Written by Vladimir Moss



     In 1995, three Serbian monks came from Eshigmenou monastery on Mount Athos to Serbia in order to resurrect the Serbian Church, which had fallen into the heresy of ecumenism. The leader of the group, Fr. Akakije, was ordained to the priesthood by the True Orthodox Church of Greece, and under the omophorion of Metropolitan Kallinikos of Corinth the Serbian Church grew slowly but surely. In 2003 the women’s monastery of Stjenik joined the Church from the ecumenists. Soon the need for more priests, and above all a bishop, was experienced. Many petitions were made by the Serbian believers to the Synod in Athens for the elevation of Fr. Akakije to the episcopate, but without success. Divisions appeared in the flock, incited by Metropolitan Kallinikos. Finally, in 2011 a severe crisis arose which is the subject of this article.

     In August, 2011, Fr. Akakije was consecrated to the episcopate by bishops of the Russian True Orthodox Church. The Greek True Orthodox Church was invited to take part in the consecration, but refused, issuing instead a severe condemnation of the Serbian Church on August 9/22, 2011 that was signed by all the hierarchs of the True Orthodox Church of Greece headed by Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens.[1] The following is an historical and canonical analysis of this encyclical.


     The encyclical is addressed to “the Sacred Clergy and Faithful of the Church of the GOC [Genuine Orthodox Church] of Serbia”, by which was meant that small minority of the Serbian Church which did not follow Bishop Akakije.

     Addressing this group as “the GOC of Serbia” was in itself is a fact of the greatest importance. For the whole argument in recent years between Fr. Akakije and his supporters, on the one hand, and Archbishop Kallinikos and his supporters, on the other, has revolved around the question: does a Genuine Orthodox Church of Serbia truly exist, parallel with and independent of the other True Orthodox Churches, such as those of Russia and Greece? Or are there only Serbian Orthodox Christians belonging to the True Orthodox Church of Greece but living on Serbian territory? The fact that the encyclical was addressed to “the Sacred Clergy and Faithful of the Church of the GOC of Serbia” can only mean that the signatories accept that the True Orthodox Church of Serbia does truly exist independently of the Greek Church. Of course, the signatories were not addressing Bishop Akakije and his supporters (several hundred people), but the small group (about 50 people) of his opponents and enemies in Serbia. But the basic principle has been conceded to the supporters of Bishop Akakije: there is such an independent, autocephalous Church of Serbia in True Orthodoxy. The only argument is over which body of believers constitutes it…

     Do all the signatories of the encyclical sincerely believe this? Almost certainly not. For both before and after the consecration Archbishop Kallinikos and his supporters were asserting precisely the opposite. Only recently one leading Greek said that before 1995, when Fr. Akakije came to Serbia from Mount Athos, there were precisely zero truly Orthodox Christians in Serbia; so the Autocephaly of the Serbian Church no longer exists. Serbia is now “missionary territory”, he asserted, like the missionary territories of Western Europe or North America…

     To the claim that Serbia is now “missionary territory” which has to be re-evangelized by the Greeks, Bishop Akakije replied: “We wonder, with what right do they claim this, even if we accept the absurdity that once again the Greeks are enlightening the Serbian people?  What Greek missionary came and labored in the vineyard of the Serbian Church over the past fifteen years?  What Greek took even one step among the Serbs and for the Serbs?  Who suffered the humiliations from the Belgrade Patriarchate?  We know that for eleven years no one from the Greek GOC synod visited the suffering believers in Serbia! 

     “Financial help from Greece - which is loudly spoken about and put forward as one argument why we Serbs are dependent on the Greeks and have no right to leave their administrative rule - has been truly inconsequential considering in what conditions the Serbian TOC actually exists.  This financial help has arrived in the same quantities from other jurisdictions and even from individuals in World Orthodoxy.  Involuntarily the question arises:  did the Greeks help the Serbian Church only in order for her to be under their rule?  The New Calendar Greek Church constantly gives financial help to the Belgrade Patriarchate without demanding its submission to her rule.  Is this submission a criterion for one church to help another or not?”[2]

     The concept of “missionary territory” applies to pagan territories that have not been evangelized by the Christian Gospel. In no way can this be said of Serbia, which under the name of “Illyrium” was evangelized by the Apostle Paul, which had Local Saints and Local Church Councils held on its territory in the first millennium, and which from 1219 was recognized as an independent autocephalous Church with its own native hierarchy. In the twentieth century the notorious Patriarch Meletius Metaxakis of Constantinople took large chunks out of the Russian and Serbian patriarchates and made them into “autonomous” Churches – of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Baltic States, etc. – dependent on Constantinople. These illegal acts were never recognized by the true Churches of Russia and Serbia. It would be sad indeed if the present-day Church of Greece centred in Athens (which in any case is not, of course, Constantinople) were to imitate the ecclesiastical imperialism of the notorious heretic Metaxakis…  As for the fact that the Serbian Church has been in heresy since the 1960s, this is no excuse for denying it its ancient status as an autocephalous Church. Old Rome fell away from the faith in 1054, and there were no True Christians on its territory after about 1100. And yet the Eastern Patriarchates did not deny it the status of a (fallen) patriarchate right up to the Council of Florence in 1438-39. If Rome had officially repented of its heresy in that period, there is every reason to believe that the status of Orthodox patriarchate would have been restored to it automatically. Or shall we say that Constantinople is no longer an autocephalous patriarchate because there are no true Christians left in the City?...

     The encyclical continues: “What they [the supporters of Bishop Akakije] desired is good. Yet the way that they chose to achieve this was wrong. In Orthodoxy the end does not justify the means. This was the motto of the Jesuits. In Orthodoxy the words of Saint John Chysostom apply: “The good thing is not good if it is not done rightly.” The intention to restore the self-governance of the Serbian Church is good, while the manner of its achievement is evil, when it is accomplished through an unilateral decision of an elite group of clergy and laity that represent none but themselves. In past eras, unilateral and arbitrary decisions led to schisms and anathemas and other ills in the body of the Church of Christ. Let us call to mind two examples from among the many: the arbitrary pronouncement of the Archbishop of Serbia as Patriarch in 1346 and the arbitrary pronouncement of the Autocephalous Church of Greece in 1833. In the first case, the result was that the Church of Serbia was placed under anathema for 20 years; in the second case, the Church of Greece was pronounced schismatic for 17 years. Both of these cases were, however, the result of pressures from political leaders who took advantage of the Church in order to obtain their objectives. Today, we Genuine Orthodox Christians are disengaged from local political powers. Political leaders [today] do not drag along ecclesiastical leaders who create similar situations—which would be a mitigating factor…”

     Let us separate the wheat from the chaff in this paragraph. First, the signatories assert that Bishop Akakije and his supporters tried to achieve their good aim “through a unilateral decision of an elite group of clergy and laity that represent none but themselves”. Now an elite is by definition a minority group constituting the best or in some sense higher part of a larger group. Thus we talk about an “aristocratic elite” as opposed to the plebeian people, where the Greek word “aristocratic” means “rule by the better”. But Fr. Akakije and his supporters, while they might indeed have been “better” than their opponents in general, were not a minority nor an elite.  Certainly, they represented only themselves – that is, the majority of the True Orthodox Christians of Serbia. Who else were they meant to represent? Who else could they represent?

