EDITOR’S NOTE (Nick Stamatakis): This is the title of a recent book by Metropolitan Nikiforos of Kykkos and Tyllirus, a bishop in the Church of Cyprus. For those of us who know Cyprus, Metropolitan Nikiforos is not simply any bishop but probably the most powerful bishop of Cyprus, some say more powerful than the Archbishop of the autocephalous Church of the island. Why? Not only because the Monastery of Kykkou is the single largest real estate holder in Cyprus, but also because of its position as the keeper of Orthodox tradition. Just one little step below the Monastery of St. Catherine’s in Sinai and the Athos, the Holy Mountain, Kykkos had been the keeper of Orthodoxy in Cyprus and beyond for many centuries… So when its abbot, Metropolitan Nikiforos, speaks, everyone has to listen to his words of wisdom…
And words of wisdom they are, as our friend George Michalopulos explains in Monomakhos.com, in the excellent analysis posted below. Here is the central point of this timely book: “Autocephaly and autonomy are granted by the whole church through a decision of the Ecumenical Council. Since, for various reasons, convening an Ecumenical Council is not possible, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the coordinator of all the Orthodox Churches, grants autocephaly or autonomy, provided that they (the other Orthodox Churches) give their approval”…
WHO SAID THESE WISE WORDS? THE ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH ATHENAGORAS (at a time when it was not politically convenient for him to introduce the current heretic novelties…) In fact, in the run-up for the council in Crete (which was held in 2016), one of Bartholomew’s spokesman (Fr Alex Karloutsos) boldly stated that the issue of Ukraine was not going to be discussed at that council. He went on further to say that Ukraine was an indistinguishable archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox Church…
The Ecclesial Crisis in Ukraine and its Solution According to the Sacred Canons
Recently, we received an advanced copy of a book that addresses the imbroglio which has roiled Orthodoxy over Ukraine. The book is entitled: The Ecclesial Crisis in Ukraine and its Solution According to the Sacred Canons. (Holy Trinity Seminary Press, Jordanville, NY, 2021). Its author is Metropolitan NikifOros of Kykkos and Tyllirus, a bishop in the Church of Cyprus.
It is clear from the author’s pen that this was a book he (hereinafter referred to as “the author”) did not want to write. After the first few pages, I could tell that he would not have done so but for the fact that external events have forced his hand. In his “Preface” he confesses his “anguish” as to whether he should write it in the first place. However, upon realizing that the Orthodox Church is quickly approaching a point of no return, he states his reasons for laying aside his own comfort to pick up the rhetorical sword. As he so eloquently puts it: “In the end, the consciousness of my responsibility and obligation to the unity of the Orthodox Church did not allow me to remain shrewdly neutral, a colorless, indifferent, listless, and complacent bishop.”1
The recent lock-down prompted him into action: “The nearly three months of compulsory isolation, were, for me, the most spiritually fruitful and productive. In situations such as this you justly remember … the old sayings, ‘there is no evil unmixed with good” and ‘from the bitter emerges the sweet’.”2 The crisis in Ukraine is certainly bitter. Yet if this book is any indication, something entirely sweet has indeed emerged. Perhaps a more sane and rational ecclesiology will emerge as well. (With bishops like Nikiforos, we can certainly hope so.)
Speaking for myself, as an avid student of history, this book has opened my eyes more fully to a world that I thought I was more aware of. It also disabused me of some long-held misconceptions. Specifically, the long-held belief that thanks to the Council of Sardica (AD 343), the Pope had universal appellate jurisdiction over the entire Church, a right which devolved onto the Ecumenical Patriarch because of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon).
This is, apparently, a historical fallacy. At the risk of putting the cart before the horse, I learned, much to my chagrin, that the Patriarch of Constantinople does not possess universal appellate jurisdiction (as has long been proclaimed by that See). Even more alarming, neither did the Pope before him. And given the fact that Canon 28 gave exactly the same rights to the Patriarch of Constantinople that it gave to the Pope in Rome; rights which both bishops possessed at the same time(!), therefore, it would have been impossible for both bishops to possess universal appellate jurisdiction.
The requisite canons of Sardica that supposedly ratify papal supremacy in the matter of clerical appeals –specifically Canons 3, 4, and 5–were, in reality, more ambiguous; nobody at that time understood them as such. Certainly, none of the 216 bishops that met in Carthage some seventy years later believed he possessed such authority. This fact of history is so important that the author feels compelled to devote an entire chapter to this historical anomaly.
