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“The problem of UOC is a large-scale Orthodox problem,” Constantin Vetochnikov

31.12.2016, 19:28
“The problem of UOC is a large-scale Orthodox problem,”  Constantin Vetochnikov - фото 1

Vietoshnikov.jpgThe continued interview with Constantin Vetochnikov (see the beginning), Doctor of Theology of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), Doctor of History (Practical School of Higher Studies, Sorbonne, Paris), Fellow of the Byzantine library (Collège de France, Paris).

 - Another wave of autocephalous churches set off with the Russian Orthodox Church.

- By that time there had been still other autocephalous churches about which some sources have remained – the Serbian and Bulgarian churches, but their value can hardly be estimated. Most probably, in the modern sense they can be called autonomies, because in some cases, their heads were called patriarchs, but when they sent letters to Constantinople and signed it “patriarch,” they were answered: “Your patriarchal title is only valid on the territory of your jurisdiction and not beyond it.” Similarly, the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki within his diocese has the right to be called His All Holiness, although this right belongs only to the Ecumenical Patriarch. And all the patriarchs are commonly referred to as “Beatitude.” The fact that the Russian Church Patriarch is referred to as “Holiness,” it is lower in rank than “Beatitude.” Even metropolitan can be called “Holiness.”

- In Georgia they always tell that they had had a long-standing autocephaly.

- It is difficult to say what kind of autocephaly it was, as no documents have survived. First time this autocephaly was referred to by Balsamon in a comment to Canon 2 of the Second Ecumenical Council. In a medieval act I saw the resolution of the Synod of Antioch signed by the Iverian Catholicos, who is familiar with the Georgian historiography.
That is, autocephalous churches probably existed as what we now call autonomy. And during the Byzantine era, the idea occurred to abolish all patriarchates because their territories were captured by Muslims, and there was an idea to keep only the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Balsamon’s treatise “On the right of the patriarch” is often attributed to this, because he was the Patriarch of Antioch and had never been to Antioch. He wrote a treatise, and it is said that the motive of his writing was the idea of ​​abolishing all patriarchates except that of Constantinople. The fact is that at that time many patriarchs were elected and ordained by the Synod of Constantinople. This means that once other patriarchates lost their original right to select their primates on their own.

- So the concept of autocephaly gets eventually transformed, beginning with the Russian Church. How this autocephaly can be estimated? Was it a political act? Was this separation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople due to some external force majeure?

- The part of Kyiv Metropolis within the Moscow principality stroke the right moment to get separated from the Patriarch of Constantinople, when the Church of Constantinople was in the most harsh circumstances, as the previous patriarch accepted the union, they decided not to accept the metropolitans from the Greeks. After Isidor’s flight from Moscow they installed their own metropolitan. Originally he was called “of Kyiv and All Russia,” then the local bishops became known as “of Moscow and All Russia.” And for some time they have been out of communion. But I have neither seen seen or found any acts that condemn it. In one letter Gennadius Scholarius, the first patriarch after the fall of Constantinople, speaking of the Metropolitans living outside their dioceses, recalled the Metropolitan of Kyiv, who lived in Moscow, not indicating that he was in schism. But gradually the situation began to normalize, the Church of Moscow started communicating with the Greek Church. And the Greek Church, being in trouble, often sought help, mostly financial – from the Moscow princes. And the princes of Moscow, rather, the kings, wanted to have their own patriarch.

When Patriarch Jeremiah arrived, according to the existing information, first he was offered to become a patriarch in the hope that the See of Ecumenical Patriarch would be transferred to Moscow, then he was offered the patriarchal seat not in Moscow but in some other city. But eventually he was persuaded to get the patriarchate. The council was held in Moscow, and it is not known whether Patriarch Jeremiah understood what he signed at the Council. But on his return to Constantinople, he issued another document elevating the bishop of Moscow to patriarchal dignity.

- Was it about this kind of conciliar decisions?

- It was also a conciliar decision. The first act was signed by two or three patriarchs, then a council, which reaffirmed it. But the most interesting is how to interpret this act. Since usually the Greek ecclesial acts even in the election of Metropolitan wrote that “such and such has been elected, and may he be named and called the true, canonical and legal Metropolitan of this metropolis.” And this act goes: “Let the Archbishop of Moscow be called a patriarch and may he stay in communion with other patriarchs.”

- “may he be called”– is it a substantial slip?

