"Why I Left the Greek Church for the Russian Church" - An Orthodox Priest Explains

"I could not with a clean conscience . . . I could not serve the Patriarchate of Constantinople after it went forward and committed such acts against the Gospel, and against the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, setting itself up as a type of Eastern Papacy . . . "

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In the following video, Fr. Ioannis Fortomas explains the reasons why he left the Greek Orthodox Church and joined the Russian Orthodox Church. A transcript is available below.

TRANSCRIPT:

Good evening everyone. It's been about 24 hours since I announced to you on social media that I joined the Russian Orthodox Church. So, it's been indeed, a blessing for me and for my priesthood that his Eminence Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal in Canada received me earlier this month into his diocese. 

Many of you have asked me since I announced this very important change in my life, many of you have asked me different questions, which if you boil them down, they all are summed up in the following question: why would a Greek Orthodox priest join the Russian Orthodox church?

So, this video is an attempt by me to answer this very important and fundamental question, and the beginning of the answer to this question really begins in a country that's not Greece and it's not Canada. It's called Ukraine. Now, a very interesting series of events occurred in Ukraine that affected all of our lives within the past couple years especially from 2018 on, and that is the following:

In 2018, the Patriarchate of Constantinople granted legitimacy to two groups or three groups of schismatics in Ukraine, and declared them an autocephalous church. A canonical autocephalous church in high quotes. So many of you might be wondering you know what is schism? What is an autocephalous church. So really, it requires a very brief explanation on what is the Orthodox church, how is it governed?

Yes, as we confess in the creed, the Orthodox church is one. It's the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church. So, whether that be the Serbian Orthodox church, or the the Greek Orthodox church, or the Romanian Orthodox church, they are all part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church — distinct parts of the one church. You could also say that the one church, it's not divided, but it's — a better term — is organized. It's organized into a family of 14 different households, which we term patriarchates and autocephalous churches.

Now, without going into the specifics of, you know, which are the 14, many of you know this information is easily found on the internet. I won't go into any of that. But I will just briefly say that the Patriarchate of Constantinople, again returning to the Ukraine, in 2018 decided that it would grant autocephalous status to a group of schismatics in Ukraine. It would raise them, and it would include them in this family of churches without the ascent of the rest, and more importantly so, beyond this, it did so at the expense of the canonical church in Ukraine headed by his Beatitude, Metropolitan Onufri of Kiev and all Ukraine.

The canonical church in Ukraine is an autonomous church within the patriarchate of Moscow. So, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, not only legitimized schismatics, but it did so at the expense of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox church, to which belong the majority of believers in Ukraine, and that set off a series of very unfortunate events. You know events where, for example — and this is easily verified on social media or just by doing a quick Google search — where schismatics would you know take a parish, that is occupy it, and they'd beat the priests, they'd beat the believers, often to a pulp, and often at the you know at least at the turning of a blind eye by the police and the state authorities.

So, a very, very unchristian behavior behavior, contrary to the gospel, was enacted in Ukraine and was rubber stamped indeed by the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

So, you'll tell me, you'll ask me, "Well, what does that have to do with you, and what does that have to do with us?" When one member of the body of Christ suffers, the other members suffer as well, and at some point, somebody has to stand up and say "Stop!" because the results of the schism. And schism, like I just stated before, brings nothing good to all those involved. 

The results of the schism are trickling down today within Greek Orthodoxy, and I'd like to just say at this point, that of course there's no such thing as a unified Greek Orthodox church. You know, you have the Patriarchate of Constantinople, you have the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the church of Greece, the church of Cyprus, different administrative units, but one by one, they are all backing the Patriarchate of Constantinople (except for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem). 

