Monday, March 11, 2019

Albanian Church writes to Constantinople

The Albanian Church is blessed to be led by Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana. He is - by all accounts that I have read and by people who know him - a true leader of his people and has a loving heart. I am especially pleased to see His Beatitude speak below on the limitations of economia. We, especially in the United States, have taken it to mean "guiding principles without any teeth." The things I have seen swept aside leave me breathless.

But I digress. This is a very fair letter that brings up very fair points. I still don't see how the EP is going to be maneuvered into a council over this, but there will come a day when an unrelated event is held in Constantinople and no one will come for fear of being pictured with the popularly perceived metaphorical ecclesial bed bugs that are the hierarchs of the OCU. As things stand now many Churches are taking a "Hate the sin. Love the sinner." approach where there is no suspension of communion, but no one is going to stand in a room while the sin is ongoing.

To be clear: I'm not making a judgement on the Ukrainian situation, so don't perceive the above or what is posted daily to be either an endorsement or condemnation. They are neither. Things are happening. No one is happy. I'm reporting what I can that isn't a trollish account or a grenade thrown into a crowd. Reasoned responses to the below letter appreciated. "That Perfidious Phanariot cur!" or other such invective less so.

(Orthodox Synaxis) - Your All-Holiness and Most Divine Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch, the greatly beloved in Christ God brother and concelebrant of our Mediocrity, Bartholomew, embracing Your Most Divine All-Holiness in the Lord, we affectionately greet you.

“Christ our God has appeared and has enlightened the world.” May He enlighten the perceptions, the decisions and the actions of all the Orthodox in the new year, guiding aright the Church “which He purchased with His own blood” to the path of peace.

Gathering in Synod on January 4, 2019, we thoroughly read the letter that Your Most Divine All-Holiness sent on December 24, 2018 and extensively treated the issue of granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. With sincere respect and love, as always, we summarize the assessment of the Albanian Church, chiefly with regard to the issue of the activities of the Holy Spirit.

Our criticism of the Church of Russia for refusing to take part in the Great and Holy Orthodox Council on Crete is already well-known, as well as similarly recently for hastiness in breaking Eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Specifically, in our letter (November 7, 2018) where, among other things, we pointed out to His Beatitude the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, “… Is it possible that the decision and order of the Hierarchy of the Church of Russia may cancel the energy of the Holy Spirit in the holy Orthodox churches that operate under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate? … We proclaim that it is impossible for us to agree to such decisions. It is imperative that the Holy Eucharist, this mystery of unfathomable sacredness and unique importance, remains far removed from all ecclesiastical disagreements.”

The very same distress and anguish for safeguarding the unity of the Orthodox Church obliges us to formulate a fundamental doubt about the retroactive validity of ordinations performed by a deposed, excommunicated and anathematized person. The career of the one who committed the actions in question, Mr Filaret Denysenko (the protagonist of the ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine) is revealing. Consecrated as a bishop of the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1962, he acted, among other functions, as president of its Department of External Affairs and Metropolitan of Kiev. In 1991, he sought autocephaly, not from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but from according to him the “Mother Church”, the Patriarchate of Moscow. In 1992 he was deposed, while in 1997 he was excommunicated and anathematized by the Church of Russia, an organic part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, actions that were recognized by all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.
While Filaret was deposed and excommunicated, he performed uncanonical liturgical actions, which do not constitute valid mysteries. Therefore the ordinations performed by him are non-existent, void, deprived of the divine grace of the Holy Spirit. Among them are the ordinations to deacon, priest and finally bishop of his pupil Sergei Dumenko, now Metropolitan Epiphany. In your letter from December 24, 2018, it states “… have returned them to the hierarchical and priestly ranks…” We question, nevertheless, whether the ordinations performed by Filaret, while he was excommunicated and anathematized, acquired thereafter, without canonical ordination, validity from the Holy Spirit and a genuine seal of apostolic succession.

It is recognized by all of Orthodoxy as a fundamental ecclesiological principle that the ordinations of schismatics and heretics, as “mysteries” performed outside of the Church, are invalid, so all the more so ordinations by someone who is deposed and excommunicated. We believe that this basic principle, which is inextricably tied to Orthodox teaching about the Holy Spirit, constituting an unshakeable foundation for the apostolic succession of Orthodox bishops, cannot be neglected.

