BISHOP IRINEJ OF BAČKA : “The Ecumenical Patriarch does not have the right to independently decide on the status of any Church outside of a Council”

On September 17, 2018, the Greek internet portal of Romfea published the thoughts of Bishop Irinej of Bačka (Serbian Orthodox Church), in which the Bishop voiced his points of view on a number of issues such as overcoming the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy, the granting of autocephaly to the Church in Ukraine and other related initiatives which have been proposed by the Constantinopolitan Patriarch Bartholomew I.
Bishop Irinej criticised the basic principles on which the Ecumenical Patriarchate relies, namely, initiating the provision of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and bypassing the existing Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is in eucharistic communion with the entire Orthodox world , in the process.
Bishop Irinej noted that the actions of Constantinople were explained and argued by the desire to cure the schism and restore Church unity to the people of Ukraine on the basis of the recently formulated doctrine that Constantinople has the exclusive right to make decisions on its own, neglecting the existing boundaries of autocephalous Local Churches. However, according to the Vladyka, this doctrine “does not withstand any criticism”.
“According to the current structure of the Church, the institute of the Council has  higher authority than the episcopacy  and all the Church, that is, the authority of the Council of all or most of the autocephalous Churches (Ecumenical Council), or the council of the majority of the Churches of a certain broad region (Great Council, Μείζων σύνοδος)”, – expounded  Bishop Irinej. He stressed that the “primacy” of the Ecumenical Patriarch is not absolute, who, in fact, has the role of “presiding at the Council”.
“According to the well-known Apostolic Canon 34 , the Council does not make sense without the chief or first head, but the chief  head without a council can not exist. Hence it follows that the Ecumenical Patriarch can not discuss, let alone decide on the status of the Ukrainian Church, nor indeed any other Church, by himself, independently”.
Regarding the possible Lifting of the Anathema and ecclesiastical excommunication of the Primate of the UOC-KP, Filaret (Denysenko), Bishop Irinej noted that any Church, even the first in rank and glory, has no right to violate and declare invalid canonical church actions and decisions of another brotherly Church, which are automatically recognised and deemed valid in all other Local Churches. This principle, according to the Vladyka, preserves the structure and system as well as the functionality of the whole body of the Church and leads to the fact that schismatics  eventually  “return with repentance to unity with the Church and with the canonical order”. “Only after that, can they receive the right to put forward their claims, including those concerning autocephaly, firstly its own and then, through it –  the whole Church.” Bishop Irinej noted that until recently this principle was also respected by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, both in relation to the schism in Ukraine and in relation to the schism in Skopje.
“At the time of the present Ecumenical Patriarch there were times when the Phanar did not accept the schismatics from Skopje … without prior agreement with the Serbian Patriarchate. It was then inconceivable that they could directly approach the Ecumenical Patriarch bypassing the Church from which they split and that their issues would be included on the agenda of the Holy Synod of Constantinople”, stated Bishop Irinej, drawing a parallel with the Ukrainian issue.
Finally, Bishop Irinej noted, with sadness, that uniting Orthodox Christians in Ukraine by way of refutation of schisms will not give a positive result. “Schisms are not overcome by utilising half-measures on the basis of  superficial and apparent conversion of schismatics, who are actively supported by secular governments and foreign political centres”, – writes Bishop Irinej. In his opinion, the most that can possibly be achieved is to reduce the number of schismatic groups – instead of having the three that currently  exist , it is highly likely  that  a new “confederation” will be formed… which will be recognised by some churches and not by others. “Is there any benefit from this to Orthodoxy? Is it worth risking unity at the expense of such a prospect? – asks Bishop Irinej of  Bačka – I seriously doubt it”.

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