Metropolitan Hilarion: We believe that the schism can be healed by the conciliar wisdom of the Church
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, answers questions fr om a correspondent of the RIA Novosti news agency.
- Your Eminence, by what has the decision of the Russian Orthodox Church to form an exarchate in Africa been motivated?
- By the fact that over one hundred clerics of the African continent from eight countries appealed to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia to take them under the omophorion of the Russian Orthodox church, with a part of them having appealed to the Patriarch as far back as two years ago. We patiently waited to see if the Patriarch of Alexandria would change his stand on the Ukrainian schism. Concurrently, we studied the petitions we received. Archbishop Leonid, now appointed as the exarch, went to Africa to meet with representatives of the clergy. As a result of the thorough examination of the petitions, the decision was made to establish an exarchate.
- Please, explain how the recognition of the Ukrainian schism by the Patriarch of Alexandria is connected with the emergence of a structure of the Moscow Patriarchate in Africa.
- It is a direct cause-effect connection here. The point is that after the Patriarch of Alexandria acknowledged the Ukrainian schism, the Moscow Patriarchate broke off communion with him. But what can be done if a part of the clergy of the Patriarchate of Alexandria refuses to agree with him in what we do not agree with him either and wishes to unite with us? We were pondering for two years over the answer to this question.
In Africa, there is quite a fair number of Russian-speaking believers living there. For many years, appeals kept coming to us from this or that country there: “Please, open a parish for us”. But we would always answer, ‘Go to churches of the Patriarchate of Alexandria’. Now we cannot say that either to our faithful or to those priests who having realized the untruth of the schism refused to follow the Patriarch of Alexandria in recognizing the schismatic community as the Ukrainian Church instead of the actually existing millions-strong Ukrainian Church.
- In December 2019, adopting the decision to discontinue the liturgical mention of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church resolved “to preserve ecclesiastical communion with the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria, except for those who supported or would support in the future the legalization of the Ukrainian schism”. In the present decision, the logic seems to have changed, and now all the hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Alexandria turn out to be guilty of acknowledging the Ukrainian schism.
- In December 2019, we stressed, “The decision on the acknowledgement of the schismatic structure in Ukraine has not been adopted at the session of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, which took place on October 7-9; it was not put to the hierarchal vote and, accordingly, it is not of conciliar nature, but is adopted by the Primate of this Church unilaterally”. Two years have passed since. During this time, none of the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria has expressed his disagreement with the actions of Patriarch Theodore to support the schism in Ukraine, to which our Holy Synod drew attention last September. We proceed from the fact that the hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Alexandria are in solidarity with their Primate since none of them has spoken against that decision, while some of them even managed to take part in co-celebration with the schismatics or express their support for the schism in other ways.
Each Local Church has her own system of decision-making. In our Church, decisions are made by the Holy Synod to be confirmed by the Bishops’ Council. The Church of Alexandria has a Synod as well but the decision on the acknowledgement of the Ukrainian schism was made by the Patriarch unilaterally. At the same time, the Synod did not dispute this decision in any way. If the members of the Synod or anyone from the episcopate had not agreed with it, he would have stated this, as some hierarchs of the Churches of Cyprus and Greece did it.
Moreover, in December we received several rather rude and impudent letters from hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Alexandria after His Eminence Leonid came over there and talked with clerics. In one of the letters, it was written (I quote from memory), ‘Our priests do not even know wh ere Ukraine is located’. It is all the more surprising that the Patriarchate of Alexandria got involved in the adventure of acknowledging the Ukrainian schism. One of the Primates of Local Churches, with whom I met in 2018, said to me, ‘We do not want to solve Ukraine’s problems and thus create problems at home’. The Patriarchate of Alexandria made an attempt to participate in solving Ukraine’s problems but could only create problems at home’.
- And if, for instance, one or a few hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Alexandria declare that they do not agree with Patriarch Theodore’s decision and that they recognize as canonical the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the one that is headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy, can their dioceses be excluded from the membership of the newly created exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church?
- It is a theoretical question. If such a situation arises, we will examine it and enter into negotiations. However, it can be assumed that in case of an open disagreement with the Patriarch, such hierarchs will be simply removed from their sees.
I will remind you that already in 2018, during his visit to Odessa, Patriarch Theodore called upon the faithful, ‘Remain in the canonical Church!... In the history of our Church there were hard times, but in Ukraine, this blessed Orthodox country, there is the canonical Church, there is His Beatitude our brother Onufriy - a man blessed from God and a real monk’. And he presided over the liturgy with His Beatitude Onufriy concelebrating. And merely a year later he changed his attitude and began mentioning the leader of the Ukrainian schism instead Metropolitan Onufry.
- How do you explain the fact that Patriarch Theodore tended to acknowledge the Ukrainian schism, while for many years he supported the Ukrainian Orthodox Church headed by Metropolitan Onufriy?
- I do not think that he himself was inclined to acknowledge the schism. I believe he was compelled to do it. But I do not want to speak on his behalf or guess at the causes of his decision. It was made and in this new reality, which has been created by the unprecedented actions of the Patriarch of Constantinople to legitimise the Ukrainian schism, we simply had no choice. We could not turn down the clergy, who realized the falsity of the stand taken by their Patriarch, in accepting them in the fold of our Church. In the same way, we cannot deny pastoral care to the Orthodox faithful in Turkey in the situation when the Patriarch of Constantinople has taken the side of the schism.
