The other day the ROC held a scientific conference targeting the Ecumenical Patriarchate, “World Orthodoxy: primacy and catholicity in the light of the Orthodox faith.” It was attended by hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate, led by Patriarch Kirill (Gundyaev), ROC priests and theologians, as well as Russian church supporters from other Local Churches.
The reports voiced at the conference are yet to be published but it is clear from the available press releases that they all tried to tarnish the name of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Patriarchate of Constantinople as a whole over handing a tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Head of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill (Gundyaev) in his address announced the purpose and tasks of the event. His opening word was full of manipulation, distortion of facts, and a number of controversial issues regarding the very vision of the gift of autocephaly and the Ukrainian church split. Let’s look into his highest-profile statements.
Setting out to analyze Gundyaev’s speech, it is necessary to answer the main question: why did the Moscow Patriarchate host the conference in the first place? As it becomes clear from Gundyaev’s report that the event is a sort of preparation for the future ROC Council of Bishops, which is to take place in November 2021. It was for the decisions to be passed at the upcoming council that the required canonical and theological base was prepared at the said conference.
“I would especially like to note the importance of the conference because the forthcoming Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church will assess what we’re now seeing in the Orthodox world and, if it pleases the Holy Spirit and the attending bishops, will make a decision regarding the position of our Church in relation to Constantinople’s actions,” Gundyaev said.
These intentions were confirmed by Kirill’s close aide, head of the external church relations department, Metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeev). According to the latter, the outcome of the conference will be used at the ROC Council of Bishops.
It’s easy to guess that the decisions in question will be directed against the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which the participants in the meeting are trying to accuse of heresy. Kirill spoke of some aspects of these decisions. Let’s dwell and try to comment on some of them, using openly available, newly revealed facts, as well as refutations.
The first thing that catches the eye is the issue of division in world Orthodoxy, of which most of the participants spoke almost in unison. Thus, according to Kirill, there is an ongoing attempt in global Orthodoxy today, through “political influence,” to “sow division and enmity between peoples and Churches,” designed to separate Greek and Mediterranean Orthodoxy from the Slavic one, primarily from the Russian Orthodox Church. According to Gundyaev, such attempts are aimed at “reproducing the model of the schism of 1054 and thus weaken the Orthodox Church.”
By the way, “The Great Schism of 1054” is one of the favorite metaphors employed by mouthpieces of the Moscow Patriarchate and its branch in Ukraine. This mantra is voiced on all possible media platforms, with the purpose of intimidating believers, given their ignorance of both church history and canon law.
It is worth recalling that the division into Eastern and Western Churches had a number of theological, canonical, and liturgical reasons. The current issue has no dogmatic grounds to be based on. After all, the issue of autocephaly and its gift contains no special theological undertones, while being a matter of a more administrative character. Had it really belonged to the area of the Church doctrine, it would be natural and objective to not have 15 Local Churches operating today. In general, we would have a totally different church system nowadays.
The schism of 1054 came as the result of a long dispute over power in the Church between Rome and Constantinople. However, the misunderstandings of that time cannot be compared with those we’re seeing today. The allegations by the Moscow Patriarchate about the “papal claims” on the part of Constantinople are unfounded. This is confirmed by Patriarch Bartholomew’s recent address following an official meeting at St. Michael’s Monastery in Kyiv.
The patriarch clearly and unequivocally stated that Constantinople never used the privileges to which is entitled to their own benefit. His Holiness said: “History is a credible and honest witness to truth and reality. Since the very beginning, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been a reliable guardian of the Church’s good, and although in times of prosperity and numerical strength it could introduce and establish the pyramidal shape of the Eastern Orthodox Church, it rejected the idea in disgust and never deviated neither the established Ecclesiology nor the Pentarchy system consecrated by the Councils.”
Thus, it becomes obvious that Constantinople, under Patriarch Bartholomew’s omophorion, preserves the canons and historical tradition on which the life of Orthodoxy is actually based, that is, conciliar law. However, these words of the Head of the Ecumenical Patriarchate were left unheard by Patriarch Kirill’s speechwriters.
Another objection to the “latest great schism” is the very situation in world Orthodoxy. After all, so far no Local Churches but the ROC have severed prayerful or any other communication with Constantinople. Even the Churches that allegedly sympathize with Moscow didn’t take such a drastic step. Indeed, some Churches have not yet recognized the OCU, but no one gets into a fight with Constantinople. Also, it is worth recalling that most Local Churches have not recognized the autocephaly of the American Church, granted by the ROC Synod in the middle of the 20th century. No “great schism” happened on that occasion. Besides, Moscow is also silent about it.
Currently, the only Church that has severed communication with Constantinople, Alexandria, Greece, and Cyprus is the Moscow Patriarchate. It is quite obvious that it is Moscow that is the culprit of this so-called “schism”, which in fact has already been committed. Now the Moscow Patriarchate is trying to engage other Local Churches to join suit, under the guise of fighting for purity of global Orthodoxy. Ironically, Moscow is initiating the split, while accusing Constantinople of doing just this. However, such tactics are nothing new for Danilov Monastery.
This is confirmed by another part of Kirill’s report, where he accused Constantinople of disrupting the discussion on the protocol for granting autocephaly, which was set to be adopted at the All-Orthodox Council in Crete back in 2016.
