Source: Union of Orthodox Journalists
The decisions of the Council of the Greek Church can be interpreted either way. Only commemoration of Epiphany will tell if tectonic shifts are to begin in Orthodoxy.
The decision of the Council of Bishops of the Greek Church on Ukrainian autocephaly stirred up commotion throughout Orthodox world. A lot of bishops, priests and lay people, as well as the media perceived it as recognition of the OCU by the Hellenic Church.
From various sources it became known that only 7 (according to other information, 12) out of 69 hierarchs disagreed to the decision of the Council of Bishops of the Greek Church (this is what we will call the Synod of Hierarchy). Therefore, it seemed that the decision was made by an overwhelming majority of votes, which means that the Greek Orthodox Church fell away from the plentitude of World Orthodoxy.
In this regard, a number of questions arise:
- Has the Church of Greece recognized the OCU?
- What happened at the Council of Bishops?
- Is the decision really taken by a majority vote?
- How did the Orthodox world react to the decision of the Council?
- What happens next?
Has the Church of Greece recognized the OCU?
This has not yet happened. In fact, the Council of Bishops ratified the August decision of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece. According to the wording of the communiqué, the Church of Greece recognized the right of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to grant autocephaly and the right of the Primate of the Greek Church, Archbishop Ieronymos, to further resolve this issue.
The recognition of the OCU by the Church of Greece will occur in the event of:
- a letter of congratulation, which the Primate of the Church of Greece, according to protocol, must send to the newly elected Primate of the Local Church;
- when the name of Epiphany Dumenko appears in the diptych of the Greek Church and will be proclaimed by Archbishop Ierronymos during the Great Entrance at the Divine Liturgy.
Until today, neither the former nor the latter has been the case.
Incidentally, Archimandrite Kirill (Govorun), a big proponent of the OCU’s autocephaly, agrees with this. “It (the decision of the Council – Ed.) only confirmed the decision made at a meeting of the Synod in late August,” he wrote on his page on Facebook. “And it was made so that those dissenting can interpret it in their own way. The Council did not take any steps further than the Synod did. In my opinion, both the Synod and the Council, through the recognition of the right of Constantinople to grant autocephaly, recognized the specific implementation of this right in the case of OCU. But they did not make unambiguous statements, obviously, so as not to provoke the ROC to break off communion with the Greek Church. The decision of the GOC will be ultimately clarified by its primate when he makes the first liturgical mention of the head of the OCU.”
In the report of His Beatitude Ieronymos at the Council of Bishops there really is a phrase in which he recommends the Church of Greece to recognize the OCU. Literally, it sounds like this: “I propose that our Church recognize the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of the independent Republic of Ukraine.” Accordingly, a conclusion can be drawn that, although in the formulations of the Council there is no clear recognition of the OCU, the hierarchy of the Church of Greece is going to make steps in the near future to dispel doubts about this fact.
What happened at the Council of Bishops?
A number of bishops requested the Council (and before that – the Synod) to defer the solution of the “Ukrainian issue”. The most rigid position on this issue was taken by several metropolitans, among whom Metropolitan Seraphim of Kythira and Antikythera should be given particular prominence. It was he who demanded that answers be given to all questions regarding the canonicity of schismatic ordinations, their repentance of the sin of schism, as well as justification for Phanar’s consideration of the petition from the anathematized former metropolitan Filaret.
The position of Metropolitan Seraphim was also shared by other bishops, whose total number is much more than the seven bishops voiced in the media. Many of them spoke openly or expressed their views on the problem in writing.
For example, Metropolitan Simeon of New Smyrna, one of the most respected hierarchs of Greece, believes that “Ukrainian autocephaly” is granted in violation of the canons and may lead to a split in World Orthodoxy.
Metropolitan Nektarios of Kerkyra suggested postponing the solution of the issue until the ancient patriarchates — Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria — spoke on it. And the Church of Greece proposed to become a mediator in the dialogue between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow.
