Peter Anderson berichtet aus der orthodoxen Welt

Seit vielen Jahren verfolgt Peter Anderson aus Seattle USA die Entwicklungen in der orthodoxen Welt. Nicht im Auftrag einer Zeitung, sondern aus persönlicher Liebe zu den Ostkirchen und im Einsatz für die Communio von Ost und West gibt er Einblicke in neue Entwicklungen. Mit Zustimmung von Peter Anderson werden seine E-mail-Nachrichten auf der Homepage des Zentrums St. Nikolaus dokumentiert.

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NEWS 2020

  • 24 October 2020: Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus commemorates Epifany

    This morning, Saturday, October 24, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, primate of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, commemorated in the diptychs during a Divine Liturgy in Paphos, Cyprus, the name of Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the newly-established Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).  https://orthodoxtimes.com/archbishop-of-cyprus-commemorates-metropolitan-epifaniy-of-kyiv-for-first-time/  It is a bombshell that is echoing today throughout the Orthodox world.  It constitutes an acknowledgement that the Archbishop has recognized the OCU as an autocephalous church.  The primates of three other Local Orthodox Churches – namely the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Patriarchate of Alexandria, and the Church of Greece – have already recognized  the OCU.  It appears that Chrysostomos took this action without previously obtaining a formal decision from the Holy Synod of the Church of Cyprus.   https://www.romfea.gr/ekklisia-kyprou/40075-ektakto-o-arxiepiskopos-kuprou-mnimoneuse-ton-oukranias-epifanio  Four metropolitans of the Church of Cyprus -- Nikiforos of Kykkos , Athanasios of Limassol, Isaias of Tamasos, and Nikolaos of Amathus – later today issued a joint statement condemning the action by Chrysostomos as a blatant violation of the synodal system and calling on all bishops of the Church of Cyprus to revoke the invalid action of their primate.  https://www.romfea.gr/epikairotita-xronika/40082-i-apofasi-tou-arxiepiskopou-kuprou-apotelei-katafori-parabiasi-tou-sunodikou-sustimatos   Athanasios, Nikiforos, and Isaias have in the past been very critical of the granting of the tomos by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the OCU.  However, the four metropolitans who signed the joint statement constitute a minority on the Holy Synod of the Church of Cyprus, which consists of one archbishop (the primate), 9 metropolitans, and 7 bishops.  https://churchofcyprus.org.cy/ierarxia

    There have been prior indications that a majority of the bishops of Cyprus were in favor of recognizing the OCU.  On November 30, 2019, Metropolitan Vasilios of Constantia, chairman of synodal committee of the Church of Cyprus on Orthodox, inter-Christian, and inter-faith relations, concelebrated with a bishop of the OCU at the Phanar.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-presence-of-metropolitan-vasilios-of-constantia-during-the-co-liturgy-at-constantinople-was-very-important/  On January 6, 2020, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Kyrenia also concelebrated at the Phanar with a bishop of the OCU.  https://orthochristian.com/127065.html  It is unlikely that these two metropolitans, especially the head of the synodal committee on inter-Orthodox relations, would have concelebrated with an OCU bishop without the sense that a majority of the Holy Synod supported this action.  As you recall, Patriarch Theodoros, primate of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, recognized the OCU by commemorating Epifany in the diptychs last November without obtaining a formal decision of his Holy Synod.  However, he discussed the recognition issues with all of the bishops of the Patriarchate prior to doing so.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/letter-sent-by-patriarch-theodore-to-hierarchs-on-recognition-of-ukrainian-autocephaly/  Interestingly, last month, Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria visited Paphos (the location of the commemoration today) and met there with Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus and Metropolitan Georgios of Paphos.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/patriarch-theodore-of-alexandria-visits-cyprus-whom-he-will-meet/  Perhaps they were jointly planning today’s event.

    According to one media report, Archbishop Chrysostomos said later today that he planned to send a letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch and was willing to convene a meeting of the Holy Synod to discuss the letter after it is sent.  He predicted that a majority of the members of the Holy Synod would support the letter.  However, he acknowledged that the Synod had previously decided not to make any decision on recognition.   https://orthodoxtimes.com/archbishop-of-cyprus-my-decision-to-commemorate-metropolitan-epifaniy-first-serves-orthodoxy/ ; https://www.romfea.gr/epikairotita-xronika/40078-arxiepiskopos-kuprou-i-apofasi-mou-auti-upiretei-tin-orthodojia

    Metropolitan Hilarion has already given an interview to the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti concerning the commemoration made today by  Chrysostomos.  https://mospat.ru/ru/2020/10/24/news187453/  His answers include the following:

    We deeply regret this unfortunate event.  The decision will be made by the Holy Synod.  However, I believe that the Archbishop of Cyprus will be deleted from the diptychs of the Russian Orthodox Church, that is, his commemoration during the divine service will be terminated until all the circumstances of the incident are clarified.  This means the end of the Eucharistic communion with a specific person - not with the Cyprus Church as such.  It will be important to understand: did he do it alone or with the consent of the Synod?  The Greek media write that he did it without the consent of the Synod.

    We will continue to communicate with all bishops who do not recognize the sole decision of the Archbishop.  The Russian people have always been close to the Cypriot people, our pilgrims will continue to visit the shrines of those metropolitanates of the Cypriot Church, whose heads will remain in communion with the Russian Church.   But above all for us is the unity of our Church and the firm preservation of the dogmatic teaching and canonical tradition of Holy Orthodoxy.  The fact that individual hierarchs and even Primates of Churches violate the canons saddens us.  But we cannot and will not sacrifice Orthodoxy and the canons.  And we will firmly preserve the unity of our Church.

    On a different subject, there has been a new development relating to the discharge of full professor Rodoljub Kubat by the dean of the Orthodox Theological Faculty of the University of Belgrade, a state institution.  The Serbian Orthodox Church had withdrawn its blessing for Kubat to teach.  This subject was covered in my last news report.  [Thanks to the Zentrum St. Nikolaus für das Studium der Ostkirchen, all of my reports for the past ten years can be accessed at https://www3.unifr.ch/orthodoxia/de/dokumentation/anderson/  ]   On October 23, the Rectors' Collegium, which is apparently the governing body of the University, stated that an analysis of the provisions of the law, as well as the relevant general legal acts of the faculty, indicate that the decision of the dean of the Orthodox Theological Faculty to discharge Kubat is not in accordance with the regulations and that its execution would violate the rights of Professor Kubat.  https://www.rts.rs/page/stories/ci/story/124/drustvo/4122932/rodoljub-kubat-zabrana-rada-bogoslovski-fakultet.html  I have not yet seen a response from the Serbian Church to this latest development.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 22 October 2020: Rome, Belgrade, Minsk & other news

    Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was in Rome, October 19-22.  https://www.ecupatria.org/2020/10/21/ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-attended-the-international-meeting-of-prayer-for-peace-no-one-is-saved-alone-peace-and-fraternity/  The primary purpose of the visit was to participate in the international meeting of prayer for peace, “No One Is Saved Alone – Peace and Fraternity,” organized by the Sant’Egidio Community as well as to receive an honorary doctorate degree from the Antonianum (the pontifical university operated by the Franciscans).   On October 19, the Ecumenical Patriarch conducted a prayer service at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere (the parish church of Sant’Egidio).  A video of the entire service can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQtLn8OKOOM&feature=emb_logo  The full text of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s reflections at the service can be read in Italian at http://fanarion.blogspot.com/2020/10/blog-post_45.html?m=1. The reflections included:  “And how much better to begin our visit to Rome, if not by gathering together in prayer and giving praise and glory to our common Father who is in heaven, together with brothers whom we consider ‘friends,’ in the deepest and most evangelical sense of the term.” 

    The international meeting of prayer for peace was held on October 20.  http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/news/2020/ecumenical-prayer-meeting-in-rome.html   A video of the entire event, with excellent English commentary and translations, is found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBLL-HqzUEQ&feature=emb_logo.  The first part of the video is the prayer service of the Christian confessions.  This was held in the church of Santa Maria in Araoeli, located near Campidoglio Square and the Italian Senate.  At the same time as this service, the representatives of other faiths held their owns separate prayer services at other locations.  The second part of the event occurred in Campidoglio Square and included the Christian representatives as well as the representatives of the other faiths.  The president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, was also present and spoke.  At the end, an appeal for peace was signed, and copies of the appeal were taken by children and given to the representatives of the various nations present at the event.  Participants in the first and second parts of the event included Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Metropolitan Joseph of Western and Southern Europe (Romanian Patriarchate), Bishop Ambrose of Bogorodsk, vicar of the Patriarchal Exarch of Western Europe (Moscow Patriarchate), and others.   https://orthochristian.com/134750.html  The official English translations of the two addresses by Pope Francis and of the final appeal are available at http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20201020_omelia-pace.html .  Quotations from the address by the Ecumenical Patriarchate can be read at https://ilsismografo.blogspot.com/2020/10/vaticano-il-papa-ci-si-salva-unicamente.html 

    A video of the conferral of the honorary degree on October 21 can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tn3mcgiL7e0&feature=emb_logo.    At the ceremony, the Ecumenical Patriarch was greeted with addresses from Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Peter Turkson, and Kurt Koch.  The text of the remarks by Cardinal Koch is found at http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/it/cardinal-koch/2020/saluti-e-messaggi/greeting-at-conferral-of-honorary-degree-on-ecumenical-patriarch.html .  The Ecumenical Patriarch in his address stressed that “our church was a pioneer in initiatives on critical global questions like the care of creation and social justice.”  https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/franciscan-university-honors-patriarch-theological-work-ecology   Today, October 22, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew met with Pope Francis for 50 minutes.  https://www.romereports.com/en/2020/10/22/pope-francis-and-the-ecumenical-patriarch-meet-for-50-minutes/    Today is also the 29th anniversary of the election of Bartholomew as Ecumenical Patriarch.

    In Serbia, tensions have been growing between Prof. Dr. Ivanka Popović, rector of the University of Belgrade (a State university), and Prof. Dr. Zoran Ranković, dean of the University’s Orthodox Theological Faculty.   These tensions, which have not received much attention on the Internet, raise some interesting questions regarding the relationship between a church and a state university.  Ranković was recently interviewed concerning the remarks by the rector of the University who had stated that the time has come to consider the question of whether the Faculty should continue to be part of the University.  http://www.spc.rs/sr/prof_dr_zoran_rankovitsh_napadaju_fakultet_progonetshi_crkvu_rektorka_gura_univerzitet_u_politichki  Ranković maintains that all of the actions taken by the Serbian Orthodox Church with respect to the Facility are totally consistent with the statute governing the Faculty.  It appears that much of the dispute relates to the Church removing various members of the Faculty.  The background of this was described in an English-language article by Rodoljub Kubat, a layman and a full professor at the Faculty.  https://publicorthodoxy.org/2020/05/07/silencing-theologians-in-serbia/#more-6798  According to Kubat, the Holy Synod of the Serbian Patriarchate withdrew its blessing for two Faculty members, Professor Bishop Maksim (Vasiljević) and Lecturer Marko Vilotić, to teach at the Faculty.  When the then rector of the Faculty, Bishop Ignatije (Midić), explained to the Synod that removing the two teachers would violate the laws of the Republic of Serbia and of the University of Belgrade, the Synod asked that Bishop Ignatije be replaced as dean after which Bishop Ignatije resigned and was replaced by Ranković.    The latest development is that it has now been announced that Kubat himself has been dismissed at the request of the Patriarchate.  http://www.politika.rs/scc/clanak/464548/Profesor-Rodoljub-Kubat-dobio-otkaz-na-bogoslovskom-fakultetu  The rector of the University has stated that this is “a very bad thing” and that as a full professor, Kubat had an employment contract to work indefinitely.  Kubat has not accepted the dismissal and continues to teach.  I am not in a position to say who is right or wrong in this situation.  However, it does raise questions relating of tenure and academic freedom for Orthodox theologians at a state institution. 

    In Belarus, Metropolitan Veniamin has attracted considerable media attention by stating in response to a question in Grodno that there is no need to sing the hymn “Mighty God” ("Магутны Божа") as it “divides our society”.  https://www.kp.by/online/news/4047447/  The hymn is popular among the protesters.  I previously posted a video of Orthodox priests in Grodno singing the hymn on the steps of the Orthodox cathedral.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOOaJG0SKVg  Subsequently, Father Sergy Lepin, spokesperson for the Belarusian Orthodox Church, stated that the remarks by Metropolitan Veniamin were not a categorical ban on singing the hymn, but rather that it should not be sung in a worship context.  https://www.facebook.com/sergy.lepin  On October 21, the new Vatican’s apostolic nuncio to Belarus, Archbishop Ante Jozić, presented his credentials to Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Aleinik.  https://www.mfa.gov.by/be/press/news_mfa/be811fb57c32797c.html  Catholic Archbishop Kondrusiewicz of Minsk, who has been barred by the Belarus government from reentering Belarus, has met in Rome with Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Richard Gallagher.  According to the website of the Catholic Church in Belarus, the Holy See is making every effort to rectify the situation involving the exile.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12356-artsybiskup-tadevush-kandrusevich-sustreusya-z-vatykanskimi-ierarkhami  In Rome, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz gave an interview in which he stated:  “Belarus’ situation is challenging, but I am more preoccupied with some slogans I hear around that say: ‘We remember, we do not forgive.’ This is not a Christian way of thinking.”   https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/archbishop-kondrusiewicz-reconciliation-is-crucial-in-belarus-40655  The quoted slogan has been used by some of protesters in their marches.

    With respect to Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky met at the Phanar with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on October 16.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/ukrainian-president-visits-ecumenical-patriarchate/  The Ukrainian president invited the Ecumenical Patriarch to visit Ukraine on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the independence of the Ukrainian state which will be celebrated on August 24, 2021.  Bartholomew expressed the hope that the visit will occur when the pandemic has abated.  In response to this news, Father Nikolai Danilevich, deputy head of the DECR of the UOC (MP), has remarked that this meeting may negatively affect the political ratings of Zelensky and his Servant of the People party.  https://spzh.news/en/news/75196-spiker-upc-schitajet-chto-zelenskij  He stated that the members of the UOC-MP, who overwhelmingly supported Zelensky in the 2019, were “very wary of this meeting.”  The election for local offices will be held in Ukraine this Sunday.

    There has been much media attention given to remarks made by Pope Francis in a documentary film released in Rome on October 21.  In the remarks, the Pope endorses the creation of civil union (not marriage) laws for same-sex couples.  The following are two informed articles discussing the remarks in the film.  https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-calls-for-civil-union-law-for-same-sex-couples-in-shift-from-vatican-stance-12462; https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2020/10/pope-has-history-of-defending-marriage-but-being-open-to-some-civil-unions/    It remains to be seen whether the Vatican will give further details with respect to the Pope’s views on this topic.  However, it is extremely unlikely that the Pope intends in any way to call into question the view, always held by the Catholic Church, that homosexual acts are sinful.

    In other news, Metropolitan Hilarion (Moscow Patriarchate) met with Patriarch John of Antioch in Damascus on October 21.  https://mospat.ru/ru/2020/10/21/news187383/  The full text of Cardinal Kurt Koch’s address, Ecumenical Exchange of Gifts between East and West, delivered at a meeting of Pro Oriente in Salzburg on October 7 can be read at http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/cardinal-koch/2020/conferences/oekumenischer-austausch-von-gaben-zwischen-ost-und-west.html.   The following article purports to give some insights into the reasons why the metropolitans of Boston and New Jersey were disciplined by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/elpidophoros-the-phanar-show-that-they-want-to-stop-any-attempt-to-create-an-unhealthy-climate-in-us/  The following is the official announcement of the results of the October 12 meeting of the Synod of the Archdiocese of America.  https://www.goarch.org/-/new-archdiocese-charter-update-2020 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 9 October 2020: Big announcement from Constantinople & other news

    The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate met October 6-8 at the patriarchal monastery in Valoukli, which is a part of Istanbul.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-holy-synod-of-the-ecumenical-patriarchate-meets-for-the-second-day-what-are-the-decisions-of-the-first-day/  On the final day of the meeting, a surprising and extremely important decision was made.  The complete English text of the decision can be read at https://www.goarch.org/-/ecumenical-patriarchate-communiqu--october-2020.  The decision accomplished the following: (1) the existing Charter of the Archdiocese of America was suspended with the objective of preparing a new Charter; (2) Metropolitan Methodios of Boston was placed “under a penance of suspension until the Feast of Christmas, on account that he had fallen into canonical transgressions;” (3) Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey was removed from the Eparchy of New Jersey and Archbishop Elpidophoros of America was made Patriarchal Vicar of the Eparchy.  To date there has been no official explanation for these actions, but there has, of course, been speculations on the Internet.  Today, October 9, Archbishop Elpidophoros issued a statement.  The full text is posted at https://www.goarch.org/news/archdiocese/-/asset_publisher/pTEM6Ar2qunr/content/new-vision-2020?_101_INSTANCE_pTEM6Ar2qunr_languageId=en_US .  He states that the drafting of a new Charter is “a wonderful opportunity to rebuild the Church in America from the ground up” and that “we will develop and complete a new plan with new perspectives on Orthodoxy in America for the next 100 years.”  The Archbishop also announces the he “has convened an extraordinary teleconference of the Holy Eparchial Synod [composed of the metropolitans heading the Patriarchate’s eparchies in the US] on Monday, October 12, 2020, in order to evaluate these new decisions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”

    It is very likely that the three aspects of the decision are interrelated and involve the relationships between the Archbishop and the metropolitans in the United States.  It is likely that the Holy Synod imposed discipline on the two metropolitans because it believed that the two metropolitans did not sufficiently respect the role of the Archbishop.  Time will tell whether this is actually the reason for the decision.  Time will also tell how the faithful in the United States will react to this decision from Constantinople.

    One of first day of the Synod’s October meeting, the Synod considered a possibly similar problem relating to the Orthodox Church of Finland, an autonomous (but not autocephalous) church under the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  This involved tensions between Archbishop Leo, the head of the Finnish Church, and his two metropolitans.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/holy-synod-of-ecumenical-patriarchate-meets-holy-synod-of-church-of-finland-meets-for-first-time-in-phanar/  The tensions had been previously reported in some stories in the Finnish media.  See, for example https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11368802 (criticism by Metropolitan Arsen concerning the time spent by Archbishop Leo on the Karelian Language Society).   In meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch and with the Holy Synod, the archbishop and metropolitans were apparently able to reach a resolution.  https://ort.fi/uutishuone/2020-10-07/myonnamme-tehtyja-virheita  (the archbishop and the two metropolitans resolve “to meeting more often, discussing together, reflecting on our church issues together, and resolving disagreements together”);  https://ort.fi/uutishuone/2020-10-07/emme-muodosta-arkkipiispaa-vastustavaa-leiria  (the two metropolitans deny media reports that they are seeking the removal of Archbishop Leo).

    Turning to the subject of North Macedonia, the newspaper National Herald has published the response that it received from the Ecumenical Patriarchate concerning the Patriarchate’s current position following the recent requests by the president and prime minister of North Macedonia for autocephaly for the church in Skopje.  The full text of the response in Greek is posted at https://www.ekirikas.com/omogeneia_ekklisia_ypoloipos_ellinismos/arthro/den_tithetai_thema_aytokefalias_ton_skopion_dilonei_to_fanari_ston_e_k-940328/  The response includes the statement that “at this moment, the question of the autocephaly of the Church of Skopje is not raised, but that of the healing of a schism, for which all have a sacred duty, especially the Mother Church of Constantinople….”  There is also the statement:  “On January 17, 2020, it [the Ecumenical Patriarchate] invited this sister Church [Serbia] to send its delegation from North Macedonia, including the Archbishop of Ohrid John, to the Phanar to have conversations with it [the Ecumenical Patriarchate] and the representation of the Church of Skopje, but the Church of Serbia has not yet responded, which is why the Ecumenical Patriarchate has sent her [the Serbian Patriarchate] a new invitation on this subject, communicating at the same time the aforementioned letters from Their Excellencies [president and prime minister of North Macedonia].” 

    Turning to the subject of Belarus, the highly-regarded Catholic journalist, John L. Allen Jr., has conducted a very interesting interview of Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States.  In the interview, there is an extensive discussion by Archbishop Gallagher concerning his recent meetings in Minsk with the Belarus government.  https://cruxnow.com/interviews/2020/10/vatican-not-optimistic-exiled-belarus-archbishop-will-return/  From the comments by Archbishop Gallagher, it is clear that Catholic Archbishop Kondrusiewicz of Minsk is not being allowed to return to Belarus because of his prior criticism of the Lukashenko government with respect to the protests.  According to Gallagher, the Belarus government “find[s] it very difficult to accept any form of political activism on behalf of the clergy.”  Archbishop Gallagher pointed out to the Belarus representatives the many places in the world where Catholic prelates have been critical of governments, but the Belarus representatives were not persuaded.  Archbishop Gallagher stated:  “We tried to argue that it was in the interests of everybody, church and state, that he [Archbishop Kondrusiewicz] be allowed to return to the country.  They [the Belarus government] do not share that opinion, and I’m not overly optimistic that they’re going to move on that one.”

    On October 3, Metropolitan Veniamin, Orthodox Exarch of Belarus, consecrated a new church in the Minsk district.  Construction of the new church had been financed by Russian billionaire Mikhail Gutseriyev (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_Gutseriyev).   President Lukashenko arrived at the church after the services had been completed.  (One blogger commented that the Metropolitan and the parishioners had to wait two hours for the arrival of the President.)  It was the first time that Lukashenko had met Veniamin since the latter was elected Exarch.  The President was greeted warmly by the Metropolitan at the entrance of the church.  The President gave the Metropolitan a bouquet of flowers and an icon, and the Metropolitan reciprocated by giving the President an icon, which the President in turn gave to the parish.  Lukashenko, Veniamin, and Gutseriyev then spoke before microphones and many cameras.  The state news agency Belta subsequently posted a 5-minute video and photos of the encounter.  https://eng.belta.by/president/view/lukashenko-visits-new-church-in-minsk-district-133963-2020/  There appears to have been no private meeting between Lukashenko and Veniamin.  All of this was probably a “photo opportunity” arranged by Lukashenko.  In my opinion, it would be unfair to consider this meeting as approval by Veniamin of Lukashenko’s recent actions, as it is certainly to be expected that Metropolitan Veniamin would be gracious and polite to the visitor.

    On the afternoon of October 6, Catholic Archbishop Antonio Mennini met with Metropolitan Veniamin at the latter’s residence.  From all reports, it was a very friendly and warm meeting.   http://www.church.by/news/mitropolit-veniamin-vstretilsja-s-vatikanskim-diplomatom-arhiepiskopom-antonio-mennini; http://ilsismografo.blogspot.com/2020/10/bielorussia-mons-antonio-mennini.html  Interestingly, Sergei Aleinik, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Belarus, was also present at the meeting.  Aleinik had been involved in the Minsk visit of Archbishop Gallagher last month.  He had greeted the Vatican delegation at the Minsk Airport on their arrival and also met with the delegation later at the nunciature.   Presumably, he was invited to the October 6 meeting by Archbishop Mennini.  Perhaps the motive was to show to the government that the meeting had the innocent purpose of improving relations between the two churches.   At the meeting, Archbishop Mennini conveyed to the new exarch congratulations from Pope Francis.  It was agreed at the meeting that the two Churches must cooperate at all levels for the good of Belarus and society.

    Archbishop Mennini, who was previously nuncio to the Russian Federation and who has excellent relations with the Orthodox Church, was part of the Vatican delegation led by Archbishop Gallagher and has subsequently been staying at the nunciature in Minsk until the arrival of the new nuncio, Archbishop Ante Jozić.  It has now been announced that Archbishop Jozić will be arriving in Belarus on Sunday, October 11.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12309-u-belarus-prybyvae-apostalski-nuntsyj-ante-jozich 

    Today, Sergei Gavrilov, head of the Russian State Duma Committee responsible for religious organizations claimed:  “Polish Catholic priests in Belarus do not understand and do not realize that they are becoming an instrument in the hands of non-Christian forces that are trying to use the religious factor as a tool for seizing power.”  https://ria.ru/20201009/katoliki-1579116008.html 

    Perhaps due in part to the urging of Russia, there has been some movement on the creation of a new constitution for Belarus.  The House of Representatives of the Belarus National Assembly has announced that the public will have until October 25 to submit proposals for amending the Belarus Constitution.  https://eng.belta.by/society/view/belarusians-submit-about-350-proposals-on-constitutional-reform-in-three-days-133987-2020/ 

    In Moscow, Franciscan father Nikolai Dubinin, an ethnic Russian, was ordained a bishop on Sunday, October 4.  A very nice article describing the ordination can be read at http://www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=4&id=90839 .  A video of the entire service can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJljSR5FKmc&t=4685s.  The new bishop also gave an interesting interview to RIA Novosti.  https://ria.ru/20201003/katoliki-1578150838.html  Included in his answers was the following:  “Therefore, the challenge for the Catholic Church in Russia is, being a relatively small community, to make its positive and constructive contribution to the life of society, to be its integral part.  ‘Let us hasten to do good’ - this is my episcopal motto, and I consider this a real call for our Church….We did not have and do not intend to ‘catholicize Russia.’”

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 1 October 2020: Russian statements concerning the Catholic Church in Belarus & other news

    Today, October 1, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti posted an article entitled, “The Russian Orthodox Church fears a confrontation between Catholics and Orthodox in Belarus.”  https://ria.ru/20201001/belorussiya-1578035703.html  The article is based on the observations made by Alexander Schipkov , First Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Synodal Department for Church Relations with Society and the Media.  A biography of Schipkov, who is well-known in Russia, is  found at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/4347648.html.  In the article, Schipkov focuses on a statement made two days ago by the director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, concerning the Catholic Church in Belarus.  Schipkov asserts that Naryshkin’s statement “is absolutely consistent with the situation that is developing in Belarus today.”

    The complete statement by Naryshkin, posted on the website of the press bureau of the Foreign Intelligence Service on September 29, can be read in Russian at http://svr.gov.ru/smi/2020/09/o-situatsii-v-belorussii-2.htm.  An English translation of most of the statement can be read at http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=dujour&div=254 .  The statement includes the following:

    “According to available data, the U.S. has also been interfering unceremoniously in the religious situation in Belarus, seeking to make representatives of the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity clash with one another.  By trying to draw the Vatican, which has so far exercised restraint, into Belarusian affairs, the Americans are working to get Catholic priests more actively involved in anti-government protests.  The clergy of the Roman Catholic Church are being exhorted to criticize openly Belarusian authorities and use religious events, including sermons, prayer services and processions, to carry out the political opposition propaganda among the flock.

    The Americans' plan is that this should force Minsk to take tougher countermeasures in regard to the Roman Catholic Church.  According to available data, the extremist opponents of the current Belarusian authorities, who are now hiding abroad, are hatching a plan for a high-profile provocation where an authoritative Roman Catholic priest would be arrested, or even injured or killed.  They calculate that this would substantially raise anti-government sentiments among Catholics and spur them into more active involvement in street protests."

    On the evening of September 29, the Catholic Church in Belarus through its vicar general Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky emphatically denied the statement by Naryshkin.  During an evening Mass, the Bishop stated:  “This is complete nonsense, fake news, lies that have nothing to do with the truth.”  In an interview after the Mass, he denied that instructions of a political nature are given to Catholic priests in Belarus.  He also stated that he did not see any tensions between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the current events in Belarus.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12263-biskup-yuryj-kasabutski-abverg-infarmatsyyu-pra-vykarystanne-kastsjola-belarusi-palitychnykh-metakh; http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15898 (English article)

    Today’s comments by Alexander Schipkov make no reference to the denials by Bishop Kasabutsky, although the RIA article gives a link to Kasabutsky’s denials.  Schipkov does state that “every effort must be made to prevent religious organizations from being drawn into a political confrontation so that the political confrontation does not turn into a religious one.”  According to the article, Schipkov said that his acquaintances, Belarusian Catholics, ordinary parishioners of churches, say that they are under pressure, trying to draw them into political action and that it is very unpleasant for them, because they understand what it can lead to.  The article quotes Schipkov as saying:  “They understand that they are under attack and are trying in every possible way to avoid this situation.  Naryshkin is absolutely right: the Americans deliberately expose the Catholics - they do not protect them, their task is to escalate the situation to the limit, and then say: look what is going on there.”  Lastly, Schipkov states the Belarusian people remember the “atrocities” that accompanied the “forced transfer to Uniatism” in 16th and 17th centuries.  He contends that the planned commemoration in 2023 of the 400th anniversary of the death of the “Uniate” bishop Iosaphat Kuntsevich, who he alleges ordered the removal of dead Orthodox believers from their graves and forbid their reburial,  can only provoke increased tensions in Belarus between believers.  [Josaphat is honored by the Catholic Church as a saint and is buried in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome]  It appears that Schipkov believes that the current political situation in Belarus has the potential of making  tensions between Catholics and Orthodox even greater.

    One wonders if Schipkov’s comments are made in his official capacity as first deputy chairman of the synodal department responsible for relations to the media or are merely an expression of his own personal views.  It would seem that his comments would encourage one to believe that Bishop Kasabutsky is not being truthful in his strong denials.  Schipkov’s comments would also lead one to suspect that critical statements made by Catholic clergy in Belarus simply reflect a scheme by the United States.

    At the same Mass at which Bishop Kasabutsky made reference to “fake news,” Kasabutsky also referred to the protests.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12262-mihaniolhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCqYxJSpxyQ (video of the entire Mass)   The Bishop stated:  “When peaceful rallies take place, people come out with peaceful passion - no one comes out with anger.  And those people who are called to be the guarantors of our peace, so that when we go outside, we are not afraid that someone will attack us, today, unfortunately, perform a slightly different function.  Today, on the contrary, they are attacking peaceful people.  We see a lot of these situations today, we see this injustice…”  Interestingly, the German Catholic Bishops holding their assembly in Fulda, issued a statement on September 24 which can also be construed as criticism of the Lukashenko government.  https://www.dbk.de/fileadmin/redaktion/diverse_downloads/presse_2020/2020-150a-HVV-Fulda-Pressebericht-Anlage-1-Solidaritaetsadresse-der-deutschen-Bischoefe.pdf   Their statement included the following:  “Our solidarity goes out to those who work for national renewal and freedom.  The right to demonstrate is a human right and violence against peaceful demonstrators must be avoided.  Unjust prisoners must be given their freedom again.  We demand that the Metropolitan of the Catholic Church of Belarus can return to his homeland and to the faithful entrusted to him.”

    As you may recall, the Holy Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Church on August 15 issued an appeal which “categorically condemned… groundless detention.”  The Synod’s appeal also stated:  “We believe and hope that the country's leadership, which is rightfully called upon to respect and protect its people, will stop the violence, hear the voices of the offended and innocent victims during the period of confrontation, and that those who committed atrocity and cruelty – brought to a court of law and convicted.”  http://www.church.by/news/obrashenie-sinoda-belorusskoj-pravoslavnoj-cerkvi-k-narodu-respubliki-belarus-o-prekrashenii-narodnogo-protivostojanija  The Vatican’s statement at the UN on September 18 included the following:  In the search for a peaceable solution to the current crisis, the Holy See considers it indispensable that demonstrators present their requests in a peaceful way.  It is also necessary that governing authorities exercise restraint and listen to the voices of their citizens and remain open to their just aspirations, assuring full respect for their civil and human rights.  https://nuntiusge.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/HRC-45th-Session-Special-Debate-on-Belarus.pdf  The principles stated by the two Churches seem to be consistent.  However, there does appear to be a difference in the application of these common principles.  The Catholic bishops, such as Bishop Kasabutsky, apply these principles to the specific situations and thereby criticize the Lukashenko government, while it appears that the Belarusian Orthodox Church prefers to avoid open criticism of the government presumably because it considers that such criticism involves the Church in politics and divides the faithful.  Since Metropolitan Veniamin has become exarch of Belarus, I have seen no statements by him critical of the Lukashenko government.

    On September 16, Cardinal Pietro Parolin performed in Croatia the episcopal ordination Msgr. Ante Jozić, who will be the new apostolic nuncio to Belarus.  After the ordination, Archbishop Jozić gave an interview to Croatian Catholic Radio.  https://ika.hkm.hr/papa-franjo/razgovor-nadbiskup-mons-ante-jozic-radim-za-svetu-stolicu-na-jedinstvu-krscana-ali-uvijek-cu-ostati-hrvat-i-dio-ovoga-naroda/  With respect to the position of the Catholic Church in Croatia, he stated in part:  “The Catholic Church will not enter politics, nor is it my task to talk about it, it will be up to each nation to decide for itself, to opt for the government it wants, current or otherwise, we will not interfere in that.  And it is not good for the Church to enter politics and engage politically for or against one option.  Why?  The church must be open to all, to all believers.   If the Church, or their leaders, opt for one person or another, then comes the division of believers.  Because not all believers think the same.”  To me, this comment by Archbishop Jozić sounds like Metropolitan Veniamin.  On the other hand, Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s DECR, has stated:  “The Church should draw the authorities’ attention to infringements that take place, to facts of oppression, to violations of law and order, but to take sides in the conflict, to say, ‘we support the authorities’ or ‘we support the opposition, this or that political party’ – this is what members of the Church, at least clergymen, must not do.”   https://mospat.ru/en/2020/09/07/news186340/  

    The Orthodox Theological Seminary in Minsk has posted an interesting article concerning the visit of Archbishop Antonio Mennini to the Seminary on September 26.  https://minds.by/news/news_minds/ispolnyayushhij-obyazannosti-rektora-vstretilsya-s-arhiepiskopom-antonio-mennini#.X3ZoKmhKibh  As you recall, Archbishop Gallagher and the Vatican delegation returned to Rome from Minsk on September 14.  From the article, it is apparent that Archbishop Mennini has remained in Minsk and will perhaps be there until the new nuncio arrives.

    When Cardinal Pietro Parolin was in Croatia, he was interviewed by the Catholic weekly, Glas Koncila, and was asked about the prospects of the canonization of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac.  https://www.glas-koncila.hr/kardinal-pietro-parolin-drzavni-tajnik-svete-stolice-da-kanonizacija-kardinala-stepinca-bude-trenutak-zajednistva-za-citavu-crkvu/   Cardinal Parolin explained that a canonization should be “a moment of communion for the whole Church, not a cause of conflict or opposition” and that this  “requires patience on the part of the Church in Croatia.”  In this regard, Cardinal Parolin stated:  “The Pope's position is well known that dialogue is the only instrument that enables differences to be overcome and different points of view to be reconciled.”  Referring to the Commission established by the Croatian Catholic Church and the Serbian Patriarchate to examine the life of Cardinal Stepinac, Cardinal Parolin observed:  “One phase of that dialogue was achieved and did not achieve any particular result because the views did not converge.  But I believe this is the path to be taken with a renewed will.  At the end of the meetings, the desire was expressed for the dialogue to continue, so we hope that this will come true and bear fruit.”   All of this indicates that, at least under Pope Francis, the canonization of Cardinal Stepinac will not occur as long as the Serbian Orthodox Church strenuously objects.  Although I have not seen a reaction by the Serbian Orthodox Church to this interview, it is very likely that the Church is pleased by the position taken by Pope Francis on this matter.

    Last year, President Vucic of Serbia stated that he would like Pope Francis to visit Belgrade, but that the visit depended on the consent of the Serbian Orthodox Church.  https://www.serbianmonitor.com/en/vucic-meets-with-pope-francis/  Pope Francis has met with almost all of the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches, but he has not yet met with Patriarch Irinej of Serbia.  One wonders now about the possibility of the a joint visit by Pope Francis to Croatia and Serbia with a message of reconciliation between Serbs and Croats and with a possible visit to Jasenovac. 

    In Rome, Catholicos Karekin II of Armenia was scheduled to meet with Pope Francis on Monday, but this was impossible due to the need of the Catholicos to rush back to Armenia Sunday afternoon following the news of the hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh.  In view of this, Pope Francis agreed to meet with the Catholicos on Sunday morning instead.  http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/news/2020/2020-09-28-papa-francesco-incontra-il-patriarca-karekin-ii.htmlhttps://www.armenianchurch.org/index.jsp?sid=3&nid=4411&y=2020&m=8&d=27   Relations between the two churches were discussed, but it appears that the hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh were the principal focus of the meeting.  At noon on Sunday, Pope Francis in his Angelus address stated:  “I pray for peace in the Caucasus and I ask the parties in conflict to perform concrete acts of good will and brotherhood, that may lead to resolve the problems not with the use of force and arms, but through dialogue and negotiation.  Let us pray together in silence for peace in the Caucasus.”  http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2020/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20200927.html   The Catholicos gave a short interview to the ACI Stampa news agency before his departure from Rome.  https://www.acistampa.com/story/papa-francesco-incontra-il-catholicos-armeno-karekin-ii-abbiamo-pregato-per-la-pace-15093  He stated that the “meeting was very cordial, as always in the past, and we ended it by praying together for the restoration of peace.”

    The foregoing ACI article states that Father Hyacinthe Destivelle O.P. from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was also present at the meeting between the two primates.  Father Hyacinthe can also be seen in one of the photos.  Since the first of the year, Father Hyacinthe has been responsible at the Pontifical Council for relations with the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Antiochian Syrian, Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Malankara Syrian).  From 2013 to 2019, Father Hyacinthe was responsible at the Pontifical Council for the Slavic Orthodox churches.  A commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches was established in 2003 and has held a plenary session every year since that time.  This dialogue has proceeded much faster than the Orthodox – Catholic international dialogue.  See http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/dialoghi/sezione-orientale/chiese-ortodosse-orientali/commissione-mista-internazionale-per-il-dialogo-teologico-tra-la.html   Hopefully, with the talents of Father Hyacinthe (who is now co-secretary of the Catholic – Oriental Orthodox Commission), the dialogue will yield even more fruit in the future.

    Finally, Catholics participated in the laying of the foundation stone of the first Orthodox monastery in Austria.  https://panorthodoxsynod.blogspot.com/2020/09/foundation-stone-ceremony-for-orthodox.html   Also, a video of the recent address by Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros of America on the subject, “The Future of Orthodox-Catholic Relations in the U.S.A,”  has been posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F24Bzwby030&t=978s .

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 24 September 2020: Church in Montenegro works wonders & other news

    The newly-constituted parliament of Montenegro met today (September 23) for the first time since the August 30 parliamentary elections.  https://balkaninsight.com/2020/09/23/montenegro-parliament-elects-speaker-from-former-opposition-ranks/ It was an historic occasion.  It was the first time in 30 years that a majority of the parliament was not controlled by the Democratic Party of Socialists  and its coalition partners.  The new majority (41 of a total of 81 parliamentary seats) consists of three opposition coalitions:  “For the Future of Montenegro” (headed by Zdravko Krivokapić ); “Peace is our Nation” (headed by Aleksa Bečić); and “Black on White” (headed by Dritan Abazović ).  At today’s session, Bečić was elected speaker of the parliament.  The three coalitions also agreed that they would propose Krivokapić  as prime minister.  Under Montenegrin law, today was the very last day for the three coalitions to form a government.

