As reported by the “Center Khrisma” Telegram channel, affiliated with the ROC’s External Church Relations Department, on December 5-9, 2021, Patriarch Kirill (Gundyaev) of Moscow was slated to visit Presov, Slovakia.
The reason – a celebration by the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia of the 70th anniversary of the granting of autocephaly by the ROC and the 800th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Nevsky.
However, such a celebration would be non-canonical because, according to the canons of the Orthodox Church and Sacred Tradition, autocephaly can be granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate exclusively. Nevertheless, Archbishop Michael of Prague supported the idea and lobbied for Kirill’s visit to Slovakia and believed that the “autocephaly” granted by the ROC to the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia (OCCLS) in 1951 was genuine and valid.
Such an anti-canonical position of one of the OCCLS hierarchs sparked criticism on the part of Patriarch Bartholomew and, as we can see, no visit took place. Also, the head of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, Metropolitan Rostislav, also took a negative stance on the “anniversary dates” being imposed by the ROC.
Plans for the upcoming visit were ultimately thwarted after Patriarch Bartholomew sent a letter to Archbishop Michael of Prague. In his letter, Patriarch Bartholomew explained that the Russian Church is not entitled to grant autocephaly and therefore the Church shouldn’t tie its anniversary to Moscow, as this could lead to deplorable consequences for the OCCLS. Patriarch Bartholomew recalled that the OCCLS applies the Tomos of Autocephaly signed by him personally, back in 1998, rather than the “tomos” issued by the Moscow Patriarchate. From the very start, since the baptism of Rus, the lands of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in the church and administrative senses, were part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, so the Moscow Patriarchate had no right to manage them, as in the case of the Kyiv metropolis.
We say “false” (autocephaly – ed.) because this sister church (ROC – ed.) has never had and still has no canonical rights (to grant autocephaly – ed.), because it, itself, received from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the sole sponsor of autocephaly, its own one in XVI century, just as all other newly-established new autocephalous Churches. If the autocephaly of your Church was canonical and real, why did Your Beatitude Archbishop Dorotheus feel the need at the end of the last century to ask for canonical autocephaly from the Mother – our Church of Constantinople – for the hierarchy, clergy and people of the Czech and Slovak Church in Warsaw and Slovakia?” Patriarch Bartholomew asked Archbishop Michael of Prague in the letter.
The Ecumenical Patriarch also stressed that, in the event of the celebration of the seventieth anniversary of “false autocephaly”, anyone can consider the OCCLS dysfunctional and anti-canonical, the one that is controlled by the Russian Orthodox Church. By “false autocephaly” Bartholomew means the Act of November 23, 1951, by which the ROC MP granted autocephaly to what they claimed was their “exarchate.”
So why did Russia need this celebration? On the one hand, with this stunt, Patriarch Kirill sought to challenge the privilege of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to provide autocephaly. On the other hand, the ROC is willing to get revenge personally on Bartholomew, as it is he who signed off a tomos of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia in 1998.
But despite all the Kremlin’s efforts, the Moscow Patriarchate suffered yet another defeat in its foreign policy, failing to impose its narratives abroad. It turns out that the OCCLS doesn’t want to indulge Moscow’s aggressive actions and become an instrument in the ROC’s intervention aimed to seize primacy in global Orthodoxy.
By Ivan Petrushchak