giovedì 13 gennaio 2022

Response from Alexandria & other Orthodox news

Patriarchate of Alexandria
(Peter Anderson)
The Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria has now completed its three-day session, January 10-12, and has issued a communique. (link) (official communique in Greek)  The communique announced the election of one new metropolitan and five new bishops. (link) The new metropolitan and one of the new bishops are native Africans.  The important vacancy left by the death of Metropolitan Jonah of Kampala and All Uganda, a native African, was filled by Metropolitan Ieronymos of Mwanza (Tanzania), another native African. Archimandrite Chariton Musungai, a native African, was elected Metropolitan of Kananga (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Archimandrite Nektarios Kabouye, who I believe is also a native African, was elected Bishop of Gulu (Uganda).  There are now a total of six native Africans (3 metropolitans and 3 bishops) in the hierarchy of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.  It was planned that the second day of the Synod would be devoted to the pay of the clergy.  This issue was to be presented by Metropolitan Seraphim of Zimbabwe and Angola. (link) The communique states that because of the non-attendance of Metropolitan Seraphim at the Synod, this subject was postponed.  At the present time, I understand that some of the clergy in Africa serve with little or no pay.

The Holy Synod also issued an announcement.  It relates to the December 29 decision by the Moscow Patriarchate to establish an exarchate and two dioceses in Africa and to accept jurisdiction over 102 priests of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.  The full text of the announcement by the Patriarchate of Alexandria is found at (link) (Greek).  The following is a brief summary in English. (link) Another English summary is found at (link) I have tried to piece together, from various sources and Google, a very imperfect English translation of the entire text.  The translation is as follows:

In the name of the Triune God, we gathered in the great City of Alexandria at the invitation of His Beatitude the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and of all Africa Theodore II and, with a sense of responsibility before their flock and their long historical apostolic course, the Hierarchy of the ancient and very ancient Patriarchate of Alexandria, following its session, having examined in different and multiple ways the canonical parameters of the intrusion of the Patriarchate of Russia with a view to the creation of new “ecclesiastical forms in Africa”, communicates the following:

During the last two years already, due to the recognition by HB the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and of all Africa Theodore II, of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, we have suffered the invasion and the non-canonical and indecent intrusion of the Russian Church, by methods contrary to ecclesiastical practice and tradition, which was respected by all the predecessors of blessed memory of the Patriarch of Russia Kirill, and this by recruiting native clerics of our Patriarchate, in application of direct reprisals and, by extension, of blackmail or revenge against us.  After the announcement of December 29, 2021 of the Moscow Patriarchate, we now have the official decisions of the Church of Russia, the resulting declarations, and the interviews of its representatives on the entirely anti-canonical foundation of an "Exarchate," on the basis of its "statutes" and point of canonical provisions, within the boundaries of our Patriarchate, made up of clerics who themselves moved away or being under epitemy [penance] and still of unknown origins, the latter qualifying themselves as Orthodox, but not belonging to the Patriarchate of Alexandria.  By these acts is confirmed the attempt to alter Orthodox ecclesiology in many particular parameters, but mainly in terms of the boundaries of the administrative structures of formation of the Church of Christ, and this from the starting point of motivations far removed from the Orthodox Tradition. With sadness, we understand that all this comes for spiteful reasons, infected by “the virus of ethno-phyletism" condemned by the Synod of 1872.  Certainly, the secular spirit is not absent from these decisions, which also refer to the parameters of “neo-colonialism,” known for a long time on the unhappy African continent, and to the demand for a world supremacy, which does not correspond with the sacrificial spirit of our consecrated Orthodox Tradition. The Assembly of Bishops, with saddened astonishment, protests to the Patriarch of Russia and his Synod.  Astonishment, on the one hand, because for us “following our holy Fathers,” the boundaries of each Local Sister Church are clear, geographically drawn by the Ecumenical Councils, and worthy of respect.  We declare that we have never encroached in action within the boundaries of any Local Sister Church, especially those of the Russian Church.  This, because not only is the message of evangelical love altered in this way, but also because, in our age-old struggle, and in the coexistence with different faiths and religions in the spirit of respect and mutual understanding, we receive an unfriendly blow from the Russians who share our faith.  We consider that, by these methods, is once again grossly transgressed the essence of our Orthodox faith and this on the sensitive ground of the Mission in Africa, which is "nourished" by us "like an infant, with milk and not by solid theological nourishment,” to use the Pauline expression.

For this purpose, it has been decided:

A) To inform the venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the Local Churches through their Primates, through patriarchal letters which will be transmitted to them, which will describe the “pestilential” confusion which has arisen in “the children in Christ whom we have begotten,” the African faithful, following the visible and invisible actions of those sent by the Russian Church, and

B) The faithful and immediate application of ecclesiastical sanctions, prescribed by the divine and holy canons, to transgressors.

From this, it is not clear whether the Patriarchate of Alexandria will or will not sever communion with the Moscow Patriarchate.

Immediately before this announcement, Metropolitan Hilarion gave an interview to RIA-Novosti. (link) It contains the following interesting statement:  The Holy Synod of our Church decided to form the Exarchate of Africa not in order to undermine the mission of the Alexandrian Patriarchate or to alienate some parishes from it.  The Russian Church does not need this and is not interested.  Metropolitan Leonid of Klin, who heads the exarchate in Africa, has given an interview to Interfax(link) One of his comments was that “there are benefactors in the Russian Church who… are ready to support our mission in Africa from their generosity.”  He also stated that “ it is possible that we will create a number of educational institutions on the territory of the African continent, if necessary and expedient.”