    However, as of two days ago, the three coalition partners had not been able to reach agreement on these two critical positions.  What happened to break the deadlock?  The key event appears to be a meeting held yesterday by Krivokapić, Abazović, and other political leaders with Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bishop Joanikije at the famous Ostrog Monastery.  https://rs.sputniknews.com/regioni/202009221123442605-amfilohije-okupio-lidere-gde-je-zapelo-oko-formiranja-vlasti-u-crnoj-gori-/  It is reported that Metropolitan Amfilohije had organized the meeting to break the deadlock. https://www.cdm.me/politika/amfilohije-demantovao-gojka-perovica-spc-sastavlja-vladu/  From the results, it appears that he was successful.  Today, Krivokapić stated that the perception that Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bishop Joanikije were there to form the new government in Montenegro was wrong and that the two bishops did not propose specific names.  https://radiotrebinje.com/vijest/za-krivokapica-41-potpis-podrske/  In the face of some criticism today, Abazović defended holding a political meeting at a monastery.  https://www.rtvbn.com/cirilica/3992459/sa-zadovoljstvom-sam-bio-na-sastanku-pod-ostrogom   Although the decisions relating to the two key positions have been made, the three coalition partners still have other appointments and important issues that will need to be resolved between them.

    Until earlier this year, Zdravko Krivokapić, who will be the new prime minister, was a professor of mechanical engineering.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zdravko_Krivokapi%C4%87   He entered politics, perhaps with the encouragement of Metropolitan Amfilohije, because of his opposition to Montenegro’s new law on religion.   On the night of the election, after hearing the results, Krivokapić immediately went to Metropolitan Amfilohije to ask for his blessing.  A short video of their emotional encounter can be seen at  https://orthochristian.com/133684.html .

    All of this demonstrates the high regard in which Metropolitan Amfilohije is held by many and his great influence in Montenegro.  Although the Metropolitan may not have suggested at yesterday’s meeting the persons to fill various positions, his role as a mediator was undoubtedly important.  Yesterday, the Orthodox bishops of Montenegro issued a letter to the people of Montenegro.  It included the following:  “We owe special gratitude and congratulations to all citizens of Montenegro who heard the cry of the Church and after 75 years freely voted against the totalitarianism of those who adopted a law that intended to endanger the being of the Church, its spiritual and material heritage and to plunder church property.”  They also appealed “to all participants in the election process to show wisdom and responsibility to the end, and after winning the elections to form the Assembly and Government, expecting from them a spirit of self-sacrifice, solidarity and mutual understanding and to be aware of the historical significance, the efforts and sacrifices that our people have invested in this victory.”  https://mitropolija.com/2020/09/22/episkopski-savjet-apelujemo-na-sve-ucesnike-izbornog-procesa-da-do-kraja-pokazu-mudrost-i-odgovornost/ 

    In Belarus, Metropolitan Veniamin has been stressing that the Orthodox Church in that country should not be involved in politics.  As mentioned in my last report, Metropolitan Veniamin was in Grodno beginning Sunday.  Yesterday, it was reported that Mother Gabriela, who gave a very anti-protest address at the Women’s Forum in Minsk on September 17, asked forgiveness from anyone hurt or offended by her address.  This apology was posted on the official website of the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC).  http://church.by/news/igumenija-gavriila-izvinilas-pered-vsemi-kogo-zadelo-ee-vystuplenie-na-zhenskom-forume-za-belarus?fbclid=IwAR2PgS-EHVIRWJYT-jLDOCtcCrDYnbYGmzSCD22jw1OKQiWCsQebzN4RbZg  In a statement posted on the website of her monastery, Mother Gabriela stated in addition to the apology:  “ Every letter and every word was written by me and was emotionally expressed in an outburst of heartfelt emotion and pain because of the events in the country and addressed to those who, voluntarily or involuntarily, contribute to the destruction of their House - their homeland.  Let us help each other, let us strive for peace, harmony and love, following the example of the Monk Euphrosyne of Polotsk, Sophia of Slutsk and other saints in the land of Belarus glorified.”  http://obitel-grodno.by/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=152 

    On the steps of the Grodno Cathedral, Metropolitan Veniamin stated to some of the faithful:  “And do not collect any signatures, on either side…No signatures, no oppositions.”  https://reform.by/165869-mitropolit-veniamin-zapretil-sbor-podpisej-protiv-arhiepiskopa-v-grodno (includes video of the Metropolitan making the remarks).  He was referring to two different petitions being circulated in Grodno – one to dismiss Archbishop Artemy because of his remarks sympathetic to the protesters and one attacking Mother Gabriela because of her remarks made at the Women’s Forum against the protesters.   Metropolitan Veniamin also had a meeting with Archbishop Artemy and the priests of the Grodno diocese and answered questions.  https://www.orthos.org/news/2020/09/22/mitropolit-veniamin-posetil-grodno-arhipastyrskim-vizitom   In response to what is happening today in Belarus, he stressed that the Church has already expressed its firm position in the statements of the Synod of the BOC and the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.  He also urged everyone to think about how to calm and comfort the souls of parishioners while fulfilling their pastoral duty.  Presumably, the Metropolitan was encouraging the Archbishop and his priests not to go beyond those synodal statements in their remarks to the public.

    In the Catholic world, the German bishops at their September 22-24 session in Fulda were expected to discuss a document, “Together at the Lord’s Table,” allowing a Protestant (such as a Lutheran) who is married to a Catholic to receive communion in the Catholic Church under certain circumstances and vice versa.  It was reported in the media this week that Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Faith, wrote a letter on September 18 to the president of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference expressing serious reservations about the document.  https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vaticans-doctrinal-office-critiques-german-theologians-intercommunion-call-35452  Although the complete text of the letter has not been made public, the foregoing article contains the following quotations from the letter:  “Essential theological and indispensable insights of the Eucharistic theology of the Second Vatican Council, which are widely shared the Orthodox tradition, have unfortunately not been adequately reflected in the text….However, an opening of the Catholic Church towards Eucharistic meal fellowship with the member churches of the EKD [Evangelical Church of Germany] in the current state of the theological discussion would necessarily open new rifts in the ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Churches, not only in Germany.”

    Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Vatican’s Council for Promotion of Christian Unity, also expressed his own concerns with respect to the document in an interview posted yesterday.  https://www.herder.de/hk/kirche/kardinal-kurt-koch-zur-entscheidung-der-glaubenskongregation-nach-diesem-spruch-aus-rom-koennen-deutschlands-bischoefe-nicht-zur-tagesordnung-uebergehen/  He made the following statement: “In any case, it is difficult for me to understand how one wants to follow the path of the communion of the Eucharist between Catholics and Protestants without including the Orthodox and Orientals in the conversation.  Even Germany is no longer simply a bi-denominational country.  The presence of the Orthodox and Orientals has increased.”

    Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros of America has given an address at Fordham University in New York City on the subject, “The Future of Orthodox-Catholic Relations in the U.S.A.”  The complete text of his very interesting and informative address can be read at https://panorthodoxsynod.blogspot.com/2020/09/archbishop-elpidophoros-of-americathe.html#more .  Interestingly, in his address there is a long discussion as to whether the possibility of the reception of communion in the Orthodox Church by a non-Orthodox spouse is a subject that should be seriously considered in the future.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 22 September 2020: Continued church drama in Belarus & other news

    Yesterday, September 20, there were again the large Sunday protest marches in Belarus and the continuing mass detentions of protesters who participated.  https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/police-detain-400-sunday-protests-belarus-73143347;   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfI1X4fhiM8  (video of yesterday’s protest march from a drone)  However, last week there were also some interesting events relating to the churches in Belarus.

    On September 15 at 5 p.m., a Women’s Forum “For Belarus” was held at the Minsk Arena (capacity of 15,000).  https://news.tut.by/society/700903.html#ua:main_news~1   It was a spectacular event which had been very carefully planned.  Women were brought by chartered buses from all of the regions of Belarus.  It was not open to the public and did not include any protesters in the audience.  In view of the fact that women have played a very prominent role in the protest movement, both in leadership and in the streets, the Forum was presumably an attempt to demonstrate to the public the presence of Belarusian women who are strongly opposed to the protests.  The program involved first-class entertainment, including the handsome and wildly popular tenor from Moscow, Nikolai Baskov.  A video of the entire spectacular, which lasted for over three hours, can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vISRkQyCvo   President Lukashenko made a surprise appearance towards the end (at 2:38:30 in the video) to a standing, cheering and flag-waving ovation from the women.

    One of the early speakers in the program was Mother Gabriela (Glukhova), abbess of the stauropegic (under the direct control of the exarch Metropolitan Veniamin) women’s monastery of the Holy Nativity of the Mother of God in Grodno.  She has headed the monastery since 1992 and has received many church and civil awards.  http://obitel-grodno.by/index.php/pages-2/2017-09-13-10-35-51  Her 14-minute address begins at 21:40 in the video.  It is a strong attack against the protests.  The two sentences of her address that have received the greatest attention in the media are the following:  “We see a crowd of madmen for whom we feel sorry, for whom we want to pray, before whom we want to kneel down and ask: ‘Stop!’ [applause]  And who, to the frenzied sounds of car horns, as from Venezuelan revolutionary scenarios, in their hands and on their shoulders and on their head, and even, I beg your pardon, on their back seat, is placed an alien, but supposedly their own, national white-red-white banner, like an angry herd are screaming demonic cries all over the city. [applause]”   Since Mother Gabriela gave her address, the official websites of the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) have, as far as I can determine, been completely silent about her address.  However, on September 18, Father Sergei Lepin, spokesperson for the BOC, made the following statement on his personal Facebook page:   “Mother Gabriela was at the event with the blessing of the Metropolitan [Veniamin], but the Metropolitan himself was not informed that this was not just some kind of "women's" event, but an event with certain political overtones.  Was the principle of non-interference in politics violated by Mother Gabriela in her speech?  Apparently yes.  But, in any case, Mother expressed her opinion, which we ask you not to impute to the entire BOC.”   https://www.facebook.com/sergy.lepin  Father Sergei’s Facebook page contains over 390 comments to his remarks concerning Mother Gabriela. 

    Like any large organization, the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) has people at both ends of the political spectrum.  For example, in Gomel, Father Vladimir Drobyshevsky was sentenced to ten days imprisonment for his participation in the protect.  https://news.tut.by/society/701014.html#ua:news_bytime~23  In Grodno, Archpriest Georgy Roy, rector of the Orthodox Holy Protection Cathedral and member of the Diocesan Council, joined the prayer service for the return of exiled Archbishop Kondrusiewicz that was being held at the Catholic Cathedral in Grodno.   In an interview, Father Georgy stated that the decision not to let Archbishop Kondrusiewicz return was unfair.     https://charter97.org/ru/news/2020/9/16/393362/  He also stated: “Of course, I am very worried about the facts of such unjustified violence, the use of special equipment against the demonstrators.  I very painfully experience the lies that can often be seen in the media when they try to play off different groups of people, create a conflict.  This is all very bad. I believe that justice must be restored.  Violation of justice provokes acute social conflicts.  I really hope that our entire society, all the poles of confrontation will eventually reflect and will work to make every citizen feel that the laws of justice operate in our society.” The Church, according to Father Georgy, should unite people and should not close its eyes to what is happening around it.  https://charter97.org/ru/news/2020/9/16/393362/

    However, statements such as made by Mother Gabriela and Father Georgy Roy are the exceptions.  Metropolitan Veniamin and the official BOC website stress the need for prayer and make no comment with respect to the protests and the response of the government to the protesters.   For example in Brest on September 18, the Metropolitan offered special prayers “for the unity of the Orthodox Church, the preservation of the Church from divisions and schisms, an end to the spread of coronavirus infection, and the peace and well-being of the Belarusian people.”  http://church.by/news/mitropolit-veniamin-vozglavil-torzhestva-posvjashennye-pamjati-prepodobnomuchenika-afanasija-brestskogo  For a church that includes both proponents and opponents of the protests, it makes sense for the BOC to make only general references to peace and well-being of the Belarusian people.  However, there is a risk.  The protesters represent to a fairly large extent the younger generation.  As can be seen from the Facebook comments to the remarks of Father Sergei Lepin and from other comments on the Internet, these young people often fault the BOC for its silence with respect to what they consider the harsh and unjust methods being used by the government to suppress the protests.  The young people of Belarus obviously represent the future of the BOC, and they can be alienated from the Church.

    Today, Metropolitan Veniamin was at the Grodno Monastery with Mother Gabriela for the patronal feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos.   https://belsat.eu/ru/news/konflikt-v-grodnenskoj-eparhii-igumenya-gavriila-protiv-episkopa-artemiya/  The foregoing article discusses the long-term tensions between Mother Gabriela and Archbishop Artemy of Grodno, who has made statements supportive of the protesters.  There are reports that a petition has been circulated by a layperson on the grounds of the Monastery and elsewhere calling for the dismissal of Archbishop Artemy.  An article posted on the official BOC website about today’s event contains the rather unusual sentence:  “All interested persons were able to communicate in confidence with the Patriarchal Exarch.”  http://www.church.by/news/mitropolit-veniamin-vozglavil-prestolnoe-torzhestvo-v-grodnenskom-rozhdestvo-bogorodichnom-stavropigialnom-zhenskom-monastyre-2   Although Archbishop Artemy did not attend this important celebration at the Monastery, Metropolitan Veniamin did met with the Archbishop at the diocesan offices.  Father Georgy Roy (quoted above) also participated in the meeting.  http://www.church.by/news/sostojalas-vstrecha-arhiepiskopa-grodnenskogo-artemija-s-patriarshim-ekzarhom 

    With respect to the Catholic Church in Belarus, the Vatican has released a brief statement concerning the September 11-14 visit to Minsk by Archbishop Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States.  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2020-09/archbishop-gallagher-belarus-visit-minsk.html (English)  I found two aspects of the statement particularly interesting.  First, Archbishop Antonio Mennini came to Minsk as part of the delegation.  Archbishop Mennini was apostolic nuncio to the Russian Federation from 2002 to 2010 and developed excellent relationships with the Moscow Patriarchate.  He was subsequently nuncio to the UK and is now responsible for relations between the Vatican and Italy – both assignments showing the high regard that the Vatican has for his diplomatic abilities.  Second, the delegation’s stay included “a private visit” to the Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday and another “private visit” on Sunday with the rector of the Orthodox Church of All Saints, Archpriest Fyodor Povny – one of the most respected clergymen in Belarus.

    On September 18 in Geneva, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, addressed the UN Human Rights Council during its debate on the situation in Belarus.  The full text of his remarks in English have been posted today at https://nuntiusge.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/HRC-45th-Session-Special-Debate-on-Belarus.pdf .  With respect to the protests, Archbishop Jurkovič stated:  “In the search for a peaceable solution to the current crisis, the Holy See considers it indispensable that demonstrators present their requests in a peaceful way.  It is also necessary that governing authorities exercise restraint and listen to the voices of their citizens and remain open to their just aspirations, assuring full respect for their civil and human rights.”  Interestingly, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič was a consultant to the Apostolic Nunciature in Moscow from 1962 to 1996, and was appointed nuncio to Belarus in 2001, nuncio to Ukraine in 2004, and nuncio to the Russian Federation in 2011.  Archbishop Jurkovič was awarded the Order of Grand Prince St. Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, II degree, by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate).   Later, he received the Order of Glory and Honor, I degree, of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    Catholic Archbishop Kondrusiewicz still remains exiled from Belarus by the governmental authorities.  However, on the day after Archbishop Gallagher left Minsk for Rome, the head of the Belarusian Interior Ministry's Naturalization and Immigration Department stated that Archbishop Kondrusiewicz had not been deprived of his Belarusian citizenship, but rather his passport has been invalidated.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15869

    In other news, Pope Francis has given to Patriarch Neophyte of Bulgaria a gift of relics of Pope St Clement and St. Potitus (the first martyr of Sardica – now Sofia -  who was martyred in c. 160 A.D) .  https://www.agensir.it/quotidiano/2020/9/17/bulgaria-orthodox-liturgy-with-pope-franciss-gift-patriarch-neophyte-may-our-good-relations-continue-in-peace-and-mutual-respect/   To the Catholic delegation bringing the relics, the Patriarch stated:  “The testament of the faith of the saints and martyrs of Christ is a clear proof of our good relations which are still in place and will continue to exist in peace, in mutual understanding and respect.”   The gift was received with high honors by the Bulgarian Patriarchate.  https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news.php?id=337733  Interestingly, Father Jaromír Zádrapa SDB, who recently assumed responsibility at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Christian Unity for the Slavic Orthodox Churches, spent seven years in Bulgaria as a priest.  (See his photo and bio at https://www.centroaletti.com/equipe/ -- click the bottom center portrait) 

    In Ukraine, the mayor of Kyiv hosted the dedication of a statue of St. Michael in a city park in Kyiv.  The heads of various churches and faiths were invited to attend.  In a photo from this event, Metropolitan Onufry (primate of the UOC-MP) and Metropolitan Epifany (primate of the OCU) are shown smiling and shaking hands.  https://credo.press/233060/  The two primates were also photographed shaking hands at an event in May 2019.  Lastly, the ever-resilient Filaret (head of the UOC-KP) , age 91, has overcome the coronavirus and is back home after a relatively short hospitalization.  https://www.cerkva.info/news/sviatijshyj-patriarkh-filaret-oduzhav-i-diakuie-vsim-za-molytvy/

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 14 September 2020: Two Churches with different responses in Belarus

    On Sunday there was a repeat of the very large peaceful protests in Minsk that have occurred the prior four Sundays.  The following one-minute video gives some idea of the number of protesters.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdPsCDDB3lw&feature=youtu.be   It is becoming a familiar pattern of large protests on Sunday including an increasing number of detentions and subsequent large monetary fines.   The detentions appear to be somewhat random and especially occur when people are going to or coming from the protest and are not in large groups.  Over 500 were detained in Minsk yesterday, and more elsewhere in the country.  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/14/alexander-lukashenko-vladimir-putin-sochi-belarus-russia  The following video (2 min.) shows some aggressive action by the government security forces yesterday with a larger group.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9cIxNocbvk 

    President Lukaschenko met today, September 14, in Sochi with President Putin.  The text of President Putin’s opening remarks can be read at http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/64031 (official English translation).  He stated that Russia regards “Belarus as our closest ally.”  With respect to Lukashenko’s proposal to begin work on revising the Belarus Constitution, President Putin stated:   “I think it is a logical, timely and proper thing to do.”   Lukashenko stated:  “Some recent events have shown that we should stay closer to our elder brother and cooperate in all fields, including in economy.”  With respect to the protesters, Lukashenko stated:  “I don't want to sound simple but I watch the events with a smile: there can be a march of women and girls on a Saturday and a general march on a Sunday.”  He added that the protesters have not yet crossed “the red line.”  https://eng.belta.by/president/view/lukashenko-about-russia-we-should-maintain-tighter-cooperation-with-our-elder-brother-133439-2020/ (official Belarus news agency – various articles about the meeting in English)

    Since Metropolitan Veniamin has assumed the leadership of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, it has become increasingly apparent that the Orthodox Church (by far the largest church in Belarus) and the Catholic Church (at most 15% of the population) have been reacting differently to the recent events in Belarus, although both Churches stress the need for prayer, forgiveness, and reconciliation.   In the last two weeks, the Catholic Church has expressed criticism of certain actions of the government, with respect to the protests, while the Orthodox Church has remained largely silent under Metropolitan Veniamin.  The outspokenness of the Catholic bishops in Belarus has resulted in a price -- negative actions by the government against the Church.  However, to the best of my knowledge, no adverse actions have been taken by the government against the Orthodox Church.  Of course, all of this raises the question of what is the proper role of a church under these circumstances.  Reasonable minds may disagree.  Below is a summary of the events relating to the two Churches since the beginning of the month.

    On September 6, Patriarch Kirill during the Liturgy at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow elevated Bishop Veniamin of Minsk and Zaslavl to the rank of Metropolitan.  https://mospat.ru/en/2020/09/06/news186256/  At the end of the Liturgy, the Patriarch addressed the new metropolitan and stated:  “we hope that at this difficult time, for White Rus’ as well, you will have the wisdom and spiritual strength to lead your people so that all kinds of divisions which can be irrevocably harmful to their spiritual and national life may be avoided and so that peace, as well as justice may triumph in the Belarusian society.”  I believe that it is significant that the Patriarch used the word “justice” as well as “peace.”  Patriarch Kirill also met with the bishops of Belarusian Exarchate on September 6.  https://mospat.ru/en/2020/09/06/news186281/  His remarks included the following:  Of course, in Belarus there are no such dangerous processes that led to the terrible division in Ukraine.  The archfiend laughed at the piety of the Ukrainian people, and we see that religion has become a factor of division, instead of uniting people.  The deepest division in the body of the Ukrainian people is the ecclesiastical division.  It engenders all the rest.  Surely, it is very important that no such thing occurs in Belarus.  Therefore, I call upon all of you, dear Vladykas, to support Metropolitan Veniamin, to be like-minded, to serve your people, and, certainly, to work with the youth.

    On August 15, the press service of the Patriarch had stated that he was praying that “the authorities of the Republic of Belarus and all healthy forces of the Belarusian society, caring for the welfare of the people, enter into a dialogue to overcome the tension that has arisen.”  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5676926.html   On September 8, Metropolitan Veniamin in Minsk received the congratulations from various representatives of the Belarus government.  http://www.church.by/news/patriarshij-ekzarh-vseja-belarusi-prinjal-pozdravlenija-s-naznacheniem  According to the foregoing article, “Vladyka Veniamin assured the distinguished guests of his readiness for dialogue and constructive cooperation with all the healthy forces of society.”  

    On Saturday, a long interview with Metropolitan Veniamin of Minsk was posted.  https://russian.rt.com/ussr/article/782669-ekzarh-vseya-belarusi-veniamin-intervyuhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=818&v=wynIxGZ4etg&feature=emb_logo (video – 24 min.)   It is the most extensive interview since he assumed his new position.  With respect to politics, he stated:  And it seems that the position of the church should be neutral.  The Church should remain a meeting place for people of different political worldviews, different political views, different levels of education, and interests.   With respect to autocephaly, he states that there “is no such need within Belarus.”  As to the future, he states:  We need to start writing a new page in the history of our Fatherland.  These are, say, the creation of a new Constitution, new elections, and so on.  But in order for it to be on a clean page, well prepared and in a peaceful spirit.  With respect to the role of priests, “the task of the clergy is most of all to talk about virtue and about sin, about the path to correction, about overcoming sins and mistakes of the past and present times, to call for unity, for the unity of our society on the basis of Christian and spiritual values.”

    In an interview on September 5, Metropolitan Hilarion had stated with respect to Belarus:  ”The Church should draw the authorities’ attention to infringements that take place, to facts of oppression, to violations of law and order, but to take sides in the conflict, to say, ‘we support the authorities’ or ‘we support the opposition, this or that political party’ – this is what members of the Church, at least clergymen, must not do.  It is my understanding that the position of the Belarusian Orthodox Church in this conflict has been based on this very principle.”  https://mospat.ru/en/2020/09/07/news186340/   However, I have not heard Metropolitan Veniamin saying anything similar to the first part of the foregoing quotation from Metropolitan Hilarion.

    There has been posted online a form which students at the Minsk Orthodox Schools are allegedly required to sign.  https://credo.press/232882/  By signing the form, the student agrees to refrain from commenting in public or on the Internet with respect to events in political life or to take part in any political actions. 

    As widely reported by the media, Catholic Archbishop Kondrusiewisz, who was born in the Grodno area and is a citizen of Belarus, was prevented on August 31 by Belarusian border officials from reentering Belarus after a trip to Poland.  https://www.catholicnews.com/belarus-archbishop-refused-reentry-warns-nation-faces-civil-war/  The following is an English-language interview of the Archbishop in which he describes what happened.  https://charter97.org/en/news/2020/9/2/391780/  In response to a question by a journalist, President Lukashenko stated that Kondrusiewicz was on a list of banned persons which is common for Belarus and Russia.  He also stated that Belarus is investigating whether Kondrusiewicz might have more than one citizenship.   https://eng.belta.by/president/view/lukashenko-churches-will-always-have-their-doors-open-in-belarus-133073-2020/  On September 2, the Belarus Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a statement that the ban on reentry was illegal.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12120-zayava-kanferentsy-katal-tsk-kh-b-skupa-u-belarus-suvyaz-z-zabaronaj-na-ezd-u-respubl-ku-belarus-artsyb-skupu-tadevushu-kandrusev-chu  Yesterday, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz gave a homily at the famous Marian shrine at Šiluva in Lithuania.  https://www.bernardinai.lt/minsko-mogliovo-arkivysk-t-kondrusiewiczius-siluvoje-laisve-nuostabi-dievo-dovana/ (text).  He did not mention the present situation in Belarus, except thanking people for their prayers.

    The ban on reentry has resulted in many special Masses in Belarus for the return of the Archbishop as well as to pray for the situation in the country generally.  On September 5, Bishop Yury Kasabutski, vicar general of the Archdiocese, held a special Mass in the Red Church for the “the victims, killed and imprisoned in peaceful protests.”  The church was filled to overflowing.  The entire Mass was live-streamed and can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xeb_9KaQX8Y (over 49,000 views – the comments on the video are interesting).  Bishop Yury Kasabutski gave an impassioned 33-minute homily, delivered in Belarusian and interrupted on a number of occasions by applause.  The Bishop’s homily was described in the following article:  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12144-my-ne-lezem-u-palityku-my-prosta-molimsya-za-svoj-narod-u-minsku-malilisya-za-patsyarpelykh-na-mirnykh-aktsyyakh-pratestu-belarusi  The following is an example of his remarks:  “He told about the horrible testimonies shared with him as a priest by people who had been bullied and tortured in Akrestsin Street and other places of detention, where they were taken only because they spoke out against the untruth.”  He emphasized that one must pray both for the victims and for those who committed the acts. 

    On the evening of September 11, Bishop Yury Kasabutsky presided at a special Mass at the Catholic parish of Holy Trinity (St. Roch) in Minsk, followed by an outdoor Stations of the Cross service, to pray for “stopping the persecution of the Church and returning Archbishop Kondrusiewicz.”   https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12180-kryzhowy-szliah  While this service was occurring,  government security services on two separate occasions forcefully prevented some female protesters from entering the Red Church (Catholic) on Independence Square and dragged some of them to minivans for detention.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kc1Z09b_h7U (1 min. video – first occasion); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I3OQZrou4E (video of second occasion).  The prior Sunday, the state radio had ceased to broadcast the cathedral Mass which is normally broadcast each Sunday.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12163-translyatsyj-svyatoj-imshy-na-radyjo-verasni-ne-budze-tekhnichnyya-prychyny-ne-pry-chym  

    On September 11, there was the surprising announcement that Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, had departed for Belarus “to express the attention and closeness of the Holy Father to the Catholic Church and the country as a whole.”  The meeting “includes meetings with civil authorities and leaders of the Catholic Church.”  http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2020/09/11/200911c.html    Later in the day, Archbishop Gallagher met in Minsk with Belarus Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei.   https://eng.belta.by/politics/view/belarus-seeks-closer-ties-with-vatican-133397-2020/   The post-election situation in Belarus was one of the subjects discussed and was probably the primary reason for Gallagher’s trip to Minsk.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15861 

    Pope Francis in his Angelus address on Sunday, September 13, spoke about protests generally without specifically mentioning Belarus.  http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2020/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20200913.html  He stated:  In addition, in these weeks we are witnessing numerous popular protests all over the world - in many parts - expressing the growing unease of civil society in the face of particularly critical political and social situations.  While I urge the demonstrators to present their demands peacefully, without giving in to the temptation of aggression and violence, I appeal to all those with public and governmental responsibilities to listen to the voice of their fellow citizens and to meet their just aspirations, ensuring full respect for human rights and civil liberties.

    Today, Archbishop Gallagher concluded his visit to Belarus.  However, since his meeting with the Belarus foreign minister on Friday, there has been, as far as I determine, absolutely no news as to what he has subsequently done.  One must assume that he was meeting with the Catholic hierarchy at the nunciature in Minsk for part of the time.  Today, the website of the Catholic Church posted the response, received last week, of the Belarus Border Committee to the appeal by Kondrusiewicz.   https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12183-adkaz-z-pagrankamitetu-ne-vyrashy-prablemy-z-vyartannem-artsybiskupa-kandrusevicha-ierarkh-zvyartaetstsa-mus-by-ru  The response simply stated that the “internal affairs bodies” had determined that his passport was “invalid,” and no further explanation was given by the Committee.  The website also stated that Kondrusiewicz has now appealed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  The fact that the Church withheld posting of the letter until today was based perhaps on the hope that Gallagher’s visit might resolve the matter.  The posting today indicates that no resolution occurred.  Today, in Rome, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, informed a journalist that he will be meeting with Archbishop Gallagher as soon as the latter returns from Minsk.  The Cardinal emphasized that the Church will, in any event, insist that Archbishop Kondrusiewicz be allowed to return to his archdiocese.  https://zenit.org/2020/09/14/feature-cardinal-parolin-to-zenit-belarus-a-visit-the-pope-will-consider-let-archbishop-of-minsk-back-into-country/ 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 31 August 2020: Amazing day in Montenegro and Belarus

    Although the final results are not yet known, it appears that the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) with its coalition partners may have lost control of the Montenegro parliament for the first time in 30 years as a result of the August 30 election in Montenegro.  https://www.rferl.org/a/30812282.html  https://www.fox13memphis.com/news/world/montenegro/YJS7MRXP35HOXKURRYAIQRHE6A/   In the election campaign, the controversial law on religion was one of the most important, if not the most important issue.  In a situation where it was assumed by many a few weeks ago that the DPS would maintain its control, this is amazing.  I believe that without the strenuous and persistent efforts of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, this surprising result would not have occurred.

    In the weeks prior to the election, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro had increased its efforts to motive voters to go to the polls and vote against those who supported the provisions in the new law relating to church property.  This included large gatherings and processions in various towns on Sunday, August 23.  https://balkaninsight.com/2020/08/24/montenegro-religious-protesters-step-up-rallies-ahead-of-polls/  On August 23, Metropolitan Amfilohije issued a long letter attacking those who would take the holy places from the Church. https://mitropolija.com/2020/08/23/velikogospodjinska-poslanica-2020-ljeta-gospodnjeg/   In a short video, he also spoke of the need to go to the polls and vote for the defense of the saints in Montenegro.  “At the age of 82, for the first time now I will go to the parliamentary elections - August 30 - and I call on all Montenegrins, residents of Montenegro and everyone else to vote in defense of God's holy places, which are now under attack in Montenegro from those who do not know what a shrine is.“  https://mitropolija.com/2020/08/26/mitropolit-amfilohije-svi-na-izbore-za-odbranu-svetinja-video/   In another video, Bishop Joanikije of Budva called on the faithful to go to the polls on August 30 and vote for those who opposed the regime's lawlessness and violence against the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro  https://mitropolija.com/2020/08/27/vladika-joanikije-poziva-na-izbore-ne-bojte-se-neka-se-boje-oni-koji-su-udarili-na-boga-i-na-mucenicku-crkvu-njegovu/  Through its website and elsewhere, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro made a great effort to appeal to voters to go to the polls and vote for the defense of the holy places.  It now appears that these efforts have borne fruit.

    The government in Montenegro has accused the Church of engaging in politics.  Father Gojko Perović, rector of the Church’s Cetinje seminary, has stated:  “The church has every right to speak out about the upcoming elections, and it did so much more mildly than, say, the Vatican did in 1948 before the parliamentary elections in Italy, supporting the Christian Democrat list and against the left-wing coalition. This right has always belonged to the church, but it uses it reluctantly and rarely.”   https://mitropolija.com/2020/08/28/o-gojko-perovic-ne-organizujte-setnje-koje-podsjecaju-na-litije-ako-bude-mahinacija-izbornu-volju-braniti-nenasilno/   A member of the Church’s legal team has stressed that the Church has the right of free speech to protect its religious freedoms and rights.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/08/28/dr-vladimir-leposavic-napad-na-crkvu-je-napad-na-narod/ 

    It remains to be seen what the role of the churches will be in connection with the current political situation in Belarus.  Today, August 30, the protesters filled the streets of Minsk for the third Sunday in a row.  The following are a two short drone videos that gives one some idea of the size of the crowd today.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjuC7UKM-PE&feature=youtu.behttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCY_1XMAGhU  In spite of the government’s position that the gatherings are illegal and in spite of an increasing numbers of detentions, the size of the Sundays’ demonstrations have not diminished.  As far as I can determine, the protests continue to be peaceful.  I find that the following website now gives the best coverage of these protests.   https://www.tut.by/   Sunday was also the 66th birthday of President Lukashenko.  President Putin telephoned Lukashenko to congratulate him and also to invite him to come to Moscow in the next few weeks.  http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/63966  Patriarch Kirill also sent a letter of congratulations.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5684850.html 

    It has now been five days since the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate elected Bishop Veniamin of Borisov (Belarus) as exarch of the Belarusian Orthodox Church.  On August 26, Bishop Veniamin wrote his first letter as newly elected exarch of the Belarusian Orthodox Church.  An English translation of the entire text can be read at https://mospat.ru/en/2020/08/27/news186043/.   It was an appeal “to bring peace back to our land and to our hearts” during the current unrest in Belarus.  The appeal included the following:  “The recent sorrowful events in our Motherland have happened because our hearts have bent to an evil side, because the light of Christ could not shine forth in this dark time when a sin of lawlessness was manifested.  I believe that if we fulfil with inspiration, zeal and unanimity our intention to spend these three days fasting, praying and repenting, then we will quickly see a response from Heaven and understanding what we, people of Belarus, are to do to defeat evil by good and prevent evil in future.”  Quotations from the letter were also posted on the website of the government’s news agency.  https://eng.belta.by/society/view/new-metropolitan-calls-to-bring-peace-back-to-belarusian-land-to-peoples-hearts-132935-2020/ 

    Bishop Veniamin wrote on August 27 a second letter in which he called for special prayers today.  http://www.church.by/news/30-avgusta-vo-vseh-hramah-i-monastyrjah-belorusskoj-pravoslavnoj-cerkvi-budet-sovershen-moleben-za-belarus  He requested that at 17:00,  all churches and monasteries of the Belarusian Orthodox Church perform a service with the akathist prayer for the feast day of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Most Holy Theotokos and with the prayer for the Belarusian people, preceded by and ending with the ringing of the church bells.  Bishop Veniamin led the service this evening at the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Minsk.  It was his first appearance since his election in what will be his new cathedral.  http://www.church.by/news/episkop-veniamin-v-smutnoe-vremja-usilim-molitvu  The following is a video of his full address:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=1if4UM0wjls&feature=emb_logo   The essence of his message is that we must prayer harder, especially to the Mother of God, and that God will tell us what to do in the present crisis.  Earlier in the day, Metropolitan Pavel celebrated his farewell Liturgy in the Cathedral.  https://news.tut.by/society/698628.html  According to the foregoing article, Metropolitan Pavel stated in his address at the service:  “Now the Holy Synod and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia have made a decision in order to preserve our Belarusian Orthodox Church in one piece, so that in this difficult time for Belarus no one would reproach the exarch for any inappropriate moods.  But I have never divided people for political reasons.”
    On August 30, Catholic Archbishop Kondrusiewicz of Minsk issued his own appeal for repentance and prayer, especially to St. Michael the Archangel, the patron of the Catholic Church in Belarus.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12101-zvarot-artsyb-skupa-tadevusha-kandrusev-cha-ab-mal-tve-ntentsy-belarus  Similar to Bishop Veniamin, the appeal states:  “The crisis that has arisen is an inevitable consequence of the sin of lawlessness.  It is therefore necessary to confess sin - personal and collective - and repent in order to change our lives.  Instead of lies, truth should prevail, instead of evil, good, instead of hatred, love, instead of condemnation, forgiveness, and instead of pernicious divisions, unity.”  However, the Archbishop also mentioned the need for dialogue, an aspect that has, so far, not been stressed by the Belarusian Orthodox Church.

    During the week prior to Sunday, there have continued to be protests in Minsk and other cities of Belarus but with smaller crowds.   In Minsk, the protesters have most often rallied in Freedom Square and Independence Square.  The Minsk City Hall is located in Freedom Square, and Government House, the site of the national parliament, is located in Independence Squares.  However, these squares are also the locations of three very important churches.   The Orthodox Holy Spirit Cathedral is located just north of Freedom Square, and the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Name of Mary (the cathedral of Archbishop Kondrusiewicz) is located on the Square.  The famous Catholic “Red Church” is located on Independence Square, literally next door to Government House.  As you recall, the interfaith prayer service, hosted by Archbishop Kondrusiewicz on August 18, was held in the Red Church.  This reminds me of the remarks by Pope John Paul II on January 13, 1990, to the diplomatic corps assigned to the Vatican with respect to the great changes that occurred in Eastern Europe in 1989: “And you will no doubt have noted that the point of departure or rallying point has often been a church.”  http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/1990/january/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19900113_corpo-diplomatico.html .   It is likely that the Belarus government will seek to prevent that from happening in Belarus.  Today, the intended destination of the protesters was Independence Square, but any entry to the Square was blocked by walls of riot police.

    The large and imposing Red Church is one of the landmarks and tourist attractions of Minsk.  It was build in 1905-10 with funds provided by Edward Adamovich Vainilovich, a famous and wealthy Catholic in Minsk.  The church derived its popular name from its red bricks which were not manufactured locally, but rather far away in Czestochowa – perhaps to give the new church a Marian connection.  During the Soviet era, the church was confiscated and converted into a cinema.  Since the early 1990s, the Catholic Church has been given the use of the church, but the City has retained ownership.  This prior week, the Red Church has been the site of considerable protester activity. 

    On the evening of August 26, approximately 100 protesters sought refuge in the Red Church.  Services were occurring in the church at the time.  The police then blocked the entrances to the church and prevented anyone from leaving or entering the church.  http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Police-block-Catholic-church-in-Minsk,-arrest-protesters-50883.html  Archbishop Kondrusiewicz sent to the government a strong protest in which he asserted that “blocking the exits of the church and creating obstacles to the free entry and exit of people is a gross violation of the rights of believers and freedom of religion.”  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12086-zayava-artsyb-skupa-tadevusha-kandrusev-cha-suvyaz-z-ntsydentam-z-udzelam-supratso-n-ka-s-lavykh-struktur-na-terytory-chyrvonaga-kastsjola  The next day, as a sign of support for the Red Church, a group of approximately 100 women, many dressed in white, formed a ring of solidarity around the Church.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15834   The follow link has interesting photos of the women confronted by the police.  https://belsat.eu/news/magutny-bozha-u-vykananni-belarusak-pad-chyrvonym-kastsyolam-fota-videa/ 

    Father Yuri Sanko, spokesperson of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Belarus, has given a long and interesting interview concerning the events of the last week at the Red Church.  https://credo.press/232738/  With respect to one of many topics covered, he refers to pressure being placed on the Red Church.  For example, the Red Church has had no electrical power for two long periods of time last week although neighboring buildings did have power.  This included times when services were held.  On Wednesday, the City changed all of the locks to the entrances of the Red Church, and the church staff was given only one set of keys.  On a different topic, Father Yuri states that he “has close contact with the Orthodox Church.”

    Aside for using the colors red and white, the protesters also have been singing the hymn, “Mighty God” ("Магутны Божа").  The following is a video, posted on August 14, showing the Orthodox clergy singing this hymn on the steps of the Orthodox cathedral in Grodno.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOOaJG0SKVg  The hymn was composed in 1947 and has a controversial background.  https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9C%D0%B0%D0%B3%D1%83%D1%82%D0%BD%D1%8B_%D0%91%D0%BE%D0%B6%D0%B0  It is another indication that the Grodno Orthodox diocese is perhaps more willing to support the protesters than other Orthodox dioceses in Belarus.

