Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Sermon: Papism and Neo-Papism

A sermon given on the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas, March 24th, 2019, on the Ukraine Crisis and the ultimate triumph of Orthodoxy.

Click here to listen: http://www.saintjonah.org/podcasts/sermons/neopapism.mp3

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 2

Holy Ground
Monday, February 25th

The Conference was to begin with a Hierarchical Liturgy, at 9:00 a.m. Fr. Sergei was going to come by and take me to St. Tikhon University by the Metro, but he was delayed a bit by traffic, and so we ended up taking a taxi.

Fr. Sergei wasn't able to stay for the morning session, but he made sure I made it into the Church which was up the stairs, and part of a large hall. I wasn't aware of the history of this place until the next day, and perhaps it was just as well, because it was intimidating enough to speak at this conference in the first place -- but as I later learned, I was serving in a Church which was dedicated to St. Vladimir, and built by the Hieromartyr Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky), who was the first bishop to be martyred by the Bolsheviks when he was then Metropolitan of Kiev. It was built because prior to it, there was no Church dedicated to St. Vladimir the Great in Moscow, and they wanted a Church suitable to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus' in 1888. In 1917, it was chosen as the site of the pivotal All-Russian Council which elected Patriarch Tikhon and played such a key role in charting the course of the Russian Church up to the present day.

The Soviets destroyed the interior of this Church, and it was used simply as a concert hall. However, it was restored, almost exactly as it was originally. However, while you can see in the photo above from the 1917 Council that there was an archway separating the main hall from the Church, which was decorated with icons. When the Church was restored, it was decided that the icons on this archway would be composed of saints who participated in the 1917 Council, but were either martyrs or confessors.

When I first entered the Altar, Fr. Paul Ermilov introduced himself, and pointed me to the vestments set aside for me. It was a good thing that they had a set for me to use, because I had assumed the Liturgy would be in gold vestments, but as it turned out, they were in blue, for the feast of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God.

Archbishop Ambrose (Yermakov)

I did not bring my kamilavka, because travelling with a big hat is very inconvenient. Fr. Paul made several attempts to find one that would fit, but I have a big head, as Texans often do. I guess Serbs may have something similar, because to make things symmetrical, he had me stand opposite Fr. Darko Djogo, who was also an invited speaker, from the University of East Sarajevo's Faculty of Theology, and he likewise didn't have a kamilavka that fit. But as it would happen, he also speaks wonderfully good English, and so I made a point of sticking close by him for the rest of the Conference.

So we lined up to greet Archbishop Ambrose (Yermakov), who is the Rector of the Moscow Theological Academy. The choir was especially amazing.

The Liturgy itself was very beautiful, though there are a few minor differences between the practice in ROCOR that I am familiar with, and the Moscow practice, but I made it through without incident. I was able to meet Archbishop Ambrose, as well as Fr. Vladimir Vorobyov who is the rector of the University. Unfortunately for me, our conversations were limited by their limited English, and my even more limited Russian.

Fr. Vladimir Vorobyov

After the Liturgy, the clergy were invited to a dinning hall where we had a very nice lunch, and I was able to speak with the clergy... mostly Fr. Darko and Fr. Paul, though some of the other clergy spoke a bit of English. There was a priest from Ukraine who spoke some English, and he pointed out that he had the same kind of coat that I was wearing, which I wasn't clear on how he happened to have gotten one. We were both wearing United States Navy pea coats -- which I wear for three reasons: 1) my father was in the Navy in World War II, and told me that this was a very warm and practical coat; 2) you can get them from an Army / Navy surplus store very cheaply; and 3) they happen to work well with my usual wardrobe. I later learned that he was another invited speaker, and that he had been forcibly evicted from his Church in Ukraine, though I can't remember where it was, or the details of how it happened in his case.

After the meal, the Conference itself began. The first session was focused on the theological issues behind the crisis, and the speakers came from Moscow Theological Academy, Stretensky Theological Seminary, Moscow State University, and also included Fr. Paul Ermilov who is a professor at St. Tikhon University.

Fr. Paul Ermilov

I sat next to Fr. Darko, and he translated the highlights of what was said for me.

After another break, we began the session that both Fr. Darko and I were to speak at, which was entitled: "A look at the church crisis from abroad." Fr. Sergei Baranov arrived for this session, and provided a fairly complete translation for all the other talks for me -- which gave me a good idea of how much I had been missing up until then. I had asked Fr. Sergei to translate my talk to the audience, because I have known him for about a decade now, and I knew he would understand what I was saying (he speaks fluent Texan). He has more degrees than most people have pairs of socks, in fields ranging from the hard sciences, to theology, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in Theology.

He brought a recorder with him, which looks similar to the one that I use, but a bit newer and more advanced. He asked if I would like to take charge of it, but I suggested he do so, since I knew from using my own that it was easy to think you were recording when you weren't, and he was more familiar with his recorder. We also had a time limit for our talk, and I wanted to make sure we didn't go over.

I didn't realize it until Fr. Sergei told me later, but he thought he was recording the first 10 minutes, only to realize that he wasn't, and then he began recording. I thought we had stuck to the time limit as I checked the minutes on the recorder, but as a result of this mishap we went a bit over. However, the talk seemed to be well received. You can read the text of that talk here:
An American Perspective on the Ukraine Crisis
After that session, we ended the conference with an evening meal, which was quite festive. Fr. Sergei needed to head home, but I stayed until the end and was given a ride back to my apartment by Fr. Dimitri, whose surname escapes me, but he is a deacon, and a son-in-law of Fr. Vladimir Vorobyov. He's a very cheerful man, who speaks English fairly well, and so we had a great conversation on the way home.

The plan the next day was for me to serve at one of the parishes near my apartment that is connected to St. Tikhon University. It was close enough for me to walk it. And then I would catch a ride for the the second and final day of the conference.

This had been an amazing day, and if my trip had ended at this point, it already would have been one of the highlights of my life, but there was a lot more yet to come.

To be continued...

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 1

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 1

I was unexpectedly able to travel to Russia for the first time since 2007 (to read about that trip, click here). In late January I received an e-mail from Fr. Paul Ermilov of St. Tikhon University in Moscow, which asked if I would be willing to speak at a conference they were going to hold at the end of February on the crisis in Ukraine, which has resulted from the intrusion of the Patriarch of Constantinople into the territory of the Russian Orthodox Church. He said he was not expecting an academic presentation, but simply reflections from a priest in America on the issue -- and he said that the University would cover my travel expenses. My initial reaction was to think someone was pulling my leg, and so I forwarded the e-mail to Deacon Sergei Baranov (who was ordained at St. Jonah's in Spring, Texas, but who is currently lives and works in Moscow), to ask him if he could confirm that this was a legitimate request. Within a few hours, he responded that indeed it was, and that he had spoken to Fr. Paul about it. He also offered to show me around after the conference, if I was able to make it.

The biggest hurdle was getting my visa in time, but fortunately there is a Russian Consulate in Houston. It took a few weeks to get the invitation done on the Russian end, and then I was able to get the Visa on my end, with about a week to spare.