- It is difficult to say. There seems to be a certain gap in the document. But here another Greek term was used. Other documents have “λέγεται” (“called”), and here “ονομάζεται” (“named”) is used.

- It seems similar to the situation, about which you said that in medieval autocephalous hierarch could call himself patriarch only within his own territory, but this internal self-nomination had no legal meaning externally. Is there also some understatement?

- In Greek there is a big difference between “named” and “called.” And Patriarch Dositheus of Jerusalem wrote in a letter to Patriarch of Moscow regarding his claims to the Kyiv Metropolis: “May the Moscow Metropolis tend not to be the patriarchal throne, but as the Church was given freedom, let him be ordained by its Council and respected by all patriarchal ranks.” He says that the election of the Patriarch of Moscow had to be approved by the Ecumenical Patriarch. I quote verbatim: “The Patriarch of Moscow, consecrated to Job from Nikon, whom did he apply to – only to Constantinople, or others? And we know that only to Constantinople. But was not he said to be ordained, applying not only to Constantinople but also to other sees - and not separately, but all together?” I have not studied the documents of the Moscow Patriarchate, but Dositheus says they demanded the right to elect patriarch individually so he was not approved by Constantinople after the establishment of patriarchy. Therefore, many reputable scholars and historians come to the tacit conclusion that the Moscow Patriarchate was originally designed not as equal with the rest of ancient patriarchates but as the one higher in dignity.

There is another very important aspect. Currently many speak about the popery of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (completely forgetting about absolutism in their jurisdictions), trying to completely reverse the primacy of dignity, saying that all the patriarchs are equal in dignity. The act about the elevation of the Moscow Metropolitan to patriarchal dignity states that “may he recognize and accept the presidency and primacy of the See of Constantinople as well as the other patriarchs” That is, this document, also signed by the patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem, among other things, stated that the Patriarch of Constantinople is the first for the entire Orthodox Church.

- It is often said in the Russian Church that the primacy of dignity and title of head of New Rome for the Patriarch of Constantinople was granted only because the center of the empire was moved to Constantinople. In what way is primacy of dignity tied to the center of the empire? As to date, those empires have ceased to exist. However, this title exists and Moscow is trying to challenge it.

- It is useless to challenge it, as the same canon that awards primacy to the Bishop of Constantinople, also speaks about the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. The Bishop of Rome enjoyed privileges as it was the center of the empire. It survived, although Rome was no longer the center of the empire, but after Rome the primacy passed to Constantinople. The things once introduced in the Church are to be historically preserved. They may be changed only by the Ecumenical Council.

- But the title of “New Rome” appeared before the Great Schism. Usually they say that the first Rome has fallen, and here is a new Rome. And there must be only one center of an Orthodox empire that awards primacy of dignity to the ruling bishop. Reality is slightly different. This happened when Rome and Constantinople were one empire ...

- ... And the primacy of dignity was a prerogative of the Bishop of Rome, while the Bishop of Constantinople was “second to him in dignity” and had the same rights and privileges as the Bishop of Rome. But in the case of disputes between Constantinople and Rome other bishops were to get involved. Already under Patriarch Photios’ tenure there was an agreement between Rome and Constantinople that any restrictions of the Bishop of Rome should be recognized by the Bishop of Constantinople and restrictions of the Bishop of Constantinople should be recognized by the Bishop of Rome (1st canon of the Council in St. Sophia of 879). And when they say that now there is no empire, and the Patriarchate of Constantinople has almost no Christians after the Lausanne covenant, one should simply remember this first canon, which vested privileges on the Bishop of Constantinople. A bishop of Constantinople was then a bishop who had neither a metropolis nor a patriarchate.

Therefore, even the titular bishop of Constantinople, according to the canons should have the same primacy of dignity, even if he will have to move. While there is a Bishop of Constantinople - New Rome, he has the same rights and privileges as in ancient times. Just as there have been cases when many Eastern patriarchs lived outside their cathedral cities. For example, the Patriarch of Antioch has not lived in Antioch for centuries, he lives in Damascus, but he retains all his rights as Patriarch of Antioch.

- So now there are no reasons to change something in this primacy of dignity?