The controversy in question had to do with a deposed priest named Apiarius. The Council of Carthage was held in 418 to hear the dispute. Apiarius had appealed to Pope Zosimus who sent a delegation to hear his case. The Pope’s legates justified their presence at Carthage based on canons decided by the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325) as a proof-text for their supposed powers, not Sardica(!). Unfortunately for the papal legates, “[t]he African bishops denied the [Pope’s] claimed right to act as supreme arbiter in their churches, and they strictly forbade their clergy from making appeals ‘across the sea’, that is, to Rome.”3
The African bishops were not being rebellious. In a letter written to Zosimus’ successor Boniface, they openly repudiated Zosimus’ earlier claims regarding his appellate jurisdiction. Again, it bears repeating, the intervening Sardican council was not even mentioned. The most they would concede was the Pope had the right to hear appeals from bishops and clerics in his own patriarchate and not in any others. For both Zosimus, as well as the Africans, it was the Nicaean canons that were the point of contention. Zosimus believed they granted him the power to adjudicate inter-diocesan matters while the bishops who were gathered at Carthage looked at those same canons and found no such power emanating from Rome.4
To me, this was startling. Regardless, it stands to reason since Rome did not have universal jurisdiction then (and this was before Chalcedon), then neither could Constantinople now. Especially so, because the text of Canon 28 is “categorical…[T]he patriarch of Constantinople is granted the same rights, neither more nor less, than those of Rome.”5
To the author, the ramifications of these councils and the canons derived from them are not fodder for academic disputes. Nor are they merely historical curiosities worthy of academic papers. As far as the bishops of Classical Antiquity were concerned, they stemmed from intense jealousy for the good order of the Church. This included a fear of papal supremacy.
This fear unfortunately has not abated. As a bishop in the Church of Cyprus, the author is particularly vexed by Constantinople’s novel claims of universal jurisdiction. At the risk of engaging in some inside baseball, he is particularly troubled by Article 81 of his Church’s charter, which was adopted in 2010 and cedes authority to Constantinople for cases involving bishops. In his words, Cyprus “must immediately revoke” this Article.6 Not only because Sardica did not give the Pope this type of authority but because any such concession, no matter how small or rare in application, makes a mockery of the entire concept of autocephaly as Orthodox Christians have understood this concept.
Why this is so should be obvious. An autocephalous church has two hallmarks that make it independent: they are ius ordinandi (the right to ordain her own bishops) and ius iuriandi (the right to judge her own bishops). If a church has only one but not the other, then it is “not autocephalous but subordinate to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of another.”7 Such an “autocephaly” would be a mockery of Orthodox ecclesiology, as it has been practiced for the better part of a millennium. It is nothing less than a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron on the level of married bachelors or chaste prostitutes.
This of course brings us to the crux of the problem regarding not just Ukraine, but other countries as well. Especially countries in which there is an already established Orthodox presence. Boldly put, does the Ecumenical Patriarch have the right to grant autocephaly on his own? As the author points out, he most certainly does not. And he is not being an anti-Constantinopolitan polemicist in saying this. In fact, the author states from the outset of his book that the best evidence he can offer for this argument are the very words of the current Ecumenical Patriarch himself:
“Autocephaly and autonomy are granted by the whole church through a decision of the Ecumenical Council. Since, for various reasons, convening an Ecumenical Council is not possible, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the coordinator of all the Orthodox Churches, grants autocephaly or autonomy, provided that they (the other Orthodox Churches) give their approval (emphases added).”8
One cannot get more categorical than that. This was in fact the opinion of Patriarch Athenagoras as well, who addressed this issue to Patriarch Kirill of Bulgaria many decades earlier.9 Even the most preeminent advisor of the present Ecumenical Patriarch, John Zizioulis, the Metropolitan of Pergamum, in his role as president of the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Conference in Geneva, wrote:
“If the Ecumenical Patriarch secures the consent of the local Autocephalous Churches by obtaining their written consent, he may sign the Patriarchal Tome on his own … if the Ecumenical Patriarch alone signs the Tome of Autocephaly, pan-Orthodox consensus is in no way degraded, as he is acting on what has already been decided. The consent of all the Primates, and naturally, also the Primate of the Mother Church,10 should have been given in advance. The Ecumenical Patriarch has a coordinating ministry, and can express the opinion of all Orthodoxy. And he does this after having communicated with all the other Primates. This has no relation to papal primacy. The Pope expresses his opinion without asking others. The Ecumenical Patriarch seeks to secure the opinion of others and then simply expresses it (emphases added).”11
This argument by Zizioulis is categorical as well. And given the fact that it was crafted during the preparatory meetings which were to underpin the (then) upcoming Great and Holy Council, it bears especial weight. That council had many things on its agenda, not only the consideration of autocephaly and how it is bestowed but how the ecclesial situation in the so-called diaspora was to be ordered. Goodwill was necessary and Zizioulis gave no indication that Constantinople would later muddy the waters or engage in any byzantine obfuscations.
