Tuesday, January 29, 2019

OCA on Ukraine: Wait and see.

The OCA is taking the measured, patient approach. As many have said, given the precarious nature of the OCA's own autocephaly, this is a delicate situation. Some worried that Moscow would request/demand the OCA follow suit, but that has not yet happened. Will other jurisdictions follow this tack? I don't know, but it isn't at all impossible that we'll see a continuation of the way things are; continued communion with a continuation of refusal to accept the OCU (the de rigueur term for the EP's Orthodox Church in Ukraine on which we seem to be coalescing). The below is a very clear and comprehensive document that informs both clergy and laity the definitive opinion of the OCA.

(OCA) - On Monday, January 28, 2019, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon and the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America issued an Archpastoral Letter concerning the situation of the Church in Ukraine and related matters, as decided during the Fall Session of the Holy Synod held October 23-25, 2018.

The complete text appears below and is also available in PDF format here.

Archpastoral Letter of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America
Concerning the Situation of the Church in Ukraine

To the Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America,

The Holy Synod of Bishops addresses this archpastoral letter to our flock to provide guidance with respect to current events in world Orthodoxy that may be occasioning questions, confusion, or even scandal within our communities in North America. The immediate cause of these questions, confusion, and scandal are found in the recent developments that have taken place in Ukraine. A broader cause of confusion and misunderstanding may also be found in the underlying disagreements about ecclesiology, territorial jurisdiction, and canonical principles, which continue to erupt not only with reference to Ukraine but also to other geographic areas.

In writing this archpastoral letter we do not presume to resolve either the direct or the wide-ranging reasons for these crises, because such resolution must come from the conciliar and synodal process present in the Church’s tradition, a process that, in the face of the Ukrainian situation, has been advocated by others throughout the Orthodox Church and which our Holy Synod wholeheartedly endorses. Rather, the purpose of this letter is to provide our clergy and faithful with some direction and perspective in dealing with the impact that these global issues are having on our local communities in North America. We will, of course, be grateful and humbled if our words of guidance contribute to the global discussion of these matters.

Any such contribution can only arise from our own experience as the Orthodox Church in America. We remind our faithful that the resolution of the canonical anomalies in our lands has been and remains a difficult and ongoing task. While this task is not an end in itself, overcoming these anomalies will serve to maintain our full unity and communion with Orthodox Christians throughout the world. Although the Tomos of autocephaly was indeed given to our Church as a means of suppressing scandalous ecclesiastical divisions, it was also given as a means to build a peaceful and creative church life with other Orthodox Churches in North America. The gift of autocephaly was not a declaration of independence, an expression of nationalism, or an excuse for isolationism but rather a call to the fulfillment of the apostolic, missionary, and pastoral work of the Gospel.
As we consider the difficult challenges the universal Church is facing, let us be heartened by God’s blessings on our own humble efforts towards the establishment of unity in North America. Let us be mindful that the canonical tradition of Holy Orthodoxy is not a weapon to be wielded for conquest but a remedy to be applied for the healing of human souls. Let us remember that the resolution of questions of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, both in North America and throughout the world, should not be adjudicated in the realm of legal disputes or resolved through governmental interference but in the spirit of humility and meekness offered by our Lord Jesus Christ. If the present complications seem irresolvable, let us remember that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

The ecclesiastical situation in Ukraine has already been addressed by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon in his letter of September 26, 2018. Since that time, further developments have occurred, most notably the full breaking of communion by the Patriarchate of Moscow with the Ecumenical Patriarch, the creation by the Patriarchate of Constantinople of an ecclesial body consisting of two schismatic groups, the convening of a “Unification Council” which recognized these groups as a new and unique body and which also elected for it a Metropolitan for Kyiv, and, most recently, the proclamation of a form of autocephaly for this new body by the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

We, the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America express our deep sorrow and distress over these developments and, in particular, by the rupture in communion between the Church of Moscow and the Church of Constantinople. It is our sincere hope and fervent prayer that a way forward be found for restoration of communion that is in accord with both the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Sacred Canons of the Church established by the Fathers which have protected and promoted the unity of the Church through the centuries.

In light of the above new developments, by means of this pastoral letter, we re-affirm the substance and content of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon’s letter. To demonstrate our commitment to upholding unity in the Church, we express our desire and intention to maintain full communion with all the universally recognized autocephalous Orthodox Churches. We exhort our clergy and faithful to fervently offer prayers that the unity and communion of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine be restored and that all schisms be resolved according to the canonical tradition and discipline of the Church. We also remind our clergy and faithful that it is the people of Ukraine, our brethren in Christ, who are suffering from the effects of the broader ecclesial conflicts and it is for them, in particular that we shall offer prayers.

