Written by Vladimir Moss


Modern history began on July 19 / August 1, 1914, the feast of St. Seraphim of Sarov, when Tsar Nicholas II led his empire into war with Germany and Austria in order to defend Orthodox Serbia, which had been unjustly accused of collaboration in the murder of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. The Tsar knew that his armies were not ready for war, and that the war could well lead to revolution and the fall of the Orthodox empire. Nevertheless, in a supreme act of self-sacrifice, the very opposite of Realpolitik, he trusted in Divine Providence to vindicate and reward his act, carried out for the sake of Christian brotherly love.

Nearly one hundred years have passed since that day – a century that has seen the unprecedented collapse of Orthodox Christianity throughout the world. The First World War was followed by the Russian revolution, which was followed by the genocide of the Russian and Serbian peoples in the period 1918-1945, and then the rise of the heresies of Ecumenism, Sergianism and Darwinism, which have reduced those confessing the true faith to a tiny remnant of True Orthodox Churches that have little unity among themselves and therefore limited influence on the world around them. And yet a tiny spark of light has emerged in the prevailing darkness – the prospect of a union between the True Orthodox Churches of Russia and Serbia.

Such a union would be the first positive step towards the reunion of the True Orthodox Churches since 1969, when Metropolitan Philaret of New York, first-hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR), and his Synod restored the hierarchy of the Greek TOC and reunited the two main Greek fractions in communion with themselves. Unfortunately, the union collapsed within a few years. However, something important was demonstrated during this period: the right and the wrong ways in which one TOC can help another. Let us look a little more closely at this earlier failed union.

This was not the first time that the Greek TOC had sought help from a Slavic TOC. From 1924 to 1935, being without bishops, they had received holy chrism smuggled secretly across the border by Bishop Nikolai (Velimirovich) of Ochrid. In 1934 they asked Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), first-hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, to help them in restoring their hierarchy, but were refused. Again, in the early 1950s, when the sole surviving bishop of the Greek TOC, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Florina, refused to ordain bishops on his own, Bishop Nikolai offered to help him as a second consecrator – the offer was refused. Metropolitan Chrysostomos died in 1955, after which the Greeks tried to re-establish their hierarchy through ROCOR’s Archbishop Seraphim of Chicago and again through Archbishop Leonty of Chile – but without the knowledge or consent of the Russian first-hierarch, Metropolitan Anastasy.

This was the wrong way of doing things. The canonical rules governing the relations between Local Autocephalous Churches, such as the Greek and the Russian, are strict: one Church cannot interfere in the internal life of another; one Church cannot “steal” clergy from another, let alone baptize and re-ordain them. And while bishops of one Church can help in the ordination of bishops for the other, it cannot do this stealthily, and without securing the agreement of their first-hierarch…

However, in 1969 the new first-hierarch, Metropolitan Philaret and his Synod, moved by Christian love for the Church that brought Orthodoxy to the Russian land, decided to regularize its canonical situation. St. John Maximovich and Archbishop Averky were particularly prominent in pressing for this. In this way the Greeks were given a lawful hierarchy – and then left to govern themselves without any interference from the Russians.

This was the right way of doing things. Unfortunately, while the Russians scrupulously left the Greeks to themselves, the Greeks decided to interfere in the life of the Church that had given them their episcopate: in 1978 the Greek Archbishop Auxentius, in a totally anticanonical act, took a priest of ROCOR, baptized him and consecrated him to the episcopate of a newly created “Autonomous Church of Portugal”, where he promptly began preaching a rather extreme form of ecumenism. Auxentius’ action was condemned by some of his fellow bishops, and in 1986 he was himself canonically defrocked by a Council of thirteen bishops – but the damage was done.

In February, 2008, bishops of the Russian and Greek TOCs met in the monastery of Lesna in France in order to try and mend fences and restore communion between themselves. It was quickly established that there were no dogmatic differences between the two Churches, and that each Church had a sound apostolic succession. The Russians were hoping that Eucharistic union through a con-celebration of hierarchs could be established during the Sobor of the Russian TOC in Odessa in November, 2008; but the two Greek hierarchs sent to Odessa were not authorized to enter into communion, and quickly returned home… The Russians did not give up. In September, 2009 three of their bishops travelled to Athens, the Greek Synod voted to enter into official communion with them, and a date for the first concelebration was fixed – November 13/26, the namesday of the Greek first-hierarch, Archbishop Chrysostomos (the Russian first-hierarch is Archbishop Tikhon of Omsk). However, Metropolitan Kallinikos of Corinth, who not been present at the meeting, threatened to leave the Greek Synod if this decision was not reversed. To the great sadness of True Orthodox Christians around the world, the Greek Synod (with only one vote against, that of Bishop Photius of Marathon) voted to reverse the decision they had only just made.