- The Patriarch of Constantinople has accused the Russian Church of ingratitude, reminding her that the Orthodox faith came to Rus’ from Constantinople…
- Our Holy Synod responded to this accusation already in September, ‘Keeping the grateful memory of the merits of the Holy Church of Constantinople in the cause of enlightening Rus’ by the light of the faith of Christ, this is to stress that the noble feats performed in the past by Their Holinesses Patriarchs of Constantinople of eternal memory do not justify today’s canonical crimes of Patriarch Bartholomew who has supported the schism and entered in ecclesiastical communion with persons who call themselves Orthodox hierarchs but who have no canonical ordinations’.
- Please, explain what is understood by ‘canonical ordination’. This terminology is not understood by everyone.
- According to church rules, a bishop should be ordained by two or three bishops who have appropriate canonical status; that is, who are not suspended in ministry, are not deprived of the rank, are not excommunicated, are not under trial; moreover, by a person who pretends to be a bishop while not being such. The so-called ‘bishops’ of the Ukrainian schism are ordained without observance of these fundamental principles.
For instance, some of them were ordained by a bishop of the Russian Church deprived of this rank and a deacon who pretended to be a bishop but in reality did not have even the rank of a priest. To the signatures of these two persons on the certificate of ordination was added a forged signature of a dead hierarch of the Russian Church. The schismatics palmed the forgery off to Constantinople and there, without going into details, the signature was deemed authentic. This sad story is mentioned in the document “On the invalidity of the ordination of Ukrainian schismatics and non-canonicity of ‘the Orthodox Church of Ukraine” prepared by the secretariat of the Synodal Biblical-Theological Commission. This story is analysed in more detail in Sergey Shumilo’s article “Self-styled ‘bishop’ Vikentiy Chekalin and his participation in the UAOC first ordinations in March 1990”.
The main part of the so-called ‘hierarchy’ of the ‘OCU’ was ordained by deposed and excommunicated former Metropolitan Filaret (Denisenko) of Kiev. From our point of view, they are not hierarchs. But Constantinople has acknowledged them as such without re-ordination, while ‘returning’ the hierarchal rank to Filaret. Today Filaret, who calls himself “Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine”, has separated himself from the ‘OCU’, created a schism in a schism, accepted the Greek Old Calendarists in communion. Given all this, neither the ‘OCU’ suspends him in ministry, nor does Constantinople revoke its decision to return the rank to him.
Through the fault of the Patriarch of Constantinople, a canonical crisis has been created in the world Orthodox community. In this situation, each Local Church has to decide with whom she is - with canonical Orthodoxy or with schismatics and self-ordained clergy. Our Church has made her choice. And we are grateful to the Local Churches which stand guard on the holy canons.
- What is your prognosis? Will the schism in the world Orthodox community deepen? Or can we hope for its healing in the foreseeable future?
- Unfortunately, a situation has been created that is ever more difficult to resolve. This situation reminds very much the events of the mid-11th century. At that time, the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope of Rome quarrelled. A division happened. I do not think that Pope’s legates, who put the bull on excommunication on the altar of the St. Sophia Cathedral, could imagine that the division would last for centuries. And the Patriarch of Constantinople, taking retaliatory actions, hardly could imagine that. But the Churches followed their own way. With centuries. the alienation grew and it was only nine centuries later that timid attempts at rapprochement began.
The first step to be made for healing the situation that developed in the world Orthodox community should have been a return to the situation in which all the Orthodox Churches had been until 2018, when decisions were made in conciliar manner, not unilaterally. But it is difficult to imagine indeed that the Patriarch of Constantinople would wish to return to it. He now thinks he has the right to make unilateral decisions without consulting with other Churches, contrary to their will and to their detriment. And hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople tell us over and over again, ‘The Ukrainian autocephaly is an accomplished fact’. Well, if it is so, then the division in the world Orthodox community is also an accomplished fact.
We are grieving over this division. We are praying that reason may return to both the Patriarch of Constantinople and those Primates and hierarchs who have acknowledged the schism under his pressure.
We believe that the conciliar wisdom of the Church can heal the schism in the world Orthodox community. However, we should look at things realistically: in a situation when conciliar mechanisms on the inter-Orthodox level are destroyed, it is difficult to expect it.
While grieving over the deepening schism in the world Orthodox community, we take with gratitude to God the fact that the schism is developing outside the canonical boundaries of the Russian Orthodox Church. Our Church uniting Orthodox believers in Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldova and other countries, because of the perfidious actions of the schismatics and the Patriarch of Constantinople, who has supported them, has not lost her unity and has not become smaller. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church with her 100 hierarchs, over 250 monasteries, over twelve thousand parishes, remains united with the Russian Orthodox Church preserving self-governing status within it. And new churches are being built instead of ones captured by the schismatics.
The Russian Orthodox Church in both Russia and Ukraine and in other countries continues to grow persistently in the number of parishes and monasteries. As her growth began in 1988, so it continues to grow with the same pace. We had six and a half thousand parishes, and now there are over forty thousands of them, there were twenty monasteries, now they are almost one thousand. It is not a cause for pride or victorious reports. It is a cause for thanking God. In the unprecedented growth of the number of parishes, monasteries, believers, monks and nuns, we can see God’s grace towards our Church. And we believe that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’.