     Turning to the historical examples, it is certainly true that the Archbishop of Serbia’s giving himself the title of “patriarch” in 1346 was arbitrary – the bestowal of this title should have been agreed with the other patriarchs. Nevertheless, since the Serbian Church was already autocephalous (since 1219), it made no essential difference to its status. From a dogmatic or ecclesiological point of view it was much less significant than, for example, the Patriarch of Constantinople’s according himself the title of “Ecumenical” in the sixth century. That step was opposed in the strongest possible terms by St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome, because it implied that he had jurisdiction over the whole “inhabited world” (oikoumene)… Again, the Church of Greece’s pronouncement of its autocephaly from the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1833 was indeed arbitrary and wrong. But it is quite wrong to compare this to the situation in Serbia in 2011. For there is no question that Greece was part of the canonical territory of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1833, whereas Serbia has never been the canonical territory of the Church of Greece!

     The encyclical continues: “There were good examples to follow, such as the declaration in a canonical way of the autocephaly of the Church of Serbia by Saint Sabbas, the First Archbishop of Serbia.”

     The declaration of the Serbian Church’s autocephaly in 1219 by St. Savva is indeed interesting and instructive – but it by no means proves what the Greeks want it to prove. For what did St. Savva actually do? Knowing that his bishop and canonical superior, Archbishop Demetrios Chomatianos of the Autonomous Church of Ochrid, would never grant the Serbian Church autocephaly, St. Savva “changed jurisdictions”, as we would say today (the Greek Church was divided into four main “jurisdictions” at that time), and received autocephaly from another “jurisdiction” – that of the Nicaean patriarch and emperor. If we follow the iron logic of the encyclical’s ecclesiology, then St. Savva’s action was not only not a “good example to follow”, but blatantly schismatic! For after all, he disobeyed his bishop and even broke communion with him – a bishop, moreover, who even now is considered by the Greeks to be (with Balsamon and Aristides) one of the three great experts on canon law of the medieval period! Fr. Akakije’s action was in fact very similar to that of St. Savva – but less bold. For while St. Savva was forced to “change jurisdictions” in order thatthe autocephaly of the Serbian Church should be created, Fr. Akakije only acted to restore or reactivate that autocephaly – a very different, and far less ambitious project. 

     As for the Serbian True Orthodox people, their “sin” was to believe that the best candidate for the bishop of the resurrected Church of Serbia was not a Greek bishop living a thousand kilometres away, who neither lived in Serbia nor spoke Serbian nor showed any knowledge of Serbian problems, but rather the man who had already built up the Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Serbia from scratch with his own sweat, blood and tears, and who was the spiritual father to most of the clergy and monastics (including those who led the opposition against him). Did they have the right to express such an opinion? Undoubtedly. In fact, according to the Holy Fathers, they had the right to decide this question themselves without the “veto” of any foreign authorities; for, as St. Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople, said: “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.”[3] This being the case, the most that a foreign bishop of Synod could have done in Serbia was agree to help, or refuse to help (if they found the candidate unworthy), the Serbians in their choice: what they could not do was act “as lords over those entrusted to them” (I Peter 5.3) and impose their own will and their own candidates (i.e. themselves) upon them.

     In fact, this very important principle is enshrined in the eighth canon of the Third Ecumenical Council: “The same rule shall be observed in the other dioceses and provinces everywhere, so that none of the God-beloved Bishops shall assume control of any province which has not heretofore, from the very beginning, been under his own hand or that of his predecessors.  But if anyone has violently taken and subjected [a province], he shall give it up; lest the canons of the Fathers be transgressed; or the vanities of worldly honor be brought in under pretext of sacred office; or we lose, without knowing it, little by little, the liberty which Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Deliverer of all men, hath given us by His own Blood.”[4]

     “From this,” writes Bishop Akakije, “it is already clear the Greek GOC does not have the canonical right to take over the territory of the Serbian Church, much less such moral rights before the Serbian Church and people.  On the basis of our petition for help, the Greek Church had the right only to set up a temporary governance over our widowed Serbian Church and to ensure the establishment of a Serbian bishop for the Serbian people as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, this did not happen…”[5]

     Against this, the opponents of Bishop Akakije say that the situation in Serbia is different, because the True Orthodox Christians had voluntarily accepted to be under the omophorion of Archbishop Kallinikos. This is true, and acknowledged by the Serbs. But they argue that they sought the temporary episcopal supervision of a bishop of the Greek Church only until their own hierarchy could be re-established: they remained the True Orthodox Church of Serbia, and never became part of any other Local Church. There was not, and could not be, any permanent engulfment of the Serbian Church within the Greek Church. For, as the canon says, “none of the God-beloved Bishops shall assume control of any province which has not heretofore, from the very beginning, been under his own hand or that of his predecessors” – and there is no question about it: at no time has Serbia been under the hand of any Archbishop of Athens. The boundaries of the archdiocese of Athens could be redrawn to include the whole of Serbia only with the consent of the other Local Churches - and, first and foremost, with the consent of the Serbian people.

     In fact, the “temporary governance” of the Greeks over the Serbs continued for fifteen years, directly violating another of the Holy Canons, the 74th of the Council of Carthage: “It is hereby declared that it will not be permitted to any temporarily governing bishop to keep for himself the altar that was entrusted to him for his temporary governance, because of differences and quarrels among the people: but he must strive to elect a bishop for it in the course of a year. But if he is lazy about this, then at the end of the year let another temporary bishop be elected.”[6]

     After citing this canon, Bishop Akakije quotes from the commentary on it by the famous Serbian canonist, Bishop Nikodim Milash of Istria, who died a martyr’s death in an Austrian prison: “It has happened that those bishops who should have maintained love among the people and cooperated in the election of a new bishop have themselves, for the sake of their own personal interests, encouraged disorders and stirred up disagreements with the aim of leaving the Church longer without a permanent bishop and of having the opportunity of carrying out the duties of governing bishop in it for a more prolonged period. So as to hinder such an abuse, the Carthaginian Fathers forbid a bishop to remain governing a widowed Church for longer than one year, and, if in the course of this time he has not succeeded in doing everything necessary in order that a new bishop should be installed, then, as the canon decrees, such a bishop should be deprived of the governance, and it should be transferred to a newly elected governor.”[7] Bishop Akakije points out that the fears of the Carthaginian Fathers have actually been fulfilled in the case of contemporary Serbia, since the Greek leadership “very subtly but steadily reduced the authority of the first struggler for the renewal of True Orthodoxy in Serbia, Fr. Akakije, along with his co-strugglers on the battlefield for the rebirth of the Serbian Church and her interests”.

     The encyclical continues: Furthermore, when the independence of the Church of Serbia was abolished because of political reasons, it was recovered gradually and harmoniously initially with autonomy in 1831 and then with full autocephaly in 1879 through a consensus among the Mother and Daughter Churches.”

