On the causes of the Church crisis because of granting the Status of Autocephaly to the Ukrainian Schismatics
Your Holiness ,
The Holy Sobor of the Church of Russia must seriously consider and take into account that the Ukrainian schism cannot be solved without first correcting the ecclesiological deviations that led to a Tomos of Autocephaly being granted to the Ukrainian schismatic construction, which is worse than a simple schism.
The biggest problem is that the so-called “Holy and Great” Synod of Crete undermined the synodality of the Orthodox Church; this ecclesiological ramification has its cause in the false ecclesiology of a papist model, which constitutes the heresy of the Patriarch of Constantinople, a problem that I will expose in more detail below.
The Church of Russia should officially rectify its general ecclesiological proclamation by distancing itself from such ecclesiological positions as are the theory of „incomplete Churches” (in the document adopted by the Russian Sobor in 2000) and the recognition of the Apostolic Succession of the Holy Grace to the Roman-Catholics (in the document of Havana of 2016, coupled with the common benediction of the Patriarch and the Pope). The Church of Russia shall thus be able to condemn Patriarch Bartholomew; otherwise the Patriarch of Constantinople will be in position to accuse the Church of Russia of the same ecclesiological errors. And, indeed, we can say that the Patriarchate of Russia comes under the same situation (of course, not at the same level) by receiving Old Schismatics and heretics (Roman-Catholics and others) without Holy Baptism, Chrismation and Ordination (for priests). For example, the case of the Roman-Catholic hieromonk Gabriel Bunge is well known, in that he was received as a priest in the Orthodox Church of Russia without Baptism, without Chrismation and without Ordination and now he serves as a hieromonk; by which procedure the Church of Russia affirmed the sacraments of the heretic Roman-Catholics.
Below there is some theological elaboration on the ecclesiological fallacy that led in fact to the recognition of the Ukrainian Schism. This fallacy is the theory of the so-called „incomplete Churches” that was adopted by the so-called „Holy and Great Council” of Crete in 2016.
For Your reference, these are the ecclesiological errors that the Church of Russia has adopted by copying the fallacies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate:
„1.15. The orthodox Church, through the mouths of the holy fathers, affirms that salvation can be attained only in the Church of Christ. At the same time however, communities which have fallen away from orthodoxy have never been viewed as fully deprived of the grace of God. Any break from communion with the Church inevitably leads to an erosion of her grace-filled life, but not always to its complete loss in these separated communities. This is why the orthodox Church does not receive those coming to her from non-orthodox communities only through the sacrament of baptism. In spite of the rupture of unity, there remains a certain incomplete fellowship which serves as the pledge of a return to unity in the Church, to catholic fullness and oneness.
1.17. The existence of various rites of reception (through baptism, through chrismation, through repentance) shows that the orthodox Church relates to the different non-orthodox confessions in different ways. The criterion is the degree to which the faith and order of the Church, as well as the norms of Christian spiritual life, are preserved in a particular confession. By establishing various rites of reception, however, the orthodox Church does not assess the extent to which grace-filled life has either been preserved intact or distorted in a non-orthodox confession, considering this to be a mystery of God’s providence and judgement.”
In the aforementioned synodal text of the Russian Church we can observe the existence of the ecclesiological heresy of the incomplete Churches, a theory that was adopted by the Papacy at the 2nd Vatican Council (this theory was processed and forwarded by the Jesuit theologians Congar and Rahner).
Holy Cannons which on certain historical occasions allowed for the reception of some heterodox people only through Chrismation or repentance only represent the “oikonomia” (economy, dispensation or relaxation) as opposed to the “akribeia” (strictness) of the Church. The Church through the voice of the Holy Fathers did not use oikonomia in order to formulate a Dogma of the Church. Never do we find in the writings of the Holy Fathers the idea that heretics are not fully deprived of the Grace of God. On the contrary, through the Church Anathemas at the Ecumenical Synods the heretics were fully deprived of the Grace of God.
