Nadia Bazuk – Contributor – OCP News Service – 9/5/19
In March 2019, the Russian Orthodox site Radonezh published an article by Archpriest Andrei Novikov (also available in Greek). The clergyman commented on the letter of four Athonite monasteries – the Great Lavra, Iveron, Koutloumousiou, and New Esphigmenou, dated late February 2019. The four representatives of the monasteries, who signed the letter, claimed that Russia was interfering in the affairs of the Mt. Athos community and that the clergy of the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) couldn’t be barred from praying on Athos.
In the month of March, 12 Athonite elders (including those of the Great Lavra and Koutloumousiou monasteries) wrote a letter to the Holy Kinot (Mt. Athos’ central administrative body comprised of representatives from all 20 monasteries), asking to deny access for the schismatic OCU clergy to the Mountain and denounced their brothers’ appeal to join the schism by holding divine services with OCU representatives.
The same viewpoint was expressed by Archpriest Andrei. According to him, the four ‘signees’ of the letter don’t even try to conceal the fact that the process of “autocephaly” was political as it was granted not to the Church but the state. The group of schismatics, called by Constantinople a “Church”, was allowed into communion without repentance, and the Phanar trenched upon the canonical territory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The four elders claim that actions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate can be justified by its “canonical coherence with God’s people and other Orthodox jurisdictions”. However, as Archpriest Andrei argues, such a coherence, which highlights the Phanar’s supremacy over the people and laity of the Orthodox Church has a lot to do with the dogmas of the Papist (Roman Catholics).
In the letter, the Russian St. Panteleimon’s Monastery which refused to receive the schismatics is blamed for “causing a great spiritual problem for our Holy place” as other monasteries are in communion with them. Archpriest Andrei disagrees with it since loyalty to the Canonical Orthodoxy cannot be a source of a great spiritual problem.
“If anyone shall pray with an excommunicated person, let him be excommunicated,” as per Canon XI of the Holy Apostles. If the issue of falling apart from the Holy Spirit, of forfeiting the Apostolic heritage, of salvation doesn’t matter for the four Athonite monasteries, what’s the purpose of their mockery then?”
Archpriest Andrei Novikov also pays attention to the fact that in their letter the four monks made no reference to the Gospels or Holy Scriptures but cited the US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt. “Slanderously accusing Russia of attempts to politically pressurize Athos. The authors of the letter felt free to demonstrate their ties with a representative of a state that has nothing to do with Orthodoxy and which interferes in the Canonical life of the Orthodox Church and is not embarrassed to publicly declare their involvement in the Ukrainian canonical crisis. The reference to Pyatt in the context of unmasking “the Russian interference” (in what and why?) looks really awkward against the background of the fact that this man openly held meetings with Athos Governor and discussed the recognition of the Ukrainian schism. On the day of the letter’s publication, he was leading some kind of a “Tomos campaign” in Greek dioceses to exert pressure so that the so-called OCU would be recognized. Why would suddenly a Protestant and secular state get bothered themselves with ‘reorganizing’ the canonical structure of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine?”
Geoffrey Pyatt claimed that the 200 million euro donations made by Russian benefactors to Athos monasteries are examples of how “Russia’s soft power investments work”. On the other hand, the elders criticized the Russian hierarchs for their calls to contribute to Russian monasteries.
On May 6, an American delegation including Pyatt and US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback visited Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and all Greece. It was reported that they discussed various issues of common interest, including the question of the Ukrainian Church. This resulted in critical remarks by Vladimir Legoyda, (Chairman of the Synodal Department for the ROC Relations with Society and Mass Media). According to him, Samuel Brownback, who supported the Ukrainian autocephaly without considering Metropolitan Onufry, Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate, should also back Greece’s independent rule over the parishes which are situated within the country’s borders but controlled by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (Mt. Athos and the so-called ‘New Territories’).
However, let us return to the allegations of “Russian interference”. While rebuking them, Archpriest Andrei writes that Russia has always played a big role in supporting and protecting Mt. Athos and its monks. According to him, it was Russia that helped Greece to gain independence, waged wars to protect Orthodox Christians in the Balkans.
Another accusation made by the four monks is that Russian Orthodox Church allows Roman Catholic clergy to hold joint divine services. However, “the Russian Church doesn’t and will not permit to hold services with Roman Catholic or heterodox clergy. All hypothetical accidents, if any, were initiated personally by a perpetrator, which is strongly condemned by the Church’s Hierarchy,” says the Archpriest and recalls the case of joint divine services with the Roman Pope allowed by Patriarch Bartholomew. If Roman Catholics are accepted into Orthodoxy by the Russian Orthodox Church, then they must renounce the Latin heresy and repent.
In their letter, the authors also compared the situation in Ukraine to the relations of the ROC with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), but as Archpriest Andrei mentioned they have nothing in common:
“The ROCOR always considered itself an organic and inherent part of the Russian Church, temporarily torn away from communion because of the destructive policy and violence committed by the atheist government… Throughout its history, the bishops and clergy of the ROCOR regularly held joint divine services with hierarchs and clergymen of various Local Churches… The issue of the Ukrainian schisms is completely different.”
The arguments of the four Athonite monks are ungrounded, claims Archpriest Andrei. “They were made public to cover the unseemly goals of the authors and overseas interested parties. This is not twisting the Church history, not just igniting insane nationalist strife between brethren Slavic peoples, not just fulfilling the task of the foreign geopolitical centers hostile to the Holy Church, not only humiliating and blaspheming the name of Mt. Athos. First of all, it’s a direct way to the eternal death of the soul, of theirs and of those tempted by their false ‘authority’,” concluded the Archpriest.
Nadia Bazuk – OCP News Service