The last time I went to Russia, was in the spring, and so the weather was beautiful and warm. This time, I knew it would be quite a bit colder. And so I had to buy a pair of water-resistant cowboy boots with slip-resisting treads -- which worked well in the snow and the slush. I almost slipped on a few occasions, but didn't. On Fr. Sergei's recommendation, I flew on Lufthansa, which I believe is the best airline I have ever flown on.

I left Houston a bit after 4 p.m. on Friday, February 22nd. I packed several books, primarily for my return flight. During this flight, I was focused on preparing for my talk. I had a month to think about it, but didn't have much of a chance to organize my thoughts, and put them on paper prior to then. Starting with Theophany (January 19th, on the civil calendar) up until the beginning of Lent, I am exceptionally busy, because almost every evening I either was blessing the homes of parishioners (this is done every year, around this time, according to custom) or had an evening service. I am retiring from my secular job at the end of April, and so next year things will hopefully be different, but that is how it has been in the past, and this year was no exception. I don't use a lap top, or an iPad, and so I composed my notes the old fashioned way, with pen and paper.

A Room with a View

Flying from the west to the east is a bit like flying into the future, and so after a lay-over in Frankfurt, it was about 6 p.m. Saturday evening, when I landed in Moscow. I was met by a kindly young deacon, sent by the University, and taken to an apartment they use for guests, to the south of the Moskva River in central. I knew it was near the Convent of Ss. Martha and Mary, founded by the New-Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth, but I didn't realize how near it was until I woke up Sunday morning, looked out of my window, and recognized the distinctive features of the Convent Church, right outside.

St. Elizabeth was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and a German Princess (her mother married a German Prince), and she was raised Lutheran. When she married into the Russian royal family, she was not obligated to convert, but did so after many years of study, of her own free will. When her husband (Grand Duke Sergei) was assassinated, in 1905, she established this convent, and dedicated the rest of her life to serving the poor, but was martyred by the Bolsheviks in 1918, one day after her sister, the Tsaritsa was also martyred, along with the Tsar and their children. She was targeted because she was a member of the Romanov family, and her work in Moscow among the poor, ran counter to the narrative the Communists were trying to tell about pre-revolutionary Russia.

The St. Mary Magdalene Convent, on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, which was built largely through the efforts of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her husband. 
After the White Army recovered St. Elizabeth's body, it was brought to the Church of the Martyrs in Beijing (when they retreated into China at the end of the Russian Civil War), and then the British Royal Family paid for it to be brought to this Church, along with the relics of St. Barbara, her faithful assistant, who refused to be separated from her, even though it meant that she was martyred along with her.

I named my firstborn child after St. Elizabeth, and we celebrate every liturgy at St. Jonah over her relics. In 2014, I was also able to venerate her relics at her final resting place at the St. Mary Magdalene convent in Jerusalem, but it was a special blessing to begin my visit to Moscow so near to this convent, founded by such a dear saint.

St. Tatiana

The Icon and Relics of St. Tatiana at St. Tatiana's in Moscow

Fr. Sergei came by on foot at around 8:30 a.m, and we walked to the nearest Metro station (their subway) and took a train that brought us to within walking distance from the Church of St. Tatiana. The Metro now makes all announcements in English, as well as Russian, and so it is possible to navigate around the city even if you do not speak Russian. St. Tatiana is the parish that Fr. Sergei is on loan to while in Russia, and is at Moscow University. It has inscribed on the exterior of the Church the words from the Presanctified Liturgy: "Свет Христов просвещает всех," which means "The Light of Christ Illumineth All."

That's an idea I may steal as we design our new Church in Spring.

St. Tatiana is now considered the patron saint of education in Russia, and this is because it was on St. Tatiana's day that the Empress Elizabeth granted the petition to establish Moscow University in 1755, and so this Church was built on the campus and dedicated to St. Tatiana. Her feast is now celebrated throughout Russia as "Russian Students Day," and marks the end of the winter term of school.

Fr. Vladimir Vigilyansky

I was warmly greeted by the rector of the parish, Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky. But while I had assumed I would have little to do as a visiting priest, he immediately asked if I could serve proskomedia, so that he could help the other priest who was hearing confessions. That other priest continued to hear confessions throughout the entire liturgy. In fact, I don't think I got to meet him, and so he may still have been hearing confessions after the service was over.

The Parishioners during the Liturgy

I was planning on doing whatever exclamations I was given to do in English, but Fr. Vladimir wanted Fr. Sergei to do some of the litanies in English as well, evidently thinking the people might enjoy hearing part of the service in English. Ironically, we did more English in that service than some Russian parishes typically do in the United States. Fr. Sergei didn't think to bring his copy of the service book in English, and so he had to borrow my book for one litany, which meant that I ended up having to do the exclamation in Slavonic, because I had to use Fr. Vladimir's book in the absence of my own.

As I was about to hand off my service book to Fr. Sergei

Another interesting thing about this parish is that the Holy Table is the largest in Moscow. Not even Christ the Savior Cathedral has one larger.

During the announcements, Fr. Vladimir introduced me, and told the people that this was the first time Fr. Sergei had been able to serve with both of his rectors at the same Liturgy.

The Iconostasis

Their current Iconostasis is a reproduction of the one they had before it was destroyed by the Soviets. Interestingly, from 1998 up until 2014, they were using an Iconostasis which came from a parish dedicated to St. Seraphim in Manhattan, which was donated by the late Fr. Alexander Kiselev:

This iconostasis is still used in their lower Church.

The Church interior, after the service

After the Liturgy, they had trapeza, and I was able to visit with Fr. Vladimir and other members of the community a bit more. After that, Fr. Sergei showed me around, and among other things, he showed me a calendar which listed all the services and activities in the parish, which fill up much of every day of the week. For example, on this day, they held an exhibit, complete with lectures on the life and ministry of St. Nicholas of Japan -- who was one of the most successful missionaries in the history of the Church. We weren't able to stay for the lectures, and my limited Russian would have made that difficult, but the exhibit itself was very impressive.

Walking Through Moscow

Then we set out on foot across the center of Moscow. When you drive around a city like Moscow, you only see things as you speed past them, but walking through a city allows you really see it.

I was able to see a good bit of the Kremlin in 2007, but this was the first time I was able to see the inside of the Kazan Cathedral.

This was another Church destroyed by Stalin in the 1930's, but rebuilt in the 1990's exactly as it was before.

Of course, no trip to Moscow would be complete without a visit to St. Basil's Cathedral.

The mostly still frozen Moskva river:

We made it back to my apartment, and so I was able to drop off my vestments. Then we visited the inside of the Ss. Martha and Mary Convent next door.

They have signs in several languages explaining the history of the Convent, as well as it's current purpose, which is again to minister to the poor.

They have a statue of St. Elizabeth in the court yard.

You can tell by the white walls that this is a Church that was destroyed on the inside by the Communists, and is still in the process of restoration. You can see some of the nuns cleaning the Church in the pictures.

In the Church they have a reliquary with a relic from St. Elizabeth's right arm, which was given to the Convent by the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem.

We then went to see some of the other sites in the area, including a Church dedicated to St. Clement of Rome, which had been a long time in restoration, but when we saw the inside, it was easy to see what took so long.

