Saturday, October 27, 2018

Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos Weighs in on the Division Between Constantinople and Moscow


By George P. Terzes

The tension in the relations between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow concerning the Church in Ukraine, a country that is in fact in the neighborhood of Russia, is perhaps the most contemporary example of how the balance or change of powers in the geopolitical chessboard also effects ecclesiastical developments.

For the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou, Hierotheos, an experienced hierarch, all that is happening is likened to an earthquake: "Seismologists in an earthquake talk about a rupture and seismic vibrations and expect their evolution. Something like that is happening in this case too."

The 73 year old hierarch is well acquainted with the "synodical and hierarchical structure of the Church," which is clearly distinguished from "papal primacy" and "protestant denominations."

So what is happening between the Phanar and Moscow, after the latter's decision to cut off ecclesiastical communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

"Some call it a schism, others a rift or a rupture. The truth is that it is a division of ecclesiastical communion, which began with the Patriarchate of Russia. In the canonical tradition of the Church, there is a difference between heresy and schism. Heresy is a deduction of dogmatic truth, while a schism is a 'division of views' over ecclesiastical matters and 'curable issues.' But both are a division of unity," said the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos for 23 years.

Throughout our discussion, his analysis is clear in regards to the historical pursuit of the Patriarchate of Moscow to challenge the primacy of Constantinople.

From this point of view, he also attempts to explain that what has been happening lately has roots that go back centuries.

"The canons of the Church were not established to be 'cannons' to be used against others, but to form the unity of the Church and bring healing to the faithful. Therefore, in the canons we must see their spirit, their inner depth, and not remain according to the letter which kills. It is always a matter of interpretation as a whole," explains Mr. Hierotheos.

"In the specific case of Ukraine, we have to look at the canons from two perspectives. The first is, as we said earlier, that the structure of the Church is synodical and hierarchical, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the First Throne of the Church that presides and has increased responsibilities, which must not be denied and undermined by anyone. Otherwise each autocephalous becomes 'kakocephalous' [senseless] and potentially 'xerocephalous' [stubborn]. The second condition is that the Church of Ukraine is torn apart by schisms, divisions and rivalries and something must be done for the unity of the Church. This is why the Ecumenical Patriarchate must neither be indifferent nor undermine its role," he explains, adding: "The Ecumenical Patriarchate moves within ecclesiastical and canonical norms."

Metropolitan Hierotheos, who has an impressive writing production, with 96 books of which 78 have been translated into 24 languages, explained the origin of his reasoning in regards to the historical background of the current crisis.

"It lies, first of all, in the theory regarding the 'Third Rome,' which says that after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 Moscow became the 'Third Rome.' But this is not the case, because historically there existed an Old Rome and a New Rome and not a First Rome and a Second Rome. Since therefore there was never a Second Rome, a Third Rome cannot exist."

The second point was in 2016 at the Synod of Crete, where there should have been a decision on how to grant autocephaly, which would have also provided for the assent of the "mother" Church, in this case being Moscow for Ukraine.

However, as Mr. Hierotheos explains, "Although the relevant text was being prepared, it was undermined by the Church of Russia, which took the side of the Slavic Orthodox Churches."

Throughout our conversation, Metropolitan Hierotheos sought to keep our conversation within ecclesiastical boundaries, even when I put forward the aspects of the obvious geopolitical tensions, but also the personal dimension that may exist behind the decision of one side or the other.

"I think it is primarily an eccelesiastical problem, which began at the Synod of Ferrara-Florence in 1438-1439 (from which began the pursuit of Moscow to become a new center of Orthodoxy) and went up to the Synod at Crete."

He adds: "Because the Church walks through history and not outside of it, this is why ecclesiastical matters sometimes involve historical and political events, perhaps also personal ones. We ecclesiastics must view this crisis from an ecclesiastical perspective, that the Orthodox Churches are expressed externally as Greek-speaking, Slavic-speaking and Arabic-speaking, and we must look for the unity of the Church, eliminating ethnophyletism. This is why no one can ignore the Ecumenical Patriarchate as the First Throne of the Church."

In closing our conversation, I cannot help asking where, in this intense confrontation, is the spirit of love that the Church exhorts?

"The Church can be characterized with the image of the sea. On the surface there are many waves that often show the sea to be wild, but at its depth there is calmness. Divers who enter the depths of the sea admire its beauty. Whoever wishes to behold the beauty of the Church, let them look a little deeply. There they will encounter not only emotional love, but divine eros."

Source: Kathimerini, 26 October 2018. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.


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