    On another subject, Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem will not be at the Phanar on September 1.  https://www.romfea.gr/epikairotita-xronika/39077-anaballetai-i-episkepsi-tou-patriarxi-ierosolumon-sto-fanari  Although Patriarch Theophilos accepted the invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarch to come to the Phanar, he expressed his regrets that he had to postpone the visit due to an outbreak of the Covid virus among the Hagiotaphite Brotherhood (of the  of the Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem.  On August 28, the Ecumenical Patriarch sent a letter to Patriarch Theophilos expressing his prayers for the rapid healing of those afflicted by the virus.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/letter-of-sympathy-from-ecumenical-patriarch-to-patriarch-of-jerusalem/ 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 25 August 2020: Belarus -- new head of Orthodox Church & other news

    Today, August 25, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate met in Moscow and made some surprising decisions.  The minutes of the meeting can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5681796.html.  The biggest surprise is Journal Entry 46.  This entry contains the following resolution by the Synod (Google translation):

    1. Express pastoral concern about the social conflict in the Republic of Belarus, which entailed human casualties and human suffering.

    2. To approve the "Appeal of the Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Church to the people of the Republic of Belarus to end the popular confrontation."

    3. To welcome and support the efforts of the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl Pavel, the episcopate and clerics of the Belarusian Exarchate, aimed at restoring peace and public tranquility.

    4. To consider it important that the authorities of the Republic of Belarus thoroughly investigate all cases of violence against both citizens and law enforcement officers, and punish those responsible for violating the law.

    5. To note the special importance of preserving and strengthening the ecclesiastical unity of the peoples of historical Rus in the context of aggravated social and political conflicts.

    6. To take into account the petition of the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl Pavel, to dismiss the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, expressing gratitude to him for the work incurred.

    7. To appoint His Eminence Pavel Metropolitan of Yekaterinodar and Kuban, head of the Kuban Metropolitanate.

    8. Appoint His Grace Bishop Veniamin of Borisov and Maryingor as Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, retaining for him the temporary administration of the Borisov diocese.

    As can be seen, the Holy Synod has removed Metropolitan Pavel (supposedly at his request), a Russian citizen, as Exarch of the Belarussian Orthodox Church and replaced him with Bishop Veniamin of Borisov (Barysaw), who becomes the first Belarussian to hold the position of Exarch.  The official biography of Bishop Veniamin can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/1119116.html.  Bishop Veniamin, age 51, is a native of the Brest region of Belarus.  He has a monastic background.  In 2010 he became a vicar bishop for the Minsk diocese.  In 2014 a new diocese was created for the Borisov area, and Veniamin became its bishop.  The city of Borisov has a population of approximately 145,000 and is located 74 kilometers northeast of Minsk.  It is reported that Bishop Veniamin first learned about his appointment from journalists today.  As far as I can determine, Bishop Veniamin has not yet made any public statements concerning his appointment.

    What does his appointment mean?  Paragraph 5 of the resolution refers to “strengthening the ecclesiastical unity of the peoples of historic Rus.”  It is likely that the Holy Synod would appoint someone who would further this goal.  It is possible that the Holy Synod harbored some doubts in this regard with respect to Metropolitan Pavel.  On the other hand, appointing a native Belarusian will most likely please most Belarusians and show that one of their own is heading their Church in Belarus.  Belsat, a website supporting the protests in Belarus, has already posted an assessment of Bishop Veniamin.  https://belsat.eu/news/mitrapalita-paula-znyali-z-pasady-tsyaper-belaruskaj-pravaslaunaj-tsarkvoj-kirue-episkap-venyamin/   It quotes a theologian who stated: “The man is strict and principled.  He is convinced that autocephaly is a sin.  Declared allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate, but not for political reasons, but religious.  Does not sympathize with ecumenism, liberalism of any kind.  A firm hand for him is also part of the worldview.  He is a man who has a monastic background, so subordination and hierarchy are important for him.”  There are also reports that Bishop Veniamin is very religious and has a simple lifestyle.  Maybe the hope of the Holy Synod is that Bishop Veniamin will become for Belarus what Metropolitan Onufry is for Ukraine.  However, it is too early to make any judgments.

    The minutes also reflect other interesting developments.  There have again been changes of rectors at the Moscow Theological Academy and at the important Sretensky Seminary in Moscow.   Bishop Pitirim of Zvenigorod was relieved of his position of rector of the Moscow Theological Academy and replaced by Bishop Theodoret of Skopino, who has been the rector of the seminary at Ryazan.   Archbishop Amvrosij of Verey, the rector of the Sretensky Seminary (and previously of the St. Petersburg and Moscow Academies), has been promoted to be Metropolitan of Tver.  In his place, Archpriest Maxim Kozlov has been appointed as acting rector.  The governor of the famous Holy Trinity St. Sergei Lavra has been removed from this position.  The minutes contain other important changes as well.  For list of 26 of the major personnel changes, see https://credo.press/232678/.

    Like many important organizations, the Moscow Patriarchate is concerned about “leaks” to the media.  In Journal Entry 64, penalties are established for disclosing confidential church information to third parties, including representatives of the media, without the blessing of the Patriarch or diocesan bishop.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 25 August 2020: Belarus Church Update & other news

    Yesterday, August 24, the opposition Coordinating Council held a large protest gathering in Minsk in spite of the government’s position that the gathering was illegal.  It is always difficult to determine the number of people in a large crowd.  You can judge the numbers for yourself in the following 16-second Twitter video that has had over three million views in the 24 hours since its posting.   https://twitter.com/ianbremmer/status/1297561085223075845?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet  After seeing the violence and destruction accompanying protest gathers in Seattle this summer, I am amazed that yesterday’s protest in Minsk had, as far as I can determine, no arrests, no violence, and no property destruction.  In my opinion, both the protesters and police (who were present in large numbers) should be congratulated.   There was a large group of police blocking the road to the presidential palace and the protesters stayed away from them.  I was impressed by the following 12-second Twitter video which shows some protesters escorting away two persons who were arguing with the police in the blockade in front of the palace.  https://twitter.com/VoicesBelarus/status/1297578673307099136 

    Today, the Coordinating Council held a press conference that can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=14&v=QaTUkWRmVD8&feature=emb_logo (42 minutes).   Two member of the Coordinating Council were arrested this morning outside of the Minsk Tractor Works.  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/24/two-opposition-leaders-arrested-in-belarus-after-day-of-protest  So far it appears that the churches have remained silent since Sunday’s large protest.  However, in the days before Sunday’s protest, there were news developments relating to both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in Belarus.

    In my last report I provided a link to a video of Archbishop Artemy of Grodno (Moscow Patriarchate) on August 16 criticizing Lukashenko.  The video still remains on the website of the Archbishop’s diocese.  https://www.orthos.org/eparhiya/bishop/speech    The Archbishop had also issued a letter to the faithful on August 14.  https://www.orthos.org/eparhiya/bishop/speech/2020/08/14/obrashchenie-arhiepiskopa-grodnenskogo-volkovysskogo-artemiya-k    On August 21 the Belarusian Orthodox Church issued a statement that it had received “numerous appeals and bewildered questions” concerning these remarks by Archbishop Artemy “as well as emotional public statements of a number of clergymen of the Belarusian Orthodox Church and laity, positioning themselves as Christian activists.”   http://www.church.by/news/ob-uchastii-verujushih-v-obshestvenno-politicheskoj-zhizni  The statement emphasized that these are the personal views of these individuals and do not reflect the official position of the Church.  It reminds “priests again about the promise they made before God not to take part in the political life of society, so as not to be a temptation and subject of division of people.”  The statement also expresses “the hope that the competent authorities will investigate all egregious cases of violence.”

    On August 22, Lukashenko held a rally in Grodno.   He has special words for the clergy in Grodno:  “The position of our churches surprises me.  My dear priests, please mind your own business.  People go to churches to pray.  Orthodox and Catholic churches are not for politics.”  With respect to the positions some clergy are now taking, “the state will not look at it with indifference.”  https://eng.belta.by/president/view/lukashenko-calls-on-churches-to-stay-out-of-politics-132821-2020/   With respect to strikers, Lukashenko said that if a factory is not working, “let’s put a lock on its gate.”  When people calm down, “we will decide whom to invite” back.  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-belarus-election-factories/lukashenko-says-he-will-close-belarus-factories-that-are-seeing-protests-ria-idUSKBN25I0GU   A video of the entire pro-Lukaschenko Grodno rally can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j32yKt5-XJY.

    On August 18 Lukashenko addressed the Security Council of Belarus and spent considerable time attacking the “opposition staff's program” for Belarus.  https://eng.belta.by/president/view/lukashenko-slams-oppositions-program-as-total-failure-132669-2020/  One of many points mentioned by Lukashenko was the creation of an autocephalous Belarusian Orthodox Church “in opposition to the Belarusian Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate.”  In response, the opposition Coordinating Council announced the same day that it does not have the program described by Lukashenko.    https://sputnik.by/politics/20200818/1045500099/Koordinatsionnyy-sovet-otvergaet-obvineniya-v-popytke-zakhvata-vlasti.html  Apparently, “the program” was posted a few months ago by a website (zabelarus.com) that no longer exists and at a time when the Coordinating Council did not exist.  However, Metropolitan Epifany, head of the OCU, did raise the subject of autocephaly in Belarus on his Facebook page.  In this regard, he stated:  “The Orthodox Church of Belarus has the same grounds and the right [as the OCU] to ask the Mother Church about a Tomos whenever it wishes.’   https://www.facebook.com/epifaniy/posts/2674239692791583 

    With respect to the Catholics in Minsk, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz continues to play a very visible role.  On the evening of August 18, he hosted an interfaith service at the so-called “Red Church” in Minsk to pray for Belarus.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12039-m-zhrel-g-jnaya-mal-tva  A video of the entire service can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=244&v=9rl7L_uM38w&feature=emb_logo.  The Belarusian Orthodox Church was represented at the service by Archpriest Alexander Shymbalyov, Deputy Chairman of the Synodal Department for Church-Society Relations.  In the homily during the Mass that followed the service, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz made statements such as the following:  “The illegally detained people were in appalling conditions and tortured…why were independent observers not present at the elections?... Today, the facts of election fraud are increasingly emerging.”  He called for repentance, forgiveness, and a dialogue with society.

    Archbishop Kondrusiewisz has continued to express his concerns with respect to the detainees.  On August 19 he led prayers outside the Akrestsin Street detention center.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12045-artsyb-skup-kandrusev-ch-mal-sya-gadz-nu-m-lasernasts-pad-stsenam-zalyatara-na-akrests-na   Although the Archbishop was not allowed to enter the center, Father Georgy Lopukhov, head of the prison ministry of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, was able to greet detainees on the feast of the Transfiguration and to distribute blessed fruit to them.  http://www.church.by/news/predstavitel-belorusskoj-pravoslavnoj-cerkvi-posetil-izoljator-na-okrestina   In a somewhat surprising development on August 21, Yuri Karaev, Minister of Internal Affairs for Belarus, met with Archbishop Kondrusiewicz at the latter’s request.  The report on the website Catholic.by stated:  “ Minister Karaev said he had not given an order for brutal action and sympathized with the victims.  The head of the law enforcement ministry also informed that an interdepartmental commission had been set up to investigate acts of violence.”  Karaev stated that he would consider the Archbishop’s request to allow Catholic priests to visit prisons.

    Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who formed the Coordinating Council, has discussed her faith in a recent interview.  https://belsat.eu/news/svyatlana-tsihanouskaya-dala-eksklyuziunae-interv-yu-belsatu/  She stated: “I am an Orthodox believer….I rarely go to church, but I guess - if a person does not go to church, it does not mean that he is not a believer.  Faith is deep within me.”  With respect to language, she stated: “I can speak Belarusian, although it's a little difficult for me.”

    In Kyiv today, there were celebrations for Independence Day.  It included the traditional interfaith prayer service at the historic St. Sophia Cathedral with the Ukrainian President.  A video of the entire service can be watched at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=52&v=4P51KBINk48&feature=emb_logo   Metropolitan Epifany (OCU) spoke first and was immediately followed by Metropolitan Onufry (UOC-MP).  Interestingly, President Zelensky arrived and departed without saying a word.  No representative of the UOC-KP was present.  There is an interesting scene at 15:50 in the video.  Metropolitan Onufry at the conclusion of the service looked for a few moments at the other church representatives who were talking to each other and then walked away with the UOC-MP delegation.  I was disappointed that some of the other representatives did not take the initiative to go over and to say hello to the delegation.  Also today in Kyiv, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, who has been the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine and who has now been assigned to the UK, was given a special award by President Zelensky.   http://religionpravda.com.ua/2020/08/24/%d0%90%d0%bf%d0%be%d1%81%d1%82%d0%be%d0%bb%d1%8c%d1%81%d1%8c%d0%ba%d0%be%d0%b3%d0%be-%d0%9d%d1%83%d0%bd%d1%86%d1%96%d1%8f-%d0%b2-%d0%a3%d0%ba%d1%80%d0%b0%d1%97%d0%bd%d1%96-%d0%bd%d0%b0%d0%b3%d0%be/ 

    In other news, Metropolitan Hilarion has expressed regret at Turkey’s decision to convert the historic Chora Church with its beautiful mosaics and frescos into to mosque.  https://ria.ru/20200822/mozaiki-1576186216.html   Also, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated at the end of his homily yesterday:  “We were hurt by conversion of Hagia Sophia and the Chora Church into mosques.  These two unique monuments of Constantinople were built as Christian churches…. We pray to the God of love, justice, and peace to enlighten the minds and hearts of those in charge.”  https://orthodoxtimes.com/ecumenical-patriarch-we-were-hurt-by-conversion-of-hagia-sophia-and-chora-church-into-mosques-video/

    Finally, the new Catholic vicar bishop in Moscow, Father Nikolai Dubinin has given a very nice interview at https://www.ng.ru/ng_religii/2020-08-18/9_492_catholics.html  He explained that his mother was Catholic and his father was Orthodox and that he “grew up in an atmosphere of mutual respect for both traditions.”  https://www.ng.ru/ng_religii/2020-08-18/9_492_catholics.html 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 17 August 2020: Church response in Belarus & other news

    As is well known, the election for the position of president of Belarus was held on August 9 and was followed by the announcement that Aleksandr Lukashenko had been reelected by a huge majority of 80%.  As probably occurred as a matter of routine for past elections, Patriarch Kirill sent a letter to Lukashenko on August 10 offering him the Patriarch’s “heartfelt congratulations on your victory.”  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5675082.html  (text of letter).  On the same day, Metropolitan Pavel of Minsk and All Belarus sent a very similar letter of congratulations.  http://www.church.by/news/patriarshij-ekzarh-vseja-belarusi-pozdravil-aleksandra-lukashenko-s-izbraniem-na-post-prezidenta-respubliki-belarus (text of letter)  As was widely reported by the world media, the election announcement was followed by large protests, police repression, and large scale detentions.  On August 12, Metropolitan Pavel held a press conference in which he made an appeal to the authorities and the public to find a peaceful way to resolve the crisis.  http://www.church.by/news/mitropolit-pavel-davajte-vmeste-ostanovim-vrazhdu-i-nenavist-video (video)  The government’s Belta news agency posted an English summary of the news conference.  https://eng.belta.by/opinions/view/reason-peace-and-dialogue-should-prevail-in-belarus-6064/  According to the summary, the Metropolitan called on those who came to Belarus to incite hostility and hatred to go back home.  He also urged parents whose children take to the streets today to talk to them and tell them that it is important to preserve peace and accord in the country.

    On August 15, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Belarus (Moscow Patriarchate) issued an appeal to the faithful.  The full text of the appeal can be read at http://www.church.by/news/obrashenie-sinoda-belorusskoj-pravoslavnoj-cerkvi-k-narodu-respubliki-belarus-o-prekrashenii-narodnogo-protivostojanija  It includes the statement:  “Categorically condemning violence, torture, humiliation, groundless detention, extremism in all its forms and manifestations, lies and treachery, we call on everyone for whom our Fatherland, children, relatives and friends are dear, to stop and end the confrontation.”  It also states:  “We believe and hope that the country's leadership, which is rightfully called upon to respect and protect its people, will stop the violence, hear the voices of the offended and innocent victims during the period of confrontation, and that those who committed atrocity and cruelty – brought to a court of law and convicted.”  On the same day, it was announced through the patriarchal press service that Patriarch Kirill was praying that “the authorities of the Republic of Belarus and all healthy forces of the Belarusian society, caring for the welfare of the people, enter into a dialogue to overcome the tension that has arisen.”  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5676926.html 

    Today, Metropolitan Pavel came to a Minsk hospital and visited persons recovering from injuries received during the protests.  http://www.church.by/news/patriarshij-ekzarh-navestil-ljudej-postradavshih-v-hode-protestnyh-akcij  According to this press report, Metropolitan Pavel “informed all the victims that prayers for their speedy recovery were being offered up in the Belarusian Orthodox Church and expressed his hope for a fair investigation of the crimes committed during the recent protest actions.”  Some Orthodox in Belarus have been much more outspoken.  For example, the following is a video of Archbishop Artemy of Grodno (Moscow Patriarchate) at a service in his cathedral stating with respect to the Lukashenko regime: “"You will not be forgiven and your work will not stand!”  https://credo.press/232524/

    Catholics constitute approximately 15 percent of the population of Belarus.  https://risu.ua/religijna-mapa-bilorusi-ta-cerkovno-konfesijna-reakciya-na-protesti_n111146  Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz was the first major church leader in Belarus to speak out concerning the protests.  On August 11, he released a letter to compatriots in which he called “on all parties to the conflict to end the violence” and proposed solving the future of Belarus at a special roundtable and not at the barricades.   https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/11991-zvarot-artsyb-skupa-tadevusha-kandrusev-cha-suvyaz-sa-skladanaj-gramadska-pal-tychnaj-s-tuatsyyaj-u-belarus  On August 13, the Catholic bishops of Belarus issued a letter to all believers and people of good will.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12005-zvarot-katal-tsk-kh-b-skupa-u-belarus-suvyaz-sa-skladanaj-gramadska-pal-tychnaj-s-tuatsyyaj-u-kra-ne  The letter included the following statement:  “We, the Catholic bishops of Belarus, condemn every act of violence committed by a brother against a brother, and therefore once again call for an end to unnecessary aggression and a dialogue for the good of man and our society as a whole.”  The letter also included a program of prayer, especially to Our Lady, Queen of Peace.   On August 14, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz issued a letter to state authorities calling for the immediate “release all innocent citizens detained at peaceful rallies.”  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12014-zvarot-artsyb-skupa-tadevusha-kandrusev-cha-da-dzyarzha-nykh-ulada-respubl-k-belarus

    On Sunday, August 16, Pope Francis in his Angelus address made the following statement:  “My thoughts also go to dear Belarus.  I carefully follow the post-electoral situation in this country and appeal to dialogue, the rejection of violence and respect for justice and law.  I entrust all Belarusians to the protection of Our Lady, Queen of Peace.” http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2020/08/16/0418/00950.html   At the end of a Mass in Valkalata on Sunday, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz read the just-received words of the Pope to the applause of all present.  https://www.agensir.it/quotidiano/2020/8/17/bielorussia-le-lacrime-del-popolo-allappello-di-papa-francesco-non-siamo-soli-nuovo-appello-di-mons-kondrusiewicz-solo-il-dialogo-via-per-uscire-dalla-crisi/  During his homily, the Archbishop also stated:  “We want a revival. We want a new Belarus: a Belarus that will be built on Christian values” which begins with the individual.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/12022-va-kalaty  For tomorrow evening, August 18, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz has invited Christians of various denominations as well as representatives of Judaism and Islam to a service in Minsk to pray for the “victory of truth, justice, and peace” in Belarus.  https://catholic.by/3/news/announcements/12030-artsyb-skup-kandrusev-ch-zaprashae-chyrvony-kastsjol-na-supol-nuyu-mal-tvu-za-belarus 

    Lukashenko met with workers at the Minsk Wheel Tractor plant today and received a very negative reaction from the workers.  However, the Belta news agency reported that Lukashenko stated at the meeting:  “Come, sit down, and let's work on the Constitution.  We will arrange a referendum, pass the Constitution, and I will hand over my authority in accordance with the Constitution.  But not under pressure and not via street protests.”  https://eng.belta.by/president/view/lukashenko-about-redistribution-of-authority-amendments-to-constitution-not-under-pressure-132615-2020/   It is also encouraging that the police have not attacked protesters in the last few days.  The following website is a very good source of the very latest developments from the perspective of the protesters.  https://belsat.eu/news/

    In my last report, I provided information relating to the funeral of Protopresbyter Boris Bobrinskoy in Bussy-en-Othe, France on August 11.  Although the funeral was conducted by Vicariate of Sainte-Marie de Paris and Saint-Alexis d’Ugine (Ecumenical Patriarchate) with Metropolitan Emmanuel of France participating, Bishop Simeon of Domodedovo (Moscow Patriarchate), one of the two newly elected vicar bishops of the Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe, was also present and spoke (but did not serve).  https://orthodoxie.com/temoignage-de-mgr-symeon-de-domodedovo-lors-des-funerailles-du-pere-boris-bobrinskoy/   Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium (Ecumenical Patriarchate) has posted a reflection in which he refers to the funeral as a “day of unity and solidarity, which our Church needs so much today.”  https://orthodoxia.be/2020/08/12/%ce%b7-%ce%ba%ce%b7%ce%b4%ce%b5%ce%af%ce%b1-%cf%84%ce%bf%cf%85-%cf%80%ce%b1%cf%84%cf%81%cf%8c%cf%82-boris-bobrinskoy-%ce%bc%ce%b9%ce%b1%cf%82-%ce%b5%ce%be%ce%ad%cf%87%ce%bf%cf%85%cf%83%ce%b1%cf%82/

    The following is an interesting English-language analysis on the forthcoming August 30 parliamentary elections in Montenegro.  https://emerging-europe.com/news/montenegro-to-hold-elections-amid-coronavirus-and-religious-tensions-but-no-surprises-expected/  The article states that the issue of the new law on religion has weakened support for the ruling party.  However, it concludes:  “With little more than two weeks to election day, the result will be known soon but according to analysts and polls, an upset is not expected and the Milo Đukanović-led DPS is likely to still remain in power. What does remain uncertain is which parties DPS have to ally with after the election in order to form a government.”  In a statement which might well have political overtones, the National Coordination Body for Infectious Diseases in Montenegro declared today:  “Public gatherings organized by the Serbian Orthodox Church and certain political actors directly contribute to the growth of the number of infected and endanger the health and lives of people who participate in these gatherings, their families and all citizens.”  https://www.cdm.me/drustvo/nedozvoljena-okupljanja-u-organizaciji-spc-najveca-prijetnja-po-zdravlje-pod-kljuc-restorane-koji-organizuju-proslave/

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 11 August 2020: United in honoring Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy & other news

    Protopresbyter Boris Bobrinskoy died on August 6, 2020, at the age of 95.    http://www.spc.rs/eng/eminent_theologian_father_boris_bobrinskoy_passed_away   He was one of the most prominent Orthodox theologians of the West and served for many years as a dean and professor at the Saint-Serge Institute of Orthodox Theology in Paris.  https://orthodoxwiki.org/Boris_Bobrinskoy  He had retired to the Monastery of Notre-Dame de Toute-Protection in Bussy-en-Othe, France and his funeral occurred there today.  You can watch videos of all of today’s liturgy at the Monastery and the burial through the following Facebook site.  https://www.facebook.com/lettreVicariat/.

    The Monastery to which Father Boris retired has remained in the Ecumenical Patriarchate under the new Vicariate of Sainte-Marie de Paris and Saint-Alexis d’Ugine and has not joined the Moscow Patriarchate under Metropolitan Jean of Dubna.  http://www.monastere-bussy.org/   In spite of this, the Moscow Patriarchate has joined in honoring Father Boris.  With the blessing of Metropolitan Jean, a funeral liturgy was held at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris on August 8.  http://www.archeveche.eu/spip.php?article2594; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdutcZEoKgY (video of entire service).  The Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe (Moscow Patriarchate) has referred to Father Boris as “one of the great theologians of the Orthodox world.”  Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk has sent a beautiful letter of condolences on the death of Father Boris.  https://mospat.ru/ru/2020/08/09/news185821/  So has Patriarch Daniel of Romania.  https://basilica.ro/en/patriarch-daniel-sends-condolences-after-repose-of-fr-boris-bobrinskoy-eminent-professor-of-theology-and-shepherd-of-souls/  A photocopy of the letter of condolences from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew can be seen at https://orthodoxie.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Message_de_condoleances.pdf .  Personally, I find it encouraging that the differences between Moscow and Constantinople can be surmounted in honoring this great theologian.

    Father Boris has also been honored by the Catholic world.  For example, the following is a very nice tribute relating to his death from the faculty of theology at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), from which he received an honorary degree in 2000.  https://www3.unifr.ch/orthodoxia/de/news/news/23733/die-theologische-fakultt-trauert-um-ihren-ehrendoktor-p-boris-bobrinskoy-6-august-2020?

    In spite of differences with respect to Ukraine, the Patriarchs of Antioch and Constantinople are maintaining a good relationship with each other.  As previously reported, Patriarch John of Antioch sent a very supportive letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch expressing dismay at Turkey’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/patriarch-of-antioch-to-the-ecumenical-patriarch-we-stand-by-you-dear-brother/  On August 7, the Ecumenical Patriarch telephoned Patriarch John concerning the tragedy in Beirut.  According to the press release by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Patriarch John was very moved by the expression of support.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/phone-call-by-ecumenical-patriarch-and-patriarch-of-antioch/  The Ecumenical Patriarch has also written to Patriarch Daniel of Romania thanking him for his letter relating to Hagia Sophia.  This was reported on the website of the Romanian Patriarchate.   https://basilica.ro/en/ecumenical-patriarch-thanks-patriarch-of-romania-for-solidarity-over-hagia-sophia-issue-the-church-of-gods-wisdom-belongs-to-all-humanity/  According to one newspaper report, Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem will visit the Phanar on September 1.  https://www.ekirikas.com/omogeneia_ekklisia_ameriki/arthro/sto_oikoumeniko_patriarxeio_tha_metabei_o_arxiepiskopos_elpidoforos-675173/

    It is very possible, in my opinion, that there is a growing sense of resignation that the religious status quo in Ukraine will not significantly change in the near future.  Although the primates may have differing views on the actions taken by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Ukraine, some of the primates may now believe that these differences do not justify destroying the personal relationships that previously existed.

    On July 30, 2020, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has appointed Father Nikolai Gennadevich Dubinin, OFM Conv., as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow.   http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2020/07/30/0399/00905.html  This attracted special attention as Father Nikolai will be the first ethnic Russian to serve as a Catholic bishop in the Russian Federation.   His detailed biography can be read at https://cathmos.ru/naznachen-vspomogatelnyj-episkop-arhieparhii-bozhiej-materi-v-moskve/.  Aside from his assignments in Russia, he has also spent a number of years as a Franciscan both in Poland and Italy.  A short 3-minute video with brief scenes from his life can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-uHXMTefLc&fbclid=IwAR11fkHIgCI_yFn2Hsi9xGBqL1VMH3UJtOmYCMvkbXW8-B7CoHaVXMgR100 .

    Father Nikolai was born in Novoshakhtinsk, a Russian city near the border of Eastern Ukraine, and graduated from high school there in 1990. There is no Catholic parish in that city.  Later in 1990 he enrolled in the philological department of Rostov State University.  In 1993 he entered the Catholic seminary which had just opened that year in Moscow.  What happened between 1990 and 1993 which caused an ethic Russian to enter a Catholic seminary?   Although you will not find the answer on the Internet, there are indications that the key event was a trip to Czestochowa in 1991 for World Youth Day.  You may recall that several thousand Russian youth took advantage of a free trip to Czestochowa in August 1991 for this event.  Some went just for the trip, but others were touched spiritually by the experience.  I believe that Nikolai was in the latter group. 

    There are many historical events which link the Black Madonna at Czestochowa with the lands of ancient Rus.  For example, the “Joint Message to the Polish and Russian Peoples,” signed by the Moscow Patriarchate and the Polish Catholic bishops in August 2012, came about as a result of a visit to Czestochowa in September 2009 by a group of Russian Orthodox monks from the Nilo-Stolobensky Monastery, near Ostashkov, Russia.  My personal interest in Orthodoxy began with a trip that I made to Czestochowa in 1978.  A chronology describing the role of the Czestochowa icon of the Mother of God as a link between Catholics and Orthodox can be read at http://jasnagora.com/wydarzenie-1723

    In other news, the Romanian Patriarchate has posted an interesting study that Romanians are the largest Orthodox group in Western Europe.   https://basilica.ro/en/most-of-the-orthodox-in-the-west-are-romanian-romania-ranks-3rd-in-the-world-in-terms-of-orthodox-population/  The study also shows that Italy has the largest number of Orthodox in any Catholic country – 2.2 million – more than the total number of Orthodox faithful in the US and Canada.  The Pew Research Center has done a very interesting survey on the importance of the belief in God in various countries of the world.  https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/07/20/the-global-god-divide/  Surveyed countries with the highest percentages are Indonesia, the Philippines, and Kenya.  Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s commission on family affairs, has spoken out against artificial contraception.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15794  This was the prevailing view of the Orthodox Church generally some time ago (such as pre-1946), but that is no longer the case.  In Ukraine, the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) has announced that it is closing its investigation of former president Poroshenko with respect to the cancellation of the registration of the UOC-KP.  Contrary to the claims by Poroshenko, the SBI maintains that it was never investigating the role of Poroshenko in the granting of the tomos.  https://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/678192.html   Metropolitan Hilarion has expressed surprise at the failure of the famous Trinity-Sergius Lavra to observe basic anti-Covid measures during the celebration of the feast day of St. Sergius.   http://www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=3&id=89505  A lawyer supporting the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro has enumerated his concerns relating to the compromise proposal made by the government of Montenegro.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/07/23/advokat-velibor-markovic-o-propalim-pregovorima-s-vladinim-ekspertima-o-zakonu-o-slobodi-vjeroispovijesti/ 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 22 July 2020: Concessions in Montenegro & Hagia Sophia appeals

    Two days of negotiations between the experts of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the experts of the government of Montenegro ended today (July 21) without a resolution being reached on the very controversial law on religion.  After the end of the negotiations, the Montenegro government issued a press release with a statement from Prime Minister Duško Marković describing what occurred at the negotiations.  http://www.gov.me/en/News/229599/PM-Markovic-Talks-between-legal-experts-of-Government-and-Serbian-Orthodox-Church-ended-without-results-we-asked-Serbian-Orthodo.html  (official English version).  The press release quotes the Prime Minister as follows:

    During the second round of expert talks, held yesterday and today, we accepted:

    Firstly – To transfer the procedure of determining land registry entries from the administrative procedure to the regular court procedure where the burden of proving ownership falls on the state and not the church.  In this regard, we proposed a completely new Article 63 of the Law, thus accepting the proposals of the Church.

    Secondly - That the Serbian Orthodox Church continues to use all church and monastery facilities, property and other real estate owned by the state or that is determined as state, religious and cultural property in court proceedings.  In that sense, we have proposed a completely new Article 64 of the Law, and clearly excluded the possibility that religious facilities can be used by any religious community except the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral the other dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro.

    Thirdly - To adopt these changes the day after tomorrow at the Cabinet session and to submit them to the Parliament for a declaration in an urgent procedure by the end of this month.

    Simplified - this would mean that the shrines were no longer attacked as the Church says, i.e. that they would be completely and permanently protected by the amendments to the Law! In a word - that there is no more talk about their alleged endangerment, as the Government was blamed for.

    The Prime Minister continued:  “The only request of the Government was the registration of all churches and religious communities, including the Serbian Orthodox Church and its dioceses, according to the letter of the law.  The registration, which was also an obligation under the previous law. The registration, as all civilized and democratic societies are regulating it.  Unfortunately, the church refused it.”   The statement then describes prior efforts by the government to be reasonable in its relations to the Church and gives examples where the government contends that the Church seeks to function outside of the legal system.

    Today, the Bishops’ Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro issued its own statement concerning the negotiations.   https://mitropolija.com/2020/07/21/episkopski-savjet-spc-u-cg-dijalog-sluzio-za-nove-ucjene-crkve-i-aktuelni-politicki-marketing/  This statement should be read in its entirety.  However, it does include the following statement:   “We note with regret that the latest proposal of the Government placed an ultimatum before the Church in the form of mandatory registration of the Metropolitanate and Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, despite the fact that they have existed as church institutions in Montenegro for eight centuries.”  With respect to the government’s proposal to amend Articles 63 and 64, the Church states:  “We have considered the Government's proposal for potential amendments to Articles 63 and 64 of the Law and conclude that they are essentially meaningless with the Government's insistence on the survival of Article 62 of the Law, which, conditionally, declares church property state property, although it has never been in Montenegrin history.”  The Council also asserts:  “ Based on all the above, it is clear that the Government, unlike the Church, did not have sincere intentions to reach a mutually acceptable and sustainable solution through dialogue, but the call for dialogue obviously served for new blackmail of the Church and current political marketing, in which the Church cannot and does not want to participate.”

    In my opinion the concessions made by the government in these negotiations are a great victory for the Church.  With respect to the pre-1918 church property, the government’s proposal now provides that the government has the burden of proof in court proceedings that the property was in fact previously government property.  Furthermore, registration of a church with the government seems to be a very common requirement in many countries.  It certainly appears that the government is seeking to remove the controversy concerning the new law as a major issue in the forthcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for August 30.  This issue has been the prime issue of the pro-Serbian political parties in their campaign against the government.  In view of the current stance of the Church, it remains an issue.  Although the Church has made it clear that it will not be involved in the political issues relating to the August 30 election, it made on July 14 a very strong statement that “the Church calls on all Montenegrin citizens to go to the polls for deputies in the National Assembly, and to elect and vote for those who will not pass and confirm illegal and anti-church laws on their behalf.”  https://mitropolija.com/2020/07/14/petrovdanska-poruka-mitropolita-amfilohija/

    The trial of Bishop Joanikije and eight priests in Montenegro for violations of the anti-Covid restrictions in Nikšić on May 12 has been postponed again due to the pandemic in Montenegro.  https://www.cdm.me/hronika/amfilohije-ovo-je-sudenje-i-svetom-vasiliju-ostroskom-nije-logicno-da-ja-nisam-medu-okrivljenima/  It is now set for September 4 – after the August 30 election.   The Church has lost its legal challenge to Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism with respect to the destruction by the government of a church residence near Ulcinj that was in the early stages of construction.  https://orthochristian.com/132812.html  The basis for the destruction was the failure of the Church to obtain a building permit and to follow a prior order by a government inspector to stop construction.

    With respect to Hagia Sophia, every day there are new protests by Orthodox churches and organizations concerning the conversion of this church, so important in Christian history, into a mosque.   On July 14, Serbian Patriarch Irinej made an appeal to Turkey.  http://www.spc.rs/eng/appeal_turkey (English).  On July 21, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Patriarchate issued an appeal for the preservation of Hagia Sophia as a museum, while expressing its respect for the Turkish state institutions.  https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news.php?id=331228   Patriarch John X of Antioch has written a letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew expressing his dismay at the decision by Turkey and stating:  “We stand by you, dear Brother, joining our prayers for your Holy Church and this wounded East. We support every effort of yours to enhance your presence in your own land, the land of your ancestors, the Church of Constantinople, the new Rome to which we are all bonded by brotherhood and unity of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”  https://orthodoxtimes.com/patriarch-of-antioch-to-the-ecumenical-patriarch-we-stand-by-you-dear-brother/  In a statement issued on July 17, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate issued “profound regret,” while noting that sadly the ability of the Orthodox world to respond to Turkey’s decision on Hagia Sophia has been weakened by the divisions caused by the uncanonical actions in Ukraine.   https://mospat.ru/en/2020/07/17/news185467/  The Orthodox Church of Cyprus has also issued a statement.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/church-of-cyprus-ecumenical-patriarchate-is-the-real-owner-of-hagia-sophia/

    On July 20, the official website of President of Greece Katerina Sakellaropoulou posted the following statement concerning a telephone conversation that the Greek President had with Pope Francis:

    The President of the Republic contacted Pope Francis today, on the occasion of the decision of the Turkish leadership to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque.  Ms. Sakellaropoulou stressed that this decision deeply hurts those who consider this top symbol of Christianity to belong to humanity and the world cultural heritage and diverts Turkey from the values  of the secular state and the principles of tolerance and pluralism.

    This action, she stressed, is not an internal matter of Turkey but a broader issue that must be explicitly and unequivocally condemned by the international community. The President thanked the Pope for his statements of support and asked him, in turn, to use all his influence to sensitize the international public, in order for the Turkish leadership to reverse its decision and restore Hagia Sophia in the status of a protected monument.

    For his part, the head of the Roman Catholic Church agreed with the remarks of Mrs. Sakellaropoulou, acknowledged the political motives of Mr. Erdogan's decision and promised to continue his efforts, in the context of his role, to reverse this decision. The Pope also praised our country's efforts in receiving refugees and immigrants, as he had the opportunity to see during his visit to Lesvos in 2016.

    The President of the Republic reiterated the invitation to Pope Francis to visit our country in 2021, a year in which the 200th anniversary of the Greek revolution will be celebrated. The Pope accepted the invitation, hoping that the conditions would allow the trip to take place.  http://www.presidency.gr/epikoinonia-tis-proedroy-tis-dimokratias-me-ton-papa-fragkisko/ (Google translation of Greek) See also https://orthodoxtimes.com/greek-president-to-pope-use-your-influence-to-raise-awareness-for-hagia-sophia/ (English article)

    The spokesperson of the Turkish president has stated that Pope Francis has been invited to attend the official opening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque on July 24!!  https://ahvalnews.com/hagia-sophia/pope-francis-guest-list-hagia-sophia-reopening-erdogan-aide

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 10 July 2020: Hagia Sophia now a mosque & other news

    As was expected, there was the very sad news today that Hagia Sophia will be a mosque again.  https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/hagia-sophia-converted-into-mosque-as-erdogan-signs-decree-156455  Late this afternoon, the Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, issued its decision.  Minutes after the announcement of the decision, Turkey’s President Erdoğan signed a decree making Hagia Sophia a mosque.  The Hurriyet, Turkey’s largest newspaper, reported in the foregoing link the following:

    The court based its verdict on the fact that the Hagia Sophia was a property of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Han Foundation and registered to be used only as a mosque. The decision to grant a status of museum to the Hagia Sophia was given by former President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1934.

    The reasoning of the Council of State stressed that the government in 1934 had no powers to change the status of the religious structure.

