By Elena Loria and Valeria Nodelman


By Elena Loria and Valeria Nodelman, Izvestia – October 15th will go down in the history of Orthodoxy as one of the blackest dates. Yesterday in Minsk at a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, it was decided to completely stop the Eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This means a break in relations between the Orthodox churches – the highest status (first in honor) of Constantinople, and the largest – the Russian.

‘I think there are no such chances during the life of Patriarch Bartholomew, but as soon as he dies, I think everything will return to normal. It is connected with his personality and political context. His connection with America is well known; in Turkey, for decades, he was supported by American presidents.  Everything that happens is connected with big geopolitics.’ – Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky

Prior to this, Christianity had two great schisms. The first occurred in 1054, when the Pope issued a bull about breaking up communication with Constantinople and all other patriarchs. As a result, the Christian church was divided into western and eastern branches – Roman Catholics and Orthodox Catholics. And in 1517, Western Christianity split into Catholics and Protestants. How the relations between local Orthodox churches will develop now will become clear soon. Each of them will have to choose with whom she is with –  Constantinople or with the Russian Orthodox Church.

“The threat of the destruction of the unity of world Orthodoxy”

According to the plan, the meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church was to end on Monday at about six o’clock in the evening. But it was delayed for another hour and a half, from which it was possible to assume that the decision was not easy.

Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR), Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, a permanent member of the Holy Synod, told journalists that “at today’s meeting of the Holy Synod, it was decided to completely break the Eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was a forced decision, but our Holy Synod could not accept any other decision, because the whole logic of the actions of the Constantinople Patriarchate led to this. ”

Metropolitan Hilarion recalled the events that pushed the Synod to such a hard step.

“A few days ago at a meeting of the Synod of Constantinople Patriarchate, decisions were made that the Patriarchate of Constantinople reinstates the leader of the Ukrainian schism, Filaret Denisenko, and the leader of another splitting group in the holy rank of the excommunicated,” the head of the DECR said.  It was decided to abolish the Act of the Constantinople Patriarchate of 1686 on the inclusion of the Kyiv Metropolis into the Moscow Patriarchate, and also decided to establish the Stavropians of the Constantinople Patriarchate in Ukraine. All these decisions from the point of view of the Russian Orthodox Church are lawless and canonically unfounded. The Russian Orthodox Church does not accept these decisions, will not follow them, the schism remains a schism, the schism leaders remain the schism leaders, and so the Church, which, recognizing schismatics, entered into communion with them, thereby excluding herself from the canonical field of the Orthodox Church. This is the main reason why we are forced to interrupt the communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople as having fully identified ourselves with the schism.

The Holy Synod decided “to recognize the continued presence with him (the Patriarchate of Constantinople -“ Izvestia ”) in eucharistic communion and intend to“ inform the fellow presidents of local Orthodox churches about the position of the Russian Orthodox Church in connection with the threat of the destruction of the unity of world Orthodoxy and urge them to jointly search for ways out of this difficult situation. ”

“After the rupture of Eucharistic communion with Constantinople, local churches will not be able to keep silent – they will have to express themselves. It is impossible to get away from this question. While many are waiting. But if two churches break up communion, then it is necessary either to choose one of the parties, or to interrupt communion with both, – Alexey Osipov, a professor at the Moscow Theological Academy, told Izvestia. – In fact, each local church will have to break the Eucharistic communion with either Constantinople or the Russian Orthodox Church. This is a very difficult situation.

But there is another point of view. The prior of the Tatiana Church of the Moscow State University, Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky, told Izvestia that the wording of the dissenters used by the Synod was “just a statement of fact.”

“This is repeated in very many Ecumenical Councils: people who enter into communication with dissenters are themselves recognized as dissenters,” Archpriest Vigilyansky explained. At the same time, according to him, there is no strict requirement for local churches to break the Eucharistic communion with Constantinople.

