Ukraine Schism: What Can Laymen in America Do?

"I fully expect this crisis to get much worse before it gets better, I expect it to become a practical issue for all Orthodox Christians everywhere, and I think ignoring it is an unconscionable way of downplaying a serious problem."

The Battle of Salamis

I recently received an e-mail with some practical questions about how people should deal with the implications of the mess created by Constantinople's incursion into the canonical territory of the Russian Church, and their embrace of unrepentant and unordained schismatics in Ukraine:

"I've been watching the ecclesiastical crisis over Ukraine since it began. As the crisis worsens, it's causing me growing concern about how it is affecting Orthodox life here in North America. Could you kindly formulate some advice for Orthodox Christians who wish to avoid involvement with the schismatics?


I believe the Ukrainian schismatics are indeed schismatics, and their "clergy" are unordained individuals, and that anyone in the canonical Church who communes or serves with the schismatics deserve to be subjected to the prescribed canonical penalties in due course.


However, I am aware of clergy in canonical jurisdictions who openly support the schismatics, including an OCA deacon who writes for the Fordham blog. How is an Orthodox Christian like myself supposed to act around such clergy? How would I handle it if I visited a canonical parish somewhere for a service, and a clergyman unexpectedly endorsed the schismatics during the service? (For example, Patriarch Theodoros commemorating Dumenko while serving in Cyprus.)


Another difficult issue is that Mr. Dumenko, the self-styled "Metropolitan Epifany," was in the United States in October, and concelebrated with GOA clergy for Liturgy at the GOA cathedral in New York City. During the service, Mr. Dumenko performed a ceremony to "ordain" a man named George Kazoulis as a deacon, and Kazoulis is now serving as a deacon somewhere in the GOA. As far as I know, Dumenko has no holy orders, and cannot transmit what he does not possess.


What happens during services concelebrated by canonical clergy with a man who is no bishop? What happens during services where a man like Kazoulis is serving as a deacon? What should Orthodox Christians do if we unexpectedly find ourselves in a service like this? (For that matter, what happens if Kazoulis is ever subjected to a priestly ordination on the pretext that he is already a deacon?)


I am sorry to have to send a ton of questions at once, but I really wasn't sure what or who else to ask, and I figured that if you chose to respond, you could use it for a blog post that would be helpful to a lot of people. There has been a disappointing lack of practical advice from the canonical jurisdictions. Even ROCOR says very little these days, except to stay away from the clergy and churches that have defected to the GOA.


For what it's worth, I fully expect this crisis to get much worse before it gets better, I expect it to become a practical issue for all Orthodox Christians everywhere, and I think ignoring it is an unconscionable way of downplaying a serious problem."

The schism that has been initiated by the uncanonical actions of the Patriarch of Constantinople, has created a crisis in the Orthodox world, and I think we have only just begun to see how bad things will likely get. However, we also need to rest assured that God is on His throne, and that if not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from God's providence (Matthew 10:29), then certainly He will work His will in this crisis, despite the fact that it seems we are surrounded by treason against the Faith, cowardice, and deceit. On the one hand, we face problems we never thought we would encounter from within the Church, but on the other hand, God is using this crisis, I believe, to prune His vine.

The immediate issue that is stirring things up in the schism over Ukraine, but there are many other issues at work here. We have long seen those who have been pushing an Ecumenist agenda in the Church. There is also a renovationist agenda being pushed, that began with things like allowing priests to enter into second marriages, but has gone way past that point. Now we have an increasing number of voices, especially from within the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but by no means limited to that Church, who are pushing for the acceptance of homosexuality, transgenderism, and a whole host of other perversions.

For example, five years ago we had the case of Gregory Pappas of the Pappas Post who publicly complained that a Greek Orthodox priest refused to commune him, because he is an active homosexual. In his complaint, there is no suggestion that he is struggling against this sin, only justification for his sin -- and in fact, a clear denial that it really is a sin. But the saddest part of this story is that, according to him, Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh told him that while the priest was "technically within his canonical rights" to deny him communion, he would commune him, and that other priests had likewise offered to commune him. This was all posted publicly, and there have been no denials or clarifications from Metropolitan Savas, so far as I have heard.

