Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, in his letter of 7 May 2008, informed Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia of his intention to invite primates of Local Orthodox Churches to Constantinople this October for a fraternal meeting and joint pilgrimage to places hallowed by the preaching of St. Paul as the Church of Constantinople has declared 2008 the Year of St. Paul. In particular, he invited His Holiness Patriarch Alexy with a delegation and asked him to assign a bishop or a priest to an ad hoc commission for drafting a message of the primates to be adopted by the upcoming meeting. The drafting commission was to begin its work on 19 June 2007 at the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s Metropolia of Rhodes. In his reply of 3 June 2007, Patriarch Alexy thanked Patriarch Bartholomaios for the invitation and informed him that Archpriest Nikolay Balashov, DECR secretary for inter-Orthodox relations, and A. Churyakov, a DECR staff member acting as interpreter, were assigned to the drafting commission from the Russian Orthodox Church.
At the same time, Patriarch Alexy wrote, ‘I hope Your Holiness has taken into consideration the resolution the Bishops’ Council of our Church adopted on August 13-16, 2000, stating the impossibility for the Moscow Patriarchate representatives to attend those inter-Orthodox forums which have among its participants any representatives of the church structure in Estonia under the jurisdiction of the Church of Constantinople as official delegates from the autonomous Estonian Orthodox Church until all the problems caused in the Estonian Orthodoxy by the certain developments which took place in 1996 are settled’.
This letter remained unanswered.
With a blessing of Patriarch Alexy, the Moscow Patriarchate delegation as indicated above arrived in Rhodes on 19 July 2008. Among those who attended the meeting was a representative of the Constantinople’s church jurisdiction in Estonia, who was introduced as a delegate of the autonomous Estonian Orthodox Church.
In this connection, after a common prayer and welcoming speeches by the chairman of the commission, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France (Patriarchate of Constantinople), and Metropolitan Cyril of Rhodes and the chairman’s introductory words, the Russian Orthodox Church representative made a statement. After paying his respect to the participants and conveying greetings from Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia, he expressed regret at the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s unilateral decision to invite a representative of the so-called Estonian Autonomous Orthodox Church which was not recognized as such by other Local Churches and which united only a small part of the Orthodox faithful in Estonia. He noted that this decision was made despite the fact that the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church had given notice about the impossibility for the Moscow Patriarch representatives to attend meetings to which a delegate of the ‘EAOC’ was invited and that such an invitation would not contribute to successful continuation of the dialogue between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow on the Estonian church problem as planned in particular in the Memorandum adopted by delegations of the two Churches during their recent negotiations on 26 March 2008 in Zurich. Archpriest Nikolay Balshov also pointed out that the actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople contradicted its previous stand on the participation of the Churches whose autocephalous or autonomous status was not recognized by all the Orthodox in inter-Orthodox commissions and pan-Orthodox conferences. This position had been repeatedly reaffirmed, especially in the letter Patriarch Dimitrios of Constantinople sent to Patriarch Pimen of Moscow and All Russia in 1979, stating that ‘we have taken care to ensure that the Inter-Orthodox Theological Commission for Dialogue is attended by representatives of all those Orthodox Churches which, being recognized as autonomous and autocephalous by all the Orthodox, have participated in pan-Orthodox conferences and inter-Orthodox theological commissions’. In this letter, the Patriarch of Constantinople stressed that he did not consider it possible for ‘those church parts which are not recognized as autocephalous or autonomous Churches by all the Orthodox’ to take part in common Orthodox events and in preparations for them. It was pointed out that under this criterion a delegate of the ‘EAOC’ could not participate in the meeting. The commission members were also presented with various proposals for a provisional settlement of these problems, which the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church had submitted at the negotiations in Zurich, including a possibility for representatives of a Church that does not enjoy pan-Orthodox recognition to attend such meetings as members of the delegations of mother Churches.
The participants in the meeting were given an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the memorandum reflecting the position of the Russian Orthodox Church on the Estonian church problem as it was presented during the negotiations between the Patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople delegations on 26 March 2008 in Zurich. Upon the ungrounded statement by the chairman of the commission, Metropolitan Emmanuel, that Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia had refused to attend the meeting of primates of Local Orthodox Churches planned for the coming autumn, thus making the coming of representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate to the commission meeting unexpected and ungrounded, the Russian Orthodox Church delegation read out the most important parts of the Patriarch Alexy’s letter of 3 June 2008 and submitted its copy to the commission members for their notice.
In the discussion that followed, Metropolitan Peter of Aksum (Patriarchate of Alexandria), Archbishop Theophanis of Gerasa (Patriarchate of Jerusalem), Bishop Irinej of Backa (Serbian Patriarchate) and Bishop Ciprian of Campina (Romanian Patriarchate) expressed regret at the fact that the Estonian church problem remained unsettled, urged the two Patriarchates to make efforts for settling it as soon as possible, pointed to dangerous and perhaps tragic consequences that the differences lasting since 1996 had for pan-Orthodox unity and witness before the world and suggested that a solution should be found to make it possible for the Moscow Patriarchate delegation to take part in the work of the meeting.
Metropolitan Emmanuel however, speaking on behalf of the Church of Constantinople, stated that the question concerning the participation status of the EAOC representative in that and other common Orthodox events was not subject to review.
After that statement, the Moscow Patriarchate delegation expressed profound regret that they had to leave the meeting in pursuance of the 2000 Bishops’ Council decisions and to report the developments to the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church to begin this month.
In this connection, the DECR Communication Service is authorized to state that such manifestations of unilateral dictate on the part of representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople make it extremely difficult to find a mutually acceptable solution to the canonical settlement of the situation of Orthodoxy in Estonia and present a serious threat to the real realization of Orthodox unity the consolidation of which is one of the most important concerns for the Russian Orthodox Church. Responsibility for these actions lies fully with representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
June 19, 2008