     The encyclical is here referring to the Greek Church’s “abolition” of the Serbian and Bulgarian Patriarchates in 1766-67. With the single word “political” it covers up, and attempts to mitigate, a most serious historical sin that is directly relevant to the present situation. ”The Bulgarians and the Serbs,” writes Sir Steven Runciman, an historian highly respected by the Greeks, “had no intention of becoming Graecized. They protested to some effect against the appointment of Greek metropolitans. For a while the Serbian Patriarchate of Pech was reconstituted, from 1557 to 1755. The Phanariots demanded tighter control. In 1766 the autonomous Metropolitanate of Pech was suppressed and in 1767 the Metropolitanate of Ochrid. The Serbian and Bulgarian Churches were each put under an exarch appointed by the Patriarch. This was the work of the Patriarch Samuel Hantcherli, a member of an upstart Phanariot family, whose brother Constantine was for a while Prince of Wallachia until his financial extortions alarmed not only the tax-payers but also his ministers, and he was deposed and executed by the Sultan’s orders. The exarchs did their best to impose Greek bishops on the Balkan Churches, to the growing anger of both Serbs and Bulgarians. The Serbs recovered their religious autonomy early in the nineteenth century when they won political autonomy from the Turks. The Bulgarian Church had to wait till 1870 before it could throw off the Greek yoke. The policy defeated its own ends. It caused so much resentment that when the time came neither the Serbs nor the Bulgarians would cooperate in any Greek-directed move towards independence; and even the Roumanians held back. None of them had any wish to substitute Greek for Turkish political rule, having experienced Greek religious rule....”[8]

     So this is what “Greek religious rule” meant for the Serbs in the past: financial extortion, the removal of their own hierarchy, and the attempt to Hellenize their people. In spite of that, the Serbs in the twenty-first century, hoping that times had changed, asked for help from the Greeks and were sincerely grateful for what they received. It was only when this help turned into a variety of obstacles and hindrances, and the attempt to deny them their own native bishop, that they realized: tout ça change, tout c’est la même chose

     The encyclical continues: “Why do our separated brethren prefer to imitate those examples that are to be avoided instead of those that should be imitated? By using as their excuse various irregularities of the past they wish to justify their illicit acts. Their unfortunate attempt elicits a simple question: Does one irregularity from the past justify its repetition?”

     This is a perverse way of looking at the present situation! The truth is quite the opposite: the “irregularity” of past Greek behavior – the abolition of the Serbian patriarchate in 1766 – is being repeated, albeit on a smaller scale, today. This became obvious when, in June, 2011 the Serbs received a letter from a senior bishop of the Greek Church it which it was proclaimed with all seriousness that Archbishop Kallinikos was “the acting locum tenens of the Serbian patriarchal throne”! 

     Let us conduct a thought experiment and imagine that Patriarch Irenaeus of Serbia and all his bishops, priests and laity – or, at any rate, a significant part of them – repented of their heresy and proclaimed that they wished to be united to the True Orthodox Church. What would the Greeks do then? Would they say: “You are no longer an Autocephalous Church, but must submit to the authority of Archbishop of Kallinikos of Athens, who is now the first hierarch or Archbishop (or even patriarchal locum tenens!) of all Greece and Serbia”? Of course not - and yet that is the logic of the Greek position! For this canonical nonsense – or should we call it megalomania? - implies that the Church of Serbia has now been annexed to the Church of Greece without any conciliar decision and without the knowledge or agreement of any Serbs except their 50-strong “Greek Serb” group!

     “As we said above,” continues the encyclical, “for political reasons many times autocephalous Churches lost this status, while other autocephalous Churches were created. We must remember that the Church is one; the Dioceses, Metropolises, Patriarchates, Autocephalous, Autonomous and Semi-autonomous Churches are administrative divisions, which do not affect the essence of the Church and which change according the political circumstances of each era and the shifting of borders according to the maxim, “it is customary for the ecclesiastical to change together with the political.” An example of this is the Russian Empire’s absorption of the Georgian Kingdom in 1801 and the subsequent abolition of the autocephaly of the Georgian Church, whose autocephaly was restored again in 1917.”

     For accuracy’s sake, it should be pointed out that the Georgian State headed by the king asked to be subsumed into the Russian empire to avoid being swallowed up by the Muslim Persians. In other words, it was done voluntarily – which can said of none of the instances in which the Byzantines or Greeks deprived Slavs or Arabs of their ecclesiastical independence. Moreover, the threat of Muslim conquest was indeed a good political reason for temporarily abolishing state independence, if not Church autocephaly.

     In any case, the maxim “it is customary for the ecclesiastical to change together with the political” was never enshrined in canon law, was not recognized outside Constantinople, and became the cause of innumerable very damaging quarrels between Constantinople and the other Orthodox Churches. For autocephaly is, or should be, granted for purely pastoral, ecclesiastical reasons, because in order that a newly evangelized people should be strengthened in the faith they should have their own native hierarchy serving in their own native language. Why should that pastoral need change because of purely political reasons, because the people in question has involuntarily come under the yoke of another Christian nation?

     Take the case of Bulgaria. After Constantinople very reluctantly gave the newly Christianized nation autocephaly, the faith spread strongly in Bulgaria, and she was soon producing native saints of her own – kings (St. Boris-Michael), hermits (St. John of Rila) and hierarchs and evangelists (SS. Naum and Clement of Ohrid). However, after the death of King Peter, in about 971, the Bulgarian kingdom was conquered by the Byzantines, as a consequence of which the local Bulgarian Church was again subjected to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. There was a resurgence of Bulgarian power under Tsar Samuel, who established his capital and patriarchate in Ohrid. But this did not last long. In 1014 the Bulgarian armies were decisively defeated by Emperor Basil I, “the Bulgar-slayer”. This led to the temporary dissolution of the Bulgarian kingdom and its absorption into the Roman Empire.

     The Byzantines continued to recognize the autocephaly of the Bulgarian Church centred in Ohrid, but it was demoted from a patriarchate to an archbishopric. And further encroachments on Bulgarian ecclesiastical independence continued. This elicited a firm rebuke from St. Theophlact, Archbishop of Ohrid in the late eleventh century. Although a refined Greek, he defended the rights of his adopted Church. Thus he stopped a monk from founding a stavropegial monastery subject directly to Constantinople, since it was “in accordance with neither the sacred canons nor the laws of the kingdom. I forbid him, for what relations are there between the Church of Bulgaria and the Patriarch of Constantinople? None at all. Constantinople possesses neither the right of ordination, nor any other rights, in Bulgaria. Bulgaria recognizes only its own archbishop as its head.”[9]

     Constantinople made two further attempts to abolish Bulgarian autocephaly, the first in the period of the Byzantine empire and the second in the period of the Turkish yoke. And yet who can doubt that the Bulgarian Church remained essentially unchanged in the whole of that time? And even now, when Bulgaria has succumbed to the ecumenist heresy, she remains an independent Church in law…

     The encyclical continues: “The group of estranged brethren declared that in coming into communion with the Russian Synod of Bishops under Archbishop Tikhon (with whom we are not in communion) they desired to maintain communion simultaneously with us as well. This is incongruous and they wrote it rhetorically: in order to claim that they did not break communion with us but that we cut them off. Furthermore, they claim that they do not desire that their rebellion result in the disruption of the rapprochement between the Church of the GOC of Greece and the Russian Synod of Bishops under Archbishop Tikhon. This is incongruous too, because they knew from the beginning that Archbishop Tikhon’s support of their rebellion would result in the breakdown of this rapprochement, which indeed happened. The saboteurs that blew up the bridge claim that they did not desire the break in traffic between the two banks! The Holy Synod now finds itself in the unpleasant position of discovering that the group of separated brethren in this way rendered itself schismatic, transgressing Canon 31 of the Holy Apostles.”

