Source: Peter Anderson, Seattle USA
On February 13, the Romanian Patriarchate’s news agency, Basilica.ro, issued a clarification relating to the decision of its Holy Synod on February 9 “to approve the recognition of the autocephaly granted to the Church in the Republic of North Macedonia under the name of ‘Archdiocese of Ohrid and North Macedonia, with headquarters in Skopje’ by the Patriarchate of Serbia by its Synodal Tomos issued on June 5, 2022.” The original decision by the Romanian Patriarchate is reported at https://basilica.ro/en/romanian-orthodox-churchs-holy-synod-meets-for-first-time-this-year-decisions/. Its clarification is found at https://basilica.ro/en/clarification-regarding-the-decision-of-the-holy-synod-of-the-romanian-patriarchate-to-recognise-the-autocephaly-of-the-church-in-north-macedonia/. The original statement by the news agency was very significant in that it assigned no special role to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the granting of autocephaly. Earlier, the Moscow Patriarchate in recognizing the autocephaly of the church in North Macedonia had also not mentioned the Ecumenical Patriarchate. http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5952955.html The clarification on February 13 by the Romanian Patriarchate now expressly acknowledges an important role played by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The clarification is as follows:
On February 9, 2023, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church approved the recognition of the autocephaly granted to the Orthodox Church in the Republic of North Macedonia by the Patriarchate of Serbia through its synodal tomos issued on June 5, 2022.
During the synodal session, the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of May 9, 2022, to restore canonical and Eucharistic communion with the Orthodox Church of the Republic of North Macedonia, led by Archbishop Stefan, was taken into account. Furthermore, the Ecumenical Patriarchate entrusted the Church of Serbia with the regulation of administrative aspects concerning the organisation of the new Church in North Macedonia.
Another topic considered by the Romanian hierarchs was the issue of autocephaly and the means by which it is granted and recognised, which was analysed during several working meetings of the Inter-Orthodox Committee for the preparation of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church.
The point of view of the Romanian Orthodox Church regarding autocephaly, which was also presented at the Meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the Holy and Great Council in Chambesy (2011), is as follows:
“The Holy Synod of the mother Church is the canonical authority that can grant autocephaly to a daughter Church through a synodal tomos signed by the Primate of the mother Church together with all the bishops of that Holy Synod. The recognition of the new autocephaly belongs to the entire Orthodox Church, achieved through a tomos of recognition of autocephaly signed, without any distinction, by all the Primates of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, in the order of the Diptychs, within the Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches.”
Given this information, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church respected the decisions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to receive into Eucharistic communion the hierarchs, clerics, monastics and believers pastored by Archbishop Stefan and to leave it to the Patriarchate of Serbia to regulate the administrative aspects between the two Churches.
After recognising the initial synodal tomos issued on June 5, 2022, by the Patriarchate of Serbia granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in the Republic of North Macedonia, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church expects the Ecumenical Patriarchate to initiate (consultations) and issue a final tomos of autocephaly to express a pan-Orthodox consensus on this topic of autocephaly recognition.
The clarification thus makes clear that the “synodal tomos” issued by the Serbian Patriarchate is only the first step and that the process of granting autocephaly will be concluded by a “final tomos” issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate based on a pan-Orthodox consensus. The last sentence of the clarification appears to be more favorable to the Ecumenical Patriarchate than the Romanian statement at the Chambesy meeting in 2011 because the last sentence specifically provides that the “final tomos” expressing a consensus would be issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
On February 7, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia made its decision with respect to the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia. https://orthochristian.com/150985.html; http://www.eparchiapo.sk/sk/dokumenty/aktuality/spravodajstvo/v-presove-zasadala-posvatna-synoda-pravoslavnej-cirkvi-v-ceskych-krajinach-a-na-slovensku The decision was as follows:
The Holy Synod took note of the letters of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the restoration of Eucharistic communion with the dioceses in North Macedonia, as well as the letters of the Serbian Patriarch Porfirije on the reintegration of the Church in North Macedonia into the canonical structure of the Serbian Orthodox Church and on the granting of the autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia by the Patriarchal and Synodal Tomos of May 20, 2022. These canonical decisions of the sister Orthodox Churches were adopted with thanks to God for the elimination of the long-standing schism.
This statement is cautiously worded. It appears to give equal weight to the letters from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Serbian Patriarch Porfirije. Unlike Moscow’s statement, it does not directly say that the Holy Synod recognizes the church in North Macedonia “as an autocephalous” church nor does it say that the name of the church’s primate is inscribed “in the sacred diptychs.” Rather, the Holy Synod “took note” of the letters from Bartholomew and Porfirije and “adopted” the “canonical decisions of the sister Orthodox Churches.”
In Ukraine, Archbishop Sylvester of Bilogorod, rector of the UOC’s Kyiv Theological Academy, has now given a third interview. https://www.dialogtut.org/arhiyepyskop-sylvestr-stojchev-ya-viryu-v-peremogu-ukrayiny/?fbclid=IwAR3t-8lhs49xEmZ_eBykEizmpqfDjsp7glSdeqtqnijokFyTFDaylpLplvs His first two interviews were discussed in my last report. In the third interview, the Archbishop acknowledges that there were “shameful cases” of collaborationism by members of the UOC. He states:
And these are shameful cases. But these are cases, not a systemic phenomenon. However, they are presented in the mass media according to a simple principle: “If there is one traitor among them, then the others are the same.” But this simply contradicts logic, it is an outright manipulation. The vast majority of our priests have been helping the Ukrainian army in every possible way since the first days of the war, going to the front line with humanitarian missions, supporting those who suffered during the hostilities. And let’s not forget that it was His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry who condemned the Russian invasion on the very first day of the war! If I am not mistaken, he was the first religious leader of Ukraine to make a statement condemning Russian aggression. If we return to the issue of collaborationism, I believe that the Church should openly recognize such cases. At the same time, responsibility must be individual. If the priest’s guilt is proven, he must be held accountable according to the law. But this guilt cannot be made collective and put on the whole Church. This, by the way, is another of the basic principles of European justice.
The Archbishop acknowledged that public opinion in Ukraine is now generally negative against the UOC. He stated:
Yes, public opinion is generally negative. But how can it be otherwise, when a negative image of our Church is being strongly created? Of course, there are some things to criticize us. And there are shameful cases of the behavior of clergymen in the temporarily occupied territories. But there are also thousands of completely opposite examples. Have you often seen the news, say, on the leading TV channels, about how our priests took people out of shelling? How did they distribute food, transfer vehicles and funds to the front, provide churches and church premises for the accommodation of refugees? You don’t see? And you won’t see. And you will be told about one priest-collaborator ten times a day on all channels. And after that, what will be the attitude towards us?
The entire candid interview is worth reading.
Peter Anderson, Seattle USA