Synodal silence: Why GOC does not speak out about Africa and Filaret
The Greek Synod did not anathematise the Greek "hierarchs" of the UOC-KP and did not condemn the Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Africa. Why?
On 7-8 February 2022, regular meetings of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church took place in Athens. It was expected that the Greek synodals would take a number of decisions, the most important among which for world Orthodoxy would be the reaction of the GOC to the formation of the Patriarchal Exarchate of the Russian Church in Africa, as well as the reaction to the actions of Filaret Denisenko, who received in the UOC-KP the Old Calendarists of Greece.
Waiting for decisions and frustration
Much was expected of the meeting of the Synod of the Greek Church.
On February 1, 2022, an article appeared in the authoritative Greek newspaper "Dogma" calling upon the Greek Church "to come forward" and take a clear position on the question of the Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Africa, "since a possible neutrality would, among other things, isolate the Church of Greece and would disturb its ecclesiological relations with the Phanar and Alexandria". Moreover, in Greece, they were convinced that the period following the Synod "will be decisive (critical) since the Hellenic Church is urged to immediately deal with the issues and matters that will determine its future".
Before the Synod, Metropolitan Gregory of Peristeria, speaking on the Greek Orthodox TV channel “Orthodox TV”, said that the Russian Orthodox Church is preparing to establish its structures in Greece and Turkey, proposed to deprive the ROC of autocephaly for five years, and to immediately convene an Ecumenical Synod to resolve the "Russian schism".
Met. Gregory's statement caused a sensation in Greece and allowed the Greek media to suggest that other bishops of the GOC would also support the idea, which would "restrict and condemn unilateral Russian actions and suspend the influence of the ROC on the autocephalous Churches".
On February 7, 2022, the very day of the first synod meeting, Greek theologian Anastasios Marinis stressed that the issue of the creation of the Russian Exarchate in Africa must be "dominant" for the Greek Church since it "directly threatens the unity of the entire Orthodox world".
From this brief overview of the statements of individual Greek bishops, theologians and journalists, it becomes clear what hopes and expectations were placed on the upcoming synodal meetings of the GOC not only on the part of the Greeks but especially on the part of the Church of Alexandria and the Phanar. Were these expectations met? No. The final communiqué of the Synod did not say a single word about the Exarchate of the ROC in Africa. No mention at all. This means that the Greek Church was not afraid to "spoil" its relations with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and did not support Patriarch Theodore, whose Church is actually funded from the Greek budget. Why?
Silence about the Russian Church
There are several answers to the question of why the Greek Church refused to respond or at least somehow comment on the formation of the Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Africa. It is clear that all of them are hypothetical and subjective, but there are enough facts and arguments that allow for their right to exist.
The first reason for the silence is the awareness of the vulnerability of their current position in terms of the Church’s canons. As we know, a reaction implies a decision. Simply "condemning" the violation (as the GOC believes) of the jurisdictional boundaries of another Church is not enough – a canonical response is needed here. And any response based on the canons of the Church requires both a statement that there is a schism in world Orthodoxy and that it is caused by the legalization of Ukrainian schismatics. Both Phanariotes and Greeks stubbornly deny this.
The second reason stems from the first – not all the bishops in the Greek Church believe that the Russian Church should be condemned. There are those who believe that the cause of the crisis is not the ROC but the illegality of the OCU's Tomos. So, one must first conciliarly condemn the false autocephaly of the OCU, and only then resolve the issue of the Exarchate of Africa.
The third possible reason for the silence is waiting. The Greek Church is simply waiting for the actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. For example, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Messenia explicitly stated that it is the Phanar that “will decide how and by what means to resolve this issue". Metropolitan Gregory of Cameroon clarified what these means would be: the convocation of the Pentarchy: the convocation of the Pentarchy (that is, the Primates of the five Greek Churches: Constantinople, Greek, Antiochian, Jerusalem and Cyprus) in Phanar, Athos or Chambesy and the abolition of the autocephaly of the Russian Church. This "Pentarchical Council" is planned to take place before Easter, which means that until then the Greek Church has the opportunity to refrain from its own judgments.
The fourth possible reason is "trade". The Greeks are silent about the Exarchate, therefore they are counting on concessions from the Phanar on several problematic issues:
- The dispute over St George’s Church in Patissia, the diocese of Athens, which the Greeks consider theirs and the Phanariots – theirs;
- Continual problems with the dioceses of the New Lands, located in Greece but subordinate to the Phanar;
- the appointment of a new representative of the Patriarchate of Constantinople under the Archbishop of Athens in place of the dismissed Metropolitan Amphilochios of Adrianople.
All these issues are quite pressing and of great interest to the Greek Church. Perhaps, the stance of the GOC on the Exarchate in Africa depends on their "correct" solution.
The fifth reason for the silence is the fear of getting a counterpart of the African Exarchate in the metropolises that have recognised the OCU. And if we look closely at the religious situation in Greece, such fears of the Greek bishops are not unfounded.
The Greek media write that only by a rough estimate the Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Greece "can already number up to 400,000 believers". The supporters of the old style are mentioned here, but even among the Greeks, there are enough those who are dissatisfied with the recognition of the Dumenko structure by the Greek Church. Besides, among the bishops of the GOC there are some rather authoritative hierarchs who are ready to support the Russian Church, and "some monasteries of Mount Athos also show sympathy for the position of Russia".
Greek journalists claim that the country's Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Dendias "have already been informed by Archbishop Ieronymos and metropolitans about the national scale of the 'Russian' invasion of Greece".
Silence about the OCU and Filaret
It was expected that the Synod of the Greek Church would also respond to the situation that had developed in connection with the defection of the Old Calendarists of Greece to the UOC-KP. And the point is not even that shortly before the Synod, Epifaniy Dumenko asked the Greeks to anathematize the new Filaret “bishops” but also that the Church of Greece had to give a canonical assessment of what is happening. In other words, to clarify who the Greeks who went to Filaret are: “bishops” or schismatics?
However, the synodals only considered Dumenko’s report, which stated that Filaret’s Greeks are “imposters” and “do not receive any canonicity from the OCU”. It must be emphasized here that the report made by Epifaniy did not receive any assessment from the Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church. Why?
Simply because no matter what position the Synod takes on this matter, the Greek Orthodox Church will lose out.
If the Greek “hierarchs” “ordained” by Filaret are indeed hierarchs, then the Greek Church will have to enter into communion with them (whom it considers schismatics). And if not, then, having recognized the OCU (and the legitimacy of Filaret), the synodals would have admitted to legalizing the schism, which is now breeding new schismatics already in Greece.
Therefore, the Greek Church has no choice but to remain silent.
If we summarize what is happening now in the Orthodox world in general and in the Greek Church in particular, we can see that the Churches that have recognized the Ukrainian schismatics are now forced to suffer (like the Church of Alexandria) and to compromise all the time - with other Churches, with the faithful, and with those in power.
Worst of all, they are forced to compromise with their conscience. And this compromise, as you know, does not lead to anything good, because it removes from God and destroys the Church itself. In this regard, the Greek hierarchs should heed the words of their brother, Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus, who called for the condemnation of the Tomos of the OCU lest "the Local Church of Greece would be erased from the map, as the seven local Churches of Asia Minor perished."