     Once again we see here muddled logic and a mixture of truth and falsehood. It is true that Bishop Akakije, before his consecration, asked for administrative independence for the Serbian Church from the Greeks without any Eucharistic break in communion. Was that a crime?! Was that undesirable?! Does not the encyclical itself say that “the Dioceses, Metropolises, Patriarchates, Autocephalous, Autonomous and Semi-autonomous Churches are administrative divisions, which do not affect the essence of the Church”? If the administrative division between the Greek and the Serbian Churches, which was established eight centuries ago, did not affect the essence of the Church, and created no real schism within it, why did the Greeks not consent to its continuation? Because that would have slightly diminished the size of Archbishop Kallinikos’ ecclesiastical empire (which already encompasses Greece, Europe, Australia and scattered parishes in Russia and Georgia!)? Yes, almost certainly that was one reason. Because he would have done anything to stop the promotion of Fr. Akakije, whom he suspected – rightly – of not wishing to put the interests of the Greek Church above those of Serbia? Yes, that was another reason. Because he feared the creeping influence of the Russians in the “lost territories of the Byzantine empire” in the Balkans - the so-called “Panslavist” bogey which the nineteenth-century Phanariots so feared? Yes, that was yet another reason.

     Is it true that “the saboteurs that blew up the bridge claim that they did not desire the break in traffic between the two banks”? Yes, it is. But who are the real saboteurs? In order to answer that question, we must look more closely at the historical context. To do that, we shall elaborate the metaphor a little…

     The Russian and the Greek Churches are like opposite banks of a river in the middle of which there is a large island – the Serbian Church. (The Serbs are indeed mediators between the Russians and the Greeks in a certain sense, having cultural, linguistic, racial and historical links to both nations.) Both sides wanted to build a bridge from one bank to the other. But the Greeks wanted to build a long bridge direct from bank to bank, bypassing the Serbian island in the middle, which they considered part of their territory and to which they had already built a smaller bridge. The Serbs, languishing under Greek rule, were all in favour of the Greco-Russian union, believing that they would benefit from closer relations with the Russians; for if the larger, bank-to-bank bridge were built, they thought another short bridge from them to the Russian bank would surely be built at some time. The Russians also went along with the Greek plan at first; while sympathizing with the Serbs, they did not want to build a small bridge to the Serbian island which the Greeks would interpret as invasion of their territory; they were prepared to treat the island as Greek territory for the sake of the general increase in trade that would result from the building of the big bridge.

     However, then the Russians ran into trouble with the Greeks. In 2009 the Greeks refused to sign the contract for the big bridge because they thought – falsely – that the Russians were deceiving them. The real problem was the Greek governor of the Serbian island, who was determined, not only that no bridge should be built between the island and the Russian bank, but also that the big bridge linking the Greek and Russian banks should be built entirely to his specification and by his contractors. (This was the attempt of the Greeks led by Kallinikos to impose on the Russians their view of how akriveia and oikonomia should be applied in the reception of converts from the Moscow Patriarchate.)

     Although disappointed, the Russians persevered, and eventually, in 2011, an agreement on the building of the bridge – that is, on the correct use of oikonomia in receiving people from the Moscow Patriarchate in Russia - was reached. Meanwhile, however, two important events had taken place. First, the leader of the Greek trade and construction corporation (Archbishop Chrysostomos) died in 2010, and was replaced by the governor of the Serbian island (Archbishop Kallinikos). And secondly, the conflict between the Serbs and the Greeks for possession of Serb island intensified. Gradually, the Russians became convinced that the Serbs’ case was just, and their pastoral needs great, and that they had a moral obligation to help them by building a small bridge from the Russian bank to the island and installing the Serb leader as governor of the island. They realized that this would jeopardize the big bridge project, but so be it. They offered to the Greeks that both bridges, big and small, should be built together, and that they should cooperate with them in installing a new governor of the island. But the Greeks refused and retreated from the island, blowing up the bridge from their bank and leaving behind a small group of saboteurs (all former officials of the new governor) who continue to snipe at the lawful governor of the island…

     Did the Serbs violate Apostolic Canon 31, as the encyclical asserts?... Apostolic Canon 31 declares that a priest cannot break from his bishop except for reasons of “piety” (blagochestie) or “justice” (pravda). “Piety” is usually taken to mean “dogmatic truth”. The definition of “justice” is less clear 

     What is clear is that it does not include the moral behavior of the bishop, as St. John Chrysostom explains: “Anarchy is altogether an evil, the occasion of many calamities, and the source of disorder and confusion… However, the disobedience of those who are ruled is no less an evil… But perhaps someone will say, there is also a third evil, when the ruler is bad. I myself, too, know it, and it is no small evil, but a far worse evil even than anarchy. For it is better to be led by no one than to be led by one who is evil. For the former indeed are often saved, and often in peril, but the latter will be altogether in peril, being led into the pit of perdition. How, then, does Paul say, ‘Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves’? Having said above, ‘whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation,’ he then said, ‘Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves.’ ‘What then,’ you say, ‘when he is wicked, should we not obey?’ Wicked? In what sense? If in regard to faith, flee and avoid him, not only if he is a man, but even if he is an angel come down from heaven; but if in regard to life, do not be over-curious…”[10] This is not to say that a bishop cannot or should not be brought to trial and defrocked for immoral behavior, but only that a priest cannot break with him by reason of his immoral behavior before he has been canonically defrocked.

     If we look at the practice of the saints, then “justice” must include serious canonical transgressions, for there are many cases of Orthodox breaking communion with their superiors, not for reasons of heresy, but because of serious canonical transgressions. The writings and actions of St. Theodore the Studite in relation to SS. Tarasius and Nicephorus of Constantinople are obvious examples. But there are many more.

     A particularly interesting example can be found in the Life of St. Meletius of Antioch. St. Dmitri of Rostov writes that the Christians of Antioch were angry with their bishop, Eudoxius, because he “paid little attention to his duties. This infuriated the Antiochians, who expelled him from their city… Then the Antiocheans assembled to decide who would succeed Eudoxius… Saint Meletius was chosen by general acclamation.”[11]

     Now Eudoxius was an Arian. But it is significant that he was not expelled “for reasons of piety”, or heresy, but “for reasons of justice”, that is, his failure to carry out his canonical duties… Of course, it is always preferable that a bishop who does not carry out his duties should be removed by his fellow bishops in a canonical trial. However, very often in antiquity, and even more often in modern times, either because of persecutions or because bishops do not have the courage or will to investigate each other, appeals to the Synod are ignored and even despised. In such cases, we recall the words of the Eastern Patriarchs in their famous Epistle of 1848: “The protector of religion is the very body of the Church, even the people themselves” (17). Orthodoxy does not believe in the infallibility of any one man or Synod; and in cases when bishops and Synods do not do their duty, it is the duty of the people, the last earthly resort of truth and justice, to act for the good of the Church. This is not anarchy, or rebellion, or Protestantism. It is Orthodoxy.

