonical territory of the ancient Church of Alexandria, but pursues the sole aim of providing canonical protection to those Orthodox clerics in Africa who do not wish to participate in the lawless legitimization of the schism in Ukraine.”
Metropolitan Gregory offers a false interpretation of the reason why the Russian Orthodox Church separated from the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the fifteenth century, calling this separation a “schism”. It is worth noting that the metropolitan of Peristeri does not consider the separation of the Western and Eastern Churches in 1054 a schism, emphasizing that it was merely a “rupture of communion between the two Patriarchates because of certain disagreements.” We would like to remind him that the Russian Church was forcibly separated from the Church of Constantinople as a result of the Church of Constantinople entering into a Unia with Rome in 1439, after which metropolitan Isidore, who had been sent by Constantinople to occupy the see of Moscow, commemorated the pope at services in Moscow and made public his intention to reunite with the Roman Catholic Church.
After abandoning the Unia with Rome and having repeatedly fallen away from Orthodoxy earlier, the Church of Constantinople never called the independence of the Russian Church a schism. Thus, for example, in 1561His Holiness the Patriarch of Constantinople Joasaph II and thirty-six bishops of the Church of Constantinople collectively confirmed the coronation by the metropolitan of Moscow Macarius of tsar Ivan the Terrible without the slightest objection to its canonicity or the authority of metropolitan Macarius. Moreover, the Patriarch sent to metropolitan Macarius a brotherly Epistle of Admonition in the Divine Writings, expressing his concern at the spread of Lutheranism “in your lands in Little Russia” and calling upon him to hold steadfastly to Orthodoxy; this appeal would have been highly inappropriate had it been made to a schismatic.
Scandalously, the metropolitan of Peristeri compares the granting of Patriarchal status to the Russian Church in 1593 to the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian schismatics in 2018, claiming that both events are almost identical. This comparison is wrong. In the first instance, we are dealing with a conciliar decision as the attempts by the Patriarch of Constantinople Jeremiah II to act unilaterally upon this issue were not met with the approval of the other Eastern Patriarchs. At the insistence of Saint Meletius I Pegas, the Patriarch of Alexandria, the status of Patriarchate was affirmed in the Russian Church as a conciliar act at the Holy and Great Council of 1593 in Constantinople and was signed by all of the Eastern Patriarchs. The text does not contain a single mention of the institution of the autocephaly of the Russian Church, which at that moment had already been recognized de facto by the fullness of the Orthodox Church.
By contrast, in the instance of the recognition of the Ukrainian schism in 2018, we are dealing with a unilateral legalization by the Church of Constantinople of the canonical status of persons who do not have canonical consecration or even apostolic continuity.
Metropolitan Gregory insists upon the supposed special privileges of the Churches mentioned in the acts of the Ecumenical Councils with relation to the Local Churches which were founded later. He also invents a fantastic division of the Patriarchates into certain “urban patriarchates” and “provincial patriarchates”, which has no foundation in the canon law of the Orthodox Church. His Eminence the metropolitan states literally the following: “The title of ‘Patriarch of Moscow’ does not exist.” Let us then remind him of what the act of the Holy and Great Council of 1593 actually states: “The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and the Northern Lands shall occupy a place after the All-Holy Patriarch of Jerusalem in both the sacred diptychs and in Church gatherings … And he shall be venerated as the head of the realm of Moscow and All Russia and the Northern Lands … He shall also be called a brother of the Orthodox Patriarchs by virtue of his title, in rank and dignity co-equal, and his title is to be written and signed according to the custom of the Orthodox Patriarchs: ‘The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and the Northern Lands’”.
The text of this conciliar act especially emphasizes the equal status of the Patriarch of Moscow in relation to the other Primates of the ancient Churches. As the text makes clear, the Council also accords the Patriarch of Moscow fifth place in the diptychs after the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Metropolitan’s Gregory’s assertion that the fifth place of the Russian Church in the diptychs is an “error which needs to be rectified” and his proposal that the Church of Cyprus should occupy fifth place directly contradicts ecclesiastical custom and the universally recognized decision of the Orthodox Church, and can only be explained as an acute need to find political allies.
