Tuesday, February 12, 2019

How Moscow sees Mount Athos

(ROC) - The Jesus portal has published a commentary of Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations, on the attitudes prevalent on Holy Mount Athos ard to Constantinople’s creation of ‘a new church’ in Ukraine.

There is a contradictory information coming from Mouth Athos. On one hand, we have seen how two Athonite abbots came to Kiev for the ‘enthronement’ of a new head of the schism legalized by Constantinople, with Father Xenophon attending the event while the abbot of the Vatopedi monastery fell ill but managed to take a picture with the leaders of the schismatics. On the other hand, we can hear how the delegation of the Ukrainian schismatic structure was not let in the St. Panteleimon monastery while, after the visit of this delegation, seven monks have left the Vatopedi.

Evidently, the legalization of the Ukrainian schism by Patriarch Bartholomew has caused new divisions: one of them is being formed before our eyes in the very heart of the Patriarchate of Constantinople – on Holy Mount Athos.

Throughout centuries Athos has stood guard over the church truth and canonical order. And now it has to make a choice: to continue its ages-old vigil for the canonical truth or to obey the lawless decision of the Patriarch of Constantinople. This choice is to be made by Athonite monastic brotherhood as a whole and each monastery in particular.

The Athonites know Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All Ukraine very well. Until recently, he was their frequent guest. Once, having come to Athos, I could hardly recognize him in the monks’ midst, as he stood modestly, wearing an ordinary black monastic klobuk sawn in the Greek fashion and wearing no pectoral icon. And many other hierarchs of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church used to come to Athos on a regular basis. And now Patriarch Bartholomew has declared their Church non-existent.

We all love Athos and used to come to it with joy until it was possible. But we love Athos not for its antiquity or architecture or beautiful landscapes, but, first of all, for the fact that Athos remains important as a pillar of the church truth for millions of Orthodox believers, for the feat of prayer for peace that the Athonite monks are performing, for the striking spiritual tranquillity with which everyone who comes to the Holy Mount comes in touch.

The spiritual atmosphere of Athos is unique. It has been created by the efforts of many generations of the religious. And many Athonite monks are right to fear that it may be destroyed if Athos becomes open to women, as European politicians have repeatedly proposed it. But isn’t communion with the schismatics fraught with even more dangers for the whole order of monastic life? Will not Athos turn into the salt which has lost its savour (Mt. 5:13), if the troubled waters of the schism flood this holy place?

I sincerely hope that in this situation, which has been suddenly dumped on it, Athos will make the only right choice – the one in favour of canonical order. And I thank all the Athonite monks and abbots who have already made this choice.


  1. " But isn’t communion with the schismatics fraught with even more dangers for the whole order of monastic life? Will not Athos turn into the salt which has lost its savour (Mt. 5:13), if the troubled waters of the schism flood this holy place?

    I sincerely hope that in this situation, which has been suddenly dumped on it, Athos will make the only right choice – the one in favour of canonical order. And I thank all the Athonite monks and abbots who have already made this choice."

    Geez, I thought the EP was straining his loyalty bank account but this "if you are not with us you are against us" is surely going to sour the monks otherwise natural sympathies towards Moscow canonical interpretation I would think. Why would they want to get into the middle of this turf war any more than they have to?

    1. Jake, please stop taking the blue pills every morning.

      How has anything that Constantinople has done in the past 6 months even come close to passing the straight face test?

    2. "anything that Constantinople has done in the past 6 months"

      By pushing the issue in Ukraine, the EP has done something Christian vis-a-vis millions of Orthodox who were not in communion with the rest of the Church. The MP apparently was prepared to sit on the canonical Sabbath indefinitely...

    3. Schisms are healed via the repentance of at least one if not both parties.

      There was no repentance just a "magical" declaration of "healing". What about the canons?

      These schismatics are revealing themselves by their fruits.

      Now the existing schism has actually been "forged in the fire" & the EP is damaging its credibility in the Church by its unilateral actions.

    4. "What about the canons?"

