Paris, January 18, 2019
His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Istanbul Rum Patrikligi Sadrazam Ali Pasa Cad. No. 35 Fatih 34220 Istanbul TURKEY
The Archdiocesan Council met today under the chairmanship of His Eminence, John of Charioupolis, the ruling Archbishop of the Orthodox Russian Churches in Western Europe. They took note of letters recently sent by several Greek Metropolitans of Western Europe to our priests, ordering them to stop commemorating their own Archbishop, to join the clergy of the Greek Metropolises, to consider that our parishes and communities are already part of these Metropolises, and even to hand over all their significant parish documents and records.
At the same time, Archbishop John delivered a letter from Your All-Holiness to the diocesan chancery today, in order to have it translated as quickly as possible from the Greek to the French. At first glance, it would seem this letter goes in the same direction as those sent by the Greek Metropolitans. Nevertheless, His Eminence Archbishop John plans to respond to this letter in due time, when he is able to read it carefully in the language of the Archdiocese, which is also his native language.
The day after the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued its November 29, 2018 communiqué —announcing the reorganization of the Exarchate’s status, which had been conferred on our Archdiocese on June 19, 1999— our Council published a communiqué announcing that we would take all the necessary steps in order to respond to the Patriarchate’s decision in a rightful manner.
The structures of our Archdiocese indeed do not allow any other organ, except the General Assembly, to respond to an existential issue concerning the status of our ecclesial body. This reflects both the deep canonical consciousness and the legal order of our Archdiocese, elements we will return to below.
As early as December 15 however, as no statutory requirement for a mandatory waiting period prevented us from doing so, we gathered as a Pastoral Assembly, i.e., a meeting of the whole diocesan clergy with our ruling Archbishop and the Archdiocesan Council. Almost the whole clergy from all the countries where the Archdiocese exists were present. During this consultative (as it was not statutory) assembly, numerous comments from the pastors of our parishes showed that our former status within the Ecumenical Patriarchate had been a happy and favorable period in the history of our Archdiocese, a period which we would have liked to prolong. Nevertheless, as soon as other Orthodox Churches heard about your decision to abolish our Archdiocese’s status of exarchate, we received several proposals to integrate our entire Archdiocese within other canonical jurisdictions.
Our Council thus made the decision to convene an extraordinary session of the General Assembly, as soon as our canonical and legal statutory order allows. It will be held on February 23, 2019. We also decided to form an ad hoc commission in charge with preparing this Assembly.
The first option the Council was led to consider, was to ask Your All-Holiness to receive this preparatory Commission at the Ecumenical Patriarchate See, in order to better understand the nature and reasons for the decision you made on November 27, and to explore possibilities to resolve this situation.
We understand that today, our Archdiocese finds itself, de jure, in the same situation it was before it was received in the Ecumenical Patriarchate. De facto, however, we would not want this long and fruitful period to end without a human, face-to-face meeting with the representatives mandated by our diocesan structures. 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 took care to respect the specificities of our diocesan way of operating, which was inspired by the decisions and debates of the 1917-1918 Moscow Council. For this we are profoundly grateful to the Patriarchate. This shows how much the ecclesial vocation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is truly supra-ethnic.
This aspect manifested itself very quickly: barely ten years after its foundation in 1921, our Archdiocese, established in tragic circumstances of modern history, found a canonical refuge within the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. At the moment of the establishment of our ecclesial entity in the West, the Ecumenical Patriarchate had not yet founded its first diocesan structure in the same territory. In 1931, when our Church was received in the Patriarchate, the coexistence —justified for pastoral reasons — of two structures in the same territory, one Greek and one Russian, did not prevent the Ecumenical Patriarchate from granting the status of provisional exarchate to our Archdiocese.
In 1965, the Ecumenical Patriarchate unilaterally decided to revoke its 1931 provisional decision to welcome us in the Patriarchate. This move met with general incomprehension. However, it did not lead to the dissolution of the Archdiocese itself, but rather to the creation of the “Orthodox Archdiocese of France and Western Europe”, both fully Orthodox and independent .
