''No one can fight back the ambitions of Constantinople except our Church''

First Vice-rector of the Kazan Orthodox Theological Seminary, hegumen Euthymius tells about the rupture of relations between the ROC and the Patriarchate of Constantinople

''No one can fight back the ambitions of Constantinople except our Church'' Photo: Roman Khasaev

The conflict between the ROC and the Patriarchate of Constantinople seems to have reached its climax. At the Holy Synod in Minsk, it was announced that the ties are broken. What does this mean for ordinary believers and for the authority of our Church? Hegumen Euthymius (Moiseyev), the first vice-rector of the Kazan Theological Seminary, senior lecturer at the Department of Religious Studies at the Kazan Federal University, answers these questions to Realnoe Vremya.

''It is probably the largest split in history''

Your Eminence, the Russian Orthodox Church has broken ties with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. On the one hand, in light of recent events, this is an expected step. On the other — still unexpected. What does this mean for our Church?

The break-up of canonical communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople means that the clergy of our Church will not be able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy together with the clergy under the jurisdiction of the Church of Constantinople. Also, our laity will not be able to take communion in the churches of this Church. Accordingly, the clergy and laity of the Patriarchate of Constantinople will not be able to participate in the sacraments performed in the churches of the Russian Orthodox Church.

It is probably the largest break-up in the history of Orthodoxy (after the Great Schism of 1054), which, of course, will be extremely painful for many Orthodox people around the world. Until this split is overcome, our believers will not be able to take communion in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris or in the New Valamo monastery in Finland, or, what is especially sad, on the Holy Mount Athos, even in the Russian Panteleimon monastery, so beloved by our pilgrims. Similarly, believers of the Church of Constantinople, in particular those belonging to the Russian Western European Exarchate, which is under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, will not be able to take communion in our churches.

''Until this split is overcome, our believers will not be able to take communion in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris or in the New Valamo monastery in Finland, or, what is especially sad, on the Holy Mount Athos, even in the Russian Panteleimon monastery, so beloved by our pilgrims.'' Photo: hristofor.org

Have there been any similar precedents in the history of the Church?

Such precedents, unfortunately, have already been in history. There was a break-up in communication, which followed the adoption of the Council of Florentine by Constantinople in 1438. It is due to this event the Russian Church began its autocephalous existence. There were also other precedents, the latest of which has occurred recently and was associated with the formation of the diocese of the Constantinople Patriarchate in Estonia in 1996. Every time the Russian Orthodox Church sought to overcome the separations in the spirit of love and brotherly kindness. But it seems that the current break-up will not be so easy to overcome, because a very serious blow has been made not just to the unity of the Church, but to the very principles of this unity. The largest split in the Orthodox world at present has been legalized, and this unleashes the hands of dissenters of all stripes. It is a very deep wound on the body of the Church. In this situation, the worst thing is that trust between the churches is undermined. In fact, the entire system of inter-Orthodox relations and international canon law, which has been created for centuries, has been destroyed. The annulment of the decision of 1686 to transfer the Kyiv metropolis to the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate as ''forcibly adopted'' raises not only bewilderment, but also suspicion that in the same way — unilaterally, without any agreements and warnings — the decision to recognize the autocephaly of the Russian Church can be cancelled simply as ''forcibly adopted''. Somehow it would be possible to understand it if Constantinople for a long time have raised the question of the return of the Kyiv metropolis to its jurisdiction, but until recently nowhere and never these claims were not voiced at the official level.

''In addition to our Church, no one can resist the ambitions of Constantinople''

How will it affect the authority of the ROC in the world? Aren't we going to be isolated?

It is obvious that now in addition to our Church, which occupies the modest fifth place in the diptych of the Orthodox Churches, but is the largest by the number of believers, no one can resist the ambitions of Constantinople. It should be understood that the decision taken by our Synod is aimed not only at protecting its canonical territory, but also at upholding the principles of inter-Church relations, since the decision of Constantinople is a challenge for the entire world Orthodoxy. As no serious issue can be resolved without the participation of Russia in the world of secular politics today, so in the Orthodox world all attempts to isolate the Russian Orthodox Church are doomed to failure. Many Churches – particularly the Serbian, Georgian and Greek Churches — have serious problems with schismatic groups, so it is obvious that the problem should be solved at the inter-Orthodox level. We need to look for ways to update the principles of unity, adequate for our time. With a great deal of confidence we can say that if the local churches do not overcome the crisis in the near future, it will gain momentum.

Will it affect the situation with our parishes in Ukraine?

Certainly, the decision of Constantinople causes anxiety and concern for the fate of our brothers in Ukraine. The hypocritical calls for peace that were made in the statement of the Synod of Constantinople, and especially in the promises of the Kiev authorities, that the rights of believers of all jurisdictions will be respected, are hard to believe: if the Ukrainian authorities have not tolerated even the fact that in some regions of the country its citizens prefer to speak in Russian, then what can be said about the guarantees of the security of those Ukrainians who wish to remain in the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate? It is obvious that the actions of Constantinople will not lead to any unity of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian people will once again be put on the brink of division, which have already been many times in its history. I hope that in the current critical situation the faithful children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will rally around their Primate, his Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry, and defend their right to be in unity with the Russian Orthodox Church.

''A reconciliation, of course, is possible if the Patriarchate of Constantinople abandons its completely unacceptable and alien to the spirit of true Christianity claims to domination in world Orthodoxy.'' Photo: patriarchate.org

Is it possible to reconcile with Constantinople?

A reconciliation, of course, is possible if the Patriarchate of Constantinople abandons its completely unacceptable and alien to the spirit of true Christianity claims to domination in world Orthodoxy. Again, the problem that has arisen concerns not only the bilateral relations between Moscow and Constantinople, but also the entire Orthodox world. Today, no one will be able to lie low — it is necessary that all the Churches clearly state their position and discuss the situation in an open dialogue at the Pan-Orthodox Council. We will pray that the unity of the Orthodox world will be restored.

By Tatyana Mamaeva
Tatarstan