In his interview with the first channel of Russian TV, Metropolitan Amfilohije first explained that “in this decision, the Patriarch of Constantinople, as other bishops of the Constantinople Patriarchate have been doing lately, is referring to the local churches right of appeal to the Patriarch of Constantinople. We call it “the ekkliton”.
– When a problem arises with some bishops in any local church, the bishops would supposedly have the possibility to appeal to the Constantinople Patriarchate, and the latter could then make a decision on the issue. But do they really have this right of appeal? Especially in the spirit in which [Filaret] Denisenko has used it. The ecumenical patriarch bases this appeal on certain historical facts and canons. Canons 9, 17, and 28 of the 4th Ecumenical Council for instance, which were written in ancient times regarding the state and role of the Patriarchate of Constantinople at that time. On what basis was this right given to him?
– First of all, this right is about metropolitan dioceses under the canonical direction of the patriarch of Constantinople. This right did not relate to the whole Church. Secondly, this right is based on the canons of an Ecumenical Council, according to which the Ecumenical Patriarch received this status as the bishop of the city of Byzantium, Constantinople, since this city was the imperial city, the residence of the emperor and of his council. Now, the imperial capital no longer exists. Constantinople ceased to be the imperial capital in 1453. This right, to which the Patriarch of Constantinople is refering, is then called into question.
The Orthodox Church does not question the patriarch’s status as first in honor in the Orthodox Church, but that does not give him the right to interfere in the life of some other local Church like the Russian Orthodox Church. Here, the patriarch is referring to a certain decision made in 1686, supposedly giving the metropolitan of Moscow, through ekonomia, the right to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv, providing that this metropolitan would commemorate the Patriarch of Constantinople before other names. Now the Kievan Rus’, Vladimir’s Rus’ and of the Rus’ of Moscow were one and the same Rus’ at that time. It was therefore impossible to separate them. But that was 300 years ago, and Constantinople never asked the question of ecclesiastical power in Ukraine, which would supposedly belong to them. They just did it for the first time today. And it is impossible to accept.
I am surprised Constantinople was not stopped by the negative reaction of all the local Churches, including the ancient patriarchates of the East, such as Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch. The Patriarch of Alexandria was actually here recently. I am sure he will give his assessment of all this. He recently stayed in Odessa and spoke with the Metropolitan of the Polish Orthodox Church, who also very clearly expressed his point of view. In general, all the local Churches have expressed their reaction, including ours, which adopted a well-documented letter on the issue in its Synod. Constantinople did not answer. Our Patriarch has just met with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Thessaloniki and told him what the position of our Church is. Unfortunately, they responded as they did. This does not solve the Ukrainian issue, but only complicates it.
In any case, this decision is catastrophic, as I said before. In particular for the resolution of this important issue for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. This decision creates the radical problem of the interference in the life of another local Church, not only of the Russian Church, but of any church. At the same time, it calls into question the unity of Orthodoxy. And there are already repercussions on it, especially on the Orthodox diaspora and on assemblies of Orthodox bishops. As far as I know, bishops in Latin America are now refusing to participate in pan-Orthodox assemblies, and it’s the same thing in Europe. I am sure this will also be the case in the United States. It has already partly begun. But the role of the first of the patriarchs is not to divide the others, but rather to bring them together. By his actions, the patriarch of Constantinople is precisely dividing them. He does not solve the issue, but deepens the problem in the whole Orthodox Church.
– Recently, we have been talking a lot about the interference of great powers in the internal affairs of the Orthodox Church. Could you specify which States, and what they are trying to achieve?
– This is obvious in Ukraine itself. The Ukrainian power is the main “player” in the question of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. We must not lose sight of the fact that the State used to intervene in ecclesial affairs, or in other words, there used to be a cooperation, a “symphony” between the State and the Church in Orthodoxy. But back then, they were Christian States, with Christian rulers. So the State itself was defending the Orthodox Christian faith. The rulers, from the Byzantine emperor to the Moscow Tsar, to our kings, were Orthodox Christians. The constitution of Montenegro even stipulated that the successor of King Nikola I should be an Orthodox Christian. It is quite different nowadays. These are all secular States, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This event gave rise to contradictions among the Russian people, among Slavic peoples on the territory of the former Russian Empire.