While we we walking about, a young Serbian man named Darko, who is currently a student in Moscow, walked up to me and introduced himself. It turns out he is a Facebook friend who saw my first posts about being in Moscow. It's a small world.

At one point we walked by this place:

That sign says "Louisiana Steakhouse." Those familiar with the swamps of Louisiana will find the Cacti quite humorous. But since I can get Texas steaks and Louisiana cooking anytime, we decided to eat dinner at a Russian Bistro. The food was quite good.

Throughout the afternoon, Fr. Sergei was telling me about all the places I could walk to and see on my own that evening. He needed to return home. I make a point of walking in the morning for exercise, but I had already walked a lot more that day than I was used to, and either that, the jet-lag, my age, or all three were catching up with me. When I finally made it back to my apartment, I was in no condition to go anywhere else. So spent a little bit of time going over the talk I would be giving the next day, and then I went to sleep.

To be continued...

Monday, March 25, 2019

An American Perspective on the Ukraine Crisis

With Fr. Sergei Baranov, who translated 

This is the text of a talk that I gave at St. Tikhon University in Moscow, at a conference entitled "Causes and Challenges of the Current Crisis of Inter-Orthodox Relations," on February 25th, 2019.


I discovered Orthodox Christianity a bit more than 30 years ago. I was studying to be a Protestant minister, and was serving as an associate pastor at a church which organized a pro-life group in Oklahoma City, and invited other churches in the area. At the first meeting, I was sitting with my wife, and in came a Russian Orthodox priest. I had never seen anything quite like him. He was wearing a black cassock, a gold pectoral cross, and had a long gray beard. I said to my wife, “Could you imagine me dressed like that?”

As time went on, I got to know the priest, and began asking him theological questions, and was intrigued by his answers which made a lot of sense to me. Then one Saturday I visited his parish for a Vespers service. It was not in a beautiful Church like you have here in Russia. It was in a small storefront, in a rundown shopping center. But the beauty of the service and of the hymns had a deep impact on me. I was not ready to convert just yet, because I had a lot of theological objections that I had to work through, but about a year later, I did. And since I became Orthodox, I have devoted a great deal of time and effort to bringing others into the Church. I had discovered a great treasure, and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.

This brings us to the topic at hand. You might wonder why Orthodox Christians in America would care about what is going on in Ukraine, but even though it is far away from us, one reason why this matters to me is because it harms the witness of the Orthodox Church, and it makes it a lot more difficult to explain to people what the Orthodox Church is, when we have the waters being muddied by the uncanonical actions of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Many speakers have already ably discussed the history, and the canonical issues in question here, and so I will not attempt to rehash those issues, but will simply talk about how this issue is viewed by the Orthodox in the United States, how it is impacting us, and what the long term implications are.

I. Background in America

In order to understand the situation we are in, in the United States, let me explain briefly a few things about the Orthodox Church in America. The Russian Church sent missionaries to North America 225 years ago. But for the most part, Orthodoxy was brought to the United States by immigration from various parts of the Orthodox world, and so we have different jurisdictions reflecting the various ethnic groups that established parishes in in the United States. Of these groups, the largest are the Greeks, though they have been experiencing a decline in recent years. Orthodox Christians represent about one percent of the total population. The Greeks in the United States were originally under the Church of Greece, but were transferred to the jurisdiction of Constantinople in the 1922 by Patriarch Meletius Metaxakis, of whom we will talk about more later.

However, the Russian Church began the process of translating the services into English in the late 19th century, with the hopes of reaching out to the non-Orthodox people of the United States, and this eventually began to bear fruit – particularly beginning in the 1980’s, and today there are now many converts to the Orthodox Faith in the United States.

II. Reactions to the Ukraine Crisis in America

The reactions among the Orthodox in the United States to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s actions in Ukraine have varied. In the Greek Archdiocese, there are of course company men who support the the Patriarch, regardless of the merits of his actions; there are those who are confused by what has happened, and there are those who are indifferent. But there are also those who are opposed to what the EP has done. For example, we now have a new ROCOR parish in Lubbock, Texas, because several families from the Greek parish there could not in good conscience stay under the EP, and so have now formed a new parish. There are many more who are waiting to see what will happen, but I have personally spoken with quite a few of them, and if the EP does not change course, they intend to leave too.

Most other jurisdictions in the United States have been very negative towards the actions of the EP. On the other hand, we have Ukrainian Nationalists who are very anti-Russian, and very supportive of what the EP is doing.

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is very supportive of the stance taken by the Moscow Patriarchate, and I have not seen much evidence of dissenting opinions on the matter. And this is certainly not because ROCOR has anything against Ukraine or Ukrainians. Our Metropolitan is a Ukrainian. My Archbishop is of Don Cossack descent. Our most important monastery, Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York, was founded by monks from the Pochaev Lavra. We also have a large number of Ukrainians in our parishes. In my own parish I have quite a few Ukrainian families, from various parts of Ukraine.

III. How it is Affecting Us.

In many ways this crisis has a bigger impact on those of us in the US, then it does in Russia. Of course, those in the Ukraine are impacted the most, by far. But in Russia, you don’t have Greek parishes around you, and so the fact that we have broken communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not disrupt fellowship with parishes in your area, but for us, this is a big issue.

I have personally spent many years working to strengthen inter-Orthodox relations in my area. We have had a very strong clergy association, that includes all the Orthodox Churches in the Houston area, and I was the president of that association for many years until just this last year. Now the current head is a priest of the Greek Archdiocese, and so I cannot even attend the meetings. In my parish I have many people who have family who attend Greek parishes, and I have some parishioners who have moved to areas where the only parish in their area is a Greek parish. In Texas there are two very pious Greek monasteries, and quite a few of my parishioners have frequently visited those monasteries, and they love to go there to pray. And so this is very painful to us, because there are many good and pious people in the Greek Archdiocese, they are our friends, and parts of many of our families, but now these relationships are being disrupted.

As I mentioned, this impacts our ability to reach out to the non-Orthodox in our country. One of the common questions I am asked by non-Orthodox people is, “What is the Orthodox Church?” And one of my quick answers to that question has been, “You have probably heard of the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Russian Orthodox Church… well it’s the same Church.” That’s an answer that has been made more complicated by this mess.

IV. What is the Cause of this Crisis

I would like to talk about the observations made in 1938, by St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai, in a report to the 2nd All-Diaspora Sobor, which was held in Yugoslavia. It is interesting to note that what he observed then is only all the more apparent today. To summarize the points that he made, he noted that the Ecumenical Patriarchate had been greatly diminished as a result of the Balkan wars of liberation, and then the after effects of the Turkish Ethnic cleansing of Greeks from Asia Minor after World War I, and that ever since that time, the EP has been trying to make up for lost territory and lost revenue. The EP has also been trying to find some way to make itself relevant to the rest of the world. The EP also began to take advantage of the chaos the Bolshevik Revolution was causing, and to slice off portions of territory that had belonged to the Russian Church – and did so, for the first time, under the pretext that the Kiev Metropolia was really under their jurisdiction. It was also around this time the EP assumed control of the Greek parishes in North and South America, which had been under the authority of the Church of Greece, and to establish dioceses in Western Europe and Australia. St. John also pointed out that during the 1920’s, the EP recognized the renovationist “Living Church” as the legitimate Church in Russia, and entered into communion with it.

