domenica 31 ottobre 2021

Canonicity of Moscow assuming jurisdiction in Africa & other news

(Peter Anderson)
On October 30, the English-language website, which is affiliated with the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, posted an English translation of an article by Father Georgy Maximov, entitled On the Canonical Aspect of Receiving African Clergy into the Russian Orthodox Church. (link) Father Georgy teaches at the Sretensky Seminary, has a PhD in theology, and is a prolific writer.  He is a member of the Inter-Council Presence of the Russian Orthodox Church. The English translation may have been prepared in part for those living in English-speaking African countries, such as African clergy who have canonical concerns about joining the Moscow Patriarchate.

As you recall, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate at its meeting on September 23-24, 2021, instructed Archbishop Leonid of Vladikavkaz and Alania [now with the title “of Yerevan and Armenia”] to study thoroughly “the numerous appeals of the clergy of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus with a request to accepting them under the omophorion of the Moscow Patriarchate” and to submit proposals to the Holy Synod with respect to these appeals.  (link) (Journal entry 61)  According to the minutes, the Holy Synod gave these instructions because “Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria participated in concelebration with the head of the schismatic structure operating in Ukraine [OCU].” 

In the article, Father Georgy raises two questions and answers both of them in the positive:  (1) Can the Russian Orthodox Church create its own jurisdiction in Africa when the Patriarch of Alexandria considers Africa its canonical territory? (2) Can the Russian Orthodox Church receive, under the current historical circumstances, clergy of the Alexandrian Patriarchate without them having a document of release from their hierarchs?

With respect to the first question, Father Georgy asserts that the title and canonical territory of the Patriarch of Alexandria which “is traditionally and generally accepted in Orthodoxy” is “of the City of Alexandria, Libya, Pentapolis [northeastern Libya including Cyrene] , Ethiopia, and all Egypt.”  The title “of All Africa” was only added by Meletius (Metaksakis), who was patriarch from 1926 to 1935.  It appears that Father Georgy discounts “this serious expansion” primarily because it “was not the result of Pan-Orthodox discussion or any conciliar decision.”  He also adds that the Patriarchate of Alexandria did not “begin missionary work amongst the native population of a number of African nations” until the second half of the twentieth century.  However, Father Georgy does not address the question of whether the Moscow Patriarchate can now assert jurisdiction in Africa where this jurisdiction “was not the result of Pan-Orthodox discussion or any conciliar decision.”  Perhaps, Moscow will argue that Africa aside from Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia is no one’s canonical territory but is open to any or all Local Orthodox Churches.

As you may recall, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate on December 26, 2019, removed “from the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Alexandria the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church located on the African continent” and placed them under the personal jurisdiction of Patriarch Kirill.  A representative of the Moscow Patriarchate’s DECR has stated there are a total of six such Russian Orthodox parishes in Africa. (link) They are located in Morocco (Rabat and Casablanca), Tunisia (Bizerte and Tunis), Egypt (Cairo), and South Africa (Johannesburg).  The fact that the Holy Synod assumed jurisdiction over the parish in Cairo demonstrates that the Holy Synod may have no reservations in assuming jurisdiction over parishes which are, even under Father Georgy’s definition, part of the historical canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.

With respect to the second question, Father Georgy finds that the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate on September 24 testified that between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of Alexandria a schism exists.  According to Father Georgy, “schism is a straight path to hell.”  Citing the second canon of the Council of Antioch, he concludes that “entering into communion with schismatics makes those who do so excommunicated from ecclesiastical communion.”  This deprives the person “of hope for salvation.”  Because none of the active bishops of the Patriarchate of Alexandria has publicly disagreed with the action of Patriarch Theodoros in recognizing the schismatic OCU, there are no active bishops of the Patriarchate of Alexandria who have not gone into schism.  Under these circumstances, Father Georgy argues that the African priests are justified in placing themselves in a church which has not gone into schism, and no permission from a schematic bishop is required.

Personally, I wonder how far the principal that concelebrating with a schismatic makes one a schismatic can be carried.  For example, if a primate of a Local Orthodox Church has concelebrated with a bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate or Alexandrian Patriarchate (thereby becoming a schismatic himself) and then concelebrates with Patriarch Kirill and other primates at the 70th birthday of Patriarch Kirill on November 20, do Patriarch Kirill and the other concelebrating primates thereby become schismatics themselves?  Certainly, this cannot be.