I have previously been told by Greek Orthodox clergy that in the Metropolis of Chicago, they have been told that they are not to refuse active homosexuals from receiving communion, and just this past week, this was confirmed in a report on the most recent clergy meetings of that Metropolis:

"On Monday, November 18, during a Clergy Syndesmos meeting for the Metropolis of Chicago, His Eminence Metropolitan Nathanael forcefully instructed his priests that they were no longer permitted to announce the parameters for receiving Holy Communion prior to its distribution at any time, even on festal celebrations such as Pascha and Nativity, when there are multitude of unknown persons in the Church.


Nathanael said he knew that his priests were doing this, that he himself had heard them make such announcements and read them in their bulletins and on their websites — no longer!


Nathanael, a noted deep theological thinker and pastoral wizard, explained that if St. John Chrysostom, “the author of the Divine Liturgy” (uh…no…) had wanted such an announcement to be made prior to the distribution of Holy Communion then it would have been encoded in the service itself. As it is, the only “announcement” is that people should approach with the “fear of God, faith and love.” Since the blessed Patriarch of Constantinople included no other warnings, the priests of the Metropolis of Chicago will here after be forbidden from saying anything more than that, hence, as of November 18, 2019, Holy Communion is OFFICIALLY OPEN in the Metropolis of Chicago. No public announcements describing who ought not approach the Chalice will be permitted, Canons be damned.


Nathanael explained that the clergy have no right to discourage anyone from approaching the Chalice, and after all, he said, it makes us “look like bigots” if we forbid people.


He further explained that if a person is told not to approach the Chalice to receive Holy Communion because he / she / it is engaged in sinful behavior that, according to CANON LAW, forbids their participation, they might not come back to Church. He reminded the priests that we don’t want to discourage people from attending Church" (See: "Nathanael Announces Open Communion in the Metropolis of Chicago").

His Eminence would do well to read St. John Chrysostom's homily that is read a few days prior to Pascha:

"O my beloved and greatly-desired brethren who have gathered in the Holy Church of God, in order to serve the Living God in holiness and righteousness, and, with fear, to partake of the holy, most-pure, and immortal, awesome Mysteries of Christ: Hearken unto me who am lowly and unworthy. For it is not I who am speaking to you and instructing you; rather the grace of the Most-holy and Life-giving Spirit; for I speak not from myself, but as I have been instructed by the divine canons, and the God-bearing Fathers, as the Church received instruction from the divine Apostles who received their wisdom from God, so do I myself speak, who am lowly and least of all.


I know not your works; I consider not that which you have begun; and so, as one who fears God, I give counsel to everyone among you, whether man or woman, whether great or small, to anyone of you that may be guilty of sin, convicted by your own counsels, that first you must repent and confess your sins, that you may dare, considering yourself unworthy, to approach and touch the Divine Fire Itself. For our God is a consuming Fire, and they, therefore, who with faith and fear draw near to the God and King and Judge of us all, shall burn and scorch their sins; and It shall enlighten and sanctify their souls. But It shall burn and scorch with shame, the souls and bodies of them that draw near with unbelief.


Therefore, many among you are ill and sleep in sickness, that is, many are dying unconfessed and unrepentant. And furthermore, my brethren, I beseech you, and I say: no one that swears oaths, nor a perjurer, nor a liar, nor one that finds fault with others, nor a fornicator, nor an adulterer, nor a homosexual, nor a thief, nor a drunkard, nor a blasphemer, nor one that envies his brother, nor a murderer, nor a sorcerer, nor a magician, nor a charmer, nor an enchanter, nor a robber, nor a Manichean, shall, unconfessed and unprepared, approach, touch, or draw near the dread Mysteries of Christ, for it is terrible to fall into the hands of the Living God. For the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the joints and marrow and bones, and thoughts and hearts.


See, therefore, my brethren, that no one approach, unrepentant or unprepared or unworthily, to partake of His dread and most-pure Mysteries. For He Himself saith: I am He, and there is no god besides me; I kill, and I make alive; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand; for I, Myself, am King forever: to Whom is due all glory, honor, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, Amen" (Homily for Holy Thursday (See The Great Book of Needs, Volume II, St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1998, pp. 332-333)).

Given the support that the Greek Archdiocese gives to publications like "Public Orthodoxy," which incessantly promotes the acceptance of perversion within the Church, this should come as no shock to anyone. This is the fruit of nearly a century of spiritual drifting on the part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which St. John of Shanghai spoke of in 1938, in a report to the 2nd All-Diaspora Sobor. It may be that repentance will turn Constantinople around, but it is not likely to happen in the near term, if it happens at all.

