Patriarch Irenej of Serbia
Open Letter from Religious Security Centre, which Manages Internet Project Cerkvarium, to Patriarch Irinej and Council of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church
To Archbishop of Pech,
Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovac
To the Holy Council of
Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church
With deep chagrin and pain, Ukrainian believers perceive the negative position of the Holy Council of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church as a whole, and yours in particular, regarding the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
For 27 years, Ukrainian Orthodoxy has been in a state of deepest crisis, being divided because of the selfish ambitions of the Russian Church, which seeks pan-Orthodox domination. And all these years, the Russian Church has not advanced a single step towards ending a mutual schism. Moreover, His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill stated that the borders of the Russian Church were inviolable, thus completely puzzling any attempts to resolve the Ukrainian canonical anomaly.
But as soon as His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew took it upon himself to resolve this canonical anomaly and return millions of Ukrainians to the communion of the church, he was accused of all sorts of sins. Unfortunately, your Beatitude and some of your bishops have joined this.
You accuse the Ecumenical Patriarch of allegedly interfering into the affairs of another Local Church by giving autocephaly to Ukraine. But this year you solemnly celebrate the 800th anniversary of your own, Serbian autocephaly, which was given by the Ecumenical Patriarch, despite the fact that the Serbian lands were in the canonical jurisdiction of the Ohrid Archbishop Demetrios (Chomatianos), who protested against it. You honor the first autocephalous Serbian Archbishop Sava (Nemanjić) as a saint. So why, in similar situation in Ukraine, do you support the protesters, not the requesters? You yourself have come a painful way of gaining church independence? Can your sympathy be overshadowed by momentary, political factors?
You say that it is impossible to accept in communion those who have been excommunicated by anathema. But weren’t your eminent predecessors excommunicated by anathema and later accepted to church communion? We will remind that for the unauthorized proclamation of the patriarchy, the Ecumenical Patriarch Calliste anathemized King Stephan Dušan, the Patriarch of Pech Joanikije II and all Serbian clergy. But after 29 years, the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognized the Serbian autocephaly and removed the anathema. Same way as it was in Ukraine. 27 years after the establishment of the Kyiv Patriarchate, the Ecumenical Patriarch recognized the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine, moreover in the status of a metropolis. You were recognized in the status of patriarchate, i.e. in a more privileged position than us, and while you condemn us?
You argue that it is impossible to accept into communion those who were ordained in schism. But didn’t, your blessed memory predecessor, in 1991 accepted in the communion Bishop Irinej (Kovacevic), who had been ordained by representatives of the then unrecognized Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. We would remind that he was accepted without repeated cheirotonia, which means they recognized the consecration performed in the UAOC. And you, Your Beatitude, should be well aware of this, because at that time you were part of the commission that negotiated the recognition of the schismatics without additional ordinations, i.e. the same way Ukrainian bishops from previously unrecognized jurisdictions were recognized.
You say that the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church is not a canonical question, but a political one. However, can you give examples when the establishment of autocephaly after the Ecumenical Councils was not influenced by political processes?
In 1878, according to the Berlin Treaty, Serbia gained political independence, and in 1879, the Patriarch of Constantinople Joachim III issued a charter, by which he recognized also the autocephaly of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The charter read, in particular, that “In view of the fact that pious and God-preserved Serbia gained political independence and that pious, God-approved, graceful prince and its sovereign Milan Obrenović IV and His Grace, Archbishop of Belgrade and Metropolitan of Serbia, Mr. Michael, on behalf of honest clergy and pious people turned to us with letters and, in accordance with political independence, wished church independence as well, our humility, along with our Holy Synod of Grace Metropolitans, our fellow brothers in Holy Spirit and concelebrators, gathered … and, by the will of the Holy Spirit, they found that their request was pertinent and agreed with the holy rules and church practices. Therefore, by the same Synodal Act, we recognize and proclaim the Serbian Church as our spiritual sister, and instruct all Orthodox Churches to recognize her as such and commemorate her with the name “Holy, Independent Church of the Principality of Serbia”. You received autocephaly a year after gaining political independence, and we waited for this event for 27 years, and you condemn us for it?
You have repeatedly stated that the provision of autocephaly should occur according to the canons. Could you please clarify what exactly canons, of which Council? If we are talking about the procedure that was agreed by all the Churches before the Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete in 2016, then it was not finally adopted and approved precisely because of the absence of the Russian Church. Therefore, for the present moment there exists an “old order” according to which it is Constantinople that can independently solve such problems.