     Two modern examples will clarify what breaking communion “for reasons of justice” means. In 1928 St. Joseph, Metropolitan of Petrograd, refused to obey his canonical superior, Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) of Nizhni Novgorod, not for reason of heresy, or even for a clearly defined canonical transgression, but simply because he felt that his translation from the diocese of Petrograd was caused by an intrigue against the Church initiated by the Bolsheviks and supported by Sergius. And he said: "The defenders of Sergius say that the canons allow one to separate oneself from a bishop only for heresy which has been condemned by a council. Against this one may reply that the deeds of Metropolitan Sergius may be sufficiently placed in this category as well, if one has in view such an open violation by him of the freedom and dignity of the Church, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. But beyond this, the canons themselves could not foresee many things, and can one dispute that it is even worse and more harmful than any heresy when one plunges a knife into the Church's very heart - Her freedom and dignity?” In another place, St. Joseph points out that there were no priests or bishops at the foot of the Cross, but only laymen and women…

     The second example concerns Archbishop Kallinikos himself. In 1979, he, as an archimandrite, broke with his canonical superior, Archbishop Auxentios, and was ordained to the episcopate by Metropolitan Kallistos of Corinth and another bishop. This new group, called the “Kallistites”, said that their actions were “a temporary and curable deviation from the canonical order” whose aim was the cleansing of the Church from moral vices, especially sodomy, since “men have been raised to the priesthood who are both unworthy and incapable.” Of course, it is possible to sympathize with the “Kallistites”, whose aim of cleansing the Church of homosexuals was certainly laudable. Nevertheless, as they themselves admit, it was uncanonical. For one cannot break with one’s canonical superior for reason of immoral acts, but only for reasons of heresy or major canonical transgressions. At most, they could have withdrawn from the Synod in order “not to take part in other men’s sins” (I Timothy 5.22). That is what, for example, Metropolitan Chrysostomos (Kiousis), the future archbishop, did. But the Kallistites created a new Synod, with new bishops, thereby creating serious long-term difficulties for the Greek Church.

     However, let us suppose for one moment that Kallinikos’ consecration to the episcopate in 1979 without the blessing of his archbishop could be justified on the grounds of “justice” or “the cleansing of the Church”. And let us compare his motives with those of the future Bishop Akakije. Was Bishop Akakije proposed for consecration by his flock “in order to cleanse the Church of unworthy and incapable priests”?

     No, he was not. Their motivation in proposing him, and his motivation in accepting, was much simpler, much closer to home: the salvation of the maximum number of Serbs; for they knew that very few Serbs would agree to come under a non-Serb bishop who belonged to another, non-Serb Local Church. They knew that they were in desperate need, not of a bishop living many hundreds of miles away, knowing next to nothing about Serbia and visiting it just once in over ten years, but of a native Serb who spoke their language, lived their life, knew their enemies and fought their battles. It is of such men that the Apostle says: “If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good work” (I Timothy 3.1)…

     “What is more,” continues the encyclical, “in the document of their rebellion the severed brethren express their gratitude in words for everything that the Church of the GOC of Greece has provided them. But because we did not ordain for them as bishop the one whom a small group desired at the time that that group demanded, they decided to appeal to the Russians. What a concept of gratitude and obedience. They pay no heed to the bishops that ordained them because they will not promote a specific person among them. They set fire to their mother’s house and harm their brethren who remain faithful to her and then they utter into their mother’s ear, “thank you”.”

     This is really rather spiteful. So an expression of gratitude is considered sinful! Would they have preferred ingratitude?! Bishop Akakije announces administrative separation from the Greek Church – that is, the return to the canonical order of the last 800 years, – while expressing the desire to remain in eucharistic communion – that is, rejecting any thought of essential schism - and expressing gratitude for services rendered. What a sin! What profound evil!

     Bishop Akakije himself is described as “the one whom a small group desired at the time”. But they were not a small group in the context of the Serbian TOC: they were the majority, headed by the senior priest and rebuilder of the Serbian Church, and consisting of the majority of the monastics and laity. Nor did they desire his consecration only “at the time”: they had desired it for at least five years and sent numerous appeals for his consecration in the name of the Administrative Council of the Serbian True Orthodox Church to the Greek Holy Synod. They included believers from the north, south, east, west and centre of Serbia.

     The Greeks are obsessed with the smallness of the Serbian flock in absolute terms. But let us remind ourselves of the words of St. Nicephorus quoted above: “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.” After all, mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow…

     Besides, there is no minimum number of people required for the formation of a diocese. When St. Gregory of Neocaesarea came to his diocese for the first time there were only 17 Christians in the city (when he died there were only 17 people who were not Christians). In North Africa in the early centuries, almost every village had its own bishop. In the Irish Church most abbots of monasteries were also bishops. The criterion is not the size of the existing community, but its spiritual needs. And if the community grows with the blessing of God, then its needs will increase proportionately. So it is not only the present, but also the future needs of the flock that must be measured. In order to satisfy these needs, God is willing to multiply the bishops of the Church indefinitely, for He wishes that all men be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. There is no need for the Church hierarchy to be parsimonious in the provision of bishops – provided, of course, that the candidates are worthy men. Thus the Prophet Moses once exclaimed: “Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11.29). Again, the holy Patriarch Tikhon once cried out to Archbishop Andrew of Ufa from his captivity: “Vladyko, consecrate more bishops, as many as possible!” And he did (about forty in all)… And yet the demand still outstripped the supply. And today who can say that the True Russian Church has too many bishops?

     As for Serbia, who can claim that the several hundreds of True Orthodox Christians, and the many millions of potential converts from the patriarchate, do not need even one true Serbian bishop?! In view of this manifest need, what can be the motivation of a bishop who, living in Athens but already utterly unable to supply the needs of his already vast territories (Greece, Europe, Australia and scattered parishes in other lands), refuses to consecrate the man who has already worked for many years in Serbia, building up the flock from zero to several hundreds in spite of huge obstacles created from both within and outside the Church? If this man had canonical obstacles to his consecration, the delay would be understandable. But the Greeks have not been able to cite any such obstacles…

     Later in their encyclical, the Greek bishops appear to accept that size of the flock is not an important factor, but instead attack the “democracy” of Fr. Akakije’s administration: “We too desire the rebirth of Orthodoxy in Serbia and the restoration of the autocephalous local Church of Serbia, understood in the genuine Orthodox sense. As we have declared in the past in writing, we have no plan to absorb the local Genuine Orthodox Church of Serbia. Moreover, in the memorandum our currently separated brethren submitted to us this past January, we did not set the small size of population as an impediment for the ordination of a bishop, but merely specified [as a condition] the better organization of the community of GOC of Serbia through the implementation of a Governing Council in which would be heard all views and which would truly express your voices. The separated brethren did not agree. They did not desire to have dissenters with them in this body. Why not, if they represented the majority? How would it have mattered, if there were a minority view? Did they fear that they really represented a minority view rather than the view of the majority? This is what in the end proved to be true. The system of sending away dissenters and of establishing deliberative bodies that prove to be merely cheerleaders of a leader suggests the totalitarian regimes of the past.”

     Coming from the pen of Archbishop Kallinikos, this is not only false, but deeply hypocritical. Kallinikos’ own treatment of the Serbian Church has been dictatorial and divisive. While repeatedly refusing the petition of the majority, - whose fulfilment, as we have seen, was actually demanded by the Holy Canons, - he has encouraged the minority to rebel against their spiritual father, spread foul slanders with impunity and generally make his already very difficult task even more difficult.

     This is confirmed if we look at a short account of events in the STOC in the years 2006-2011. The divisions began towards the end of 2006, when the majority of believers began to murmur at the fact that no Greek hierarch had visited them in the last ten years. They concluded that they had been patient enough with this spiritual negligence and it was time for them to have a bishop of their own, or at least they should write to the GOC Synod and ask for Metropolitan Kallinikos’ replacement as Exarch for Serbia. Another problem was his tendency to give “double blessings” – that is, one person would come to Corinth, give his view of the situation, and receive one blessing; then another person would come, give his view of the situation and receive a different blessing contradictory to the first. Long distance from Serbia, and the metropolitan’s long absence from the country, created the mess.

