Τετάρτη, 9 Ιανουαρίου 2019

«ΚΑΙ ΕΠΙΓΗΣ ΕΙΡΗΝΗ». ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥΓΕΝΝΙΑΤΙΚΕΣ ΕΥΧΕΣ ΣΕ ΡΩΣΟΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΟΥΚΡΑΝΟΥΣ ΦΙΛΟΥΣ ΓΙΑ ΤΟ ΜΕΛΛΟΝ ΤΗΣ ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑΣ ΣΤΗΝ ΟΥΚΡΑΝΙΑ “PEACE ON EARTH”: CHRISTMAS WISHES TO RUSSIAN AND UKRAINIAN FRIENDS FOR THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH ΙΝ UKRAINΕ




 Petros Vassiliadis
To all my friends in Ukraine and Russia on the Christmas Eve, with my warmest greetings, taken especially from the angelic hymn:

«ΚΑΙ ΕΠΙ ΓΗΣ ΕΙΡΗΝΗ» (and peace on earth)

In a special session of the forthcoming IOTA conference next week in Iasi, Romania, entitled “Perspectives on Autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” I am going to present my thoughts on the given title: “The Historical, Canonical and Theological Arguments for the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Initiative to Grant Autocephalous Status to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.”

There, I decided to present not the official views of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP), but my personal views, coming out of the results of a scholarly project on the Ukrainian crisis, launched by the Center of Ecumenical, Missiological and Environmental Studies (CEMES). This scholarly project was initiated under the pretext of the Orthodox unity, so vulnerable in the new era of the Orthodox Church that started with the Holy and Great Council. As the Orthodox unity had suffered a serious blow by the last-minute decision of the Russian Church (together with Antioch, Georgia, Bulgaria) not to participate, so also now after the decision of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) to break Eucharistic communion with the EP, made us continue more fervently our quest for Orthodox unity. We examined the Ukrainian autocephaly on scholarly theological grounds within the triptych: “primacy-conciliarity-autocephaly.”

So, from a scholarly academic theological perspective we examined the theological, historical and canonical debate on the issue of the granting autocephaly in a single and united Orthodox Church in Ukraine from as neutral as possible perspective, i.e. by assessing the official positions of all the players of the dispute. The first who produced convincing arguments on the issue was the EP that officially published at the end of September the booklet: THE ECUMENICAL THRONE AND THE CHURCH OF UKRAINE - THE DOCUMENTS SPEAK  (https://www.ecpatr.org/deltiotypou/…/ final%20oukraniko-1.pdf). After this catalytic historical, canonical and theological evidence we eagerly expected some sort of official counter arguments from the MP, which at the beginning delayed to officially present. Only anonymous comments and semi-official responses were published, the most serious being (mid-October) the one by prof. Mickail Zheltov, member of a MP synodical committee, with an older treatise of his, written in English. This only serious Russian counter argument naturally did not fully respond to the most recent arguments of the EP (panorthodoxcemes.blogspot.com/ …/historical-canonica…). The reason we eagerly anticipated an equally strong “official” theological argument by the MP, was that our hope this great Orthodox Church to re-enter the theological debate on equal scientific footing. At the beginning the MP followed a rather communication strategy, repeating in the speeches of His Holiness Patriarch Cyril the conspiracy theory, namely that the entire process was politically motivated and that it is all about evil forces wanting to destroy the Russian Church etc, in addition to repeating the condemnation of a large number of Ukrainian Orthodox not affiliated to MP as schismatics, let alone without making any effort to solve the schism. Even now, in his letter to Patriarch Bartholomew on the eve of the new year, Patriarch Cyril has not changed his Church’s strategy (https://panorthodoxcemes.blogspot.com/2019/01/blog-post.html).
    We, therefore, realized that the main document on which this painful division in a large country, populated mainly by Orthodox, could be resolved was the basic canonical document, the 1686
 Patriarchal and Synodal “Act” or “Letter of Issue” (Γράμμα ἐκδόσεως), by which only the right to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv was granted to the Patriarch of Moscow, on two clearly expressed conditions: (a) to follow the decision of the Kyivan clergy-laity assembly, and most importantly (b) to commemorate always in the Divine Liturgy the Ecumenical Patriarch, something that evidently proves that the Kyivan Metropolia still remained under his omophorion. Instead, the EP argument went on, the MP uncanonically annexed to its jurisdiction the Kyivan Metropolia and the entire Ukrainian Lands (Note: in my view the other EP argument of “a temporal transfer” is of minor importance).

Quite later, at the end of October, there was an attempt by MP to officially answer the EP arguments (https://mospat.ru/gr/2018/10/23/news167003/); and at the end of November the site of the MP DERC reposted prof. Zheltov's treatise, this time translated into Greek (https://mospat.ru/gr/2018/11/28/news167329/). In the interim report it was stated, that prof. Zheltov, being a renowned liturgist, skipped the condition of the commemoration by the Kyivan Metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarch (see especially his note 130), and interpreted this condition as “no more than simple good wishes.”

