Which side will the Albanian Church take?
The Primate of the Albanian Church has published a letter about the creation of the Russian Exarchate in Africa, in which he links it to the Phanar’s actions in Ukraine.
On 8 January 2022, an official statement by the Primate of the Albanian Church, Archbishop Anastasios, regarding the establishment of a Russian Patriarchal Exarchate in Africa was published. What conclusions can be drawn from it?
The statement is intitled quite eloquently: "A schism from Ukraine to Africa". Here is a full text of Archbishop Anastasios’s appeal.
"Since the beginning of the ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine, we have pointed out with oral and written arguments that time does not heal ecclesiastical rifts and schisms.
On the contrary, it deepens and hardens them. The recent decision of the Moscow Patriarchate to establish an exarchate on the African continent confirms the initial fears. Along with the schism among millions of Ukrainian Orthodox, a new schism is being created in the sensitive African continent, where Orthodox foreign mission has been developing in recent decades.
In African countries, various Christian denominations have long been established as well as expansionist Islam. From now on, ordinary Africans will be invited to come to Orthodoxy by two Orthodox Patriarchates, without having eucharistic communion ties with each other. The scandal and the weakening of the Orthodox testimony by this divisive activity are obvious. This is a hard development.
The claim that there is no schism in Orthodoxy but simply disagreements resembles the theory that there is no coronavirus. The schism, with a variety of mutations, is evident, and it is urgent to seek treatment and the vaccine, defined by the apostolic tradition, that is, reconciliation.
In November 2019, we had sent to all the Orthodox Primates the text, which had been also published in the pres, entitled ‘Appeal-Prayer for overcoming the ecclesiastical polarization’, in which we stressed the absolute priority and our commitment to unity, the need to use dialogue, avoidance of ethno-racial clusters, the urgent activation of the principle of the synodicality, on which the Orthodox Church has relied for a long time. We have made it clear that ‘united in the Holy Spirit, with mutual respect and the sole purpose of finding a peaceful settlement, we have the possibility of reaching a solution commonly accepted by the whole Orthodox Church’.
This urgent appeal is still relevant today.”
The text of the Albanian Primate’s message is simple and clear. But what conclusions can be drawn from it?
The claim that there is no schism in Orthodoxy but simply disagreements resembles the theory that there is no coronavirus.
Conclusion 1: There is a schism
In fact, this statement is already in the title of the appeal, but we need to understand to whom it is addressed. First of all, to Patriarch Bartholomew. After all, it is the Primate of the Church of Constantinople who is trying to convince everyone that there is no schism in Orthodoxy. For example, in January 2021, in an interview with the newspaper "Vima tis Kiriakis" he unambiguously declared: "I repeat, there is no schism in Orthodoxy". In different formulations, this statement appears quite often in the speeches of the Phanar head. And if there is no schism, there is nothing to settle, and certainly, there is no need to convene conciliar events like the Council of Primates.
And now, the Primate of the Albanian Church says just the opposite – there is a schism! Moreover, he compares the denial of the schism with the denial of the coronavirus. If we take into account that Patriarch Bartholomew is one of the most ardent fighters against COVID through vaccination and all sorts of restrictions and bans, it becomes even more evident that this message is addressed to the head of the Phanar.
Archbishop Anastasios also says that the schism will not heal itself. And this is yet another response to Patriarch Bartholomew. "All Local Orthodox Churches will sooner or later recognise the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine," Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople said back in 2019 in an interview with “TSN. Week”, and his views have not changed a bit since then. Archbishop Anastasios says no, the schism will only deepen further and become almost irreversible.
Conclusion 2: Ukraine and Africa are cause and effect
Archbishop Anastasios puts the ROC’s actions to create the Exarchate in Africa in direct relation to the creation of the OCU in Ukraine by Constantinople. Just as the Phanar created a parallel jurisdiction in our country, the ROC did the same in Africa. In fact, Archbishop Anastasios equated the OCU in Ukraine and the Russian Exarchate in Africa, calling the latter a new schism. Can you agree with this? No, there is a fundamental difference between the Ukrainian and African situations. In Ukraine, at the time of the creation of the OCU, there was a canonical UOC with its own hierarchy, which no one, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople, considered to be in schism. And in Africa, at the time of the creation of the Exarchate, the hierarchy of the Alexandrian Church itself fell into schism, recognizing the OCU and concelebrating with its “hierarchs” who did not have canonical ordinations. But nevertheless, Archbishop Anastasios in his statement indicated the following – all those who will oppose the Russian Exarchate in Africa should accept similar statements to the OCU.