Then, at the repeated request of the late Archbishop George (Tarasov), the head of the Archdiocese at the time, the Ecumenical Patriarchate accepted to rebuild the ties between the Archdiocese and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Your illustrious predecessor, Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, stated then that the 1931 decision had been due to hopes to ensure “the harmony essential for pan-Orthodox collaboration and for convening the Holy and Great Council (January 22, 1971 letter sent by Patriarch Athenagoras to Archbishop George). It was therefore not the loss of the pastoral reasons present in 1931 that led to your 1965 decision, but the will to move forward more resolutely toward the awaited Council. The Council was eventually convened, and our current Archdiocese had the honor of participating in it, as part of the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
From 1971 to 1999, the canonical status of the Archdiocese was less precise: for almost thirty years, it functioned in a self-administered manner, without being a formal exarchate of the Ecumenical Throne, but still being dependent on the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In 1999, when you granted a new, non-provisional status of exarchate to our Archdiocese, you did it in fact at our request, not on your own initiative. At that time, the negotiations between the representatives of the Archdiocese, headed then by the late Archbishop Serge (Konovalov), and the representatives of the Patriarchate lasted for several years. Even if the Patriarchate alone decreed the Tomos of June 19, 1999, we can rightfully consider that it was the result of fruitful bilateral relations.
Today, the revocation of the 1999 Tomos is unilateral and not a joint decision. No consultation took place with the representatives of our Archdiocese for this change in canonical status. Have the pastoral reasons —reasons that justified the creation of a Patriarchal exarchate in the same territory as the Greek Metropolises in Western Europe— for our Archdiocese being received in the Ecumenical Patriarchate disappeared, especially since 1999?
Times have not changed much since then: in some Greek Metropolises, a few parishes using languages other than the Greek have been founded, but they are not many, and in no case do they alter the fundamental Hellenic identity of these ecclesial entities.
A few hundred feet away from our St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, St. Stephen’s Cathedral of the Greek Metropolis of France is not French, strictly speaking, as this property belongs to a foreign State. Along the same line, countless priests of the Greek Metropolises are still being paid today by the Hellenic Republic. They are therefore subject to the loyalty implied by this social status.
Our Archdiocese, for its part, is composed of Russian-speaking parishes, but also of parishes using local languages. All continue to define themselves through the Russian tradition in regard to liturgical services and ecclesial administration, because of the Archdiocese history and to honor its founders. Our ecclesial entity has achieved acculturation to a far greater extent than all the other Orthodox jurisdictions in Western Europe. This has also been reflected in our diocesan leadership, as many of our archbishops were born in Western Europe. Whereas to this day, in all of Western Europe, only one Greek metropolitan was not born in Greece.
If the Archdiocese could be consulted about a possible restructuration of the Ecumenical Patriarchate ecclesial entities in Western Europe, we believe that more creative and certainly more consensus ideas could emerge from the discussion. We continue to wish for such a dialogue, but we cannot force anyone into it.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate wishes to see its exclusive jurisdiction over the whole of Western Europe recognized, while many patriarchates and autocephalous Churches do not agree with this understanding. If the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate were uncontested throughout the Orthodox Church, the withdrawal of the Tomos —which granted the status of Exarchate to our Archdiocese— would be logically followed by the automatic dismantlement of our Archdiocese and the subjection of its parishes solely to the local dioceses. However, this position is not unanimously supported by the Orthodox Churches, as evidenced by the fact that the Holy and Great Council of 2016 was unable to decide anything on this issue, even though it had been put on its agenda as early as 1976. To this day, and until a conciliar resolution is considered authoritative for all Orthodox, we have to admit that there is room for several visions regarding the organization of the Orthodox Church presence in Western Europe.
Of course, the coexistence in the West of Greek, Antiochian, Moscow Patriarchate, ROCOR, Ukrainian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Georgian, Polish, American dioceses, and perhaps still others, is an ecclesiological anomaly. The most recent ecclesiological studies show that the resolution of this situation will be complex. To forcefully order a solely local simplification would not necessarily guarantee a positive contribution to the whole and global problem. However, the history of the Church has experienced so many twists and turns in its theological tradition, that we are not forbidden to hope that this issue too will be resolved. It was not normal for Ottoman Sultans to intervene in the election and dismissal of patriarchs of Constantinople —in this, some of your illustrious predecessors paid with their own blood— but the Church endured this infringement in sorrow and prayer, for she always faithfully aimed for Orthodoxy. The huge pressures placed on the synodal fuctioning of the Patriarchate by the Turkish power during the twentieth century, especially in forbidding non-Turkish bishops to be part of it, even though it was canonically required, caused suffering for the whole Church, even beyond the Patriarchate of Constantinople. But it was a reasonable accommodation in order for the Holy Church to survive in her historical birthplace. We can find many similar examples for all the Churches, in all regions, and in all periods.