The mistake of dogmatizing on the basis of certain Holy Canons of oikonomia – receiving heretics in Orthodoxy through relaxation of “akribeia” – is mainly supported by Ioannis Ziziulas, the metropolitan of Pergam, and has been derived from the ecclesiological concept of the Second Vatican Council, which speaks of a variable ecclesiastical gradation of “churches” or the idea of incomplete churches (the complete Church being the one in communion with the Pope, and then the others being in different ecclesiastical stages – as some concentric circles – namely the Orthodox, the Monophysites, the Protestants, the Neoprotestants and even those atheists who do good works).
The orthodox teaching abhors such a theory, the heretics being deprived of the saving Grace. Of course, God in his superb love takes care of them, but does not save them as long as they remain outside the Church.
The reknown Theologian Fr. Ioannis Romanides, as also the professor of Dogmatics Mr. Dimitrios Tselenghidis – in reference to the theory of incomplete Churches – say that we cannot speak of a woman as being “a little pregnant”. Baptism cannot be quarterly valid, neither Priesthood or the Eucharist, nor Marriage. Eucharist – the body of Christ – cannot be half the body of Christ. If a Sacrament is somehow valid at heretical assemblies, it would be valid by virtue of an active priesthood; and this means that it would be active also in the Eucharist and in the heretic baptism. Otherwise, according to the Apostolic Canons, the heretic baptism is non-working.
The fact that the Fathers in some cases received persons into the Church through the oikonomia (depending upon the form of their previous heretical baptism) does not ratify an active baptism outside the Church. Although a custom has been introduced, that an Orthodox layman can baptise (under extreme circumstances) and then the baptised person only receives Chrismation, this extraordinary baptism (with sand, for instance) is performed again by the priest. And St. Simeon of Thessalonica says that the one baptised by a layman should be baptised by the priest. Theologian Christian Felmy in his “Ecclesiastical Dogmatics” says it is wrong that some have drawn doctrinal conclusions from the oikonomia of the Church.
His Beatitude Damianos of the Autonomous Church of Sinai and Raithu, Hegumen of the Imperial Monastery of Saint Katherine, has formulated a statement of Faith through which he rejects these false doctrinal conclusions, de facto connected to the synodical statement of the Russian Church mentioned above.
Point 15 of the statement of Faith:
(We reject) the heresy according to which there would be saving grace outside the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (the Orthodox Church) and that there would be valid baptism and working priesthood outside the Church (the simple historical presence of a succession from the Apostles and the mere saying of the formula of the Holy Trinity do not validate the “mysteries” of heretics).
Point 19 of the statement of Faith:
(We reject) the transformation of the oikonomia into dogma or rule; according to the orthodox teaching, the oikonomia is a derogation from the akribeia, from the rule of faith, for human impossibilities, in exceptional circumstances, aiming to bring people to the Right Faith, despite the objective obstacles. The oikonomia applies only in cases of force majeure, in order to achieve a good purpose in adverse circumstances. When, however, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, the continuation of the application of the oikonomia disturbs and bypasses the canonical ordinance, then adaptation is not a wise measure, but a defiance of the Holy Settlements, leading to the disobedience to Orthodoxy.
The Canons that prescribe different ways of receiving different heretics cannot be used to compose a doctrine, a philosophy of ecclesiology. A Mystery of the Church does not fill an already existing grace (or half grace) at the heretics. In the statement of the Russian Church we have the correct Canons but the wrong interpretation of the Canons – that leads to the idea that the heretics have a little grace or some grace.
Canon 1, Local Council of Carthage (258 AD), ratified by Canon 2 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council:
“While assembled in Council, beloved brethren, we read letters sent by you, concerning those among the heretics and schismatics presuming to be baptised who are coming over to the catholic (Orthodox) Church which is one, in which we are baptised and regenerated. Decreeing now also by vote what we firmly and securely hold for all time, we declare that no one can possibly be baptised outside the catholic (Orthodox) Church, there being but one baptism, and this existing only in the catholic (Orthodox) Church.“
As I have shown above, I will now expose the theoretical basis for the recognition of Ukraine’s schism which is the so-called “Holy and Great Council” of Crete from June 2016. In order to be easier to read, I will expose it in chapters.
