TEN QUESTIONS ON THE ORDINATION OF BISHOP AKAKIJE

Written by Vladimir Moss

TEN QUESTIONS ON THE ORDINATION OF BISHOP AKAKIJE OF SERBIA

     Question 1: Is Bishop Akakije, who has recently been ordained by Russian bishops, the choice of the great majority of the Serbian True Orthodox flock?

     Answer: Yes. Although the rumour has been spread that Bishop Akakije’s supporters are no more than about 50, about the same number as his opponents, the truth is that he has far more followers than that, as anyone who attended any of the major feasts of the Serbian Church in the summer of 2011 will testify.

     Question 2: Is the relative smallness of his flock a canonical obstacle to his ordination?

     Answer: No. There is no lower limit to the size of a canonical diocese, and there are many historical examples of dioceses smaller than Bishop Akakije’s. It should be remembered that on the Day of Pentecost the flock of the Bishop of bishops, the Lord Jesus Christ, numbered only 120. “Fear not, little flock…”

     Question 3: Have any canonical obstacles relating to morality been raised against his candidacy? Have any of these been substantiated?

     Answer: No. Many wild accusations have been made against Bishop Akakije by his enemies inside and outside Serbia. However, nobody has publicly called for a canonical investigation and trial of him for any of these, and nobody having more than a chance acquaintance with Bishop Akakije gives them any credence. It should be pointed out that the man who gave Bishop Akakije the schema, Igumen Philaret of Boeotia in Greece, has publicly approved of his ordination, saying: “Axios!”

     From outside Serbia, certain hierarchs of the True Orthodox Church of Greece have accused Bishop Akakije of falling under the influence of a certain True Orthodox Englishman, Vladimir Moss, who does not speak Serbian and who before the ordination had spent very little time in Serbia. Taking up this hint, Bishop Akakije’s enemies inside Serbia have called Moss a Jew (nickname: “Mossad”), and accused him of orchestrating the schism in Serbia and the whole campaign for Bishop Akakije’s ordination from behind the scenes. As well as being factually false and chronologically impossible, this accusation insults the Serbian True Orthodox flock – as if they needed a foreigner to remind them that a Serbian bishop is necessary in order to resurrect the Serbian Church and save Serbian souls!

     Question 4: Is there any basis for the claim by the Holy Synod of the True Orthodox Church of Greece that Bishop Akakije’s ordination is uncanonical, and that he and his flock are schismatics?

     Answer: No. In order to become a schismatic, a man must either break communion with the Church and/or enter into communion with schismatics. Bishop Akakije has done neither. His withdrawal from the temporary administrative protection of the Greek True Orthodox Church without breaking Eucharistic communion with them did not constitute a schism. Administrative divisions are normal in the Orthodox Church. Every Local Church is administratively divided from every other Local Church while all the Local Churches remain in Eucharistic communion with each other. The Serbian True Orthodox Church is one Local Church, while the Greek True Orthodox Church is another. At first, the Greek hierarchs denied that the Serbs constituted a separate Local Church, insisting that Fr. Akakije and his followers were members of the Greek True Orthodox Church. But recently they have withdrawn this claim, addressing their small flock in Serbia that has separated from Bishop Akakije as “the Serbian True Orthodox Church”. If these Serbs constitute the Serbian True Orthodox Church, then they cannot at the same time be members of the Greek True Orthodox Church. And if they are not members of the Greek True Orthodox Church, then they should, from a canonical point of view, be administratively divided from it…

     The Greeks maintain that in ordaining Bishop Akakije for Serbia the Russian True Orthodox hierarchs acted uncanonically, because they violated their – the Greeks’ – canonical rights in Serbia. But the territory of the Local Church of Serbia has never been the canonical territory of the Local Church of Greece. The Church of Greece has precisely the same canonical rights in Serbia as the Church of Russia – that is, none, zero. Both the Greeks and the Russians are permitted to help the Serbs, if asked by them, in the ordination of priests and bishops, and in the provision of church utensils and antimensia, etc. But neither Church has the canonical right to exercise a permanent authority over the Serbian True Orthodox, or to forbid other Churches from giving help to them.

     Looking at the matter in greater depth, we must conclude that Bishop Akakije has in fact saved his flock from schism by entering into union with the Russians. For in October, 2009 the Greek Church reversed a decision it had made only a few days before to enter into communion with the Russian Church. This reversal, forced on the Greeks by Metropolitan, now Archbishop Kallinikos, had no canonical justification and formally speaking created a schism between the Greeks and Russians. (The Russians, hoping for a reversal of the reversal, diplomatically did not point this out.) But Bishop Akakije has now acted to save his flock from this canonical impasse...     

     Question 5: Do Bishop Akakije’s Serbian opponents include any distinguished person who would have been a better candidate for the episcopate?

     Answer: No. All the leaders of the opposition in Serbia were brought into the Church by Bishop Akakije or were his spiritual children. None of them has done anything like      what he has done for the resurrection of True Orthodoxy in Serbia. And none of them has anything like his popularity among the faithful.