- I see no reasons, and besides, it is contrary to the canons. But many say that the primacy of dignity has become the primacy of power, that is the eastern popery. However, when referring to the eastern popery of Constantinople, they forget all about their own popery within their own patriarchate or metropolis. In general, the primacy of dignity is when the Ecumenical Patriarch is the first within his own Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Orthodox Church, as well as the Patriarch of Moscow is the first bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate in dignity, but not in power. He has full episcopal authority only in his diocese.

- What is the primacy of dignity for modern man living in the XXI century? Does it give some rights or vests with certain responsibilities?

- The primacy of dignity, speaking in modern language – is when during a worship a bishop who has primacy of dignity, leads the service. Or presides over the meeting, supervises the discussions during the sessions of synods or councils.

- So, it gives him certain organizational rights?

- Exactly. The primacy of dignity implies not only dignity but also organizational rights. The bishop who is the first in dignity presides, and he has a little more rights than another member of the council. Because all the bishops are equal in grace. The Metropolitan of Kyiv with a huge diocese, and a lesser bishop of the UOC have similar grace. They have the same grace and the same power in their own dioceses. And when a certain Patriarchate encounters problems relating to the entire Patriarchate, the head of the Patriarchate or the local Church has not only the right but also the duty to convene a council or a synod and set about solving this problem. And the same analogy can be applied to the Ecumenical Patriarch, which has the same rights and obligations at the Pan-Orthodox level.

- How can it be applied, say, to the debate between the Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch on Qatar, what are the rights of Constantinople here? Does it have a right of appellate body?

- Yes, these rights are enshrined in the canons. There even were historical precedents where other patriarchs appealed to the See of Constantinople. These are not personal rights of the patriarch, these are the rights of the Patriarch and Synod. A Patriarch himself, like any other bishop, cannot decide individually on the matters of the entire Orthodox Church. In this case the Patriarchate of Antioch appealed, according to the canons, to the bishop of Constantinople as the first bishop in dignity, to resolve this conflict. I do not know why it cannot be settled. For me the question is quite simple: once Jerusalem was not included in the Patriarchate of Antioch, because in its territory the holy places are located, and it was identified as a separate Patriarchate (canon 7 of the First Ecumenical Council and 36 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council).

- For Ukraine this precedent is interesting. Immediately the question arises: what are the arbitration rights of the Ecumenical Patriarch over Ukraine?

For reference. Canon 135 of the Council of Carthage... If any bishops whatsoever neglect the regions belonging to their see and fail to exert themselves with a view of inducing them to unite with the catholic Church, and are indicted by the diligent bishops neighboring them, they must not delay doing so.

- The problem of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - is not an internal problem of the Ukrainian Church  as it is. The situation has reached such proportions that it is not a problem only of the Moscow Patriarchate, which claims to the jurisdiction over the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This problem is of Pan-Orthodox level. And there is not only the right but also the duty of the Patriarch of Constantinople as a bishop of the Orthodox Church, who is the first in dignity to radically affect the problem. In relation to this case, there is a number of canons stating that if a certain diocese has canonical problems or a certain heresy or schism emerge there, and if the bishop of the diocese does nothing about it, then the neighboring bishops should come and settle the problem.

- So, it is not considered an alien intervention into the canonical territory?

- What is the canonical territory? It is also a very important issue. Often the modern new Orthodox Churches represent autocephaly as the state border, enclosed by barbed wire and minefields where no one has the right to intervene. The Church is one. We all believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. In history there were cases where the bishops moved from one local church to another. Initially, any movement from throne to throne was prohibited by canons, but was later permitted if necessary. It was often the case in history when problems emerged in any of the Orthodox Churches, many questions were solved at the Ecumenical Council. The questions were sometimes local, sometimes global, and if one part of the Church was unable fix its own problems, others had not only a right but also a duty to intervene.

- But there was no appeal on the part of the Russian Church to the Ecumenical Patriarch to resolve the problem. Moreover, there is some reluctance to tackle the problem. What are the grounds for external intervention? From the side, the situation looks rather monolithic: the leaders of the Kyiv Metropolis speak in the same spirit with the Russian Church that it has no problems with jurisdiction, no problem with the fact of belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate. There are only some “dissenters” who want to illegally acquire a canonical status.

- This question is quite complex. You can apply the canon, which says what the other bishops should do when the local ecclesiastical authorities omit to act or even hinder the solution of the problem of dissent.

For reference. Canon 132.

