Patriarchal letter to the clergy and faithful of the Exarchate

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Your Eminence Archbishop Job of Telmessos, well beloved brother in the Holy Spirit and concelebrant with my humble self, Exarch of the Orthodox parishes of the Russian tradition in Western Europe under the most holy Ecumenical Throne, most pious priests and deacons, honourable dignitaries and blessed Christians of this patriarchal Exarchate, may the grace and peace of God be with you, along with my prayers and blessing.

The love inextricably linked to the concern of the Mother Church for the Exarchate of the Orthodox parishes of the Russian tradition in Western Europe under her has at all times been maternal, sincere and beneficial. That is why she holds in high regard not only the spiritual light shining from the Exarchate within Western Christianity, but also the details of its liturgical life, as defined in the statutes of the so-called Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. So, on her part, love extends the scope of the concern of the holy Great Church of Christ that the organisation and functioning of her ecclesial body should be harmonious and regulated by canon, and that concern confirms the breadth of maternal love.

It is in this spirit that the letter from eminent members of the body of the Exarchate, addressed to my humble person and to the Holy Synod than surrounds me was read, understood and interpreted. The letter expresses disagreement, even bitterness concerning certain interventions by the Holy Synod in the list of three candidates proposed to the General Assembly of the Exarchate, in replacing two of the proposed candidates. It is clear that, in the course of discussions, oral promises were in effect given concerning respect for proposals made by the Exarchate. It is also true that the Holy Synod substituted two other names for the names of two of the proposed candidates. That is why the bitterness expressed in your letter may be described as understandable and even justified. As the letter says: “As people, but even more as communities, we find ourselves humiliated, reduced to an artificial humility”, for the decision “to reject two of the three original candidates has deeply shocked us, as much in principle as in practice”.

However, the mistrust that is rashly expressed in the letter in the form of a question about the supposed intention of the Holy Synod is clearly unjust and completely mistaken; as you write, “How could it not be thought that the substitution of two unknown names for the names of candidates that we knew was meant to make the majority of us vote for the only remaining candidate that we knew?” This mistrust is manifestly unjust, for it thoughtlessly attributes to the Ecumenical Patriarch responsibility for the internal currents of opposition on the part of members of the General Assembly of the Exarchate concerning the persons of the three candidates. It is also mistaken because the Holy Synod has, according to the statutes, the canonical right to choose one of the three candidates, one of whom was the one elected, whether the other two were the ones proposed by you or the two who were replaced by the decision of the Holy Synod.
Then, the letter clearly underlines that, in order to choose the elected Exarch, it was not necessary to replace the other two candidates. Thus it freely indicates correctly: “We can never say enough that the Holy Synod could have recognised their virtues (i.e. of the three candidates), but elected the candidate of the Synod’s choice, without necessarily following our Diocesan Assembly’s proposal.” Consequently, this question could in the circumstances have been asked, and the signatories of the letter could have answered it, in such a way as to prevent or avoid the unfounded grievances that are expressed in the letter concerning the Holy Synod’s decision, by which, as the writers say, “we believe that we have not only suffered an injustice, have brought into distress three worthy archimandrites of the Church of Christ … We continue to believe that all three had the necessary qualities to be recognised, at least, as eligible to act as bishop.”

The view that the three proposed archimandrites “had the necessary qualities … to act as bishop” is clearly relevant, but it was incumbent on the Holy Synod to examine too the question of whether the three proposed candidates met the established canonical criteria or had the formal qualifications to be eligible in the Exarchate in question,  even if all three had the basic qualities to be promoted to the rank of bishop. This was not at all disputed by the Holy Synod. And if the writers of the letter had asked themselves this question and made themselves answer it, they would have better understood that the Holy Synod’s decision, far from being biased, which would be absurd even to consider as a hypothesis, was on the contrary dictated by its duty, and in conformity with the basic principles of both the Orthodox canonical tradition and the statutes of the Exarchate.

However, given that the writers of the letter also decided to examine the decision of the Holy Synod through the lens of the essential canonical criteria for the procedure for the election of an archbishop of the Patriarchal Exarchate, I think it will be useful to give the following details, in order, on the one hand, to avoid undesirable suspicions and whatever may be without foundation in the way the synodal decision is interpreted, and, on the other, to preserve the spiritual cohesion of the ecclesial body of the Exarchate.

