Source: Peter Anderson, Seattle USA
The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Albania on February 24 issued a communique relating to the Orthodox church in North Macedonia. https://orthodoxalbania.org/2020/en/2023/02/24/communique-the-holy-synod-orthodox-autocephalous-church-of-albania/ The official English translation is as follows:
The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, during her session of February 23, 2023, under the presidency of His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios, reiterated that she gladly welcomes the decision of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, of last May 2022, that “She accepts into Eucharistic communion the Hierarchy, the clergy, and laity of the Church under Archbishop Stefan… She recognizes as the name of this Church “Ahridos” (meaning the area of her jurisdiction lies only within the boundaries of the territory of the state of North Macedonia).”
During the intervening period, the Orthodox Church in Albania did not proceed with any public statements, awaiting the fulfillment of the required ecclesiastical procedures. Fully agreeing that by the aforementioned decision, widely acceptable, the wound of the existing schism is healed and that the peace and the unity of the entire pleroma are secured, She awaits the definite regulation of the status of autocephaly, and the exact name of the new local Church granted properly by the Revered Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Significantly, the communique does not mention the “tomos” of autocephaly granted by the Serbian Patriarchate and clearly states that any grant of autocephaly must come from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Also on February 24, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Patriarchate “considered a letter received from Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria, in which he gave notice concerning the non-canonical actions of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’ in the canonical (geographical) territories of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, concerning the imposition of ecclesiastical punishment on Metropolitan Leonid Gorbachev of Klin ( Moscow Patriarchate) and his return to the ranks of monks, as well as to suspend for an indefinite period of time the commemoration of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’.” https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news/reshenia-na-sv-sinod-na-bpts-bp-ot-zasedanieto-na-24-fevruar The Bulgarian Holy Synod unanimously decided: “The letter should be sent to the Canon Law Commission of the Holy Synod, which will investigate in detail the problem that has arisen on the territory of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, then meet with the Holy Synod in full composition.” By an 8-3 vote, the Holy Synod also decided: “The clergy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church – Bulgarian Patriarchate is to refrain from divine services with Metropolitan Leonid Gorbachev of Klin until the final decision of the Holy Synod.” The names of the Synod members voting for or against the latter decision are given in the announcement. Of particular interest, Patriarch Neofit voted yes, and Metropolitan Gavriil of Lovech (a well-known friend of the Moscow Patriarchate) voted no. A very recent RT interview of Metropolitan Leonid, with simultaneous English translation, can be viewed at https://odysee.com/@RT:fd/metropolitan_leonid_2502:2 .
A good English translation of the appeal made at the meeting on February 16 by priests and lay persons from the UOC and from the OCU is now available. https://publicorthodoxy.org/2023/02/23/st-sophia-oco-uoc-appeal/ The meeting was held at the National Sanctuary Complex Kyiv Sophia and was hosted by Viktor Yelensky, head of Ukraine’s State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), and by certain other organizations. The purpose of the meeting was to create greater understanding between the UOC and the OCU. Professor Sergii Bortnyk, who is a professor of theology at the Kyiv Theological Academy (UOC) and is a member of the DECR of the UOC, was a participant in the meeting. He has given an interesting interview concerning the meeting. https://www.dialogtut.org/na-zustrichi-v-sofiyi-ya-pobachyv-inshi-nastroyi-sergij-bortnyk-pro-dialog-upcz-ta-pczu/?fbclid=IwAR3jUffFElwzqdwiF3RfFQ-9aCaikDR8-DDQKpdu2sOOxuZOC4LbpTiVedQ Some of his observations are as follows:
I think that in the communication between representatives of our two Churches, it is important for both sides to understand that the opposite side is not a monolith. Among “them” there are not only “hawks,” but also quite constructively disposed and truly Christian-motivated people. I saw exactly such people from the OCU side at this meeting….I saw representatives of the OCU who were constructive. At the same time, I had a completely positive impression of the prayer that preceded the communication — it was a prayer of pious Christians. For me personally, knowing and seeing with my own eyes that there are such believers in the OCU was psychologically important. Speaking theologically, I saw the real action of grace among these people….