Therefore, a very serious discussion took place at the Council, in which almost four dozen bishops participated, and as a result of which a conciliar resolution of the “Ukrainian issue” was never found.
Is the decision of the Council actually taken by a majority vote?
In total, almost 70 hierarchs attended the Council, of which 33 made statements. Out of these three dozen bishops, seven openly declared an irreconcilable position regarding the OCU. If the word was given to all the metropolitans of the Church of Greece present at the Council, the number of opponents of the “new autocephaly” would surely be very significant: even among the metropolitans of the “New Lands” there are those (at least two) who negatively responded to Phanar’s actions in Ukraine.
Among those who disagreed were the hierarchs who proposed to recognize the Church led by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry as autocephalous.
One of the most respected hierarchs of Greece, Metropolitan Simeon of New Smyrna believes that “Ukrainian autocephaly” is granted in violation of the canons and can lead to a split in World Orthodoxy.
From various sources it is known that the discussion around the conciliar decision was very heated and lasted three hours. Some bishops suggested voting for the final document by name, but Archbishop Ieronymos did not heed this proposal.
Moreover, according to Metropolitan of Kythira, there was no vote at all for this document – the decision was made personally by Archbishop Ieronymos.
“Unfortunately, the public received inaccurate news and information that only seven metropolitans did not agree with the recognition of the new ‘autocephaly’ and all the others supported it,” Vladyka Seraphim writes. “This is a big mistake, and I want to believe that this did not happen purposefully but because of an oversight. Because most of those present were not given the floor, but this does not mean that they are supporters of the new ‘autocephaly’.”
In light of the aforesaid, the position on possible recognition of the OCU is not shared by all hierarchs of the Church of Greece. The details of the “Ukraine-dedicated” Council say that there is much less unity among the hierarchs – the number of supporters and opponents of the legalization of the OCU can be approximately equal. And such a scenario will inevitably lead, if not to a split, then to very serious conflicts within the Church of Greece.
Response to the Council’s decision
Despite the ambiguity of the wording of the conciliar decision, the Orthodox community, secular media and the schismatics themselves viewed it unambiguously – as the recognition of the OCU.
On the same day, Epiphany Dumenko thanked the Greek Orthodox Church and promised he would soon arrive on an official visit to Athens. Patriarch Bartholomew also expressed his gratitude for the decision made. True though, he was more restrained than his protégé and thanked the Greeks only for their support of the “Mother-Church of Constantinople”.
Georgian Bishop Melchizedek Khachidze also congratulated the Ukrainian schismatics on recognition. Words of joy were also heard from some Bulgarian Orthodox media. For example, an interesting entry emerged on the Doxologia website in light of Bishop Melchizedek’s congratulation, the essence of which boils down to a statement about a ripple effect, which apparently should mean that the Greek Church launched the process of recognizing the OCU by other Orthodox Churches.
The position on possible recognition of the OCU is not shared by all hierarchs of the Church of Greece. The details of the “Ukraine-dedicated” Council say that there is much less unity among the hierarchs – the number of supporters and opponents of the legalization of the OCU can be approximately equal.
A scenario has even turned up on the close-to-Phanar website Orthodoxia.info , according to which the OCU will be officially and fully recognized on the following Saturday, October 19, with Patriarch Bartholomew coming to Thessaloniki.
Although Metropolitan Seraphim of Kythira declared after the Council that “it is a big mistake to believe that the Council of Bishops decided to recognize the Ukrainian ‘autocephaly’”, the leadership of the Church of Greece is unlikely to curtail this process. An ambiguous decision of the Council allows for any interpretation, yet the interpretation “for” looks much more logical than the interpretation “against”.
For example, at a press conference immediately after the Council, the following dialogue took place between Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) and a representative of one of the Greek media:
Journalist: So you have recognized the 15th Local Church (OCU – Ed.)?
Metropolitan Hierotheos: It goes without saying.