Admittedly, the November 27, 2018 Patriarchal decision to abolish the June 19, 1999 Tomos constitutes an inalienable right of the Patriarchate, which was the sole signatory of this document. On the other hand, the second decision to subject our parishes and communities to the Greek Metropolises is not within the sole competence of the Holy Church of Constantinople, but of all parties involved, beginning with the Archdiocese which is subject to this decision. If the Greek Metropolitans of Western Europe accept this decision even though most of them did not take part in it, Archbishop John does not have this possibility, because the functioning of our Archdiocese necessarily expects a dialogue between the ruling Archbishop and the statutory authorities of the Archdiocese regarding any important issue.
We are aware a large proportion of the current clerical world is reluctant to lay participation in the governance of the Church, and especially to the election of bishops by an assembly composed of clergy and laity from the local ecclesial body. This is however the most authentic ecclesiological norm for electing bishops, as evidenced by the consistent doctrine of Orthodoxy. We care greatly for this teaching, inherited from the ecclesial renewal generated by the 1917-1918 Moscow Council, but this does not lead us to demand that all other dioceses should apply this ancient and venerable tradition.
In conformity with the Orthodox ethos, in line with the 1917-1918 Council and as the Ecumenical Patriarchate invited us to do in the 1999 Tomos, the Archdiocese is organized as a legal person according to French law, autonomous with regard to its administration. Likewise, its parishes and communities are also organized in accordance with the laws of the ten countries in which they are located. As ecclesial entities, they are dependent on the Archdiocese, of which they are member associations. As moral entities enjoying legal personality according to the various national laws, they possess the autonomous faculty of self-determination. Neither we nor any outside authority can interfere in their administration.
These statutes of the Archdiocese have been known by the Ecumenical Patriarchate since 1931. They have even been repeatedly approved by the Patriarchate throughout the last century, and as recently as October 31, 2013. The intervention of certain Greek Metropolitans with our clergy members, even before the extraordinary General Assembly that will deliberate on your decision, reflects their characteristic lack of understanding in regard to the specifics of our way of operating.
The top-down chain of command, so much asserted in Eastern hierarchical models, cannot be applied to Orthodox Churches in Western Europe: for our faithful, more and more accustomed to participatory functioning, the absence of dialogue prior to a decision does not witness to pastoral care. The priests and deacons who received letters and calls from Greek Metropolitans, as well as the laity who were informed of it, experienced it as an act of violence. We cannot believe this could be the vision of our Ecumenical Patriarchate as we know it, the Patriarchate we appreciate for its openness, and to which we are grateful to have belonged, a Patriarchate so caring for the dignity of each person, for defending the weak, and for protecting nature.
For indeed, the direct intervention with our priests and deacons of bishops foreign to our Archdiocese, even if they belong to our own Patriarchate, disregards the catholicity of the episcopal ministry of our ruling Archbishop, who never asked to be discharged from his functions. Elected by our clergy-laity General Assembly and confirmed in this election by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate, Archbishop John remains to this day the sole legitimate bishop of the ecclesial flock entrusted to him. Even if he wished to part with it —God forbid!— he would have to consult with those around him. The episcopal ministry is indeed not one of solitude, but of communion, and this communion begins in the Eucharist celebrated by the bishop surrounded by the presbyters of his diocese, in the midst of the whole congregation.
We are convinced that the Ecumenical Patriarchate, so caring for the authentic and canonical Church tradition, did not encourage the Greek Metropolitans of Western Europe to disregard the very ecclesiological definition of the episcopate. The dismantling of the Church catholic structures implied by such a transgression would lead to a terrible historical catastrophe, well beyond the status of our Archdiocese.
To conclude, we would like to reiterate our desire that the special commission designated to prepare the next General Assembly be received at the Patriarchate See, within a reasonable time before the February 23 General Assembly, within the perspective outlined above, and with the hope of being able to look to the future within the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which we fully recognize as the first Church in Orthodoxy. We are certain that Your All-Holiness will understand that our wish is and remains to serve Christ and to witness to His love in the world.
With the most religious respect we assure you, Your All-Holiness, of our devotion and our love.
For the Archdiocesan Council in unanimity,
† JOHN of Charioupolis, Ruling Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe, President of the Diocesan Governing Union of Russian Orthodox Associations in Western Europe.
Nicolas LOPOUKHINE, Secretary of the Archdiocesan Council.