Kallinikos’ excuse for sabotaging the union negotiations was the fact that there were a few priests within the Russian TOC who had not received correct threefold immersion baptism. The Russians accepted that threefold immersion was the only correct form of baptism, but pointed out that their present practice in the reception of people from the Moscow Patriarchate was already stricter than that which had been practised by ROCOR – the same Church that had given both the Russian and Greek TOCs their episcopate. But they reserved the right to practise flexibility (oikonomia as opposed to akriveia) in individual cases, and in general insisted on the right of the bishops of each Local Autocephalous Church to make their own decisions on how to receive people from heretical and schismatic jurisdictions. They pointed out that before the revolution the Russian and Greek Churches had been in full communion for centuries in spite of the fact that they had not had identical practices in the reception of Catholics and Protestants. And they saw no reason why the Russian and Greek TOCs should not enter into full communion now in spite of differences in the application of akriveia and oikonomia.

In February, 2011 a meeting took place in Odessa between delegations of the Russian and Greek TOCs, at which a (perhaps surprising) degree of agreement on the issue of akriveia and oikonomia was reached. The Greek delegation agreed with a written presentation of the Russian position, and promised to show it to their Synod for approval. The delegations parted, hoping that they would soon see each other again at a con-celebration between the two Churches in Athens.

However, to this date the Greek Synod has yet to express official agreement with the Russian position, but has stated that both sides need another two years of preparation before con-celebration can take place. The Russians deny this – they have been ready almost from the beginning to enter into communion with the Greeks immediately. Wearily, after three and a half years’ of negotiations, the Russians are beginning to come to the conclusion that the Greeks, in spite of friendly noises, simply do not want to enter into communion with themselves, in spite of the fact that there are no fundamental issues of disagreement between the two Churches…


While these negotiations were continuing, the Russian TOC got to know the small but vigorous Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Serbia, which was temporarily under the omophorion of Metropolitan Kallinikos of the Greek TOC. Frequent exchanges took place between the Russian convent at Lesna in France and the Serbian convent of Novistjenik in the Balkan mountains, and a strong delegation of the Serbian TOC (but no Greek representative) was present at the canonization of Abbess Catherine of Lesna (+1925) in October, 2010. Convinced that they were already one in Christ, the Russians and the Serbs looked forward to the establishment of full Eucharistic communion between the three Autocephalous True Orthodox Churches of Greece, Serbia and Russia.

However, in September, 2010 Archbishop Chrysostomos of Athens, who had been in favour of union, died, and was succeeded by Metropolitan Kallinikos of Corinth. The Serbs were dismayed, for they had been under the omophorion of Metropolitan Kallinikos already for fifteen years, and were convinced from bitter experience that he was no friend of the Serbian TOC, and that his aim was not the establishment of “one happy family” of Local True Orthodox Churches in full communion with each other, but the re-establishment of Greek ecclesiastical hegemony in the Balkans in the spirit of Greek nationalism. The Russians, too, were not happy – and determined that, while they would continue to strive for union with the Greeks, they would not abandon their brother Serbs, whose position in the Greek TOC was becoming increasingly difficult… In particular, the Greeks were deaf to the pleas of the Serbs to have their own bishop: while they grudgingly and with reservations accepted that the Serbs constituted an Autocephalous Church, they were not prepared to grant the Serbs de facto, as opposed to de jure, autocephaly by consecrating a bishop for them. Forgetting that they themselves had received their own episcopate from the Russian Church in 1969, without any subsequent interference by the Russians in the internal affairs of the Greek Church, they now wished to retain a suffocating and harmful control over the Autocephalous Serbian Church…

However, even if the Greeks were suffering from loss of historical memory, and in general showed themselves lacking in the generosity of spirit and universal vision of their great Byzantine ancestors, the Russians and the Serbs were determined not to allow this to hinder their own communion. The sister Slavic TOCs remembered how the sacrifice of Tsar Nicholas II had cemented the unity of their two nations, how the Russian Church Abroad had been born in the cradle of Serbian hospitality, and how the recently canonized Abbess Catherine of Lesna had regenerated women’s monasticism in both the Russian and the Serbian lands. If others chose the path of ecclesiastical nationalism and imperialism, they would choose the path of brotherly love in Christ on the basis of the equal sisterly rights of Autocephalous Local Orthodox Churches.