      What about them? They are being misused and abused in a propaganda war. They are an expression of the Gospel, not some kind of new Law that trumps the Gospel (see Romans 7). "Schismatic" according to your uncritical acceptance of the MP rhetoric is some kind of metaphysical blot for which Christ Himself can't even over come. Try not to reduce the canons to religious idiocy. Perhaps this Saint might help you put the canons in the right perspective:

      "I will sacrifice myself in order to save the Canons of the Church, but in the case of saving one person, I will sacrifice all the Canons." St. Justin Popovich

      note well who said that - St. Justin Popovich, the well know ecumeninist and lax progressive ;)

    5. Jake, these two groups in Ukraine are & continue to be considered schismatic not only by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church & the Moscow Patriarchate, but by every Orthodox Church around the world including the Ecumenical Patriarchate until the last few months.

      Given this how do you brand recognizing them for what they are as schismatics as "uncritical acceptance fo the MP rhetoric"? That is a real question & not merely rhetoric.

    6. Still plying the canonical logic/legal trade I see Timmy ;)

      Let me ask you a question: what are you going to say, or rather what are your ancestors going to say, in about 50 years (or maybe 100) when these so called "schismatics" are in full communion the whole "pan-Orthodox" Church?

      If your looking for consistency of definition (around the word "schismatic" or anything else) within the canons, to say nothing of how they are actually applied, then your looking in the wrong domain of human knowledge and experience. You would be better off with mathematics, or perhaps chemistry.

      When it comes to the ecclesiastical history of the Ukraine (or the Church in general), there is a very real human messiness.

      To answer your question, I am not looking for a neat and tidy solution - a final and definitive verdict from the Supreme Court of Canonicity and Church Boundaries.

      By the way, its a safe bet its going to get even murkier in the next months and years...we might even start to hear bout "apostates", "judas kissers", and "father rapers" soon...

    7. More importantly, the doors of the Church have been open to these two groups since they initiated the schism.

      We should recall that when a bishop is ordained he pledges faithfulness & obedience to the synod that he is now a part of as long as the synod is not violating the Orthodox faith & the canons. This is literally right in the service books & I've been present to witness this with my own eyes & ears on one occasion.

      So how can we recognize these two groups as anything other than schismatics since they went into schism over issues of secular politics & ecclesiastical administration?

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    9. Jake, without repentance & reconciliation they will never be in full communion with the Orthodox Church around the world. It has never happened & it never will happen. If this condition was met, which is absolutely essential, then I would have no problem whatsoever with them. The ball is in their court...it always has been. They left the Church & they must return. There isn't another way to heal a schism.

      Being of Polish descent myself I am familiar with the messy history of the region of modern-day Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania & Russia and it all speaks of the unity of this metropolitan district of the Church. No doubt real human messiness is evident here. But that is beside the point.

      I think you've got the wrong number if you've labeled me a legalist playing the tidy logical card. Fr. George Florovsky nicely described how the canons are not hard & fast "laws" but rather efforts to incarnate the theology into practical pastoral standards that safeguard the salvation of peoples souls. I couldn't agree more!

      However, this takes us back to the fact that these schismatics rebelled against & left the Church of their own free will for reasons of secular politics & ecclesiastical administration violating their oath as bishops & the most fundamental principle of love which is the basis of Orthodox ecclesiology.

      Repentance is an essential condition for communion. It really is that simple.

    10. Timmy, are you even a real person - you reason like a forensic Russian bot! ;)

      Ever heard of the Holodomor? Are you aware of *any* Ukrainian, or for that matter human history at all?

      If Moscow (or Bulgaria, or Poland, or fill_in_the_blank) have their own national church, their own ecclesia based on language and culture (which according you are mere "secular politics & administration") why do they have their own synod and not Ukraine? Just who is being faithful to the service books, again? If language and culture is not de facto canon (i.e. "rule") of the Church since the collapse of the empire, exactly what is?

    11. Jake, yes I'm a real human being : )

      I see the point you are defending, but I respectfully & completely disagree. Pastoral economia can only legitimately go so far before it makes itself illegitimate. There are inherent boundaries or limits to economia.

    12. " No doubt real human messiness is evident here. But that is beside the point."

      Nope, it is exactly the point.

      "Repentance is an essential condition for communion. It really is that simple."