On October 28, the websites of the Moscow Patriarch and of the DECR prominently posted an article with a large photo and very little text carrying the caption, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill had a working meeting with Archbishop Leonid of Yerevan and Armenia(link)  It seems somewhat unusual to have an article simply announcing that the Patriarch had a working meeting with one of his bishops.  The article says nothing about the purpose of the meeting.  However, the photo shows Archbishop Leonid with a high stack of papers in front of him.   One may wonder whether the meeting relates to the appeals from African priests and whether the high stack of documents are those appeals.  This article does add to the suspense of those awaiting Moscow’s decision.   All of this does not mean that the Holy Synod will necessarily accept the appeals.  It is possible that Moscow may still listen to the appeal by the Patriarchate of Antioch for the parties to avoid “anything that would exacerbate existing disputes.” (link)

On October 21, Patriarch Kirill gave extensive answers to many questions asked of him by participants at 9th International Faith and Word Festival.  (link)  In the first question, the Patriarch is asked about his earlier remarks that the Patriarch of Constantinople is following the model of reproducing the schism of 1054.  In the first part of the answer, Patriarch Kirill stated:

It cannot be the aim of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.  Certainly, it does not seek to produce a schism; to destroy the unity of Orthodoxy is not its aim.  However, the desire to assert its primacy not as the first among equals but the first without equals - as what has already been declared by Constantinople - for certain is fraught with a terrible charge, with a bacillus of destruction of the church unity.  It is in this sense that I am constantly reminded of what happened in 1054.  The bishop of Rome sought to extend his direct jurisdiction to the whole of the Universal Church.  But look what is happening now?  Today, the Patriarch of Constantinople, interpreting his primacy in a new way, states that it is primacy without equals, that it is his God-defined place, which presupposes the exercise of authority with regard to all the other Local Orthodox Churches.  This is precisely the same attitude that led to division in 1054!

After an overnight stay in a hospital in Washington, D.C., Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been involved in a flurry of events during his visit to the United States, October 23 to November 3.  It was his first visit to the United States in eleven years.  His many events and speeches are described at (link) .  I particularly enjoyed watching the video of the reception of an honorary doctorate degree at the University of Notre Dame. (link) Although the Ecumenical Patriarch has not referred frequently during the visit to the dispute with Moscow, he did refer to Moscow in remarks to the Archdiocesan Council and others in New York City on October 29.  A video of these remarks can be watched at (link) (delivered mostly in Greek).  He stated that he had been “tested by an ignorant attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church towards its Mother Church.”  According to Bartholomew, the Mother Church had given them Christianity, enlightened them, and gave them the alphabet.  The Ecumenical Patriarchate has the exclusive right to grant autocephaly, and the churches of Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, Romania, and Albania “have become autocephalous by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which empties itself for granting territories under its jurisdiction to become autocephalous independent churches.” (link) In the remarks, the Ecumenical Patriarch also praised the work of Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and expressed full confidence in him.   Bartholomew also referred to his special relationship with Pope Francis and stated that “our chemistry fits.”  He recounted that they have met about 12 times in the eight years that Francis has been pope.  (link) 

On October 16, Metropolitan Hilarion answered questions on his weekly television show, Church and the World(link) With respect to a second meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis (but not in Russia), the Metropolitan said:  “But no concrete actions have been taken to prepare such a meeting so far.  Its date has not been set, its place has not been either, and the range of topics of this meeting is still at the stage of being worked on.”  This statement demonstrates that at least some work is now be done to prepare for such a meeting.  The most difficult part of preparing for such a meeting is drafting a joint statement to be released at such a meeting and determining the topics that will be covered.  It appears that the parties are now working on those topics.  After the joint statement is finalized, it should be relatively easy to determine a date and a neutral location for a meeting. 

In other news, Metropolitan Joanikije of Montenegro has stated that the Serbian Orthodox Church and the government of Montenegro are close to concluding their agreement governing their relationship.  Showing his optimism, he said, “I am not impatient at all.”  (link) The Orthodox Church of Poland has reaffirmed its prior position with respect to the church situation in Ukraine.  (link) Metropolitan Tikhon of Pskov has given a long and candid interview on many different topics at (link). Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States in the Holy See's Secretariat of State, will be visit Moscow, November 8-10.  The visit will include a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. (link)  Lastly, the Saint Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group has issued its final communique relating to its meeting in Rome, October 6-10.  (link) The Group is now focusing on the topic, “Unity and Schism.”

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA