Autocephaly of ROC may be canonically cancelled. A response to the article of metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

23.02.2022, 10:06
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev meeting an African delegate RF - фото 1
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev meeting an African delegate RF

Recently, members of Hellenic Church Synod, metropolitan of Peresteria Gregory, has suggested to invalidate for 5 years ROC autocephaly, for breaking away, creating African eparchy and for transgressing jurisdiction of another autocephalic church. Russia did not delay with a response and prepared a lengthy commentary by a branch of the External Church Communications (ECC). Commentary of metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, not only replied to the accusation of the Greek metropolitan, but also provided a whole list of questionable evidence and wholesale accusations. We will examine statements of ROC regarding (im)possibility of invalidating autocephaly and other canonical-historical questions.

(Not)rubbery jurisdiction.

The first conflicting question is jurisdiction of the ROC. The Greek metropolitan accuses Moscow Patriarchate (MP), that they in fact expanded their statutes of their jurisdiction to cover the whole world. Instead, Hilarion counter this statement with an explanation, that ROC territory is clearly defined by their statues. He quotes statutes point 3 section I:

The jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church extends to persons of the Orthodox confession residing in the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church: in the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the Republic of Belarus, the Republic of Moldova, the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People's Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, Mongolia, the Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Republic of Estonia, Japan, as well as on voluntarily Orthodox Christians living in other countries”(ed.)

Thus, ROC confirms herself, that it is her canonical territory – according to post soviet territory (excluding Georgia, and up till last year’s Fall, but now the Yerevan eparchy of ROC are separate – expl. ed.) in addition China, Mongolia, and Japan, and any other orthodox faithful, that wish to join. This last designation is hidden loophole, which can be used for the ROC to spread its jurisdiction throughout the whole world. Moreover, MP can accept faithful of other countries and even create canonical eparchies beyond the border of its own jurisdiction.

Temporarily, beyond defined borders, such as “the grey zone of free orthodox faithful” ROC, created administrative structures. She has such eparchies in all European countries, where she does not have here own orthodox church. These are Western European exarchates (ROCW), Archbishopric of the Russian parishes Berlin, Vienna and Budapest eparchies, as well as Norway, Swedish and Finish devotees. In Asia ROC has its jurisdiction in Northern and Southern Korea, Singapore, Malesia, Indonesia, Eastern Temur, New-Papua of Guinea, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines and Vietnam. All these countries are included in the South-Eastern exarchate. ROCW is active in north America, OCA (is not recognized by Greek church, considering it to be Russian exp. ed.) has patriarchal parishes in US and Canada. In central and southern America MP has an Argentinian and South American eparchy. Eparchies in Australia and New Zealand are part of ROCW. Recently, the eparchy of Africa was added. Thus, ROC has eparchies on all continents, outside of Antarctica, although patriarch Kirill traveled there as well – to convert penguins to the Russian Orthodoxy.

Photo of Patriarch with pinguins. - фото 87716
Photo of Patriarch with pinguins.
Photo source:

Obviously, the Greek eparch had this in mind, when he said, that ROC craves universal jurisdiction. Besides the statement of metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, on one of these maps of canonical holdings (exarchates, metropolises, eparchies and devotees) that belong Moscow patriarchate, it is clear that this church craves universal jurisdiction, after all has not only faithful on separate parishes, but in fact has whole eparchies on all continents, except Antarctica.

“Canonical” territory MP?... - фото 87729
“Canonical” territory MP?...



The Greek metropolitan accuses ROC with ethnophyletism and Alfeyev simplifies that phrase from the ROC statute, in that ROC is multinational. From Alfeyev view point he may be correct when he says that among the faithful of MP are individuals of different nationalities, however, based on ROC systemic politics the intent is to make the faithful Russian. To erase their national identity. ROC is doing that in Ukraine, Belorussia and Moldova. She also attempts to Russify the diaspora of these countries.

Among Baltic nations, central Asia, EC, both Americas and Australia – different politics are applied. There the church attempts to protect faithful from assimilation, from integration in local society. A special mission is carried out only in Far East and Southern areas and quite recently in Afrika. ROC is essentially not Russian; however, she attempts to transform into Russian. Therefore, one can assume, that accusation of ethnophyletism is not without reason.

Abolition of autocephaly.

Now we are moving towards the more interesting. The Greek hierarch suggested to deprive ROC of autocephaly for 5 years. In response, metropolitan Hilarion claims, that “in general, temporary or permanent depriving autocephaly does not exist in orthodoxy”. I don’t actually know, whether this is true or not, perhaps experienced historians will find an answer, but that is not fundamentally significant. However, what is much more significant, is that the ROC has no moral right to oppose cancelling autocephaly, since ROC herself cancelled autocephaly of the Georgian Church after Georgia was conquered by Russian empire. ROC synod of June 21st 1811 initiated cancelling of Georgian autocephaly and created an exarchate within the Russian church. The document was signed by Tsar Oleksandr I on June 30th and the autocephaly was cancelled.

Outside of this incident, ROC with the government of USSR, performed a whole range of special operations, forcing Polish AOC to renounce its autocephaly, that was bestowed by patriarch of Constantinople in 1924, in order to receive Tomos from Moscow. This is a very well know episode described by historians based on declassified archives.

Here is what Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev said: “Granting autocephaly or the status of the Patriarchate of the local church is an unconditional act and cannot be limited or withdrawn.” Yet ROC cancelled foreign autocephaly twice, which it did not bestow, but when the issue involved their own church, then suddenly it appears, that cancellation of autocephaly is not allowed.

How can autocephaly of ROC be cancelled?

Whoever saw or read the story of Harry Potter, remembers that in the last episodes the talk was about “Horcruxes”. These are disconnected parts of antihero’s spirit, where his power is located. In Russian literature it is the painting of a needle in the egg. In this manner ROC has its three Horcruxes. They are all hidden in ancient documents.

Autocephalous status of Moscow’s patriarchate was fixed by several decisions, and that is: charter Universal Patriarch Yeremia 1589, sobor charter of Constantinople patriarchate 1590 and Oros charter in Constantinople 1593. It is essential to follow events chronologically.

Oros was signed by three ancient patriarchs. Currently their successors are – patriarch of Constantinople and Alexandria, who can withdraw their signatures on the document and it will automatically lose its validity. Following the issue with synod of Constantinople patriarchate – a meeting is called withdrawing the synod decision of 1590. The last step in these proceedings is when Patriarch Bartholomew on his decision cancels the charter of his predecessors – Patriarch Yeremei II of 1589. And only then it can be possible to say, that Russian autocephaly has been cancelled.

Created charter of 1589 - фото 87717
Created charter of 1589


Act of 1590.  - фото 87718
Act of 1590.
Photo source: Wikimedia
Oros 1593 - фото 87719
Oros 1593
Photo source: Wikimedia

Moscow’s autocephaly vs. Union.

An additional propaganda narrative, which Moscow is frequently using, as affirmation of its autocephaly. Supposedly, separation of Moscow’s Metropolis from Kyivan Metropolis of Constantinople’s patriarchate in the middle of XV century, was the consequence of Ferraro-Florentine union. Russians insist, that exit from Constantinople’s patriarchal community was a forced step for the purpose of retaining purity of faith and reluctance in joining the Catholic Church.

However, factually, it was not so. In his book “Russian Orthodoxy between Kyiv and Moscow” Russian historian Vadim Lurie states, based on documents of the period, that there were no ideas regarding retention of religious purity. He analyzed official correspondence between Moscow and Constantinople. The main reason for the separation, at that time, was because secular powers wanted to have a loyal metropolitan, while patriarchate had its own plans. Fanar’s power was recognized in Moscow after the Union, therefore that was not the reason for the conflict. The move was made after the fact, as justification of the split, where ROC languished for more than a century.


Denying legitimacy of abolishing Russian autocephaly, ROC criticizes Pentarch theory – that is, the power of ancient five patriarchs. It is laughable to see the quality of the arguing passage, that “Rome did not recognize the theory of Pentarchy”. Indeed, Russians themselves do not recognize Roman Pope’s canons and consider him to be heretic, but in heir their struggle against Greek orthodoxy are ready to employ appeals to the Roman Pope.