St. John closed his report with these words:
“The moral authority of the Patriarchs of Constantinople has likewise fallen very low in view of their extreme instability in ecclesiastical matters. Thus, Patriarch Meletius IV arranged a "Pan-Orthodox Congress," with representatives of various churches, which decreed the introduction of the New Calendar. This decree, recognized only by a part of the Church, introduced a frightful schism among Orthodox Christians. Patriarch Gregory VII recognized the decree of the council of the Living Church concerning the deposing of Patriarch Tikhon, whom not long before this the Synod of Constantinople had declared a "confessor," and then he entered into communion with the "Renovationists" in Russia, which continues up to now.
In sum, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in theory embracing almost the whole universe and in fact extending its authority only over several dioceses, and in other places having only a higher superficial supervision and receiving certain revenues for this, persecuted by the government at home and not supported by any governmental authority abroad: having lost its significance as a pillar of truth and having itself become a source of division, and at the same time being possessed by an exorbitant love of power – represents a pitiful spectacle which recalls the worst periods in the history of the See of Constantinople.”

V. Meletios Metaxakis 

It is interesting to note that the “Living Church” held its first “Council” in April of 1923, and that the Ecumenical Patriarch, Meletius Metaxakis held a so-called “Pan Orthodox Congress” in May of 1923. Although this “Pan Orthodox Congress” issued a statement supporting Patriarch Tikhon, its agenda was remarkably similar to that of the “Living Church.” This council was called “Pan Orthodox” despite the fact that Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem all refused to take part in it. In addition to the introduction of the New Calendar, they supported allowing priest to remarry, the shortening of the fasts and the shortening of the services.

Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis had a very interesting career. He began as a priest of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, but was expelled for "activities against the Holy Sepulcher." He then went to the Church of Greece, and was even made Archbishop of Athens, but was deposed by it because of his active participation in an Episcopal service in the United States (he was fully vested, venerated their holy table, gave a sermon, and blessed the people). However, the Church of Greece was pressured into lifting his deposition because he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. And even this election was highly questionable. Another candidate was actually elected with 16 out of 17 votes, but he was pressured into withdrawing his candidacy, and Meletios Metaxakis was elected instead. Not long after his election, he held this “Pan-Orthodox Congress”. The faithful were so incensed by the decisions of that council that he was forced to resign. He was then elected Patriarch of Alexandria, through the influence of the British, who then occupied Egypt. In fact, at each step in his career, foreign governments used their influence to advance him, because they knew he would favor their agenda. At the second council of the “Living Church,” held in 1925, both Constantinople and Alexandria sent representatives and gave their support to the “Living Church” against the canonical Church of Russia. And also, soon after Meletios became Patriarch of Alexandria, he switched that Church to the New Calendar as well.

And we see from recent proposals of the Ecumenical Patriarchate that they have very much the same agenda as the Living Church even today. However, today, they make the Living Church look Traditional by comparison.

In the United States and in the English-speaking Orthodox world generally, we hear many voices from within the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which are supporting homosexuality, openly. The Archons have helped fund an Orthodox institute at Fordham University. The heads of this institute have used this platform to launch a website called “Public Orthodoxy” which regularly promotes homosexuality and other forms of deviancy. And it is not bad enough that they publish this material in English, but they now translate their articles into Russian, Greek, and Serbian. And they do this without the slightest hint of any rebuke from the Greek Archdiocese of America. In fact, whenever they have a big event, Archbishop Demetrios of New York is usually present, adding his authority to that event.

For example, one of the heads of this institute, Aristotle Papanikolaou, in an article in another pro-homosexual journal, The Wheel, wrote that expecting people who suffer from same-sex attraction to remain celibate is “unrealistic” and unhealthy, and that such desires should best be expressed in the context of “long-term committed relationships or marriages” (The Wheel 13/14, Spring/Summer 2018, p. 97 [emphasis added]. See also "Unitarian Morality With a Little "Theosis" Sprinkled on Top," "The Living Church 2.0," and "Cultural Marxism and Public Orthodoxy").

Patriarch Bartholomew’s Archdeacon, Fr. John Chryssavgis, has made a number of pro-homosexual statements. For example, he wrote a review of a book that was a simple piece of pro-homosexual propaganda written by a homosexual Episcopal priest, and he gushed with praise for what a great contribution this book was to the important “dialogue” on homosexuality. The only slight criticism he made of this book was to say that he remained “unconvinced” by some of the book’s arguments that the Scriptures support homosexuality. This is from a man who has no difficulty expressing his disagreement, in eloquent and striking terms… when he wishes to.

Many of you are aware of the call that was made to “Metropolitan” Epifany, by a Russian prankster, who pretend to be a western diplomat, and congratulated him on the “autocephaly” of the Church in Ukraine, but expressed his hope that the Epifany would take a different stand on homosexuality than the conservative one taken by the Russian Church. Epifany assured him that he would not take such a conservative stand against homosexuality.

And what I have noticed, in the English-speaking Orthodox world at least, is that those who promote the acceptance of homosexuality in the Orthodox Church have all lined up behind the EP’s actions in Ukraine.

One other agenda item that I think is clearly behind the EP’s actions in Ukraine is the goal of union with Rome. We already see the schismatics in Ukraine concelebrating with Uniates with increasing frequency. One thing that is certain is that Patriarch Bartholomew’s actions in Ukraine make no sense, if he intends to remain in the Orthodox Church.

Furthermore, there are very strong indications that the United States State Department has had some role in pushing for these actions, but to what extent, or in what form this pressure was applied, we do not yet know.

VI. Where We Seem to be Headed

It does not appear to me to be at all likely that Patriarch Bartholomew will change course. The best-case scenario, that might yet minimize the damage to the Orthodox Church would require very swift and strong stances taken by the other local Orthodox Churches, leading not just to a call for a Pan-Orthodox Council, but to actually holding one, which would formally condemn the EP’s actions. This would have the best chance of forcing the EP to back down from the positions he has taken on Ukraine – but it seems unlikely that he would do so, even then.

If this schism becomes a permanent one, I believe we will see further divisions in other local Churches that will ostensibly be about the schism in Ukraine, but will really be driven by divisions over the moral issues that are really behind the EP’s agenda. I think that the Russian Church Abroad, Antioch, and the Serbian Patriarchate will all remain firm. However, I think the Greek Archdiocese in America and the Orthodox Church in America will likely see a split.

Most of the Greek Archdiocese will probably remain with the Ecumenical Patriarch, because of the financial costs that would come with opposing him. However, there are very Traditional and conservative people in the Greek Archdiocese that will place fidelity to the Tradition over any financial considerations they may have to face.

I think most of the Orthodox Church in America will likely stand with the rest of the Church, but they do have a liberal faction that will likely side with the EP.

I hope that I am wrong, and that this whole question is resolved in the right way soon, and we are all united in the Faith at the end of the day.