On January 8, Archbishop Anastasios, primate of the Orthodox Church of Albania, issued a statement relating to the decision of the Moscow Patriarchate to establish dioceses in Africa and to accept jurisdiction over 102 priests of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.  (link)  Anastasios has a great interest in Africa.  From 1981 to 1991, he was Locum Tenens of the Archbishopric of Irinoupolis – East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania).  His biography states: “He ordained 62 African clergy and consecrated 42 readers-catechists from eight African tribes (among them the first four clergy from Tanzania).  At the same time, he promoted the work of translation of the Holy Liturgy into four African languages.  He took care of the further organization of about 150 Orthodox parishes and tiny communities.  He undertook the construction of tens of churches, the building of seven missionary stations, and worked for the creation of schools and medical stations. He was recognized as a ‘Great Benefactor’ of the Patriarchate of Alexandria (2009).” (link)

The Archbishop’s statement is entitled, “The rift from Ukraine to Africa.”  It includes the following: 

The recent decision of the Moscow Patriarchate to establish an exarchate on the African continent confirms the initial fears.  Along with the rift between millions of Ukrainian Orthodox, a new rift is being created in the sensitive African continent, where Orthodox foreign mission has been developing in recent decades.  In African countries various Christian denominations have long been established as well as expansionist Islam.  From now on, ordinary Africans will be invited to come to Orthodoxy by two Orthodox Patriarchates, without having a sacramental communion with each other. The scandal and the weakening of the Orthodox testimony by this divisive activity is obvious.  This is a painful development.  The claim that there is no schism in Orthodoxy but simply disagreements resembles the theory that there is no coronavirus.  The schism, with a variety of mutations, is obvious and it is urgent to seek treatment and use of the vaccine, which the apostolic tradition has defined: conciliation, reconciliation [συμφιλίωση, καταλλαγή].

Archbishop Anastasios attached to his statement his “appeal,” dated November 20, 2019.  The appeal states that the first step for solving the Ukraine crisis is de-escalation and the exchange of creative proposals between the key actors.  According to the Archbishop, “there will be no solutions through the exchange of offensive and threatening texts or through extra-ecclesiastical interventions; nor can they be imposed unilaterally or automatically over time.”  He expresses the hope that through synodality “we have the possibility of reaching a solution commonly accepted by the whole Orthodox Church.”

On a different subject, Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos (Church of Greece) has released the results of his research analyzing the discussion of the issue of autocephaly that occurred in the preparatory meetings held over the years before the Crete Council in 2016.   (link) (this includes a link to the Metropolitan’s 27-page research paper).  In conducting this research, the Metropolitan reviewed approximately 1500 pages of the official minutes for the preparatory meetings.   He states that at a meeting in Chambésy in November 1993, the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission reached a general agreement as to how autocephaly should be granted.  The Metropolitan observes this involved the Ecumenical Patriarchate granting autocephaly in a synodal way while it had been previously granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate alone.  He claims that it was the result of the “tactics” of the Russian Church that final agreement was not reached on the autocephaly issue.  In this regard he refers specifically to a dispute over the use of the words “decided” and “co-decided” in connection with the signatures of primates on a tomos of autocephaly.  

The factual events relating to the use of these two words are also discussed in a 2018 interview of Father Nikolai Balashov, deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s DECR. (link) (interview in English).  The factual events occurred at the meeting of the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission, held at Chambésy, February 22-26, 2011.  Father Nikolai stated:

All the Churches agreed that a Tomos should be signed by all the Primates.  Everybody agreed that the signature of the Ecumenical Patriarch (of Constantinople) is to occupy the first place.  But the delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople insisted that the signature of the Ecumenical Patriarch should be also singled out in a special way.  In particular, it was proposed that it should be provided with the word apophenete (Gr. "decides")[ἀποφαίνεται – decided] while the signatures of the Primates of the rest of the Local Orthodox Church should be provided with the word synapophenete ("decides together")[συναποφαίνεται – co-decided].

The delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church expressed an opinion that a Tomos should be confirmed by equal signatures of the Primates of all the Local Orthodox Churches, with the Patriarch of Constantinople certainly given the place of the first among the equals.

Metropolitan Hierotheos in his research from the minutes states that the proposal using the words “decided” and “co-decided” was actually a proposal made by the Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia.  This compromise was accepted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and rejected by the Moscow Patriarchate.

If these two words had been accepted by the Moscow Patriarchate at the Commission meeting in February 2011, the present religious crisis in Ukraine could well have been avoided.  Acceptance of these two words would have meant that total agreement had been reached in 2011 on the autocephaly document, and the document would have been ready for acceptance at the Crete Council.  Under the terms of this document, the Ecumenical Patriarchate could not have granted autocephaly for Ukraine without the consent of the Moscow Patriarchate.  A very good deal at the February 2011 meeting was not accepted by the Moscow Patriarchate with the hope of even further minimizing the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by eliminating two words.  One can push too hard in negotiations.  However, it is easy to make such assessments when one has the advantage of hindsight.

In other news, Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia has tested positive for Covid but is fortunately experiencing only minor symptoms.  (link) The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has elected Metropolitan Eugenios of Rethymno and Avlopotamos as the new Archbishop of Crete. (link)

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA