A reaction to the scandalous letter that the Serbian Patriarch addressed to the Ecumenical Patriarch

The recent letter of the Serbian Patriarch Mr. Irenaeus addressed to His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Mr. Mr. Bartholomew, in which he obviously attacks him with strange arguments, in many occasions inconsistent and contradictory, is bound to raise great confusion. Therefore, as a monastic brotherhood and for the sake of truth, we couldn’t restrain ourselves from commenting on it, and on the serious and heavy accusations against our Church.

Everyone who knows the history of the Serbian Orthodox Church would normally ask himself how it is possible that claim made of certain public individuals “resorting to harmful ethnophiletism and the secular state-centered way of thinking” and “abuse of the Church”, could actually come from a Head of a Local Church which not once, but on two occasions in history took advantage of the government power to attain its autocephaly.

In 1219 Sava Nemanjich, the prince who became a monk, St. Sava of Serbia, was sent by his brother, the Serbian king, to Nicaea (the then temporary residence of the Constantinople Patriarch, due to the Latin occupation of the city) to be granted an autocephaly for the Dioceses that fell under Serbian rule, to the disadvantage of the Ohrid Archbishopric. The then Ohrid Archbishop Demetrius Homatianos strived in vain trying to prove that he hadn’t been consulted and that injustice had been done to him – up to today this act of the Ecumenical Patriarch has been considered as legal and canonical, in spite of the clearly defined autocephaly of the Ohrid Archbishopric, which at that time was under the direct jurisdiction of the Emperor alone. We too have nothing against this legitimacy, because according to the canons, the ecclesiastical borders should correspond to the political ones, and the Ecumenical Patriarch has the right to decide in all of the arbitrage disputes of the Orthodox Church, including the right to grant autocephalies.

The second time, in 1922, in an identical manner, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians was granted a Tomos by the Ecumenical Patriarch Meletius for the Dioceses of Vardar Macedonia, which had just been annexed to the Kingdom, as well as for the unification of the Serbian Churches. This decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch is also legitimate.

Twice in history an independent Serbian state had been established and on both occasions it had been granted and confirmed an ecclesiastical independence by the highest authority of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Archbishop of Constantinople, The New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch, without even considering the criteria od “antiquity”, “ancient customs”, and “generally accepted relations”, in the most canonical and legitimate way. Back then this was not considered as ethnophiletism, nor “secular state-centered way of thinking”.

But now, when the Republic of Ukraine and the Republic of Macedonia are in their third decade of independent existence, the Serbian Head invokes the principle “the poor man joined the dance and the drum got broken”.  Maybe it’s because their previous jurisdiction has been endangered, the one they gave up in 1959, claiming that “all the regulations of the Serbian Orthodox Church Constitution are no longer legitimate for the Dioceses and Archierei of the territory of Federal Republic of Macedonia, and now they want it back, for the purpose of executing a nationalistic propaganda. The following fact, that even now in this XXI century, a certain spiritual leader denies someone’s ethnic origin, at least, can become very clear if one but reads the mentioned letter: in the citation “the states, nations and ‘nations’ which demand autocephaly today” the word nation is put in quotes, as if wanting to dispute the identity of an entire nation! The other motive that might have driven him to make this move is probably the endangered Russian ecclesiastic influence in the already independent Ukrainian state. This possibility becomes very probable if we take into consideration the fact that Russia is the major sponsor for the construction of the biggest catholicon (church) in Belgrade, and no doubt for other causes as well, which we don’t even know of.

We would like to note that we don’t want our ecclesiastic issue to be compared or put in the same package with the Ukrainian one, because we are talking about two completely different backgrounds and conditions, but the circumstances are such that the two issues have been raised at about the same time. However we cannot accept the tendency of SOC to compare our Church to the one in Montenegro, which has absolutely no legitimacy, nor canonical succession, and was established by a dishonored clergyman.

Further on, “the Patriarch Irenaeus reminds us that the Crete Council has confirmed the existence of fourteen autocephalous Orthodox Churches within their present canonical borders” as stated in the publication of romfeia.gr. It’s interesting how the Patriarch Irenaeus, just like the Metropolitan of Volokolamsk Hilarion from the Russian Orthodox Church, who has boycotted the aforementioned Council of Crete, refers a great deal to this Council as well as to the Commissions before the Council. We should however remind you that he was the one who made a last minute decision to show up at the Council, greatly influenced by the anti-Russian fractions, while as the Bishop of Bachka Irenaeus, who, judging from the style, is probably the author of these lines signed by the Patriarch, was publicly against it.

This is certainly the right moment to ask ourselves whether, now that all the powerful parties have been satisfied with the current situation, there should be no more changes in the borders and the manner of existence within the Orthodox Church. In this time when the world, whether for better or for worse, heads towards globalization and all-inclusive human friendship and brotherhood, shouldn’t the Church be the one to watch over and preach the Gospel of Christ, to be the leader of that process of unification and to show the aged world that the only real unity is in Christ? But no, we are still going to live stuck in the time of national divisions and ask about who is from where, making sure that there are exactly fourteen national Churches, of which several would govern the others who didn’t manage to emancipate in time. True unity could be attained only when all Churches have equal rights, without been downgraded by the more powerful ones.

“The honour and the dignity of the ecclesiastical motherhood however doesn’t give the Mother Church the right to recall or to deny the historically established autocephalies and jurisdictions.” So the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the Mother and the Ecumenical Patriarch has the authority as long as we need it, but afterwards we will just put them in the corner…

Yes, you can be sure that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the same right as in the past, to grant new autocephalies where it has granted before. Just like it granted the autocephaly of the Roman, Serbian, Russian, Albanian, Bulgarian, Czech, Slovak and the Polish Church… Actually precisely this, namely the recognition of the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarch, is the only way for things to start functioning again in the Orthodox Church, after six long centuries of feebleness and lack of guidance. Obviously his All-Holiness made an attempt with the Crete Council to gather the divided and to demonstrate the unity of the Orthodox Church, giving everybody an equal place, equal honour and equal rights, but some decided to boycott this initiative and to deny his basic right – to be the first among the equals. Therefore, it’s about the time that the Ecumenical Patriarch resumes the role which he is entitled to and to direct all the “local popes”, all over the Orthodox world, whether big or small, powerful or feeble, rich or poor, towards the unity as an obedience. 

Finally, it would be better if the Serbian Patriarch, on one hand, doesn’t show concern regarding the wisdom and courage of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which has always been more then evident in the history so far, and on the other hand, doesn’t hold the entire Church of Christ in captivity, threatening it with schism, tragedy and fatal consequences, just so that he could preserve his position, governed by the “harmful ethnophiletism”. Such radical nationalists should be educated if not by the examples in the Gospel, then at least from the world history and finally realize that “you cannot get things by force” and that if you offer your hand to the one who seeks help, he could become your friend for eternity.

Archimandrite Parthenius with his brothers and sisters in Christ