Aleksey Svetozarsky, Candidate of Theology, Professor, Head of the Department of Church History of the Moscow Theological Academy, believes that in this situation, an analogy can be drawn with the Orthodox Church in America.

– We are aware of the situation with the recognition by Constantinople of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America. He avoids any service with representatives of this Church, ”Alexey Svetozarsky told Izvestia. – But this situation exists for decades. We, too, will now avoid communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the hope that this measure of church influence will somehow enlighten our brothers. Now this issue will be vigorously discussed by local churches, but it is difficult for me to say what the conclusion will be.

Not pilgrims, but tourists

How will the yesterday’s decision of the Synod affect church life, priests, monks and parishioners? There are no clear answers to these questions yet. Although experts have already called a few painful moments. First of all, the difficulties will arise among the monks on Mount Athos.

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– The decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church will directly affect our monasticism on Athos. Dozens of dozens. They will find themselves in a very difficult situation, because Athos is under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople, ”Aleksey Svetozarsky explained to Izvestia. – Moreover, they are citizens of Greece. Not Turkey, of course, but we understand that inter-Greek ties are very strong. From the point of view of the Greeks, all the abodes are theirs. Whoever inhabited them. Athos is concerned about this issue.

The pilgrims will also have problems, the theologian believes.

– Our Russian, traditional presence on Athos and our pilgrimage, which has been very active in recent years, may be a big question. Constantinople controls the flow of pilgrims, allocating quotas. “There is a field for action here,” he said.

Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky adheres to the same point of view.

– Athos belongs to the Patriarch of Constantinople. And now the parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Church can only visit him as tourists, they cannot participate in prayer there, he explained. – What will happen to those who live in Russian monasteries on Mount Athos? Monasteries belong to Constantinople. People will have to decide for themselves. Either get out of there, or stay, but change the Church. But at the same time, the transfer of hierarchs or clergy from the canonical church to schismatics or entering into the Eucharistic communion with the latter is a canonical crime and entails appropriate punishments (church disciplinary punishment in Orthodoxy. – Izvestia). If our clerics communicate with dissenters, they will be banned or excommunicated.

For ordinary parishioners, stopping Eucharistic communion means that they can no longer receive communion in the churches of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. First of all it will concern those living abroad.

“For parishioners, the decision of the Synod means the impossibility of communion in the churches of the Constantinople Patriarchate,” the church historian, theologian, teacher of the Moscow Theological Academy and Sretenskaya Theological Seminary, Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin told Izvestia. – As it was previously unacceptable to do in the churches of the Philaret schism.

Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky also believes that “this trouble will affect many Russian churches in the West.”

“Basically, in France there are several temples, including the famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on Rue Daru belong to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, although it was built with the money of our tsar, but this does not matter,” he noted. – In the 1930s, during the Soviet era, they transferred to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Previously, they could receive communion there, but now not. The parishioners of these temples, too, can not pray with us.

Grand Geopolitics

Most of all, the current situation will hit the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

– The Orthodox Church in Ukraine will be in a difficult situation. “The Ukrainian authorities will put pressure on the canonical Orthodox Church, on Orthodox people, its flock and the clergy in particular,” said Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin.

Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky is also pessimistic, and he believes that there is little hope for a successful outcome in the near future.

– In past centuries, many times there have been attempts at such a split, two unions that were hosted by Constantinople – the Lyon Cathedral in the XIII century and the Ferrara-Florence Cathedral in the XV century. But then the split healed. They repented of it and came back, – he reminded. – I think there are no such chances during the life of Patriarch Bartholomew, but as soon as he dies, I think everything will return to normal. It is connected with his personality and political context. His connection with America is well known; in Turkey, for decades, he was supported by American presidents. Everything that happens is connected with big geopolitics.

Meanwhile, Professor Alexei Svetozarsky is convinced that a way out of the stalemate is still possible. There is a possibility that everything can be decided at the Pan-Orthodox Council, which the Antiochian Patriarchate calls for convening, the theologian noted.

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