Both the official MP response to the EP arguments and Prof. Zheltov long article rightly insisted on the unity of the Kyivan and Moschovite Rus. However, this is a past history, by no means relevant to the present situation, where the vast majority of the Ukrainians consider the Russians as aggressors and the head of the MP as persona non grata in the independent now state of Ukraine. Even these later arguments were carefully refuted by the EP, first by an equally extensive treatise by Emer. Prof. Vlassios Feidas, posted at the end of November (29.11.18, see panorthodoxcemes.blogspot.com /2018/11/1686_29.html…) and a week later (4.12.18) by Bishop Makarios of Christoupolis, speaking as Patriarchal representative at a European Union conference, see panorthodoxcemes.blogspot.com /…/12/blog-post_7.html…). And finally, after two days by the EP advisor, Prof. Dn John Chryssavgis, in a short but very convincing video presentation (see https://panorthodoxcemes.blogspot.com/…/the-current-situati…).

 The interim report, released early in December, wishing to be absolutely scientifically fair, did not put the blame for the Ukrainian crisis either on the EP, which is canonically obliged to defend its ecumenically set rights, or on the MP, which was also trying to defend its alleged canonical jurisdiction, using whatever arguments it considers appropriate. The blame was exclusively placed on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP). And this, both for their neglect to Orthodox unity, and, more importantly, to the Rus Kyiv-Moscow unity, on which the MP (her alleged mother Church) had continuously put the emphasis. And of course the blame was directed not to the faithful of this community, but to its leadership, which was slavishly following in all its decisions the Russian Church: both by refusing to meet the Constantinopolitan Exarchs, to whom they could request whatever conditions they wished and even condemn the EP decision; and also in repeating the MP arguments in its last synod at the Lavra of the Caves.

In my view, by refusing to participate in its entirety in the unification process they lost a unique opportunity to secure to a large extent both their legitimate control of the autocephalous-in-the-process Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and – what is even more important – they would determine and pursue the actual unity between Ukrainian and Russian Orthodoxy. Many Ukrainian faithful, including numerous scholars, could not but recall with regret his predecessor’s (Metropolitan Volodymir) conciliatory behavior.

The MP decision to break communion with the EP, using the Divine Eucharist, the ultimate Orthodox characteristic of self-identity, for an administrative dispute is similar to numerous actions in our Church’s long history – in both the first and the second millennium – and in the course of time they were resolved. The MP had recently used it also for the Estonian territorial dispute; but it lifted it after few years. This I also pray to happen again soon.

It is my firm conviction that the MP, by both avoiding to produce the “numerous documentary evidence” (as they said) on their jurisdictional claims, and by insisting till quite recently on other areas (e.g. not accepting the canonical right of EP to receive appeals even outside its jurisdiction, in fact His All-Holiness primacy – on this see Bishop Kyrillos Katerelos of Abydos treatise (panorthodoxcemes.blogspot.com /2018/10/the-exclusive-privilege-of-ecumenical.html#more), has settled to a double jurisdiction in Ukraine.

This seems quite feasible, otherwise, and in view of the possibility of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church joining the new scheme, after taking of course the necessary canonical steps, many devoted Orthodox scholars would possibly prefer the unity with the Roman Catholic Church, especially with the Present Pope, rather than with the Russian Church, especially with her current Russkii Mir theory, which in very many respects is contrary to the mission document of the Holy and Great Council, under the title “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World,” a document for which the Russian Orthodox Church, after all, has officially the most reservations.
     On the historical arguments: In all similar cases in the past and the previous century canonical irregularities, resulting in schismatic situations – most notably in my own Greek autocephalous Church (1833
το 1850) – the Ecumenical Patriarchate intervened, following the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils, and healed the schisms bringing millions of Orthodox back to the canonical Orthodox Church by granting them autocephaly. This is what happened to all newer Patriarchates and Autocephalous Orthodox Churches. It is quite natural to be also applied to Ukraine.

To the natural question: what prompted the EP to take this initiative now and proceed to the Ukrainian autocephaly, my personal view is that the present Patriarch’s priority was the convocation at all costs of the Holy and Great Council, despite the criticism regularly addressed to him from within for many concessions with regard to his primacy role of service to the Orthodox Church. But the real objection should be not “why now,” but “why so late?” For three centuries the MP exercised authority over Ukraine, and none questioned this status, even if it was uncanonical. Canonically, and in general terms also legally, speaking, an irregularity does not change the canonical tradition. To be honest, the EP, despite being questioned as the “Protos”, according to the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, by the Russian Church in numerous occasions – even creating obstacles to the ecumenical dialogue, especially with the Catholics – he preferred not to halt the century-long prepared process toward the long-anticipated Pan-Orthodox Council. If we want to express in simple terms and find out the profound reason behind the Ukrainian crisis, this is no other that “the Orthodox Primacy”!