      Thank God you (or me, or any man) does not get to define what that looks like. Besides, you talk of repentance but what you really mean is a "canonical" formalism and the Law. You dismiss humanity and sin and look for an almost technocratic "repentance", one just happens to be exactly what Moscow (as a religious, cultural, and political entity) wants.

      Providentially, your so called repentance is not even in the cards. Even if Russian tanks roll over Ukraine a forced and unnatural ecclesia will not happen, just as it has not happened for the last 1000 years.

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    14. "...Pastoral economia can only legitimately go so far before it makes itself illegitimate. There are inherent boundaries or limits to economia."

      The Kingdom of Heaven is like, A certain man had two sons...

      Your whole paradigm of "legitimacy", of law and rules, and of "economia" is exploded by both the Gospel AND the actual history of the Church. Not only that, you have been manipulated into this thinking...

    15. Jake, where did you come by your supernatural powers of reading people's hearts & minds?

      Anyway, I hope you enjoy yourself in the Episcopalian church. I'm joking...kind of.

      I'm signing off since comment threads like this are not conducive to effectively resolving perspectives as different as ours seem to be.

    16. It's a good thing threads like this are not good places for pro MP propaganda either 😲

    17. I’m actually in the EP, really : )

      I appreciate the quirkiness of the Internet where everyone can air out their thoughts & do so with some good humor.

      We’ll have to agree to disagree, in love, of course.

      I wish you a good Lent & Pascha, my brother.

    18. It seems to me that by erasing laws, you do not gain love. You move one step closer to erasing people (calling them inhuman bots, for instance).

  2. Slavs vs. Greeks I understand. Wanting to be first in line (primacy) I understand. NATO/US vs Russia I understand.

    What I can't understand is how anyone can ignore EPB rubber stamping men who made themselves "priests" and "bishops", outside the Church, and pretending it's a simple matter of granting autocephaly to "heal" a schism.

    Not to mention you've traded the millions of canonical Ukrainian Orthodox believers, for a handful of self-consecrated frauds. Oh and apparently we're going to ignore blackmailing monastics and putting them under so much pressure that they have a heart attack.

    In spite of all this and more, we're apparently supposed to buy the "The Slavs are just jealous, primacy belongs to hellenism, you have to cause a schism to heal a schism" line.

    Sadly as obvious as the corruption is, it will undoubtedly still fall along ethnic lines, Greeks vs Slavs, albeit with some notable exceptions.

    1. I absolutely agree. "Metropolitan" Epiphaniy, for example, may have been baptized in the canonical Church, but that is as far as it goes. His ordination as a priest, tonsure as a monk, everything else — all outside the Church!

  3. This whole thing stands or falls on who actually has jurisdiction in the Ukraine. It's an interesting question. Russia says they do, citing the 1686 document and their continuous presence.

    With that said, was the TRANSFER of jurisdiction itself, "canonical?" Everyone cites the statute of limitations, but if the Russian Army planted itself in someone else's jurisdiction for 30 years and then the time elapsed, can they then say "SEE! No Take backsies!"

    Constantinople was in no position to protest or try to assert itself until the 20th Century, when the worst of the Turkish Yoke had eased and it had gained a large measure of independence from the Turkish government. Look at the Church of Georgia, another grossly uncanonical stepping on another Church, having long passed the "statute of limitations." but rectified in the 20th Century.

    Russia can say Ukraine is theirs, but if the only reason nobody questioned it for 300 years was because of the Russian Army and blackmail (The Czars provided financial support to much of the Orthodox world. That money had strings attached, as it does now), can we really speak about canonicity? The picture is much more complicated than the MP partisans would portray.

    1. David, it is not "complicated" at all. That excuse is used as a smokescreen to obfuscate the facts so the agenda of the EP can be unilaterally pursued at all costs.

      If it's so "complicated" why wasn't there a single other Orthodox Church present at Epiphany's "enthronement"?

      Apparently, it's so "complicated" that Constantinople is the only one in the 300 million strong body of the Church who can figure this out...

      It just doesn't pass the straight face test, my brother.