And so, at its Hierarchical Council in Odessa in June, 2011, the Russian TOC recognized the Autocephaly of the Serbian TOC “insofar as the Serbian TOC is the canonically lawful heir of the Local Serbian Church”, and pledged to help this Church as soon as it had “resolved its administrative relations with the Sacred Hierarchical Synod of the True Orthodox Church of Greece, under whose temporary administrative direction the Serbian TOC now resides”. The question was: What help did the Serbian TOC need, and which the Russian True Orthodox Church was in a position to provide? And: What obstacles were constituted by the present administrative relations between the Serbian and Greek True Orthodox Churches to the provision of this help?


There is no question that what the Serbian TOC needs most of all today is: a truly Orthodox bishop. It has grown in a steady and natural way for the last 16 years in spite of major obstacles from within and without; but its lack of a bishop has held up its progress. And the emergence of a “third force” in Serbian church life, separate from the patriarchate and led by Bishop Artemije, which rejects ecumenism but also rejects the Serbian TOC while remaining part of World Orthodoxy, poses a new and serious threat.

Already Bishop Artemije’s organization, having existed for only a few months, numbers several thousand people. This witnesses to the fact that there is a great spiritual thirst within the Serbian people for a bishop that will fight against the pan-heresy of ecumenism, and against the generally corrupt and worldly state of the official Serbian Patriarchate. But instead of joining the True Orthodox Church, which alone has true apostolic succession and the correct confession of faith, and has no communion with heretics or schismatics, these people have joined a bishop who does not have apostolic confession, who opposes ecumenism on paper but not in deed, and who still recognizes, and is trying to remain in communion with, all the heretical Churches of World Orthodoxy except the Serbian.

There are several reasons for the greater popularity of Bishop Artemije. The first is that the Serbian TOC, unlike Bishop Artemije, insists that the official Serbian Patriarchate, together with the whole of World Orthodoxy, has fallen away from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – a message which the majority of the Serbian people, immersed for so long in the heresies of sergianism and ecumenism, do not yet want to hear. However, the Serbian TOC cannot be criticised for this, but must, on the contrary, be praised for refusing to compromise their confession of faith for the sake of attracting more people.

The second reason is that if the Serbian people see two nominally anti-ecumenist Churches, one of which is headed by a bishop and the other not, they will naturally be drawn to the Church with a bishop. Centuries of experience have shown that a Church needs a bishop if it is to grow. There is therefore a pressing obligation on neighbouring True Orthodox Churches to give the Serbian Church a bishop if they truly want her to grow and prosper.

However, the leadership of the Greek True Orthodox Church has more than once rejected the request of the Serbian True Orthodox to ordain to the episcopate the senior priest in Serbia, Hieroschemamonk Akakije (Stankevic), who has been serving the Serbian flock for the last 16 years, who has received hundreds of people (including all the priests and monastics) into the Church, who has built up two monasteries (one for men and one for women), and who is trusted and admired by the great majority of the Serbian True Orthodox, not to speak of True Orthodox in other countries. The Greek leadership has rejected his candidacy, ostensibly for four reasons. Let us examine each of these in turn.

1. The Serbian flock is supposedly too small. But there is no lower limit to the size of a diocese according to the Holy Canons! The criterion has never been size, but whether the ordination of a bishop for a community would help it to become stronger or not. In any case, in the Early Church dioceses were often very small. Thus in the Roman province of Africa it was normal to have a bishop in every small town. And when the Lord Jesus Christ Himself sent St. Porphyrius to be the Bishop of Gaza, there were fewer True Christians there than there are now in Serbia. Again, the True Church in Constantinople in the late fourth century consisted of one single church ruled over by St. Gregory the Theologian. Nor is this unique to the Early Church. For many centuries and up to the present day the famous monastery of Sinai has been the seat of an Autocephalous Archbishop, although his flock can rarely have exceeded one hundred. Again, St. Nectarius of Optina (+1928) prophesied that the common structure of the True Church in Russia would soon be: “One bishop, one priest, one layman” – which is close to what happened in some places.