Even funnier apears the criticism of Pentarchy by ignoring existing, at that time, Georgian and Cyprian churches (and ROC even forgot, that at that time existed such churches, as Pecher patriarchate and Ohryd archbishopric, while Georgian Church was divided as Mtskheta and Abkhaz catholicates). Therefore, at the time, when ROC received autocephaly, there were 4 eastern patriarchates, 3 new patriarchates and 2 archbishoprics. So here it is, yet Moscow criticizes the idea of Pentarchy, as if it did not include other churches. However, when the discussion is about creation of ROC, Moscow includes decisions of Pentarchy, as all-powerful recognition, at the same time ignoring other Churches. That is, when the discussion centers around recognition of ROC, then Pentarchy represents Orthodox fullness, but when the discussion involves sanctions of ROC, then Pentarchy loses its power to represent Orthodox fullness. Therefore, as we can see, the position of MP is not consistent, but changes according to according needs.


Russian metropolitan, protecting ROC autocephaly, appeals in that Moscow had the fifth Diptych place, and for that it is not valid to deprive autocephaly, because beyond her, the sequence is fixed. However, in reality, the order of Diptych – is only sequential order, just a formality. As an example, in 358 when Moscow received the fifth place, it belonged to Bulgarian Church for perpetuity, yet more specifically, Tyrnovsky patriarchate. This took place during the eastern patriarchate’s sobor in Lampkas in 1235. Thus, Moscow’s fifths place in Diptych is rather contradictory argument. In addition to justice and historical conformity, prior to ROC, there were autocephalic churches of Cypris (431), Georgia (VI century), Bulgari (919), Macedonia (1019), and Serbia (1219), therefore these should be listed first, instead of Moscow.

Ambiguity or banal lie.

Especially cynical is the phrase, which is used to lay the ground rule, of creating African exarchate by ROC: “The creation of an exarchate is not an expression of a claim to the canonical territory of the ancient Church of Alexandria, but pursues the only goal – to give canonical protection to those Orthodox clerics of Africa who do not want to participate in the lawless legitimization of the schism in Ukraine.” Violation of canonical territory (which is creating own parishes within borders of other churches – exp. ed.) is not encroachment on canonical territory. And again, they always do according to Orwell: war – is peace, freedom – is slavery, and truth – is a lie. In the world post truth, Russian Church feels mostly comfortable. One can call black, white and nothing will happen. One can cynically say in peoples face, that you are protecting truth.

In general, considering canonical territory of Alexandria patriarchate (AP), Russians are exploiting the following scheme. Saying that there was no violation, after all, Africa was never the jurisdiction of AP. However, rule 6 of the Universal sobor sets exactly for AP as a minimum Egypt, Libya and Pentapol – that is eastern part of northern Africa. Western part belonged to Carthaginian church. Thus, creating North-African eparchy of ROC, with its center in Cairo, is direct violation of the canonical law. In addition, Ethiopia belongs to the jurisdiction of AP and her makeup was Eritrean church. Truth be said, after the Miaphysite breakup in the VI century AP divided – orthodox part remained without Ethiopians, who joined Koptics. However, till the VI century nobody questioned jurisdiction of AP, at least in eastern Africa.

One additional thesis of Alfeyev, which deserves attention and which one can address ROC herself: "Today's leadership of the Patriarchate of Constantinople has made an unprecedented attempt to voluntarily revise the centuries-old boundaries of the Local Churches, to revoke their own conciliary approved acts." Here the Russian patriarchate accuses Constantinople of action, Moscow itself committed. Moscow loved to look over ancient border of local churches. As an example, cancellation of Gothic and Kafkian metropolis of Constantinople in Crimea toward the end of XVIII century, or annexation of Bessarabian eparchy in XIX century, which none ever belonged to Moscow. Or squeeze out from Greece the Czechoslovak Church and subordinated to herself. Or take for herself Zakarpatian eparchy. Such numbers are numerous, I only enumerated those that came to mind.

Russians have a tradition of canceling their own charters. Or rather – their traditional ignoring. Committing acts contrary to them. Here, ROC cancelled autocephaly of Georgian Church in 1811, but then under the pressure of Georgian Stalin, autocephaly was recognized in 1943, without cancelling previous charters. In the document of November 19th 1943 (journal #12) subjugated all Armenians to Georgian Church. And already on October 15th 2021 (journal #92), contrary to previous documents, approves the decision to subjugates all Armenian faithful to ROC. Nevertheless, this document of 1943 was houdh not cancelled and is still valid to this day, despite canonical collusion.

And these people intend to teach the Universal patriarch how to govern? “Doctor heal thyself” (Luc 4:23).