Profound bewilderment is also caused by the metropolitan’s words that the right to grant autocephaly is enjoyed solely by the “most ancient” of Local Churches, and even then, by each one separately. The procedure for granting autocephaly has never been fixed in the canon law of the Orthodox Church. In the modern era it was agreed upon by the commonly recognized Local Orthodox Churches, including those of Constantinople and Greece, at the sessions of the Inter-Orthodox preparatory commission in Chambésy in November 1993 and in December 2009. This procedure proposed combining the prerogatives of the kyriachal Church, which evaluates the ecclesiological, canonical and pastoral reasons for granting autocephaly, with the Orthodox consensus and the coordinating role of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Subsequently, the Church of Constantinople publicly renounced this document and declared that she enjoys the exclusive right to grant autocephaly unilaterally. And yet the stance taken by metropolitan Gregory would suggest a new model of granting autocephaly, unprecedented among the Orthodox Churches.
His Eminence the metropolitan’s assertion that autocephaly was supposedly granted to the Russian Church only within the confines of Russia and in the context of maintaining eucharistic communion with the other Churches is arbitrary and without foundation. He claims that the Russian Church violated these conditions, and that as a result of this autocephaly can be annulled by a Council of elect Primates who are accorded some sort of special status and privileges in the Church.
The granting of autocephaly or the status of Patriarchate to a Local Orthodox Church is an unconditional act and cannot be restricted or recalled. The canonical territory of each of the presently existing Patriarchates, including those referred to by the Ecumenical Councils, has on many occasions been widened and reviewed as a result of objective historical processes and is not limited to the territory of a particular country. In addition, the text of the act of the Council of the Eastern Patriarchs in 1593 on the confines of the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow states merely “of All Russia and the Northern Lands” without any clarifications.
The current-day leadership of the Patriarchate of Constantinople has undertaken an unprecedented attempt at reviewing opportunistically the centuries-old confines of the Local Churches and at recalling collectively confirmed acts that are three centuries old by perversely reinterpreting their until now obvious meaning and passing off its own position as that of the Holy Fathers and universal Church tradition.
The unilateral actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Ukraine – the uncanonical recognition of the Ukrainian church schism, including the recognition of persons not having canonical consecration and the granting to them of ‘autocephalous’ status against the will of the bishops, clergy and faithful of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church – have had the most serious of consequences not only for the unity of the Orthodox Church, but also for the unity of the common theological understanding of fundamental canonical and ecclesiological principles. They have led to an extreme politicization of Orthodox theology and its being brought down to the level of cheap sophistry that recall the times of the Arian heresy, as Saint Gregory the Theologian wrote: “But since they neglect every path of righteousness, and look only to this one point, namely, which of the propositions submitted to them they shall bind or loose, like those persons who in the theatres perform wrestling matches in public, but not that kind of wrestling in which the victory is won according to the rules of the sport, but a kind to deceive the eyes of those who are ignorant in such matters, and to catch applause.” The audacity and fantasies of the present-day experimenters in the realm of theology and ecclesiology are rooted not in the Church’s teachings and their practical application in life, but solely in political ambitions.
The metropolitan’s fantasies propose the division of all of the existing Local Orthodox Churches into first-class and second-class Churches. The first-class Churches would be those which are mentioned in the acts of the Ecumenical Councils: the first four Patriarchates (without Rome) and the Church of Cyprus. The remaining Churches would be second-class. The first-class Churches would give orders to the second-class Churches and make decisions for them. All of this has the appearance of a wretched and canonically worthless demagoguery aimed at justifying the acts of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in legitimizing the Ukrainian schism, the erroneous nature of which becomes more evident with each passing year.