Nor for that matter, did Bartholomew. The primates, acting under his presidency, were eager to address the canonical problems that existed in the Orthodox diaspora. All agreed that the ecclesial situation was chaotic (to say the least). In fact, the mechanism that was worked out for the governance of the thirteen episcopal regions of the Orthodox diaspora12 was unobjectionable by all accounts. Though it dealt with a novel situation, all of the primates adhered to Orthodox ecclesiology as to how these regions were to be ordered. Accordingly, they came up with a formula in which the presidencies for these various Episcopal Assemblies were to be based on the order of the diptychs, not Constantinopolitan supremacism. Even the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), long a sticking point as far as Constantinople was concerned, was allowed entry into the Episcopal Assembly that was crafted for the United States. (Over Bartholomew’s strenuous objections it should be added.)
As to the issue at hand, there is more than one mechanism for granting autocephaly. There is no debate here. One way of doing so is by a decision of an Ecumenical Council. This is in fact the most ideal fashion since the rulings of such councils are binding everywhere and for all time. The other is through a meeting of the primates of the various autocephalous churches and their unanimous consent. A third would be throughout the offices of the Ecumenical Patriarch, who “coordinates” with the other primates in this matter (as mentioned earlier).
At every step of the way, however, three conditions must also be met: first, the eparchy/archdiocese which seeks autocephaly must request it; second, that same body must be canonical; and third, the mother church must be informed and allow it to proceed.
Regrettably, none of these conditions were met regarding the granting of “autocephaly” to the so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church. For reasons that are unclear, the Patriarch of Constantinople agreed to entertain the idea of Ukrainian autocephaly in a most irregular and egregious manner, completely ignoring these three steps. Moreover, there had been no groundswell for autocephaly from the canonical Ukrainian archdiocese itself. Instead, two uncanonical and schismatic bodies petitioned Constantinople for ecclesial relief, purposely ignoring Metropolitan Onuphriy, the primate of that church.
The composition and origin of these two sects were scandalous, to say the least. The head of one of these sects, the so-called Patriarch of Kiev (Filaret Denisenko) was a deposed hierarch and a notorious mountebank. Denisenko had been defrocked by Moscow years earlier primarily because of his questionable personal life. As per normative Orthodox procedure, he appealed directly to Moscow, his mother church for the lifting of his deposition.
The other “primate” Makary Maletich, was self-ordained and if anything, his particular sect was even more scandalous in its origins and composition. To make matters worse, pressure from the American State Department (which had overthrown the democratically elected president of Ukraine in 2014 and installed an anti-Russian puppet) was widely rumored to be working behind the scenes, applying great pressure on Constantinople.
Bartholomew knew this. He himself had earlier refused to hear Filaret’s case, confirming in every respect Moscow’s prerogatives in the matter. More importantly, he, like every other Orthodox primate had long recognized Metropolitan Onufriy of Kiev as the legitimate primate of that eparchy.13 Therefore, in order to make an end-run around this sticking point, Bartholomew ignored history, precedent, canonical order, and his own statements in the matter and declared that the Archdiocese of Kiev was “always” a part of the See of Constantinople. When called out on this, he stated that the earlier Tomos of transfer of 1686 was “conditional”, that Kiev had been ceded to Moscow epitropikos, “under trust”. Others in his employ said that the transfer was invalid because Patriarch Dionysius IV had acted under duress.
This of course was all nonsense. There is simply no evidence for any of these current revisionist arguments. In fact, all of the historical records indicate otherwise. Even those of the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself!14 Indeed, the historical record is so replete with documentary evidence to the contrary that it is ridiculous to assert otherwise. One would look in vain to find any evidence throughout the last three hundred and thirty years which hints at anything to the contrary.