I would note in closing that I believe it was providential that the New Calendar Patriarch of Constantinople chose the Old Calendar Feast of St. Maximus the Confessor for the enthronement of the schismatic “Metropolitan of Kiev” – who at least for the time being, observes the Old Calendar. St. Maximus stood firm against a heresy that was motivated by purely political purposes, which was aimed at uniting the Empire with one faith and one Church, but had little concern for the Truth of the Orthodox Faith, and so attempted to compromise that Faith. St. Maximus went to the west, participated in councils that condemned what the Patriarch of Constantinople was doing, and then when he was captured by the emperor, and brought back to Constantinople, he was threatened in every way imaginable to try to force him to accept entering into communion with the heretical Patriarch of Constantinople. They even lied to him, and tried to convince him that all of the Church had now accepted the compromised teachings of the EP, and had entered into communion with Constantinople again. St. Maximus replied:
“Even if the whole universe holds communion with the Patriarch, I will not communicate with him. For I know from the writings of the holy Apostle Paul: the Holy Spirit declares that even the angels would be anathema if they should begin to preach another Gospel, introducing some new teaching.”
"…This is the reason why I, your servant, will not enter into communion with the Church of Constantinople. Let these offenses, introduced by the aforementioned men into the Church, be removed; let those who have introduced them be deposed; and then the path to salvation will be cleared of all barriers, and you will walk on the smooth path of the Gospel, cleansed of all heresy! When I see the Church of Constantinople as she was formerly, then I will enter into communion with her without any exhortation on the part of men. But while there are heretical temptations in her, and while heretics are her bishops, no word or deed will convince me ever to enter into communion with her."
Fortunately, we see many people in Ukraine who like St. Maximus, are willing to suffer the loss of property, and are even being beaten for their Faith. St. Maximus was beaten, and had his tongue cut out, and his right hand cut off to silence him. But when the Sixth Ecumenical Council was convened, it was St. Maximus who was affirmed, and all those who opposed him who were condemned by the Church. So I pray that the Church in Ukraine will stand firm for the Faith, because that is the treasure that I want to preserve, and that I want to pass on to others in the United States.

I also want to thank you, the faithful in Russia, for having stood firm for the Faith in your country, and to thank your ancestors for having brought that Faith to United States so that people like me could come to know that Faith as well.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Sermon: St. Maximus the Confessor and the Schism in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Patriarch Bartholomew applauding themselves for establishing a pseudo-Church in Ukraine.

Click here to listen to a sermon on the feast of St. Maximus the Confessor, which coincided with the "enthronement" of the false Metropolitan of Kiev:


You can also read about how the "enthronement" went today, here:


Thursday, December 27, 2018

What's Going on in Ukraine? Part 2: The Canonical Issues

The Schismatics the Ecumenical Patriarch has Joined With

In order to fully understand the seriousness of the Ecumenical Patriarch's actions in Ukraine, and why they are so reckless, you have to understand who the people are that the EP has decided to join himself to.

Filaret Denisenko, the founder and real leader of this schism, was the former Metropolitan of Kiev who was justly deposed by the Russian Church in the early 90's. He attempted to appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch at that time, and was rebuffed. Patriarch Bartholomew wrote to Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow:
"In response to the corresponding telegram and letter of Your greatly beloved and honorable Beatitude on the problem that has arisen in Your Holy Russian sister Church that led her Holy Synod, for reasons known to her, to the deposition of the until-recently leading member of her Synod, Metropolitan Philaret of Kiev, we desire to fraternally inform Your love, that our Holy Great Church of Christ, recognizing the fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church’s exclusive competence on this issue, synodally accepts the decisions regarding the one in question, not desiring to bring any trouble to Your Church. It is precisely in this spirit that we sent two brothers, His Eminence Metropolitan John of Pergamon and His Grace Bishop Vsevolod of Skopelos, after a visit to us by the one in question who has been deprived of his office, that we could be directly notified firsthand of what had occurred and avoid a misinterpretation in the given case. Consequently, we should note that we were grieved when we learned that there was not a full understanding of the purpose of their mission" (Letter of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia, August 26, 1992, emphasis added).
For an example of how far Filaret is from being worthy of being admitted into the Church, even as a layman in good standing, watch the following video, in which he allows a Psychic kook, by the name of "Gagik Sarkisovich Avakyan," to "bless" him:
And for more, watch this documentary about Filaret and the schism that he established in Ukraine:

See also: The Official History of the Defrocking and Anathematization of Philaret Denisenko: Documents of the June 1992, 1994, and 1997 Bishops’ Councils of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Canons the Ecumenical Patriarch has Violated

The Canons of the Holy Apostles are among the most ancient Canons of the Church, and were specifically endorsed by the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils. Canon 11 of  the Holy Apostles says:
"If anyone who is a clergyman pray in company with a deposed clergyman, he shall be deposed too" (D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 23).
Canon 16, says that if a clergyman is suspended or deposed, and goes to another bishop, and "the Bishop with whom they are associating, admits them as clergymen in defiance of the deprivation prescribed against them, he shall be excommunicated as a teacher of disorder." (Ibid., p. 27).

Canon 28, says: "If any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon, who has been justly deposed from office for proven crimes, should dare to touch the liturgy which had once been put in his hands, let him be cut off from the Church altogether" (Ibid, p. 40). Which is a canon clearly violated by Filaret, which is why he was also anathematized. And when he was anathematized, Patriarch Bartholomew again stated his agreement with the decision:
“Having received notification of the mentioned decision, we informed the hierarchy of our Ecumenical Throne of it and implored them to henceforth have no ecclesial communion with the persons mentioned” (Letter of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia, April 7, 1997).
And this means very clearly that the EP has knowingly joined himself to a justly deposed and anathematized bishop, along with the schism that he established.

The Canons of the Council of Antioch were also specifically affirmed by the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils. The second canon of that council states:
"As for all those persons who enter the church and listen to the sacred Scriptures, but who fail to commune in prayer together and at the same time with the laity, or who shun the participation of the Eucharist, in accordance with some irregularity, we decree that these persons be outcasts from the Church until, after going to confession and exhibiting fruits of repentance and begging forgiveness, they succeed in obtaining a pardon. Furthermore, we decree that communion with those excluded from communion is not allowed, nor in another church is it to be allowed to admit those who have no admittance to another church. If anyone among the Bishops, or Presbyters, or Deacons, or anyone of the Canon, should appear to be communing with those who have been excluded from communion, he too is to be excluded from communion, on the ground of seemingly confusing the Canon of the Church" [Ibid., p 535, emphasis added].
And Canon 4 states:
"If any Bishop, deposed by a Synod, or any Presbyter, or Deacon, deposed by his own Bishop, should dare to perform any act of the liturgy—whether it be the Bishop in accordance with the advancing custom, or the Presbyter, or the Deacon, let it no longer be possible for him to have any hope of reinstatement even in another Synod (or Council), nor let him be allowed to present an apology in his own defense, but, on the contrary, let all of those who even commune with him be cast out of the Church, and especially if after learning about the decision pronounced against the aforesaid, he should dare to commune with them" (Ibid., p 536, emphasis added).
This canon makes it clear that Filaret, by continuing to serve after he was deposed, placed himself beyond the possibility of being reinstated by any subsequent Council. Furthermore, by entering into communion with Filaret, the Ecumenical Patriarch has committed an offense, for which he should be not only deposed, but cast out of the Church entirely.