As for the bishop who neglects them, the present Canon prescribes that he shall be reminded of this by bishops who are neighbors of his, in order that he may have no excuse to offer later. But if after being so reminded, and being in these sees of heretics for six months, he fails to apply all those ways and means which are calculated to convert heretics, he is to be excluded from communion until he does. 

Therefore, when we talk about the dissent, it is not the fault of the party which broke away, but of both sides. In particular, it is impossible to accuse of the divisions that currently exist in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church those who are excluded, they did not secede, but were split off. I can immediately draw an analogy with the Russian diaspora in the twentieth century, one part of which was called the “Karlovci schism,” and another – the “Parisian split.” Why these structures split off the Moscow Patriarchate? Actually, they were expelled from the Moscow Patriarchate. Metropolitan Sergius Stragorodsky, who declared himself deputy locum tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, said that all clergy who did not stop criticizing the Soviet regime would be expelled from the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate, “we required that foreign clergy gave a written obligation for full loyalty to the Soviet government in all its social activities. Those who did not give such an obligation or violated it, will be expelled from the clergy subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate. We think that having separated ourselves in such a way, we will be secured from any surprises from abroad.” And people who have left their country because of the atrocities of Bolshevism, had no other choice. They lost their homeland, and somebody even tried to silence them. We certainly cannot blame Metropolitan Sergius, as he had to keep the Church structure in the Soviet Union, and even perhaps his own life. Although by this declaration he destroyed many lives.

- But due to this decision the Moscow Patriarchate very efficiently transformed later.

- Right. But these two groups can be cited as an example: the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was actually forced out from the Moscow Patriarchate, and the group that is representing the Russian Exarchate in Western Europe also was forced to look for new protection.

The same thing happened to Metropolitan Filaret. Metropolitan Filaret originally requested the autocephalous canonical status, as everybody knows, this is no secret. And he did not do it alone, but jointly with the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This question was even considered by the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, and then the issue should have been raised again at the Local Council. But this did not happen, and the notorious events took place.

For reference.  Canon 15 of the First and Second Council

The rules laid down with reference to Presbyters and Bishops and Metropolitans are still more applicable to Patriarchs. So that in case any Presbyter or Bishop or Metropolitan dares to secede or apostatize from the communion of his own Patriarch, and fails to mention the latter’s name in accordance with custom duly fixed and ordained, in the divine Mystagogy, but, before a conciliar verdict has been pronounced and has passed judgment against him, creates a schism, the holy Council has decreed that this person shall be held an alien to every priestly function if only he be convicted of having committed this transgression of the law.

For me the decision to condemn Metropolitan Filaret (Denysenko) was not quite adequate, besides, from the canonical point of view it was written rather illiterately. So they actually excluded him. He committed no split. Until the Council of Moscow decided to defrock him, he recalled the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. So, it is basically impossible to accuse him of schismatic actions. Since the canons say, “if he does not remember the name” (13-15 canons of the First and Second Council). But he continued to remember the patriarch.

- Is it possible that the branch, which was formed after leaving the UOC MP, may be considered as part of the Kyiv Metropolis, which has been temporarily rejected and also has the right to vote, the right to appeal to the Patriarch of Constantinople?

- Well of course. This split there was not the will of those who are now in this part, but they were excluded, it was a forcible action, as was the elimination of the legitimate metropolitan from his See by the Council of Kharkiv of 1992, which has no reference to any of the canons.

For reference
the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of May 27, 1992 in Kharkiv.
II. On the second question the hierarchs had debated about removal of Metropolitan Filaret from the office of the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Given the Resolutions of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church of March 31 to April 4, 1992, Resolutions 34 of the Holy Synod of May 1992, and of May 21, 1992 and evaluating the actions of Metropolitan Filaret as non-canonical, the Council of Bishops has decided so far:
Remove Metropolitan Filaret of Kyiv and All Ukraine from the office of the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and suspend him in service. Metropolitan Filaret is banned from ministry until the Council of Bishops of the Mother Church convenes to make the final decision on this matter.


- But the decision of the Council of Kharkiv have been recognized representatives of other local churches. At least, no one challenged their canonicity.

- They were not challenged because the Moscow Patriarchate prevented this in every way. But if you follow the logic, the issue has already come to the Pan-Orthodox level. I reiterate: the Ukrainian Church is one of the largest Orthodox Churches, and therefore this is not a domestic problem or a problem of the Ukrainian Church or the Moscow Patriarchate. And even the issue of affiliation of the Ukrainian Church with the Moscow Patriarchate is quite difficult from legal point of view because the transfer as such has never taken place.