I think we need to spot actions that destroy common stereotypes. By the way, when at the beginning of the meeting in Sofia, those present briefly spoke about their wishes and expectations, several UOC priests made it quite clear: they are here to destroy myths, break stereotypes, etc…. Regarding the settlement of church conflicts, I think a fair parallel to the search for understanding between the UOC and the OCU is the reconciliation that took place in 2007 between the two branches of Russian Orthodoxy – the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad. Let me remind you that they have been at enmity for decades; there were mutual accusations of collaboration with the enemy, statements about the ingratitude of the structures, etc. This example is important to me because there was a reconciliation of jurisdictions without a merger of structures….
In fact, I have already formulated my vision: gradual rapprochement and destruction of stereotypes. Such a path, by the way, is laid out in the Address of the participants of the inter-church dialogue in Sophia of Kyiv, published on Monday, three days after the meeting itself. On the one hand, a wish is formulated — the unification of all Orthodox Ukrainians into one church structure. But on the other hand, there is an awareness that “the path may not be easy, but it is our duty to start this movement.”
On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, the DECR of the UOC has issued a “commentary.” The official English translation of the commentary can be read at https://vzcz.church.ua/2023/02/24/commentary-of-the-decr-of-the-uoc-on-the-occasion-of-the-anniversary-of-russias-full-scale-invasion-of-ukraine/?lang=en . The commentary describes the immediate condemnation of the invasion by the primate of the UOC and the additional condemnations by the Holy Synod, individual bishops, clergy, and laity. It points out that members of the UOC are engaged in fighting on the front lines, collecting humanitarian aid, and caring for the wounded as well as praying for Ukraine. On the other hand, the commentary criticizes the current “rhetoric” of politicians and the mass media against the UOC and refers to the “capture” of its churches. The commentary also states:
That is why today, more than ever, it is important for us to preserve the unity of the Ukrainian people by supporting inter-confessional peace in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is open to dialogue with the state authorities, and condemns any attempts to incite enmity on religious grounds, as well as facts of collaboration with the enemies. It is a pity, but one should recognize that certain members of our Church have committed such violations. We believe that such cases should be thoroughly investigated and treated impartially in the courts. At the same time, we emphasize that in a legal democratic state, which Ukraine aspires to be, it is unacceptable to baselessly accuse millions of faithful of our Church of collaborationism or treason.
Interestingly, the above quotation refers to “dialogue with the state authorities” to support inter-confessional peace but fails to mention the possibility of dialogue with other churches, such as the OCU or the UGCC, for the purpose of promoting inter-confessional peace. The general refusal of the UOC to meet with the OCU or the UGCC (except for meetings of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches) is one of the reasons why the meeting of priests and others on February 16 at the Sophia represents a ray of hope.
On February 25, Father Georgy Kovalenko gave a long interview that expressed his perspective on the present state of the UOC. https://gazeta.ua/articles/life/_moskovskij-patriarhat-stvoryuvali-za-nakazom-stalina–georgij-kovalenko-pro-stan-rpc-v-ukrayini-pislya-roku-vijni/1134341 Father Georgy has been the rector of the Open Orthodox University of Saint Sophia-Wisdom in Kyiv since 2016 and is now a member of the OCU. From 2008 to 2014, he was the press secretary for the primate of the UOC, Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan), and was the official spokesperson of the UOC. Father Georgy also had a major role in the February 16 meeting at the Sophia. In view of his role in trying to improve relations between the OCU and the UOC, I was surprised by how negatively he assessed the UOC. One of his factual statements, which I found interesting, is the following:
Even in Kyiv, there are priests who continue to commemorate the Russian patriarch and promote the narrative of the “Russian world.” The clergy of this church speak about it. Perhaps this is a minority among believers. Among the clergy – not the majority, but the percentage is noticeable. But I have doubts that the overwhelming majority of bishops support Ukraine.
On February 23, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch elected Metropolitan Saba as the new Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. https://antiochian.org/dashboard?name=MetSaba Metropolitan Saba has been the head of the diocese of Bosra, Hauran, and Jabal Al-Arab (located in the most southern part of Syria) since 1999. He speaks fluent English. He was chosen from a list of three candidates nominated at a special convention of the Archdiocese of North America, held in Dallas in January. https://orthochristian.com/150491.html Aside from Metropolitan Saba, the list included two American bishops. Perhaps in selecting Metropolitan Saba, the Holy Synod was motivated, at least in part, by a desire to ensure that the head of this very important Archdiocese has very strong roots in the mother church in Syria.
Lastly, the Vatican announced on February 27 that Pope Francis will visit Budapest, from April 28-30. https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2023/02/27/0168/00364.html
Peter Anderson, Seattle USA