Metropolitan Symeon of Nea Smyrni’s Letter to the Archbishop and Holy Synod of the Church of Greece

Greek original here.

To His Beatitude the Archbishop
Of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos
President of the Holy Synod of the Hierarchy
of the Church of Greece
and its venerable Members

Your Beatitude the President,
Reverend brothers and Participants in the Synod,

I felt the need– or rather, my obligation as a bishop of the Church and a humble member of the venerable body of our Hierarchy– to address you upon the commencement today of the regular meeting of the sacred Body.

The reason is the information that has been written– without being officially denied– that the so-called “Ukrainian” issue is to be brought before the body, even though it has not been included on the Agenda of the Hierarchy’s activities that was prepared by the Standing Holy Synod of the outgoing period and was sent to us on time as scheduled.

I have chosen, as the way for such a serious and delicate issue, to address You in Synod, because I believe that the sacred space of the meeting of the synod of the bishops of a Church is first and foremost the place where issues of this nature will be examined and discussed.

1. The first thing that I wish to attest to You is the profound sorrow and great anguish that afflict my soul on account of the situation that has been created in our holy Orthodox Church.

The populous sister Church of Russia and the first-throne Church of Constantinople, our Ecumenical Patriarchate, find themselves in an unprecedented confrontation over the granting of Ukrainian autocephaly.

Moscow has broken ecclesiastical-eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and is proceeding with actions that disturb ecclesiastical unity and respect for the ecclesiastical area of responsibility of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of its local pastors, bishops and presbyters.

This situation, if not a schism within our Orthodox Church, opens wide the door leading to schism. The other Orthodox Churches, the ancient Patriarchates and the autocephalous Churches, have either expressed their opposition to the emerging problem or have adopted an attitude of waiting.

I am deeply worried about the whole situation. It exposes us completely as the Orthodox Church in the eyes of heterodox Christians and of the entire world.

Ethnophyletist criteria, it seems, will reign in everyone’s choices. The danger of creating two “blocs”, Greek-speaking and Slavic-speaking– something that has been plaguing our inter-Orthodox relations for years– is now visible to the naked eye.

2. I do not wish to enter into a historical and canonical examination of the issue of to whom the Metropolis of Kiev, and by extension, the autocephaly that has been granted, belongs.

The different understandings of the historical sources, the interpretation of the sacred Canons in such a manner as to support already-formed opinions or intentions, and selective appeal to ecclesiastical practice by those who are directly involved and by those who have intervened in the matter have caused enormous confusion around the issue. Although a traditionalist in mentality, I feel the need to point out that we are not living in the 4th or 5th century.

The ecclesiastical structures are not those that once existed around the Mediterranean basin and a little further afield. Entire continents have been discovered since then.
The Church has spread throughout the world. Around us, cosmogonic changes have taken place and continue to take place. Are we really entitled to ignore all this?

3. Nevertheless, allow me to briefly note the following about the issue:

a) Ukrainian autocephaly and the conditions under which it was granted bear no resemblance to the other autocephalies that were previously granted by our Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Previous autocephalies were requested by the canonical, local Churches of the new states and in many cases by the holders of secular power.

b) The quick recognition (without their expressing remorse) of the schismatics and of the so-called “self-consecrated”– bypassing the canonical local Church, as well as the Moscow Patriarchate, by whom the schismatics were condemned– and the granting of autocephaly to the new ecclesiastical structure raises reasonable questions and causes reactions.

The fact that at the same time in the same city we have two Metropolitans of Kiev and two parallel local Churches is, unfortunately, ignored. Neither Kiev nor Ukraine are, in the end, a region of diaspora, but a single national entity.

c) The Church of Christ lives in the world and travels through history. It is therefore natural that her life be influenced by social developments and various other changes. This applies to all the local Churches. For the Church of Ukraine, this has applied in the past all the more, as history informs us.

The phenomenon, as we see, still applies today. Ukraine is a territory in which the geopolitical aspirations of East and West are at odds with each other.