First, the ecclesiastical statute of the Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate stipulates, on the basis of the Orthodox canonical tradition, clearly, imperatively and necessarily, the canonical conditions for eligibility of proposed candidates. Thus, the eventual acceptance by the Holy Synod of the candidacy of one of the three proposed was impossible from a canonical point of view for two reasons: on the one hand, he did not come from the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and, on the other, he did not have a letter of transfer from the Orthodox church from which he came. This is why the acceptance of his candidacy, let alone his election, would clearly have been against the canons, and likely in itself to cause a confusion of jurisdictions. Consequently, the unacceptability of his candidacy was dictated by the canon of the Church, regardless of the candidate’s person, which is otherwise highly esteemed by Mother Church. This is why it is not connected with any desire to examine the candidate’s worth or to denigrate his person.

Second, the Exarchate has as its purpose, according to Article 1 of the statutes, on the one hand, to ensure “the practice and coordination of worship in strict conformity to the Greek-Russian Orthodox rite” and, on the other, “to ensure that all member parishes and communities are governed in their liturgical, pastoral, canonical and spiritual lives by the rules of the Orthodox Church, following the Russian tradition, as they are contained in the collection of canons of the holy Apostles, the holy Ecumenical Councils, local councils and the Fathers of the Church”. In that sense, the multiple functions of the Exarch clearly require that candidates for the rank of Exarch should have, on the one hand, a high level of theological education, meaning at least a degree conferred by a faculty of theology, and, on the other, a deep knowledge of what makes up the Russian rites of worship, which assumes a good mastery of the Russian language. Now, the second of the proposed candidates was not eligible by reason of the fact that he did not have a degree conferred by a faculty of theology as established at a pan-orthodox level. Furthermore, accepting his candidacy for the Patriarchal Exarchate would have been to sidestep, and moreover with any imperative reason, the tradition of the Ecumenical Throne, since one of the candidates you proposed completely fulfilled all the abovementioned conditions, which is why he was elected by the Holy Synod.

Now the Holy Synod clearly envisaged the consequent canonical implications of its decision in the course of its deliberations, where these aspects have been noted. These questions were certainly not raised in oral exchanges, but it was impossible to be unaware of them in the canonical process of making the final decision, on of the candidates for the Exarchate being clearly superior. Consequently, I consider that the decision to have been taken as truly expressing the harmonious connection that links the maternal love and the spiritual responsibility of the Mother Church, as much with regard to the Patriarchal Exarchate as with regard to its specific spiritual mission in inter-Orthodox and inter-church relations. So I willingly reply to your justifiable request for certain details concerning the synodal decision to replace two of the proposed candidates, in order to diffuse the negative tensions caused by the subjective interpretations made of it, as is clear from your request: ‘It is with great humility and filial boldness that we beg you to give us a word of consolation, so that we may begin more confidently the process of rebuilding our shaken ecclesial awareness.’

So, the synodal decision is connected with the canonical responsibility that is placed upon the Mother Church. This connection guarantees rigorous respect for canonical discipline in inter-Orthodox relations, a discipline that is even more relevant when it comes to metropolitan dioceses and exarchates under her spiritual jurisdiction. The synodal decision is certainly not based on the actual individuals proposed as candidates, who enjoy the esteem of the Church. I have come to the conclusion that it was incumbent upon me to explain the decision, which has resulted in misunderstandings unfortunately created in the context of the pastoral care of the Mother Church and in order to strengthen the internal cohesion of the ecclesial body of the Patriarchal Exarchate. So, I exhort you as a father, to rise above personal sympathies or antipathies, to preserve unbroken and undisturbed the unity of the ecclesial body of the Exarchate in the communion of the faith we have received and in the bond of love, in conformity with the priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, in his divine incarnation, took the flesh of the Church: ‘That all may be one.’

And so, praying that all of you, engaged alongside your new Archbishop and Exarch, will persevere peaceably in your ecclesial life and your Orthodox witness in Western Europe where you live and act, I call down on you the grace and infinite compassion of our Lord and God Jesus Christ.

30 May 2014
+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
Brother in Christ and fervent in prayer before God

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