We furthermore exhort our clergy and faithful to offer fervent prayers so that unity and communion be maintained within the fullness of the Orthodox Church throughout the world. Recalling the words of Saint Cyprian of Carthage “… and this unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the Church, that we may also prove the episcopate to be one and undivided,” it is our earnest hope that a conciliar process be initiated by His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in union with his brothers, the Primates of the Churches. Thus, a Church-wide discussion of primacy and synodality can be undertaken outside of the context of this specific ecclesiastical dispute. With respect to the Church in Ukraine, the Holy Synod of Bishops has determined at this time:
  • To continue to recognize and support Metropolitan Onufry as the canonical head and Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church;
  • To withhold, with several of our sister Churches, recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine;
  • That no changes be made to the diptychs, noting that the Orthodox Church in America has not been formally requested to make such changes;
  • That communion between clergy and faithful of all canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in North America be maintained and that any specific questions concerning the concelebration of clergy be directed to the local diocesan bishop; and
  • That our clergy and faithful preserve an attitude of sobriety and restraint in any public discussions of these matters.
As a final exhortation, we faithfully receive the patristic word, “Do not let schisms loose among the Churches.” But even more, we willingly accept and endorse this admonishment, because we follow the Fathers of the Church who have called us to unity with those who hold identical doctrines with us. We jealously guard this unity with all who confess the Orthodox Faith. Nothing can be more pleasing to the Lord who yearned for the unity of His disciples than to behold His faithful people, separated from one another by so vast a diversity of places, history, cultures, and languages, yet bound by the unity of love in the One Body of Christ.

As the pastors entrusted with the flock of the Orthodox Church in America, we cannot stand by idly and allow the Orthodox faithful to be divided into factions. Let us all zealously endeavor to count all things secondary to the unity to which we are called, and above all, let us all be solicitous for the unity of Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church in America and throughout the world, lest, becoming divided, she become weakened in her task of proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the universe. As the Lord prays in John 17:19-21, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me,” so likewise do we pray.

Given on this day, January 28, 2019 by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America,

+TIKHON, Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada
+NATHANIEL, Archbishop of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate
+NIKON, Archbishop of Boston, New England, and the Albanian Archdiocese
+BENJAMIN, Archbishop of San Francisco and the West
+MARK, Archbishop of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania
+ALEJO, Archbishop of Mexico City and Mexico
+MELCHISEDEK, Archbishop of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania
+IRENEE, Archbishop of Ottawa and the Archdiocese of Canada
+MICHAEL, Archbishop of New York and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey
+ALEXANDER, Archbishop of Dallas, the South, and the Bulgarian Diocese
+DAVID, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska
+PAUL, Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest


  1. They continue to release somewhat benign statements. They should follow lead of Russia/ROCOR. There is nothing to gain by appeasing Constantinople. St John Chrysostom tells us that if you go into communion with schismatics, you are also a schismatic. Constantinople is now schismatic. You cannot stay in communion with them. I understand that the situation in America is dicey....but it is time to take a stand.

    1. "...if you go into communion with schismatics, you are also a schismatic."

      Then Moscow is also schismatic since they maintain communion with the EP both directly through St Panteleimon Monastery on Mount Athos and indirectly through all the other Orthodox Churches. Oops!

    2. Moscow considered ROCOR to be schismatic prior to the Union of 2007. Yet, ROCOR served with Jerusalem and the Serbian church prior to the Union. I'm a witness to the latter. Moscow didn't break communion with those two churches during all the years prior to 2007.

    3. The MP never took an official position that ROCOR was schismatic. Likewise ROCOR never took such a position in the other direction. Individual bishops expressed opinions... but that is not quite the same thing.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. “Schism can be overcome only with humble prayer, repentance and brotherly love toward all those who fell in the difficult time of persecutions and those currently gone astray…” - The 1991 ROCOR Sobor of Bishops

    6. Forgetting that we, the people, is The Church and on the ground we are the ones that "make" Her who She is. We will be the ones who talk to one another, love one another and live our life In Christ. Eventually those that minister Her will see the pride filled errors of their power hungry ways. So we ask, Lord, have mercy on us all.

    7. To speak of a schism which is of a temporary nature, is not the same as to label a group as "schismatic", and thus outside the Church. Neither ROCOR nor the MP ever declared the other to be deposed, or outside of the Church.

    8. Thank you Father John for the clarification. I hope that we can extend some of those irenic sentiments to our Ukrainian brothers in schism. Surely their error is not worse than the errors of the Moscow Patriarchate during its dark recent past and if we may be honest, your own synod has also violated canonical order by establishing schismatic parishes on the territory of other local churches (Patriarchate Alexandria as one example).

  2. One wonders what the word canonical means to these feckless souls on the OCA synod. Either the EP is outside canonical bounds for joining with the two Ukrainian sects or Moscow is outside the canons for having no grounds to break communion. To call them both “canonical” and continue communion leaves no substance to the term at all.