    Apparently, the full text of the decision has not yet been published, but it will be shortly.  The reasoning of the Council of State quoted above in effect allows President Erdoğan to say that he had no alternative but to follow the decision of the court.  In other words, his signing of the decree was not a discretionary act on his part, but was rather dictated by the decision of the Council of State.  Turkey can also say that the decision of the Council of State was in turn dictated by the intricacies of Turkish law relating to the property rights of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Han Foundation.  All of this helps to provide Turkey with a form of defense from international criticism.  To the extent that Erdoğan was contacted by international leaders about Hagia Sofia, he could say that it was beyond his control and in the hands of Turkey’s highest administrative court.  One can also argue that it would have been improper for foreign international leaders to seek to influence the judges in Turkey with respect to a case pending before them.  Was all of this a very clever scheme?  Whether it was or not, it worked.  Late today, Erdoğan stated that Hagia Sophia would be open for religious services beginning Friday, July 24.  https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-turkey-museum-prayers/erdogan-says-first-prayers-in-hagia-sophia-on-july-24-idUKKBN24B2RA

    The anticipation that Turkey was planning to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque did unite Orthodox primates in their opposition.  On June 30, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made a strong statement in favor of maintaining Hagia Sophia as a museum.   https://www.ecupatria.org/2020/06/30/ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-about-hagia-sophia/#more-1413  A few days later, Patriarch Kirill issued his own strong statement.  https://mospat.ru/en/2020/07/06/news185298/   On July 8, Patriarch Daniel sent a letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch expressing the support of the Romanian Patriarchate for maintaining this historic cathedral as a museum.  https://basilica.ro/en/romanian-patriarchate-adds-its-voice-keep-hagia-sophia-a-museum/  On the same day, the Jerusalem Patriarchate posted an appeal by Patriarch Theophilos III to maintain the museum status.  https://en.jerusalem-patriarchate.info/blog/2020/07/08/statement-of-his-beatitude-patriarch-theophilos-iii-on-the-status-of-hagia-sophia-shrine/  On July 9, the Georgian Patriarchate issued a statement that “it will be a wise step today if the Hagia Sophia remains a neutral place.”  https://patriarchate.ge/news/2634

    Today, the Orthodox Times posted an article entitled, “Pope Francis’ sad silence on the issue of Hagia Sophia.”  https://orthodoxtimes.com/pope-francis-sad-silence-on-the-issue-of-hagia-sophia/  I must admit that for the last few days, I have been making daily Google searches to see if the Vatican has made any statements with respect to the Hagia Sophia issue.  I found none.  The article states that “unfortunately Rome prefers not to get involved.”  However, one cannot honestly say at this point that Pope Francis did nothing.  It is possible that rather than making a public statement, which would cause a negative public reaction in Turkey (as did the Ecumenical Patriarch’s statement), the Vatican preferred to use quiet diplomacy.  It is even possible that Pope Francis made a telephone call to Erdoğan.  We simply do not know at this point and may never know.  The media may believe that it has a right to know everything, but certain matters are best left confidential.  Although a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry (not the Foreign Minister) expressed concern that Hagia Sophia might be turned into a mosque, I have seen no statements that President Putin himself made any statements or made any contact with Erdoğan.  However, that does not mean that he did not do so in a non-public fashion.

    The article also quotes another website that this was the second time that Rome preferred not to get involved in saving Hagia Sophia, the first being not responding to the calls for help before the fall of Constantinople in 1453.  The later assertion is simply not true.  After the Council of Florence, Pope Eugenius IV called a crusade for the purpose of driving the Turks from the Balkans and saving Constantinople.  The only monarch to answer the call was Ladislaus III, king of Poland and Hungary.  After spectacular successes against the Turks, the twenty-year-old king was defeated by the Turks and was killed at the battle of Varna in Bulgaria on November 10, 1444.  Again, shortly before the fall, the pope did in fact send assistance to Constantinople as described in an article posted by the same Orthodox Times  on May 29.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-fall-of-constantinople-the-dreadful-day-29-may-1453/  The article states: “The former Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia Isidore, a Cardinal of the Roman Church, who came to Constantinople as Papal Legate, recruited at Naples, at the Pope’s expense, 200 soldiers.”  In addition, “under the command of the brave Giovanni Giustiniani Longo about 700 well-armed men sailed, on two Genoese vessels, for the Byzantine capital. The ships arrived in the city on January 29, 1453; Giustiniani was promptly appointed by the Emperor head of the defense.”  These Italian soldiers fought valiantly to defend Constantinople as described in the same article.

    The coronavirus is now dominating the church-state conflict in Montenegro.  As you may recall, Prime Minister Duško Marković stated on May 25 that Montenegro had become the first European nation without an active Covid case.   Previous to that announcement, Montenegro had had 327 positive tests results and nine deaths.  However, beginning June 12, Covid has roared back into Montenegro.  You can see this from the latest graph of cases in Montenegro at https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/montenegro/.  Montenegro now has 1,019 positive tests and 19 deaths.  Seeing the seriousness of the situation, the Serbian Orthodox Church announced that processions would not be held as planned on June 28, but rather prayer services would be conducted on church property.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/06/28/najave-molebni-za-ocuvanje-svetinja-vidovdan-28-juna/https://www.cdm.me/english/we-wont-organize-religious-processions-claims-mcp/ (English).  Subsequently, the Church announced that even the prayer services with the faithful planned at churches on July 4 would not be held, but that these gatherings would be postponed because of the virus.  http://www.spc.rs/sr/saopshtenje_za_javnost_episkopskog_saveta_srpske_pravoslavne_crkve_u_crnoj_gori_1  

    Although the processions and gatherings have been temporarily suspended, the war of words has not.  The prime example is an interview given by Metropolitan Amfilohije on July 5 or 6.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/07/06/mitropolit-amfilohije-za-vijesti-mrznjom-i-podjelama-brane-vlast-i-licno-bogatstvo/; https://spzh.news/en/news/72817-vlasti-chernogorii-vozvrashhajutsya-k-fashistskim-metodam--irerarkh-spc (English excerpts)  He accuses President Milo Djukanovic of sacrificing “Montenegro and its existence for power and money.”  The Metropolitan stated that at his last meeting, he urged Djukanovic to be baptized – not just nominally but spiritually so as “not to sacrifice Montenegro and its being for the sake of power and money.”  I personally wonder whether such comments help set the stage for a construction dialogue with the president on the new law on religion.  The Church has also been gathering petitions from many different professional groups in Montenegro urging a change in the new law.  The latest petition, posted today, is from 472 “seafarers.” https://mitropolija.com/2020/07/10/crnogorski-pomoraci-bezuslovna-opredjeljenost-u-ocuvanju-svetinja/ 

    With respect to news relating to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not come to the Vatican this year to celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul as has been the tradition for decades – because of the pandemic.  The Ecumenical Patriarch did send a letter, which can be read at https://www.ecupatria.org/2020/07/03/ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-sends-greetings-to-pope-francis/#more-1417.   The Pope also made some warm remarks about the Ecumenical Patriarch during the celebration.  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-06/pope-francis-greets-patriarchate-constantinople.html   With respect to the distribution of communion, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has issued a clarification which seems to say no to the use of multiple spoons.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/ecumenical-patriarchate-clarifies-no-change-in-way-of-receiving-holy-communion/  The Ecumenical Patriarch has written a letter of congratulations to the new vicarate established for its parishes of the Russian tradition in France.  https://orthodoxie.com/message-du-patriarche-bartholomee-a-loccasion-de-lassemblee-generale-constitutive-du-vicariat/ 

    With respect to news relating to the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion gave a very interesting interview today relating to the sad events in Istanbul.  https://mospat.ru/ru/2020/07/10/news185363/  Among other concerns, he raised the question again of what will happen to the beautiful fragments of Byzantine mosaics that now can be seen at Hagia Sophia.  A spokesperson for the president of Turkey said today that the icons within the building would be preserved.  https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/hagia-sophia-will-always-belong-to-worlds-heritage-presidential-spokesperson-156431   This year it has been announced by the UOC-MP that because of the pandemic, it will not be possible to hold its traditional (and huge) procession in Kyiv on the feast of the Baptism of Rus.  https://pravlife.org/uk/content/cherez-karantyn-vidmineno-hresnyy-hid-upc-na-chest-hreshchennya-rusi 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 25 June 2020: Disease impossible through communion & other news

    Today, June 25, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, meeting at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy,  issued a communique relating to the distribution of communion.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-communique-of-the-ecumenical-patriarchate-for-the-holy-communion/  (English)   The paragraphs relating to communion are as follows:

    During this meeting, the Official Letters of Their Beatitiudes the Orthodox Primates that had been received thus far in response to the letter of the Ecumenical Patriarch to them of May 17th of this year, on the issue of the mode of distribution of Holy Communion that emerged after the appearance of the coronavirus pandemic, were read and discussed. It was satisfactorily determined that their opinion coincided with that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This consists of the following:

    a) The Mystery of the Divine Eucharist is non-negotiable, because we believe that through it is transmitted to the faithful the Body and Blood of the Savior Christ “unto the remission of sins and life eternal” and it is impossible that through this Mystery of Mysteries any disease might be communicated to those who partake.  For this reason, the Church remains steadfast and immovable in its teaching towards the essence of the Mystery of Holy Communion.

    b) As to the mode of distributing the ineffable Mysteries to the faithful, the Church, respecting Holy Tradition that is interwoven inextricably with the daily ecclesiastical practice and kenoitc experience, and as the guardian and vigilant watchman of those traditions handed down from the Holy Father, finds no need for a change of this mode, especially under pressure from external factors.

    At the same time, the Mother Church, mindful of the special needs of Her children in the Diaspora, urges the Chief Shepherds who serve in the Diaspora that with a pastoral sensitivity, responsibility, and consciousness, to temporarily make, by economia, accommodations to problematic situations that arise from local laws of the State for the greater spiritual benefit of the Christian people, always in coordination with the Sacred Center at the Phanar.

    With respect to news from Ukraine, former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko arrived at a Kyiv courthouse on June 18 to defend against a request by Ukrainian prosecutors that he be subject to confinement for the period prior to his trial on criminal charges.  Before he entered the courthouse, he addressed thousands of supporters who had gathered there.  The specific charge on which confinement was sought was that in 2018 Poroshenko had illegally appointed a deputy head of the foreign intelligence service.  During the hearing before the judge, prosecutors stated that they were dropping their demand for pretrial confinement.  The hearing was then postponed, and the prosecutors stated that they would seek at that later time conditions, such as a commitment by Poroshenko not to leave Kyiv without permission.  https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-ukraine-poroshenko/ukraine-ex-president-avoids-pre-trial-detention-as-west-warns-against-score-settling-idUKKBN23P2TR  As stated in the foregoing Reuters article, the United States, Britain, Canada, and Germany had earlier expressed concern about the proceedings against Poroshenko, and the U.S. embassy in Kyiv had stated that the “justice system should not be used for the purpose of settling political scores.”

    Before the large crowd prior to the hearing and as well as during the hearing, Poroshenko claimed that one of the charges against him related to obtaining the tomos and creating the OCU.  An English translation of the full text of Poroshenko’s address to the judge can be read at  https://ukrainetoday.org/2020/06/18/poroshenkos-full-statement-in-court-put-me-in-place-for-tomos-for-me-it-will-be-the-biggest-reward/  Poroshenko stated in part:  “I want to emphasize that all 27 cases [the matters for which Poroshenko is being investigated] were absolutely illegally brought against me, which included the case of ‘inciting religious hatred’ by obtaining the Tomos and creating the Orthodox Church of Ukraine … Put me in jail for this case.  For me it will be the biggest reward.”  Later the same day, the press service of the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) stated:  “On November 6, 2019, the SSU [Security Service of Ukraine] launched an investigation into the statement of parishioners of the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on illegal actions of a number of senior officials who committed actions aimed at inciting inter-religious hatred during the establishment of the OCU.  Subsequently, the SSU transferred the case for investigation to the SBI.  The case is being investigated.”  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3048033-u-dbr-pidtverdzuut-isnuvanna-spravi-cerez-tomos.html  The big difference between the two statements is that Poroshenko used the preposition “by” (шляхом) while the press service of the SBI used the preposition “during” (при).   Poroshenko indicates that the prosecutors are contending that the very acts of granting the tomos and creating the OCU constituted “inciting religious hatred.”  On the other hand, the press service indicates that the acts occurred during the time of the establishment of the OCU.

    It was reported on June 19 that an “informed source” within the SBI had told Ukrainian Pravda that the charge had been made by Filaret of the UOC-KP and that the SBI had no intention of interfering with the activities of the OCU or to question the legitimacy of its creation.  https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2020/06/19/7256283/  On the same day, the press service of the UOC-KP issued a statement which included the following:  “The purpose of criminal proceedings is to protect the violated right to freedom of conscience of the faithful and the clergy of the Kyiv Patriarchate, and not to terminate the activities of the OCU.  https://www.cerkva.info/news/zaiava-pres-sluzhby-kyivskoi-patriarkhii/  From this and other statements, it appears that gravamen of the UOC-KP’s complaint probably relates to the actions of the Poroshenko administration in withdrawing the state registration of the UOC-KP.  It should also be noted that the SBI is still investigating these allegations by the UOC-KP and apparently has not yet decided whether to recommend prosecution based on these allegations.

    The person in charge of prosecuting any case against Poroshenko is Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova, who was Zelensky’s legal advisor during his political campaign for president.  She assumed this position on March 17, 2020 and replaced Ruslan Ryaboshapka, whom Zelensky had earlier appointed.  According to ABC News, “Zelensky and his supporters have justified Ryaboshapka’s removal over what they said was slow progress in bringing prosecutions against former top officials and in high-profile investigations.”  https://abcnews.go.com/International/ukraine-fires-prosecutor-general-alarming-us-european-countries/story?id=69436552  However, Venediktova does not seem to be an enemy of the tomos.  During the presidential election campaign, she stated: “For our self-identity, obtaining a tomos is most important.”  https://tass.ru/obschestvo/6298170  All of the foregoing indicates that Poroshenko is not being investigated from his role in obtaining the tomos or creating the OCU.

    On June 12, the OCU issued a statement stressing the importance of a fair justice system and stating that “any political motivation in the activities of law enforcement agencies and the initiation of criminal cases, in particular against the fifth President of Ukraine, is unacceptable.”  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/zayava-kyyivskoyi-mytropoliyi-pravoslavnoyi-tserkvy-ukrayiny/   On June 19, the OCU issued another statement claiming that the investigation of the allegations relating to inter-religious hatred is a shameful attempt to put pressure on the OCU by its opponents.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/zayava-kyi-vskoi-mytropolii-ukrai-nskoi-pravoslavnoi-tserkvy-pravoslavnoi-tserkvy-ukrai-ny/

    Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the OCU, performed the funeral for Poroshenko’s father on June 19.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/mytropolyt-epifanij-zvershyv-chyn-pohoronu-oleksiya-poroshenka/   Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew sent a letter to Poroshenko expressing the Patriarch’s condolences on the death of his father.  https://cerkvarium.org/novyny/pomistni-tserkvy/spivchuttya-vselenskogo-patriarkha-petrovi-poroshenku-z-privodu-smerti-batka  (photocopy of the English-language letter)  Bartholomew has also sent a letter to Zelensky wishing a speedy recovery for the latter’s wife who was hospitalized for Covid.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/letter-from-ecumenical-patriarch-to-president-of-ukraine/ 

    With respect to news from Montenegro, parliamentary elections have been set for August 30.  https://www.cdm.me/english/parliamentary-and-local-elections-scheduled-for-30-august-decided-president-dukanovic/  The opposition parties, who strongly support the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church in regard to the new law on religion, boycotted the meeting to set the date on the grounds that conditions now for an election are worse than at the time of the 2016 elections.  https://www.barrons.com/news/montenegro-calls-polls-for-august-despite-virus-return-01592664604?tesla=y   The Freedom House, a NGO which rates various countries on their degree of political freedom, has now released its numerical grades for 2020 on the political rights and civil liberties in Montenegro.  https://freedomhouse.org/country/montenegro/freedom-world/2020  Montenegro gets mixed grades.

    As occurred on Sunday June 14, the Serbian Orthodox Church held processions in Montenegro on Sunday June 21.  There were about 8,000 participants in Podgorica, 4,000 in Niksic, 4,500 in Pljevlja, 1,000 in Berane, 1,400 in Bar, 3,000 in Budva and 1,200 in Bijelo Polje.  https://www.cdm.me/drustvo/na-litijama-bilo-oko-23-hiljade-gradana-opet-krsene-mjeregradova-opet-krsene-mjere/   The anti-Covid restrictions currently limit the size of groups to 200.   http://www.gov.me/en/homepage/measures_and_recommendations   In Montenegro there has been a spike in Covid cases with 62 new positive results being reported after June 14.  https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/montenegro/ (see graph)  The government has responded to the new processions by temporarily detaining clerical organizers for questioning.  https://balkaninsight.com/2020/06/22/montenegro-police-grill-serbian-clerics-over-church-rallies/  On June 22, Metropolitan Amfilohije, accompanied by his two attorney, was at the police center in  Podgorica for approximately six hours.  His two attorneys subsequently filed a complaint with the Prosecutorial Council alleging unprofessional conduct by the prosecutor who was not present but who took long periods of time to submit his relatively few questions.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/06/23/branioci-mitropolita-amfilohija-podnijeli-prituzbu-tuzilackom-savjetu/  At the end, the Metropolitan was informed that a criminal complaint would be filed against him but that he would not be detained.  With respect to the trial of Bishop Joanikije and eight priests for alleged violations of the anti-Covid restrictions in Nikšić on May 12, the trial previously set for June 19 has been reset to July 16, due to the illness of one of the priests.  https://www.cdm.me/hronika/odgodeno-sudenje-sudija-joanikija-pitao-o-imovinskom-stanju-on-odgovorio-da-pitanje-nije-pristojno/  One can probably expect a continuation of the large processions and a continuation of criminal charges until the anti-Covid regulations are relaxed so as to allow huge gatherings.

    In other news, President Putin accompanied by Patriarch Kirill and Defense Ministry Shoigu visited the new Cathedral of the Armed Forces on June 22.  The following is an interesting 5-minute video of the visit.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unxknzTgSpQ  It is interesting to see the respect paid by President Putin to the various icons.  In Kyiv, Vadim Novinsky, the billionaire and member of parliament who is so close to Metropolitan Onufry (UOC-MP), confirmed that he has been ordained a deacon by and at the request of Metropolitan Onufry.   https://spzh.news/en/news/72392-vadim-novinskij-rasskazal-kak-stal-diakonom-cerkvi  Lastly, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister will be fined from entering a church without wearing a mask.  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-bulgaria/bulgarian-pm-to-be-fined-for-not-wearing-face-mask-in-church-idUSKBN23U2G2 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 18 June 2020: Common spoon prevailing & other news

    Today (Wednesday) the Romanian Patriarchate issued a new set of instructions relating to precautionary measures to be taken in view of the Covid pandemic.  https://basilica.ro/noi-indrumari-bisericesti-care-se-aplica-din-data-de-17-iunie-2020/  These instructions were developed “in consultation with competent state authorities” and are timed to coincide with the relaxation today of some anti-Covid restrictions by the Romanian government so as to allow the attendance at church services by the faithful.  You may recall that on May 15, the Romanian Patriarchate issued a set instructions in anticipation of a relaxation of anti-Covid restrictions.   https://basilica.ro/en/romanian-orthodox-churchs-guidelines-for-priests-and-faithful-during-state-of-alert/  In many ways, the new instructions of June 17 are similar to those of May 15.  

    The instructions of May 15 included the following provision:  “Therefore, the Romanian Orthodox Church, according to its centuries-old liturgical tradition, cannot accept, even in times of pandemic, the use of the single-use chalice and spoon for Communion of the faithful during the Divine Liturgy.  In this regard, with the approval of the majority of members of the Holy Synod, consulted in writing on May 11, 2020, the manner of general Communion of believers during the Divine Liturgy, during a pandemic, will be decided after June 1, 2020, in consensus with the other Orthodox Churches.”   In a letter dated May 19 (the text was never made public), Patriarch Daniel of Romania consulted with the primates of the other Local Orthodox Churches with respect to their views on the manner of communion during the pandemic.  Now, in the instructions of June 17, nothing is said about deviating from the traditional way of receiving communion with the common spoon during the Liturgy.  Instead, there is only the following sentence which was also found in the instructions of May 15:  “Liturgical objects used for divine services will be cleaned before and after the services.”   All of this indicates that it is likely that the consultation resulted in an affirmation of the traditional way of receiving communion.  As did the instructions of May 15, the instructions today do refer to the possibility of “individual communion,” presumably at a time other than the Liturgy.

    I have seen no word yet from Constantinople as to the results of the consultation with the primates made by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on this same subject.  https://www.ecupatria.org/2020/06/02/correspondence-of-the-ecumenical-patriarch-with-primates-of-other-local-orthodox-churches-regarding-the-way-of-distribution-of-the-eucharist/#more-1390 (English text of the letter)  As the letter was made public by Constantinople, presumably there will be some public announcement of the results of the consultation.  However, a clue as to what might be forthcoming may be contained in an announcement made by the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Metropolis of Chicago on June 3.  https://chicago.goarch.org/-/the-divine-liturgy-rubric  The announcement is emphatic that the “manner in which the Holy Eucharist is distributed, however, will not change.”   With respect to the faithful who are apprehensive about receiving communion during the pandemic, the clergy “are to shepherd and slowly teach the faithful that the Life-giving Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ never leads to one’s sickness or death.”

    On Sunday, Patriarch Kirill dedicated the new massive cathedral of the Russian armed forces.  https://orthochristian.com/131896.html  A 3-hour video showing the consecration, the liturgy, and the Patriarch’s address to the formations of military in the square in front of the cathedral can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?tim e_continue=57&v=9Q2vhf72e2U&feature=emb_logo    As can be seen from the video, the dark colors of the cathedral seem to reflect a military motif.  Consistent with that motif, the Patriarch wore tan vestments.  After the service, the Patriarch announced that he had decided to assume the duties of the chief priest of the cathedral.  https://tass.ru/obschestvo/8719345  Although President Putin did not attend the service, it was stated that he intends to visit the cathedral at a later time.  https://ria.ru/20200615/1572944088.html  As had been previously reported by the media, the images of Stalin, Putin, and Shoigu had disappeared from the mosaics of the cathedral.  During the service, less than a dozen people (all civilians) received communion.  From the video, it appeared to me that they received communion in the traditional manner and that the common spoon was not placed in an alcohol solution after each reception as had earlier been indicated would be true for the Moscow diocese.

    Defense Minister and General of the Army Sergei Shoigu was the chief government representative at the service.  Shoigu, who has been defense minister since 2012, is probably the most influential and highly regarded member of the government aside from Putin.  Shoigu comes from the Tuva Republic, an area of the Russian Federation where the predominate religion is Tibetan Buddhism.  For years, his religious affiliation, if any, was unclear.  However, in 2015 he was seen crossing himself.  During the service on Sunday, he crossed himself on a number of occasions.  An article noted that the other military personnel began crossing themselves at the service once Shoigu had done so.  https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4378880?query=%F5%F0%E0%EC  In the video above, one can see the young military troops in formation within the cathedral standing at stiff attention during the first part of the service.  Later, they were more relaxed and crossing themselves in unison (see 1:38:20 in the video).

    In Montenegro yesterday, President Milo Đukanović announced that the parliamentary elections in that country would probably take place at the end of August or the beginning of September.  He also stated that the Serbian Orthodox Church is attempting to exert pressure on the government through its processions and seeks to oust the government in the forthcoming elections.  https://www.cdm.me/english/dukanovic-soc-is-manipulating-people-and-wants-to-oust-government/  The last seven days have witnessed continued confrontations between the Church and the government.  On June 10, the government demolished the beginning of a construction project to build a residence next to the church of St. Basil of Ostrog near the city of Ulcinj.  https://balkaneu.com/montenegro-konak-in-saint-basil-monastery-in-ulcinj-demolished  The construction project had begun on May 9 when Metropolitan Amfilohije blessed the cornerstone for the future residence.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/05/09/novi-manastir-kod-ulcinja-posvecen-svetom-vasiliju-ostroskom/  From the photos, it appears that by the time of destruction, the concrete slab of the main floor and certain walls below the main floor had been completed, but nothing above the slab of the main floor.  There appears to be no dispute that the Church had not obtained a government building permit for the project.  Metropolitan Amfilohije subsequently referred to the destruction as an unprecedented crime. http://www.spc.rs/eng/metropolitan_amfilohije_demolition_monastery_st_basil_briska_gora_unprecedented_crime  The legal basis for the protest by the Serbian Orthodox Church was subsequently set forth at http://www.spc.rs/sr/saopshtenje_za_javnost_mitropolije_crnogorskoprimorske_37 .  The main legal arguments appear to be that there are certain deficiencies in the government paperwork relating to the destruction and that certain other buildings in the past had been constructed without the necessary building permits and have not been demolished.

    On June 12, the government of Montenegro announced that it had several days earlier made an offer to Metropolitan Amfilohije that “the Government was ready to suspend the implementation of the Law on Freedom of Religion until the Constitutional Court of Montenegro and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg decide on its legitimacy.”  At the same time, the Government “offered and proposed for the next week the continuation of the started negotiations at the expert level” on the new law.  http://www.gov.me/en/News/227269/PM-Markovic-We-proposed-to-Metropolitan-Amfilohije-suspension-of-law-application-until-Constitutional-and-European-Court-deliver.html (English)  On June 13, the Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro issued a long and detailed legal rebuttal to this statement.  http://www.spc.rs/eng/press_release_episcopal_council_serbian_orthodox_church_montenegro (English)  It rejects as “unconstitutional” the offer to suspend the enforcement of the law but is open to continuing the negotiations at the expert level.

    On June 11, the Episcopal Council wrote a letter to the faithful that the Church processions would commence again on Sunday June 14.  http://www.spc.rs/eng/statement_episcopal_council_serbian_orthodox_church_montenegro_clergy_and_monkhood_montenegro  On Sunday, according to a news report, approximately 5,000 believers gathered in Podgorica, more than 3,000 in Nikšić, and hundreds in Budva and Bar.  http://www.spc.rs/eng/thousands_participate_first_protest_processions_montenegro_after_quarantine_lifted  The current anti-Covid restrictions in Montenegro limit crowds to 200 persons.  On May 25, , Prime Minister Duško Marković stated that Montenegro had become the first European nation without an active Covid case.  However, in the last few days there have nine new positive Covid test results in Montenegro.   https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/montenegro/ (see graph of new cases)  Today, the legal council of the Episcopal Council issued a press release that argued that the limit of 200 imposed by the Ministry of Health of Montenegro is unlawful.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/06/17/pravni-savjet-mcp-ministarstvo-zdravlja-prekoracilo-svoja-zakonska-ovlascenja/ 

    In connection with the processions on Sunday, two priests were detained by prosecutors for up to 72 hours for organizing processions in excess of 200 persons.  However, courts ordered their release before the 72 hours had expired.  http://www.spc.rs/sr/sloboda_za_sveshtenike_iz_pritvora_pushteni_sveshtenici_mircheta_shljivanchanin_zheljko_tshalitsh  It has been reported that the trial of Bishop Joanikije and eight priests for alleged violations of the anti-Covid restrictions in Nikšić on May 12 will be held on June 19.  http://orthochristian.com/131652.html

    One suspects that the actions of both the government of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church during these weeks are being done, at least in part, with an eye on their possible effects on the parliamentary elections at the end of this summer.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 8 June 2020: The common spoon controversy & other news

    After being closed to parishioners since April 13 because the pandemic, the churches in Moscow were opened for the faithful on Saturday, June 6.  On this same day, Metropolitan Hilarion described the precautions that the Moscow Patriarchate will require in connection with this opening.  http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=75084   The precautions include the wearing of masks by parishioners and markings on the floor of churches to ensure four square meters for each parishioner attending a service.  Metropolitan Hilarion also described the measures being taken with respect to the common spoon (лжица) used to distribute Holy Communion to the faithful.  During the last few months, the use of the common spoon,  which has been the practice of the Orthodox since the early years of Christianity, has been the subject of concern of health authorities in many countries and has given rise to heated debates between the churches and the authorities.  In this regard Metropolitan Hilarion stated the position of the Moscow Patriarchate during the pandemic:  “the spoon after each communion will be treated with an alcohol solution.”

    As discussed in my last report, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has sent a letter to the primates of all of the Local Orthodox Churches seeking their views on the distribution of communion during the pandemic.  https://www.ecupatria.org/2020/06/02/correspondence-of-the-ecumenical-patriarch-with-primates-of-other-local-orthodox-churches-regarding-the-way-of-distribution-of-the-eucharist/#more-1390  His letter was sent on May 17, 2020.  To date, there has been no report on what position the Ecumenical Patriarchate will take as a result of this survey of views.  Father Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s DECR, has acknowledged that Moscow has received Bartholomew’s letter as well as a letter from Patriarch Daniel of Romania seeking Moscow’s views on the distribution of communion.  https://ria.ru/20200603/1572398281.html  Balashov stated that Moscow had sent a detailed response to Daniel, but would not respond to Bartholomew as Moscow’s severance of relations with Constantinople includes correspondence.

    On June 3, the Standing Holy Synod of the Church of Greece discussed both the May 17 letter from the Ecumenical Patriarch as well as a May 19 letter from Patriarch Daniel relating to the distribution of communion during the pandemic.  https://www.romfea.gr/epikairotita-xronika/37405-ekklisia-tis-ellados-to-thema-tis-theias-euxaristias-paramenei-adiapragmateuto  The Standing Synod unanimously took the position that the method of distribution of communion “remains as it is and as it has been handed down to us by the Holy Fathers and in accordance with our Holy Tradition.”  https://orthodoxtimes.com/church-of-greece-agrees-with-ecumenical-patriarchate-on-holy-communion/   It has also been reported that Archbishop Chrysostomos, primate of the Church of Cyprus, has replied that his church would not discuss or negotiate a change in the traditional way of distributing communion to the faithful with a spoon.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/archbishop-of-cyprus-to-ecumenical-patriarch-we-agree-on-the-issue-of-holy-communion/

    I have seen no information from the Romanian Patriarchate with respect to responses to its letter of May 19.  However, there have been an interesting series of events in Romania with respect to the common spoon.  In a communique posted on February 27, the Romanian Patriarchate allowed an exception during the pandemic under which a believer who fears the virus “may exceptionally ask the priest to share, at any time of the day, the Holy Eucharist for the sick [reserved in the tabernacle at the altar], which can be offered in a teaspoon brought from home and used exclusively for this purpose.”  https://basilica.ro/patriarhia-romana-masuri-sanitare-si-spirituale-in-timp-de-epidemie/  This exception resulted in criticism, and shortly thereafter Patriarch Daniel issued a clarification.  https://www.thenationalherald.com/church/arthro/patriarch_daniel_of_romania_speaks_about_holy_communion_and_epidemics-255643/#gsc.tab=0  In it, he affirmed that a disease can never be transmitted through Holy Communion and that this limited exception was made only for those whose faith is weak.  He also stated that those who have such a weak faith should seek the counsel of their spiritual father.

    In anticipation of a relaxation of anti-pandemic measures, the Romanian governmental authorities on May 9 published proposed rules, including one that required the use of disposable spoons for communion.  The same day, the spokesperson for the Romanian Patriarchate stated:  “The Romanian Orthodox Church will consult with the other sister Orthodox Churches to find together, in communion and in the spirit of fidelity to the liturgical tradition, the best way regarding the access of believers, in the context of the pandemic, to the heart of the Christian life: Holy Communion.”

    The Romanian government did in fact issue the order requiring disposable spoons on May 15.  On the same date, the Romanian Patriarchate issued its own guidelines which included the following statement:  “Therefore, the Romanian Orthodox Church, according to its centuries-old liturgical tradition, cannot accept, even in times of pandemic, the use of the single-use chalice and spoon for Communion of the faithful during the Divine Liturgy.  In this regard, with the approval of the majority of members of the Holy Synod, consulted in writing on May 11, 2020, the manner of general Communion of believers during the Divine Liturgy, during a pandemic, will be decided after June 1, 2020, in consensus with the other Orthodox Churches.”   https://basilica.ro/en/romanian-orthodox-churchs-guidelines-for-priests-and-faithful-during-state-of-alert/   Four days after this statement, Patriarch Daniel sent his letter to the other primates.  However, on May 22, the Romanian government removed the requirement of a disposable spoon and substituted a requirement that the spoon be disinfected after every use.  https://www.stiripesurse.ro/oficial-s-au-publicat-noile-reguli-de-desfasurare-a-slujbelor-religioase-lingurita-pentru-impartasanie-dezinfectata-dupa-fiecare-folosire_1467661.html  The next day, the Romanian Patriarchate issued a communique which did not specially disagree with the disinfecting requirement, but repeated its intention to wait until the completion of its consultation with other Local Orthodox Churches.  https://mainnews.ro/reactia-patriarhiei-dupa-publicarea-regulilor-privind-procesiunile-religioase-obiectele-de-cult-se-vor-dezinfecta-dupa-fiecare-utilizare-folosirea-linguritei-comune-nu-a-fost-sursa-de-contaminare/?cn-reloaded=1  The communique also mentioned the possibility of “individual communion” by a believer after the Divine Liturgy or at another time arranged with the local priest.

    We must now wait and see what will happen from the initiatives of Bartholomew and Daniel.  Will there be some form of common statement reflecting certain principles on which all (or most) of the primates are in agreement?   Or will each Local Orthodox Church formulate its own position while perhaps acknowledging that it has first consulted with other Local Churches.  Will some Local Orthodox Churches reject the Moscow approach of disinfecting the spoon after each communion as a sign of lack of faith in the belief that Holy Communion can never transmit a disease?  One extremely conservative website in Russia has called the disinfecting process described by Metropolitan Hilarion as a blasphemy.  https://3rm.info/main/80481-ne-uchastvujte-v-delah-tmy-v-hramah-rpc-mp-bogohulstvo-i-koschunstva-prodolzhatsja-ne-prichaschajtes-u-predatelej-hrista.html   On the other hand, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (Ecumenical Patriarchate) has posted a 5-minute video in which Archbishop Elpidophoros discusses the possibility of an alternative, for those worried about the use of a common spoon, of using multiple (not disposable) spoons which are disinfected after every use.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=162&v=Rl1ehonuJVs&feature=emb_logo  

    On a completely different subject, Oleksandr Tkachenko of the Servant of the People political party was elected on June 4 by a large majority of the Ukrainian parliament as Ukraine’s new Minister of Culture and Information Policy.  https://www.religion.in.ua/news/vazhlivo/46482-ministrom-kulturi-stav-deputat-proti-yakogo-agituvali-v-upc-mp.html  The same day, President Zelensky stated his approval.  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-polytics/3039326-zelenskij-shvalue-priznacenna-tkacenka-ministrom-kulturi-ta-informpolitiki.html  For the churches in Ukraine, this is an important position as one of its responsibilities is religious affairs.   Tkachenko was general director of the 1+1 Media Group, one of the largest media conglomerates in Ukraine including eight TV channels and media such as UNIAN and TSN.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1%2B1_Media_Group  Last summer he left 1+1 and became a member of the Ukrainian parliament where he headed its committee on humanitarian and information policy.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oleksandr_Tkachenko_(journalist)  The Ukrainian service of BBC states in a June 4 article that “interlocutors of BBC News Ukraine in church circles call Tkachenko a very religious man and a supporter of Ukrainian autocephaly.”  https://www.bbc.com/ukrainian/features-52877288

    Tkachenko, who was a very well-known journalist earlier in his career, is a prolific writer on his Facebook page.  https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001728355058   I have spent a number of hours reading through his Facebook timeline.  His entries confirm that he regularly practices his Orthodox faith.  With respect to church matters, it appears that his closest friend is Archpriest Georgy Kovalenko, who since March 2016 has been rector of the  Open Orthodox University of Saint Sophia-Wisdom in Kyiv.  For example, the April 25, 2019 dateline entry on Facebook shows that Tkachenko and Kovalenko were together visiting Mt. Athos.  There is a photo showing Tkachenko and Kovalenko meeting together with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar (see BBC article).  Another photo shows the two meeting with Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem.  https://spzh.news/en/news/38777-uoc-ex-speaker-accompanied-by-the-kiev-patriarchate-sponsor-and-uniate-visits-patriarch-of-jerusalem (the statement in this article that Tkachenko is a Greek-Catholic is incorrect)  On December 25, 2019, Tkachenko posted on YouTube a 5-minute video in which he discusses with Kovalenko the date for celebrating Christmas.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoFUXA4QBo0&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR1-ymaNfVSWKZp6mRatdEX04ZQ-Aj4tHudemIyITReVdEY62URWmRkWVbA 

    Father Georgy Kovalenko is a familiar face in Ukraine because for six years he was the personal press secretary for Metropolitan Vladimir of Kyiv (primate of the UOC-MP from 1992 to 2014) and the voice of the UOC-MP.  On September 16, 2014, a month after Metropolitan Onufry was enthroned as primate of the UOC-MP, the Holy Synod abolished Kovalenko’s office and appointed him as the head of the Synodal Educational Department, a position that he held until January 2016.  In March 2016 he founded and became the rector of the Open Orthodox University.  According to its website (http://oou.org.ua/), “Open Orthodoxy is a conciliar community of Orthodox Christians with an open civic position, engaged in education and enlightenment and, based on the traditions of Orthodoxy and modern knowledge, trying to embody biblical values in their own lives and joint projects.”  On January 7, 2019, Kovalenko, who has been a strong advocate for autocephaly, celebrated the Divine Liturgy with Metropolitan Epifany, newly elected primate of the OCU.   Metropolitan Onufry subsequently suspended the right of Kovalenko to serve as a priest.  https://risu.org.ua/en/index/all_news/confessional/orthodox_relations/74504  Last December, Kovalenko was made a member of the OCU’s Synodal Commission on Inter-Christian Relations.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/vidbulosya-chergove-zasidannya-svyashhennogo-synodu/

    In February, Kovalenko presented at a conference at the Katholische Akademie in Bavaria his views on the two Orthodox churches in Ukraine.  His views included the following observation:  “We have two legally Ukrainian and canonically Orthodox Churches in Ukraine. This is the reality that both Churches have to accept and which they have to consider in their vision of the future.  Mutual recognition and rejection of the policy of ‘merging and absorption’ is an important step for a successful dialogue and the beginning of cooperation.”  https://www.facebook.com/kovalenkogeorge (Feb. 8, 2020 entry)  If this becomes the view of Tkachenko and both churches are considered by him as proper and appropriate, it may result in even-handed treatment by the Ministry of Culture with respect to both the UOC-MP and the OCU.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 3 June 2020: Bartholomew seeks common Orthodox approach on communion distribution & other news

    Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has sent a letter to the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches seeking their opinions and thoughts “so that we may commonly walk in the pastoral approach to controversies over the established mode of the distribution of divine communion” during the Covid-19 pandemic.  The full text of the letter in Greek was posted yesterday (June 1) at https://www.romfea.gr/epikairotita-xronika/37382-ektakto-to-oikoumeniko-patriarxeio-zita-epikoinonia-me-tis-orthodojes-ekklisies-gia-tin-theia-koinonia .  Today, a good English translation was posted at https://orthodoxia.info/news/correspondence-of-the-ecumenical-patriarchy-with-primates-of-other-local-orthodox-churches-regarding-the-way-of-distribution-of-the-eucharist/  The letter includes the following important points:

    Since, nevertheless, after the praiseworthy interest of the authorities and the priceless prevention of the leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic, certain unseemly points of view have been heard on how to approach the immaculate mysteries, it is impossible for us to remain silent and foreign to such an ambiguous situation, and inactive in the face of development and related government regulations and prohibitions.

    We have obeyed the exhortations of the health and political authorities, and as is natural, we obey, to the point, however, where the essence and the center of our faith is not touched.  The condescension of the Church goes to the cross, but nevertheless it refuses to descend from it by obeying the magistrates and authorities of this world when the mystery of the mysteries of her life, the divine Eucharist, is being questioned.

    As commented at https://orthochristian.com/131551.html, “now that the faithful are returning to church in many places, variant practices on how to commune the faithful have arisen, including disinfecting the spoon between every communicant, using disposable one-time use spoons, communing the faithful in the hand, and withholding the Eucharist from the faithful until the government permits everyone to commune from the same spoon and chalice.”

    The letter of the Ecumenical Patriarch is not only significant as an effort to obtain a uniform approach on this matter in the Orthodox world, but it is also very significant as the exercise of a leadership role by the Ecumenical Patriarch in a situation where some of the Local Orthodox Churches have challenged his role.  Will the Moscow Patriarchate respond and make suggestions for a uniform approach when it has in fact severed communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate?  Will Churches such as Serbia, Antioch, and Poland, which have sided with Moscow on the Ukraine dispute, respond?  Will Moscow seek to take the initiative, such as suggesting a meeting of all of the primates to discuss this and other issues?  However, a common response is needed immediately and arranging a meeting would take time.  It will be interesting to see what will happen.