The ROC’s actions to create the Exarchate in Africa, Archbishop Anastasios puts in direct relation to the creation of the OCU in Ukraine by Constantinople.
It is noteworthy that Archbishop Anastasios does not express any protest or disagreement with the ROC’s efforts, although he considers the emergence of the Exarchate as a deepening schism in Orthodoxy. By the way, the Russian Exarchate was created on 29 December 2021, i.e. almost two weeks have passed and not a single Local Church except the Phanar has delivered any clear statement about this. The Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on 11 January 2022 decided to "do everything possible to restore canonical order on the African continent". How Patriarch Bartholomew is going to do this remains a mystery. Perhaps, with the help of the same people from the US State Department who ensured the creation of the OCU in Ukraine.
Conclusion 3: Council is needed
Archbishop Anastasios sounds the alarm and says that something should be done immediately, and he sees the main means of solving the problem as "the urgent activation of the principle of the synodicality", i.e. the convocation of a Council that would resolve the conflict that has arisen in Orthodoxy. At the same time, many Orthodox hierarchs believe that only the Patriarch of Constantinople has the right to convene a Pan-Orthodox Council. For example, Metropolitan Isaiah of Cyprus, who does not recognize the OCU and Dumenko, has stated this recently. He believes that there is an urgent need to convene a meeting of the Primates, but he said that only Patriarch Bartholomew should chair it.
This opinion is not supported by anything. Canon law does not answer the question of who has the right to convene such a Council or a Meeting. All Ecumenical Councils were convened by emperors. The emperors also financed the Councils and were involved in their organization. Many Councils were attended by emperors in person or were represented by emperors. Where the idea that a Council should be convened exclusively by the Patriarch of Constantinople comes from is not entirely clear, and certainly nowhere can one find a prohibition to do this by the primate of any other Local Church.
There are no canonical rules prescribing that only the Patriarch of Constantinople should convene a Council.
Patriarch Bartholomew has responded to appeals to convene a council by refusing to do so. He claims that he has done absolutely right with regard to Ukraine – there is no schism in Orthodoxy, there is nothing to correct, and therefore there is no subject for discussion at the Council. What to do in this case? Archbishop Anastasios does not give a direct answer to this question but refers readers to his statement made two years ago, which is entitled: "Appeal-Prayer for overcoming the ecclesiastical polarization". Concerning the Council it reads as follows: "Any delay worsens the present painful situation. And if a solution is found ‘in the end’, ‘in the future’, there will be many unpleasant chapters in the history of Orthodoxy. The basic principle of synodicality, on which the Orthodox Church has been based over time, is the only one that can finally open the way to the existing crisis. United in the Holy Spirit, with mutual respect and the sole purpose of finding a peaceful settlement, we have the possibility of reaching a solution commonly accepted by the whole Orthodox Church. As long as the use of the synodicality is postponed to a Pan-Orthodox level, the multilateral divisions in the Orthodox Ecumene will become even more dangerous.”
That is, Archbishop Anastasios says that as long as we wait for an Ecumenical Council to be convened or for Patriarch Bartholomew to agree to convene it, the situation could already go too far.
Does it follow from these words that the Primate of the Albanian Church calls for convening a council bypassing Patriarch Bartholomew? This cannot be said, especially since Archbishop Anastasios did not go to the Meeting of the Primates of the Churches in Amman in February 2020 and did not even send his representatives there. The Amman meeting was, however, an attempt to "activate the principle of the synodicality" as Archbishop Anastasios so insistently calls for. Most likely, soon we will hear about a new meeting in the Amman format, and then it will finally become clear whether Archbishop Anastasios really stands for the synodal principle (the principle of conciliarity), or whether he meant conciliarity only under the leadership of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Conclusion 4: Not a word about "Constantinople papism"
Archbishop Anastasios speaks with fervour and conviction of the need for dialogue, the activation of the synodal principle and the earliest possible treatment of the schism. However, he says nothing about the root causes of this schism. And the main reason for this is the conviction of the hierarchs of the Constantinople Patriarchate that the Phanar has the right to make final decisions not only on its own canonical territory but also on the territories of other Local Churches. In other words, this is the very heresy of Constantinopolitan papism, according to which the Patriarch of Constantinople has exclusive powers to govern the entire Orthodox Church. Ultimately, the basis of today's disagreements in Orthodoxy is the different understanding of the doctrine of the Church, and this is a dogmatic question that cannot be solved by compromise and mutual concessions.