    2. Yes David, deep deep cultural (and thus personal) understandings about "Mother Russia" and the like are at the bottom.

      For those interested in going deeper than the EP/MP propaganda, one can take a look at several papers from the recent Romanian conference that will be available on Ancient Faith in the coming weeks/months.

    3. Timmy, this whole drama is the culmination of longstanding disagreements and resentments. Ukraine was merely the final straw. If it didn't happen this time, it would have have happened over something else.

      The Ecumenical Patriarchate is not pursuing any agenda here except the establishment of an independent Ukrainian Church. As far as they are concerned, the Ukraine issue is done. HAH has moved on, as a casual view of the Patriarchate's website will show. The ink on the Tomos is dry and things are in motion. It is now up to the Ukrainians to sort it out.

      Your head has been spun by the MP's propaganda, brother. Websites like orthochristian.com and interfax stirring people up. I have no rose colored glasses about my own Patriarchate. The EP has acted wrongly in the past and has kicked up its own fuss when it came to Churches demanding autocephaly. The EP also used the power of the State for it's own ends in the days of the Empire (both Roman and Ottoman).

      Now it's Russia who has secular power to back it up, and they are acting much in the same way that the EP did in the days of old. That is my whole point. This isn't some Church ending crisis, this is just the latest chapter in a very long and ugly power struggle. Only this time it is the MP kicking up dirt, and not the EP.

      As for recognition, give it time. Patriarch Kyrill does not recognize the new Ukrainian Church, but his successor will. Or his successor's successor. Look at Bulgaria. How long did that schism last? Was that canonical?

      This is geopolitics masquerading as canonical concern. Don't be fooled, brother. Russia uses it's aid to other Orthodox Churches as a lever of power. They did this in the days of the Czars and they are doing it now. That money has geopolitical strings attached. Mt. Athos found that out, and the Antiochians are discovering it now in Syria.

      I have no illusions here. Power politics have always been hopelessly intertwined with our Church's history. This time is no different. Holy men and women do the business of Christ DESPITE all of that. Look to your local bishop and your spiritual father (or any Christian of integrity) and live like them. All of our Bishops will have to answer to God for what they do, good or ill.

  4. One could speak of American money along with Poroshenko chocolates gifted to the EP.

    1. Father, Bless.

      I keep hearing the mess about American bribes and the like. The MP mouthpieces have beat that drum incessantly. There is no evidence, of course, but this garbage has been floating around since the days of HAH Athenagoras of Blessed Memory.

      Of course America is involved here. As I said to Timmy, Geopolitics have always been hopelessly intertwined with our Church. The extent of American involvement is always speculated about, but then Russians bristle when people call Patriarch Kyrill a mere FSB asset. Perhaps we could agree that BOTH contentions are scandalous and false.

      The MP will never let Ukraine be independent by choice. "Holy Rus" and "the Russky Mir" is too important to Russian Orthodox identity to allow that. Even if it is the right thing to do pastorally. The EP was the same, once upon a time. Hellenism and the Empire and all that. The EP saw Church after Church break away and they too didn't like and raised a fuss about it. I mentioned Bulgaria, a particularly ugly and canonically questionable situation...and, YET all is well now.

      It will be the same in the Ukraine. It will never be as it was. The MP has to let Ukraine go, and they will, just as the EP had to let go. It will take time, but it will happen. In 50 years (or less), when new generations have arisen we will all be in Communion again and this will be another sad footnote in the long ugly history of autocephaly.

    2. I’m sorry but no amount of time can make self consecrated frauds “okay” or canonical. When defrocked priests declare themselves bishops, and an excommunicated bishop declares himself patriarch, no amount of time can make that acceptable.

      There are millions of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, they showed up in droves for Metropolitan Onuphry’s enthronement, meanwhile the false tomos was (according to pro-schismatic sources) attended by less than 1000 people. Doesn’t that tell you anything?

      There has been no exodus from the canonical Church to this schismatic rabble.

      Meanwhile, the so called granting of autocephaly has left the schismatics with less independence than the canonical Church under Onuphry. They can’t do anything without EPB’s involvement. This is yet another land grab by Constantinople, but for once someone is able to stand up against it.