    On May 27 there was the very surprising announcement that Enzo Bianchi, the lay founder of the Bose Monastery, and three others from the Monastery had been directed by the Holy See to leave the Monastery as the result of an apostolic visitation to the Monastery that occurred from December 6, 2019 to January 6, 2020.  The letter containing the directive was signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, and had been specifically approved by Pope Francis.  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2020-05/bose-community-enzo-bianchi-required-to-leave.html; https://www.monasterodibose.it/en/community/news/community-life/13895-hope-in-trial  If you are not familiar with the Bose Monastery and the important Orthodox conference that it holds each year, I have attached a short article about the Monastery and the conference that I wrote for the November 2019 issue of Inside the Vatican magazine.

    Bianchi had announced his retirement as prior of the monastery in 2016, and Brother Luciano Manicardi had been elected as his successor.  After the election, Bianchi, who has a very strong personality, remained at the Monastery and very actively participated in its life.  According to the announcement, the visitation had occurred because of “serious concerns expressed by several members to the Holy See, which indicated a tense and problematic situation in our Community regarding the exercise of the authority of the founder, the community’s management, and the fraternal climate.”  In the course of the investigation by the apostolic visitors, every member of the community was interviewed.  The decision by Pope Francis to approve the relocation of Bianchi must have been a very painful one for Pope Francis as it appears that he has a very close and warm relationship with Bianchi.  Since the announcement, the members of the community have been generally silent about the underlying problems, and the details have not been given to the media.  Bianchi has been silent except for a short interview with the Repubblica newspaper (https://www.repubblica.it/vaticano/2020/05/27/news/enzo_bianchi_rompe_il_silenzio_santa_sede_ci_aiuti_mai_ho_contestato_il_legittimo_priore_-257778279/?ref=search)  and short comments on Twitter (https://twitter.com/enzobianchi7).  However, today he announced that he accepted the decision with “painful obedience.”  https://www.lastampa.it/biella/2020/06/02/news/enzo-bianchi-accetta-di-lasciare-la-comunita-di-bose-con-sofferta-obbedienza-1.38919006  The following article contains some information concerning alleged negotiations during the last few days.  https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2020/06/02/enzo-bianchi-via-a-tempo-indeterminato-da-comunita-di-bose-cinque-anni-per-i-monaci-breda-e-boselli-e-per-la-sorella-casiraghi/5822084/

    Due to the pandemic, the 28th International Ecumenical Conference on Orthodox Spirituality, “The Way to Reconciliation,” will not be held at the Bose Monastery on the scheduled dates.  https://www.monasterodibose.it/en/hospitality/conferences/orthodox-spirituality/2020-the-way-to-reconciliation  However, it is hoped that this conference, when rescheduled, will continue the tradition of the outstanding conferences on Orthodox spirituality held in the past.

    In other news, Metropolitan Onufry, head of the UOC-MP, celebrated the Divine Liturgy last Sunday at Kiev-Pechersk Lavra.  https://news.church.ua/2020/05/31/u-nedilyu-7-mu-pislya-pasxi-predstoyatel-ocholiv-bozhestvennu-liturgiyu-u-kijevo-pecherskij-lavri/  This was his first public liturgy in many weeks.  The next day he presided over the funeral service for the church choral conductor and composer Mykhailo Lytvynenko.  https://news.church.ua/2020/06/01/blazhennishij-mitropolit-onufrij-zvershiv-chin-vidspivuvannya-mixajla-semenovicha-litvinenka/   These are welcomed appearances which should allay some worries relating to his current health.  The Vatican has appointed Archbishop Giovanni d’Aniello as the new apostolic nuncio to the Russian Federation.  http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2020/06/01/200601b.html  He had been the nuncio to Brazil for the prior eight years.  http://www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=3&id=88650  The immediate reaction by the Moscow Patriarchate to his appointment has been positive.  https://ria.ru/20200602/1572331652.html   Metropolitan Vladimir (UOC-MP), governor of the famous Pochaev Lavra in Western Ukraine, has written a letter to Metropolitan Vladimir of Moldova expressing the support of the Lavra for the position of the Church of Moldova (MP) opposing mandatory vaccinations against the coronavirus.  https://www.religion.in.ua/news/vazhlivo/46434-mitropolit-upc-mp-i-pochaevskaya-lavra-protiv-billa-gejtsa-vakcinacii-mikrochipov-i-5g.html  As you recall, the Church of Moldova through its Holy Synod had express concerns about any mandatory vaccinations, citing among other things the fear expressed by some that the vaccines may contain nanoparticles which allow the recipients to be controlled remotely.

    Lastly, on the occasion of the May 29th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople in 1453, a very interesting English-language article concerning the heroic defense of the city during the final days has been posted at https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-fall-of-constantinople-the-dreadful-day-29-may-1453/.  For me, it is fascinating how Greeks and Italians, proponents of the Union of Florence and opponents, came together in those final desperate days.  The following are two paragraph relating to the night before the fall:

    In the city everyone realized that the great moment had come. During Monday, May 28, some last repairs were done on the walls and the stockades, in the collapsed sections, were reinforced. In the city, while the bells of the churches rang mournfully, citizens and soldiers joined a long procession behind the holy relics brought out of the churches. Singing hymns in Greek, Italian or Catalan, Orthodox and Catholic, men, women, children, soldiers, civilians, clergy, monks and nuns, knowing that they were going to die shortly, made peace with themselves, with God and with eternity.

    When the procession ended the Emperor met with his commanders and the notables of the city. In a philosophical speech he told his subjects that the end of their time had come. In essence he told them that Man had to be ready to face death when he had to fight for his faith, for his country, for his family or for his sovereign. All four reasons were now present. Furthermore, his subjects, who were the descendants of Greeks and Romans, had to emulate their great ancestors. They had to fight and sacrifice themselves without fear. They had lived in a great city and they were now going to die defending it. As for himself, he was going to die fighting for his faith, for his city and for his people. He also thanked the Italian soldiers, who had not abandoned the great city in its final moments. He still believed that the garrison could repulse the enemy. They all had to be brave, proud warriors and do their duty. He thanked all present for their contribution to the defense of the city and asked them to forgive him, if he had ever treated them without kindness. Meanwhile the great church of Saint Sophia was crowded. Thousands of people were moving towards the church. Inside, Orthodox and Catholic priests were holding mass. People were singing hymns, others were openly crying, others were asking each other for forgiveness. Those who were not serving on the ramparts also went to the church, among them was seen, for a brief moment, the Emperor. People confessed and took communion. Then those who were going to fight rode or walked back to the ramparts.

    Sometimes it takes great adversity to bring us all together.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 27 May 2020: Defiance of the Montenegrin government

    On Monday, May 25, Prime Minister Duško Marković of Montenegro gave a press conference to announce that Montenegro is the first European nation to be Covid-free.  The official English text of the press release is posted at http://www.gov.me/en/News/224699/PM-Markovic-at-press-conference-Montenegro-is-first-Corona-Free-country-in-Europe-we-succeeded-thanks-to-partnership-with-citize.html .   With respect to dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church, Marković stated as follows:

    Discussions can take place only when a good and favourable environment is created in full trust and readiness of both sides to conduct this dialogue in a good spirit, and not through blackmail.  Today I saw some announcements that say “if we don't start a dialogue immediately - we will start with processions.”  If public gatherings are allowed tomorrow, let the processions start.  Let no one frighten us with processions.  Nor will processions be a reason for the Government to change its policy.  The Government will change its policy only if there are national interests and reasons for expediency and justification, and not because of the threat of gatherings, even if they were processions.  So, the conversation will take place when the conditions for that are met.  Personally, I will strive for it to be as soon as possible, but it does not depend only on the Government, but also on the other side.

    Essentially, Marković is saying that for discussions to begin, the Serbian Orthodox Church must forsake public processions and demonstrations as a means of obtaining concessions in the controversial law on religion.  From the viewpoint of the Serbian Orthodox Church, this means that it must forsake its strongest lever in negotiating with the Montenegrin government.  In a sense, Marković conveys a sense of defiance – regardless of the large processions and demonstrations that the Church may stage, the government will not be frightened or intimidated.

    These are strong words.   One wonders whether Marković is in such a strong position politically in Montenegro.  On May 21, Marković was interviewed by the Montenegrin daily newspaper Pobjeda.  http://www.gov.me/en/News/224650/PM-Markovic-in-interview-with-Pobjeda-daily-We-passed-most-difficult-exam.html (English).  In the interview, the journalist stated that “trust in the Government you have headed has jumped dramatically over the last three months and has reached the highest point ever so that 66 percent of citizens trust the Government.”  This means that 34 percent do not trust the government.  Interestingly, approximately 30 percent of the Montenegrin population are ethnic Serbs.

    President Vucic of Serbia and Patriarch Irinej of Serbia held a joint press conference on May 20.  http://www.spc.rs/eng/president_patriarch_politics_interferes_internal_organization_church_montenegro  Their remarks indicate that ethnic tensions may underlie the current dispute between the government and the Serbian Orthodox Church.  According to the Patriarch, the goal of the government is to expel the Serbian people and to destroy the Serbian Orthodox Church there.   He added that “the existence of the Serbian people in Montenegro has not been accepted there.”  According to President Vucic, almost 30% of the population of Montenegro is Serb, they are not part of the government, they cannot get their rights, and they cannot influence political and other important matters in Montenegro.  In concluding his remarks, the President stated: “The goal is for the Serbian people to disappear from Montenegro in a decade.”  https://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics.php?yyyy=2020&mm=05&dd=20&nav_id=108521

    All of this indicates the complexity of the current disputes, which cannot be considered totally religious.  According to Deutsche Welle, “[o]bservers are sure that the recent escalation is tied to the upcoming parliamentary elections” in Montenegro.   https://www.dw.com/en/montenegro-coronavirus-ban-feeds-clash-between-state-and-serbian-orthodox-church/a-53469982  The opposition Democratic Front party seeks to be the protector of the ethnic Serbs.  According to one political analyst quoted by Deutsche Welle, both the ruling political parties and the opposition may possibly conclude “that it would be better to compete in the elections in an atmosphere of strong social polarization.” 

    At the press conference on May 25, Prime Minister Duško Marković praised the accomplishments of Montenegro in becoming the first European nation without an active Covid case.  The last positive test was on May 5, and the last death was on May 9.  It thus appears likely that no Covid cases occurred as a result of the massive procession of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Nikšić on May 12 (although a few more days may be necessary to tell with certainty).  For this, I am sure that many will thank St. Basil of Ostrog, whose memory the procession honored!  As a result of lack of active Covid cases, the Montenegrin government has announced the opening of its borders to citizens of countries with fewer than 25 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people.  Serbia does not fall in this category.  Today, this exclusion has resulted in a strong negative reaction in Serbia.  https://balkaninsight.com/2020/05/26/montenegro-accused-of-anti-serb-bias-for-continued-border-closure/ 

    In other news, the Department of Heresies and Cults (Metropolis of Piraeus, Greece), which considers ecumenism “the worst and most satanic sect of all time,” has condemned the joint prayer services in which Patriarch Theophilos engaged in Jerusalem and in which Metropolitan Nathaniel engaged in Chicago.  https://orthochristian.com/131256.html   On May 13, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece had a telephone conversation with Pope Francis.  Among other subjects discussed, the Prime Minister suggested that the Pope during his next visit to Greece, visit cities that are at the center of the early years of Christianity, following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul.  https://www.romfea.gr/diafora/37025-tilefoniki-epikoinonia-prothupourgou-me-papa-fragkisko  There has been earlier speculation that the Pope may undertake such a pilgrimage with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.   The Holy Synod of the Church of Moldova (Moscow Patriarchate) has warned authorities that receiving any future Covid vaccine must be voluntary.  It stated that “the vaccination poses a threat of microchipping or a foreign device entering a human body.”  According to the statement, “Bill Gates is considered the main person responsible for creating the technology of microchipping via a vaccine injecting a body with nanoparticles reacting to the waves transmitted by the 5G technology and enabling the system to control people remotely.” http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15654  Needless to say, the Patriarchate in Moscow has never made a similar statement.   Lastly, Pope Francis was written a letter to Cardinal Koch on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of encyclical letter Et Unum Sint.  The official English translation of the complete text can be read at http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/papa-francesco/2020/messages/message-to-cardinal-koch-on-anniversary-of--ut-unum-sint-.html.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 17 May 2020: Bishop and priests released in Montenegro

    In the early morning hours of today (Saturday), Bishop Joanikije of Budimlja and Nikšić and seven priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church were released by the prosecutor’s office in Montenegro.  https://hosted.ap.org/TPGIMAGES/article/703f4351f8fe367f8771ebbb851fbde7/serb-church-priests-freed-detention-montenegro  During the late hours of May 12, the bishop and the priests had been questioned by the prosecutor’s office about the annual celebration of St. Basil of Ostrog that had occurred in Nikšić  earlier that day and about certain alleged violations of governmental anti-pandemic orders occurring during the celebration.  After the initial questioning, the prosecutor announced that the eight would be detained for up to 72 hours as part of a continued investigation.  https://orthochristian.com/131059.html  The laws of Montenegro apparently gives the prosecutor the right to detain individuals up to 72 hours in connection with his or her investigation.  It appears that the eight were released today exactly 72 hours after their initial detention.

    The prosecutor took action after the Montenegro National Coordination Body for Infectious Diseases had called upon the State Prosecutor’s Office and the Supreme State Prosecutor to “take legal measures within their competence and prosecute the organizers [of the events in Nikšić] as soon as possible….” https://www.coronainfocg.me/me/vijesti/ukida-se-zabrana-kretanja-otvaraju-se-ugostiteljski-objekti-i-trzni-centri  The orders of the National Coordination Body that relate to the assembly of persons and that were in effect at the time of the May 12 celebration are set forth at https://www.coronainfocg.me/me/naredbe/odluke-o-kretanju-i-okupljanju-2 .  In paragraph 2 of the order, all assemblies of persons (more than one person) in public areas are prohibited except for “persons who perform regular work tasks in activities permitted by orders,” “members of a joint family household,” or a person caring for a minor or disabled person.  Paragraph 8 relates to religious activities conducted on the property of religious communities.  It provides that with a religious building, there can be only one person for each 10 square meters of surface space.  Each person must maintain a distance of two meters and must wear a protective mask (except for religious officials performing rites).  At all entrances and exits, hand sanitizer must be provided.  On open spaces belonging to a religious organization, there can be a maximum of 20 persons who must also maintain a distance of two meters apart.  Finally, there is a provision that responsible persons at the religious facility must ensure compliance with these orders.

    There a number of videos relating to the celebration in Nikšić on May 12.  The longest video (58 minutes), posted by the Ostog TV Studio, shows the procession, the gathering in Freedom Square, and the return to the Cathedral of St. Basil, including the veneration of the relics within the cathedral by the faithful.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9Igt0b5_kI  The procession appears to be very well organized and peaceful.  In front of Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bishop Joanikije are two long columns of religious sisters preceded by banners, the relics of St. Basil, and  large icons.  A person behind Bishop Joanikije is carrying a basin of holy water and at various times the bishop blesses the faithful with it.  Beginning at 20:35 in the video, one can obtain a good view of the size of the very large crowd packed into Freedom Square.  There is general agreement in the media that several thousand people were present.  Beginning at 39:10 and ending at 55:40, Metropolitan Amfilohije gives an address at the top of the steps and in front of the entrance to St. Basil Cathedral.  Immediately thereafter, there are good views of the hundreds of people gathered in church yard to listen to him.  Beginning at 56:10 one can see the large crowd moving forward and then entering the church.  Beginning at 57:16, the video shows the stream of people entering the cathedral and then the crowd of people within the cathedral waiting to venerate the relics of St. Basil.  I did not see a single face mask or any hand sanitizers.  At the very end, one can see the people kissing the icon and the glass over the relics before the glass was cleaned.  A second video shows the formation of the procession.  https://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-serbia-church-religion-/30615290.html  One can see the banners and the large icons being carried down the steps of the cathedral with the faithful standing on either side.  If one looks carefully, one can see the faithful then falling in behind the icon and banner bearers.

    Looking at the anti-pandemic orders and the videos, it is almost certain that a court would conclude that the anti-pandemic orders were grossly violated.    The key question for the court would be whether church officials were powerless to prevent these violations.  On May 14, the Episcopal Council of the Orthodox Church in Montenegro (Serbian Patriarchate) issued a press release.  http://www.spc.rs/eng/press_release_episcopal_council_orthodox_church_montenegro (official English translation).  It provided in part:

    Yesterday, Metropolitan Amfilohije, Bishop Joanikije and the clergy decided that, due to health measures, only a prayer should be held in the church, without a prayer procession outside the church.  However, there were so many people that couldn't enter the church so they were standing around the church and into the streets.  When they spontaneously moved into the traditional walk, there was no alternative for the clergy – neither before God nor before believers.  Although the previous decision of the local clergy was to offer a prayer in the place of worship, people asked for something else.  The clergy decided to stay with them precisely because of the concern that in any other way they would be left to be by themselves and possibly abused.

    Time will tell whether this defense will be successful before the courts.  I am sure that the prosecutor will argue that the videos will show that procession from the beginning formed behind the hierarchs as opposed to the hierarchs simply joining the procession that was already walking towards Freedom Square.  The organized nature of the procession including the columns of sisters, the banners, and icons indicated that all of this did not happen spontaneously or at a moment’s notice.  There was no explanation in the statement as to why it was not possible at the close of the Metropolitan’s address to limit the number entering the cathedral at one time, to require those entering to wear masks, and to observe other protective measures required by the orders. 

    Although Montenegro has been fairly effective in limiting the coronavirus, its rate of positive tests per population (516/M) has not been as good as such European countries as Greece (270/M), Slovakia (273/M), Bulgaria (313/M), or Albania (324/M).  https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries  In the Nikšić Municipality (population approximately 72,000), there have been 34 positive cases.  https://www.coronainfocg.me/  In the last week and one-half, the situation has improved in Montenegro.  The last positive test was on May 5 and the last death on May 9.  This may have led the participants in the celebration on May 12 to believe that coronavirus had disappeared completely from Montenegro or that the risk was very minimal.

    On the night of May 13, major protests occurred over the detention of the bishop and priests.  https://balkaninsight.com/2020/05/14/protesters-clash-with-police-in-montenegro-after-priests-arrest/  The latter article stated:  “Police battled protesters in Pljevlja and Nikšić with tear gas, leaving dozens of police officers and protesters injured.  Protests also took place in Budva, Berane and the capital, Podgorica.… While some media accused the police of using excessive force on protesters, the police directorate claimed that some of the protesters had thrown stones, wounding 22 policemen.”  The next night, May 14, approximately 700 protesters gathered in Nikšić, 1,500 in Berane, 280 in Budva, 1,500 in Pljevlja, and 60 in Bijelo Polje.  https://www.b92.net/eng/news/region.php?yyyy=2020&mm=05&dd=15&nav_id=108495  Aside from the question of who provoked the violence, it would appear that assembly in such numbers clearly violated the anti-pandemic orders.

    On May 13 in Belgrade, the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church issued a sharp statement which included the following:  “The Holy Synod of Bishops appeals to the authorities in Montenegro to stop the persecution of the Church and finally to start behaving in accordance with the norms of civilization, according to which free confession of faith is one of the most important rights of every individual.”  http://www.spc.rs/sr/saopshtenje_za_javnost_svetog_arhijerejskog_sinoda_7  On May 14, Prime Minister Duško Marković of Montenegro issued a long statement referring to the “mass violation of health orders and measures” in several cities in the last two days.  http://www.gov.me/en/News/224447/PM-Markovic-addresses-public-Montenegro-is-exposed-to-brutal-attack-Government-will-perform-its-constitutional-duty-and-defend-n.html (official English translation of entire text)

    Bishop Joanikije, after his release today, discussed the matter with the media. http://www.spc.rs/sr/saopshtenje_za_javnost_svetog_arhijerejskog_sinoda_7  He stated that while he was in custody, the police “behaved professionally and humanely.”  He explained that when he saw the number of people gathered in front of the church after the initial prayer service, he decided in consultation with Metropolitan Amfilohije and the clergy that chaos would occur if the people were disappointed and a procession was not held.  He contends that the authorities by their actions are “waging war against St. Basil” and that this is not good.  He emphasized: “We want freedom of religion, we want order in the state, we want the Constitution and the law to be respected.”  In his reported remarks, there was no mention of any anti-pandemic orders or precautions.

    Metropolitan Amfilohije, speaking to a large crowd last night outside of the building where the bishop and priests were being detained, warned that if the government continued, it provokes a civil war with its actions, it is preparing a civil war.  https://rs.sputniknews.com/regioni/202005151122579161-dramaticno-upozorenje-mitropolita-amfilohija-vlast-izaziva-i-priprema-gradjanski-rat/  Hopefully, with the end of the 72-hour detention period, matters will calm down – at least a little. 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 14th May 2020: Mount Athos & the coronavirus

    Yesterday (May 12), the Holy Community of Mt. Athos issued a statement approved by all 20 monasteries that Holy Communion is “the greatest sacrament of the Orthodox Church and is absolutely necessary for the spiritual life and the faithful, thus the faithful cannot be deprived of it.”  https://orthodoxtimes.com/mount-athos-restriction-of-freedom-by-the-measures-in-churches-the-holy-communion-is-absolutely-necessary/  The statement also provides that “Holy Communion is a source of blessing, salvation, hope, light and partaking in the Life of the Lord, and in no instance the cause of transmission of infectious diseases or any other malady.”  https://www.orthodoxianewsagency.gr/foreignnews/holy-community-of-mt-athos-on-sacrament-of-holy-communion/  The statement adds: “The Holy Community is not against coronavirus protection measures and respects the efforts of the state authorities, special scientists, and employees at healthcare structures to deal with the pandemic.  We are doing, in addition to God, what is possible according to man, and for this reason there have been taken and are still being observed with care and discernment similar protection measures on Mount Athos.  However, in no way should this pandemic and its treatment be linked to the ability of believers to participate in the Holy Mysteries of the Orthodox Church, thereby limiting religious freedom and Christian worship.”  The full text in Greek can be read at https://www.orthodoxianewsagency.gr/agioreitika/i-iera-koinotita-tou-agiou-orous-gia-tin-pandimia-tou-koronoiou/.  A French translation of the entire text is available at https://orthodoxie.com/communique-de-la-sainte-communaute-du-mont-athos-au-sujet-du-coronavirus/.

    Unlike some other monasteries, Mt. Athos has been largely spared the effects of the pandemic.  It appears that only four monks have been infected by the virus, and all of them have recovered.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/gradual-lifting-of-the-measures-on-mount-athos-is-expected/  All four monks were from the Xenophontos monastery.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/three-monks-of-mount-athos-were-discharged-from-hospital/  The monks had traveled to the United Kingdom with relics of St. George.  When they returned to Mt. Athos, there were quarantined, and a disinfection process was undertaken throughout the entire monastery.  https://greekcitytimes.com/2020/04/01/more-monks-from-mount-athos-test-positive-for-coronavirus/  All pilgrims and visitors have been barred from entering Mt. Athos since mid-March. https://orthodoxtimes.com/mount-athos-closes-for-pilgrims-and-visitors-because-of-the-coronavirus/  Obviously, it is easier to quarantine a very isolated place such as Mt. Athos than a monastery in the middle of a major city such as the Lavra of the Caves in Kyiv.

    It is interesting that the issuance of the statement by the Mt. Athos Community occurred on the same day that the Greek government relaxed the restrictions on the churches in Greece and on the same day that the Standing Holy Synod of the Church of Greece issued its guidelines under the new relaxation.  See https://orthodoxtimes.com/churches-are-opening-for-services-and-ceremonies/ and https://orthodoxtimes.com/religious-services-with-the-participation-of-faithful-from-sunday-in-greece-what-the-standing-holy-synod-decided/.  The Standing Holy Synod of the Church of Greece had taken a position similar to that of Mt. Athos two months earlier.  On March 9, the Synod had stated that Holy Communion could never become a cause of disease transmission and that the Church would continue to offer communion.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/holy-synod-of-church-of-greece-we-continue-to-receive-the-holy-communion/  A few days later the Greek government banned all liturgies and religious services.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/what-does-the-ministerial-order-stipulate-for-the-suspension-of-worship-gatherings-in-greece/  On April 1, the Synod requested that liturgies be allowed behind closed doors without the faithful.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/church-of-greece-request-to-government-for-holy-week-services-to-be-held-in-camera/  At the same time, the Synod reaffirmed that Holy Communion can never be the source of disease.  An accommodation was subsequently reached between the government and the Church that allowed liturgies without the faithful, and this in fact occurred at Pascha.  On April 16, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis telephoned Archbishop Ieronymos, primate of the Church of Greece, to thank him for the cooperation of the Church with respect to the pandemic, and the Archbishop stressed that the Church trusts the work of the government in this difficult matter.  https://www.romfea.gr/ekklisia-ellados/36553-arxiepiskopos-ieronumos-i-ekklisia-empisteuetai-to-ergo-tis-kubernisis  Essentially, the Church of Greece has maintained its theological position with respect to Holy Communion, but has still cooperated with the government.  Compared to other European nations, Greece has done very well in combating the coronavirus.  https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/greece/ (today’s update on Greece including graphs).

    In my last report, I commented on the fact that Metropolitan Onufry, primate of the UOC-MP, had not appeared in public for some time.  The day after my report, the Metropolitan prayed and presented flowers at the grave of the unknown soldier in Kyiv in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazism.  https://news.church.ua/2020/05/09/predstoyatel-upc-u-den-peremogi-ocholiv-molitvu-za-zagiblimi-u-drugij-svitovij-vijni-3/#more-399761  Vadim Novinsky was standing by the primate’s side.  However, there is no indication that Metropolitan Onufry publicly celebrated the Liturgy this last weekend.  In the very short video at the grave of the unknown soldier, he does not appear ill.  However, he appears for some reason to be limiting his public activities.  On the other hand, the OCU continues to post articles on Metropolitan Epifany’s many liturgies and activities during the period following Pascha.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/ 

    Metropolitan Hilarion has expressed his opposition to the appearance of Stalin on a mosaic at the new cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces.  http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=74923  He stated: "I think that, of course, there should not be an image of Stalin in an Orthodox church, because Stalin was the persecutor of the Church, on his conscience the blood of millions of people, including the new martyrs and confessors of the Russian Church."  There is one report today that Stalin has in fact disappeared from the mosaic.  https://credo.press/230916/

    The Council of Bishops of the UOC-KP issued an appeal on May 7 to President Zelensky and others concerning the “lack of dialogue with the authorities.”  https://new.cerkva.info/zvernennya-arhiyerejskogo-soboru-ukrayinskoyi-pravoslavnoyi-tserkvy-kyyivskogo-patriarhatu-z-pryvodu-dialogu-z-vladoyu/  The appeal essentially contends that the UOC-KP is being ignored by the Ukrainian government.  The appeal objects to the failure of the government to re-register the UOC-KP and complains about the seizure of its property.  It states that the Pascha liturgy at its St. Vladimir Cathedral was not televised based on the recommendation of the Ministry of Culture.  The appeal was signed by Filaret and ten individuals identified as bishops.  The appeal also states that “the UOC-KP has 11 dioceses: Kyiv, Pereyaslav, Odesa-Balta, Dnipro, Sumy, Poltava, Kharkiv, Khmelnytsky, Chernivtsi, Belgorod, and Eastern Moldavia; 300 parishes in Ukraine and abroad, including the European Deanery and parishes in the United States.”  From my observations, there has been almost no coverage of the UOC-KP in the media in recent months. 

    Lastly, tomorrow May 14 is the day of prayer, fasting, and works of charity for the end of the pandemic as urged by the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity.  Pope Francis has stated his support for this initiative.  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-05/pope-francis-invitation-to-14-may-prayer.html  The Ecumenical Patriarch has invited the faithful of the Patriarchate to join in this initiative.  http://fanarion.blogspot.com/2020/05/14.html?m=1   The World Council of Churches (WCC), through its acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca (Patriarchate of Romania), has invited all member Churches to observe this day of prayer.  https://www.ecupatria.org/2020/05/13/wcc-invites-all-member-churches-to-observe-a-day-of-prayer/#more-1386 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 9 May 2020: Ukrainian & Russian brothers in Orthodoxy

    On May 5, a 40-minute film was posted on YouTube by the Korsun Prince-Vladimir Hermitage, a small monastery in Russia located northeast of Kursk.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URGDmfubwEQ   The film is entitled, Hi, Brother. Christ is Risen! (Здравствуй, брат, Христос Воскресе!).  According to the website of the Union of Orthodox Journalists, the film is a joint project of the Korsun Hermitage and the famous Monastery of the Caves (UOC-MP) in Kyiv.  https://spzh.news/en/news/71142-blazhennejshij-onufrij-rasskazal-ob-istinnom-patriotizme-i-nacionalizme  In the last few days, many have viewed the film, and it has been the subject of considerable controversy.  The main stars of the film are two famous Ukrainian boxers -- Oleksandr Usyk (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oleksandr_Usyk) and Vasyl Lomachenko ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasyl_Lomachenko).   Also participating in the film are Russian athletes Aleksandr Trubnikov (Master of Sport in boxing) and Alexey Nazarov  (fighter hand-to-hand style).   Metropolitan Onufry, primate of the UOC-MP, also plays an important part in the film.  His remarks are summarized in English by the spzh.news link above and at https://orthochristian.com/130912.html.  Also appearing in the film are Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye (a very vocal and conservative hierarch of the UOC-MP), the Russian bishop of the area encompassing the Korsun Hermitage, and the abbot of the Hermitage.

    As can be seen by the comments posted on YouTube, many people loved this film.  On the other hand, there are those who consider it a Russian propaganda film.  See, for example, http://religionpravda.com.ua/2020/05/07/%d0%91%d1%80%d0%b0%d1%82%d0%bd%d1%96-%d0%be%d0%b1%d1%96%d0%b9%d0%bc%d0%b8-%d0%a0%d0%be%d1%81%d1%96%d1%97-%d0%af%d0%ba-%d1%83%d0%ba%d1%80%d0%b0%d1%97%d0%bd%d1%81%d1%8c%d0%ba%d1%96-%d1%81%d0%bf/;  https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/oleksandr-usyk-i-rosija/30597900.html;  https://www.bbc.com/ukrainian/news-52555541  In the film, the athletes discuss the great importance of their Orthodox faith.  However, the central theme is that Ukrainians and Russian are brothers in their Orthodox faith.  Lomachenko states in the film that with respect to Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, “I always thought that we – one people, that all Orthodox Christians.”

    As is well known, Ukrainians are sharply divided between those that have a Western orientation and those that have a Russia orientation.  The UOC-MP clearly identifies with the latter.  The involvement of the UOC-MP in this film is an example of this.  Another example is the very close association of the UOC-MP with People’s Deputy and billionaire Vadim Novinsky, one of the major political leaders favoring better relations with Russia.  During the huge religious procession by the UOC-MP  in Kyiv last summer to celebrate the Millennium of Rus, Novinsky and Metropolitan Onufry walked side-by-side during most of the procession.  On the other hand, the OCU and the UGCC clearly have identified with the view favoring strong ties to the West and independence from Moscow.   None of these three churches maintains a truly neutral stance on the divisive orientation issue.

    With respect to Metropolitan Onufry, he has not been seen in public for several weeks, and the UOC-MP has provided no explanation for this.  According to the website of the UOC-MP, Metropolitan Onufry celebrated Pascha in the chapel in his personal residence.    https://news.church.ua/2020/04/20/blazhennishij-mitropolit-onufrij-zvershiv-pasxalni-bogosluzhinnya-u-domovomu-xrami-v-feofaniji/  In the article, only one photo was posted.  The article states:  “Due to quarantine restrictions and in order to avoid crowds of believers who want to attend the Pascha service led by the Archpastor each year, he performed the Pascha services in his home church without parishioners.”  Prior to this, it was reported that the Metropolitan had tested positive for the coronavirus, but the UOC-MP maintained that the Metropolitan was in good health.  https://www.corona24.news/c/2020/04/18/coronavirus-was-discovered-in-metropolitan-onufry-the-uoc-mp-deny-this.html  Subsequently, there was an unverified report that the Metropolitan was discharged from the Todurov Heart Institute on April 28.  http://religionpravda.com.ua/2020/05/06/%d0%9c%d0%b8%d1%82%d1%80%d0%be%d0%bf%d0%be%d0%bb%d0%b8%d1%82%d0%b0-%d0%9e%d0%bd%d1%83%d1%84%d1%80%d1%96%d1%8f-%d0%b2%d0%b8%d0%bf%d0%b8%d1%81%d0%b0%d0%bb%d0%b8-%d0%b7-%d0%86%d0%bd%d1%81%d1%82%d0%b8/  In any event, his continued non-appearance remains a mystery.

    The response to the Covid crisis by the church in Russia has been the subject of articles in the international press.  The New York Times has published an article entitled, A ‘Breakdown of Trust’: Pandemic Corrodes Church-State Ties in Russia.    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/05/world/europe/russia-orthodox-church-coronavirus.html   The article refers to an “apocalyptic mood gripping wide swaths of the Russian church, some of whose leaders have challenged the state’s stay-at-home orders as the work of the devil.”  Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun has written an interesting commentary about the reaction of the fundamentalists to the coronavirus.   https://www.wheeljournal.com/blog/2020/5/6/cyril-hovorun-time-to-contain-the-deadly-virus-of-fundamentalism?fbclid=IwAR0Mxo6AQqrpzI54Crt-ICeT89OjDRe0dDXJaPJYexRy9892DDvx5dM-4Pw  He observes that fundamentalism is found not only in the Orthodox Church but in other confessions as well.  With respect to the Covid situation, he states: “We have seen that fundamentalism kills, literally.”

    The mosaics for the huge cathedral outside of Moscow honoring the Russian Armed Forces have provoked controversy.  It appears that President Putin has suggested that his image in one of the mosaics would not be appropriate.  https://www.dw.com/en/russia-removes-vladimir-putin-mosaic-from-military-church/a-53310239  However, a final decision has apparently not yet been reached with respect to a mosaic containing various images including Stalin.  A priest providing expert oversight of the project contends that Stalin should be included, even if he was responsible for various crimes, because he had responsibility for the Soviet forces in their victory over Nazi Germany.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15632  On the other hand, Father Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of the DECR, has stated on his Facebook page that he considers it a matter of conscience to express his personal opinion on the issue.  https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001874461923  He remarked:  “God save us all from having the Orthodox church consecrated with the image of a murderer, a persecutor of the Church, on whose hands is the blood of saints.  I pray that this does not happen.  And I believe: the Lord will not allow such a violation of the memory of the new martyrs, such a defeat of the Church, shame for Christians.”  On May 4, Metropolitan John of Doubna wrote a letter from Paris to Patriarch Kirill thanking him for his decision [?] banning the image of Stalin.  https://credo.press/230845/ 

    In other news, Patriarch Kirill has prohibited Archdeacon Andrey Kurayev, a well-know commentator and often critic of the Moscow Patriarchate, “from religious activity pending the ruling of a diocesan church court….”    http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15624 ;  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5629915.html  The discipline was imposed on the grounds that Kurayev made insulting remarks about the rector of the Epiphany Cathedral in Moscow who died from the coronavirus.  In Montenegro, the Serbian Orthodox Church has issued a press release essentially accusing the government of Montenegro of ignoring the Serbian Orthodox Church. http://www.spc.rs/sr/saopshtenje_za_javnost_mitropolije_crnogorskoprimorske_35  In Greece, a legal challenge before the Council of State against the actions of the Church of Greece in recognizing the OCU has been denied.   https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-recognition-of-the-autocephalous-church-of-ukraine-by-the-church-of-greece-is-an-internal-ecclesiastical-issue/  Lastly, websites supporting the UOC-MP have given great coverage to a violent attack by supporters of the OCU in the Ukrainian village of Zadubrovka following the death of the pastor.  https://orthochristian.com/130871.html  On May 5 and 6, the Union of Orthodox Journalists posted nine different articles on the subject.  https://spzh.news/en  Local police have authorized a criminal investigation.  https://news.church.ua/2020/05/06/policiya-vidkrila-kriminalne-provadzhennya-za-faktom-konfliktu-v-zadubrivci-na-bukovini/ 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 28 April 2020: Covid in major monasteries & other news

     As I previously reported, Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Pskov (Moscow Patriarchate) stated on March 29:  Those who say that it is impossible to get infected in temples and monasteries - they lie!...They are wicked!  Because lying is wickedness.  Today (April 27), the Moscow Patriarchate’s “Working Group for the Coronavirus Infection” issued a statement which provides in part:  Unfortunately, at the initial stages of the spread of the infection, not everyone perceived it as a serious threat, ignoring the warnings of doctors and the hierarchy.  In individual monasteries and some temples, this led to a large number of cases of infection.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5629119.html  Also today, Patriarch Kirill issued a special order to the Moscow Diocese and monasteries under his direct control.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5629099.html; http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15618   It included the following provision:  In cases when failure to abide by these orders and instructions causes people to contract the coronavirus infection and subsequently die due to this disease, the culprit may face a church trial and in other cases may face church and administrative liability for intentionally ignoring measures that help protect large numbers of people from contracting this fatal disease.  Unfortunately, even if one follows the directives, it does not guarantee that one will be protected from the coronavirus.  Several days ago, it was reported that Metropolitan Dionisiy, who chairs the Working Group, had been hospitalized with the coronavirus.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/ua/db/text/5627217.html  Also Father Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of the DECR, disclosed that he had tested positive for the virus.  https://ria.ru/20200425/1570578411.html 

     It is not surprising that some of the most famous monasteries have been most affected by the coronavirus.  These monasteries have a large number of monastics living in close communal conditions and are visited by a large number of pilgrims from many different places.  The following is a brief summary of the latest news relating to some of these monasteries.  Holy Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius:  37 people at the Lavra have been infected.  At the adjoining Moscow Theological Academy, 52 people have tested positive for the virus, and nine of these have been hospitalized.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15620 ;  https://ria.ru/20200426/1570599285.html  The rector of the Academy has now recovered from the virus.  https://www.facebook.com/pitirim.tvorogof/posts/2815040368615188   Diveevo Monastery of St. Seraphim:  In the small village of Diveevo, 56 inhabitants have the disease, and all are being treated in the hospital of the monastery.  Some of the sisters have pneumonia and are in the initial stages of the Covid disease.  http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=74828

    Kyiv Pechersk Lavra:  Of the approximately 200 monks at the Lavra, more than 100 tested positive for the virus.  Three monks have died.  Most of the monks have now recovered including the abbot.  https://www.unian.info/kyiv/kyiv-pechersk-lavra-not-all-priests-contract-covid-19-news-kyiv-10973681.html  The rector of the theological academy and seminary of the UOC-MP, located on the grounds of the Lavra, has now recovered from Covid.  He states that those infected at these schools with the virus have recovered or are in the process of recovery.   https://news.church.ua/2020/04/27/rektor-rozpoviv-pro-realnu-situaciyu-z-zaxvoryuvannyam-na-covid-19-u-kijivskix-duxovnix-shkolax/  The mayor of Kyiv stated today that the positive testing results for the prior day included 20 additional students at the seminary.  https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2020/04/27/7249503/   Pochayiv Lavra:  It is reported by BBC that approximately 150 persons have contracted the coronavirus at the Lavra.  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52384575  Because of the virus, it appears that none of the above four monasteries are currently receiving visitors.  The prohibition of visitors to Mt. Athos has been extended to at least April 30. https://www.thenationalherald.com/archive_coronavirus/arthro/ban_on_entrance_to_mt_athos_extended_to_april_30-265564/ 

    The coronavirus had a dramatic effect on the celebration of Pascha in many Orthodox patriarchates and churches.  With the following links, one can see videos of the full Pascha midnight liturgies of the following patriarchs:   Patriarch Kirill - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjVEoQZhNaI; Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew -   http://fanarion.blogspot.com/2020/04/2020-live.html?m=1 ; Patriarch Daniel -  https://basilica.ro/noaptea-de-inviere-patriarhul-a-vorbit-despre-hristos-ca-vindecator-si-eliberator/; Patriarch Irinej -  https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=dtOZhLiAPDM&feature=emb_logo  The absence of a large number of faithful attending the liturgies seemed strange indeed.  Because of the huge size of the Church of the Savior in Moscow, the views of the relatively small number of people in that vast space was the most stark in my opinion.  The Patriarchates of Bulgaria and Georgia did not completely ban the faithful.  However, as shown in the following videos, the numbers of faithful were very limited at their services.  Bulgaria - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgIe_DZ5DF0 (parts of the liturgy were conducted on the steps of the cathedral with the faithful located behind outside barricades – only a few dozen faithful were allowed inside the cathedral); Georgia - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_o7WDJlM34A  (faithful were seated or standing at designation locations two meters apart).  Those at the cathedral were required to follow the Georgian government-imposed curfew which meant that they were required to arrive by 21:00 and not leave until 6:00.  https://jamestown.org/program/restrictive-anti-pandemic-measures-reveal-confrontation-between-georgian-government-and-orthodox-church/

    On April 22, Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem engaged in a joint interfaith prayer service in Jerusalem for deliverance from the pandemic.  https://ria.ru/20200422/1570419955.html  An interesting video of the very short service can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QSarSMYh-c .  According to the introduction in the video by Rabbi David Rosen, it is the first time in history that the religious leaders of the Holy Land have come together to recite the same prayer (each in his own liturgical language).  Parts of the prayer are quoted at https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/joint-prayer-for-world-health-unites-all-religions-in-jerusalem-live-625485 .

