The present work is the result of intense anxiety and great agony over what is happening today around the Ecclesiastical Question of the friendly and fellow-Orthodox country of Ukraine due to the recent actions of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew granting, without the knowledge or consent of the remaining Orthodox Churches, “autocephaly” to two anti-canonical, schismatic structures of the Church of Ukraine. That is, to Filaret Denisenko, who was excommunicated and anathematized by the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia, and the self-ordained, non-ordained Makary Maletich.
The purpose of this study is, first of all, to update the Christian plenitude of the Most Holy Church of Cyprus, which is keenly interested in what is taking place in Ukraine while at the same time expressing its fears for wider Orthodoxy, hoping and praying that the unresolved Ukrainian Question does not does not spread through the entire Body of ecumenical Orthodoxy, with all the tragedy and devastation that this implies. Secondly, in a spirit of humility and kenotic love, to more fully inform, as much as possible, my beloved brothers in Christ and concelebrants, the Members of our Holy Synod, so that they may be better-prepared and decide correctly, when the time comes, for the necessary decisions to be made by the Orthodox, Apostolic and Autocephalous Church of Cyprus about this issue.
Before, however, we proceed to the discussion of the subject at hand, we feel the need to declare from the outset that we deeply respect and honor the venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, that Great Church of Christ, which has, according to the divine and sacred Canons, the “privileges of honor” (10) and primacy among all the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches, but also for its unique and extraordinary contribution to the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
No one can call into question the contribution the great contribution of the Ecumenical See of Constantinople to the unity of the Orthodox Catholic Church in true faith, order and love. The convocation, with the assistance of the respective Emperor, of almost all the Ecumenical councils, whether in Constantinople itself (11) or in cities under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (12), highlighted the exceptional ecclesiastical status of the See of the Queen City. It is also an indisputable fact that the Church of Constantinople was illumined all the more by the exceptional status of the Archbishops and Patriarchs who over the ages occupied the Ecumenical See, such as, for example, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Nektarios, Proklos, Tarassios, Nikephoros, Photios and many others. The Church of Constantinople was also illuminated by the high spiritual level of her clergy and by the dynamic witness of her Monastic Centers, such as the renowned Monastery of Stoudion, which made an enormous contribution to the ecclesiastical, spiritual, social and cultural life of the Queen City and of all Orthodoxy.
It would, moreover, be a serious omission if we neglected to emphasize the enormous missionary work that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has demonstrated. Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council defined not only the “internal” (ἐνόρια) but also the “external” (ὑπερόρια) jurisdiction of the See of Constantinople, which extended not only to the Dioceses of Asia, Pontus and Thrace, but also to the “barbarian lands.” That is, beyond the administrative organism of the Byzantine Empire, thus delimiting the future prospects of the missionary responsibility of the Ecumenical See.
And indeed, “After the end of Iconoclasm, the missionary consciousness of the Ecumenical See was awakened in a remarkable manner, completely covering the vast area from Central Europe to the Volga and from the Balkans to the Baltic Sea with superbly-organized missions…. (13) The whole of Central and Eastern Europe experienced the amazing spiritual mystagogy of the multifaceted cultural, religious and social work of the Byzantine mission” (14).
Through this work, the new identity of the peoples of Eastern Europe was established and developed and the Ecumenical Patriarchate emerged as the Mother Church of all these new Local Churches. Almost the entire rich cultural tradition of Byzantium was progressively transmitted to them. “All the peoples, going from Central Europe to the Caspian Sea and from the Balkans to the Baltic Sea, came to know the Christian faith from the missionary activity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and came to live the experience of faith from the spiritual nourishment of the Mother Church” (15). We particularly respect and deeply honor the sacred memory of all the Primates, Archbishops and Patriarchs over the ages who adorned the Ecumenical See of the Queen City with their life and work. The Ecumenical Patriarchate always felt the primacy it had been granted by the Ecumenical Councils as a “primacy of honor” and not as a “primacy of authority.” It felt it as a “primacy of responsibility and ministry” for the unity of the Church in true faith and love. As Primate of the First See of the Orthodox Catholic Church the Ecumenical Patriarch had, has and always will have the canonical right:
a. Of honorary presidency of all the Orthodox Catholic Churches, as “first among equals” (primus inter pares).
b. Of coordinating the Orthodox Churches in critical issues of inter-Orthodox interest.
c. Of the expression and implementation of the decisions taken after a Pan-Orthodox Council or Synaxis of the Orthodox Primates.
d. Of granting autocephaly and autonomy, subject to the consent and approval of the other Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and
e. Finally, the Ecumenical Patriarch, as primate of the First See of the Orthodox Church, is the timeless guardian and guarantor of canonical order and the authentic operation of the Conciliar, Democratic Orthodox System.
