The Russian Orthodox Church has received more than 100 appeals from clergy of the Patriarchate of Alexandria asking to be accepted into the Russian Church, though it is committed to respecting Church boundaries, Archbishop Leonid of Vladikavkaz and Alan said in a recent interview.
Discussing the issue on the program Strategy with Anna Shafran on Friday, Abp. Leonid, the Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR), said that a great number of priests have inquired with the Russian Church following Patriarch Theodoros’ unilateral recognition of the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU) one year ago.
Abp. Leonid noted that Pat. Theodoros had assured the Russian Church last fall that he would not recognize the OCU, however, “despite his promises and agreements, exactly a month later, he did as he saw fit.”
Recall that the Patriarch had previously been a vocal supporter of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, encouraging the Ukrainian flock to remain faithful to Christ in His Church. Having broken his promise to the Russian Church, he likewise broke his promise to His Eminence Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol that he would not commemorate the schismatic Epiphany Dumenko while serving Liturgy in the Metropolis of Limassol in Cyprus. The Patriarch commemorated the OCU head, greatly grieving Met. Athanasios and other hierarchs of the Cypriot Church.
The Russian hierarch also stressed that Holy Synod of Alexandria did not give its primate the authority to recognize the OCU, but rather, the Patriarch acted on his own. Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus also acted unilaterally in recognizing the OCU, and also did so as a violation of his promise to his own Holy Synod that he would not do so.
As Abp. Leonid notes, a Church cannot run on the whims of one person, but rather it is a society of believers in Jesus Christ, who are called to uphold the faith and the canons. A bishop cannot simply do whatever he wants, the Archbishop emphasized.
Although the Alexandrian primate has not concelebrated with Epiphany Dumenko since recognizing the schismatics, he did serve with two OCU hierarchs in Constantinople last December—“Archbishop” Evstraty Zorya and “Metropolitan” Michael (Zinkevich).
According to Abp. Leonid, the situation inside the Church of Alexandria regarding the recognition of the OCU is “not good,” as the Russian Church has informed Pat. Theodoros. More than 100 appeals have been received so far from Alexandrian clergy asking to be received under the omophorion of the Patriarch of Moscow.
Last December, 27 priests from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia issued an open letter objecting to Pat. Theodoros’ lawless recognition of the OCU, calling on him to reverse his decision. Despite threats of suspension, excommunication, and loss of salary from their Greek hierarchs, the priests declared that they would remain strong in their stance for Orthodoxy.
The DECR is studying the issue, according to the Deputy Chairman, and is trying to restrain the clergy in their desire to join the Russian Church. As Abp. Leonid explained, the Russian Church is not interested in expanding into other Churches’ territory, but strictly observes the canons and supports honest and decent relations between Local Churches.
“Even when we were betrayed, we still adhere to the rules of relations that were established between the Churches. We don't break our word… And we want to see this from other Churches as well. We want the same responsibility and the same kind attitude from our partners. Not grandiose words or any statements, but if you promised something, do it, because you have millions, millions of people behind you,” the Archbishop said.
Asked why Pat. Theodoros chose to do an about-face and recognize the OCU, Abp. Leonid explained that he was pressured by the Greek Foreign Ministry and U.S. State Department.
The DECR Deputy Chairman also noted that the Russian Church has financially helped the missionary activities of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, “but never bragged about it. We don’t talk about it—it’s indecent.”
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