    1. To quote Luke Skywalker: "Amazing, every word of what you just said is wrong"

      "Canonical" does not (repeat, does not) mean "legal" or "logical" or "binary". Your either/or is exactly the opposite of what canonical means as a term, its history in the Church, and its foundation in the Gospel...

  3. I may misunderstand your statement but please consider Met. Tikhon’s statement“we express our desire and intention to maintain full communion with all the universally recognized autocephalous Orthodox Churches.” One could infer that the distinction has been made, since most do not recognize the UCO and Met. Tikhon acknowledges Met. Onouphry and the UOC as the canonical Church in Ukraine...

  4. Dear Mr. White: My 1:40 pm comment was meant to be in reply to your statement. I interpreted the missive differently and believe the OCA Synod expressed itself wisely, giving full support to the need for a Council of the Local Churchs to address the problem, as the ROC has clearly outlined as well.

  5. The situation is still developing Mr. Zheng. Do not be surprised if the CP evicts the monks at St Panteleimon for non-commemoration. He has done that type of thing before. And also do not be surprised to see other Local Churches breaking communion with him. Sadly, some may officially follow the CP into schism. They will have their eastern pope.

    1. There is no evidence that the monks of St Panteleimon have ceased commemorating their Patriarch. That's just wishful thinking to cover up a straightforward bit of hypocrisy.

    2. Yes Joseph, but there is also a significant pushback from a majority of the monasteries of mount Athos, against the actions of the EP in Ukraine. Although the reactions are mixed. 15 of the monasteries have voted not to send a delegation to Ukraine, while only 5 voted for a delegation to be sent. 2 of the monasteries have stated that they would close their gates to Epiphany, while 2 abbots have sent a delegation to greet him. St. Panteleimon taking a similar action (such as closing their gates to Epiphany or further punitive action) is not out of the ballpark in terms of possibility.

    3. You will see one side gravitate toward the secularized, politicized, papal model which Istanbul has been cultivating for 100 years. The other side will stay true to the patrisitc phronema of Holy Orthodoxy. Where you reside, will be according to your conscience and free will.

      Be watchful.

  6. Here's the problem with the OCA's failure to take a strong position against the new schismatic Ukrainian church. The Patriarchate of Constantinople has set a dangerous, uncanonical precedent by unilaterally revoking a 332-year old decree essentially ceding the Kievan Metropolitanate to the Moscow Patriarchate. Why can't the Moscow Patriarchate now, using this new precedent, unilaterally revoke the OCA's autocephaly granted just 48 years ago? The OCA's Synod must firmly support its Mother Church, and finally extinguish the fantasy that somehow, someday, somewhere Istanbul will recognize its autocephaly.

  7. I doubt that the OCA realistically expects Istanbul to recognize its autocephaly. After all, if Istanbul did that, then the Phanar (even using its own disordered system of thinking) could not justify having its own GOA on American shores. We all know that, as Istanbul's largest cash cow, the GOA's direct funnel into the Phanar isn't going away anytime soon.

    The MP was wise in supporting the OCA for all these decades, regardless of what one thinks of its autocephaly, as a counter to the Phanar's ridiculous territorial claims over all of America and everywhere else in the world for that matter (we are barbarians, after all). Even back in the 1960s-1970s, there was growing evidence of the Phanar's gradual divergence away from Christian Orthodoxy. Thus maintaining a sensible "other option" for Orthodox Americans was a grand idea.

    I've had some wonderful spiritual growth in the OCA in the past, even though I'm not a huge fan of its autocephaly, primarily because of the numbers. Per Alexei Krindatch's data, on average there are about 30,000-40,000 active participants in OCA parishes per week. Even taking 50,000 as the number, out of an American population of 330,000,000, having an "autocephalous" church in a country where the faithful in that church count 0.015% of the population and which is not in a traditionally Orthodox land just doesn't work. It's my opinion that we Orthodox Christians in America, simply by our numbers and by our fractured history here in a land that has been historically largely protestant and now aggressively secular/anti-Christian, we are still far too immature to have our own autocephalous church. I think the Orthodox Americans in the OCA would be best served as an autonomous structure under the Church of Russia, similar to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-MP under Metropolitan Onuphry or to the Orthodox Church in Japan. Such a structure could also potentially get rid of the 3 overlapping jurisdictions in America with Russian Church roots.

  8. On the lighter side, one has to ask what motives would drive a man of Pat. Bartholomew's position and geographic location to do such a thing. 1) He has been hanging around with Pope Francis too much and is suffering delusions of grandeur. 2) He was threatened by the evil Erdogan. 3) He was bribed/threatened by the more evil axis of Soros/Poroshenko/CIA. Just a lighter train of thought from all the legalistic posts.

  9. Sadly, all of the above. But now that you brought up Soros, you'll be labeled an anti Semite and maybe even a Nazi as well.