Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Shot in own foot? Serbian Church quits Conference of European Churches because of OCU

    The Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church decided to suspend the participation of this Church in the Conference of European Churches due to the acceptance of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine into this organization.

    This is reported by Serbian sources, which published a scan of the statement by the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Also, the SOC withdrew its blessing for the work of its delegates at the Conference.

    It is known that OCU received a positive decision on membership in the CEC, which will take effect from the fall of this year (according to the organization’s internal procedure, half a year must pass from the decision to accept a new member to its implementation in practice).

    The Spiritual Front of Ukraine believes that this decision of the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding the Conference of European Churches can be considered from several points of view:

    1) Position of the Serbian Church. The SOC is in the fairway of the Moscow Patriarchate and supports its policy regarding the granting of Tomos to the OCU. The SOC, like the ROC and the UOC (MP), does not recognize the canonicity and validity of ordinations and sacraments in the OCU and does not wish to co-serve and somehow cooperate with it. Therefore, the acceptance of the OCU to the Conference of European Churches, in the opinion of the Serbian Orthodox Church, is unacceptable. Because of this, the SOC decided to suspend participation in the Conference and withdraw the blessing for its delegates to participate in it. This is an expression of protest against the acceptance of the OCU into the Conference, but it looks absurd and illogical, because the CEC has included Protestant churches for decades, the “canonicity” of which cannot be recognized by any autocephalous Church. However, this did not prevent either the Serbian or Russian Churches from being part of the CEC.

    2) Position of OCU. For the OCU, membership in the Conference of European Churches is an opportunity to increase its international legitimacy and recognition, to show itself to the European Churches and once again declare about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the use of “occupiers in cassocks” to destroy Ukrainians. Therefore, OCU gladly made the decision to join this organization.

    3) General assessment. The decision of the SOC can also be seen as an attempt to lobby Russian interests in this situation. It is known that the Russians are sponsoring the construction of a cathedral for the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the latter has tacitly agreed to be an ally of the Russian Orthodox Church in the international arena. We will remind you that at the latest Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Church, the Ukrainian authorities were condemned for the “persecution” of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP), not Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine.

    Did the SOC shoot itself in the foot?

    Self-isolation of the SOC creates further tension in relations between it and the OCU. This may weaken the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the international (Orthodox) arena. It can be seen as a certain defeat of the SOC because before the OCU was accepted into the Conference, the SOC had influence and the right to vote within this organization, and partly formed the agenda. But now that it includes the OCU, this means the legitimization of the OCU in Europe, which consists not only of Orthodox Churches.

    In addition, the decision of the SOC to suspend participation in the Conference can be interpreted as a manifestation of weakness. The SOC could have remained part of the CEC and oppose the OCU from there, promoting pro-Russian narratives within this organization, but it chose a more radical measure – leaving the Conference of European Churches, justifying itself with absurd denials of “canonicity” of the OCU. This is similar to the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church, when Patriarch Bartholomew gave the Tomos to the OCU, and the Russian Orthodox Church withdrew from the union with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In addition, the Moscow Patriarchate also left the CEC.

    Metropolitan Yevstratiy of the OCU reported that the decision of the Conference of European Churches to accept the OCU into its ranks was approved. It is obvious that the majority of Churches supported the membership of the OCU. This means that the arguments of the Serbian Church to prevent the OCU from entering the CEC did not convince other churches. They did not take into account the opinion of the Moscow Patriarchate, which also left the CEC, as was said above.

    Thus, neither Moscow nor Serbian churchmen could effectively defend their position, which showed their weakness within the Conference. Exiting the organization is a last resort that highlights that weakness.

    The Serbian Church “shot itself in the foot” when it left the CEC, since the attempt to prevent the legitimization of the OCU in the international arena turned out to be unsuccessful. Radical exit from the organization looks like a manifestation of weakness, not strength of the SOC. Now the Orthodox Church of Ukraine will have another platform for establishing relations with other Churches and representing its activities. OCU got rid of critics on this platform who self-destructed, so its position will sound even more convincing.

    Radicalism of the Serbian Church against the OCU

    This is not the first time that the Serbian Church has expressed support for the Moscow Patriarchate. It is a geopolitical ally of the Russians in the Orthodox world. Interestingly, the SOC also supports the UOC (MP) and opposes the “persecution” of this Church and normalization of its title. The SOC regularly opposes the ban on the ROC in Ukraine, although it recognizes the UOC (MP) as part of the Moscow Patriarchate. On the other hand, the SOC does not condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

    The exit of the Serbian Church from the CEC can be perceived as a demonstration of rejection of the OCU, but this will not help anyone stop its integration into European church circles. The lack of a more constructive position of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the absurd arguments against the OCU, as a “non-canonical” Church, testify to the limited possibilities of the Serbs in this situation.

    The Conference of European Churches is not only an Orthodox, but also an interdenominational association, which includes not only Orthodox, but also Protestant Churches. Therefore, “canonicity” in the Orthodox sense is not the only requirement for participation in the CEC. Probably, the SOC suddenly forgot about it.

    In addition, the OCU received canonical recognition from the Patriarchate of Constantinople and a number of other local Orthodox Churches, so its “canonicality” is not in doubt, as it is portrayed by the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate.

    Participation in interfaith organizations and forums is a great chance for dialogue, cooperation, and constructive resolution of conflicts. Therefore, justifying the refusal of participation only by “canonicity” is about political games.

    In the future, the Serbian Church will have to accept a new reality, when the OCU will become a full-fledged member of European church organizations and co-serve with the majority of the autocephalous Churches across the world. Thus, in this situation, the SOC shows radicalism and limitation, illogicality and self-isolation, while the OCU has every chance to develop as an autocephalous Church.

    It should be noted that representatives of the UOC (MP) participated in the CEC in a “private manner”, as reported by the Department of External Church Relations of the UOC (MP). That is, there were no official representatives of the UOC (MP) at the CEC, and their position coincides with that of the Serbs and Moscow. However, unofficially, they indirectly supported the membership of the OCU in the CEC and spoke at the Conference, talking about “persecution”.

    Source: Spiritual Front of Ukraine.