- A dogmatic matter
The Ukrainian schism is not just a matter of administrative or jurisdictional nature, it is an ecclesiological and dogmatic matter of the utmost importance.
What has been injected into the Orthodox Church through this schism is the new ecclesiology of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, whose theoretical foundation was laid down by the “Synod” gathered in Crete in 2016.
It was there where it all started, the actual dismantling of the Synodality of the Orthodox Church and its replacement by a model and the principles of papist origin: one Pope (Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople) and mutatis mutandis nine “cardinals” (the nine primates of the Autocephalous Churches) have been the only active decision takers in Crete. No other bishops were allowed to have any influence in the decision-making process (not even if they formed a majority, as was the case with the representatives of the Serbian Church), the ultimate decisions were, therefore, taken only by the Primates of the Orthodox Churches.
- The Tradition of the Holy Fathers
The theory of Archbishop Elpidophoros of America that the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople is „the first without equal” at a universal level is based on the Encyclical Letter of the „Holy and Great Council” where it is stated that “the Church as a human-divine communion is the image of the Holy Trinity”. But this is in high contradiction to the Tradition of the Holy Fathers of the Church, who say that we cannot find any analogy between Creation and the Persons of the Holy Trinity. For the Holy Fathers, the Church is the Body of Christ.
In the Cretan Council this heretical theory was used in order to legitimate the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarch: as God the Father is the cause of the existence of the Son by birth and the cause of the existence of the Holy Spirit through procession (διά τῆς ἐκπορεύσεως).
Through this, the synod gathered in Crete agreed to the adoption of a pseudo-theological explanation, which was critical for installing the practice of the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the Church.
Furthermore, the following false ecclesiological points were promoted in Crete:
- the precept of “the Church outside the Church” (“Ekklisia extra muros”)
- the Toronto Statement from 1950, that was ratificated by the „Synod” gathered in Crete
- the restoration of the „lost unity of the Church” (and the acceptance of both the branch theory and the theory of the incomplete churches); the Ecumenical Patriarch can now recognize any church and give autocephaly to every schism and heresy that will ask for it, without the necessary repentance of the schismatics or heretics.
In conclusion, the false Council of Crete has consequences that attack vital dogmatic matters! I hope that the Church of Russia has noticed this and will condemn it publicly as it is: the “Holy and Great Council” indeed represents the foundation laid down to support the schism created by Patriarch Bartholomew.
- The „Holy and Great Council” of Crete attacks the Synodality of the Orthodox Church
Through the false “Holy and Great” Council of Crete 2016, the synodal structure of the Orthodox Church has been replaced by the authority of a sole primate (using a model of papist origin) in matters of Autocephaly recognition, various other matters, and on an ecumenical level.
This is the reason why the “Council” of Crete has been viewed by many as an extended synaxis of some of the Local Churches’ Primates. Moreover, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania confessed that such a “synod” does not follow the tradition of all historical Councils of the Orthodox Church and that it represents a new type of council, one that had never existed in the history of our Church.
The Primates of the various Local Churches only serve an administrative role, they differ in no way from any bishop of the smallest diocese in the Orthodox Church. They do not have the right of decision making on behalf of the entire Church, but only as part of a Synod. That is, together with all the bishops of the Local Churches.
Due to the role that was played by the ten Primates participating in Crete but also due to the exclusion of bishops from the decision making process, the “Council” of Crete has in fact contributed to the eradication of the Synodality of the Orthodox Church. Instead, it has promoted an organisational structure that is characteristic of papacy: one “pope” and nine “cardinals” being the only decision making actors. Only one vote was reserved to each Local Church and all the participating Primates have been allowed the entire decision making power without the consultation of bishops, priests, theologians or laymen. All these participants were prohibited from playing their expected role in a pan-orthodox council.