Any misinterpretation or attempt to convert the above honorary prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate into a “primacy of authority” alters Orthodox Ecclesiology, abolishes her Conciliar, Democratic System and introduces a monarchial authority of the papal type, with the Ecumenical Patriarch transformed into a Pope of the East will speak ex cathedra for the Orthodox Church without the opinion of the other Orthodox Primates. In such a situation, no Bishop of the Orthodox Church can remain cold and indifferent, but rather he must transform the passivity of agony into active responsibility, stand up, and, guided by his archpriestly conscience, fight, without fear or self-interest, against any arbitrariness that conspires against the Conciliarity of the Orthodox Church, threatening to divide Ecumenical Orthodoxy.
Therefore, as a Bishop of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of the martyric Island of the Apostle Barnabas, Cyprus, I profoundly feel the need to express my concerns and to present before the Christian plenitude of the Cypriot Church, and indeed, of the Orthodox Catholic Church of Christ in general, my fears and anxieties on account of the current Ukrainian Ecclesiastical Question that was created by the unilateral decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Barthomomew recently to grant autocephalous status to the Church of Ukraine, resulting in a difficult, divisive situation that besets not only the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but also Worldwide Orthodoxy, which it threatens with the damnable crime of schism, an unforgivable and deadly sin, since, according to St John Chrysostom, “… not even martyrdom of blood can wipe away this sin” (16). That is, not even the blood of martyrdom, which is the most convincing proof of a warm and living faith and of faithfulness to God, can eliminate this deadly sin of schism.
Today, unfortunately, in difficult and wicked times, when the universal Orthodox Church of Christ should be united and strengthened in order to be in a position to give salvific answers to the contemporary challenges of our troubled times, with pain and sorrow we see her Barque being tossed about by the egotism, the lust for glory and leadership, the controversies and squabbles of her Leaders, with the frustrating result is that she is mocked and ridiculed by her enemies. In the face of Orthodoxy’s current tragic situation, which reminds us of the horrible events of the Great Schism of 1054 and which threatens to rend the Lord’s garment a second time, we Hierarchs of the Orthodox Catholic Church of Christ do not have the right to remain cold and indifferent, immersed in our silence. We have an obligation to raise our voice and proclaim the truth freely, without fear or passion, with the unaltered, secure position of timeless ecclesiastical tradition and canonical order and, in general, of the the Conciliar and Hierarchical Democratic Polity of the Church, which is the guarantee of the preservation of ecclesiastical unity and a basis for dealing with the crisis.
Without any doubt, the unilateral decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to grant the status of an “Autocephalous Church” to a schismatic structure of unrepentant, deposed, anathematized and unordained pseudoclergy, while at the same time despising the Canonical Church of Ukraine under Metropolitan Onufry, creates an extremely serious ecclesiastical problem that threatens Pan-Orthodox unity with a schism of enormous proportions. Therefore, we bishops of the Orthodox Catholic Church of Christ who find ourselves in “the model and the place of Christ” are obligated to raise a voice of protest and, at the same time, to formulate, without any lethargic hesitations, certain thoughts and suggestions, as our archpriestly conscience dictates and as the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church demonstrates, in order to find a solution to this thorny Ukrainian Question, so that there may return the salvific unity which has been violently shaken. Otherwise, we will be complicit with those who, by their actions, are once more leading the Orthodox Church of Christ to a catastrophic schism.
“A hierarch,” notes the great twentieth-century thinker Georgios Theotokas, “is by no means the head of a company where it would be natural and legitimate for him to attach particular importance to his career, to his interests…. The hierarch is a direct successor of the Apostles who draws his authority from a mystical source and who expresses, with his existence, the spirit of Christ. He is always prepared, as soon as he hears the bell that tolls the hour of sacrifice, to ascend to Golgotha and be crucified for the good of men. At that hour, he is overjoyed and gives thanks to God who chose him” (17).