     At the end of 2006, the Administrative Council of STOC gathered together for the last time in its fullness. All the clergy were present, and all signed a document passed by a majority of votes in which the GOC Synod was requested to consecrate a bishop from the Serbian clergy. However, knowing that the GOC were constantly repeating that the STOC was too small and immature to have its own bishop, the signatories offered an alternative solution: the replacement of Metropolitan Kallinikos by another Greek bishop. The STOC Administrative Council also decided to deliver this request personally to Archbishop Chrysostomos during the next GOC Synod meeting, and organized preparations for a trip to Corinth and Athens.

     Then Fr. Athanasius, who was the only one among the Administrative Council clergy who had opposed this request (although he signed the conciliar decision), together with a few of his followers, organized a shameful and disgusting propaganda campaign among the faithful. They made copies of an audio cassette on which the Athonite monk Fr. Danilo, who was a member neither of the GOC of Greece nor of the STOC at this time, used his authority and respect among some of the faithful to slander Fr. Akakije, attacking him in a vulgar and insulting manner. Of course, they used and manipulated Fr. Danilo’s words, because, at the same time Fr. Danilo used even more vulgar and rude words about Metropolitan Kallinikos and the Greek Florinites, but they didn’t spread those because it would have harmed their goal of slandering the supporters of the Metropolitan’s dismissal from the post of Serbian Exarch.

     Then Fr. Athanasius organized some of the faithful, gathered their signatures, and without informing the STOC Administrative Council, secretly sent a counter-document to Metropolitan Kallinikos. In time, this secret counter-document became the main counter-argument in the fight between the fraction of Fr. Athanasius and those clergy and laymen who were loyal to the STOC Administrative Council.

     Now let us return to the journey of the delegation of the STOC Administrative Council to Greece. The delegation first went to Corinth to inform Metropolitan Kallinikos about the STOC’s request for his replacement. He listened to it and kindly accepted it, without saying that he had a secret counter-petition in his pocket, which had arrived earlier. The delegation agreed with Metropolitan Kallinikos that they would go together to the GOC Synod meeting. The evening before the departure for Athens, the metropolitan said that the delegation should go first while he would come soon after them.

     In Athens, the delegation was received by Archbishop Chrysostomos and all the bishops. The request was formally handed in, and after receiving a short explanation of its content, Archbishop Chrysostomos asked: ‘’Where is bishop Kallinikos? Without him, this topic cannot be discussed. We will solve that when he shows up.’’

     But he did not show up… Sadly, the STOC delegation had been cunningly outmanoeuvred by the Metropolitan. They realized too late that their delegation has been deceived, and that their time, effort and money had been wasted because of the Metropolitan’s deliberate refusal to show up at the Synodal meeting.

     The delegation went back to Serbia demoralized. But there was more to come. After several requests to be informed by the Synod about what had been decided, the answer finally came back from Greece. The Administrative Council of STOC discovered for the first time that the Metropolitan had brought the counter-petition to the Synod. And because of it and ‘’Serbian discord’’, the request for the Metropolitan’s replacement was rejected.[12]

     After this sad development, the reputation of the Administrative Council of STOC was ruined, its members were demoralized and the divisions deepened, especially because Fr. Athanasius’ group started to rejoice, openly glorifying their ‘’victory’’, and continuing their campaign of slander and gossip. For this reason, although there was still some communion between the two groups, the Akakians and anti-Akakians, it was very one-sided: some Akakians would commune in Fr. Athanasius’ parish for the sake of restoring good relations within the STOC, but the ‘triumphant’ minority of anti-Akakians did not reciprocate…

     At the same time, Metropolitan Kallinikos began shamelessly and publicly to accuse his senior priest in Serbia, Hieromonk Akakije, of being power-hungry, full of pride, spiritually deluded, etc. He sadly abused his Metropolitan authority, because some people began to change their attitude towards Fr. Akakije, trusting that a Metropolitan would have to be telling the truth. In Serbia, meanwhile, the relentless propaganda coming from sources close to Fr. Athanasius reached its highest peak, with new kinds of defamation and lies against Fr. Akakije. This joint venture between Metropolitan Kallinikos and his supporters in Serbia caused some believers to waver in their belief that Fr. Akakije was worthy of becoming their first Serbian bishop, forgetting how much he had done for the sake of the development of the STOC. It was from this time that some became so deeply influenced by the lies preached by Kallinikos and his followers that they came to believe that the Serbian Church did not exist, that the National Serbian Church was an historical mistake, that it was just a small part of the Greek Church, that it is was not only unnecessary to fight for an independent Serbian Church but wrong, being a manifestation of ambition and ingratitude on the Serbian side…

      “Our separated brethren and children attempt to make a parallel between their case and the case of the Greek GOC, when they found themselves without bishops in 1955. This parallel is incongruous. In 1955, the Church of the GOC of Greece was fully organized and formed as an organization and the 66 priests (with all of those able present) elected a twelve-member Council (Governing Ecclesiastical Council) through a transparent democratic process for their administration until they found Bishops. The term of office of the members of the Council was renewed every year by election. They chose their Episcopal candidates through an absolutely transparent process and secret ballot.”

     “Our separated brethren” – it sounds very much like the condescending language of the Second Vatican Council when talking about the Orthodox Church… As for the exemplary democracy of the Greek TOC in the 1950s, that is all very well and is not in dispute. But the encyclical fails to say what happened next… For just as Archbishop Kallinikos likes to overlook his own unconventional path to the episcopate, so the writer of the encyclical here overlooks the uncanonical way in which the Greeks originally acquired their episcopate from the Russian Church Abroad in the 1960s.

     Did the Greeks at that time present a petition to the Russian Synod and then wait for the whole Synod to come to a “democratic” decision? By no means! They hid the matter from Metropolitan Anastasy, and secretly - “through the back door” and in violation of Apostolic Canon 34 - obtained the consecrations they desired from other bishops of his Synod. At the same time, the democratically elected future Archbishop Chrysostomos (Kiousis) was rejected in favour of the unelected, and disastrous, Archbishop Auxentius. However, the next metropolitan, St. Philaret, decided, for the sake of the unity of the Church and the good of the Greek nation, to regularize the uncanonical consecrations in 1969.

     And how did the Greeks repay the Russians for their literally priceless gift – the gift of a hierarchy? By gross interference in the canonical rights of the Russian Church! First, in 1978 their new archbishop, Auxentius, took a clergyman of the Russian Church, John Rocha, baptized him (on the grounds that he had not had a canonical baptism) and reordained him, before raising him to the episcopate of “the Autonomous Church of Portugal”, where he distinguished himself by becoming an extreme ecumenist heretic! Naturally, this stopped Eucharistic communion with the Russian Church Abroad. However, the Russians carefully refrained from calling the Greeks “schismatics”, but simply decreed that they would not unite with any single Greek jurisdiction until the Greeks had all united amongst themselves.