It is difficult for us to understand that invalid and non-existent things are being made Spirit-bearing “by economy” and that actions constituting repeated blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (such as the invocation by the then-excommunicated Filaret, “Divine Grace… is placed into the hands… let us pray for him upon whom the grace of the Holy Spirit comes…”) are being recognized retroactively “by economy”. It is, finally, well-known that according to the recent Unifying Council, the selection and election of the new Primate of the Church of Ukraine was the result of the insistence of Filaret, who moreover today is officially called in Ukraine “His Holiness the honorary Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus-Ukraine.” After all the above, we question adding the name of Metropolitan Epiphany to the diptychs.

The expected peacemaking between Ukrainian Orthodox, who have in the past suffered various persecutions by atheistic regimes, has not yet been acheived, inasmuch as millions of Orthodox believers under Metropolitan Onufry (according to the statistics of January 2018, organized into 12,069 parishes under 90 bishops, counting 12,283 clerics, 251 monasteries and 4412 monastics) have refused to participate in the process of granting autocephaly, indeed breaking Eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, wehereas in the past the ecclesiastical pleroma of countries (Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland, Albania, Chechia and Slovakia) to which autocephaly was granted was united.

We regret that the concerns that we expressed to the three-member delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate (July 2018) as well as at our personal meeting on Crete (October 2018) have been confirmed: instead of making peace among and unifying the Orthodox of Ukraine, the unity of Orthodoxy throughout the world is threatened with division.

The predictions that the current conflict and the obvious division will last a short time and that all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches will eventually accept what has happened can only be perceived as unfounded speculation by those familiar with the history of ecclesiastical schisms and the durability of religious fanaticism. But the reassuring conjectures of some that perhaps this will take place… in the next century are rather cynical. Serious injuries that are not treated in time are not healed by time. Rather, they expand and develop into incurable wounds.

The situation existing today requires new approaches and inspired initiatives for promoting peace in Ukraine, above all for safeguarding the dangerously wounded unity of Orthodoxy. In this regard, we unshakeably believe that a solution is found in recourse to the synodality inspired by the Holy Spirit, which was stressed on Crete: “The Orthodox Church expresses her unity and catholicity “in Council”. Conciliarity pervades her organization, the way decisions are taken and determines her path” (Message of the Great and Holy Council, paragraph 1).

We still think that the Pan-Orthodox Synaxes of Primates and the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church were unique achievements of the Orthodox in recent decades, due to the tireless efforts of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of Your Most Divine All-Holiness personally. In accordance with the spirit of synodality of the Great and Holy Council, the Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church warmly requests that the Ecumenical Patriarchate, making eminent use of coordination of the Orthodox Churches, convenes as soon as possible a Pan-Orthodox Synaxis or Council in order to prevent the immanent danger of creating a painful schism that endangers the credibility of Orthodoxy and her persuasive witness to the contemporary world.

From the depths we pray and humbly supplicate that God in Trinity will guide all of our steps toward securing the unity of Orthodoxy. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

And so, embracing You with a holy kiss, we remain, with all respect and most profound love in Christ God who has appeared to us and has enlightened the world.

Tirana, January 14, 2019
Yours [literally: belonging to Your Most Divine All-Holiness],
+Anastasios of Tirana, president


  1. What we're seeing right now is the process of determining how wide the cordon sanitaire around this Ukrainian group has to be-- a couple of missteps by the EP and, in the manner you describe above, it will de facto include Constantinople.

    The arrogance of Patriarch Bartholomew's reply to this letter, which hasn't been translated yet, is breathtaking.

  2. Bartholomew preaches about humility in sermon for the beginning of lent. How ironic.


    Pat. Bart concludes:

    “it is up to you to realize the truths that have been spoken, not to ratify them, since they are already certified by Ecclesiastical Acts, but to restore righteousness according to the precious and authentic experience of the Church Fathers”

    IOW, I did it... it’s correct, now it’s up to you discover that fact because I don’t need your assent.

    1. The arrogance truly is breathtaking, as Samn! put it.

  4. "I still don't see how the EP is going to be maneuvered into a council over this, but there will come a day when an unrelated event is held in Constantinople and no one will come for fear of being pictured with the popularly perceived metaphorical ecclesial bed bugs that are the hierarchs of the OCU..."

