BY PETRUS ANTIOCHENUS
The Ecumenical Patriarchate claims to have the right to hear appeals from hierarchs in other autocephalous Orthodox Churches — and, by extension, the right to overturn the decisions of other Churches. Many have disputed that the EP has such a prerogative in the first place. Our concern in this article is not whether such a right exists, but the procedure that is / should be followed if such a right exists.
On 11 October 2018, the EP Holy Synod decided, among other things, the following:
To accept and review the petitions of appeal of Filaret Denisenko, Makariy Maletych and their followers, who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarch of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy from all of the Autocephalous Churches. Thus, the above-mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church.
In the case of Filaret Denisenko, it has been reported that this man had submitted no less than six separate appeals to the EP in the quarter-century since his deposition by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church (and two decades since his excommunication by the same Holy Synod). After all these years, and all of these denied or ignored appeals, the EP has deigned to consider Filaret’s appeal, and to overturn the decision of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Setting aside the question of whether the EP has the right to do this, we are presented with the equally critical question, what procedures did the EP follow in hearing this appeal?
Did the EP follow any basic, common-sense procedures in hearing and deciding Filaret’s appeal? Several problems are immediately apparent:
- The EP Holy Synod was not provided with key evidence, including the official Moscow Patriarchate documents pertaining to Filaret’s deposition and excommunication, even though these documents have long been available on the Internet;
- It appears that the Moscow Patriarchate was not provided with formal notice that the appeal would be heard;
- The disputing parties — Moscow and Filaret — were not given the opportunity to be heard by the hierarchs of the EP Holy Synod that were making the decision;
- A remarkably long period of time elapsed between the disputed canonical actions of the Moscow Patriarchate (over two decades) and the hearing of the appeal; and
- Not only did the EP reject or ignore many past appeals by Filaret, but the EP previously stated that it supported the decision of the Moscow Patriarchate, only to reverse its position.
We have found no written canonical procedures governing the EP’s “right of appeal” — no rules pertaining to evidence, witnesses, time periods, etc. Yet, Orthodox morality and common sense require at least a basic attempt at due process and fair judgment. And these principles are indeed present in the rules governing other types of ecclesiastical tribunals — including the Dispute Resolution Procedures of the EP’s own Greek Archdiocese of America. (For another example, see the rules governing the Spiritual Court of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.)
In a case such as that of Filaret, appropriate procedures should include, at a bare minimum:
- Clear process for filing an appeal, including time limits;
- Provision of all key documents and evidence to the Holy Synod;
- Allowance for disputing parties to present their cases; and
- Opportunity for the Holy Synod to deliberate before rendering a decision.
The EP claims to have a prerogative to hear these appeals. If it wants the rest of Orthodoxy to accept this claim, it would do well to establish and adhere to clear, transparent procedures for handling such appeals.