So to get to the practical answers you are looking for here, we need to stick to the royal path between the extremes, neither turning to the right nor to the left. In the history of the Church, there have been heresies and schisms. Many times heresies have brewed for long periods of time, and at times it has taken centuries for those heresies to either be finally put down, or for those who have refuse to be corrected to finally be cut off from the Church entirely. During these periods of controversy, the lines have often not been clear and things have been messy.

St. Basil the Great compared such times to a naval battle:

"To what then shall I liken our present condition? It may be compared, I think, to some naval battle which has arisen out of time old quarrels, and is fought by men who cherish a deadly hate against one another, of long experience in naval warfare, and eager for the fight. Look, I beg you, at the picture thus raised before your eyes. See the rival fleets rushing in dread array to the attack. With a burst of uncontrollable fury they engage and fight it out. Fancy, if you like, the ships driven to and fro by a raging tempest, while thick darkness falls from the clouds and blackens all the scenes so that watchwords are indistinguishable in the confusion, and all distinction between friend and foe is lost. To fill up the details of the imaginary picture, suppose the sea swollen with billows and whirled up from the deep, while a vehement torrent of rain pours down from the clouds and the terrible waves rise high. From every quarter of heaven the winds beat upon one point, where both the fleets are dashed one against the other. Of the combatants some are turning traitors; some are deserting in the very thick of the fight; some have at one and the same moment to urge on their boats, all beaten by the gale, and to advance against their assailants. Jealousy of authority and the lust of individual mastery splits the sailors into parties which deal mutual death to one another.


Think, besides all this, of the confused and unmeaning roar sounding over all the sea, from howling winds, from crashing vessels, from boiling surf, from the yells of the combatants as they express their varying emotions in every kind of noise, so that not a word from admiral or pilot can be heard. The disorder and confusion is tremendous, for the extremity of misfortune, when life is despaired of, gives men license for every kind of wickedness. Suppose, too, that the men are all smitten with the incurable plague of mad love of glory, so that they do not cease from their struggle each to get the better of the other, while their ship is actually settling down into the deep" (On the Holy Spirit, Ch. XXX).

We should neither be indifferent to these issues, neither should we take the "landmine" view of the canons, and assume that everyone in the Ecumenical Patriarchate is already outside of the Church because of the actions of their leaders.

What should a layman do under today's circumstances? A lot would depend on what parish you are in, and what options you may have. There are many priests within the jurisdiction of Constantinople that I know to be devout, and firm in their stand for the Faith. Were I a layman in such a parish, I would certainly not make any hasty decisions, particularly if there was not a better option in the area  that I lived in. However, it is hard to see how much longer faithful clergy will be allowed to remain so, given the kind of instructions they are getting from their bishops.

I would say that one should absolutely not participate in any service in which one of the Ukrainian schismatics, or anyone ordained by them was serving. As time goes on, this is a line that will become increasing difficult to draw within the Ecumenical Patriarchate, because of ordinations such as the one you mention, which was clearly done as a means of forcing those in America to accept this schism, whether they like it or not.

One thing I think we all need to avoid, is allowing anyone to paint this crisis in terms of it being just a matter of Russians vs. the Greeks. This is not about ethnicity, this is about Orthodoxy. This is not Russian vs. Greeks -- it is Orthodoxy vs. heresy and schism. I know too many Greeks who are standing for the Faith, and know enough Russians who are not, to see it in those terms.

Everyone should look to their conscience, and ask their guardian angel to speak them through the voice of their conscience. One should also seek wise counsel with regard to their specific circumstances, and pray that God would show them the way, and then they should take the wiser path that is in accordance with their conscience. They should also pray that God would correct them, if they should stray from the right path.

There is a Chinese proverb, which I think is a good and wise one: "A wise rabbit has three holes." I think it would be wise for those within the Ecumenical Patriarchate, or any other jurisdiction that has bishops who show signs of wavering in terms of the Truth, to at least contemplate their alternatives now, and keep their options open.

One thing that is clear, is that if Constantinople does not correct itself, everyone in the Church will eventually have to make a choice to either take a stand against what they are doing, or to accept the growing apostasy that we are seeing unfold.

If push comes to shove, obviously, one should go to a parish that is standing for the Truth. That may mean another parish down the road, or it may mean a parish that is far away, and doing reader services at home when you are unable to make it to that parish.