    Pope Francis, on his name day of April 23 (feast of St. George), announced that he was making a gift for the occasion of seven of the most modern ventilators to a hospital in Suceava, Romania, three to a hospital in Madrid, Spain, and two to a hospital in Lecce, Italy.  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-04/a-beautiful-sign-from-the-pope-on-his-name-day.html  It was also announced that the flight transporting the ventilators to Romania will include as passengers eleven Romanian doctors and six Romanian health care working who had come to Lecce to help treat Covid patients there.  Patriarch Daniel has now written a special letter of thanks to Pope Francis for his gift.  https://basilica.ro/en/patriarch-daniel-thanks-pope-francis-for-medical-equipment-donated-to-suceava-hospital/  It is another sign of the excellent relationship between the Pope and Romania.  As you recall, the Pope made a request that the heads of all Christian denominations, together with all Christians, say the Our Father at noon on March 25 for relief from the pandemic.  To the best of my knowledge, the Romanian Patriarch was the only Orthodox primate to request his faithful to say the Our Father at that time.  With respect to recitation by the faithful, the Romanian Patriarchate probably did more than many Catholic bishops!

    Patriarch Kirill has arranged for 8 tons of medical supplies to be sent to the Italian region of Apulia (which includes the St. Nicholas shrine in Bari) to help combat the coronavirus.  It appears that this has been criticized by some in Russia.  The DECR has now issued a statement explaining that Orthodox businessmen in Switzerland were the ones that actually paid for the supplies and not the Patriarchate.  https://mospat.ru/ru/2020/04/25/news184560/ 

    Metropolitan Hilarion has stated his own personal belief that in very extreme cases, a confession may be heard over the telephone.  https://mospat.ru/ru/2020/04/13/news184430/ 

    With all of the news about the pandemic, one must not forget the most important news – CHRIST HAS RISEN!!

    Yours in the Risen Lord, Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

    P.S.  I have now returned to the Seattle area after being with my daughter in Minneapolis for five weeks.  During that time, I sent my news reports with her laptop.  It appears that some of you received return receipt requests in connection with those reports.  That was not my intention.  I do not know how that happened, and I apologize for any inconvenience that it may have caused.   Hopefully, it will not happen again.

     

  • 10 April 2020: A pause in the "war of words" & other news

    In my daily review of Orthodox websites, there has been a very notable change during recent weeks.  The "war of words" relating to Ukraine and the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has almost ceased.  This is not surprising as the attention of all has been diverted to a common enemy -- Covid-19.  Even websites such as the Union of Orthodox Journalist ( https://spzh.news/en ) and the website of the UOC-MP ( https://news.church.ua/) have largely stopped their continuing attacks against the OCU and Constantinople.  Websites supportive of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, such as the Orthodox Times ( https://orthodoxtimes.com/ ), are also now focusing almost exclusively on Covid and the approaching Pascha.

    Personally, I find this temporary pause of hostilities between the supporters of Moscow and Constantinople a most welcome relief.  Certainly, the issues relating to Ukraine and Constantinople are extremely important and should continue to be discussed.  However, the present absence of harsh words and attacks seem to me almost a God-sent.  Perhaps it is part of the positives, such as the self-sacrifice of so many to help those affected by the coronavirus, which are now becoming so evident in the face of this terrible crisis.  Hopefully, after the crisis lessens, these positives will remain -- at least to some degree.

    As you recall, the Patriarchate of Alexandria instituted in February 2017 a form of deaconess in the missionary lands of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This action caused considerable controversy in the Orthodox world.  See  https://orthodoxethos.com/post/a-public-statement-on-orthodox-deaconesses .  The issue has also caused controversy in the Catholic world.  In August 2016, Pope Francis appointed a commission to examine the issue of women in the diaconate especially in the early church.  Pope Francis later stated that the commission did not arrive at a consensus but rather a variety of different opinions among its members.   https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2019/05/07/pope-francis-says-commission-women-deacons-did-not-reach-agreement 

    On Tuesday (April 7), Pope Francis appointed a completely new commission consisting of six females and six males, none of whom served on the first commission.  The well-known Catholic journalist, John Allen, Jr., has written an interesting article concerning the membership of the new commission.   https://cruxnow.com/news-analysis/2020/04/if-francis-really-wants-women-deacons-this-seems-an-odd-way-to-go-about-it/  In his view the Pope has not appointed a membership where the outcome can be easily predicted.  

    Personally, I was very pleased to see that one of the commission members is Dr. Barbara Hallensleben of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.  As most of you probably know, Dr. Hallensleben has been extremely involved in relations with the Orthodox and is a member of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.  Another member is Catherine Brown Tkacz, an American who has been a Research Professor of Theology at the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Lviv for several years.

    In other news, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has published a major document on the social teachings of the Orthodox Church.  The document has now been posted online in 12 languages.   https://theorthodoxworld.com/social-ethos-of-the-orthodox-church-document-now-available-online/  The English text can be read at  https://www.goarch.org/social-ethos  Section VI of the document is devoted to ecumenical relations and relations with other faiths.  As you recall, the Moscow Patriarchate in 2000 issued a major document on its social teachings.   https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/ 

    Many miraculous icons of the Mother of God have been flown over or transported through major Russian cities to implore her protection against the coronavirus.  See generally  http://www.patriarchia.ru/ .  On April 4, Patriarch Kirill toured Moscow with the famous icon of St. Seraphim, the Mother of God "Tenderness."   http://www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=3&id=87580  St. Seraphim was devoted to this icon and died in front of it.  It is now seen only once a year because it is kept in the privacy of the Patriarch's personal chapel at his working residence on Chisty Pereulok.  I sometimes wonder whether its lack of greater public veneration is due to the fact that the icon, which does not include a Christ Child, does not conform to the usual Orthodox standard for a icon of the Mother of God.  In many ways it is very similar to the famous Austos Vartai icon of the Mother of God in Vilnius.   https://www.ausrosvartai.lt/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=120&Itemid=129 

     

    Finally, a recipient of this newsletter has noted a photo on the desk of Pope Francis during his video message for Holy Week this year.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrJ6mg3vZrA The recipient was given a copy of the same photo from the hand of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 2014.  The photo shows Bartholomew and Francis facing each other against a golden background showing Andrew and Peter embracing.

    To those of you celebrating Easter this Sunday, I wish you a very blessed and joyful Easter!  I also pray that all of you be spared from the ravages of the coronavirus.  God bless you!

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 2 April 2020: Church leadership in the pandemic

    This time of the coronavirus pandemic is an important occasion for religious leaders to strengthen and guide the faithful.  This is being done by all of the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches, including Patriarch Kirill and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  However, there is an appeal by one Orthodox bishop which has especially caught my attention and the attention of many others.  It is the homily given by Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Pskov at his cathedral last Sunday.

     

    The 29-minute homily can be watched at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kfGzD25heQ .  According to the Russian news agency  RIA-Novesti, "his appeal to believers in a pandemic caused a resonance even among people far from the Church."   https://ria.ru/20200331/1569406729.html  

    Metropolitan Tikhon is well-known as the alleged confessor of President Putin and as a likely future candidate for Patriarch.  He is definitely a conservative.  However, in his homily, he forcefully attacks the belief of some conservatives that God will protect them in the continuation of certain religious practices during the pandemic.  In my opinion, it is an inspiring homily.  For those of us who do not understand Russian, the problem is that the text of his homily is apparently not reproduced in full on the Internet so as to allow a translation tool to be used.  Nevertheless, I have attempted at the end of this report to collect all of the quotations I could find on the Internet and to translate them with the use of the Google translation tool.  The translation is far from perfect, but hopefully you can obtain a sense of the homily.  The sources that I used were:   https://www.romfea.gr/epikairotita-xronika/36200-pskof-tuxon-pseutes-kai-asebeis-osoi-lene-den-tha-moluntho-stin-ekklisia;  https://orthochristian.com/129855.html;  https://vk.com/mitropolit_tikhon?w=wall-152013574_5197 .

    Among Catholic bishops, the leadership of Pope Francis has been the most evident.  As I previously reported, Pope Francis requested church leaders to recite the Our Father at noon on March 25 for an end of the pandemic.  The response was summarized at  http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/news/2020/2020-03-25-pope-francis-our-father.html .  Those that responded included the Ecumenical Patriarch.   https://orthodoxtimes.com/ecumenical-patriarch-prayed-for-end-to-pandemic/ .

    However, the most memorable event for Catholics was the one-hour prayer service by Pope Francis standing alone in the rain in St. Peter's Square last Friday, March 27.  You can watch the entire service with English commentary at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcUqLrbi9Cg .   An English translation of the full text of his appeal can be read at  http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20200327_omelia-epidemia.html .  

    It is an inspiring appeal which hit a very responsive chord in Italy and elsewhere.  John Allen, Jr., a well-known American journalist living in Rome, has written an article, "Francis on Friday delivered an iconic image that stirred a country’s soul."  He wrote:  "Twenty years from now, if you were to ask Italians to think back about what images stuck in their minds from the coronavirus, it’s a good bet that after Friday night, many would give the same answer. 'Papa Francesco standing alone in St. Peter’s Square, under the rain, praying for it to end,' they’d likely say."

    People in Italy continue to look to Pope Francis.  In a subsequent article, John Allen refers to the live broadcast of the daily Mass of Pope Francis.  He observes that "the pope’s 7:00 a.m. livestreamed Mass has become the most-watched daily event in the country beyond a 6:00 p.m. news conference updating statistics on the contagion, capturing an astronomic 24.85 percent audience share."   https://cruxnow.com/news-analysis/2020/03/pope-italian-pm-likely-talk-now-and-then-of-the-coronavirus/  

    In my opinion, it is wonderful that many church leaders of Orthodox, Catholic, and other denominations are stepping up to take a leadership role in the fight against the coronavirus.  The secular media so often forgets that this is not only a war that must be fought on the medical and scientific fronts but on the spiritual front as well.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

     

     

    GOOGLE TRANSLATION OF EXCERPTS FROM THE HOMILY OF METROPOLITAN TIKHON OF PSKOV:

    "Maybe I'm not the only one who wants to wake up in the morning and find that all this ordeal of the past few days is now a thing of the past or it was just a dream."

    This is exactly how people thought during the last war. To be able to go out, come to the temple freely, not worry about those around us ... And yet we are all called upon to live. It's been 75 years since the end of the war. We are all getting ready for the anniversary events, reminiscing about the ancestry of our ancestors...."

    "After 75 years the word 'war' is heard again and even world war!  I'm not exaggerating at all. I'm not pressuring you to cause any particular anxiety or fear. Indeed it is. War. The war between humanity and this evil that has infiltrated the human race and against which we must truly fight. ”

    "And some people—doctors, people who provide security, and maybe we, simple people—are just like our grandfathers and fathers during the war,”

    “On February 20, 2020, the first outbreak of coronavirus was recorded in Italy.  On March 20, hundreds of people die every day. 700 to 900 people, not even a month and a half, are dying every day ... ”

    “My friend, an Orthodox Christian living in a small city in northern Italy in the Brescia Region—it has 7,000 residents—called me recently and said: ‘We didn’t even think this could happen—the entire generation of those over 70 has died out!’”

    "Both young people and middle-aged people get sick, everywhere. It's amazing.”

    "When, as Metropolitan of Pskov, I begged the Muscovites and residents of other cities to temporarily abstain from pilgrimage to the Pskov Cave Monastery, I was moved not by personal fear, but by fear for the inhabitants of the town of Pechory, where the monastery is located and with an average age of 60 or more. It's a vulnerable group."

    "There was a wave of indignation: ‘Why? How? Is it possible to get infected in a monastery?’  Young people who are asymptomatic carriers of the virus come to our monastery from Moscow and St. Petersburg, stand next to old women, sneeze, cough, and simply breathe. And at close range, a person becomes infected. And what passes unnoticed and without a trace for a young person becomes not just a threat to their life, but a real trial—perhaps fatal."

    "Those who say that it is impossible to get infected in temples and monasteries - they lie!  Knowing or not knowing, in knowledge or ignorance. They are wicked!  Because lying is wickedness.   Suffice it to recall the history of the Pskov region with repeated epidemics of plague (1352 and 1420). In 1654 the plague raged in Moscow with many victims. Then the entire Moscow monasteries were emptied… ”

    "The disease does not spare anyone - this is a general test, and to say that we will not observe sanitary obligations, that the Lord will take care of it -- God allows this disease [попущение воли]. Everyone, without exception, who feels healthy, can be a carrier of this disease. And, acting rashly and frivolously, can become an involuntary killer. Do not be afraid of anything. If the Lord allows us to die from this disease, then God's will. But, without fear of anything, one must fear what God hates, and he hates sin.  And sin - this is the very frivolity that can lead each of us to the fact that everyone can become an involuntary causer of evil. We must now behave as if each of us is the carrier of this disease - only this will be responsible behavior and a manifestation of love for one's neighbor.  We are not allowed to talk from short distances, to hug etc.”

    "One cannot deal with this evil that has been allowed by him. And this evil can only be faced by the Lord, as we heard in today's Evangelical passage.

    What the Lord has to tell us: "This kind of evil and disease does not come out except by prayer and fasting."  We are fasting now, but the disease does not stop. It is only that fast that God expects, when we sincerely repent, when we share our bread with the hungry, to break up any bond of injustice, hatred and condemnation. While the other fasts, according to the prophet Isaiah, God detests them if they are merely carnal without observing what He Himself wants us to do." 

    "You will tell me --  to find them persuaded, there are not many. I tell you that they will soon. Not everyone will have their jobs. Not everyone will receive their salaries.  As I also know from my Italian friends, now the main crime in Italy is the theft of food from the shops. No more money. They're done. Those who now want to feed the hungry, save your money. Thank God we are not hungry now and social services are helping.  But if things change as they do now on the Western front, then these alms will be very sought after ... ”

    "Well, fasting and prayer.  Where?  At home. You have my blessing as Bishop of Pskov to pray from your homes after the time has come ... For love, not for anything else, to prevent the spread of this infection ... Now that the week has been given to us by the state and it is even paying off, we are called to work during this war ”

    "We have to be in our own home, even though this seems hard. If many people become ill at the same time, most begin to die in serious condition. Why are they asking us to stay home? To prevent the outbreak of the disease in many people at the same time. To enable our doctors to cope with the flow of patients. If we override these strategic guidelines then we will become greedy.  We will get sick ourselves and help spread the disease ... ”

    “You don't need to congregate much anywhere now, including temples. You all have my blessing to pray from your home, first of all studying the Gospel, and even with writings, like the holy fathers. The disease will cease and this, beyond any doubt and exaggeration, is up to each of us today. To have courage, to have faith in God's Providence, to be fearless, fearing only sin ... "

    "In this Third World War we must be wise, brave, doing all we have to apply.  And then our case will be just, victory will be ours and the enemy will be defeated.”

  • March 2020: Prayer in the time of pandemic

    24 March 2020:

    Today, the Romanian Patriarchate announced a program of prayer to counter the pandemic including the recitation of the Our Father at noon on the feast of the Annunciation.  https://basilica.ro/rugaciune-comuna-la-mijlocul-zilei-in-toata-romania/  A Google translation of the announcement is as follows: Common prayer at noon, throughout Romania

    Because, in this time of difficult trial because of the pandemic, the Church's clergy and lay believers are physically separated from the point of view of prayer, yet they may be in communion especially through the common prayer at noon of the day.

    Therefore, the bells of all the Orthodox churches in Romania will ring for 1-2 minutes at 12.00 on the day of the Annunciation , then every Sunday and every day when there is a service in the churches in the parishes and monasteries.

    At that time of common prayer, at their homes, all the lay believers are urged to say the prayer of the Our Father , the kontakion of the Annunciation : Apărătoare Doamnă [Protecting Lady], as well as other prayers, and the priests in the parishes and monasteries will read in addition the Special Prayer for the end of the pandemic.

    Chancery of the Holy Synod

    In addition, the All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (composed of Christian and non-Christian faiths) declared March 25, 2020, a Day of Common Prayer and Fasting for Ukraine.   https://risu.org.ua/en/index/all_news/confessional/auccro/79379/  

      

    23 March 2020: Pope Francis:

    http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/news/2020/2020-03-23-pope-francis-our-father-pandemic.html

    “When Christians pray together, the goal of unity seems closer...In the fellowship of prayer Christ is truly present; he prays "in us", "with us" and "for us" ( Ut unum sint 22)”.

    This is the sense of the initiative proposed by Pope Francis, at the end of the Angelus of Sunday 22 March, so that all the followers of Christ might respond together to the global threat of the pandemic.

    The Holy Father invited all Heads of Churches and leaders of Christian communities, together with all Christians, to simultaneously say the Lord’s Prayer, the  Our Father, this coming Wednesday, 25 March.

    The prayer can be said ideally at noon Rome time, or noon local time, or at any other convenient time of the day.

    Here are the words of the Holy Father:

    “In these trying days, while humanity trembles due to the threat of the pandemic, I would like to propose to all Christians that together we lift our voices towards Heaven. I invite all the Heads of the Churches and the leaders of every Christian community, together with all Christian of the various confessions, to invoke the Almighty, the omnipotent God, to recite at the same time the prayer that Jesus, our Lord, taught us. I, therefore, invite everyone to do this several times a day, but all together, to recite the Our Father this coming Wednesday, 25 March, at noon, all together. On that day on which many Christians recall the annunciation to the Virgin Mary of the Incarnation of the Word, may the Lord listen to the united prayer of all of His disciples who are preparing themselves to celebrate the victory of the Risen Christ.”

  • 8 March 2020: Primate of Cyprus Church at the Phanar & other news

    Archbishop Chrysostomos, primate of the Church of Cyprus, is just completing his visit to the Phanar in response to an invitation from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy with him.  On March 6 Archbishop Chrysostomos met with the Ecumenical Patriarch.  The welcoming remarks of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the reply by Archbishop Chrysostomos, and the additional remarks by the Ecumenical Patriarch can be read at http://ec-patr.org/docdisplay.php?lang=gr&id=3031&tla=gr (Greek).  A shorter English-language summary for the Archbishop’s remarks is found at https://spzh.news/en/news/69279-dlya-menya-ne-problema-priznaty-predstojatelya-pcu--glava-kiprskoj-cerkvi  and https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-ecumenical-patriarch-welcomed-the-archbishop-of-cyprus/ .  The Archbishop stated in his reply that prior to the meeting, he had been contacted by primates, bishops, and friends concerning what he would do during the visit.  According to the Archbishop, he told everyone, “The problem of Orthodoxy for me personally, and I believe for His All-Holiness [Ecumenical Patriarch] too, is not whether I will recognize the primate of the Ukrainian Church. To me this says nothing. I could recognize him yesterday and today and tomorrow.  That is no problem for me.  The problem for me is the problems of Orthodoxy.”  With respect to the problem of Orthodoxy, the Archbishop stated during the March 6 meeting: “those that shout, if they really want a correct Orthodoxy, must come down to earth and forsake the big words because it is only through our humility that Christ, who gives us the fullness of life, can help His Church.”

    The additional remarks by the Ecumenical Patriarch include the following:  Now they want a Synod.  Let them recognize the Crete Synod.  If only they came there.  They didn't come.   Let them recognize its decisions.  Because the decisions of Crete were taken in Geneva unanimously, the texts are the same, with minor wordings and improvements.  We all signed these in Geneva in January 2016, and we went to Crete in the hope that all the Churches that signed these texts would be present.  And at the last moment "there came an excuse” [an apparent reference to Luke 14:18 – invitation to the banquet].  Moscow also lured away Antioch and Bulgaria and Georgia.  And we are still waiting for the decisions to be recognized. Because, they says, they were referred to special committees.  It's been four years since 2016, they are still studying Crete's decisions to make a decision.

    Today, March 8, the Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop Chrysostomos celebrated the Liturgy together on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.  https://www.patriarchate.org/photo-galleries?p_p_id=flickr_WAR_goarchflickrportlet&p_p_lifecycle=0&p_p_state=normal&p_p_mode=view&p_p_col_id=column-3&p_p_col_pos=1&p_p_col_count=2&_flickr_WAR_goarchflickrportlet_id=72157707445357635&_flickr_WAR_goarchflickrportlet_action=openSet (English)  Although some may have expected that this would be an occasion for the Archbishop to take some action to recognize the OCU or its primate, this did not occur.  Rather, the Archbishop gave a strong endorsement of the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch as the leader in the Orthodox world.  The text of the addresses by both the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop are set forth at http://ec-patr.org/docdisplay.php?lang=gr&id=3032&tla=gr&fbclid=IwAR0OwwsuZTeUQeg9nCD1ZZ_R-dDAYYyQ5Qk-F0UqKoB_a4QAiTvWpoOv_2s (Greek).  A much shorter English­-language summary is found at https://orthodoxtimes.com/archbishop-of-cyprus-to-ecumenical-patriarch-you-are-not-alone/ .  The latter includes the following quotation from Archbishop Chrysostomos:  If we look back into the past, there is no Church, which did not benefit from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.  In addition, it is the Ecumenical Patriarchate that established the new Churches.  It is ignorance to say something different….Had we not had a First in the Orthodox Church, we would search for one.  We do have a First, but there is equality.  The Orthodox Church has chosen him.

    Metropolitan Onufry, head of the UOC-MP, was in Montenegro from February 27 to 29 as a sign of support for the Serbia Orthodox Church there.  http://www.pravoslavie.ru/128973.html   On February 29 he led a huge procession of more than 100,000 in the capital city of Podgorica.  https://orthochristian.com/128957.html   While in Montenegro, Metropolitan Onufry gave a long interview to the church radio station Svetigora.  From my prior observations, it is very unusual for Metropolitan Onufry to give long interviews, and the long interviews in Ukraine are usually given by Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil instead.  The entire interview can be read at https://mospat.ru/ru/2020/03/02/news183614/.  One aspect of the interview particularly caught my attention.  Metropolitan Onufry continues to discount the appropriateness of granting autocephaly to the UOC-MP as a means of uniting the two churches in Ukraine.  In this interview, Metropolitan Onufry stated:  But the position of our Church is that first it is necessary to restore unity, and then, if appropriate, if it is useful for the spiritual development of the Church, raise the question of autocephaly, and not vice versa.  This has been the consistent view of the UOC-MP – namely, the OCU must first repent and return to the UOC-MP and only then can the question of autocephaly be considered.  To date, the UOC-MP has never decided or stated that it rejects the idea of being an autocephalous church.

    You may recall that Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus in his mediation efforts between Moscow and Constantinople seemed to be advocating autocephaly for the UOC-MP as a solution.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/archbishop-of-cyprus-i-told-onufriy-to-ask-autocephaly-from-patriarch-of-moscow/  Without knowing exactly what Archbishop Chrysostomos had in mind, one possible scenario might be for the UOC-MP first to express the desire for autocephaly.  This would then set the stage for merger discussions between the UOC-MP and the OCU, especially if the OCU agreed to undergo conditional ordinations.  If merger discussions are successful, autocephaly would be granted to the united Ukrainian church.  Under this scenario, the OCU would never need to come under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.  However, Metropolitan Onufry insists that the OCU must first become part of the Moscow Patriarchate before the question of autocephaly is considered.  As a practical matter, this means that the issue of autocephaly will not be considered by the UOC-MP in the foreseeable future because it is unrealistic to expect that the OCU would agree to repent and come under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate even on a temporary basis.

    With respect to relations between the UOC-MP and the OCU, Metropolitan Onufry drew an analogy to Orthodox relations to the Catholic Church.  He referred to a conversation that he had with Archimandrite Gabriel (Bunge), a well-known Catholic priest and monk whose conversion to Orthodox in 2010 attracted considerable attention.  The Metropolitan stated: “Once we spoke with him [Archimandrite Gabriel] about the grace of the Holy Spirit, and he said that the Orthodox have the charisma of the grace of the Holy Spirit, but the Catholics do not.  Among Catholics, this charisma was destroyed through the regulation of all spheres of spiritual life.  Father Gabriel noted that the only way to return the charisma of the grace of the Holy Spirit is not dialogue with the Orthodox, not some common humanitarian interests, the only way – it is to return to the point of falling away from that One Holy Orthodox Church from which they once fell away and which has the charisma of the grace of the Holy Spirit, correcting the mistakes that were once made and beginning a new life.”  Metropolitan Onufry then added:  “I would say that this is an indirect answer to the question of normalizing the religious situation in Ukraine.  There is a mistake of Constantinople, which was made when trying to resolve the schism in Ukraine.  In order to eliminate the new schism that has formed, you need to return to the point where the mistake was made - to correct the mistake, and then everything will fall into place. This is the only way to eliminate the crisis that exists today in Ukraine.”  Apparently in the view of Metropolitan Onufry, the Ecumenical Patriarch must first admit his mistakes and withdraw the Tomas, and the OCU must become a part of the UOC-MP.  This view seems to preclude the consideration of any compromise solutions.

    At the Amman meeting, Metropolitan Onufry also stressed that autocephaly was not the answer.  https://mospat.ru/en/2020/02/26/news183424/  Furthermore, the scope of the Amman meeting and the scope of future meetings as proposed by Patriarch Kirill seem to preclude discussion of autocephaly for the UOC-MP as a possible solution.  As you recall, the Holy Synod of the Jerusalem Patriarchate stated that the “aim” of the Amman meeting would be a dialogue “with respect of the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”  https://en.jerusalem-patriarchate.info/blog/2020/02/21/the-decisions-of-the-holy-and-sacred-synod-of-the-patriarchate-of-jerusalem/  Although most people probably believed that the purpose of the meeting was to solve the crisis in Ukraine, Ukraine was not even mentioned in the statement of the “aim.”  Similarly, during the Amman meeting, Patriarch Kirill identified six topics that should be the subject of the future dialogue among the Local Orthodox Churches.  All relate to the authority or lack of authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  With such an exclusive focus on the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the topic of practical solutions to encourage a merger of the UOC-MP and the UOC through autocephaly or other means would not be part of the agenda.  For the Moscow Patriarchate, which does not desire to lose the UOC-MP through autocephaly, this strategy of not focusing on autocephaly as a solution makes total sense.

    On February 29, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated his 80th birthday at a vesper service at the Phanar.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/ecumenical-patriarch-expressed-gratitude-to-the-lord-for-his-80th-birthday/   The Romanian Patriarchate has posted on its website a warm letter from Patriarch Daniel to the Ecumenical Patriarch congratulating him on the occasion.   https://basilica.ro/en/patriarch-daniel-congratulates-ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-on-his-80th-birthday/ (English)  Bishop Melchizedek of the Georgian Patriarchate was present at the vesper service and read a letter of congratulations from Patriarch Ilia.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/patriarch-of-georgia-to-ecumenical-patriarch-the-phanar-is-our-genuine-mother/  (text in English).  It is a very interesting letter and should be read.  A delegation from the Ukrainian government, headed by Volodymyr Borodyansky, Minister of Culture, Youth, and Sports, whose responsibility also includes religious affairs, also came to the Phanar.  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/2887083-vselenskij-patriarh-  blagosloviv-ukrainskij-narod.html   The Ukraine delegation met privately with Bartholomew.  After the meeting, the state news agency Ukrinform interviewed Borodyansky and quoted him as follows:  “They talked about the formation of the Ukrainian independent church, the granting to the Ukrainian church of the Tomos that the dreams of millions of Ukrainian believers came true when the Ukrainian church became a canonical church.”   Borodyansky also conveyed a letter of congratulations from President Zelensky.  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/2887023-borodanskij-peredav-varfolomiu-privitanna-vid-zelenskogo.html  It appears that Zelensky continues to maintain a more neutral stance with respect to religious affairs than Borodyansky.

    Metropolitan Epifany has announced the composition of the Holy Synod of the OCU for the period, March 1 to August 31, 2020.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/vyznacheno-sklad-svyashhennogo-synodu-na-litnij-synodalnyj-period/  The statute of the OCU provides for a rotation of Synod members.  For the new six-month period, four members of the Synod had ended their term and are being replaced by four new members.  One of the members who is leaving the Synod is Archbishop Yevstratiy of Chernihiv, the spokesperson of the OCU.  Before the period beginning September 2020, presumably five additional members of the original Synod will leave and be replaced.  Aside from Epifany, two other members, Metropolitan Simeon of Vinnytsia (previously from the UOC-MP) and Metropolitan Makary of Lviv (previously head of the UAOC), will continue as permanent members during the initial years of the OCU.

    On March 7, the Vatican announced that the next synod of bishops, scheduled for October 2022, will be devoted to synodality.  The exact title will be “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.”  http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2020/03/07/200306b.html  As you know, Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed that the Catholic Church must learn more about synodality from the Orthodox.  See  http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/cardinal-koch/2019/conferences/vers-l-unite-de-l-eglise-en-orient-et-en-occident.html  Presumably, this latest development is a move by Pope Francis to make the Catholic Church more synodal.  In other news, the apostolic nuncio in Georgia has presented to Patriarch Neofit of Bulgaria some relics of Pope Saint Clement and the martyr Saint Potitus as a gift from Pope Francis in remembrance of his visit to Bulgaria last year.

     http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/news/2020/2020-02-28-dono-reliquie-ss--clemente-e-potito.html  Tradition links both saints to Serdica (ancient Sofia).  Finally, Archbishop Anastasios, primate of the Church of Albania, was awarded the Klaus Hemmerle Prize for 2020.  http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/news/2020/2020-02-19-koch-laudatio-archbishop-anastasios.html  The award is given every two years by the Catholic organization Focolare Movement.  Cardinal Koch made the presentation.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 27 February 2020: Moscow's detailed report on Amman

    The Amman meeting has now been held and the final press release has been distributed by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. https://orthodoxtimes.com/amman-a-pan-orthodox-dialogue-is-necessary-for-reconciliation-in-ukraine/   Apparently not completely satisfied with the brevity of this press release, the Moscow Patriarchate has today (the day after the Amman meeting) posted a detailed report on what occurred at Amman.  The report has already been translated by the DECR into English.  https://mospat.ru/en/2020/02/26/news183424/  The report contains quotations from the remarks of Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Onufry (UOC-MP) at the meeting and a short summary of the remarks made by Patriarch Theophilos (Jerusalem), Patriarch Irinej (Serbia), Metropolitan Rastislav (Czech Lands and Slovakia),  Metropolitan Nifon (Romania), and Archbishop Abel (Poland).  The most interesting aspect of the report, in my opinion, is the breadth of the subjects that Patriarch Kirill proposes should now be the subject of a “pan-Orthodox discussion.”   He listed the following six topics “in the order of importance”:

    First. The problem of understanding primacy in the Church; attempts to justify the claims to universal leadership through specially created theological argumentation; the absence of a system of conciliar control over the actions of the primatial see, the need for consensus in decision-making on the pan-Orthodox scale.

    Second. The threat to the institute of autocephaly in the Church; the lack of a common Orthodox mechanism, indisputable for all, of granting autocephaly; attempts to introduce inequality among “senior” and “minor” autocephalous Churches.

    Third. Attempts to challenge the canonical boundaries of autocephalous Churches, to review and revoke the once adopted documents of historic importance defining these boundaries.

    Fourth. The claims of the first among equals in the family of Local Orthodox Churches to a right to receive appeals from any Church, the threats to use these appeals as an instrument of interference in the internal life of other Local Churches, which, I believe, demand comprehension and discussion.

    Fifth. The development of an abnormal situation in which the primatial hierarch, contrary to the basic principles of canon law, acts as a judge in a matter in which he is one of the sides and presents himself as the last instance in considering the matter, and

    Sixth. The problem of creating the so called “stavropegic structures” in the territories of other Local Churches without their consent or against their will.

    These, of course, involve some of the major issues on which Constantinople and Moscow are sharply divided.  Patriarch Kirill does not address the key question on how these issues can be decided by the Orthodox Church as a whole when the Orthodox Church holds that pan-Orthodox decisions can only be made if there is a complete consensus among all of the Local Orthodox Church on the terms of the decision.  It is difficult to see that either Moscow or Constantinople will retreat from its respective positions on these issues in the coming decades.  If the crisis in Ukraine is to be solved in the near future, it is necessary to find a compromise solution which does not required either Constantinople or Moscow to retreat from its respective positions on these big issues.  Such a compromise should be possible.

    After the Amman meeting, Metropolitan Hilarion met with journalists as reported in the following article by TASShttps://tass.ru/obschestvo/7847521  The Metropolitan stated:  We hope that if the process of these inter-Orthodox consultations continues, then more and more churches will join them, because there is no alternative process now.  During a break at the Amman meeting, Metropolitan Hilarion also made certain comments as reported by RIA-Novostihttps://ria.ru/20200226/1565235942.html?in=t    He stated: Everyone speaks of his own, but many speak of the same thing.  And there is a general feeling that the churches want to have some platform for discussing accumulated issues….The pan-Orthodox platform that existed, it actually lost its meaning, since the Patriarch of Constantinople headed everything on that platform, and now he cannot help in resolving the conflict that he himself created.  He is a party to the conflict. The problems he created will be shared by all of us.  However, in the subsequent interview reported by TASS, Metropolitan Hilarion stated:  And I expressed the wish that Patriarch Bartholomew take part in the next such meeting.

    Father Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s DECR, talked to Interfax after the meeting.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15495 (English)  He stated that Patriarch Theophilos chaired the first session of the Amman meeting, and Patriarch Kirill chaired the second session.  Father Nikolai also remarked that Metropolitan Onufry “delivered a great speech.”  In Ukraine, the UOC-MP has also emphasized the important role that Metropolitan Onufry played in the Amman meeting.  https://news.church.ua/2020/02/27/avtokefaliya-ne-zcilit-rozkol-v-ukrajinskomu-pravoslavji-predstoyatel-upc-v-ammani/  In his speech, Metropolitan Onufry stated: Autocephaly does not guarantee absolute unity.  And the autocephalous Churches in the world have their splits.  The Moscow Patriarchate has posted on YouTube a short video covering parts of the Amman meeting.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=gCgKSGx3B_k&feature=emb_logo  The follow is an article on the meeting of the primates and church representatives with the King of Jordan.  https://kingabdullah.jo/en/news/king-receives-primates-orthodox-churches-participating-amman-gathering 

    Archbishop Abel of the Church of Poland also made comments after the meeting.  https://spzh.news/en/news/69049-ijerarkh-polyskoj-cerkvi-pcu--malychiki-s-ulicy-odetyje-v-cerkovnyje-odezhdy  Although he expressed optimism that with God’s help the problems will be solved, he made the following very blunt comment:  And in the OCU, there is no apostolic succession – just some boys from the street were dressed in costumed church clothes.  Immediately before the Amman meeting, Bishop Irinej of Backa, a member of the Serbian delegation and a close friend of Metropolitan Hilarion, give an interview concerning the Amman meeting.  The entire interview has been posted in English.  https://orthodox-europe.org/2020/02/26/amman-interview-bp-irenei/?fbclid=IwAR0PEsCR0oBPu6bebx1hogiAKwl5rlPcHXUr1UFMIeVKdijx7ec8pZQws5A  In the interview, he is very critical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  Bishop Irinej also states: In Amman, then, we see the convening of those primates and representatives of the Local Churches willing righteously and fearlessly to stand for the truth and follow the Orthodox path of addressing challenges in a conciliar way when they arise.   I have seen no interviews of the delegates of the Romanian Patriarchate.  The Romanian Patriarchate appears to proceed very quietly.  Over the past year, its official websites have provided very little coverage of the Ukraine dispute, although it has now posted the Jerusalem Patriarchate’s press release in Romanian.  https://basilica.ro/comunicat-de-presa-la-incheierea-intalnirii-fraterne-de-la-amman-iordania/

    Metropolitan Gabriel of Lovech (Patriarchate of Bulgaria) has given an interview to Bulgarian National Radio concerning the decision of Bulgaria not to send a representative to the Amman meeting.  The text of the interview can be read at  https://ruskline.ru/opp/2020/02/26/mitropolit_lovchenskii_gavriil_samye_vazhnye_voprosy_v_cerkvi_reshalis_soborno  Although the decision was not discussed at a meeting of the Holy Synod, it appears that all of the metropolitans were contacted to obtain their views.  A majority of metropolitans expressed the view that it was better not to participate.  Metropolitan Gabriel believes that the rationale used by some of the metropolitans is that the Bulgarian Patriarchate has not yet reached a synodal decision on the Ukrainian issue.  It appears that four metropolitans, including Metropolitan Gabriel, were strongly in favor of sending a representative to Amman.

    On the day prior to the Amman meeting, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew wrote a letter with very strong language to Patriarch Theophilos concerning the unauthorized nature of the Amman meeting.  The entire text of the three-page letter in Greek has now been posted.  http://fanarion.blogspot.com/2020/02/blog-post_28.html?m=1  Unfortunately, the Google translation tool works very poorly on this Greek text.  Hopefully, a good translation will be available in the future.  A very short English summary with the Greek text may be read at https://www.ecupatria.org/2020/02/26/the-ecumenical-patriarchs-second-response-to-the-patriarch-of-jerusalem/#more-1346.  The latter article includes the following quotation:  The aim [of the meeting], if we are to be true to ourselves and consistent with God, is to tenaciously cling to the refusal of a local Church to follow the centuries-old accepted principles in the Orthodox Church while having the Russian Federation by its side.

    Constantinople and Moscow may now take some satisfaction in different aspects of the Amman meeting.  Constantinople believes that it was improper for Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem to call the meeting in the first place and may take some satisfaction that only three primates and two other churches accepted the invitation to come to Amman.  Moscow may take some satisfaction in that both Romania (the second-largest of the Local Orthodox Churches) and Jerusalem have joined in recognizing the need to resolve the Ukraine crisis on a pan-Orthodox basis and the need to hold another meeting before the end of the year.  This means that the chances are extremely remote that either Romania or Jerusalem will recognize the OCU in the near future. 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 26 February 2020: Final press release from the Amman meeting

    A few minutes ago, I received an email from Peter Welby, press representative for the Amman meeting, with the full text of the press release at the conclusion of the Amman meeting.  It does not appear to be a joint statement by all parties, but is issued on behalf of the Jerusalem Patriarchate.  However, presumably it was reviewed with the participants before it was issued.  The full text has been pasted below. 

