In a statement dated January 17, the council of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe declared the following:
In recent days, many priests and deacons of the Archdiocese have received a letter from the Greek Metropolitan of the country where they reside, ordering them to cease commemorating their own Archbishop, to join the clergy of the Greek Metropolia, to consider that our parishes and communities are already part of these Metropolia and finally ordering them to hand over all relevant parish documents and records.
In this regard, the Council of the Archdiocese refers to its communiqué of 30 November and offers some clarifications.
This intervention by external bishops in the very body of our Archdiocese, even if they are bishops of the same Patriarchate, is irregular from the point of view of ecclesiology and law: indeed, His Eminence, Archbishop John is the only legitimate ruling bishop of Orthodox parishes of Russian tradition in Western Europe. On 28 March, 2016, he was properly elected by the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Archdiocese, composed of all the clergy and lay delegates of the parishes that make up our ecclesial body; on 22 April, 2016, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate ratified this election. From that moment, Archbishop John was fully established in his duties. Since then, he has neither resigned nor requested retirement and remains, by the very definition of episcopal ministry, the instrument of the catholicity of the diocese and the president of the Diocesan Union, which is the legal entity according to French law protecting the communion of all the parishes and communities of the Archdiocese.
Like all his predecessors since the Venerable Metropolitan Euloghiy, and in all the countries where his parishes are established, His Eminence Archbishop John celebrates the Eucharist of the Church in catholicity, as well as all sacramental acts; he presides at the consecration of churches and antimensia, he ordains to every rank of ecclesiastical service in our Archdiocese. In his capacity as a bishop of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, he recently participated in the Synaxis of the Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Throne [1-3 September 2018] and, in 2016, in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church [in Crete]. His status as the sole diocesan bishop of our archdiocese is irrefutable, canonically and legally, as confirmed by the official Statutes of the Archdiocese.
The Statutes of the Archdiocese are known to the Patriarchate and have been consistently approved by the Holy Synod since 1931; in their current version, they include in particular:
The Archdiocese and member associations [parishes and monasteries] are placed under the administrative authority and the spiritual, pastoral and moral direction of a ruling bishop, with the rank and title of Archbishop, under obedience to His All-holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The Archbishop is the President of the Archdiocese.
The Archbishop exercises his functions for life. He may, however, withdraw from the governance of the Archdiocese after consulting the Episcopal Committee and the Council of the Archdiocese. On the other hand, he may not be removed from office except after the judgment of a competent higher ecclesiastical tribunal, namely the Patriarchal Holy Synod.
These provisions do not permit any other interpretation: our diocesan clergy must continue the manner of liturgical commemoration that they have always practiced, and they remain, just like the parishes and monasteries, under direct obedience to His Eminence, Archbishop John. All diocesan files are up-to-date at the Archdiocese and they may not, for legally binding reasons, be transferred to an external authority without good reason.
On November 27, 2018, the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided to rescind the Patriarchal and Synodal Tomos of 19 June, 1999, which conferred on the Archdiocese the title of Patriarchal Exarch. Even though the Archdiocesan Council regrets the unilateral nature of this decision, over which there was no consultation, we recognize that the Patriarchate had the right to make this decision. We must not, however, confuse the concept of withdrawal of the status of Patriarchal Exarchate with the expression “dissolution of the Archdiocese”, as derogatively used by some sources on the Internet.
The decision of 27 November of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is unilateral (the withdrawal of the Tomos of 1999) and bilateral or even trilateral (the invitation to integrate the parishes of the Archdiocese into the Greek Metropolia, concerning which we do not know whether they have been consulted on this subject). What is multilateral must necessarily be the subject of deliberation by the collective (parish) and individual (clergy) subjects concerned. No one can prejudge an ecclesiologically fundamental act of receiving a decision from an external source.
In fact, only the General Assembly is competent to dissolve the Archdiocese, founded in 1921 (that is, even before its reception into the Patriarchate of Constantinople). This Assembly has been legally convened for the coming 23 February and has a single item on its agenda: the discussion on this decision by the Patriarchate.
Just as the Ecumenical Patriarchate complies, for its local operation in Turkey, with the legislative regime of the Turkish Republic, which is sometimes very restrictive, so it has always encouraged our Archdiocese to organize itself in accordance with the legislation of the countries where its parishes are established, and to respect those laws fully. Far from being a departure from the good organization of the Church, respect for statutory procedures is the safest canonical application directly inspired by the Orthodox ethos.
Our Archdiocese finds itself today, de jure, in the position it was in before it was welcomed into the Ecumenical Patriarchate. De facto, however, we would not want this long and fruitful period to end without a direct face-to-face meeting between the representatives of our Archdiocese and the authorities of the Patriarchate.
Indeed, we will never be able to find the right words to express our gratitude to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for its canonical protection during all these years. The Holy Church of Constantinople has taken care to respect the particular characteristics of the working of our diocese, finspired by the decisions and debates of the 1917-1918 Moscow Council, and for this we are deeply grateful. This shows how much the Patriarchate’s ecclesiastical vocation is truly supra-ethnic.
If the Ecumenical Patriarchate were to shut the door to any possibility for the Archdiocese to remain in its midst, the General Assembly would advise accordingly. However, neither the Greek Metropolitans of Western Europe, nor the Council of the Archdiocese, nor even the Archbishop can take the place of the Church Assembly which has been validly convened for 23rd February.
In the meantime, the Council of the Archdiocese calls on all parties to respect the peace of the Church and the legal provisions which ensure that, in the Body of Christ, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40). As the Apostle Paul always teaches: “For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33). The opposite of disorder then is not order, but peace.
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