16 September 2005, 16:41
Moscow Patriarchate is concerned over rumours of opening representations of Patriarchate of Constantinople in Ukraine
Moscow, September 16, Interfax - The Russian Orthodox Church is ‘perplexed and concerned’ with information spread in Ukraine about the intention of the Patriarch of Constantinople to open representations in Kiev and Lvov, archpriest Nikolai Balashov, secretary for interorthodox relations of the Department for external church relations (DECR) of the Moscow Patriarchate told Interfax.
‘According to the generally accepted norms, - he explained, - the representations are opened via accords between the primates and synods of the two local Churches concerned. As a rule, this is done on a reciprocal basis. However, the Moscow Patriarchate has received no such application from the Patriarch of Constantinople. Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and All Ukraine knows nothing about it either’.
When asked what happens to such a petition should it arrive through official church channels, DECR representative answered: ‘We are certainly talking about a hypothetical case. Such problems belong to competence of high church authorities. My personal opinion is this. On a reciprocal basis, there are already functioning in Russia representations of the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Serbia, Bulgaria, Czechia and Slovakia and America, so why shouldn’t we exchange representations with Constantinople, with which we are linked by many historical episodes? Moreover, there are much more Russians, Ukrainians, and Moldavians, than Greeks, among Turkey’s visitors and residents. We have received many petitions from believers who wish to pray in the Slavonic language which they understand, and to talk with priests, who understand their language and their problems.’
Fr.Nicholas thinks that ‘the Turkish authorities would respond to this need with understanding, since our countries are interested in the exchange of tourists, as the leaders of our states have repeatedly said.’
However, the opening of a new church on the territory of another local Church without agreement between the Churches would be ‘an outrage on the Orthodox canonical order and it is fraught with an inevitable schism of very pernicious consequences for the Church, people and society’, DECR secretary said.
He also thinks that an analogy with diplomatic representations of the Holy See, to which a representative of the Ukrainian Authocephalous Church has referred recently, is ‘inappropriate.’
‘Indeed, the nunciatures are opened through official agreements between the states, as the Vatican is a recognized subject of international law. The Pope is the head of a European state, and a nuncio represents him as such. However, no state, including Ukraine, established diplomatic relations with Phanar (a quarter in Istanbul with the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople - IF), the priest underscored.
Besides, he added, ‘the idea of the head of a Church to be treated as a secular sovereign’ or a possibility to establish an ‘Orthodox Vatican’ is absolutely alien to Orthodox mentality. Therefore, opening of a church representation cannot be initiated by a secular state.’
As for a settlement of current divisions in Ukraine, it is ‘possible only on the basis of church canons’, the priest emphasized and noted that the hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople have repeatedly stated the same.
The interviewee also said that Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev, as wells as other hierarchs and clergymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have recently complained about blatant intervention of state officials into internal church affairs.
‘Church buildings were seized by force in some regions of that country. The political situation today is difficult, while people need stability in the first place,’ the priest noted.
He thinks that unambiguous position of the church of Constantinople, along with its support for the canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine, as well denunciation of schismatic actions that bring discord to the life of church and society would be especially valuable. ‘Unfortunately, there is no such clarity yet’, the priest complained.
Delegations of almost all local Churches were present at the Istanbul Council in May when Bartholomew I stated that ‘the Patriarchate in Phanar received certain schismatic groups in the past but it does not mean that it recognizes them’, the DECR secretary reminded. However, head of the unrecognized UAOC Mefody (Kudryakov) said that a bishop of the Patriarchate of Constantinople participated in the UAOC Councils and negotiated opening of representations.
Fr. Nicholas thinks that ‘we deal here with a serious violation of generally accepted norms of church behaviour: bishop cannot visit the territory of another Church without informing the legal authorities of that Church, and negotiations with unrecognized groups about opening representations are a defiance of church canons’.
He complained that ‘the Patriarchate of Constantinople neither denied nor confirmed strange statements made by Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos several months ago that Constantinople was questioning Moscow Patriarchate’s jurisdiction in Ukraine.’ There was no answer to the official inquiry either.
According to Fr. Nicholas, ‘tension is rising in Ukraine’. Reports say that ‘some bishops of the church of Constantinople often come to the country and meet with schismatics but avoid meetings with their canonical brothers’.
‘If we want to overcome the schism we need solidarity between Orthodox Churches rather than steps behind our back,’ the representative of the Russian church thinks.