The Ecumenical Patriarch's Flimsy Canonical Defense

We have already covered the EP's bogus claims to have jurisdiction over Ukraine (see What's Going on in Ukraine? Part 1: The Historical Background), a claim one of his own bishops has dismissed as contrary to history (See: Met. Kallistos (Ware): "I am not at all happy about the position taken by Patriarch Bartholomew"). But the EP claims to have some prerogatives that give him rights to intervene in Ukraine, by virtue of the fact that he is the first bishop in the diptychs of the Orthodox Church, so let's consider whether these claims hold up any better.

Archpriest Andrei Novikov, has made the case, in great detail, as to why the Neo-Papal claims of the EP are without basis, in his essay: The Apotheosis of Eastern Papism, but let me highlight the most important points he makes.

For one, the EP is making claims that closely mirror the claims of the Pope, and if these claims were consistent with Orthodox ecclesiology, one would have to wonder why were weren't still under the Pope of Rome.

The canonical claims that the EP makes based on Canon 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council do not hold up to scrutiny. Canon 9 (Canon 17 has similar wording) of Chalcedon reads:
"If any Clergyman has a dispute with another, let him not leave his own Bishop and resort to secular courts, but let him first submit his case to his own Bishop, or let it be tried by referees chosen by both parties and approved by the Bishop. Let anyone who acts contrary hereto be liable to Canonical penalties. If, on the other hand, a Clergyman has a dispute with his own Bishop, or with some other Bishop, let it be tried by the Synod of the province. But if any Bishop or Clergyman has a dispute with the Metropolitan of the same province, let him apply either to the Exarch of the diocese or to the throne of the imperial capital Constantinople, and let it be tried before him" (Ibid., p 253).
St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain comments on the meaning of this canon:
"So it is evident that the Canon means that if any bishop or clergyman has a dispute or difference with the Metropolitan of an exarchy, let him apply to the Exarch of the diocese; which is the same thing as saying that clergymen and metropolitans subject to the throne of Constantinople must have their case tried either before the Exarch of the diocese in which they are situated, or before the Bishop of Constantinople, as before a Patriarch of their own. It did not say that if any clergyman has a dispute or difference with the Metropolitan of any diocese or parish whatever, they must be tried before the Bishop of Constantinople... That is why Zonaras too says that the Bishop of Constantinople is not necessarily entitled to sit as judge over all Metropolitans, but (only) over those who are judicially subject to him (interpretation of c. XVII of the present 4th C.). And in his interpretation of c. V of Sardica the same authority says: "The Bishop of Constantinople must hear the appeals only of those who are subject to the Bishop of Constantinople, precisely as the Bishop of Rome must hear the appeals only of those who are subject to the Bishop of Rome" (Ibid, p. 253).
If one does not read these canons as St. Nicodemos suggests, it is possible to conclude that Constantinople could have even overruled Rome, something that the pre-Schism Roman church would never have accepted, nor is it likely that any other patriarchate of that time would have either. Within the context of the principle that Constantinople should have "equal prerogatives" to Old Rome, however, this has been interpreted to mean that Constantinople may be the highest court of appeal in the East (in those provinces belonging to his patriarchate) as Rome was in the West.

But even if one were to take this right as being universal, the EP's actions are not supported by the relevant canons. As Petrus Antiochenus points out, since the canons in question are based on the analogous rights that Rome itself had, we should look to how appeals were to be handled by Rome to better understand how they were to be handled by Constantinople, and Canon 5 of the Council of Sardica states:
"It has pleased this Council to decree that if any Bishop be indicted, and the Bishops of the same diocese remove him from his rank, and by way of appeal, he has recourse to the most blessed Bishop of the Church of the Romans, and the latter expresses a desire to hear the matter through and deems that it is right and just for the trial of the case to he reopened, let him write to these Bishops and request those who are close to the province in question to make a searching investigation of the points in the case with due diligence and accuracy, and in accordance with faith in the truth pronounce a decision regarding it. But if any person demands again to have his case heard and sees fit to request that it be tried by the Bishop of the Romans, let the latter send Presbyters from his own flank, in order that he may be in the authority of the Bishop himself. If he rules that it is right and decides that judges ought to be sent to try the case together with the Bishops and to exercise authority derived from the one who sent them, then let this too be done. But if he deems the verdict and decision in regard to the Bishop’s case to be sufficient, let him do whatsoever may seem best to his most prudent sense of discretion" (Ibid., 586).
As can plainly be seen, the right of appeal did not entail Rome arbitrarily overturning the decision of a local Synod, without hearing out all of the parties, and allowing them to participate in the hearings. At no point were any of these steps laid out by this canon followed by Constantinople. No opportunity to testify or present evidence was given to the canonical Church in Ukraine, or to the Russian Church as a whole. Furthermore, Constantinople already had twice rejected the appeal of Filaret.

Only if we grant the Ecumenical Patriarch powers that even the Pope was too ashamed to have claimed, would we be able to say that he has acted justly here. There are no canons which would support the course he has taken in Ukraine.

See also: What's Going on in Ukraine? Part 1: The Historical Background

For more information, See:

Experts on the Constantinople Patriarchate's Scandalous Decisions

The Apotheosis of Eastern Papism, by Archpriest Andrei Novikov

Primacy and Identity (A Response to "First Without Equals" and the Tragedy of Deficient Eccleisiology, by Bishop Irenei (Steenberg)

Can Orthodoxy exist with the Ecumenical Patriarchate? by Petrus Antiochenus

The Decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch is Uncanonical (an Interview with Metropolitan Amfilohija (Radovich) of Montenegro)

The Ecumenical Patriarchate Violated Canon 5 of Sardica in the Filaret Appeal, by Petrus Antiochenus

Friday, November 23, 2018

2019 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar Ready for Order

You can now place your orders for the 2019 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar. In addition to providing liturgical rubrics based on the Jordanville Calendar (Troitskij Pravoslavnij Russkij Kalendar), the calendar also includes a liturgical color chart. The cost is $32.95 Bookstore discounts are available based on the quantity ordered. The Calendar can also be ordered in PDF format. All Calendars are according to the Julian Calendar. To order, and for more information, see: http://www.stinnocentpress.com/products/liturgical_calendar.html

Saturday, October 27, 2018

What's Going on in Ukraine? Part 1: The Historical Background

This is the first in what will be a series of articles, for those of you who may be confused by the complexities involved in the schism over the Ecumenical Patriarch's move to unilaterally establish an autocephalous Church in Ukraine.

Ukraine is not a side story to the history of the Russian Church. The Russian Church began in what is now Ukraine. The Rus' were a Slavic people who were ruled by Vikings, and the result was a Slavic nation with some Nordic elements thrown into the mix. The roots of Christianity go back much further, but the Rus' became a Christian nation in the year 988 after St. Vladimir was first baptized, and then the people were baptized as a group, in the Dnieper River. At that time, the bishops and priests that came to Russia were all Greek, and were under the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Why did Russia become independent of Constantinople? It was not because the Russians were fueled by nationalism, but because Constantinople fell into heresy, and then the Byzantine Empire itself ceased to exist. Surrounded by the Turks, Constantinople appealed for aid from the Latin West. The price of that aid was submission to the Pope, and at the false Council of Florence (1439), the Orthodox delegates, with the exception of St. Mark of Ephesus, were finally bullied into accepting Rome's terms. When Metropolitan Isidore returned to Kiev with the news, both he and the false union were rejected. And so the Russian Church became independent for the simple reason that the Patriarch of Constantinople had become a heretic.