Today, when the Ukrainian Question, under pressure from geopolitical, geostrategic and global economic interests, threatens Ecumenical Orthodoxy with a catastrophic schism, we Orthodox Bishops are all called to reflect upon our responsibilities before the Orthodox Church as the critical circumstances of the present time require. The bell of duty tolls today and we hierarchs of the Orthodox Church of Christ must all heed it. The greatest hubris is to accept the Church’s internal upheavals passively and indifferently. The “silence of fish” is tantamount to guilt. Love for the Orthodox Church and her unity must kindle and magnify every bishop’s inner flame so that he may always be a responsible, ardent fighter for the unity of Orthodoxy.
So that the so-called Ukrainian Ecclesiastical Question and whether or not Autocephaly was properly granted by His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew may be better understood, as is quite rightly emphasized by many canonists and distinguished academic theologians, the following three points should be answered:
a. To what degree is the Church of Ukraine canonical territory of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople or the Patriarchate of Moscow?
b. Who is entitled to grant autocephaly and under what conditions?
c. Does the Ecumenical Patriarchate have the prerogative of supreme canonical jurisdiction? That is, to receive across boundaries appeals coming from clergy of every rank from all Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches?
In addition to these three critical issues, response to which is absolutely necessary for the proper understanding of the Ukrainian Ecclesiastical Question, in the present work the following issues of utmost importance, which are repercussions of the controversial Ukrainian question under discussion are in turn examined:
a. The severing of Eucharistic Communion between two Orthodox Churches.
b. Who is the head of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?
c. The tradition of the Greater Endemousa Synod of Constantinople.
d. The Conciliar and Hierarchical polity of the Orthodox Catholic Church.
The entire study concludes with an Epilogue, Bibliography and Index.
Translated from: Metropolitan Nikephoros of Kykkos and Tellyrias, Το σύγχρονο Ουκρανικό ζήτημα και η κατά τους θείους και ιερούς κανόνες επίλυσή του (Nicosia, 2020), 20-33.
(10) Γ. Α. ΡΑΛΛΗ – Μ. ΠΟΤΛΗ, Σύνταγμα τῶν Θείων καί Ἱε- ρῶν Κανόνων τῶν τε Ἁγίων καί Πανευφήμων Ἀποστόλων, καί τῶν Ἱερῶν Οἰκουμενικῶν καί Τοπικῶν Συνόδων, καί τῶν κατά μέρος Ἁγίων Πατέρων, vol 2. (Athens, 1852), 173: Canon 3 of the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople: “Let the Bishop of Constantinople, however, have the priorities of honor after the Bishop of Rome, because of its being New Rome;” p. 281, Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon: “We too decree and vote the same things in regard to the privileges and priorities of the most holy Church of that same Constantinople and New Rome… And motivated by the same object and aim the one hundred and fifty most God-beloved Bishops have accorded the like priorities to the most holy throne of New Rome, with good reason deeming that the city which is the seat of an empire, and of a senate, and is equal to old imperial Rome in respect of other privileges and priorities, should be magnified also as she is in respect of ecclesiastical affairs, as coming next after her, or as being second to her.”
(11) The Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381, the Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 553, the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680, the Quinsext Council in Trullo in 691.
(12) The First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea of Bithynia in 325, the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus in 431, the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in 451, the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 787.
(13) ΒΛ. ΙΩ. ΦΕΙΔΑ, «Τό Οἰκουμενικό Πατριαρχεῖο. Ἡ διαχρονική ἐκκλησιαστική διακονία του» in Τό Οἰκουμενικό Πατριαρχεῖο – Ἡ Μεγάλη τοῦ Χριστοῦ Ἐκκλησία, (Athens, 1989), 30.
(14) Ibid., 31.
(15) Ibid., 11.
(16) John Chrysostom, Homily XI, On the Epistle to the Ephesians, P.G. 62, 85.
(17) Γ. ΘΕΟΤΟΚΑ, Ἡ Ὀρθοδοξία στόν καιρό μας – Δοκίμια, (Athens, 1975), 44.