      Almost every branch of the Church has called for a council to decide how to fix this catastrophe. For now they are waiting to see if EPB will repent, giving him time to turn back, but if he doesn’t, they’re allowing him enough rope to hang himself.

      A council will be the final say on this. Unfortunately its very clear that EPB is charting a course away from the tradition of the Church, making himself “first without equal”, and he will no doubt drag many Greeks with him in the name of “Hellenism”.

  5. When these "frauds" as you say die, and are replaced by canonical bishops, and over time those involved in this drama have passed into history, the situation will change. Constantinople is thinking long term. It's ugly now, but as time passes it will be less so. Metropolitan Philaret may be a non-starter for a lot of Ukrainians, but he won't be around much longer, and as he passes into history, so too will the barriers preventing Russian Orthodox Ukrainians from switching over. This is only the first step in the process. The Tomos itself isn't eternal, and can be revised in the future. This is a dynamic process. Nobody on the EP side has said otherwise.

    The MP knows this. They know that time is not on their side, and that if they allow things to settle down, then the exact scenario I outlined will come to pass. So they will do all they can to keep things stirred up, to portray it as some kind of cataclysm in the Orthodox world, using their numbers and money to bully other Churches into towing their line. The fact that most other Churches have not taken a position yet has made them very angry, and their invective against Greek Churches in particular has unmasked the true nature of this crisis...the venting of long held grievances which go beyond Ukraine, and the MP desperate to protect their ideology of Holy Rus and the Russky Mir at all costs, even at the cost of Orthodox Unity.

    The MP didn't mind helping dismantle the EP's Church, with its open or backhanded support of the breakaway churches such as Greece and Bulgaria. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and the MP is raising Cain. The EP did no less when it happened to them. This is just the latest chapter in a long ugly story. Nothing new here, just the same political nonsense that gets kicked up when a Church becomes autocephalous. Caesar gets involved, anathemas are thrown, angry words exchanged, parishes divide, acrimony ensues, communion broken for a year, a decade (or more, ala Bulgaria) and then when the people who cared die, their successors and descendants reconcile and Communion is restored (until the next blow up, which seems to happen a few times a century).

    God is in control. Always, despite ourselves. The MP is portraying this as armageddon because it serves their interests, and they are trying to sabotage this anyway they can, because Ukraine is an integral part of the Russky Mir ideology. They will never let Ukraine be independent by choice, just as the EP didn't want to let go either once upon a time.

    This is politics as usual. Most Orthodox see it that way, I think. It is just the partisans hyperventilating into a paper bag. All to reminscent of the 2016 Presidential Election, unfortunately.

  6. Sorry David. I don't think it will work out as you predict. The OCU is a schismatic body and it will always be schismatic unless they sincerely repent. Those who come into communion with them will be schismatics (like Bartholomew is at this time). The other local autocephalous Churches have an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of great saints such as St. Mark of Ephesus, St Gregory Palamas, and St Photios the Great. I believe most of them will do the right thing. One of Istanbul's main talking points continues to reiterate how "time" will heal this massive division and all will accept this abomination in the end. Time will most certainly clarify the situation....it will take away the gray areas so that we can discern the goats from the sheep.

    1. There is a problem here, though. The Moscow Patriarchate IS in Communion with the OCU. Their position is incoherent, as they are in Communion with St. Pantelemon's Monastery on Athos, who are under Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. In addition, they are in Communion with everybody else, who is also in Communion with Patriarch Bartholomew. If HAH is a schismatic as you say, then ANYONE who communes with him is a schismatic as well (using the MP's reasoning).

      This is a silly and awkward 6th Degrees of Kevin Bacon we are playing here, but it makes my point. This whole thing is silly. Moscow could have just as easily done what Antioch did in the case of Jeruselem and made the break in Communion be on the clerical level ONLY (Patriarch John didn't tell his flock they couldn't commune in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or receive the Holy Fire). That would be more coherent, rather than this absurdity.