     Then, in September, 2009, after the fall of the major part of the Russian Church Abroad, when the remnant of the faithful Russians under Archbishop Tikhon came to Athens seeking to renew Eucharistic communion, the Greeks at first agreed, and even appointed a date for the first concelebration, but then, in October reversed their original decision on the grounds that they “did not trust” the Russians.[13] This was because Metropolitan Kallinikos, arriving, as so often, late on the scene, threatened to leave the Synod or at least retire… The Greeks’ official explanation, however, was that at their first meeting, on September 13 in Megara, the Russians had promised that they now had no priests with a defective baptism. However, the Russians have strongly denied this, saying that they never asserted that all their clergy had been baptized through triple immersion. On the contrary, assert the Russians, they readily admitted that many of their clergy and laity had been baptized in an irregular manner, and that these people had been serving and/or receiving Holy Communion for decades. Furthermore, based upon the most recent past practice of the Russian Church, and the oikonomia that had had to be used during the Soviet persecutions, they said that they would not be able to rebaptize everyone in the Russian Church who had had an irregular baptism. And as an independent Local Church, they asserted their right to apply oikonomia in this matter as their Synod deemed it necessary. The Greeks said that their confidence had been undermined when the Russian Bishop Germogen – boldly and honestly, as the Greeks admitted – confessed to having “baptized himself” to correct his irregular baptism shortly before coming to Athens. However, the Russians replied that they had deceived nobody; Bishop Germogen’s confession had been as much a surprise and a shock to themselves as it had been to the Greeks. And their sincerity in this is proved by the fact that they have recently, in their Synodal meeting of December, 2012, removed Bishop Germogen from the Holy Synod precisely because of his “self-baptism” – a decision that Bishop Germogen humbly accepted...[14]

     Even if we were to suppose (which I do not) that the Russians deceived the Greeks in this matter, the fact remains that for the second time in just over thirty years communion between the Russian and Greek True Orthodox Churches had been broken because the Greeks insisted on imposing their conception of permissible oikonomia on the Russians. The first time, in 1978, they went further by “stealing” a Russian clergyman and rebaptizing and reordaining him. The second time, in 2009, this did not happen. But the end result was the same: a break in communion or reversal of a decision to enter into communion. The Greeks seem unable to understand that Athens is not the centre of the Orthodox world, and that they do not have the right to impose their conception of oikonomia on other Local Churches.

     In September, 2010, Archbishop Chrysostomos, a sincere proponent of union between the Greek and the Russian Churches, died. To the surprise and shock of many, his elected successor was – Metropolitan Kallinikos! (Junior bishops were not allowed to vote, and Kallinikos won a majority only on the second round, when Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Attica withdrew his candidature and his supporters transferred their votes to Kallinikos). Some (on both sides) saw this, correctly, as the end of any real hope of union. However, the Russians decided to persevere, and they agreed to the Greek offer, made in 2009, that the two Churches send delegations to Odessa to attempt to come to an agreement on the issue of oikonomia and akriveia.

    However, by this time the Serbian problem was reaching a climax. At the beginning of 2011 a Serbian delegation went to Athens and handed in another, final petition, which they hoped would be answered by Pentecost. So when the Greek delegation, containing some non-Greek opponents of Fr. Akakije, arrived in Odessa in February, and began raising the Serbian question, the Russians responded cautiously. On the one hand, they defended the Akakian position, insisting that the autocephaly of the Serbian Church could not be denied, and that the Serbian TOC would benefit from the consecration of native bishops. On the other hand, not knowing what the Greek answer to the final Serbian petition would be, and not wishing to endanger the outcome of their own union talks with the Greeks, they did not deny the Greeks’ claim that this was their own internal problem.

     In spite of some ups and downs, the two delegations reached agreement at Odessa on oiikonomia; and when the Greek delegation reported back to their Synod in Athens, the Synod welcomed the agreement. At the same time, however, they said that, in order to give their own people time to digest the prospect, and in accordance with the Russians’ own request, the union would not be put into effect for another two years. The Russians were surprised by this – they had not asked for any two-year postponement! This may have been a genuine misunderstanding. But after the “misunderstandings” of 2009, some began to suspect that the Greek leadership was reluctant about union and were playing for time…

     But time was running out. For although the Serbian petition had been rejected orally by the Greeks in Athens, no formal written reply had been received by Pentecost. So the Serbs, having lost all hope of receiving any real pastoral support from the Greeks or even any half-adequate reply to their petition, decided to make a formal petition to the Russians to consecrate Fr. Akakije for them. The leaders of the Serbs and the Russians met in Odessa late in June, 2011, in order to discuss the petition. After a long and thorough discussion, the Russian Synod decided that the Serbs’ petition was justified (especially in view of the schismatic Bishop Artemije’s inroads into the flock), and that they, the Russians, had the canonical right and moral obligation to help them. A date for Fr. Akakije’s consecration was appointed for August 12 (new style) in the Russian monastery of Lesna in France…

     A last-ditch attempt to salvage the Greco-Russian union was made. On the Russian side, Protopresbyter Victor Melehov suggested that both Greek and Russian hierarchs take part in the consecration of Fr. Akakije. This idea was enthusiastically accepted by Bishop Photius, secretary of the Greek Synod. And he suggested that the union of the Greeks and Russians – a necessary condition of a joint consecration - could be brought forward to November, 2011. However, the idea must have received a cold reception from Archbishop Kallinikos. For when the Russians, postponing the consecration for three days, sent a delegation to Athens on August 11, and again put forward the idea, the Greeks rejected it outright…

     At that meeting the gist of the Russian argument, which was expounded by Bishop Germogen, was as follows: "We consider Serbia to be a Local Church regardless of its numbers.  A Local Church may not be subject to another Local Church.  Serbia first appealed to Greece for help, and then later to us. We, of course, recognize the GOC's ability and right to help the Serbian Church, but this in no way stops the Russian Church from helping also."  He gave the analogy of a ship in distress. Just because one country begins to help, this does not preclude another from helping also. "The Serbs asked us to ordain them a bishop. As brothers in Christ, we have to let you know that we intend to do so. We do not wish to do so secretly in the night, but with your knowledge, and hopefully your participation."

     The response of Archbishop Kallinikos was violent. He shouted, pounded his fist on the table, stood up and leaned over the table to Bishop Germogen. At one point he asked him: "How well do you know these people?  Have you ever even visited them? We know them for a decade."  Bishop Germogen responded calmly, saying that they knew those who had come to them rather well.

     At that point Protopresbyter Victor Melehov could not resist, and interjected: "Despota, you know the Serbs have been with the GOC for so many years, and you were assigned as their ruling bishop. How many times have you visited them over the past decade?  Do you know them at all?" Of course, everybody knew the answer to that. Archbishop Kallinikos was momentarily speechless, and Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Attica hastily changed the subject…

    “This action of our estranged brethren is even more condemnable in that they knew that on the agenda of the Synodal Meeting of August 3rd was a proposal for the Synod to adopt a time table for the ordination of a bishop of your choosing and the reorganization of the Serbian Church of the GOC immediately after the union with the Russian Synod under Archbishop Tikhon, with, moreover, the cooperation of Greek and Russian bishops. They did not await at all the result of the Synod, but the eve of August 3rd they ran to make their plan a fait accompli through their coup. The Holy Synod will not abandon the faithful children of the Church that remain in canonical order and will move forward with the reorganization of the Serbian Church of the GOC.”

    “The ordination of a bishop of your choosing” – that is, a bishop elected by the small minority of anti-Akakians? How could that possibly solve the problem?! And of course the Russians would never have cooperated in that, since they backed Fr. Akakije and the STOC majority.