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

     

    Press Release – 26 February 2020 – Amman, Jordan
    Issued on behalf of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

    Following the initiative for dialogue and reconciliation announced by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III in November 2019, the Amman Fraternal Familial Gathering was hosted today in the capital of Jordan, with attendance of Primates and Delegations from various Orthodox churches. The purpose of the gathering was to renew dialogue and promote unity between brothers within the Orthodox Communion.

    On the conclusion of the gathering, the Primates and Delegates issued the following statement:

    On February 26, 2020, a meeting of Primates and representatives of Local Orthodox Churches was held in Amman, Jordan, with the primary view of unity and reconciliation within Holy Orthodoxy. The participants noted their understanding of the anguish of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem for the imminent danger of schism within our Orthodox Communion.

    Participating in the meeting were delegations of: the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem led by His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem, the Russian Orthodox Church led by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, the Serbian Orthodox Church led by His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, the Romanian Orthodox Church led by His Eminence Metropolitan Nifon of Targoviste, the Polish Orthodox Church led by His Eminence Archbishop Abel of Lublin and Chełm, and the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia led by His Beatitude Metropolitan Rastislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia.

    The participants expressed their gratitude to His Majesty King Abdullah II, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Hashemite Custodian of the Christian and Muslim Holy Places in the Holy Land and to the people of Jordan for facilitating the hosting of this gathering in their capital city, Amman, noting His Majesty’s outstanding work in promoting interfaith dialogue internationally.

    The participants also thanked the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos for all the relentless efforts aimed at paving the way for dialogue and bringing brothers together in the precious spirit of unity, noting that the light that emanates from Jerusalem stands as a witness to that Holy City which continuously proclaims its multi-faith and multicultural tapestry rejoicing in its existence as the warm home for the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

    The delegations declared that this gathering was to strengthen the fraternal bonds between brothers and their churches, to promote the bonds of peace in Christ among them, to advocate for the unity of the Orthodox churches, and to renew dialogue in the prayerful hope of bringing reconciliation where there has been discord.

    In the atmosphere of fraternal love, those gathered for the meeting agreed that decisions concerning issues of Orthodox-wide importance, including the granting of autocephaly to particular Churches, should be finalised in a spirit of pan-Orthodox dialogue and unity, and with pan-Orthodox consensus.

    Concerning the current ecclesiastical situation in the Ukraine the participants also recognised that a pan-Orthodox dialogue is necessary for healing and reconciliation.

    In the matter concerning North Macedonia, the delegations stated that this matter is to be solved through dialogue within the Serbian Orthodox Church and with pan-Orthodox support.

    Regarding Montenegro, the participating delegations urged the relevant authorities to respect and uphold the fundamental right of ownership of property including that of the Church.

    The delegations agreed that they should gather as brothers, preferably before the end of this year, to strengthen the bonds of fellowship through prayer and dialogue. The participants hope that His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with his known seniority of honour (πρεσβεια τιμήs) will join this dialogue along with his brother Primates.

    The delegations embraced the call of their brother Patriarch Theophilos III to hold a prayer for the world, for an end to war, sickness and suffering, and for all the Christians as well as for the unity of the Orthodox Church. This prayer is to be held in the Mother Church, the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem, before the Holy Tomb of Christ, from which He rose and proclaims peace to the world.

  • 25 February 2020: The arrivals in Amman

    Today, Tuesday, February 25, is the day for the primates and delegations to arrive in Amman for the “fraternal meeting,” hosted by Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem.  Since the surprise announcement on Saturday by the Patriarchate of Antioch that it will not be attending the Amman meeting, there has not been any change in the list of Local Orthodox Churches that will be attending the meeting.  The list consists of six of the fourteen Local Orthodox Churches:  four represented by their primates – Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Czech Lands and Slovakia; two by delegations – Romania and Poland. 

    However, on Saturday these was another surprise, in my opinion.  The Patriarchate of Jerusalem posted a report on the meeting of its Holy Synod held on Friday.  https://en.jerusalem-patriarchate.info/blog/2020/02/21/the-decisions-of-the-holy-and-sacred-synod-of-the-patriarchate-of-jerusalem/  (English)  The report includes the following:

    Decided the convocation of the Fraternal gathering of the Orthodox Churches in Amman of Jordan, with the aim of cultivating the dialogue and reconciliation, for the sake of the unity of the Church, with respect of the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

    According to this, the dialogue will focus on “the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”  In my opinion many believed that the primary purpose of the Amman meeting would be to solve the religious crisis in Ukraine.  However, Ukraine is not even specifically mentioned in this report.  It is true that the Ukraine crisis does involve important issues relating to the powers of the Ecumenical Patriarch, such as whether the Ecumenical Patriarch can consider appeals from other Local Orthodox Churches and whether the Ecumenical Patriarch has the power to issue a tomos of autocephaly unilaterally.  However, the topic of the “privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate” is a far broader and more sweeping topic than just the right of hear appeals and grant autocephaly.   In fact there are possible compromises relating to the crisis in Ukraine where it may not be necessary to decide definitively the powers of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.   Why has Jerusalem phrased the issue so broadly?  Today, Metropolitan Hilarion, on his arrival in Amman, stated that issues other than Ukraine may also be discussed. http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=74324   

    None of the attending Local Orthodox Churches identified the membership of its delegation in advance.   However, with the arrivals, the composition is becoming known.  It appears that the following website in Jordan will be the source of the official photographs of the meeting:  http://www.orthodoxjordan.org/%D8%A3%D8%AE%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%AA%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B1.aspx  (Arabic – use the Goggle or Bing translation tool)

    The names of the delegates of the Serbian Patriarchate have now been posted.  http://www.spc.rs/eng/serbian_patriarch_irinej_his_delegation_left_jordan (English)  Aside from Patriarch Irinej, the bishops are Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro, Bishop Irinej of Backa, and Bishop David of Krusevac.  In addition, there is one priest and three deacons.  You may recall that Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bishops Irinej were finalists in the election for primate, won by Patriarch Irinej in 2010 by the drawing of lots.  Patriarch Irinej usually includes these two hierarchs in important matters.

    The Romanian delegation is headed by  Metropolitan Nifon of Târgoviște.  See his biography at http://www.arhiepiscopiatargovistei.ro/biografia-ips-mitropolit-nifon.html  For many years, Metropolitan Nifon has frequently represented the Romanian Patriarchate at international Orthodox and ecumenical gatherings.  The delegation also includes Father Michael Tita, the key advisor to Patriarch Daniel on inter-Orthodox and inter-Christian matters.  From a photo, it appears that Metropolitan Nifon is the only bishop in the Romanian delegation. 

    The Moscow delegation arrived in Amman this evening.  The delegation is, of course, headed by Patriarch Kirill and includes Metropolitan Hilarion, Father Nikolai Balashov (deputy head of the DECR), and Vladimir Legoyda (head of the Synodal Department for Church Relations with Society and the Media).  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5597183.html  Photos of their arrival can be seen at https://foto.patriarchia.ru/news/vizit-svyateyshego-patriarkha-kirilla-v-iordaniyu-pribytie-v-amman-2020-02-25/ .

    It has been reported that Metropolitan Onufry, head of the UOC-MP, has also arrived in Amman, but he did not arrive with the delegation from Moscow.  https://spzh.news/en/news/68991-predstojately-upc-mitropolit-onufrij-pribyl-v-iordaniju; https://www.facebook.com/mykola.danylevych?hc_ref=ARQcnqYb606sFv9EC7giCmR2J0uheOsF0OWLwnpNNwCT4O7mPO92AadaBXvsf-A32x4&fref=nf&__tn__=C-R   If this report is true, it is not clear what role, if any, he will play in the meeting.

    Metropolitan Rostislav, primate of the Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia, arrived this afternoon.  https://spzh.news/en/news/68984-predstojately-cerkvi-cheshskih-zemely-i-slovakii-pribyl-v-amman  There are no other bishops in his delegation.  He appears to be accompanied by a monk, presumably the Metropolitan’s assistant.

    Although it is now after midnight in Amman, I have seen no report yet concerning the arrival of the delegation of the Church of Poland in Amman.  The Church of Poland has never officially stated that it was coming to Amman, but there have been numerous reports that a delegation headed by Archbishop Abel of Lublin will come.  https://ria.ru/20200226/1565202228.html

    It appears that the meeting will begin tomorrow (Wednesday) at 9:30 a.m. at the Fairmount Hotel.  In the first part of the afternoon, there will be an audience with King Abdullah II of Jordan.  In the latter part of the afternoon and evening, the meeting at the Fairmount Hotel will continue.  The latter session includes the preparation of a joint press release.  https://spzh.news/en/news/68981-stali-izvestny-mesto-provedenija-i-grafik-vstrechi-predstojatelej-v-ammane  If appears that the meeting will be highly confidential until the press release is made public.  In the meantime, there is a high degree of security with journalists being asked to leave the Fairmount Hotel and a film crew at a neighboring building being detained by police for seeking to film the arrivals.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=15491

    I hope to have more new tomorrow.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 22 February 2020: Antioch will not participate in Amman meeting

    The Patriarchate of Antioch has just made the surprising announcement that it will not participate in the Amman meeting.  https://www.antiochpatriarchate.org/en/page/a-statement-by-the-antiochian-orthodox-media-center/2354/ (official English announcement).  With this, the latest list of attendees consists of six of the fourteen Local Orthodox Churches:  four represented by their primates – Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Czech Lands and Slovakia; two by delegations – Romania and Poland.  The text of the announcement by the Patriarchate of Antioch is set forth below. 

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

     

    A Statement by the Antiochian Orthodox Media Center
    Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East
    Balamand, February 22, 2020

    Following the generous invitation of His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem to His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch, to participate in a consultative meeting of Church leaders in Amman, Jordan, on the twenty-fifth of this month, the Antiochian Church declares that She will not participate in this meeting.

    The Church of Antioch acknowledges the concern of the Orthodox Churches’ Primates and their initiatives to what could contribute to finding solutions for the grave crisis that the Orthodox Church is witnessing today. However, She has decided not to participate in this meeting, based on the information that has been provided, and for Her care to avoid whatever increases divergence and deepens the rift between brothers. Her position does not mean that She is not eager to expedite necessary solutions for the reasons that led to the severance of communion between the Church of Antioch and the Church of Jerusalem, even after the Church of Antioch has showed readiness for everything that facilitates these solutions.

    On this occasion, the Church of Antioch reiterates Her firm position that the "unanimous consensus" between the Churches, based on the Holy Scripture and the Holy Tradition, is the essential rule in the Orthodox Church, with regards to general decisions on the universal Orthodox level, as well as in resolving outstanding issues. She also affirms Her endeavor, through the continuous communication with the Churches, to what yields an atmosphere of love and to a return to the mutual consultation and unanimity between the brothers, in order for Her to be faithful to the mission of joy, peace, and unity that the Lord wants from His Church.

    The Church of Antioch calls upon all of Her children to join together in prayer and work for peace in the Church and the whole world.

     

  • 21 February 2020: Important statements by Bulgaria and Jerusalem

    Next Tuesday, the primates and delegations who have accepted the invitation of Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem to attend a fraternal meeting to discuss Orthodox unity and the situation in Ukraine will be arriving in Amman.  The primates and delegations will be holding their meeting and be accommodated at the Fairmont Hotel in Amman.  The actual meeting will occur on Wednesday, February 26 (Ash Wednesday for most non-Orthodox Christians).  These details were made known by a letter sent earlier this month by Patriarch Theophilos to the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.  The letter was written in English, but the complete text is, as far as I know, only available on the Internet in Greek (https://www.ethnos.gr/ekklisia/patriarheia/89419_gramma-toy-patriarhi-ierosolymon-gia-ti-synantisi-sto-amman) and French (https://orthodoxie.com/la-lettre-du-patriarche-de-jerusalem-au-sujet-de-la-reunion-damman/).  The letter also states:  “Furthermore, given the fraternal nature of the meeting, it seems to us that the fact of taking part in it will not require participation in a common Holy Eucharist.”  This was obviously stated in view of the fact that Antioch has severed Eucharistic communion with Jerusalem over the Qatar jurisdictional dispute and Moscow has severed communion with Constantinople and with the primates of Greece and Alexandria.  The letter furthermore provides that “the Primates will be received in audience by His Majesty King Abdullah II at the Hashemite Royal Court.”

    With the countdown of days prior to the meeting, many are anxiously watching how many Local Orthodox Churches will be attending the Amman meeting.  The Ecumenical Patriarchate made it very clear that it would not attend because, in its view, only the Ecumenical Patriarch has the authority to convene such a pan-Orthodox meeting.  Jerusalem has countered that the Amman meeting will not be a formal synaxis of the Orthodox primates but simply a fraternal meeting of brothers.  Today (Friday), the Bulgarian Patriarchate announced its Holy Synod has decided “that it is refraining from attending the above meeting and will accordingly not send its representatives to Amman….”  http://www.bg-patriarshia.bg/news.php?id=313841  Although the announcement stated that the Holy Synod expresses its brotherly love to Patriarch Theophilos, it did not give a reason why it was declining to send representatives to Amman.  It is known that the Bulgarian Holy Synod is sharply divided on the issue of Ukraine.  It is possible that Bulgaria is declining to send a representative to Amman, because it has been unable to decide internally what the position of the delegation would be with respect to Ukraine.  The same observation might be true of the Patriarchate of Georgia which also decided not to send representatives of Amman.   In my opinion, it would be a mistake to assume that both Georgia and Bulgaria are now in the camp of Constantinople with respect to Ukraine.

    It is generally assumed that the Patriarchate of Antioch would be attending the Amman meeting.   Last week the Patriarchate of Antioch was contacted by RIA-Novesti, and it appeared that a final decision had not yet been announced.  https://ria.ru/20200219/1564969244.html?in=t   Today, the Holy Synod of the Jerusalem Patriarchate met.  After the meeting, the Secretariat issued a communique.  https://en.jerusalem-patriarchate.info/blog/2020/02/21/patriarch-tehophilos-concrete-understandings-with-antioch-over-qatar-our-orthodox-unity-is-most-precious/  The communique states:

    In the Holy Synod convened today, Friday 21 of February, by His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III various matters relating to the Patriarchate’s ministry were discussed, including the pending matter with the Patriarchate of Antioch relating to Qatar.

    It was asserted by Patriarch Theophilos that since the two Primates met together mid last year in Cyprus dialogue has been taking place between the two Patriarchates on the matter.

    In today’s Synod, Patriarch Theophilos positively commended the position of His Beatitude Patriarch John X in welcoming Jerusalem’s initiative for Orthodox Unity being held as the “Amman Fraternal Gathering” even though a resolution between both Patriarchates, regarding Qatar, had not yet been concluded.

    Patriarch Theophilos briefed the members of the Synod that, with gratitude to the Almighty, in the last weeks, concrete understandings have been reached with Antioch for a resolution to this matter.

    His Beatitude concluded that Jerusalem is looking forward to next week’s familial gathering of Orthodox Primates, with hope for continued dialogue towards the precious unity amongst brothers, as well as keenness for the opportunity to further discuss with His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch in order to reach a final agreement on the matter of Qatar.

    The above statement certain implies that Patriarch John of Antioch has now agreed to come to Amman.  Furthermore, the statement implies that his presence in Amman may result in a final agreement on the Qatar matter.  This certainly provides a strong inducement (probably intended) for Antioch to come to Amman.  Also, the settlement of the Qatar dispute, which would be extremely good news for everyone, would be a very positive result for the Amman meeting, even if the results are very disappointing with respect to resolving the Ukraine dispute.

    When Patriarch Theophilos presented in Moscow the idea of the Amman meeting, he stated his vision as follows: We take this opportunity, therefore, to declare open our home in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, for hosting this “fraternal gathering in love” so that together we may be a witness to the Church and to the world of the unity of the Orthodox Church and our Orthodox faith.  https://orthochristian.com/125797.html   At the present time, it appears that only seven of the fourteen Local Orthodox Churches will be represented at the Amman meeting.  Five will be represented by primates (Jerusalem, Antioch, Moscow, Serbia, and Czech Lands and Slovakia) and two by delegations (Romania and Poland).  [It should be noted that Alexandria has not publicly stated its intention, but no one actually expects it to come.]  Unfortunately, the Amman meeting will not be “a witness to the Church and to the world of the unity of the Orthodox Church and our Orthodox faith,” as hoped by Patriarch Theophilos.  The obvious answer to this is that Amman will be only the first meeting and that hopefully subsequent meetings will obtain greater participation.  Today, RIA-Novesti posted an interview with Metropolitan Hilarion (Moscow Patriarchate).  https://ria.ru/20200221/1565029554.html  He stated:  We hope that the meeting in Amman will mark the beginning of other similar meetings that our Orthodox family now needs.   With respect to the question of whether Metropolitan Onufry, head of the UOC-MP, will attend the Amman meeting, Metropolitan Hilarion stated:  The composition of our delegation will be announced later.

    A majority of the Local Churches represented at Amman will consist of Moscow and those Local Churches that have been the most vocal in their support of Moscow in the Ukraine dispute.  It is therefore possible that the Amman meeting may result in a statement very much in favor of Moscow’s position in the Ukraine dispute.  However, if the group truly wishes to attract more participants in future meetings, a strong attack on Constantinople, Alexandria, and Greece may not be the way to obtain that greater participation.  Their desire for greater future participation may result in a much more moderating statement at the end of the Amman meeting than would otherwise be the case.

    The Kremlin website has posted today an interview of President Putin with respect to Ukraine.  http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/62835 (English)   It includes his comments concerning the independence of the UOC-MP.

    On a completely different subject, you probably recall that after the Havana meeting, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Vatican initiated annual “summer institutes” where clerics, primarily students, from Rome come to Moscow for two weeks to study the Moscow Patriarchate and a similar group from the Moscow Patriarchate come to Rome to study the Catholic Church.  The program has proven so successful that the Vatican has now initiated a similar program with the Oriental Orthodox Churches.  The first group from the Oriental Churches is now in Rome.  Like the Moscow group, they are guided by Father Hyacinthe Destivelle, OP, from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.  A great photo of the group can be seen at https://www.anselmianum.com/en/2020/02/17/first-study-visit-of-young-priests-and-monks-of-the-oriental-orthodox-churches/ .   Today the group met with Pope Francis.  http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/events/event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/en/2020/2/21/delegazione-panortodossa.html  An English translation of the Pope’s remarks can be read at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2020/february/documents/papa-francesco_20200221_delegazione-panortodossa.html  The group prayed the Our Father together with the Pope, each in his own language.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 17 February 2020: Georgia's response on Amman; meeting in Montenegro

    The response of Patriarch Ilia of Georgia to the invitation of Patriarch Theophilos to participate in the meeting in Amman has now been posted on the Internet.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/georgia-said-no-to-jordan-primates-synaxis/  Patriarch Ilia’s response, dated February 7, 2020, is written in English and provides in part as follows:

    We share your position and according to the seriousness of the present circumstances and in connection with the problematic issues, we consider that the convocation and mutual discussion is very necessary.  However, if we seek the attainment of the desired result, it should take place with the participation of every Church; but if this consent cannot be attained, we will refrain from coming to the gathering….We hope that with God’s blessing, the synaxis of primates of the Orthodox Churches will be attained, and the issues, which do harm to our unity, will be evaluated according to the canonical norms of the Church.  Also, we should add here that it will be the best outcome for all of us if the goal is achieved before long.

    On February 15, a delegation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem came to the Phanar.  The delegation included Metropolitan Isychios of Capitolias, Metropolitan Timotheos of Bostra (Exarch of the Holy Sepulcher in Cyprus), and Archbishop Nektarios of Anthedon (Commissioner of the Sepulcher in Constantinople).  The delegation met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and also with the members of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Holy Synod, which had just completed their regular February meeting.  After the meeting, the Press Office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a statement.  The full text of the statement can be read at http://fanarion.blogspot.com/2020/02/blog-post_51.html?m=1.  According to the statement, the delegation briefed the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Synod hierarchs on the initiative of Patriarch Theophilos and a long discussion ensued.  In addition, the “Ecumenical Patriarchate strongly reiterated its well-known position on this unauthorized initiative of the Zionist Church….”  The Secretariat-General of the Jerusalem Patriarchate also issued a statement which included the following:

    The delegation assured H.A.H. [His All-Holiness] the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during a 2-hour meeting held today at H.A.H. headquarters in the presence of members of the Ecumenical Synod, that the Amman fraternal gathering does not constitute a formal Synaxis but rather a familial gathering of the Orthodox Primates for the purpose of dialogue.  The delegation carried a letter from H.B. Theophilos III in which he extended H.A.H. Bartholomew an invitation to the Amman gathering, and pointed out his sincerity in upholding the Holy Canons of the Church and respecting H.A.H the Ecumenical Patriarch’s acknowledged seniority.

    The website Orthodoxia.info has posted an article which claims to have more details of the meeting.  https://orthodoxia.info/news/%ce%b1%cf%80%ce%bf%ce%ba%ce%bb%ce%b5%ce%b9%cf%83%cf%84%ce%b9%ce%ba%ce%bf-%ce%bf%ce%b9-%ce%b4%ce%b9%ce%ac%ce%bb%ce%bf%ce%b3%ce%bf%ce%b9-%cf%83%cf%84%ce%b7-%cf%83%cf%85%ce%bd%ce%ac%ce%bd%cf%84%ce%b7/

    Although I have not seen an official announcement, it is reported that Metropolitan Sawa, primate of the Church of Poland, will not attend the Amman meeting because of health reasons.  Instead, a delegation headed by Archbishop Abel will be sent.  https://spzh.news/en/news/68708-polyskaja-cerkovy-primet-uchastije-v-sovete-predstojatelej-v-iordanii  There appears to be no word yet from the Bulgarian Patriarchate.  The website of the UOC-MP has reported that Patriarch Irinej of Serbia will attend the Amman meeting.  https://news.church.ua/2020/02/14/predstoyatel-serbskoji-cerkvi-vizme-uchast-u-vsepravoslavnij-naradi-v-jordaniji/  The website also states that Patriarch Irinej remarked that he hopes to see Metropolitan Onufry, head of the UOC-MP, at the Amman meeting.  At the present time, it appears that the Amman meeting will be dominated numerically by those who favor Moscow’s position on the Ukraine dispute (Moscow, Serbia, Antioch, Poland, Czech Lands and Slovakia).  One wonders whether the Amman meeting will actually seek a compromise that might also be acceptable to the Ecumenical Patriarchate or will simply condemn the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s actions as uncanonical.

    The official English translation of the statement by the Romanian Patriarchate is now available.  https://basilica.ro/en/holy-synod-meets-for-first-time-this-year-sends-delegation-to-amman-communique/  Although the Romanian Patriarchate’s statement requires a consensus with respect to a solution in Ukraine, it does seems to emphasize the possibility of forming a single autocephalous Ukrainian Church.   It appears that the forming of a single autocephalous church was also the approach advocated by Archbishop Chrysostomos in his unsuccessful mediation efforts.  Father Nikolai Danilevich, deputy head of the UOC-MP’s DECR, has stated on his Facebook page that the OCU must first return to the UOC-MP and then a decision would be made on autocephaly.   https://www.facebook.com/mykola.danylevych?hc_ref=ARQcnqYb606sFv9EC7giCmR2J0uheOsF0OWLwnpNNwCT4O7mPO92AadaBXvsf-A32x4&fref=nf&__tn__=C-R   However, as a practical matter, the OCU will never agree to come under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate even for a temporary period of time.  One therefore wonders if the UOC should now make a decision as to whether it wishes a future united Ukrainian Church to be autocephalous.  If so, it would set the stage for a merger of the UOC and the OCU.  Would the Moscow Patriarchate agree in advance to be bound by such a decision made by the UOC-MP?  Would the OCU agree to a form of conditional ordinations to alleviate concerns by the UOC-MP about a merger?  There are many questions. 

    There are hopeful signs from Montenegro.  On February 14, a meeting was held between Prime Minister Duško Marković, Metropolitan Amfilohije of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and others.  It was the first such meeting since the enactment of the new law on religion.  It appears to have been a good meeting, and there were smiles on the faces of the participants.   https://mitropolija.com/2020/02/14/zajednicko-saopstenje-vlade-crne-gore-i-episkopskog-savjeta-spc-u-cg/  At the end of the meeting, a joint statement was released. http://www.predsjednik.gov.me/en/news/221632/Joint-press-release-by-Government-of-Montenegro-and-Episcopal-Council-of-Serbian-Orthodox-Church-in-Montenegro.html  The statement provides in part:

    Today's meeting ended in a spirit of mutual respect with the assessment of both sides that the meeting was held in a constructive and open atmosphere.  Both sides fully expressed their views on outstanding issues related to the Law.  The Church continues to maintain the view that it is necessary to speak of amendments to the Law, not of its implementation, because in the Church's view, the Law is not in accordance with the Constitution or international standards.  The Government believes that through dialogue and mutual trust, as well as through the provision of additional and appropriate guarantees, this Law can be applied as a modern one and in line with the Constitution and European standards.

    Representatives of the Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church, led by Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radović), submitted to the Government a proposal that included changes to certain provisions that the Church sees as controversial.  The Government took notice of this initiative, assessing that a comprehensive consideration of not only this Law but also of other opportunities offered by the legal system was required to provide an answer to this question.

    It was agreed that the talks would continue at expert level.

    At least a meaningful dialogue seems to be beginning.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 13 February 2020: Romania's decision on Ukraine and Amman & more news

    The Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Romania met today in Bucharest.  https://basilica.ro/primele-decizii-luate-de-sfantul-sinod-in-acest-an-comunicat/   To avoid the impression that a synaxis of the primates is being held in Amman, it decided that Patriarch Daniel should not go, but only a delegation from the Patriarchate of Romania.  The press release (not yet available in English) from the Romanian Patriarchate also stated that the Amman meeting was being held from February 25-27.   It is also extremely important to note that the press release also stated:  The Holy Synod also stated that it agrees with the granting of autocephaly for the entire Orthodox Church in Ukraine (not just a part), but this can only be achieved by a understanding between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow and by a pan-Orthodox consensus.  This decision coming from one of the largest Local Orthodox Churches and one that is not aligned with either Moscow or Constantinople can definitely affect the final outcome of the Ukrainian dispute.

    Until the press release from the Romania Patriarchate today, the situation relating to the proposed meeting of the Orthodox primates in Amman at the end of February was confusing.  On February 12, Metropolitan Hilarion told Russian journalists in Rome that the Russian Church will participate in the event, which should be held on February 20, and that he believes that the Russian Church will be represented by its head.    Metropolitan Hilarion also stated:  The Jerusalem patriarch took the initiative to invite the heads of local Orthodox churches to Jordan.  Some of them have already responded positively, others have negatively.  But as far as I know, the Jerusalem patriarchy continues to work on the invitation of the heads of local churches, including the Patriarch of Constantinople.  https://ria.ru/20200212/1564626783.html  On the same day in Moscow, Father Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of the DECR, told the Russian news agency Interfax:  We hope such a meeting will take place this month, and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill is prepared to attend.  He also stated that the dialogue “does not promise to be easy” and my require more than one meeting.  Unlike Metropolitan Hilarion, Father Nikolai only states that “we hope” that the meeting will occur this month.

    On the other hand, the Greek website Romfea.gr stated that Patriarch Theophilos has sent a second letter to the primates.  Although there were not many positive responses from the primates,  the website states that “a possible date for the pan-Orthodox meeting seems to have been set for February 25th.”  https://www.romfea.gr/epikairotita-xronika/35221-kanonika-tha-pragmatopoiithei-i-panorthodoji-stin-iordania  The Greek website Vimaorthodoxias.gr has stated that a second letter (in English) has been reportedly sent by Patriarch Theophilos to the primates inviting them to Amman on February 25.  According to the latter website, the churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Cyprus, Greece, and Albania have refused to participate, while the churches of Russia, Antioch, Serbia, and Czech Lands and Slovakia have agreed to come.  https://www.vimaorthodoxias.gr/egrapsan-s-emas/osoi-pistoi-proselthete-stis-25-fevrouariou-i-synaxi-ton-prokathimenon-stin-iordania/

    In the meantime, there is only silence from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem on the subject.  Today, Patriarch Theophilos met in Jerusalem with Greek Minister of Tourism Charis Theocharis.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/patriarch-of-jerusalem-and-greek-minister-of-tourism-discussed-pilgrimage-tourism-issues/ As far as I can determine, it was the Patriarch’s first public appearance since January 29 when he was in London enroute to the United States.

    Although it had been previously reported that Archbishop Anastasios of Albania would not be attending the Amman meeting, the Church of Albania has now confirmed this by posting on its website the Archbishop’s January 8 letter to Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem.  https://orthodoxalbania.net/index.php/el/lajme-2/blog/7043-epistoli-ston-patriarxi-ierosolymon (Greek); https://orthodoxie.com/larcheveque-dalbanie-anastase-decline-linvitation-du-patriarche-de-jerusalem-a-une-synaxe-des-primats-en-jordanie/ (French translation of entire text)  The letter included the following statement:  Your proposal for a meeting in Jordan, however, as is now evident, instead of contributing to the improvement of unity, will further complicate the necessary therapeutic treatment. 

    February 12 marked the fourth anniversary of the Havana meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis.  This year’s anniversary observance was held in Rome.  Metropolitan Hilarion arrived in Rome for the observance on February 11 and met with Cardinal Kurt Koch that evening at the Domus Sanctae Marthae in the Vatican.  Their discussion focused particularly on the international Orthodox – Catholic theological dialogue.   https://mospat.ru/en/2020/02/11/news182823/   On the morning of February 12,  Metropolitan Hilarion and Cardinal Koch chaired a meeting of the Joint Working Group on Cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Holy See.  https://mospat.ru/en/2020/02/12/news182838/   The Group discussed a number of new projects in the cultural and social spheres for 2020-2021, particularly humanitarian assistance in Syria to those who suffered during the war.     In the afternoon and evening, there were the two major events of the anniversary observance --  a conference at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas on the subject, “The Saints – Signs and Seeds of Unity,” and a subsequent concert at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, performed by the Synodal Choir of Moscow and the Papal Sistine Chapel Choir.  http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/news/2020/2020-02-07-concerto-in-occasione-del-iv-anniversario-dell-incont.html    The conference, including the address by Metropolitan Hilarion, is described at  https://mospat.ru/en/2020/02/13/news182850/ and https://www.vaticannews.va/it/vaticano/news/2020-02/papa-francesco-kirill-l-avana-ecumenismo-roma-koch-santi.html .    With respect to holy people, Metropolitan Hilarion described the lives of St. Seraphim of Sarov and the Dr. Friedrich Joseph Haass (1780 – 1853), a Catholic known as the “holy doctor of Moscow.”  On the evening of the concert, Metropolitan Hilarion gave an interview with Vatican Radio concerning the theme of the conference and his six-volume book on the life and teachings of Jesus.  https://www.vaticannews.va/it/vaticano/news/2020-02/metropolita-hilarion-ecumenismo-papa-francesco-santi-cristiani.html 

    This morning, February 13, Metropolitan Hilarion met with Pope Francis. https://mospat.ru/ru/2020/02/13/news182873/  The conference and the meeting of the Joint Working Group were discussed.  The Pope was given a book, published in Italian, concerning the visit of the relics of St. Nicholas to Russia in 2017.   

    On February 8, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine met with Pope Francis at the Vatican.  After the meeting, Zelensky stated:  I invited him to Ukraine.  I am sure he will be in Ukraine - not only in the capital.  I said that in order to fully understand what was happening in the east, it was necessary to go to the east.   https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/u-vatikani-vidbulasya-audiyenciya-prezidenta-ukrayini-ta-per-59689    The meeting lasted for approximately 30 minutes, after which the President met with Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state.  https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2020/02/pope-ukrainian-president-talk-about-peace-freeing-prisoners-of-war/  The release of prisoners was one of the subjects discussed.  A short video of Zelensky’s meeting with the Pope can be viewed at https://www.voanews.com/europe/zelenskiy-asks-pope-help-releasing-pows-eastern-ukraine .

    The Holy Synod of the OCU met in Kyiv on February 4.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/vidbulosya-chergove-zasidannya-svyashhennogo-synodu-2/  Because of Filaret’s absence from six consecutive meetings of the Synod, his membership in the Synod was suspended.  Filaret was also prohibited by the Synod from performing any ordinations.  With respect to another matter, the Synod condemned the action of Metropolitan Michael of Lutsk and Volyn, who had in effect amended the church calendar so as to allow a Christmas liturgy on both December 25 and January 7.  https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/30343860.html   Also on February 4, Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the OCU, delivered an address to Ukrainian society on the occasion of the first anniversary of his enthronement.  The official English translation of the text of his address can be read at https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/address-of-the-primate-of-the-orthodox-church-of-ukraine-to-ukrainian-society/ .

    Archbishop Chrysostomos, primate of the Church of Cyprus, has returned to Cyprus from the United States following his successful surgery for liver cancer.  Archbishop Chrysostomos informed the media that he had received a telephone call from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew wishing him a speedy recovery and inviting him to concelebrate with the Ecumenical Patriarch the liturgy on the feast of Orthodoxy, March 8, at the Phanar.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/ecumenical-patriarch-invited-archbishop-of-cyprus-for-feast-of-orthodoxy/  The Holy Synod of the Church of Cyprus met on February 12.  https://churchofcyprus.org.cy/59607  From the short announcement, there is no indication that the subject of Ukraine was discussed.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 4 February 2020: Still waiting for dates of Amman meeting & other news

    Although Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem issued an invitation for a meeting of the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches for the latter part of February, there still has been no announcement by anyone as to the exact dates – as far as I can determine.  There has also been no announcement by any of the Local Orthodox Churches that its primate is in fact traveling to Amman.  In my last report, I conveyed the news from the usually reliable Orthodoxia.info website that Metropolitan Sawa, primate of the Church of Poland, had declined the invitation to attend the Amman meeting.  Subsequently, the Russian news agency RIA Novesti talked to “Father Georgy,” an assistant to the Metropolitan, and was informed that Metropolitan Sawa had not declined the invitation.  https://ria.ru/20200127/1563945702.html  The priest also stated that he thought that Metropolitan Sawa would participate if there is an official date.  This confirms that the letters of invitation to the primates did not contain specific dates.  It is, of course, possible that an official date has now been set but that the date has not been made known to the public. 

    In an interview on January 25, Metropolitan Hilarion (Moscow Patriarchate) acknowledged that he discussed the Amman meeting with Patriarch Theophilos in Jerusalem on January 22.  In the interview, Metropolitan Hilarion stated that the “Church has responded differently to this initiative,” but the only specific response that the Metropolitan mentioned was that of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  https://mospat.ru/ru/2020/01/28/news182476/   Metropolitan Hilarion commented that the invitation was “not to any formal meeting, but to an informal friendly meeting.”  He said nothing about the meeting being cancelled.  However, the National Herald, the leading Greek newspaper in the United States, stated on January 29 that it is “in a position to know that Patriarch Theophilos signaled Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew that the synaxis will not take place.”  https://www.thenationalherald.com/282757/pavlopoulos-urges-theophilos-to-stand-by-patriarch-bartholomew/  Since that time, there has been silence.  On January 29, Patriarch Theophilos and his party were hosted in London by Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain (Ecumenical Patriarchate).  https://orthodoxtimes.com/archbishop-of-thyateira-hosted-dinner-in-honor-of-patriarch-of-jerusalem/  From the limited information available, there were no signs of tensions between Constantinople and Jerusalem in the London meeting.  London was an “intermediate stopover” for Patriarch Theophilos on a trip to Washington, D.C.  In the five days since that time, I have found nothing about the subsequent activities of Patriarch Theophilos, although I have used both English and Greek Google searches.  Perhaps, his visit to the United States is purely private.  However, this visit does not seem consistent with preparing for an important meeting of the primates in the latter part of this month.

    In Montenegro, very large and impressive demonstrations against the new law on religion again occurred on Sunday, February 2.  https://spzh.news/en/news/68380-nas-budet-vse-bolyshe-na-zashhitu-cerkvi-v-chernogorii-vyshli-sotni-tysyach-lyudej  In a letter to Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro, posted on January 28, the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Duško Marković, stated that the Government is ready to start a dialogue on the preparation of a basic agreement on mutual relations between the government and the Metropolitanate.

    http://www.predsjednik.gov.me/en/news/220001/PM-Markovic-invites-Metropolitan-Amfilohije-to-dialogue-It-is-time-and-opportunity-to-commit-even-more-strongly-to-harmony-unity.html  (English)  The letter does not indicate any willingness to change the terms of the law, but rather a willingness to entering into an agreement with the Metropolitanate to “eliminate any dilemma and doubt about the use of churches, temples and monasteries, or their future uses.”  On January 30, Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro gave an extensive interview to the Belgrade publication Vreme.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/01/31/intervju-mitropolita-amfilohija-za-vreme/  He stated that now is not the time to talk about contracts, but that the government must first state its willingness to change the terms of the law itself.  On January 29, some dialogue occurred in Moscow when the ambassador of Montenegro to the Russian Federation came to the office of Metropolitan Hilarion for an exchange of views on the crisis in Montenegro.  https://mospat.ru/en/2020/01/29/news182519/   Today, February 3, Metropolitan Amfilohije wrote a response to the Prime Minister’s letter.  The full text of the response can be read at https://mitropolija.com/2020/02/03/pismo-mitropolita-amfilohija-premijeru-dusku-markovicu-postojeci-zakon-a-ne-nepostojeci-ugovor-predstavlja-uzrok-aktuelnih-drustvenih-problema/ .  At the conclusion of the letter, Metropolitan Amfilohije states that “we agree to meet with you and hope that you are willing to finally start an essential and humane conversation, aimed at eliminating the law and all the discriminatory provisions it contains.”  https://balkaneu.com/metropolitan-amfilohije-says-he-is-ready-for-a-meeting-with-markovic/ (good English translations of parts of the letter)

    Presumably, the Montenegro government will argue that it is implementing arrangements similar to the famous Trinity Sergius Lavra complex in Russia and the Kyiv-Pechersky Lavra in Ukraine, where important cultural heritage property is owned by the state but used by the Orthodox Church under long-term contractual arrangements.  This has some advantage to the church as state ownership often means that the state has the obligation to maintain these expensive properties.  The Montenegro government confirmed to the Vienna Commission, and the new law seems to state, that the new law will only apply to “cultural heritage property.”   The Serbian Orthodox Church, in arguing that over 650 church buildings will be turned over to state ownership, seems to be assuming that the government will designate every building constructed before 1918 to be cultural heritage property.  However, to the best of my knowledge, the government has never said this.  A dialogue could result in some clarity on this very uncertain point.

    Within a period of seven days, separate assemblies of the Russian tradition churches were held in Paris by the Constantinople group under Metropolitan Emmanuel and by the Moscow group under Metropolitan John.  The Constantinople group held a extraordinary general assembly on January 18.   

    https://orthodoxie.com/communique-du-ca-de-lunion-diocesaine-dans-la-juridiction-du-patriarcat-de-constantinople/   Although the intent was to elect a president (presumably the head of the legal corporation under French law), the assembly was unable to do so because of a lack of the necessary quorum.  It is very possible that the lack of a quorum was due to the transportation strike which has made travel in France very difficult.  However, those present did vote in favor of first exploring a negotiated settlement with the Moscow group with respect to control over the legal corporation rather than immediately initiating litigation.  On January 24, the Moscow group under Metropolitan John held an ordinary general assembly and elected two new auxiliary bishops.  The following day, an extraordinary general assembly was held at which the statute of the Archdiocese was amended in accordance with the prior agreement with the Moscow Patriarchate.  The following is the communique issued after the two days of meetings: http://archeveche.eu/spip.php?article2504  The communique notes: “Despite the transport disruptions, 133 delegates out of 181 registered (75%) were able to participate in the work.”