Moreover, it should be remembered that we are not talking here about one diocese within a Local Church which can easily be served by bishops from neighbouring dioceses: we are talking about a whole Local Autocephalous Church covering a very large area with a very large potential membership. This brings us to the second objection:

2. The Serbian Church is supposedly not truly Autocephalous because of its lack of a bishop. This argument has an initial plausibility in that, as all Orthodox know, the smallest natural unit of Church organization is a bishop with his flock. A community without a bishop cannot ordain bishops or priests for itself, and so will die out in the long term.

However, we must be careful what conclusions we draw from this undisputed fact. An Autocephalous Church does not lose its autocephaly immediately its episcopate falls away from the True Faith. Otherwise, we should have to conclude that the Patriarchate of Constantinople ceased to be autocephalous in the eighth century when all its bishops became iconoclasts. But nobody thought like that at the time: those priests and laity who remained faithful even while all the bishops apostasized were considered to constitute the Autocephalous Church of Constantinople. Thus St. Nicephorus, the second patriarch of Constantinople after the restoration of Orthodoxy in the patriarchate, wrote: “You know, even if very few remain in Orthodoxy and piety, then it is precisely these that are the Church, and the authority and leadership of the ecclesiastical institutions (     ) remains with them.”

Against this it has been argued (by bishops of the Greek TOC) that since the Serbs accepted Metropolitan Kallinikos of Corinth (now Archbishop of Athens) as their ruling bishop 16 years ago, his will is law for them, and they can neither expect to have another bishop for Serbia if he does not want it, nor look to another True Orthodox Church for help. In fact, the attempt to seek help from any other bishop or Synod of bishops would constitute rebellion against the lawful ruling Bishop of Serbia – in effect, schism. It has even been claimed that Archbishop Kallinikos is now in effect the locum tenens of the Serbian Patriarchal Throne until another bishop can be ordained for the Serbs.

But this idea cannot be sustained from a canonical point of view. The Church of Greece has no canonical jurisdiction in Serbia, and any attempt by a foreign bishop under a foreign Synod to take the place of a Serbian True Orthodox bishop or patriarch would constitute a usurpation of power. He can help Serbian Christians (by providing them with clergy, for example), but he cannot claim jurisdiction over them in anything more than a temporary and limited sense – and so long as the Serbs agree to it. Only an Ecumenical or Pan-Orthodox Council of True Orthodox Churches could give him greater power – by in effect changing the boundaries of the Local Churches and swallowing up the Serbian Church in the Greek Church. While there would be no canonical objection to a Greek national occupying a Serbian see (with, of course, the consent of the Serbian faithful), he could do so only if he ceased to be a member of the Greek Church and became a member of the Serbian Church.

There have been occasions when the autocephaly of a Church has been unilaterally abolished – for example, when the Ecumenical Patriarch abolished the Serbian Patriarchate of Peč in 1766. But this usually took place as a result of a change of political boundaries (for example, the conquest of the Slavic Balkans by a Byzantine emperor), or under pressure from non-Orthodox forces (for example, the Turks). In the case of the abolition of the Serbian Patriarchate by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1766, this was done partly under pressure from the Turks and partly for motives of Greek nationalism; the abolition was flagrantly anti-canonical, and the patriarchate was restored at the first available opportunity.

A few years ago, the extremist Metropolitan Kyrikos of Mesogaia claimed to have jurisdiction over the Catacomb Church of Russia while remaining a bishop of his Greek jurisdiction. The present writer criticized this uncanonical move at the time, writing: “The Kyrikites consider Metropolitan Kyrikos to be the head of the Catacomb Church of Russia. But he is also, at the same time, a bishop (one of the very few) of the True Orthodox Church of Greece! So he belongs at the same time to two autocephalous Churches! But this is clearly anti-canonical!”