After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, right believing Orthodox bishops were restored to the Church there. The Russian Church remained independent, and in 1588, the four ancient Patriarchs recognized that independence, and raised the Metropolitan of Moscow to the rank of Patriarch, and listed him as fifth in rank, after themselves.

Gramota of the Synod of Constantinople on the founding of the Moscow Patriarchate, May 8, 1590

What complicates this a bit is that this time, Kiev was not under the control of Russia. There had been a series of foreign invasions, and changes of power in the region, and at that time, Ukraine was under Polish rule, and so Constantinople retained its authority over that region. However, Russia was eventually able to reclaim this territory, and ecclesiastical control was ceded by Constantinople to Moscow in 1686. In a Letter sent by Patriarch Dionysius to the Tsar, he agreed to the submission of all the Metropolitans of Kiev to Patriarch of Moscow, saying: “From henceforth and forever more they shall recognize as most senior and first in rank the current Patriarch of Moscow as having received the office of bishop from him...”

The claim that Constantinople retained control over Kiev, and that this was just a temporary "loan" is complete nonsense. In legal theory, there is a concept called "the course of performance." In short, if there is a contract between two entities, and later on, one party claims the other party is not abiding by the contract, one of the ways a judge determines the meaning of a contract is to look at how that agreement has worked out in practice since it went into effect. Prior to the 20th century, the EP never made any mention of having any continuing claim on Kiev or Ukraine. So for nearly three centuries, no one ever seemed to be aware of this notion. Only when opportunities for poaching territory from the Russian Church after the Bolshevik Revolution does this claim first emerge.

We will discuss the more recent history in subsequent articles, but for a detailed series of articles on the history of the Ukrainian Church, see the following by Mother Cornelia (Rees):
An Overview of Orthodoxy in Ukraine: Part 1
An Overview of Orthodoxy in Ukraine: Part 2
An Overview of Orthodoxy in Ukraine: Part 3
The following video also provides a good summary of what is at issue:

What's Going on in Ukraine? Part 2: The Canonical Issues

See also:

Experts on the Constantinople Patriarchate's Scandalous Decisions

Orthodox Encyclopedia Center Publishing Historical Documents on Return of Kiev Metropolis to the Russian Church

An article on the details of the letters of 1686

Statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Concerning the Uncanonical Intervention of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the Canonical Territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, September 14, 2018

Statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Regarding the Encroachment of the Patriarch of Constantinople on the Canonical Territory of the Russian Church, October 15th, 2018

Sermon: The Schism over Ukraine

Monday, October 22, 2018

Sermon: The Schism over Ukraine

Senator John McCain, with the Fake "Patriarch of Kiev" Filaret Denisenko

This sermon was preached on Sunday, October 21st, 2018, and was given to explain to my parishioners why a break in communion has happened between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

It will not be posted on Ancient Faith Radio because they do not want to be perceived as taking a side in this dispute.

Click here to listen.

Here is the text of the sermon (courtesy of Fr. Aidan (Keller), who transcribed it, though I have made some corrections to make the written text a bit easier to read):


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

History is not just something that we read about in textbooks, but it’s something that we are living in. It’s just that we don’t realize it, because we don’t often see huge events happen. But in terms of the history of the Church, we may be in the middle of a very big shift. I hope that in retrospect we look back at this as just a little blip on the radar screen, because the problem is solved very quickly. But as most of you probably know, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, has announced that he’s going to establish an autocephalous church in the Ukraine and he lifted anathemas against schismatic bishops, restored them to their ranks from which they were deposed… and he has absolutely no authority to do that under the canons of the Church.

Now, one bit of solace from history I think that we can take, is that these kinds of things are not new to the Church. We’ve had controversies, we’ve had heresies, we’ve had schisms in the history of the Church, and as long as the Church exists in this fallen world, and as long as it’s inhabited by sinners who live in that fallen world, there are going to be people who will cause such divisions in the Church, and the Church has weathered many storms a lot worse than this one is likely to be.

We just yesterday celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the founding of our parish, and I would much rather be talking to you about where we’ve been as a parish, and where we are going, to mark that great event. But instead I feel like I have to talk about this, because I know many of you have had questions about it, and I want you to understand that when our bishops announced that we will no longer be in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch until this matter is resolved, they did not take this matter lightly.

We have in our parish many people who are from the Ukraine, and I know from talking to you about the politics of the Ukraine that not all of you agree. I don’t know if you’ve talked among yourselves and figured that out, but I certainly have figured it out from talking to you. There are people on various points of the spectrum in terms of how they view what has happened in the Ukraine, particularly in the last several years. But politics is one thing and ecclesiology is another. We’re all entitled to our own political opinions, but we’re not entitled to our own ecclesiology. There’s only one Orthodox ecclesiology. We have a canonical tradition where there is church order that we have to go by. The Russian Church has actually, despite all the accusations that it’s taken political positions in the Ukraine, has tried to refrain from taking any kind of political positions. Some people try to say that Ukraine is a cash cow for the Russian Church. Not one penny of the money that is raised in Ukraine goes to the Church in Russia; it’s just absolutely not true. But Ukraine is not just a part of the Russian Church, Ukraine is the heart of the Russian Church. Ukraine is where the Russian Church began. And I can tell you that the Russian Church Abroad, just to give you an example, is not just a bunch of "Great Russians," to use a phrase, for lack of a better term… it’s not just a bunch of people from the Russian Federation or from backgrounds that connect there, that are picking on poor Ukrainians. Our Church.. the very first primate we had, was Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, who had been the Metropolitan of Kiev. Holy Trinity monastery was founded by monks who came from the Pochaev Lavra. Our own bishop is descended from Don Cossacks, and our current metropolitan is a Ukrainian. I’ve not bothered asking about which bishop has a Ukrainian background, but over the years I’ve learned that many of our bishops have Ukrainian backgrounds that I just assumed were Russians. And, of course, Ukraine is a very diverse country. There are people who speak Russian and really consider themselves Russians, and then there are people who speak Ukrainian and consider themselves Ukrainian. And that’s all fine, and in the Church we can have these kinds of differences. And one other thing that I would say is the day may come when the Church of Ukraine becomes an Autocephalous Church when it’s done the right way, and that may very well be what is God’s will ultimately for the Ukrainian Church. I can’t say; that’s above my pay grade. But it can’t happen this way. This is not how things happen in the Church with any kind of good order.