The effects of the schism have by now fully permeated the Greek Orthodox world, and there's questions that of course exist, such as the validity of the sacraments of those in schism. The short answer is that no, their sacraments are not valid, but if we were to go a step farther we would discover that these people do not even have apostolic succession, that they descend their quote-unquote "priesthood" descends from people that are clergy, that are self-consecrated, self-consecrated to the priesthood. (Archpriest Vasyl Lypkivsky was "consecrated" to the "episcopacy" by clergy and laity at a robber council in Kiev on October 23, 1921 when the "Ukrainian Autocephalous Church" came into existence.) 

So indeed, it's the legitimizing of of a total sham, of a total sham, and at this point, I mean it, it betrays a total, a total crossing of a very, very  real red line in church concerning the church canons and the dogmas and the overall order of the Orthodox Church.

So, I took the decision to join the Russian Orthodox Church based off of this. And furthermore, not based off of the sort of abstract ideas over what's happening somewhere else. 

I saw the results of the schism in Ukraine out playing right before my very eyes in the time that I served as a priest in Hungary, on loan to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. I saw the results of the schism, and I came to a point where I could not with a clean conscience, I could not serve the Patriarchate of Constantinople after it went forward and committed such acts against the Gospel, and against the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, setting itself up more or less as a type of Eastern Papacy.

So personally, I came to a point where I no longer felt able to make the liturgy, serving under these conditions. And each liturgy, believe me, was torture. It was torture, literal torture, trying to get through it. And I came to a point where I could not serve under these conditions anymore. However, at the same time, the attitude of the Greek Orthodox bishops towards me changed, as they realized the opinions that I held. So it comes as a very natural decision to join the Russian Orthodox church. And in doing so, his Eminence Archbishop Gabriel has been very generous to me, in terms of blessing me to continue to serve in Greek. This of course means that I am serving not myself, but you, the faithful people of God.

It's not the first time that Greek Orthodox clerics have joined the Russian Orthodox church, especially within sort of periods of history that are tumultuous and that are rife with controversy, and I'm thinking specifically of two men. Evienos Vulgaris is one. He was Metropolitan of Gerson in what is today Ukraine, and the other one was Nikiforos Theotokis.

So, indeed, not the first time that the Russian Orthodox church has helped Greek Orthodox Christians. There's many examples throughout recent history where it has done so, and where it has enabled them to live their Greek Orthodox faith freely, without any external pressures or with indeed without any demands, so I am very thankful for this opportunity.

At this point, I would like to announce to you that each Saturday I will be serving the divine liturgy at Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church in Hamilton (10 a.m. @ 77 Sanford Ave S. Hamilton), according to the usage of the Greek Orthodox church but in English and in Greek, and I look forward to your participation in the holy liturgy. . . . God willing, we hope to make a vigil in liturgy according to the Athonite Typicon in Greek on the eve of Christmas according to the Julian calendar, this upcoming January 6th at night. The service will begin around 11 p.m and will finish around 2:30-3 a.m in the morning. We are going to serve it according to the Athonite Typicon . . . 

So, I look forward to meeting many of you on these liturgical occasions . . . And so in short, if you're interested in having the liturgy celebrated for your family from Monday to Friday, on one of those mornings, you should communicate with me at least two weeks in advance, so we can make sure that there is no other liturgy scheduled that day, and that everything is open and free for your convenience. 

So please do not hesitate to get into contact with me. Of course the liturgy could be celebrated in Greek or English or a mix of both according to the need. Anyway, I look forward to communicating with you through these videos. It's a very good way, at least for now, given the measures that we find ourselves living in, but also in the future to be able to communicate with you in person, at the church, around the divine services. Also perhaps after we can organize talks, different things can happen.

But the aim, our aim, is to form a parish within the Russian Orthodox church, but following the Greek Orthodox customs and traditions. To do this, and to be successful, is not something that's up to one priest alone, but the participation of the faithful is necessary. The church needs the faithful. The faithful compose the body of the church, not just the clergy, but the faithful as well. And so, I look forward to working with you from now, and going into the future. May God bless all of you richly in 2021.




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