While it is true that Ukraine was annexed by Peter the Great to Russia in 1686, this was not exceptional in the minds of those at the time as Ukraine was long considered to be the homeland of the Russian people. Kiev, in fact, was called the “Mother-City of Holy Rus’”. In the words of the transfer itself, Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysius IV flatly stated “It is hereby granted that this holy Eparchy of Kiev is subject to the Most Holy Patriarchal Throne of the Holy and God-saved city of Muscovy … and they must recognize the Patriarch of Moscow as their elder and head, as they are consecrated to him…”15 To further drive home the point, the author states that since that day in 1686, every “Syntagmatia of an autocephalous church, affirms, beyond any doubt, that this metropolis canonically belongs to that [Russian] church.”16
It is a fool’s errand for the partisans of Constantinople to find evidence to the contrary. Doubtless, they know this as well. In reality, one gets the subtle impression that their entire enterprise is a distraction. Is there is another endgame, one which will create an entirely new paradigm for Orthodoxy and it is for this reason that Constantinople, which itself is a dying patriarchate, is desperate for?
For the author, very real danger lurks. And that danger is nothing less than a looming Orthodox papalism. Even more disturbing is that which is lost in all of this analysis, debate, and argumentation, and that is the most important point of all. The true Head of the Orthodox Church is not a man, whether he be Pope or Ecumenical Patriarch, but Jesus Christ Himself.
Leaving aside the scandalous nature of the two schismatic Ukrainian groups that petitioned for autocephaly, the fears of papalism are all too real. This is especially so given the novel type of “autocephaly” that Bartholomew granted to the schismatic Ukrainian sect two years ago. Buried deep in the entrails of this startling Tomos is the oxymoronic phrase that “the Autocephalous Church in Ukraine knows as its head the most holy Apostolic and Patriarchal Ecumenical Throne, just as the rest of the patriarchs and primates also do.”18 There is no charitable way to put this but to state that it is a brazen untruth. It is in fact historically incompatible with the autocephalies that were granted to every church by Constantinople itself over the last two centuries. The most charitable characterization that the author can do with this absurd assertion is to call it “novel and insipid”.19
And indeed it is.
I must say this is an astonishing book. His Eminence is clearly well-educated and his writing style is anything but pedantic. It is written in a lucid, easy-to-understand style that makes it difficult to put down. Names, dates, places, and contexts come alive and are told in a dispassionate style. As such, his arguments are more compelling. At a little over 120 pages, it can easily be read in one or two sittings. The only reason I was not able to do so is because I literally had to put it down after every other paragraph and highlight relevant passages.
In any event, this book is a worthy polemic that rises to the grievous situation which is embroiling Holy Orthodoxy. I cannot recommend it enough. Whether it will serve as a corrective which will be heeded is another matter entirely. But there is no longer any doubt in my mind about what awaits us if the Ukrainian situation is not resolved.
It should be our fervent prayer that cooler heads prevail in the very near future. His Eminence’s excellent book is a very good place to start, especially for those who are confused by the obfuscations and propaganda that have been put out by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, its partisans in America, and various functionaries in the State Department.
1. p xii.
2. p xiii.
3. p 13.
4. p 33.
5. p 32.
6. p 41.
7. p 44.
8. p 21.
10. The “Mother Church” in this case being the autocephalous church that already has authority over the eparchy or archdiocese which is requesting autocephaly. In the case of Ukraine, said Mother Church is Russia.
11. p 22.
12. The episcopal regions of the Orthodox Churches in the diaspora are as follows: (1) Canada, (2) the United States of America, (3) Latin America, (4) Oceania, (5) Great Britain and Ireland, (6) France, (7) the Benelux countries, (8) Austria, (9) Italy, (10) Switzerland and Lichtenstein, (11) Germany, (12) Scandinavia, and (13) Iberia.
13. In fact, in the run-up for the council in Crete (which was held in 2016), one of Bartholomew’s spokesman (Fr Alex Karloutsos) boldly stated that the issue of Ukraine was not going to be discussed at that council. He went on further to say that Ukraine was an indistinguishable archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox Church.
14. pp 1-10.
15. p 4.
16 . A syntagmation is a list of all dioceses and their order of precedence within the various Orthodox Churches. They are also known as taktika, imerologia, diptycha, etc.
18. p 53.