Forestalling the results of the Synod of Patriarchate of Alexandria held in Africa, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has called the formation of an exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Africa “anti-canonical” and spoke for “restoring the canonical order” on the continent. The response of the Russian Orthodox Church to this and similar statements, the schism and new realities in the world Orthodox community, as well as the principle stand on overcoming the schism in Ukraine were the topics discussed by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, in his interview with the RIA Novosti news agency.
– Your Eminence, how can you comment on the statements of the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Alexandria, in particular the call ‘to restore the canonical order in Africa’?
– The Patriarchate of Constantinople is living in a parallel reality it has created by its actions in Ukraine. We expect the canonical order to be restored in Ukraine and then it will be possible to begin discussing the restoration of canonical order in the whole world Orthodox community. The situation as it has developed in Africa is a direct consequence of the actions taken by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to legalize the Ukrainian schism, to ‘restore in the rank’ the persons who have never had canonical ordination.
In the world Orthodox community, because of the Patriarch of Constantinople’s actions, unilateral and hostile towards the Russian Orthodox Church, a situation of canonical chaos has been created. In this situation, until the canonical order is restored throughout the world Orthodox community, until Constantinople refuses to hold dialogue and continues a monologue by using resolutions in the style Roma locuta, causa finita, Orthodox Churches have to continue making non-standard decisions.
– Why has the Russian Orthodox Church decided to create an exarchate in Africa?
– The Holy Synod of our Church has made a decision to form an exarchate of Africa not to undermine the mission of the Patriarchate of Alexandria or to tear some parishes away from it. The Russian Church does not need it and is not interested in it. We have no hostile feeling for either Patriarch Theodore or any hierarch of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.
On the contrary, we have always appreciated the support of the canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine, which was consistently given by Patriarch Theodore until 2018. We sought to give all possible aid to the Patriarchate of Alexandria and did not create our parishes in its territories, although many Russian-speaking believers, who live in various countries in Africa, asked us to do it. But after Patriarch Theodore began the liturgical mention of the schismatic leader and entered in con-celebration with the schismatics, an unprecedented situation was created as a result of which African clergymen refused to follow their Patriarch in acknowledging the schism and appealed to the Patriarch of Moscow. We were not in a hurry to take the decision, and waited for two years. However, as the Patriarch Theodore’s attitude did not change and no one of the Patriarchate of Alexandria hierarchs expressed disagreement with this attitude, we deemed that we could no longer refuse the clergymen who asked the Patriarch of Moscow to accept them into the jurisdiction of the Russian Church for the only reason – the same one for which we had to break off communion with the Patriarch of Alexandria.
– What will be the response of the Russian Church to the statements of the Patriarchates of Alexandria and Constantinople?
– They were expected, but since nobody asked us, a response is not presumed. In my view, the way of exchanging statements is rather senseless and unpromising. Either we should negotiate the rules of behaviour on the inter-Orthodox level or each Local Church will be left on her own and make independent decisions.
Recently, the need for such dialogue on the inter-Orthodox level has been recalled by Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, who devoted many years of his life to mission in the African continent. I will take the liberty to cite his statement, ‘From the very beginning of the church crisis in Ukraine, we verbally and in writing noted that time does not heal church fractures and schisms but, on the contrary, deepens and cements them. The recent decision of the Moscow Patriarchate to establish an exarchate on the African continent reiterates the original fears… Later, appeals made to ordinary Africans to embrace Orthodoxy will come from two Orthodox Patriarchates, which between them have no communion in sacraments’ From the perspective of the Primate of the Albanian Church, ‘the point is the painful development of the events’. According to him, ‘the affirmation that there is no schism in Orthodoxy but only disagreements reminds me of the theory that the coronavirus does not exist’. Archbishop Anastasios suggests that ‘we should urgently discuss the way of healing and the application of vaccines prescribed by the apostolic tradition: it is peace and reconciliation’.
– Are you in the Russian Church ready for dialogue with all the Local Churches on the problem of schism?
– We are always ready for dialogue. To prevent a dangerous development of the events, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, in August 2018, went to Istanbul to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew. He warned against the dangerous and catastrophic consequences of possible actions to legalize the schism in Ukraine. Regrettably, it did not help. To discuss the problems on the inter-Orthodox level, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem convened in February 2020 a conference in Amman and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill took part in it.
– What in your view is the way out of this crisis?
– The way to the restoration of unity and healing the inflicted wounds lies through a return to the situation as it was until Autumn 2018 – to the situation when the Orthodox Churches conferred together and when, according to canons, ‘the first’ did nothing without the agreement of the rest, while the rest, chaired by ‘the first among equals’, made their decisions conciliarly. Now ‘the first without equals’ has appeared among us, while the monologue in place of dialogue has become a means of communication. The consequences of this fallacious tactics are evident.