So, coming back to the question whether the Serbian TOC can be autocephalous if it has no bishop, we conclude: the de jure autocephaly of the Serbian TOC remains unassailable, even if de facto it cannot exercise its autocephaly because of its lack of a bishop. But this obliges those bishops who have taken it upon themselves to help the Serbian TOC to restore its de facto autocephaly by providing it with a bishop at the first available opportunity. It follows that if they do not fulfill that obligation, but keep the Serbian TOC languishing without a bishop, they must provide a convincing explanation – which brings us to our third objection:

3. The Serbs supposedly do not have a worthy candidate for the episcopate. This is the opinion of the Greek bishops, but decisively not the opinion of the great majority of the Serbian True Orthodox Christians, who are surely in the best position to know who is capable of shepherding them. For the Serbian TOC, Hieroschemamonk Akakije is a worthy candidate, and they have been lobbying for his ordination to the episcopate for several years. Moreover, the Serbian TOC are supported in this opinion by the Russian TOC, who are ready – if administrative relations with the Greek TOC can be resolved – to ordain Fr. Akakije immediately – and then leave him to administer his Church without any interference from themselves.

Although here we enter the realm of personal opinion rather than canonical argument, it will nevertheless be useful to inquire a little more deeply why the Greeks are opposed to Fr. Akakije’s candidacy, and whether the continued administration of the Serbian Church by Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens, first-hierarch of the Greek TOC, is really to the benefit of the Church.

It must be remembered, first of all, that the Synod of the Greek TOC has never ordained a non-Greek to the episcopate. This is in accordance not only with the Greek Church’s centuries-old politics in the Balkans and the Middle East, which has aroused so much resentment and at least one full-blown schism (the Greco-Bulgarian schism of 1872-1945), but also with the personal convictions of Archbishop Kallinikos, who in 1994 declared that the Slavs had “never been good Orthodox”, and who as recently as October, 2009 forced his brother-bishops to reverse an already-taken decision to enter into communion with the TOC of Russia. Recently, Kallinikos has tried to soften the bad impression which that decision caused by declaring that the Church of Christ is one, that in it there is neither Jew nor Greek, and that we should go back to the conditions of the Early Church, when there were no national Churches. And yet his actions belie his words. All the indications are that Kallinikos is aiming at an ecclesiastical re-conquest of the “lost territories” of the Byzantine empire in the Balkans, and that while he is happy to have non-Greeks in the one Church, that “one Church” is for him – the Greek Church.

Apart from the fact that Fr. Akakije is not Greek, there are two other problems with his candidacy, according to the Greeks: his supposed weakness as an administrator, and the fact that there is a small minority in Serbia that is opposed to him.

Fr. Akakije’s supposed weakness as an administrator refers to the fact that he has not registered the Serbian Church as a whole, and only some of its parishes and monasteries, with the Serbian State. In a recent letter to the Serbs by the Greek Holy Synod, particular insistence was placed on legal registration or incorporation, as if this would create better relations with the State and the official Church. But is this in fact the case? In 2005 the patriarchal Bishop Justin petitioned the courts for an order to destroy the True Orthodox women’s monastery of Novistjenik. In spite of the fact that the monastery was not incorporated (it is now), the nuns won their case, which shows that incorporation was not a necessary weapon of defence. In fact, the present writer has been told that property registered in the name of a legal corporation can more easily be seized by the State in Serbia than property registered in the name of a private individual – which is why the Novistjenik monastery remains in the possession of its abbess.

Now the present writer claims no competence whatever in Serbian law, and the previous paragraph may be challenged by someone with better knowledge. But it seems at least prima facie likely that the Serbs should know more about their State and its laws than the Greeks. This is one of the many reasons why the Serbs should have a Serbian bishop with a knowledge of local conditions, which undoubtedly differ from those in Greece.

Moreover, whatever the truth about the legal situation, one thing is sure: whatever the situation of the Serbian TOC from a legal point of view, the Serbian patriarchate will remain in a privileged situation in relation to the State, and bitterly opposed to the TOC “schismatics”. This perniciously intimate relationship between Church and State is created not only by mutually intertwined interests of a worldly (Masonic) nature, with which the Greeks are familiar, but also by the complete submission of the Church to the State created by the “sergianism” of the communist period – of which the Greeks have very little idea. Sergianism, which even now continues to exert a devastating effect on Church life in Russia and all the post-communist States of Eastern Europe, presupposes a far greater penetration of the State and its agents and interests into Church life than is found in the western democracies, including Greece. As a direct result, legalization and incorporation, which in the West help to guarantee the independence of the Church organization, may in the post-communist countries have precisely the opposite effect, making the penetration of the State into Church life deeper and stronger. This is another important reason why the Serbs need, not a Greek bishop living in Greece and occupied almost exclusively with Greek interests, but a Serbian bishop living in Serbia who knows the special particularities and complexities of Serbian life and is devoted to the growth and prosperity of the Serbian Church.