    On January 26, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin died suddenly of a heart attack at his parish in Moscow shortly before his 52nd birthday.  https://mospat.ru/ru/2020/01/26/news182374/http://www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=7&id=86460   His sudden and premature death came as a shock.  He had served as deputy chairman of the DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate from 2001 to 2009.   From 2009 to 2015, he was chairman of the Synodal Department for Church – Society Relations.  In the latter role, he served as a spokesperson for the Moscow Patriarchate and became a very well-known personality.   In December 2015, after a number of controversial public statements by Father Vsevolod, the Holy Synod abruptly enacted a reorganization which eliminated his position.  He was clearly embittered by this sudden action.  He subsequently became a rector of a parish in Moscow and became increasingly arch-conservative.

    A video of the entire funeral service for Father Vsevolod, held on January 28, can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=9&v=ZYgdWEAcgeE&feature=emb_logo .  There were many priests and faithful present, but no bishops.  However, I believe that I saw Father Nikolai Balashov, present deputy head of the DECR, among the priests.  In my opinion, it was nice that he was there in view of the fact that Father Vsevolod worked faithfully in the DECR for 19 years.  It is reported that Patriarch Kirill and members of the Inter-Council Presence sang “Eternal Memory” for Father Vsevolod at the end of their meeting on January 29.  https://ria.ru/20200130/1564078600.html   When Father Vsevolod was deputy chairman of the DECR (2001 – 2009), I had occasion to communicate with him on a number of matters.  I was very impressed by him.  He worked so hard that it seemed that he never slept.  I kidded him about the fact that his very prompt responsive emails would often be sent after midnight Moscow time.  I always had the sense that in his role as deputy chairman, he worked very hard to improve relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.  In recent years, as a very conservative Orthodox, he has taken a very anti-ecumenical stance (see, for example, his Facebook entry for January 23, 2020 at https://www.facebook.com/prot.v.chaplin).  It almost seemed to me that he had become a completely different person than the one that I originally knew.   Perhaps the change was due in part to the abrupt loss of his position in December 2015.  I like to think that his true feelings about relations to the Catholic Church were those of his earlier years.  May his memory be eternal!

    In other news, Archbishop Chrysostomos, primate of the Church of Cyprus, celebrated the Divine Liturgy yesterday at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Charlotte, North Carolina (USA).  https://orthodoxtimes.com/archbishop-of-cyprus-celebrated-feast-of-presentation-of-jesus-at-holy-trinity-cathedral-in-charlotte/  He had undergone successful liver surgery for cancer on January 31.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/archbishop-of-cyprus-underwent-successful-liver-surgery/  What an amazingly fast recovery!!  On January 29, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania met with a delegation of the UOC-MP.  The Archbishop reaffirmed his prior statements that the ordinations performed by Filaret are not valid.  https://orthochristian.com/127555.html  On January 30, Patriarch Irinej of Serbia met with the same delegation of the UOC-MP.  https://news.church.ua/2020/01/30/grupa-palomnikiv-upc-zustrilasya-z-patriarxom-serbskim-irinejem-video/  The Patriarch stated: “we condemn the intervention of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the internal affairs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”  Yesterday, Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the OCU, celebrated in Kyiv the one-year anniversary of his enthronement.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/first-anniversary-of-enthronement-of-metropolitan-epiphaniy-of-kyiv/  Those present for the Divine Liturgy included Metropolitan Emmanuel of France (Ecumenical Patriarchate), Bishop Theodoros of Babylon (Alexandrian Patriarchate), a metropolitan of the Church of Greece, and elders from the Simonos Petra and Pantokratoros Monasteries of Mt. Athos.  Today, the actual anniversary date, a prayer service was conducted in St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/v-richnytsyu-intronizatsiyi-predstoyatel-zvershyv-moleben-u-sobori-svyatoyi-sofiyi-kyyivskoyi-ta-proviv-preskonferentsiyu/  Finally, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America (Ecumenical Patriarchate) visited the ROCOR Cathedral in San Francisco to venerate the relics of St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco.  https://orthochristian.com/127465.html  It appears to be another effort on his part to build some bridges with the Moscow Patriarchate.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 23 January 2020: More primates reportedly decline Amman invitation & other news

    The website Orthodox Times reported today (Thursday) that more Local Orthodox Churches have declined the invitation of Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem to attend his proposed meeting of the primates in Amman, planned for the latter part of February.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/flood-of-primates-rejection-to-invitation-of-jerusalem-patriarch-for-jordan-synaxis/  The same article was posted in Greek a few hours earlier at https://orthodoxia.info/news/%ce%b2%cf%81%ce%bf%cf%87%ce%ae-%ce%bf%ce%b9-%ce%b1%cf%81%ce%bd%ce%ae%cf%83%ce%b5%ce%b9%cf%82-%cf%84%cf%89%ce%bd-%cf%80%cf%81%ce%bf%ce%ba%ce%b1%ce%b8%ce%b7%ce%bc%ce%ad%ce%bd%cf%89%ce%bd/.  These two websites are usually fairly reliable sources of information.  The foregoing report does not give the exact source of its information.  However, it states, for example, that Metropolitan Sawa, primate of the Church of Poland, has reportedly declined to attend, saying that the Amman meeting is a good idea, but that the participation of all of the primates is necessary to make the meeting worthwhile.  The article states that the Church of Albania has also declined to attend and that the Patriarchates of Romania, Bulgaria, and Georgia have not responded to the invitation.  It is certainly possible that Patriarch Theophilos, who has stated that a purpose of the meeting is to show the unity of the Orthodox Church, may cancel the meeting if a considerable number of the primates refuse to attend.  However, in an interview with RIA-Novesti, Metropolitan Hilarion recently stated:  To our knowledge, the Patriarch of Jerusalem’s proposal has been positively assessed by a number of Local Churches.  We hope that this meeting will take place even if not all the Primates take part in it.  https://mospat.ru/en/2020/01/22/news182234/  On January 22, Metropolitan Hilarion met with Patriarch Theophilos in Jerusalem and discussed a “wide range of issues of mutual interest.”  https://mospat.ru/en/2020/01/22/news182241/

    On January 22, the Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro issued another statement.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/01/22/episkopski-savjet-spremni-smo-da-se-o-zakonu-razgovara-ali-na-nacin-koji-ce-uvazavati-obe-strane-u-dijalogu/  In it, the Episcopal Council “expresses its full readiness to discuss the Law [on Religion], but in a way that will fully respect both sides in the dialogue.  If the Montenegrin authorities feel that they can impose topics and solutions on their own, as they have done before and do today, calling for dialogue only on the implementation of the Law - we will rightly consider it a fake invitation for dialogue….”  Both President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia and President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro are in Jerusalem for the Holocaust commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  At a dinner in Jerusalem, both presidents discussed the controversial law on religion.  https://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics.php?yyyy=2020&mm=01&dd=23&nav_id=107835  According to this article:  Vucic said that their positions and standpoints are very remote [far apart] and that it is not possible to reach a common position on these issues.  He added that the conversation was long, rather difficult and complex.  "At the same time, we spoke as civilized and responsible people, aware that Serbia and Montenegro should never be antagonized to each other and that it is necessary to continue talks as soon as possible, which would lead to further lowering of tensions and finding a solution," Vucic said.  Another article (https://balkaninsight.com/2020/01/23/montenegro-govt-serbian-church-seek-dialogue-on-religion-law/) has stated:

    While both sides have held fast to their standpoints, Prime Minister Dusko Markovic on Wednesday said that by the end of this week he will formally seek talks on the law with the Church’s senior bishop in Montenegro, Metropolitan Amfilohije.  Markovic said that it was impossible to withdraw the existing law, which came into effect on January 8, but amendments were an option.  “The SPC can appeal to the Constitutional Court [and] they can propose amendments to the law, or repeal the law and pass a new one.  But it has to be in parliamentary procedure,” he told the public broadcaster.

    In other news, there have been reports that a possible trip by Pope Francis to Greece in 2020 may be presently in the planning stages.  https://www.avvenire.it/chiesa/pagine/il-papa-in-grecia-con-bartolomeo-i-sui-passi-di-paolo  This might include a visit to Philippi with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  There is also speculation that the Pope might visit Montenegro and Cyprus as well.  Although Pope Francis has not yet visited his home country of Argentina, he seems to be interested in visiting every Orthodox country that he can --  a sign of his great interest in improving relations with the Orthodox.  It is also reported that Patriarch Kirill is planning a visit to Vienna for the dedication of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas on May 28, 2020.  https://www.kathpress.at/goto/meldung/1847239/wien-besuch-von-patriarch-kyrill-voraussichtlich-am-28.-mai 

    Msgr. Andrea Palmieri, under-secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has written an article on the Catholic – Orthodox dialogue.  https://ilsismografo.blogspot.com/2020/01/vaticano-le-relazioni-tra-chiesa.html   It contains the news that the next meeting of the Coordinating Committee of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches will be held in Rethymno, Crete in September.   https://ilsismografo.blogspot.com/2020/01/vaticano-le-relazioni-tra-chiesa.html   The Moscow Patriarchate again participated this year in the observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held at the Catholic cathedral in Moscow.  http://www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=4&id=86409 

    To rebut false reports on the Internet, Metropolitan Hilarion has discussed in detail his personal finances.  https://ria.ru/20200122/1563685617.html  Metropolitan Makarios of Nairobi (Patriarchate of Alexandria) has written a stern letter to his clergy and faithful relating to “a few of our clergy” who “have fallen prey of the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia.”  The photocopy of the letter can be seen at https://orthochristian.com/127319.html .  In an interview with the Times of Israel, President Zelensky of Ukraine spoke about a number of topics including the Holocaust.  https://www.timesofisrael.com/a-serious-man-zelensky-bids-to-address-ukraines-dark-past-brighten-its-future/?fbclid=IwAR3bqLtbosMYTD0Kc6peeQw_EIuaUCuxDte8Ly16I-W3ybkgvMXAXmU2jIs  (English)  He was also asked how important religion is to him personally.  He stated:  (Pauses.) I had one attitude when I was a boy, and another now.  I never speak about religion and I never speak about God because I have my own personal opinion about it.  Of course, I believe in God.  But I speak with him only in those moments which are personal for me, and important, and where I feel comfortable in those places.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 19 January 2020: Mediation initiative for N. Macedonia & other news

    On January 13, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew met at the Phanar with Oliver Spasovski, who had assumed the office of prime minister of North Macedonia only ten days earlier.  Also present was Zoran Zaev, the previous prime minister who had requested the meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch and to whom the Ecumenical Patriarch had addressed his response.  Following the meeting, the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a press release. https://www.romfea.gr/oikoumeniko-patriarxeio/34572-stin-ekklisia-ton-skopion-i-epomeni-autokefalia (Greek);  https://orthodoxie.com/communique-du-patriarcat-oecumenique-au-sujet-de-la-visite-au-phanar-dune-delegation-de-la-republique-de-macedoine-du-nord/ (French).  The release stated in part:  The purpose of the visit was to examine the ecclesiastical problem of their country….To this end, it has been decided to invite delegations of the Church of Serbia and the Church of their country [the schematic MOC] to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the purpose of consultations and an attempt to find a mutually acceptable solution.   The next day, Spasovski held a press conference in Skopje. https://faktor.mk/spasovski-sredbata-so-vartolomej-beshe-inicijativa-na-vladata?utm_source=daily.mk&utm_medium=daily.mk   He stated that the purpose of the meeting was to establish “dynamic direct communications” with the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the hope that the Ecumenical Patriarch will encourage dialogue to find solutions.  He also stated that he had invited the Ecumenical Patriarch to visit North Macedonia.

    To date, the Serbian Patriarchate has been silent with respect to the idea of participating in a mediation with the MOC under the aegis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  However, a reporter of the major Serbian newspaper,  Večernje Novosti, did contact the Serbian Patriarchate concerning the idea.  https://www.novosti.rs/%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B8/%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%81%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%BD%D0%B0/%D0%B4%D1%80%D1%83%D1%88%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%BE.395.html:842008-%D0%92%D0%B0%D1%81%D0%B5%D1%99%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D1%83%D0%B4%D0%B0%D1%80-%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D1%81%D1%80%D0%BF%D1%81%D0%BA%D1%83-%D1%86%D1%80%D0%BA%D0%B2%D1%83-%D0%BC%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%B0%D0%BE-%D0%B1%D0%B8-%D0%B4%D0%B0-%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B0-%D0%92%D0%95%D0%9B%D0%98%D0%9A%D0%95-%D0%9F%D0%9E%D0%A1%D0%9B%D0%95%D0%94%D0%98%D0%A6%D0%95-%D0%BF%D0%BE-%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B3%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD  The following is a Google translation of part of the article, posted on January 17:

    The invitation of Patriarch Bartholomew, as well as the whole situation, will be considered by the Holy Synod, and if necessary by the Council [assembly of all diocesan bishops].  Only then will our position be known - we were briefly told at the Patriarchate. [...].

    The Serbian Patriarchate formulated its "platform" for the status of church in Macedonia almost a decade ago.  At its center is a dialogue with the representatives of structures in Macedonia, but in accordance with the ancient canonical order.  The SOC offers the Macedonians only what was already on paper, and even accepted, during the 2002 negotiations in Nis - the broadest ecclesiastical autonomy in the dioceses in Northern Macedonia, as well as the right to their own ecclesiastical leader, whose choice the Serbian patriarch would only confirm.

    The decision on participation in a mediation effort may not be an easy one for the Serbian Patriarchate to make.  If the Serbian Patriarchate decides not to participate, will this open the door for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to take unilateral action, such as granting autocephaly to the MOC?  If the Serbian Patriarchate does participate, could the Ecumenical Patriarch exert pressure on the MOC to accept a compromise solution acceptable to the Serbian Patriarchate?  Presumably, the MOC is placing its hopes on the Ecumenical Patriarch.  If the Ecumenical Patriarch told the MOC in no uncertain terms that a certain compromise solution is the “best deal” that it will ever get and that the MOC will never receive anything better from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, might the MOC reluctantly accept the compromise?  It is possible that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will try very hard to obtain an agreement between the Serbian Patriarchate and the MOC.  If the Ecumenical Patriarchate succeeds in brokering a settlement, it will earn the appreciation of the Serbian Patriarchate which generally is closely allied to the Moscow Patriarchate and often critical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  There are many other questions with respect to the decision that one could pose as well.  It is a complex matter with many ramifications.

    To the best of my knowledge, the Moscow Patriarchate has not officially commented on the mediation offer.   Vladimir Legoyda, head of the Synodal Department of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for Church relations with society and the media, stated on his Telegram channel:

    The Phanar is going to legalize another split.  According to media reports, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople supported and accepted the appeal procedure of the unrecognized “Macedonian Orthodox Church.”  Apparently, he decided to put on stream the service of political elites who use religion in their games.  In fact, this is nothing other than a stab in the back of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is already threatened with persecution in Montenegro.

    https://news.rambler.ru/community/43499377-legoyda-patriarh-varfolomey-reshil-legalizovat-novyy-tserkovnyy-raskol/  However, this brief comment does not directly address the issue of Constantinople mediating between the Serbian Patriarchate and the MOC.  To further complicate matters, there may be unhappiness in Bulgaria with respect to what the Ecumenical Patriarchate is proposing.  See https://faktor.bg/bg/articles/politika-hlyab-i-pasti-goran-blagoev-borisov-da-privika-svetiya-sinod-i-da-poluchi-otgovor-zashto-bpts-ne-otstoyava-balgarskite-tsarkovni-interesi

    There has also been silence from most of the Local Orthodox Churches as to whether their primates will attend the proposed meeting in Amman at the end of February.  Moscow, Antioch, and the Orthodox Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia have stated that they view this initiative by Patriarch Theophilos with favor, but have not yet expressly stated that they have formally accepted the invitation from Theophilos.  Presumably, the primates of these three churches would attend.  On the other hand, it is clear that the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Churches of Greece and Cyprus will not attend.   Archbishop Hieronymos, primate of the Church of Greece, has specifically informed his Church’s Standing Holy Synod that he will not attend.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/archbishop-of-athens-i-will-not-attend-the-meeting-proposed-by-the-patriarch-of-jerusalem/  It is reported that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has telephoned Archbishop Chrysostomos, primate of the Church of Cyprus, to thank him for his refusal to attend the Amman meeting and also to thank him for the presence at the Phanar of Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Kyrenia (who concelebrated there with a hierarch of the OCU).  https://www.vimaorthodoxias.gr/oikoumeniko-patriarxeio/to-doro-tou-patriarchi-vartholomaiou-ston-archiepiskopo-kyprou/?fbclid=IwAR2Wehy4TKg9hiwYCWuuz6RHaj0gQAQST2otnzud4xKcmfT76kvXaYWnnzY 

    In Montenegro, large peaceful demonstrations against the new law on religion are continuing unabated.  On January 12, more than 10,000 people participated in demonstrations in Podgorica.  http://www.spc.rs/sr/vladika_metodije_predvodio_litiju_u_podgorici; https://orthochristian.com/127032.html  The Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro has approved a plan for a legal challenge of the new law before the Constitutional Court of Montenegro.  http://www.spc.rs/sr/saopshtenje_za_javnost_poruka_episkopskog_savjeta_srpske_pravoslavne_crkve_u_crnoj_gori    Archbishop Elpidophoros, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (Ecumenical Patriarchate), has written a letter on behalf of the U.S. Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops to U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, urging him to take steps to protect the religious rights of Orthodox Christians in Montenegro.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/01/18/americki-arhiepiskop-elpidofor-pisao-majklu-pompeu-u-crnoj-gori-se-krse-ljudska-i-vjerska-prava-pravoslavnih-hriscana/ 

    In Paris, the Archdiocese of Orthodox Russian Tradition Churches in Western Europe (Moscow Patriarchate) has now posted a current directory of its churches, parishes, communities, and monastic institutions.  http://www.exarchat.eu/spip.php?rubrique2  In November 2018, the directory listed  a total of 115 such entities.  At the present time, 67 entities are listed.  The present number of 67 entities is 58% of the original number of 115 entities.  Interestingly, the percentage of votes cast by delegates at the assembly held by the Archdiocese on September 14, 2019, was also 58% in favor of affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 10 January 2020: Reply of Constantinople to Jerusalem & other news

    The correspondence between Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has now been made public.  Last week, a photocopy of the letter from Theophilos to Bartholomew was posted.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-letter-of-the-patriarch-of-jerusalem-for-the-synaxis-of-orthodox-primates-in-jordan/  The letter, dated December 11, 2019, was written in English and was very carefully worded in an attempt to avoid the impression that Theophilos was convening a synaxis of the primates.  Rather than a straight-forward invitation to attend a synaxis, the letter states: “We open Our home…for hosting this ‘fraternal gathering in love.’  We wish the Almighty Lord to bestow on us the ability to congregate, before the end of February and before the start of Holy Lent, so that together we may be a witness to the Church, and to the world, of the unity of the Orthodox Church and our Orthodox faith.”  Earlier in the letter, Patriarch Theophilos recognizes the “role, position and status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate” and states that he is making available “the venue” for a meeting of the primates.  Presumably, Patriarch Theophilos has also sent letters, perhaps with different wording, to the other primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.  However, the texts of such letters have not yet been made public.

    Today (Thursday), a photocopy of the response of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the letter of Patriarch Theophilos has been posted.  https://www.orthodoxianewsagency.gr/patriarxeia/oikomeniko_patriarxio/mi-katanoiti-i-protovoulia-tou-patriarxi-ierosolymon-i-apantisi-tou-oik-patriarxi-sto-flegon-ekklisiastiko-thema-ton-imeron/  The letter is written in Greek and is dated December 26, 2019.  A short English summary can be read at https://orthodoxtimes.com/ecumenical-patriarch-to-patriarch-of-jerusalem-dont-persist-in-the-initiative-of-a-meeting/   The letter first asks why for the first time in history the Jerusalem Patriarchate communicates with Ecumenical Patriarchate in a foreign language (English) and not in their mother tongue (Greek).  Bartholomew reminds Theophilos that pan-Orthodox synods of the primates have always been convened by the Ecumenical Patriarch, who presides over the synods.  Bartholomew asks: “What kind of unity does your initiative want to serve, if the First of the Orthodox Primates in rank is absent from the Synod you propose?”  Most importantly, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew calls on Patriarch Theophilos to recall this non-canonical initiative that serves foreign purposes and undermines the Ecumenical Throne.

    As you recall, Metropolitan Christophoros of Amman (Jerusalem Patriarchate) met with Patriarch John of Antioch on December 28, two days after the Ecumenical Patriarch’s letter, “regarding a meeting in Amman” to preserve Orthodox unity.  https://www.antiochpatriarchate.org/en/page/his-beatitude-patriarch-john-x-received-his-eminence-christophoros-the-metropolitan-of-amman-delegated-by-his-beatitude-patriarch-theophilus-iii/2330/  Presumably, Jerusalem knew the contents of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s letter by the time of the December 28 meeting, although it is not clear that Antioch knew.  The response of Antioch was to reaffirm the position of its synod that a synaxis of the primates was necessary “so that all Orthodox Churches collaborate in solving Orthodox issues.”  This response does not squarely address the question of whether Antioch would attend the Amman meeting if the Ecumenical Patriarch and certain other primates refused to attend.  In view of the very strong position now taken by the Ecumenical Patriarch against the proposed Amman meeting, there is a danger that new tensions will now arise in the Orthodox world between those Churches attending the Amman meeting and those who choose not to challenge the position of the Ecumenical Patriarch on the Amman meeting.

    On January 7, Christmas day on the Julian calendar, President Putin made a surprise unannounced visit to Damascus for part of the day.  The previous evening, he had attended services at the Transfiguration Cathedral (where President Putin had been secretly baptized as a child in 1952 by Patriarch Kirill’s father) in St. Petersburg.  On Christmas day, President Putin first met with Syrian President Bashar Assad at the Russian military headquarters in Damascus, and then the two visited the Umayyad Mosque followed by a visit to the Orthodox Mariamite Cathedral, which is the seat of Patriarch John.  https://www.rt.com/news/477670-putin-christmas-damascus-church-mosque/  Putin and Assad first met with Patriarch John in the cathedral and then in the reception room of the patriarchal headquarters.  A brief video of the visit can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwFq5N961NM  According to the RT report, Patriarch John thanked President Putin for Russia’s military assistance to Syria and stated that without such assistance, his cathedral might now be the headquarters of the Islamic State leader or some militant warlord.  There are some who will probably say that Russia is exercising influence on Patriarch John with respect to the Ukraine dispute --  while there are some who contend that the United States is exercising its influence with respect to the autocephaly of the OCU.

    A delegation of the OCU, led by Metropolitan Makary of Lviv, was at the Phanar, January 4-6, 2020, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the granting of the tomos to the OCU. https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/delegatsiya-ptsu-vidvidala-konstantynopol-z-nagody-richnytsi-nadannya-tomosu/  The delegation of the OCU presented to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew an invitation from Metropolitan Epifany to visit Ukraine at a convenient time.  On January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, Metropolitan Makary of Lviv participated in the Divine Liturgy with the Ecumenical Patriarch.  Significantly, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Kyrenia (Church of Cyprus) also participated in the same Liturgy.    https://orthodoxia.online/%CE%B5%CE%BA%CE%BA%CE%BB%CE%B7%CF%83%CE%AF%CE%B1/%CE%B5%CE%BA%CE%BA%CE%BB%CE%B7%CF%83%CE%AF%CE%B1-%CF%84%CE%B1-%CE%AC%CE%B3%CE%B9%CE%B1-%CE%B8%CE%B5%CE%BF%CF%86%CE%AC%CE%BD%CE%B5%CE%B9%CE%B1-%CF%83%CF%84%CE%BF-%CF%86%CE%B1%CE%BD%CE%AC%CF%81%CE%B9/  He is now the second hierarch of the Church of Cyprus to concelebrate with a hierarch of the OCU.   The Holy Synod of the Church of Cyprus consists of: one archbishop (the primate), 9 metropolitans, and 7 bishops.  https://churchofcyprus.org.cy/ierarxia   The metropolitans of four dioceses (Kykkos, Limassol, Tamasos and Morphos) have issued strong public statements against the recognition of the OCU.  However, it seems highly improbable that two metropolitans of the Church of Cyprus would have served with a hierarch of the OCU without the blessing of their primate.  It also seems unlikely that the primate would have given his blessing to the concelebrations without sensing that he had a support of a majority (perhaps a silent majority) of the hierarchs of the Church of Cyprus.

    In Montenegro, protests involving blockages of major roads and bridges have appeared to have ended.  Instead, prayers and religious processions will be held twice a week (Thursdays and Sundays) in towns throughout Montenegro until the new law on religion is revoked.  https://balkaninsight.com/2020/01/06/serbian-church-supporters-in-montenegro-flock-to-christmas-services/; https://mitropolija.com/2020/01/09/rijeka-podgoricana-i-veceras-u-molitvenom-hodu/    On January 8, thousands of people in Belgrade marched in protest against the new law.  https://www.rferl.org/a/belgrade-protesters-rally-against-montenegro-s-new-religion-law/30367045.html    On January 6, Patriarch Irinej of Serbia gave a Christmas interview to the Serbian publication Kurirhttps://www.kurir.rs/vesti/drustvo/3388135/patrijarh-srpski-irinej-za-kurir-milo-urazumi-se-i-dozovi-pameti  He expressed optimism that the dispute concerning the new law will be resolved in a peaceful way.  He was also asked about the support given by Pope Francis to the Serbian Patriarchate in regard to the new law.  The interview of Patriarch Irinej included the following questions and answers:

    The head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has sent you a letter in which he also referred to current events in Montenegro and provided support to the SOC [Serbian Orthodox Church].  How much does that support mean to you?

    - That's very fair on his part. It is very honorable and honest that he did so.

    Have conditions been created for Pope Francis to visit Serbia?

    - We'll see more ...

    The council for legal matters for the Montenegro Metropolis of the Serbian Church has prepared a 92-page memorandum which analyzes the law on religion and presents its legal arguments against its various provisions.  https://www.eparhija.me/sites/default/files/dokument_vest/2019-12/FINAL-SA-POTPISIMA.pdf  The council has kindly provided me with the English translation of the entire document, prepared for various international agencies.  The English translation is not on the Internet.  If you wish to read the arguments in English, just send me a reply email, and I will send you the entire English text as an attachment.  The English document does provided the English translation of the statutory language specifying the properties that would be affected by the new law.  The language is as follows:  Religious facilities and land used by religious communities in the territory of Montenegro that have been constructed or acquired from the public revenue of the state or were state-owned until December 1, 1918, and for which there is no evidence of property rights of religious communities, as the cultural heritage of Montenegro, are state property.  Religious facilities constructed on the territory of Montenegro through joint ventures of citizens until December 1, 1918, for which there is no evidence of ownership, as the cultural heritage of Montenegro, are state property.

    During the January Christmas period, it has been interesting to survey the publicity given by the Ukrainian media to the activities of the OCU and the UOC-MP.  Ukrinform is the state-owned information and news agency of Ukraine.  Ukrinform had a considerable number of news items about the OCU and Metropolitan Epifany during the Christmas period.  However, I did not see any coverage with respect to the Christmas activities of the UOC-MP and Metropolitan Onufry.  On the other hand, the privately-owned television channel Inter TV broadcasted live the Christmas Liturgy of Metropolitan Onufry.  According to the television channel, over ten million viewers watched its Christmas programming on Christmas day and eve.  https://inter.ua/ru/news/2020/01/08/7361

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 2 January 2020: Chrysostomos' reaction to Amman invitation & Montenegro developments

    Following the doxology for New Year’s day, Archbishop Chrysostomos, primate of the Church of Cyprus, answered a reporter’s questions with respect to the proposed Amman meeting.  The Archbishop stated that he did not respond to the letter of invitation from Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem.  As a reason, the Archbishop stated that he “did not take the action of his friend the Patriarch (of Jerusalem) seriously.”  According to the Archbishop, “only the Ecumenical Patriarch and no one else convenes a Synod or Synaxis of the Primates.”  https://aviketos.com/kyproy-den-einai-sovari-i-energeia-toy-ierosolymon/ (Greek with video); https://orthodoxtimes.com/archbishop-of-cyprus-the-act-of-the-patriarch-of-jerusalem-is-not-serious/ (English).

    This news strongly indicates that the “letter” received by Patriarch John of Antioch on December 28 was also an invitation and that presumably all of the primates have been sent letters of invitation from Patriarch Theophilos.  Archbishop Chrysostomos now joins Archbishop Hieronymus of Greece in publicly stating with respect to the proposed Amman meeting that only the Ecumenical Patriarch can convene such a meeting.  In response to the Amman invitation, the Antiochian Patriarchate stated that “Patriarch John X reaffirmed the firm position of the Antiochian Church announced by the Holy Antiochian Synod, which calls for the necessity of a meeting ΣΥΝΑΞΗ [synaxis] of the heads of the local Orthodox Churches, so that all Orthodox Churches collaborate in solving Orthodox issues.”   https://www.antiochpatriarchate.org/en/page/his-beatitude-patriarch-john-x-received-his-eminence-christophoros-the-metropolitan-of-amman-delegated-by-his-beatitude-patriarch-theophilus-iii/2330/  Although the decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch clearly endorsed a meeting “where all of the Orthodox Churches collaborate,” one wonders if this endorsement applies equally to a meeting where only some of the “Orthodox Churches collaborate.”

    In a sense, a decision by a Local Orthodox Church to send its primate to Amman is, at least implicitly, a decision on whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the exclusive right to convene such a meeting.  In my opinion, whether the Ecumenical Patriarch has such an exclusive right is an extremely important question that could affect relations between the Local Orthodox Churches for centuries to come.

    In Montenegro, the protests against the new “Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Legal Status of Religious Communities” continue.  However, the earlier reports of police forcefully removing protesters blocking traffic have been replaced by reports of prayer meetings.  Hopefully, this will continue.  For example, more than 5,000 believers participated in a peacefully prayer service on New Year’s Eve in Bijelo Polje.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/01/01/hiljade-mladih-pripreme-za-novu-godinu-zamijenili-litijom/  Over 10,000 gathered in the city of Niksic for a prayer service.  https://mitropolija.com/2020/01/01/niksicka-litija-put-vjere-nade-i-ljubavi-video-prica/  On December 31, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic came to see Patriarch Irinej of Serbia in regard to the Montenegro situation.  The following is an excellent English-language article describing the meeting.  https://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics.php?yyyy=2019&mm=12&dd=31&nav_id=107730  In my opinion, the remarks of both the Serbian President and the Patriarch reflect calm and reason.  On December 30, Prime Minister Duško Marković posted on the Montenegro government website a message stating that his door is open to dialogue.  http://www.gov.me/en/News/219380/PM-Markovic-I-urge-clergy-and-Metropolitan-of-SPC-not-to-incite-riots-this-is-last-warning-State-will-protect-citizens.html  After a stern warning against riots, attacks against police (four police were injured), and property damage, the posting stated:

    The Prime Minister said that the invitation of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Littoral to dialogue was a knock on an open door.  "Dialogue is the practice of this government, especially when it comes to this law," said PM Marković, recalling that he repeated this to Metropolitan Amfilohije on the day of parliamentary debate and suggested that the dialogue on the law implementation should begin immediately after its adoption, as well as the work on the conclusion of an agreement between the state and the Serbian Orthodox Church.  The Metropolitanate is knocking on an open door and on my public invitation already sent, said the Prime Minister.

    According to a statement issued by the Serbian Church in Montenegro, “other traditional Churches and religious communities had already resolved the issues in a contractual way.” http://www.spc.rs/sr/saopshtenje_za_javnost_episkopskog_savjeta_srpske_pravoslavne_crkve_u_crnoj_gori   The above statement by Marković indicates that he is prepared to negotiate a similar contractual agreement with the Serbian Patriarchate.

    It appears that the major news agencies have not accurately described the effect of the new law.  The agencies have given the impression that all church property would become the property of the state unless there is evidence of ownership prior to 1918 for the property in question.   The full text of the law can be accessed at http://www.gsv.gov.me/biblioteka/predlozi-zakona?alphabet=cyr (click on Предлог закона о слободи вјероисповијести или увјерења и правном положају вјерских заједница).  The portion of the law relating to property, Articles 62-64, has been pasted at the end of my report.  The Google translation tool may be used to translate these articles into English.  However, the best understanding of the law with respect to church property can be obtained by reading pages 15- 20 of the June 2019 opinion of Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which reviewed the draft law in depth at the request of the government of Montenegro.   The Commission also consulted with the churches in Montenegro.  It is the function of the Venice Commission to provide legal advice to COE member states wishing to bring their legal and institutional structures into line with European standards and international experience in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The full text of the English-language opinion of the Venice Commission can be read at  https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2019)010-e .  In paragraph 53, pasted below, the Commission gives an English translation of the key provisions with respect to property becoming state property.

    According to draft Article 62 (1) (VI Transitional and Final Provisions), “[r]eligious buildings and land used by the religious communities in the territory of Montenegro which were built or obtained from public revenues of the state or were owned by the state until 1 December 1918, and for which there is no evidence of ownership by the religious communities, as cultural heritage of Montenegro, shall constitute state property.”  The second paragraph of the draft provision indicates that “[r]eligious buildings constructed in the territory of Montenegro based on the joint investment of the citizens by 1 December 1918, for which there is no evidence of ownership, shall constitute state property.”  These provisions, as mentioned in Articles 62 and 63 and as confirmed by the authorities, only apply to cultural heritage property. [My emphasis]

    It appears that the relevant statutory language quoted by the Commission has remained in the final law, except that the phrase “as the cultural heritage of Montenegro” has now also been added to the second sentence relating to the joint investment of citizens as well as appearing in the first sentence.  The Commission did make certain recommendations to clarify various parts of the law.  The government of Montenegro contends that draft document was amended in accord with these recommendations.  The Serbian Church contends that appropriate amendments have not been made.  A possible solution may be to refer the final law back to the Venice Commission for its opinion as to whether its recommendations with respect to the property portion of the law have been incorporated.  In the meantime, implementation of the property portion (Articles 62-64) could be suspended pending the opinion of the Venice Commission.

    On December 30, the Serbian publication Kurir posted an important interview of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  https://www.kurir.rs/vesti/drustvo/3384687/prvi-intervju-vaseljenskog-patrijarha-vartolomeja-za-srpske-medije-crna-goranikada-nece-dobiti-autokefalnu-crkvu  The following are his answers to three important questions:

    How do you comment on the situation in Montenegro after the adoption of the Bill on Religion, which also provides for the seizure of property of the SOC [Serbian Orthodox Church]?

    - I absolutely support Metropolitan Amfilohije, at whose request I wrote a letter to the President of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović, urging him not to take further steps in adopting and implementing laws on religious communities.  That law is not just.  For the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the only canonical Church in Montenegro is the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral of the Serbian Orthodox Church headed by Metropolitan Amfilohije.

    And is there a possibility for the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church to receive autocephaly?

    - Miraš Dedeić can never get any autocephaly for his false church.  And to allow something like that to someone we've defrocked.  How can I now give autocephaly to someone I defrocked?  To us, Dedeić is just a defrocked priest excommunicated from the church.  I repeat, we will never give autocephaly to the so-called CPC [Montenegrin Orthodox Church].

    And what if someone else came to the forefront of that church? What if then the Montenegrins demand autocephaly?

    - No, no and no!  The church in Montenegro is the Serbian Orthodox Church, and there will never be any change.

    On December 28, Patriarch Kirill wrote a letter, approved by the Holy Synod, to Patriarch Irinej and others on the subject of the new law.  The full text of the letter, which strongly condemns the new law, can be read at https://mospat.ru/ru/2019/12/30/news181663/ .

    As expected, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, met with Patriarch Ilia in Tbilisi on December 29.   http://patriarchate.ge/geo/%e1%83%a1%e1%83%a0%e1%83%a3%e1%83%9a%e1%83%98%e1%83%90%e1%83%93-%e1%83%a1%e1%83%90%e1%83%a5%e1%83%90%e1%83%a0%e1%83%97%e1%83%95%e1%83%94%e1%83%9a%e1%83%9d%e1%83%a1-%e1%83%99%e1%83%90%e1%83%97-134/  It was a very warm meeting.  In his remarks, the Patriarch stated:   The relationship between the Vatican and Georgia has been going on for many centuries.  Pietro Parolin's visit to Georgia is very important. This is the continuation of this historic relationship…. Your visit is a continuation of the historical relationship we have had.  In this hall I received Pope Francis, a truly brotherly relationship was formed, the Pope and I prayed.  We believe, as a loved one, the Patriarchate has established a truly fraternal relationship.  Today we have a brotherly relationship…. So your visit is very important, and we welcome you once again.  https://tvalsazrisi.ge/%e1%83%98%e1%83%9a%e1%83%98%e1%83%90-%e1%83%9b%e1%83%94%e1%83%9d%e1%83%a0%e1%83%94-%e1%83%95%e1%83%90%e1%83%a2%e1%83%98%e1%83%99%e1%83%90%e1%83%9c%e1%83%a1%e1%83%90-%e1%83%93%e1%83%90/

    On this first day of a new decade, I wish all of you a very blessed New Year!  For those of you celebrating Christmas on January 7, may the Infant Christ bless you in every way.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

     

    Articles 62-64 of the new Montenegrin law on religion:

    Član 62 Vjerski objekti i zemljište koje koriste vjerske zajednice na teritoriji Crne Gore koji su izgrađeni, odnosno pribavljeni iz javnih prihoda države ili su bili u državnoj svojini do 1. decembra 1918. godine, i za koje ne postoje dokazi o pravu svojine vjerskih zajednica, kao kulturna baština Crne Gore, državna su svojina. Vjerski objekti koji su izgrađeni na teritoriji Crne Gore zajedničkim ulaganjima građana do 1. decembra 1918. godine, a za koje ne postoje dokazi o pravu svojine, kao kulturna baština Crne Gore, državna su svojina. U pogledu postojanja dokaza o činjenicama iz st. 1 i 2 ovog člana primijeniće se dokazna sredstva i pravila dokazivanja u skladu sa Zakonom o upravnom postupku i supsidijarno Zakonom o parničnom postupku.

    Član 63 Organ uprave nadležan za poslove imovine dužan je da, u roku od godinu dana od dana stupanja na snagu ovog zakona, utvrdi vjerske objekte i zemljište koji su u smislu člana 62 ovog zakona državna svojina, izvrši njihov popis i podnese zahtjev za upis prava državne svojine na tim nepokretnostima u katastar nepokretnosti. Organ uprave nadležan za poslove katastra dužan je da upis zahtjeva iz stava 1 ovog člana izvrši u roku od 15 dana od dana podnošenja zahtjeva, o čemu, bez odlaganja, obavještava vjersku zajednicu koja koristi objekte i zemljište iz stava 1 ovog člana.

    Član 64 Po pravosnažnosti odluke kojom se vrši upis prava državne svojine u katastar nepokretnosti u skladu sa članom 62 st. 1 i 2 ovog zakona, vjerska zajednica nastavlja sa korišćenjem objekata i zemljišta koji su predmet upisa do odluke državnog organa nadležnog za odlučivanje o državini, korišćenju i raspolaganju ovim objektima i zemljištem.