Journalist: No, it does not go without saying.
Met. Hierotheos: Sure, it does.
Metropolitan Maxim of Ioannina stated that the Council “recognized the right of the Ecumenical Patriarch to grant autocephaly and the right of His Beatitude Archbishop to commemorate [the head of the OCU Metropolitan Epiphany]”. When asked by a RIA Novosti correspondent whether the Church of Greece would do this, he replied, “We decided that the Archbishop has the right to commemorate, which means he will do it.”
But whether Archbishop Ieronymos is going to commemorate Dumenko or not we will see on Saturday.
In turn, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill during the service on October 15 in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra mentioned the name of Archbishop Ieronymos. On October 17, a meeting of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church will take place in order to give a canonical assessment of the decision of the Council of Bishops of the Greek Church and take appropriate decisions.
The decision of the August Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church whereby the Patriarchate of Constantinople has the right to grant autocephaly was taken by Orthodox Christians as an attempt to delay the moment of the final recognition or non-recognition of the OCU. Everyone understood that the synodals are put under pressure – both from secular authorities, from the US Department of State and especially from Phanar.
Therefore, this wording could be regarded as intermediate, and “i’s” should have been dotted by the Council of Bishops to which, by the way, the Primate of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, had also appealed. However, unfortunately, the Council did not make an unambiguous decision but only ratified the formula of the Synod. And while in the first case it was understood as reluctance to recognize the OCU, in the second it was understood as an agreement to place the OCU on a par with the Local Orthodox Churches.
The question of when exactly this will happen is not so important. Because by taking a wry and ambiguous decision, the Greeks actually rejected the canons of the Church for the sake of short-term gains. All attempts by some reverend hierarchs of the Church of Greece to reason their brothers, to give the situation the semblance of a problem but not a catastrophe, actually appear like a voice in the wilderness. A voice that fall on deaf ears.
That is why it is possible to predict with great certainty that the first liturgical mention of Epiphany Dumenko with the participation of Archbishop Ieronymos will entail a break in the Eucharistic communion between the Russian and Greek Churches.
The question of when exactly the Church of Greece will finally recognize the OCU is not so important. Because by taking a wry and ambiguous decision, the Greeks actually rejected the canons of the Church for the sake of short-term gains.
Further turmoil awaits the Hellenic Church because now there is a huge number of hierarchs, priests and lay people who disagree with the actions of Patriarch Bartholomew in Ukraine. And though they are silent now, over time their voice will be heard very far outside of Greece.
It should also be remembered that more than two million Orthodox old calendarists now live in Greece, i.e. believers who did not accept the new calendar (they live the same way as the ROC and Athos, according to the old calendar), but who do not violate the dogmatic norms of the Church and who consider Patriarch Bartholomew an apostate and heretic. It is likely that the dissenting Greeks will join the old calendarists, and a dialogue of the old calendarists with the Russian Church will be initiated.
It is also possible that the Russian Church will be forced to create its own dioceses in the territory of Greece to provide spiritual guidance to the believers who will not want to stay in the bosom of the Greek Church if it backslides into schism.
An option in which the Russian Church breaks off communion with only those Greeks who recognize the OCU is impossible. The Church cannot be similar to political parties where any kind of arrangement is possible, in particular a democratic one, when everyone can have their own opinion. The Church is autocratic in nature. And if some part of it enters into communion with schismatics, then everyone becomes schismatics in this part. And it is absolutely impossible to simply position oneself as “dissident” in this structure and affiliate oneself with the intact plentitude of the Universal Church.
Be that as it may, the Council of Bishops by its resolution only aggravated the situation, raising new questions instead of answers and creating additional problems instead of solutions.
At the moment, the fate of millions of people both in Greece and Ukraine and, by and large, the fate of the whole Orthodox Church in its literal and figurative sense depends on one word which the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos, will or will not utter. Exactly as the Gospel says: “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).