In other words, there are two aspects. Even if it was the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, in a situation which has emerged, we need a resolution of the Synod of Constantinople or a certain inter-orthodox assembly or council. In the twentieth century a certain Μείζων και ΥπερτελήςΣύνοδος - Large and Extraordinary Synod was practiced, which gathered representatives or heads of various local Churches – mostly ancient Eastern patriarchates plus the Church of Cyprus. And then it can further expand. But the fact that the full transfer of the Kyiv Metropolis has legally never taken place, and was a mere seizure – is an obvious fact. It is as if you had a cottage near Paris, which you do not use, and you say to me: “Please, guard my bungalow, and you can use it,” and I will go to City Hall or the local cadastral administration and acquire a tittle to it, and then say it is mine.

- Something like that is happening with the property of Ukrainians in Crimea who cannot go there and use it.

- Here, in principle, the same thing occurred: it was a seizure of property. The acts, even those that are known, do not transfer jurisdiction, they convey only the right to ordain the metropolitan, if the selected candidate was not a hierarch, if he was a bishop – to issue the canonical act transferring him from his own See to the See of Kyiv. No more and no less.

- That is, in current circumstances, as Ukraine is an independent state, and the war between the Russian and Ottoman empires no longer continues, and there is no problem to get from Istanbul to Kyiv in 2 hours – that is, there no problem of long distances, no wars, no particular problems with the passage of borders – it might somehow affect the prospects of reviewing the act and, therefore, the solution of the Ukrainian issue?

- My personal opinion is that due to its proportions the Ukrainian Church have long been able to become a separate Local Autocephalous Church. We now have among the news autocephalous churches the Albanian Church – for religious minorities, which were originally ethnic Greeks in Albania or the Polish Orthodox Church – for ethnic minorities of Ukrainians and Belarusians in Poland, the Orthodox Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia is also the Church of the ethnic minority of Ukrainian or Carpathian ‘Rusyns’ in Catholic countries. But even if we take one of the ancient churches of the Church of Cyprus, by its proportions the Church of Church may match a diocese in Ukraine. So the Ukrainian Church is both able and worthy to become an autocephalous local church.

- And the final question: what are the prospects that the Appeal of Ukrainian Parliament to the Patriarch Bartholomew on granting the autocephalous status will be considered? Is it the way it should be done? It is clear that we have no procedures for this matter, but we have a precedent rule, in each case there are specific conditions. But how is it real?

- There is a certain answer, I think, is, at least a formal one. There may be some response actions, it will be decided on by the Synod, and everything depends on its decisions and opinions of the attending bishops.

- But you do not doubt that this Synod will convene?

- I do not know whether committed by real action – it depends on various factors. But I got the impression that the Patriarchate of Constantinople importantly – the unity of the Ukrainian Church that she joined that was not the three jurisdictions.

The main thing - that was the only national church, not ten individual pieces from a single Ukrainian Church.

Finally I would like to emphasize some things. Many opponents of Ukrainian Autocephalous Church say that it will be a split. Such statements are not true. All Autocephalous Orthodox Church only separated administratively from their hierarchal Churches, retaining full unity in doctrine, sacraments and prayer. The establishment of the Patriarchate of Moscow and the canonical autocephalous Russian Church has broken neither the unity of the local Church nor of its Mother Church – the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople, nor of the universal Church. On the contrary, for many new autocephalous Churches acquiring their autocephalous canonical status, conversely, coincided with the restoration of their communion with the universal Church after a period of schism. Statements about the danger of such autocephaly as a division, made by the way by representatives of the local Church, which received autocephaly in a similar manner, run contrary to the doctrine about the ecclesial unity, expressed in the Creed. In the event of granting the autocephalous status and the integration of all three parts of the Kyiv Metropolis, their visible unity with the universal Church will be resumed.

Also, many opponents of such unification refer to “inadmissibility of legalizing a dissent.” But claiming that this situation does not require intervention is the legalization of the dissent. This is what will keep and strengthen the dissent. The purpose of the Church, on the contrary, is to eliminate the dissent, and the dissent is eliminated by restoring the unity, the unity that is visible and is manifested in concelebration and in some cases in the administrative union, as it happened many times in the history of the Church, and as provided by canons.

interviewed by Tetiana DERKACH