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Two local jurisdictions within the Eastern Orthodox Church announced their refusal to accept the legitimization of two schismatic groups in Ukraine, a move authorized by the Ecumenical Patriarch, but spurred by powers in the United States and Petro Poroshenko’s secularist-oriented Ukraine.
On October 11th, 2018, the Ecumentical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, authorized his legates to pronounce two schismatic Orthodox “churches” in Ukraine to be restored to canonical communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and by extension, across the entire Orthodox world.
This move was strongly condemned by the authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has the only canonically accepted church presence in Ukraine, a situation that the Ecumenical Patriarch himself agreed with only a few years ago.
Russia moved to break communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, creating a split in the Orthodox Church, but a split that at first risked Russia standing alone in their statement of disapproval of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s actions.
For a time the reaction of the other “local” Orthodox Churches was cautious, with the vast majority (excepting only the Greek Church in the USA) coming out in support of the canonical group in Ukraine, but without taking similar action to Moscow.
That appears to be changing.
On November 12 and 16, respectively, the Churches of Serbia and Poland issued strong statements. They both categorically refused to recognize the Ukrainian schismatic groups and they forbade their clergy to concelebrate with the “clergy” within these groups. The Serbs’ statement on this was as follows:
“The Assembly does not recognize the mentioned figures and their followers as Orthodox bishops and clergy and, consequently, does not accept liturgical and canonical communion with them and their supporters.”
The Polish Church made a similar announcement, but with even more force:
“The Holy Bishops’ Council forbids the priests of the Polish Orthodox Church from having liturgical and prayerful contact with the ‘clergy’ of the so-called Kiev Patriarchate and the so-called ‘Autocephalous Orthodox Church,’ which have committed much evil in the past,” the statement reads.
According to the Polish hierarchs, persons deprived of episcopal and clerical ordination cannot be leaders in establishing peace in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
“Only the observance of the dogmatic and canonical norms of the Church and the preservation of the centuries-old tradition will protect Orthodoxy from severe ecclesiastical consequences on an international scale. The Polish Orthodox Church prays fervently for the unity of the holy Orthodox Church and for peace for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” the message further reads.
And while yet officially under the omophorion of Constantinople, several Greek monasteries on Mount Athos, the Orthodox monastic republic that is the spiritual center of all of Eastern Orthodoxy, inserted special petitions in their services to pray for Metropolitan Onufry and the people of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – that is, the canonical group that is a highly autonomous, or independent, Church while yet under the Moscow Patriarchate.
This is an interesting situation because in terms of ecclesial jurisdiction, Mount Athos is actually under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, the monasteries there often are known for taking the hardest of hardline stances when even their own Patriarchate takes actions they feel to be wrong:
Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians go on pilgrimage to Mt. Athos, which is under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, every year. However, the Russian Church, of which the Ukrainian Church is an autonomous, self-governing part, broke communion with Constantinople on October 15, which the Ukrainian Church confirmed yesterday, due to unilateral Constantinople’s interference in ecclesiastical life in Ukraine.
“We know that the majority of the abbots of the Athonite monasteries do not agree with the anti-canonical decisions of the Phanar,” Met. Anthony said.
“In several monasteries—Greek ones, by the way—they have included a special petition in the Litany of Peace in the morning and evening services: ‘For His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry with his suffering flock.,’” he explained, adding, “We are very grateful to the Athonites for their brotherly love and prayers.”
This is a story that it still developing, but the recent moves by Poland and Serbia may be outlining the path that other local Orthodox Churches will take.
That move is to deny recognition to the schismatics that Patriarch Bartholomew lifted the anathemas and depositions for. If this step were to be taken by all the local Churches that have expressed support for the canonical Ukrainian Church, the result would be not much different than where the schismatics were on October 10th:
Filaret Denisenko’s group and Makary’s group would indeed have communion with Constantinople, and presumably the Greek Orthodox Church in the USA, but with no one else.
This move would be a severe repudiation of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s repeated declaration that he has the sole authority to grant autocephaly to anyone anywhere in the Orthodox world (or even to take it away), which is a canonical absurdity.
Given the substantial problems that Filaret Denisenko continues to create, such as refusing to be considered only a Metropolitan (this was the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s order), and to still consider himself a patriarch, blessing a blasphemous “icon” that is really just a monument to Ukrainian ultra-nationalism and secularism (note the neo-Nazi wolfsangel and machine guns in the upper right of this photo:
And given the ideations of Patriarch Bartholomew himself, who is also recently reported to be pushing towards creating unity with the Roman Catholic Church, while acting like a pope himself by insisting that all the local Orthodox Churches will accept his decisions, it does not look like this situation is going to go away by itself.
However, by placing the problem of the schismatics squarely in Patriarch Bartholomew’s hands (since he created the problem), the pressure created by other churches refusing to concelebrate with the Ukrainian schismatics may be enough to isolate the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, rather than fulfilling the highly likely goal that the US, Ukraine and Patriarch Bartholomew may have had initially – to isolate Russia and create a situation where Russia is made to look like the bad guy, once again.