You assert that secular authorities of Ukraine have no right to interfere into church matters. But did not your king Stephen Dušan, being a secular ruler, arbitrarily convene a church council in 1346 and unilaterally proclaim the patriarchal status to the Pech archdiocese? Don’t you consider him a national hero? So why don’t you allow us things that you allow yourself?
You so consistently criticize the intervention of politicians into church affairs, bearing in mind the appeals of the President and the Parliament of Ukraine to the Ecumenical Patriarch, but you have never criticized the actions of the President and the Government of Russia. Not when he legalized schismatics from the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 2007, nor when some of the territories were taken from your church. The latter occurred in the middle of the twentieth century. After World War II and the creation of the Warsaw Pact, when you under pressure from the USSR were forced to abandon jurisdiction over Czechoslovakia, and there exist official documents about the fact: the resolution of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church of May 15, 1948. Do you feel a sense of pain and national humiliation because you support those who themselves took part of your canonical territory from you?
You express special gratitude to Russia for your liberation from the Ottoman yoke. But we want to remind you that Ukrainians fought as part of the army of the Russian Empire. In the Russian-Turkish wars, when Serbia was liberated, participated Volynsky, Kyivsky, Tauriysky, Malorossiysky, Sumsky, Ekaterinoslavsky, Kharkovsky, Mariupolsky, Podolsky, Zhytomyrsky, Lubenskiy, Galitsky, Bugsky, Putivlsky, Chuguevsky, Izyumsky, Azovsky, Dniprovsky, Ukrainsky, Odessky, Khersonsky, Akhtyrsky and Nezhinsky regiments in which ethnic Ukrainians fought. Our ancestors gave their lives for the liberation of your country, and you do not even mention them, giving all the glory and gratitude to Russia, which is still killing Ukrainians in their own land in the Donbas. By the way, the modern Russian Federation is not officially the legal successor of the Russian Empire, therefore there are no legal grounds for any monopoly claims of Moscow for these feats.
In addition, the deep reasons for the start of the Russian-Turkish war were by no means the noble motives of Russia to help the Slav brothers free themselves from the Ottoman yoke. But rather a revenge for the defeat in the Crimean War. The situation in Serbia in this large geopolitical game became only a bargaining chip and the motive for Russia’s invasion of the Balkans, and not the real reason for it.
You assert that Ukraine is the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church. But don’t you know that the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, recognized by the Council of the Eastern Patriarchs, covered only the northern territories that belonged to the Moscow tsar as of 1593, and the Kyiv Metropolis was not included into these territories? Recently, the archbishop of your church, Archbishop Jovan (Vraniškovski), confirmed this, stating that Serbia has Tomos for Macedonia, and the Russian Orthodox Church does not have any for Ukraine.
You declare that the Ukrainian question should be solved only by the Russian Church, but how can we expect recognition of independence for our church from the occupier, who annexed a part of our territories? The pain of the annexation of the Crimea is commensurate with your pain about Kosovo and Metohija. Who else can understand us? Can you imagine that the question of your autocephaly would be decided by the Albanian church? But this is what you demand from us.
Many believe that one of the reasons for the loyalty of the Serbian church to Russia is the enormous financial support from this state, including the construction of the largest cathedral in the Balkans – the church of St. Sava in Belgrade. But is it possible to sell Christian conscience and canonical justice for the temple? Many people wonder why a Serbian church has such a big temple, which it cannot build by its own efforts? How can you preach about the humility and the sin of vanity, and at the same time enter into a huge unpaid debt to Russia, trying to demonstrate fragile greatness at someone else’s expense? Is it not a pride?
The story of your Holy Church is rich in various controversial episodes. We do not blame you for this, we understand everything and with due Orthodox humility accept these pages of history. We only want you to treat us with patience and understanding and did not demand from us what you yourself couldn’t do in your time. Is this not slyness, is this not a violation of the precepts of our Lord Jesus Christ?
The only possible way out of such an unpleasant situation may be the recognition by your Holy Church of its newborn sister – the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, headed by His Beatitude, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Epiphanius.
Being loyal to the Supreme Bishop
Our Lord Jesus Christ,
We offer our prayers to Him for you and your people,
with fraternal Christian love,
Dmytro Horyevoy and Tetyana Derkatch
Non-government organization “Religious Security Center”,