According to Kirill, the document regulating the granting autocephaly was approved by the commissions at the preparation stage in Chambéz, but “at the request of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the issue of autocephaly was removed from consideration.” Thus, he shifted onto Constantinople the blame for the botched attempt to consider the important issue.
However, such accusations are nothing but slander. After all, the ROC head is hypocritical on the said issue, choosing not to explain what caused such a position on the part of Constantinople. To shed light on the issue, it is worth mentioning the 2016 interview with the RISU portal of the Ecumenical Patriarchate hierarch, Bishop Job Getcha. He spoke in detail about the reasons behind removing the issue of autocephaly from the Council’s agenda.
Thus, according to Bishop Job, this was done due to the position of the Moscow Patriarchate, which each time would put forward new claims and not agree with certain aspects of the procedure. Thus, at first, the ROC did not like the fact that autocephaly shall be proclaimed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. “Constantinople cannot grant autocephaly on its own. It should be added that in order to grant autocephaly, there must be consent and appeal from the Church whose part seeks to gain autocephaly,” ROC representatives demanded. The bishop notes that then “the Patriarchate of Constantinople went for a compromise, agreeing that autocephaly can be granted by Constantinople only with the consent and request of the Church whose part seeks to get autocephaly.
However, the ROC’s demands didn’t stop there as later they were no longer satisfied with the procedure of signing the tomos. According to the bishop, initially, a tomos was to be signed only by the Ecumenical Patriarch, while the Russian clergy wanted it to be signed by “all the heads of the local Churches” as they have to agree and “recognize the new Church.” Again, the Patriarchate of Constantinople went for a compromise, saying: “Good. A tomos will be signed by all heads of the local Churches.”
Then Moscow was no longer satisfied with the signatures themselves. “The Patriarch of Constantinople signs the Tomos with the word ‘Proclaims,’ and the other primates, as before members of the Synod, simply put their signatures in the order of the Orthodox diptychs,” said Bishop Job. However, the ROC didn’t like it either and set a new demand, according to which other patriarchs must also add a word after their signature.
According to the hierarch, Constantinople again went for a compromise. And they said: “Well, then let’s do it this way: the Patriarch of Constantinople signs it and writes the word ‘Proclaims,’ and other patriarchs sign it and put the word ‘Co-proclaims,’ by the principle of liturgical worship.” After all, when the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, the first one, whom we consider to have an upper hand in the service, always serves, while others co-serve.”
However, even this single word did not suit the Moscow Patriarchate as they wanted each Primate to sign the tomos with the word “Proclaims”. Constantinople did not agree with this demand. As the bishop explains, it was “not because of its dignity or for some political reason but simply because it is illogical and wrong. Only one person can proclaim something, while others can co-proclaim. It can’t be that everyone proclaims something in their own way.”
From this comment, it becomes clear whose fault was that the issue of autocephaly never made it to the list of topics considered at the Council in Crete. It is obvious that the obstacle was precisely the destructive position of the ROC. All this mess with varying demands further proves that they’ve done everything possible to block the issue. It is possible that, had Constantinople agreed with all their whims, they would have come up with some new ones, even of a more absurd nature.
Their goal was to test Constantinople’s patience and do everything possible to exhaust it. But why? It was in order to first disrupt the consideration of the topic, and on the other hand to put all blame on Constantinople – which is exactly what Gundyaev did in his report.
Concealing own guilt of the ROC in disrupting the adoption of a document on autocephaly, the head of the ROC stated that having canceled all previous agreements, “the Patriarch of Constantinople declared the right he had received from the apostles to grant autocephaly to whomever he wished on his own, without the consent of other Local Churches.” This statement is even more hypocritical and brazen than the previous one.
After all, it is quite logical that without the new document on the granting of autocephaly in place, the procedure remains the same as it was before the Council in Crete. It is worth reminding Gundyaev that it was thanks to that procedure that the Moscow metropolis received the status of a patriarchate from Constantinople in 1589. It was thanks to that procedure that all other Local Orthodox Churches were formed. Therefore, now to deny the right of Constantinople to grant autocephaly means to reject ROC’s own status. It’s actually like cutting a tree you’re sitting on. However, Kirill and his minions are not worried about it as when it comes to the Moscow Patriarchate, the canons recede into the background.
Then Gundyaev spoke about heresy and schismatics, praised his branch in Ukraine, and strangely enough revealed own incompetence in the Orthodox canons.
“Of course, the church canons offer quite comprehensive answers to all these questions. But how can one apply these canons in practice? What exactly do they mean in the current situation? Where are the limits of iconomy, and where should acrivia begin? I hope that the participants in this conference will reflect on this topic as well,” said the head of the ROC.
Thus, Kirill’s report contains blatant lies, while the conference as such was set up only to create a canonical and theological basis for condemning Constantinople and justifying own whims. It is likely that the decision has already been made, and all that’s left is to publish it. It is worth noting that this conference is just the beginning as a similar event will soon be held by a branch of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. We can already state that it will pursue the same goal.
However, all such attempts by Moscow to sow splits in the Ecumenical Orthodoxy are doomed to failure. After all, it is quite obvious that none of the Local Churches will go for such an endeavor. Therefore, the Moscow Patriarchate, if it makes any relevant decisions at the upcoming council, risks finding itself in complete canonical isolation. By their actions, they are personally signing their own verdict, having every chance to go down in world history as the initiators of the pseudo-Moscow split.