The question of the so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church did not appear just today. It arose precisely with the creation of Ukraine by the Soviet power in the 1920s. It was then that the “self-consecrated” bishops appeared. They declared themselves metropolitans of Kyiv. At the time, the Metropolitan of Kyiv was Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), a candidate for the patriarchal throne of Moscow. He died in 1936 and was buried in Belgrade. With more than thirty bishops, he had been forced to leave Russia. Our local Church helped him to establish the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia that still exists today, the only difference being that it is now inn union with the Moscow Patriarchate. So we have two very different things: the contemporary States and the current powers, and the time when Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, and Moscow was the capital of the Russian Empire, as heir to the Empire Byzantine. This time of symbiosis between the Church and the State, “the Constantinian epoch”, began with Emperor Constantine the Great and is now over.
In my opinion, and not just mine, it ended with the assassination of the imperial family in 1918. In the West, this imperial period of Christianity was promulgated dogmatically in the person of the bishop of Rome, the pontifex maximus. In the East, it has always been a temptation. However, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, there was no more Byzantine emperor able to ensure as before that the bishop of Constantinople would have the status he had had since the time of the Emperor Constantine. Then, through Kyiv and Vladimir, this role of the Byzantine Empire passed to Moscow. That is, to the Russian tsars. But the Russian tsar and his family were killed in 1918. This ended the Constantinian epoch in the history of the Church. It is over.
And now, the Church must return to its pre-imperial structure, without imitating what happened in past centuries when there was a symbiosis between the State, the Church, and the people. It must return to the structure that existed before Emperor Constantine. With an attitude of respect for what happened after, but not limiting itself to the historical experience. What the Church experienced during the imperial period must be left to the past. So, the first Rome abandoned the [true] faith, the second Rome fell and disappeared in 1453. After the assassination of the imperial family, the third Rome already lost, in the life of the Church, the place it occupied during the previous centuries. Thus, the way of life of the Church and its way of functioning during the imperial period must be left to the past. From this point of view, Constantinople did what it had no right to do.
First of all, this State, Ukraine, is the fruit of Lenin-Stalinist secularism, of communist secularism. And this painful situation for the people of Ukraine, for the Christian people, is also the result of the conversion of Ukrainians to Uniatism in the 16th century, and of what happened to Ukrainians in 1920. We must alsos consider here the meaning of the very name of “Ukraine”. It is similar to our Serbian word “Krajina” [“confines”, meaning the buffer zones of the Austrian Empire created in Slavonia and other regions]. We ask ourselves: “confines” of what? Besides, Kyiv used to be the Mother Church of the Russian Church. Then its center was moved to Vladimir (period of the Rus’ of Vladimir), then to Moscow. This continuity of the Orthodox Church in Russia began in Kyiv, went through Vladimir, and ends up in Moscow. It’s an unbroken succession.
So what is the meaning of referring to something that occurred in the 15th and 16th centuries? We cannot solve the Ukrainian issue on this basis. In fact, it must be solved on the basis of the structure of this State, which is secular, like all contemporary lay States in the West. These are fundamentally different relations, for non-Christian States and nations. The same problem has now emerged in Macedonia. There, the Communists civil authorities created the so-called Orthodox Church of Macedonia.
In the same way as here, in Montenegro, the Communists, heirs of the Titoist regime, have been trying to create the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church. At the time of the Communists, the Montenegrin authorities killed 129 priests here. Communist power killed Metropolitan Joanikije of Montenegro. And it is that power that for the first time raised the question of the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church. The atheist and secular power, in a secular State where the Church is separated from the State, interferes in the internal affairs of the Church. The same thing is happening in Ukraine and in other States that arose after the Bolshevik revolution. The Church must strive to unite society and resolve as much as possible the painful question of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. There, as the Ukrainian Church, there are “Uniates” or “Greek-Catholics”, then the so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church, and the self-proclaimed Kyiv Patriarchate Church.
Constantinople, for the first time, on the basis of the so-called ekkliton, the right of appeal, interferes in the life of another local Church, and this 300 years after the end of its ecclesiastic jurisdiction on Ukraine. This is an absolutely incomprehensible phenomenon. I hope it is still possible that this tomos will not be produced, and that it will not be granted without the agreement of the canonical Church. Constantinople used to only recognize the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate as canonical Church in Ukraine. But now, Constantinople has recognized bishops defrocked and excommunicated by one of the local Orthodox Churches. It is simply unimaginable that the Ecumenical Patriarch did that. These interferences are directed against Russia and in fact against Orthodoxy.