As for the fact that there is a small minority that opposes Fr. Akakije, there have always been malcontents in any church election, and Church history is full of cases when God’s chosen hierarch has been stopped temporarily from receiving ordination out of envy or malice. In the present case, the leading malcontents are all men who owe much to Fr. Akakije, but who, for personal and/or material reasons, do not like his vision of an autocephalous Serbian Church, but wish to remain members of the Greek Church on Serbian soil (an anti-canonical desire, but that does not appear to worry them). One of them has been tempted to leave his parish in Smederevo by a better-paid post serving a Greek parish in Greece. A second, immediately after being baptized and ordained, left the TOC for a schismatic jurisdiction, but has now returned to fill the gap in Smederevo. A third, who is medically unfit to serve at the altar, was nevertheless ordained by Archbishop Kallinikos secretly and without the knowledge or consent of anybody in Serbia (including even the dissident priest in Smederovo). This ordination has been rejected – rightly – as uncanonical by Fr. Akakije and all the priests, monastics and laity loyal to him.

In a way, the solution to this problem is simple: since the malcontents consider themselves to belong to a different Church from Fr. Akakije – to the Greek TOC, not the Serbian TOC, - it would seem logical for them and Fr. Akakije to go their different ways. Let the “Serbian Serbs” have their Serbian bishop, and let the “Greek Serbs” stay with their Greek bishop! But this solution is unacceptable to the Greeks, which brings us to the fourth objection:

4. If the Serbs acquire a bishop from any other source than Archbishop Kallinikos, they will become schismatics, because they would be leaving their ruling bishop. In answering this objection, and for the sake of being able to concentrate more closely on the central question, we shall assume that the TOC of Greece is completely irreproachable from both a dogmatic and a canonical point of view, so that the TOC of Serbia would have no canonical reason for breaking communion with the TOC of Greece…

The central question is: can a bishop – any bishop – rule two dioceses belonging to two different Local Churches at the same time? And the answer, emphatically, is: no. A bishop is not like an apostle, whose jurisdiction is essentially unlimited. A bishop is allowed to function only within the confines of his own diocese, and is not allowed to carve out extra territory in other dioceses. By economy he can be given the temporary jurisdiction of another diocese that has been widowed by the death of its archpastor, or be transferred from one diocese to another. But these economies are legitimate only if done: (a) with the blessing of the Synod of Bishops to which the bishop in question belongs; and (b) within the bounds of a single Local Church.

However, such economies, even within the bounds of a single Local Church, have often aroused fierce opposition because, rightly or wrongly, they have been suspected of being motivated by the love of power. Thus when St. Basil the Great tried to carve out a bishopric in the town of Sasima for his friend St. Gregory the Theologian, he was opposed by Bishop Anthimus of the neighbouring diocese of Tyana – and also by St. Gregory himself. Again, when St. Theodore “the Greek”, Archbishop of Canterbury, tried to divide the huge northern English diocese of York into four dioceses, St. Wilfrid, bishop of York, protested – and his protest was upheld by St. Agatho, Pope of Rome, and a Local Roman Synod. Again, when Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhni-Novgorod tried to transfer St. Joseph of Petrograd from Petrograd to Odessa, St. Joseph opposed him – an act that opened the history of the Russian Catacomb Church.

For a bishop to claim jurisdiction over dioceses in two or more Local Churches is canonically impossible. After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Sultans placed the Ecumenical Patriarch as civil as well as ecclesiastical leader of the whole of the Rum Millet, “the nation of the Romans” – all the Orthodox Christians of all nationalities in the Ottoman Empire. The Christians bowed to force majeure, and accepted it involuntarily – but it was never canonical, and never accepted as such - at any rate by the non-Greek Orthodox. Unfortunately, when an essentially uncanonical situation has been accepted for too long, it becomes habit and acquires its own kind of illegal legality. And so the uncanonical situation, combined with Turkish interference and the nationalisms of the Orthodox peoples, led, as we have seen, to such evils as the Greco-Bulgarian schism of 1872 and the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.