     In any case, what was there for the Russians to wait for? They had already postponed the consecration once in order to travel to Athens and seek a last-minute resolution, but had been greeted by rudeness, violence and the words: "Serbia belongs to the Greek Church, and only the Greek Church has jurisdiction over the Serbian Church's future." They were told that the Greeks were not interested in any joint consecration of a bishop for Serbia, and if the Russian Church did ordain a bishop for Serbia, there would be no possibility for any union between the GTOC and the RTOC. After such a reply, there was no reason for the Russians to believe that any future meeting of the Greek Synod would deliver any other verdict. So they returned to France, and the consecration took place on August 2/15.  

     “Toward this end the Holy Synod decided to call a Clergy-Laity Conference in Belgrade on Saturday, August 21/ September 3, 2011, in the present of His Beatitude Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens and All Greece. All Genuine Orthodox Christians of Serbia that remain in canonical order and recognize the Holy Synod, which from the beginning was responsible for the reorganization of the Serbian Church, will have a right to participate. In this conference, the current situation will be evaluated, you will elect a Governing Council which will truly express your desires, and you will freely address your legitimate hierarchy with your proposals and petitions.”

     And what has this “reorganization” done for the anti-Akakian Serbs? Very little so far. Their first demand was that Archbishop Kallinikos defrock Bishop Akakije and his fellow clergy. He hasn’t done that, although he insists that they have to repent in writing of their refusal to submit to him. Also, they have not received any bishop of their own. Indeed, it would be naive to expect that the Greeks would keep their promise and “adopt a time table for the ordination of a bishop of your choosing” when they refused precisely that same request so stubbornly for so many years earlier. Only if there appears a candidate who is willing to submit the interests of Serbia to Greece in a way that Fr. Akakije refused will the Greeks consider ordaining him… But that, of course, would be a terrible betrayal of the interests of the Serbian Church and of Orthodoxy in general…

     It seems that what this “reorganization” really means is the continued domination of Metropolitan Kallinikos over a very small and decreasing flock which is already riven by divisions over whether their liturgical language should be Serbian or Church Slavonic. Perhaps, to be consistent, it should be neither Serbian nor Church Slavonic, but Greek… After all, since they had rebelled against their former spiritual father, Fr. Akakije, on the grounds that they wanted to belong to the Greek and not the Serbian Church, then they should learn Greek and serve in Greek, abandoning all claim to being the GOC of Serbia...

     Let the last word be with Bishop Akakije: “We have been told that our exit from under Greek administrative rule means the end of friendship and help:  ‘You will lose your friends and no one will help you anymore...’ Where is their genuine brotherly love for us, which we True Orthodox Serbs still cherish for them?  Does this mean that we Serbs are only their good friends as long as we are submitted to the Greek GOC?  Is the progress of the Serbian TOC not also their joy as well as ours?  We hope that the irrational resentment exhibited from the side of the Greek GOC is temporary and that their sharp words spoken and shot at our hearts are only an involuntary and short-lived reaction.  Although such positions and statements of our Greek brothers, like those of their Serbian followers, have caused much harm and hurt us, we will not harbour hard feelings, but will wait with patience for them to become more sober, praying to the Lord of all to sow brotherhood, mutual love, and understanding between us...”[15] 


October 15/28, 2015.

St. Catherine, first Abbess of Lesna Monastery.


[2] Bishop Akakije, “The Serbian Church, Serbian People, True Orthodoxy, and the Greeks”. This article was placed on the website of the Serbian True Orthodox Church. However, hackers from the Serbian patriarchate have made it impossible to read it there at the moment.

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

[4] This canon was invoked in 1928 by St. Joseph in Petrograd, when Metropolitan Sergius tried to remove him from his diocese. And yet St. Joseph and Sergius belonged to the same Local Church. How much more justly can the canon be invoked in the present case, when one Local Church is claiming jurisdiction over another!

[5] Bishop Akakije, op. cit.

[6] Bishop Akakije, op. cit. Cf. Apostolic canon 36; Fourth Ecumenical Council, canon 25; Council in Trullo, canon 35.

[7] Bishop Nikodim, The Canons of the Orthodox Church, originally published in Serbian in Novi Sad, 1896. We quote here from the Russian translation published in St. Petersburg, 1912, volume II, p. 226.

[8] Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, Cambridge University Press, 1968, pp. 377-380. Thus, as J. Frazee writes, “the first Greek had been appointed to the patriarchate of Peč in 1737 at the insistence of the Dragoman Alexandros Mavrokordatos on the plea that the Serbs could not be trusted. The Phanariots began a policy which led to the exclusion of any Serbian nationals in the episcopacy” (The Orthodox Church and Independent Greece, 1821-1853, Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 7, note 1). Again, Noel Malcolm writes: “By 1760, according to a Catholic report, the Patriarch in Peč was paying 10,000 scudi per annum to the Greek Patriarch. In 1766, pleading the burden of the payments they had to make under this system, the bishops of many Serbian sees, including Skopje, Niš and Belgrade, together with the Greek-born Patriarch of Peč himself, sent a petition asking the Sultan to close down the Serbian Patriarchate and place the whole Church directly under Constantinople... The primary cause of this event was not the attitude of the Ottoman state (harsh though that was at times) but the financial oppression of the Greek hierarchy. In the Hapsburg domains, meanwhile, the Serbian Church based in Karlovci continued to operate, keeping up its de facto autonomy.” (Kosovo, London: Papermac, 1998, p. 171). Again, Stanoe Stanoevich writes: “The Patriarchate of Constantinople was aspiring to increase its power over all the Serbian lands in the hope that in this venture the Greek hierarchy and Greek priesthood would abundantly increase their parishes. The intrigues which were conducted for years because of this in Constantinople produced fruit. By a firman of the Sultan dated September 13, 1766, the Peć patriarchate was annulled, and all the Serbian lands in Turkey were subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Immediately after this the Greek hierarchy, which looked on the Serbian people only as an object for material exploitation, began a struggle against the Serbian priesthood and against the Serbian people” (Istoria Sprskogo Naroda (History of the Serbian People), Belgrade, 1910, p. 249 (in Serbian)). Again, Mark Mazower writes: “A saying common among the Greek peasants, according to a British traveller, was that ‘the country labours under three curses, the priests, the cogia bashis [local Christian notables] and the Turks, always placing the plagues in this order.’ In nineteenth-century Bosnia, ‘the Greek Patriarch takes good care that these eparchies shall be filled by none but Fanariots, and thus it happens that the… Orthodox Christians of Bosnia, who form the majority of the population, are subject to ecclesiastics alien in blood, in language, in sympathies, who oppress them hand in hand with the Turkish officials and set them, often, an even worse example of moral depravity.’ The reason was clear: ‘They have to send enormous bribes yearly to the fountainhead.’ This story of extortion and corruption spelled the end of the old Orthodox ecumenicism, created bitterness between the Church and its flock, and - where the peasants were not Greek speakers – provoked a sense of their exploitation by the ‘Greek’ Church which paved the way for Balkan nationalism.” (The Balkans, London: Phoenix, 2000, pp. 61-62)

[9] Quoted in the translators’ introduction to Blessed Theophylact’s Explanation of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians, House Springs, Mo.: Chrysostom Press, 2011, pp. xvii-xviii.

[10] St. John Chrysostom, Homily 34 on Hebrews, 1.

[11] St. Dmitri of Rostov, Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, February 12.

[12] This account has been gathered from Akakian sources, but is confirmed in all essentials by an anti-Akakian source.

[13] Letter of the Greek TOC Synod to Archbishop Tikhon, December 8/21, 2009.


[15] Bishop Akakije, op. cit.


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