As far as these interferences are concerned, I would like to say that they are not only the responsibility of the Ukrainian authorities. It is clear that these are directed against Russia and in fact against Orthodoxy. They may have divided everyone in these lands. Only the Orthodox Church remained one. But now, the demonic powers of this world are striving to divide also the Orthodox Church. To do so, they managed to use the ancient Church of Constantinople, so that it would apply the right that belonged to it at the time of the empire. In the battle for Ukraine, that is to say to undermine the foundation of Russia, the hand of America is visible. We are talking about the interference of Russia, but how can Russia interfere? It was born there. Kievan Rus’ was born there and developed continuously for 1,030 years.
The fact that Western States, the European Union and, above all America, fuel and support fratricidal wars, as they did in Kosovo, shows that what is happening in Ukraine is the second act of the tragedy of Kosovo: they turned a group of malefactors and criminals who put the worthy Albanian people to shame, into the leaders of Kosovo, and they recognized Kosovo as independent, while the Orthodox Church of God, our century-old culture, and the Serbian people, are expelled. What the Communists started was continued by the NATO bloc, through its bombing of Serbia and Montenegro. What started in Russia with the coming to power of the Bolsheviks and the assassination of the imperial family is now bearing bitter fruit. I regret that the Patriarch of Constantinople did not understand how deep and serious these problems are.
His first intention was good: to reunify, but the path chosen is not that of reunification, but only of the worsening of the difficulties that have seized Ukraine, in the same way as the creation of a deep schism in Orthodox Church will undoubtedly bring no good fruit, if such attempts are carried on. And not only for Russians and Ukrainians, but for us as well. Indeed, this [Filaret] Denisenko is the only one to have recognized our Miraš Dedeić [head of the pseudo-Church of Montenegro], who was defrocked and anathematized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
We sent a letter to the patriarch of Constantinople about it, but he has not answered so far. Of course, he does not recognize Dedeić. But by this act, by receiving the one [Denisenko] who supports all schisms in other places as canonical structures, he reinforces against his will the schisms that have been undermining the unity of the Orthodox Church. And this is done on the basis of ethnophyletism, which was previously condemned by the Church. Even the Council of Crete (it is unfortunate that the Moscow Patriarchate did not participate, but despite this, its decisions remain in force) confirmed the decisions of the Council of 1872 condemning ethnophyletism as a heresy and as a venom that destroys the unity of the Church. Constantinople confirmed and signed this decision of the great Council, and it is now precisely on the basis of ethnophyletism, a Ukrainian ethnophyletism with a secular character, and on the basis of requests made by persons formed under the influence of Bolshevism, requests made by admirers of Bandera, by Ukrainian fascists and former Nazis, that the Patriarch of Constantinople creates a Church. Is this normal? No, it is not.
Not to mention the fact that Denisenko claimed, as Metropolitan of Ukraine, the post of Patriarch of Moscow and when he was not elected, declared himself a patriarch. Such is his madness. How could we call all of this normal, without the agreement of the Mother Church? And the Mother Church of Ukraine is not the Constantinople Patriarchate, but for more than 300 years, it has been the Moscow Patriarchate.
– Recently Milo Đukanović, president of Montenegro, said that the Russian Church is the force of intervention of Russian imperial interests. What did he mean?
– You should ask him. He probably supposed that the Montenegrin metropolis that has been existing here for 800 years, has been maintaining its relationship with the Russian Church and with Russia, now as in the past, and especially in the time of Metropolitan Danilo. If there had not been any “imperialist Russia”, as he calls it, there would have been no Montenegro either. Neither in 1878 nor later. Tsar Nicholas II saved Serbia and Montenegro in 1915 and 1916, when Montenegro was forced to capitulate, and when King Peter, with the entire Serbian army, retreated through Kosovo to the Albanian coast. Then the Russian tsar issued a threatening ultimatum, according to which, if the allies did not help the Serbian army to flee (the Austro-Hungarian army was closely pursuing the Serbs), Russia would sign a separate peace with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Thus the Allies sent boats to save the Serbs. If Nicholas II had signed a separate peace, he would not have been killed and his family would not have been destroyed. The Kaiser sent Lenin and accomplished the revolution in Petrograd in 1916-1917. The Tsar and his family were killed by the Bolsheviks, in fact by the Germans. It was he, his family, and Imperial Russia, who paid with their lives for the safety of their allies, Serbia and Montenegro.