And one wonders: did the United States of America also request the granting of autocephaly, and this is why they repeatedly expressed their satisfaction after it was granted?

If the reaction of the Church of Russia solely of an ecclesiastical character, or does it also express Moscow’s effort to keep the Republic of Ukraine under its influence, as has happened previously?

Nevertheless, is it conceivable for us responsible shepherds of the Church, who strive for the unity of the Church of Christ above all else, to ally with or succumb to the designs and antagonisms of the rulers of this world?

4. It is argued that the granting of autocephaly will contribute to the overcoming of schisms, to the ecclesiastical unification of the Orthodox and to the pacification of Ukraine from the ecclesiastical standpoint.

As long as President Poroshenko was in power, persecutions of believers and seizures of temples belonging to parishes of the Church under Metropolitan Onufry were observed.
An attempt was made to change the name of his Church, which was eventually overturned in court. But even the new ecclesiastical structure that received autocephaly has split.

The “honorary patriarch” Filaret has left it, followed by fifteen bishops, while at the same time launching– himself of his bishops– serious accusations against everyone.

5. Which brings me to what pertains to us. In my humble opinion, recognition or non-recognition of the new autocephaly is neither the sole responsibility of the President nor of the Permanent Holy Synod, but of the Holy Synod of the Hierarchy. Our Church is not governed by a patriarchal, but by a synodal system. Article 4a of our Charter is more than clear.

The issue is extremely serious. If the outgoing Permanent Holy Synod deemed that it was necessary for it to be examined, it should have included it on the Agenda of the current Regular Meeting.

I think that, in this matter, if the sacred Body decides that it must be addressed, the hierarchy should be extraordinarily convened for this. One or more rapporteurs should be appointed.

The hierarchs should examine the existing official documents, as well as the content of His Beatitude’s relevant contacts about this matter.

A hasty and “off the cuff” treatment of the issue will expose us and involve our Church in adventures. It is a mistake to believe that such an approach to the issue constitutes support for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

6. There is a need for all sides to drop their tones. And of course, those who are in a hurry should submit their views in writing. Passion kills the intellect and aggression against others injures love in Christ. The Church is (also) a community of love.

As Christians, “we ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Russians, Serbs, Romanians, Greeks, Europeans, Asians, Africans, Americans, we are all honored members of the holy body of Christ, “which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24).

Even when we believe that we are obliged to defend something, we should do so, as much as possible, “without passion.” “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all” (2 Timothy 2:24).

The Church does not belong to us. We belong to the Church by the grace of the Lord. He, the Lord Jesus, is her head, not us, no matter what function we perform within the Church by divine consent.

The Lord’s love and care for His Church is incomparably greater than ours. Therefore, beyond “those things which we have been commanded”, which we should do as “unprofitable” servants (Luke 17:10), we should fervently pray for Him to uphold His Church and enlighten us His servants to properly understand and to fulfill well our obligation to the common Mother of us all, the Church of Christ.

7. I want to believe that His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, a churchman of exceptional talents– but not infallible!– with the deep sense of responsibility that distinguishes him for the function with which God has entrusted him and the great love that He has for the Church, will do everything possible so that our Orthodox Church may get out of the impasse that she seems to have reached.

My humility, in the name of the respect, the honor and the great love I have in Christ for his venerable person (feelings he himself knows), begs him for this on bended knee.

Your Beatitude, Reverend brothers,

The Ukrainian issue is liable, if further treatment of it is not constructive, to severely damage the unity of our Orthodox Church. Someone has said– obviously hyperbolically– that it reminds us of the days of 1054!

I humbly request that we not rush to take a position. It is good for such issues to be prevented, because if they are created in the end, dealing with them is not easy and will take time.

In particular, I ask His Beatitude to take any initiative that is necessary and to make any intervention that he deems appropriate to treat the issue peacefully. He is aided, after all, by his humble mindset that distinguishes him and his mild character.

Above all, let us refer to our petition “for the good estate of the holy Churches of God and the union of all” more frequently and fervently.

The least brother in Christ,
+ Symeon of Nea Smyrni

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