Archbishop Anastasios, like most Greek hierarchs, fears to even hint at the existence of the Phanar heresy or admit that the Patriarchate of Constantinople may be wrong in its decisions.
Without rejecting the heresy of Constantinople papism and affirming the Orthodox teaching on the Church, it is impossible to resolve either the Ukrainian or the African question. But Archbishop Anastasios, like most Greek hierarchs, fears to even hint at the existence of the Phanar heresy or admit that the Patriarchate of Constantinople may be wrong in its decisions. It is fair to say that in January 2019, a letter from Archbishop Anastasios to Patriarch Bartholomew, which explained the refusal of the Holy Synod of the Albanian Church to recognize the OCU, was published. The main reason for the refusal was the invalidity of the ordinations performed by the Ukrainian schismatics.
In particular, the letter reads: “We question, nevertheless, whether the ordinations performed by Filaret, while he was excommunicated and anathematized, acquired thereafter, without canonical ordination, validity from the Holy Spirit and a genuine seal of apostolic succession.
It is recognized by all of Orthodoxy as a fundamental ecclesiological principle that the ordinations of schismatics and heretics, as ‘mysteries’ performed outside of the Church, are invalid, so all the more so ordinations by someone who is deposed and excommunicated. We believe that this basic principle, which is inextricably tied to Orthodox teaching about the Holy Spirit, constituting an unshakeable foundation for the apostolic succession of Orthodox bishops, cannot be neglected.
It is difficult for us to understand that invalid and non-existent things are being made Spirit-bearing “by economy” and that actions constituting repeated blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (such as the invocation by the then-excommunicated Filaret, ‘Divine Grace… is placed into the hands… let us pray for him upon whom the grace of the Holy Spirit comes…’) are being recognized retroactively “by economy”. It is, finally, well-known that according to the recent Unifying Council, the selection and election of the new Primate of the Church of Ukraine was the result of the insistence of Filaret, who moreover today is officially called in Ukraine ‘His Holiness the honorary Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus-Ukraine’. After all the above, we question adding the name of Metropolitan Epiphany to the diptychs."
We question whether the ordinations performed by Filaret, while he was excommunicated and anathematized, acquired thereafter, without canonical ordination, validity from the Holy Spirit and a genuine seal of apostolic succession.
In response, Patriarch Bartholomew wrote a letter on February 20, 2019, in which he tried to convince the hierarchs of the Albanian Church that he was right, but his arguments were deemed unsatisfactory.
Which side will the Albanian Church end up on?
The choice to be made by both the Albanian Church and the rest of the Local Churches cannot be postponed any longer. In 2022, there will be two alternative events, which will show how the Orthodox World is divided: the second meeting in the Amman format and the rite of brewing the Holy Oil scheduled by the Phanar for April 2022, in which representatives of other Local Churches, as well as the OCU, are to participate. Attendance at this event will mean the de facto recognition of the PCU, and therefore - the Fanar's claims to exclusive powers in Orthodoxy. On the contrary, participation in the Amman format is a statement of disagreement with the policy of the Phanar since the Patriarchate of Constantinople strongly opposes this format.
The situation, as Archbishop Anastasios put it right, is rapidly becoming polarized. The parties make statements that they are not going to change their positions and take any steps towards reconciliation, which means that the schism has actually already taken place, and it is now a question of who is on which side.
At the end of his letter to Patriarch Bartholomew of March 21, 2019, Archbishop Anastasios writes: “However, in order to avoid any possible misinterpretation, we clarify that in the case of a tragic outcome to Schism (May God not allow it!), the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania will remain with the Ecumenical Patriarchate firmly speaking the truth in love." Does this mean that the Albanian Church has already made its choice? I think not yet. The Primate's letter is not yet a conciliar decision, nor is it a decision at all.
However, one must understand that ecclesiastical schisms, which were based on dogmatic disagreements, did not divide the Church into any parts but formalized the falling away from the Church of those who held views incompatible with the Orthodox doctrine.