The preservation of the unity of the Universal Orthodoxy and peaceful witness to the Gospel of Christ by the Local Orthodox Churches demand that firm standards in relations among them as set out in the canons of the Holy Apostles, the holy Ecumenical and Local Councils and by the holy fathers of the Church be observed.
The holy canons ordain in particular that 'the privileges of the Churches should be preserved' (Canon 6 of the First Ecumenical Council) and caution 'that none of the bishops who are most beloved by God should extend their authority to another diocese, which has not previously and from the beginning been under them or their predecessors' (Canon 8 of the Third Ecumenical Council). In the same canon the fathers of the Third Ecumenical Council characterized a violation of this basic canonical principle as 'a novelty, introduced contrary to the resolutions of the Church and the canons of the Holy Apostles, encroaching on the freedom of all.' For this reason they indicated that if thereafter anyone 'should put forward a resolution conflicting with this, let it now be decreed to be invalid, as is pleasing to the whole Holy and Ecumenical Council.'
Meanwhile, according to the release circulated by the Secretariat of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople that was confirmed later by the letter of His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the former Bishop of Sergievo Basil recently dismissed from administering the Diocese of Sourozh of the Moscow Patriarchate, was received into the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on 8 June this year. As was reported, His Grace Basil was elected assistant bishop to Archbishop Gabriel of Comana with the title of Bishop of Amphipolis, and received into the Western European Exarchate of Orthodox Parishes of the Russian Tradition under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
On the strength of the aforementioned definition of the Ecumenical Council, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church considers this decision as null and void and contradictory to the holy canons. Bishop Basil remains in the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate and the decision on his further status is the prerogative of the holy authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church.
At the same time, such an unconcealed non-brotherly act of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople towards the Russian Orthodox Church clearly endangers the unity of the Holy Churches of God and undermines the canonical foundations of their relationship. By its decision the Holy Church of Constantinople, contrary to many definitions of the Councils (canon 6 of the First Ecumenical Council, canon 2 of the Second Ecumenical Council, canon 8 of the Third Ecumenical Council, canon III of the Council of Sardica), exercised arrogance in usurping the right to interfere into internal affairs of other Local Churches. The developments testify to the glaring discrepancy between the current actions of the Throne of Constantinople and Orthodox ecclesiology and the canonical tradition of the Universal Church, as well as to an extremely dangerous darkening of canonical consciousness.
The Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople refers to canons 9, 17 and 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council to substantiate its decision. However, this reference is obviously wrong and implies the uncanonical and contrary to the spirit of canons reinterpretation.
The above-mentioned canons of the Council of Chalcedon by no means grant His Holiness the Patriarch of Constantinople the right to intrude in the affairs of other Local Churches and, in particular, to take into its jurisdiction a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church without a dismissorial letter, as is stipulated by the holy canons (Apostolic canon 33; canon 32 of the Council of Carthage).
The true meaning of canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which indicate a possibility of a legal appeal to 'the Throne of Imperial Constantinople,' is convincingly explained in the 'Pedalion' of St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, which is accepted in the code of canons of the Church of Constantinople: 'The Patriarch of Constantinople does not have authority to act in the dioceses and territories of other Patriarchs... The Patriarch of Constantinople is... the judge of the metropolitans subordinate to him, but not of those subordinate to other Patriarchs, because only an Ecumenical Council, and none other, is the final and universal judge of all Patriarchs.'
An authoritative Byzantine commentator John Zonaras, while interpreting canon 17 of the Council of Chalcedon, emphasizes: ‘The Patriarch of Constantinople is not the judge of all metropolitans without exception, but only of those subordinate to him. He cannot take metropolitans of Syria, Palestine, Phoenicia or Egypt to his court against their will; as metropolitans of Syria are subject to the trial by the Patriarch of Antioch, the Palestinians - to the trial by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the Egyptians must be tried by the Patriarch of Alexandria, as these Patriarchs consecrated them and to them they are subordinate.’
In the case of Bishop Basil a legal appeal was completely out of the question, as the holy authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church have not considered his case in a legal form. When the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople took its decision, the case of Bishop Basil was being looked into by a special commission authorized by the highest church authority of the Moscow Patriarchate to hold an enquiry into the reasons of the crisis in the diocese administered by His Grace Bishop Basil.
Nonetheless, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople had deemed it possible to pass a resolution before the Russian Orthodox Church considered the matter, acting without thorough enquiry into it and hearing no witnesses, without applying to the holy authorities of the Moscow Patriarchate and even without notifying them of the action.
As to Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon, it is necessary to recall that it concerns only certain regions, the borders of which limit the Patriarch of Constantinople’s authority over the bishops 'of the barbarians.' A concept that the authority of the Throne of Constantinople is extended to all territories that are not part of one or other Local Church is a new and unrecognized by the Plenitude of the Orthodox Church interpretation of the canon. Since the appearance of this interpretation, its implementation has frequently led to many grave disorders in relations between the Local Orthodox Churches to the detriment of the unity of the world Orthodoxy. The Russian Orthodox Church has repeatedly called upon all Autocephalous Orthodox Churches to consider this earlier unheard of teaching at a Pan-Orthodox Council. Yet regretfully, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, without waiting for the solution of the matter by the Plenitude of the Orthodox Church, has now extended its claims even further. In his letter to His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, No. 61 dated 8 June 2006, concerning Bishop Basil (Osborne), His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, referring to a particular above-mentioned interpretation of canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon, asserts that the Patriarchate of Constantinople 'at present restricts its implementation to the cases when representatives of the diaspora ask of their own free will to be accepted into the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Throne.' Thus it is stated that not only His Grace Bishop Basil, but any hierarch or cleric, living beyond geographical borders of his Local Church, can be received into the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople unbeknown to the hierarchs who consecrated him, without a dismissorial letter and his holy authorities’ permission.
We are convinced that acts like these, which frustrate mutual trust and undermine peace and common witness of the Local Churches, open up the way to further abuses that could lead to catastrophic consequences for the Orthodox unity.
Instead of being the first in fraternal love and safeguarding church canons, the Church of Constantinople, which takes first place in the holy diptychs, has become Bishop Basil’s accomplice in violating them. Bishop Basil was not afraid of violating the generally accepted norms of canon law (canon 23 of the Holy Apostles, canon 22 of the Council of Carthage, canons 14 and 15 of the Double Council of Constantinople), thus breaking his oath of obedience to the Holy Synod taken at his episcopal consecration. Moreover, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has actually declared its willingness to act in a similar way in the future that could aggravate the highly dangerous ecclesiological disorders.
Therefore, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church resolutely repudiates the uncanonical resolution passed by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on July 8 this year and with profound regret draws the attention of the Orthodox Plenitude to it. We expect effective moves on the part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople for redressing negative consequences of this decision and also the renunciation of similar acts in the future.
The Holy Synod calls His Grace Bishop Basil to bring his repentance without which his further ministry to the Church is impossible. Should Bishop Basil fail to repent, the appropriate resolution of the ecclesiastical court may be passed.
Being aware of our common responsibility for preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3), we call upon our brothers in Christ the Saviour to restore justice and love, 'that we may not be seen to bring the smoke of arrogance of the world into the Church of Christ, which brings the light of simplicity and the daylight of humility of mind to those who wish to see God' (The Epistle of the African Council to the Pope of Rome Celestine).
July 19, 2006