     In spite of this, the Holy Synod of the True Orthodox Church of Greece, in its encyclical of August 9/22, - that is, only one week after the ordination of Bishop Akakije, - hinted that it may ordain a bishop from among Bishop Akakije’s enemies for the small group of those who reject him. In other words, having for several years refused to satisfy the people’s request to ordain a Serbian bishop for Serbia, saying that such a bishop was unnecessary, the Holy Synod has suddenly changed its mind and now wants to ordain a bishop for them! It is difficult to interpret this desire as anything but destructive in intent, - in order to hinder the work of Bishop Akakije, - and schismatic in mentality, -as strengthening and perpetuating the schism among the True Orthodox in Serbia.

     Question 6: Is it true, as Archbishop Kallinikos and his Synod assert, that before his ordination Bishop Akakije paid no attention to his opponents, and ignored the demand of the Greek Synod that he enter into union with them?

     Answer: No. Bishop Akakije made many attempts to be reconciled with his opponents over several years. But reconciliation proved impossible for the fundamental reason that the two sides considered themselves to belong to two different Churches: Bishop Akakije and his followers (the great majority) - to the Serbian True Orthodox Church, and his opponents - to the Greek True Orthodox Church. Naturally, Bishop Akakije, being a Serb living in Serbia who had always seen his mission as helping to resurrect the Serbian Church, would not move on this fundamental issue of principle. Much less naturally, his opponents, who were also Serbs living (for the most part) in Serbia, insisted that they belonged to a foreign Church.

     Until this year, the Greek Synod always took the side of Fr. Akakije’s opponents on this issue, thereby undermining the authority of the leader of the Serbian Church and encouraging his opponents in their rebellion against him. Now, however, that the Greeks’ attempts to stop the ordination of Bishop Akakije have failed, they have changed their position, and called the opponents of Bishop Akakije “the True Orthodox Church of Serbia”. In this way they have tacitly admitted the justice of Bishop Akakije’s position – that the Serbian Church is separate from, and not subject to, the Greek Church. And with this admission their main canonical argument collapses

     Paradoxically, if this point is understood by the better-intentioned and more genuinely patriotic of Bishop Akakije’s opponents, - that is, if they see that the Greeks have been inconsistent on this issue, and have been consistent only in the pursuit of their own, Greek interests – then they may decide to join Akakije and thereby help to overcome the schism within the Serbian Church.

     Question 7: Is it possible that the Greek Synod would have ordained Fr. Akakije if he had promised to serve Greek interests first of all?

     Answer: Very possible. We have already seen that the Greek position on whether the True Orthodox Church inside Serbia should be called “Greek” or “Serbian” is flexible, depending on the situation and who they are talking to. The Greeks are completely inflexible only on one thing: that they, and they alone, should be the real masters in Serbia, whether this dominion is exercised directly, by the Greek exarch, Archbishop Kallinikos (whom Metropolitan Pavlos of America calls “the locum tenens” of the Serbian Patriarchal Throne!), or indirectly, through a Serbian bishop who is completely loyal to Greek interests. Such a Serbian could well have been Akakije, if only he had proved more willing to sacrifice his own Church’s interests to the interests of Greek ecclesiastical imperialism in the Balkans. As Bishop Akakije himself has written, doubtless reflecting his own personal experience of talking with the Greek hierarchy: “The Greek hierarchy… would not give the Serbs their own bishop who would firmly represent the interests of the local Serbian Church. Indeed, there were hints that the Greek hierarchy was ready to consecrate a bishop for the Serbs, but only on the condition that he be totally dependent on the Greek Church. He would certainly be from the ranks of the Serbs who were absolutely loyal to the Greek Church and supported her pretensions to rule the Serbian Church. But how is it possible for a True Orthodox Serb to take this position?”

     Question 8: If the ordination of Bishop Akakije is in fact canonical, what are the likely consequences for the Serbian Church and Slavic Orthodoxy in general?

     Answer: Very positive. They will include: (i) better pastoral service for the Serbian True Orthodox; (ii) full communion, and the prospect of close and fruitful relations, with the Russian True Orthodox Church, the Church of the New Martyrs; (iii) a more canonical base from which to conduct missionary work in Serbia for the sake of those seeking a refuge from the pan-heresy of Ecumenism. Previously, True Orthodoxy in Serbia was led by a foreigner living a thousand kilometers away who was known not to sympathize with Slavic Orthodoxy (“the Slavs have never been real Orthodox”, he once wrote!), who had sabotaged union with the Russian True Orthodox Church, who very rarely visited his flock and knew very little about them or their particular needs and problems. These major obstacles have now been removed. And while the opposition to Bishop Akakije remains an obstacle, there are good reasons, as we have seen, for believing that it will be less dangerous now than before…

     The consequences for Slavic Orthodoxy in general are less obvious but perhaps still more important: the union of the two Slavic Orthodox Churches will strengthen both Churches, attracting Church patriots in both countries, and giving hope to those in other Churches throughout the world who have been scandalized by the divisions in True Orthodoxy.

     Question 9: If the ordination of Bishop Akakije is in fact canonical, what are the likely consequences for the Greek Church that calls him uncanonical and schismatic?