Archbishop Kallinikos has now assembled a vast “portfolio” of dioceses, both Greek and foreign, that is almost unprecedented in the history of the Church. As well as holding on to his diocese of Corinth and Achaia, he is Archbishop of Athens, and ruling bishop throughout Europe and over the scattered parishes in Russia, Georgia and Australia. Even the autonomous Church of America, with its Synod of five bishops, acknowledges him as their “common spiritual father”. Of course, some of these territories, such as Australia, are not Autocephalous Local Churches and so can be considered to be missionary territory and therefore “fair game” for any wandering bishop. However, for a bishop to be considered to be a missionary for a certain territory he must at least make an occasional appearance in the territory and say a few words to the natives…

Now it could be argued that this unprecedented accumulation of ecclesiastical power is not the result of ambition, but rather the inevitable consequences of the divisions between the True Orthodox Churches and the lack of any suitable men to take over some of these territories. Perhaps… And yet several facts make one wonder…

The first is that since, when Kallinikos was only Metropolitan of Achaia, he showed himself woefully incapable or unwilling to fulfill his duties in his non-Greek territories, it seems highly unlikely that he will do a better job now that he is Archbishop of Athens with the inevitable increase in workload that that promotion involves. In Western Europe, for example, the number of parishes of the Greek TOC has been drastically reduced in the last twenty years. The present writer’s own parish in England has not received a single visit, or even a single letter or phone call, from Kallinikos. How can a man who has so shamefully neglected his Western European parishes be allowed to take on yet more responsibilities? Was there no other man in the whole of Greece (we will not speak of candidates from outside Greece!) to be found to lighten his load by becoming Bishop of the much-suffering True Orthodox Christians of Europe?

Secondly, if the divisions between the TOCs are the cause of these “mini-global” ecclesiastical empires, then it is the duty of the True Orthodox bishops to attempt to overcome these divisions. But as we have seen, Kallinikos actually sabotaged the already-achieved union between the TOCs of Greece and Russia. As for Serbia, he has, if not created, at any rate fanned the divisions there…

Let us then return, finally, to Serbia, and summarize our discussion by asking: Do the True Orthodox Christians of Serbia, in view of the refusal of the TOC of Greece to provide them with a Serbian bishop, have the right to seek such a bishop from another True Orthodox Church?

A very striking precedent to the present situation exists in the original creation of the Church of Serbia under St. Sava in the thirteenth century. St. Savva was a priest under the Autocephalous Church of Ohrid, whose Greek Metropolitan, Demetrius, was hostile to the idea of an Autocephalous Church of Serbia. So St. Sava simply bypassed him and went to the Emperor and the Ecumenical Patriarch Manuel in Nicaea. As Fr. Daniel Rogich writes: “Sava… discussed his vision with the Patriarch and Emperor Theodore. At first, the Patriarch was reluctant to grant Sava’s request. Why hadn’t Sava, he thought, petitioned through the Archbishop of Ochrid, who was the immediate jurisdictional authority over the Church of Serbia? But after a careful review of the political and ecclesiastical difficulties in the Balkans – not only in Serbia but also between Nicea and Epirus – this request on the part of Sava began to make perfect sense to both the Patriarch and the Emperor. By granting autonomy to the Church of Serbia, Rome and the West’s attempts to capture the Balkans could be thwarted. Also, the Archbishop of Ochrid [who was loyal to the kingdom of Epirus rather than Nicaea] was becoming too powerful; with independence granted to the Serbs, his power would diminish. The Serbian Orthodox Church, now independent, would remain under the direct jurisdiction of the Patriarchate. (As is well known, the Serbian Orthodox Church did not receive her own Patriarch until over one hundred years later, becoming autocephalous on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1346.) Thus, the situation was quite favorable to all involved. At Patriarch Manuel’s request, Sava was elected to be elevated to Archbishop…”

St. Sava’s consecration was protested by Archbishop Demetrius on the grounds that, as Aristides Papadakis writes, “he did not recognize the legitimacy of the emperor in Nicaea: ‘We have no legitimate empire,’ he wrote to St. Sava, ‘and therefore your ordination lacks legal foundation.’ In the Byzantine understanding of the relations between church and empire, it was understood that the emperor had the right to establish boundaries of ecclesiastical jurisdiction..."