    Good point. These various letters/communications from Serbia, Romania, etc. have to my mind served to put a spotlight just how tenuous this Church of the East's unity really is. Besides a superficial agreement around canonical integrity of process and the need for a council, none of them seem confident of their own arguments and emphasis. The age old (well, at least since the fall of the Empire) questions come back - who has the authority (and don't mean letter of the canonical law - I mean actual spiritual authority/charisma)to call a council, how (or rather who) will it be organized, who will pay for it (particularly as it would have to be long enough in duration to actually solve the problems it was called to address), etc.

    Now that Orthodoxy is living in and encountering the modern world in earnest, the natural conservatism of this Church of the East is not maintaining even the appearances of basic/minimum ecclesial unity.

  5. "But the reassuring conjectures of some that perhaps this will take place… in the next century are rather cynical. Serious injuries that are not treated in time are not healed by time. Rather, they expand and develop into incurable wounds."

    I'm very grateful for this statement, as it gives voice to my great frustration over those who have said this whole situation is no big deal because it will all get swept aside in 50-100 years. Not only is that incredibly cruel, to consign the faithful to suffering through schism for so long, but it completely ignores the reality that if that much time passes, the schism will more likely have become wider and more permanent.

    The great schism of 1054 could very easily have been viewed, at the time, as a temporary quarrel and personality conflict between Rome and Constantinople that would blow over once the right personalities came to power, but the devil is not interested in peace and while there was hope for peace in the beginning, time only widened the gap and the wound festered to the point of no return.

    History may well repeat itself if EPB doesn't have a change of heart.

  6. I understand the argument Abp Anastasios is making but doesn't this argument about valid orders apply equally to the Greek Catholics who, in various places, were received en masse into Orthodoxy, without reordinations?

  7. I think, Joseph, the principle of economia was applied. It was felt that the Greek Catholic people in question were Orthodox who had been decieved into a false union with Rome. Ukrainian and Rusyn peasants were told things such as "the Pope has become Orthodox " Up until WWII, in Czechoslovakia, Uniates were received into the church just by confession and communion. It was made clear that by receiving Holy Communion, they were joining their ancestral faith, and they couldn't go back and continue to commune in the Greek Catholic church.
    The present situation in Ukraine shows the Ecumenical Patriarch going back on his own word. I've said this before, and I'll say it again; Bartholomew could at least upheld the deposition from office of Filaret. He could have told Filaret " If you care about the good of the Ukrainian church, and for the sake of your own soul, you must live out your remaining days as a simple monk."

    1. Right, but that doesn't mean that the ordinations of the Greek Catholics were somehow more valid. If the ordinations of the Ukrainians schismatics were of no effect, how could the ordinations of the Greek Catholics be? After all, the bishops who agreed to the unions of Brest and Uzhhorod were willingly entering schism, regardless of what tales they told their flock. But centuries later their descendents are received into Orthodoxy without reordination.

  8. That was a decision at the time. The hierarchy make that call. Later circa 1970, ROCOR was trashed by the OCA for rebaptizing and reordaning an ex Greek Catholic priest who had been received in the OCA..the reasoning was that no BISHOP of the OCA received the man.
    There were also instances where ROCOR would chrismated a convert and later the Church of Greece would baptize him. Not the Old Calendar Church of Greece, but the state church( new calendar).So there has never been 100% consultancy.
    I don't consider the mysteries of the Roman Church valid, but the EP seems to think so.

  9. Let me back up; it's not what I consider that's important. I just happen to believe that the strictness exercised by ROCOR is justified. In this day and age, strictness seems appropriate.But if we hold to the extreme of some Greek Old Calendar groups, that economia can NEVER be used when receiving converts, we would have to wipe some names off the calendar of saints. St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre was not rebaptised nor reordained. Tsarina Alexandra and her sister, Grand Ducchess Elizabeth, were received from the Lutheran church by chrismation.

    1. You could reasonably argue that in the case of the Ukrainian schismatics, economy should not have been applied, and moreover it was not the EP's call to make in any case. But the Church of Albania's argument seems to be more on the lines of a general principle- that it is impossible for schismatic ordinations to be validated retroactively by economy.

    2. What seems odd to me, though maybe it shouldn't, is that the statements addressed by Albania, Antioch, etc. to the EP criticize various canonical or jurisdictional points, but they do not address the bigger, overarching issue, which is the EP's assertion of universal appellate authority as well as the sole power, outside an ecumenical council, of granting AND revoking autocephaly. Undoubtedly the hierarchs of Antioch, Albania, etc. see the danger in this but they have refrained from publicly, directly disputing it as far as I can tell.