     Answer: Very negative. If the accusation against Bishop Akakije is false, then it turns back on his accusers... In fact, the Greeks have directly violated at least two canons, as Bishop Akakije has pointed out.

     First, the 8th Canon of the Third Ecumenical Council. This declares that “none of the God-beloved bishops shall assume control of any province which has not before now, from the very beginning, been under his own hand or that of his predecessors”. Since Serbia has never, at any time, been under the control of the Archbishops of Athens, this canon implies that Archbishop Kallinikos has no right to retain power over the True Orthodox in Serbia – not even his own supporters, let alone those who have been protesting at his inactivity for years.

     Secondly, the 74th Canon of the Eighth Council of Carthage. This declares: “These bishops, who should have preserved love among the people and facilitated the choice of a new bishop, provoked disorder and fed quarrels only for the sake of their own personal interest, in order that the Church should stay without a permanent bishop, and that they should be in power for as long as possible. In order to prevent such abuse, the Carthaginian Fathers forbid a bishop to be in charge of a widow Church for longer than a year, and if during that time he has not succeeded in putting everything in order, a new bishop must be installed…” This Canon describes with amazing precision the contemporary situation in Serbia. According to it, Archbishop Kallinikos was permitted to be in charge of the widowed Church of Serbia for no more than one year. Instead he has been in charge there for fifteen years, and shows no signs of wishing to relinquish power now. In that fifteen-year period he has not “preserved love among the people”, nor “facilitated the choice of a new bishop”. On the contrary, he has “fed quarrels” and done everything to prevent the installation of a new bishop. But the Canon says that a new bishop must be installed... This is what the Russian bishops have now done by ordaining Bishop Akakije. So we may say that the Russian bishops, far from acting uncanonically, as the Greeks have accused them, have actually restored that canonical order which the Greeks themselves had violated. For this, all truly Orthodox Christians owe the Russians a profound debt of gratitude… 

      The Greeks are now likely to turn in on themselves even more than usual, considering themselves to be the last bearers of True Orthodoxy in the whole world. Indeed, logically this must be their attitude now. For if the Serbs are “schismatics”, and the Russians “uncanonical” for helping them into schism, and if the only canonical Christians on the territories of the other Local Churches, or in the missionary territories of the West, are their own Greek parishes, then there can be no other conclusion than that they are the only true Christians in the whole world. Such an arrogant attitude is hardly likely to attract many people to the Greek Church, even among the Greeks… So the prospect for them now is of a gradual descent into an ultra-conservative, nationalist sectarianism similar to that of the Russian Old Ritualists.

     Question 10: What hope is there for a resolution of this conflict between the Serbian and Greek True Orthodox Churches?

     Answer: Where there is repentance, there is life. And where there is life, there is hope. The first step has to be for the Greeks to repent of their attempt to create a more or less permanent “protectorate” or “locum tenancy” over the Serbian Church, which constitutes the uncanonical invasion of one Local Church onto the canonical territory of another.

     The second step is for the Greeks to look with greater humility and respect at the traditions and history and saints of other, non-Greek Churches. Of course, their supercilious attitude to other Churches is an old problem going back several centuries. However, the problem has become more acute in the last century as the experience of the non-Greek Churches under communism has diverged very widely from that of the Greeks. Thus when Russians speak of the Third Rome, monarchism, the Russian Revolution, Tsar-Martyr Nicholas and his family, the millions of other Russian New Martyrs, the Catacomb Church and the problems associated with Sergianism, the eyes of Greek True Orthodox Christians, with few exceptions, glaze over in disinterest or incomprehension…

     Now it could be argued that generations of Greeks have struggled in the true faith and entered the Kingdom of heaven without needing to know about any of these things, so that it is not necessary for them to know about these things now. This is only partially true. Obviously, every Local Church, and every member of every Local Church, can only have a limited knowledge of the experience of the Universal Church in other regions. But we would find it strange indeed if a Church living in some remote location (say, in Central Asia towards the end of the first Christian millennium) knew next to nothing about the persecution of Diocletian, and saw no need to venerate the martyrs of that persecution – St. George, St. Demetrius, St. Catherine, etc. And if it also knew nothing of the dogmatic struggles of the Ecumenical Councils, we might fear that it was missing out on something of vital importance. We might conclude that this Church was provincial at best, perhaps unconsciously heretical at worst, and in any case likely to be less well equipped for future struggles in the faith as a result of its ignorance – especially if that ignorance was voluntary and caused by national pride. Similarly, the Greek Church today, by resting on its past laurels and ignoring the achievements of other Churches, runs the risk of becoming provincial and ill-equipped to face the new struggles and new heresies of the twenty-first century.

     However, in the internet age no Church can remain truly provincial for long. For its younger generation, at any rate, will learn of the life and struggles of other Churches. And sooner or later members of that younger, better-informed and consequently more generous and broad-minded generation will rise to positions of leadership in the Church.

     This, then, must be our hope: that God will raise to positions of leadership in the Greek Church men who will correct the mistakes of their nationalist predecessors, enter into union with their sister-Churches of other nations, and both give to, and take from, the common treasury of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

September 11/24, 2011.

 

‹‹ Back to All Articles
Site Created by The Marvellous Media Company