– What are we talking about? Which “imperialist Russia” are we talking about?
– Since 1700, Montenegro has been created by the efforts of Russia. Its education, its organization, and King Nikola in 1918. The Metropolitan Diocese [of Montenegro] has only been continuing the tradition. And no imperialist Russia gets involved. Russian bishops come to us. With them, we have recently erected a monument to the imperial holy martyrs at the monastery of Duklevo. Their faces are carved on it. It is perhaps the most beautiful monument to the imperial family. If this is what he calls imperialism… I sometimes say these are “the sanctions of the metropolitan diocese against Russia”… Mr. Đukanović, in his struggle with “Russian imperialism”, has become a toy in the hands of the empire of Western Europe, of America, and of the NATO bloc. Those who bombed Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo, which was part of Montenegro when it was an independent kingdom. Now, Kosovo is recognized by Đukanović, whereas the Russians tried to save the unity of our people and of our State. Unfortunately, Russia was not then led by its current president, but by his predecessor who did not understand that. So I do not understand what Đukanović implies by “imperialism”. If that’s what I talked about, then yes.
Now to go back to the decision of Constantinople, I would add that this decision is catastrophic for the Constantinople Patriarchate and for the unity of the Orthodox Church. Also, we hope that very soon, as requested by the Moscow Patriarchate and other local Churches which are fully entitled to request it, this issue will be resolved at the Pan-Orthodox level. The issue of Ukraine cannot be resolved by a single local church, because this issue is so vast that it requires the participation of all Orthodox Churches. This issue is more important than any discussed in Crete. Thus, the position of Constantinople is surprising. Indeed, they have always approached other local churches (for instance, during the schism in the Bulgarian Church in 1994, Constantinople invited representatives of all the local churches to solve the schism in a canonical way).
And now, based on the Ukrainian precedent, discussions have begun on the issue of the Orthodox Church of Macedonia, which would then be settled by the intervention of another local Church on its territory. The Ecumenical Patriarch is prevented from doing so only by the fact that he required the renunciation of the name “Orthodox Church of Macedonia” (in Ukraine, the name “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” does not bother him), but his demand was not been granted. The question is that there was Macedonia, going back to Alexander of Macedon and to King Philip, and here we are going back to the question of communist myths. As in Montenegro, neo-communists continue to develop them. They demanded that the metropolis of Montenegro, that is the Serbian Orthodox Church, be registered again, as if it were born yesterday. The 1987 law provides for the registration of only new religious communities, and not of traditional churches and religious communities. And now, these neo-communists have begun to demand that, and they almost organize persecution. Here we have Russian monks and nuns, priests coming from the Republic of Serbia (Bosnia) and Serbia. They are not given a residence permit, because they are not citizens of Montenegro.
This same approach is carried out in Macedonia. Dedeić, the so-called metropolitan of Montenegro, a creation of neo-communists, defrocked by the patriarch of Constantinople, was recognized by Filaret only. He has been concelebrating with him for years. And how will Constantinople act now, if he recognizes Filaret who has been defrocked, thus transgressing the decisions of the Moscow Patriarchate? Then they will also have to recognize those who concelebrate with Filaret and the one who was himself deposed by Constantinople! Our brothers of Constantinople have badly thought it out.
I pray the Lord to help them. And also that the Moscow Patriarchate and our brothers in Ukraine, with humility and patience, will overcome an unhealthy schism, which is nothing but the fruit of all that happened, especially in the 1920s. The Church is the only force that brings people together. But now, the demonic forces of this world, the destructive forces within the Church, and the leaders of this world have been achieving real imperialist goals. The war in Ukraine continues, and now Constantinople is confirming [by its conduct] that this war is directed against the Church and the unity of the people of God, and against Russia as the largest Orthodox country. This is not good and there is nothing good for Constantinople either. They were not allowed to take such a step.
There is still hope that people will come back to reason and to true canonical order. As I have already said, such actions by Constantinople call into question its primacy. I repeat it, they are basing their actions on the fact that it is an imperial capital, but it has stopped existing in the 15th century. It no longer exists, neither in Russia nor in Constantinople. But even if there is no more empire, Russian or Eastern Roman, the Church has remained and it must operate on a healthy evangelical basis. It is the way it used to function until Emperor Constantine.