Another argument was that the schismatics and anathematized – measures that were imposed in a legalistic and semi-nationalistic way, and not in the philanthropic one of the oikonomia that canons request – did not repent. The inability of the UOC MP to solve the problem, and thus retain Orthodox unity in the country, has inevitably forced the Ecumenical Patriarchate to act as it did: by revoking the 1686 act in its entirety, because its condition of a Kyivan clergy-laity election has never been met (we must admit that the MP has lately produced some evidence to the contrary), by receiving the “ekkliton” appeal of the anathematized and schismatics – considered under the EP omophorion – thus restoring Orthodox unity in Ukraine, and by restoring its Stavropegia in Kyiv. In fact, by reinstated the old Kyivan Metropolia, as part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. With that canonical act, the EP succeeded in eliminating all possible canonical reservations, mostly promoted by the MP bloc of Churches.

Others have argued that the Holy Canons, as canonical rules set in an old time, cannot solve current more complex situations with political and geopolitical consequences.  Those who follow this logic, backed by MP, may not go as far as abandoning the ages-old canonical tradition that was established by the Ecumenical Councils, but in the back of their mind they propose a model of church unity without a Protos, without a primacy of honour and service (and with certain prerogatives). In practice, all Orthodox with no exception – and with no theological counter argument – follow a primacy at all levels of Church life (parish, diocese, autocephalous church), except at the universal one.

I am not saying that we must slavishly follow the holy canons with no contextualization of their content. I only insist that we need to keep our canonical tradition faithfully but dynamically interpreted. Otherwise, there is a danger to fall into a protestant-style “confederation” of independent Orthodox Churches, a situation almost inevitable with the alternative proposal. If that happens, we can no longer speak of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” we confess in our Church, but of something alien to Christian and authentic Orthodox ecclesiology.

Unfortunately, for many centuries after the Great Schism we have unconsciously developed a “negative” Orthodox identity: we are not what our tradition has left us as legacy, but what the others, mainly the Catholics, are not; i.e. without a primacy, a visible expression of the Church’s unity, accompanied of course by synodality.
      What is, finally, the most promising outcome of this crisis – now that the process toward the Ukrainian autocephaly reached its final stage with granting  today of the Tomos – is that the EP is reviving an ancient ecclesiological ethos; the participation of the entire people of God (clergy and laity) in our Church’s decision-making process, which in our present day autocephalous Orthodox Churches is either forgotten or at best marginalized. The meaning of the proposed charter has brought back an authentic version of synodality, hopefully to be followed not only at the top, but at all levels of Church life: parish, diocese, regional/national, universal. In the Patriarchal letter of invitation, that ancient conciliar process was underlined, and recommended to the new Ukrainian Church, exactly as in the pre-1686 tradition: “Bishops, priests, those who lead monastic life and laypeople will take part in the Unification Council on December 15 in Kyiv. All of them, the letter goes on, will have the right to vote” (
https://panorthodoxcemes.blogspot.com/ 2018/12/constantinople-finalizes-procedure-for.html). We hope this will alert all our Orthodox Churches, instead of being enslaved, like the Greek and the Russian Churches, among others, to a secular state.

The interim report of the CEMES ad hoc scientific committee for the “Ukrainian crisis” was released on December 8, 2018 (https://panorthodoxcemes.blogspot.com/ 2018/12/the-ukrainian-autocephaly-under.html), covering the period between mid-August to early December. The full report, focusing now exclusively on the “Orthodox unity” will concentrate on the future of Orthodoxy in Ukraine. The committee will ask all Orthodox to make recommendations. My own suggestion as to how the unity of the Orthodox in Ukraine can be restored – I am retiring as the CEMES President to devote myself exclusively to the anglophone inter-Orthodox Post-Graduate Program on “Orthodox Ecumenical Theology” at the International Hellenic University (IHU) – is the following: And it is a pragmatic proposal, based on the actual situation that is revealed at this specific time: I see as an interim solution a double jurisdiction. The existing UOC MP and the new OCU. Although this proposal is uncanonical, and even in the Orthodox diaspora is in the process of being overcome, it is the only feasible solution that will diminish hatred developed during the past 20 years. I hope in a very short time all Ukrainian Orthodox will be reconciled and embrace one another giving an example not only to the rest of the Orthodox, but to the whole world, of what a Christian love is. This, of course, can only be achieved if the MP will follow the example of the EP that allowed a century ago the so-called New Lands in Greece to be temporarily administered by the Autocephalous Church of Greece. In other words, both the UOC MP and the OCU can live side by side for a short time, until a full scale reconciliation and maturity is achieved, and eventually a truly united Orthodox Church in Ukraine emerges During this interim period a Church administration will be agreed upon, with a Permanent Holy Synod consisting of 6 hierarchs from UOC MP and 6 from the OCU, exactly on the model that operates perfectly in the Church of Greece.

I urge you all to send similar thoughts, reflections and proposals to my successor in the leadership of CEMES at cemes2014@gmail.com.