I could spend a lot of time talking about the history of the Ukrainian Church and its connection with the Russian Church. There are a number of articles online that you can read about that, and I will actually be writing some articles myself on the subject with links to a lot of these texts, so those of you that are interested in the history, will certainly be able to read as much as you want to find that, for more than 300 years – longer than the United States has been an independent nation – the Ukrainian Church has been undeniably and fully part of the Russian Orthodox Church. But I’m not going to spend my time today talking about that, because it would take too long, but what I will talk about, just briefly, is that Patriarch Bartholomew himself knows full well that this is true, and has said so on a number of occasions. When the head of this schismatic group, Philaret Denisenko, was deposed by the Russian Church, for (among other things) having a wife and three children, which is obviously contrary to the canons, but also doing a number of other things that were causing huge problems in the Ukrainian Church, in a letter that Patriarch Bartholomew wrote to then-Patriarch Alexei II, he stated,
"We desire to make known to Your Love, as your brother, that our Holy and Great Church of Christ fully recognizes your Holy Church of Russia has the exclusive jurisdiction in the matter and accepts the Synodical decisions made with respect to [Philaret]" [Letter of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia, August 26, 1992].
Patriarch Irinej of Serbia recently wrote a letter, an open letter, in which he was objecting to what the Ecumenical Patriarch was proposing to do at that point, and in that letter he made a very important point. He said,
"Your All-Holiness, in no way does the desire and intent to offend or to grieve you at all come into our mind, not even indeed briefly. However, we are obliged to remind you both of your promise which was given in Chambesy, Geneva, in the presence of the primates of the Orthodox Churches, in the presence consequently also of our own mediocrity, that you would not intervene in the affairs of the Church of Ukraine" [August 2018 Letter from Serbian Patrairch Irinej to Ecumenical Patriarch Batholomew]. 
And this happened in 2016, at a meeting of all the heads of all the Autocephalous Churches.

As a matter of fact, in a letter that the Russian Holy Synod wrote on September 14, when the patriarch announced his intentions, they made a similar point. They said,
"Meanwhile, earlier, during the Synaxis of the Local Orthodox Churches in Chambésy in January 2016, Patriarch Bartholomew publicly called Metropolitan Onufry the only canonical Primate of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. On the same occasion the Primate of the Church of Constantinople gave a promise that neither during the Council in Crete nor afterwards he would make any attempts to legalize the schism or to grant autocephaly to anybody on a unilateral basis" [Statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Concerning the Uncanonical Intervention of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the Canonical Territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, September 14, 2018].
Even if the Ecumenical Patriarch himself sincerely believed that he had a legitimate claim on Ukraine – which obviously from his past statements we know is not the case… but even if he did, the way he’s dealing with it is not the way to do it. Even if he thought, for example, that the Russian Church was just mismanaging the situation in Ukraine, and that the people in the schismatic, so-called "Autocephalous Church of Ukraine" had some legitimate grievance that needed to be aired, the canonical way for him to deal with it would be to call for a Pan-Orthodox Synod. And some people might say, "Well, how do we know that the Russians would show up?" Well, after he announced what he was going to do, the Russian Church called for such a Pan-Orthodox Synod, as have the heads of several other Autocephalous Churches, so clearly the Russian Church would participate in such a council. But the reason why he doesn’t call such a council is because to date not a single Autocephalous Church outside of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has expressed any support whatsoever for what he’s doing. And several of them have in fact expressed just the opposite – they’ve made it very clear that they condemn what he’s doing.

I’d like to talk a little bit about a few canons that are of relevance here. The Church is built upon the canons of the Ecumenical Councils but there are some very ancient canons that even come before the Ecumenical Councils; among them are the Canons of the Holy Apostles. Canon 11 says,
"If anyone who is a clergyman pray in company with a deposed clergyman, he shall be deposed too" (D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 23).
Canon 16 says that if a bishop admits as a clergyman "in defiance of the deprivation prescribed against [him]" …in other words, if you take a clergyman who’s been deposed, and you accept him as a clergyman, that you’re going to be "excommunicated as a teacher of disorder" [Ibid., p. 27].

And then Canon 35 says:
"A Bishop shall not dare to confer ordinations outside of his own boundaries, in cities and territories not subject to him. If he be proved to have done so against the wishes of those having possession of those cities or territories, let him be deposed, as well as those whom he ordained" [Ibid., p. 52].
And then Canon 2 of the Council of Antioch, which was specifically endorsed by later Ecumenical Councils and so has ecumenical weight, says,
"As for all those persons who enter the church and listen to the sacred Scriptures, but who fail to commune in prayer together and at the same time with the laity, or who shun the participation of the Eucharist, in accordance with some irregularity, we decree that these persons be outcasts from the Church until, after going to confession and exhibiting fruits of repentance and begging forgiveness, they succeed in obtaining a pardon. Furthermore, we decree that communion with those excluded from communion is not allowed, nor in another church is it to be allowed to admit those who have no admittance to another church. If anyone among the Bishops, or Presbyters, or Deacons, or anyone of the Canon, should appear to be communing with those who have been excluded from communion, he too is to be excluded from communion, on the ground of seemingly confusing the Canon of the Church" [Ibid., p 535, emphasis added].
The canons are exceedingly clear that what the Ecumenical Patriarch is doing is wrong, that he has no business doing it. So this is the reason why our bishops have said that they will no longer, until this matter is resolved, concelebrate with clergy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We’ve also been instructed that we are not, even as laymen, to commune in their parishes. Now if there are some extraordinary circumstances, then you’d want to talk with me about that, and we can see. Because we don’t believe that the canons are like land mines. We don’t believe that because the patriarch has violated the canons, that he is therefore already deposed, and that everyone connected with him is already outside of the Church. We don’t believe that. But what we are saying is that that’s where things are headed, if they continue down that path and there is no reconciliation, and no attempt to address the situation and correct it.

Now I, and I’m sure many of you, have many friends among the clergy and the laity that are under the Ecumenical Patriarch, and it really saddens me that we have come to this point, and it’s been a very surreal feeling to be in this situation. And, up until very recently, I was the president of the Orthodox Clergy Association in Houston – that happened to just change (unrelated to this whole thing) in September, and as a consequence of this, as things stand right now, I won’t be able to participate in Clergy Association meetings or on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, if this continues to be a problem, to concelebrate with my brother clergy in the Houston area, and I’m very sad that it’s come to this point. But it’s come to this point because of the actions of people who have chosen to disregard truth, and who have chosen to disregard the canons. And there has to be order in the Church. We have canons for a reason. We don’t have a Pope, for the very simple reason that we don’t believe that Christ ever gave any person any infallibility, or any special powers, to rule the whole Church. Lord Acton famously said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Church has divisions, and it has checks and balances, much like our government (constitutionally at least) has, for a reason. That’s because as long as there are sinners we will have bishops that go astray – and even very prominent bishops. And we have to have the means to correct them, and we can’t have a bishop who doesn’t answer to anybody, who just does whatever he wants, and nobody can question it. We are not in that church. If we were going to be in that church, we would be Roman Catholics… and we’re not, because we don’t believe that that’s true. We don’t find that in church history. And so what we need to do is we need to earnestly pray that this matter will be resolved. I spoke with Vladyka Peter about this and he expressed some hopes that maybe it would be resolved in the not-too-distant future. He may know something about the situation that I don’t know, and I hope that he turns out to be correct. My own more skeptical opinion is that this may not be resolved anytime soon. But we need to pray. We need to pray for a miracle that people will repent and that unity and peace in the Church will be restored. Amen.