On the death of King Stephen in 1228, his newly-crowned son Radislav called for “a return of the fledgling Serbian Church to the protectorate of the Greek Archbishop of Ochrid.” This would have been disastrous for Orthodoxy in the Balkans, and fortunately did not happen. And so the autocephaly of the Serbian Church came to be recognized as God-willed and God-blessed by all (until 1766) in spite of the fact that St. Sava had left his “ruling bishop” in order to achieve it.

Of course, the parallels between the thirteenth century and today are not exact. Today there is no Orthodox emperor, neither of the Second nor of the Third Rome - and the creation of autocephalous Churches, as we have seen, has usually been the product of political forces and events. Another difference is that when St. Sava left his “ruling bishop” he did not yet belong to an Autocephalous Church of Serbia, whereas the Serbian TOC is already an Autocephalous Church, making her position in canon law still stronger than that of St. Sava.

But the most important lesson that should be drawn from the thirteenth century to the twenty-first century is that the cause of the preservation of the ecclesiastical empires of powerful bishops should not stand in the way of the objective good and spiritual unity of the Orthodox Christian peoples. The Serbian TOC needs not only de jure autocephaly (she already has that, and it cannot be taken away from her), but also de facto autocephaly, together with full Eucharistic communion with the Russian TOC, if she is to fulfil her mission of serving the spiritual needs of the Serbian people and the True Orthodox Church as a whole. It would indeed be a crime before God and His Holy Church – a crime hardly less than that of creating a schism - to attempt to separate those Local Churches whom God has brought together in a true, grace-filled unity of Christian faith and love…

Vladimir Moss.
June 22 / July 5, 2011.
St. Alban, Protomartyr of Britain.

A. Psarev, "Vospominania Arkhiepiskopa Leontia Chilijskago" (Reminiscences of Archbishop Leontius of Chile), Pravoslavnaia Zhizn' (Orthodox Life), May, 1996, pp. 11-12.

In 1620, for example, the Russian Church decided to receive Catholics only by baptism, while the Greeks still received them by chrismation only. On the other hand, in 1756 the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided to receive Catholics only by baptism, while the Russians reverted to oikonomia.

The Greeks claim that the Russians asserted in Odessa that they would have to put the Greek position before their Sobor, which was due to take place in two years’ time. But the Russians assert that this was a misunderstanding. They never accepted the Greek position on oikonomia, and said only that if they were ever to consider changing their own position in order to bring it into accord with the Greeks’, the matter would have to go before a Sobor of the whole Russian TOC.


St. Nicephorus, Apologeticus Minor, 8, P.G. 100, 844 D.

See my article, “The Branch and Monolith Theories of the Church”, in The Mystery of the Church, Appendix VII, http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/downloads/304_THE_MYSTERY_OF_THE CHURCH.

See Fr. A. Lebedev, “Russkij serbu brat vovek?” (Is the Russian the Serb’s brother forever?), http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=news&id=85004, July 1, 2011.

St. Basil the Great, Letter 210, 5; St. Gregory the Theologian, Sermon 43, Letter 31.

Eddius Stephanus, Vita Wilfridi.

M.S. Sakharov, L.E. Sikorskaia, Sviaschennomuchenik Iosif, Mitropolit Petrogradskij. Zhizneopisanie i Trudy (Hieromartyr Joseph, Metropolitan of Petrograd. Life and Works), St. Petersburg, 2006, p. 114.

Rogich, Serbian Patericon, Forestville, CA: St. Paisius Abbey Press, volume I, 1994, pp. 86-88. Manuel’s decree granting autonomy to the Serbian Church read as follows: “I, Manuel, the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of the City of Constantinople, New Rome, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, have consecrated Sava, Archbishop of all the Serbian lands, and have given him in God’s name the authority to consecrate bishops, priests, and deacons within his country; to bind and loose sins of men, and to teach all and to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all you Orthodox Christians, obey him as you have obeyed me” (Rogich, op. cit., p. 90).

Papadakis, The Orthodox East and the Rise of the Papacy, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994, p. 255.

Rogich, op. cit., pp. 92-93.

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