This is how the Synodality of our Church has been dismantled: by producing an organic fracture between the ten participating Primates of the Local Churches and the entire Pleroma of our Church (bishops, presbyters, deacons, laymen). It can only be called clericalism. This elitist model of decision making is anti-Evangelical, anti-episcopal and anti-hierarchical.
- The effects of the Council of Crete
One of the effects of the Council of Crete is the Patriarch of Constantinople granting Autocephaly to some schismatics (devoid of apostolic succession) in Ukraine. In addition to this, it establishes the idea of abolishing the boundaries of the Church by creating a false blasphemous conscience: that the Church of Christ is more than the Orthodox Church, it is a Church that will be recomposed through the restoration of a lost “unity”.
Based on the decisions of the Council of Crete this is now possible, given that its documents recognize that there is also Church outside the Orthodox Church, a Church which is not complete, but it exists, and so it can be recognized, granted Autocephaly, declared Orthodox without repentance and without first renouncing schism and heresy, without proper readmission in the Church of Christ.
(see my research “Historical approach to the context of the dialogue with the non-orthodox, the Toronto Statement” Inter-Orthodox Conference organised by the Initiative Committee of the Conference «St. John’s Readings» of the Ancient Church of Saint George,The Rotunda, of Sofia, under the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan of Sofia and Patriarch of Bulgaria, Neophytos, in Sofia, June 9-10, 2017 in the addenda)
This is what the Ecumenical Patriarch says: “As a Mother Church, it is natural to wish for the restoration of the unity of the divided ecclesial body of Ukraine, a faithful people of tens of millions, baptised and enlightened through the direct care and missionary activity of the Ecumenical Throne.” (https://basilica.ro/patriarhul-ecumenic-este-logic-sa-dorim-restaurarea-unitatii-trupului-eclezial-divizat-din-ucraina/)
So for the Patriarch of Constantinople the Orthodox and the schismatics form together an ecclesial body… which is divided.
Some Primates of the Orthodox Churches came up with the idea of solving the problem in Ukraine through a synaxis of the Primates (according to the Cretan model). In other words, one can observe the same papist mentality here. The primates only are to decide, not the Church, not the Ecumenical Synod, not the Pleroma.
Unfortunately, the lack of synodality at the Local Council level is also reflected at pan-Orthodox level, where the little popes decide the “fate” of the Church, according to their vision.
This plague of the Primates’ dictatorship has been haunting the Orthodox Church since the times of Turkish domination when the Patriarch of Constantinople was named Ethnarh by the Sultan. A period when the Church was not in freedom. Now, however, this state is not justified under any form.
The Orthodox Church must escape from the Babylonian captivity of ecumenical heresy and papism, and the synodal system must become functional once again. The laymen, as an integral part of the body of the Church, are not voiceless sheep, but are a royal priesthood, receive charisms from the Holy Spirit and have a role in the Councils, have the right to speak in the Councils. Even the papist heretic councils were more democratic than the council of Crete.
In order to convene an inter-orthodox Synod, the Church of Russia ought to be aware of that we have to deal with the heresy of Constantinopolitan papism that was introduced in an evil way into the bulk of laymen, theologians, professors, priests, bishops, patriarchs from all over the Orthodox Church.
In conclusion, taking into account that we can easily demonstrate that Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is a heretic, or more precisely a heresiarch, we have the theoretical basis for his future inter-orthodox and pan-orthodox condemnation. First, the Russian Orthodox Church should wisely revise her own ecclesiological problems, so that she forms a moral and canonical advantage for convoking a real Orthodox Synod and being established as the guardian of Orthodoxy in this epoch. In order to convene an inter-orthodox Synod, the Church of Russia must be aware, that we are dealing with the heresy of Constantinopolitan papism that was introduced in a cunning way into the consciousness of laymen, theologians, professors, priests, bishops, patriarchs throughout the Orthodox Church.
In this way, the Ukrainian schism will be healed and the Orthodox Church will realign again with the route drawn by the Holy Fathers.
Protopresbyter Mattheos Vulcanescu,