      If the MP was consistent and had the courage of their convictions, they would have issued an ultimatum to the other Churches at the outset of this "drama." That would be consistent, and proper if this was as aggregious as they contend. They did not, and now they are playing this political game, bestowing "legitimacy" on EP Churches or Monasteries they deem "OK," even though those groups still commemorate HAH. It's nonsense. And it is political, make no mistake. The longer this mess goes on, the more people see it for what it is. HAH has not broken Communion with the MP, and the other Churches have not acted as Moscow expected they would. The MP is enraged, because the slowness of deliberation means that the other Churches are ACTUALLY considering the OCU. That it in itself is galling to the MP, so they have now taken to attacking not only the EP but Greek Orthodoxy in general, and I've even seen MP partisans attacking the Romanian and Georgian Churches as well. As the Bile and Invective builds, it will further unmask this whole farce for what it is. Geopolitical maneuvering masquerading as canonical concern.

      Are there issues in the Church to hash out. Absolutely. But no dialogue can take place in this atmosphere. If the MP wanted to stop this whole thing, they could simply grant their own Tomos to Metropolitan Onuphry and let the chips fall where they may. Maybe THEN the two sides could actually start talking seriously. But the MP won't do that, because this is about "the Russky Mir" and Russian geopolitical chess. This is about territory, and power. This is pure politics.

    2. You keep repeating the same BS about "Russky Mir" and "Holy Rus'" ad naseum. Are you even Ukrainian, Mr. White? I suspect not, otherwise you would know that Ukrainians prefer "Ukraine" to "the Ukraine." Only old timers in the Ukrainian community still use the article.
      My own ancestry includes Ukrainian, Polish, and Russian. My father grew up in Eastern Ukraine. I speak the language and know the history. Sometimes, the Cossacks would fight with the Turks against the Russians and Poles. Sometimes, with the Poles against the Russians and the Turks. Ultimately, the alliance with Russia came about because of Orthodoxy. It may be that a desperate people are forced to side with Russia. So many Russians sided with Hitler, not because they supported Nazism, but because Stalin was so evil, that they would support ANYBODY who was against him. They also naively believed that after WW II, that the West would free them from Stalin. We all know this didn't happen. Please read Solzhenitsyn. He lived and saw it all.

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    4. I do know that, actually. I am a middle aged man who grew up learning that the article was to be placed there. I slip up and still use it sometimes. Many things to "unlearn" as we grow older.

      You are just reiterating my point. Politics are hopelessly intertwined in the situation. The MP could have headed all of this off if they had issued their own Tomos in 1991, using the ensuing years to hash it out with the EP and the other Churches. Kyiv/Kiev and the Church in Ukraine are so bound up in Russian Orthodox identity that they will never let Ukraine go willingly. The EP felt the same about Greece. I do understand it. It doesn't make it right, though. The history is bloody, storied and complicated as you have spelled out. Also, Eastern and Western Ukraine (and everywhere in between) have VERY different historical memories. The pastoral thing to do to end the division would be for the MP to let Ukraine go. HOW that is accomplished is the question, isn't it? I think after the dust settles, the MP will realize this and do the right thing in time, whether that is recognizing the OCU or granting their own Tomos to the UOC-MP. It will take time, surely, because right now people are angry and there is a lot of political maneuvering in the mix. Many things can happen in the future. If this act is not blessed by God it will disintegrate. God will not be mocked. God willing, after the more "offensive" figures involved in this dispute leave the scene, then more healing can be done. God is in control, despite what we may do. Good can come even from our mistakes. Politics is a curse upon our Church.

  7. Indeed,God will not be mocked dear David. I see most of the shameful propaganda coming from Istanbul as they attempt to justify their created schism. The MP is not enraged. They are quite calm. They have tradition and the canons on their side. The other local Churches know it. I believe you will see many others fall out of communion with Istanbul as this progresses. The CP has been in a constant decline for the past 100 years...from Metaxakis...to Athenagoras...to the present day Bartholomew. It is time for the dead branch to be pruned.

    Be watchful.

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    2. I would only add that ANYONE who divides the body of Christ will have to answer for it, no matter which Patriarchate they hail from.

      Looking to our Bishop and Spiritual Father is the only real thing to do here, when we don't know who or what to believe. Politics and Factionalism can warp reality. Lord, have mercy.