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Russian Church awaiting initiative from local Church on pan-Orthodox assembly

The representatives of some of the local Churches had already come up with opinions regarding the situation in Ukraine but still it required a discussion at the pan-Orthodox level

MOSCOW, September 29. /TASS/. Local [national] Orthodox Churches may initiate a pan-Orthodox Synaxis - consultative assembly or conference - on the problem of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s decision to grant autocephaly to the Church in Ukraine, Reverend Alexander Volkov, the press secretary of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill I told TASS.

"We cannot initiative any formal pan-Orthodox discussion in the form of Synaxis because that’s a prerogative of the First among the Equals, that is, the Ecumenical Patriarch who convenes this assembly," he said. "Others forms exist, too. There are the elders of the Church who can take this task upon themselves.

"If you look at the Diptychs [the table specifying the order of commemorating the Primates of Orthodox Churches - TASS], the next in line [after the Ecumenical Patriarch - TASS] is the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. Or else, there is the so-called synaxis of the eldest Patriarchs - of Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch - and I think they might convene a conference and propose something."

Rev Volkov recalled that the representatives of some of the local Churches had already come up with opinions regarding the situation in Ukraine but still it required a discussion at the pan-Orthodox level.

"I think the very precedent unfolding now [the Ecumenical Patriarch’s decision to delegate two exarchs to Ukraine by way of preparations for the granting of autocephaly - TASS] really deserves a pan-Orthodox discussion and the local Churches will feel awkward if they don’t express unambiguous positions on the steps the Ecumenical Patriarchate is taking," Rev Volkov said.

"It will be strange actually if our brothers, who come to us to show their love and commitment on the occasions of joint feasts, will take an apprehensive stance in a situation that is tense and dubious," he said.

He warned, however, against rushing ahead of time.

"Let’s summon our patience and wait until the moment when the local Churches speak out definitively on the current problem," Rev Volkov said. "I don’t think it would be right to name any deadlines here or push others into doing something or twist their arms. But anyway it would be important to hear the position of all the local Orthodox Churches on this issue, which is so pressing not only for Russian and Ukrainian Orthodoxy but much rather for the future existence of the united global Orthodox community."

Rev Volkov told TASS earlier the Patriarchs of the Serbian, Alexandrian, and Jerusalem Orthodox Churches, the Primates of the Polish and Czech Orthodox Churches, representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church and abbot Parphenius of the St Paul’s monastery on the Holy Mount Athos in Greece had expressed support for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church that is a constituent of Moscow Patriarchate.

The Synod of the Orthodox Church in America urged the global Orthodox community to react to the current crisis in Ukraine by convening the Synax.

Amid a highly knotty and mixed situation in the Ukrainian Orthodox Christian community that took shape after the declaration of Ukraine’s independence from the USSR in 1991, the Constantinople Patriarchate said on September 7 it had appointed to exarchs to Ukraine as part of preparations for the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church.

The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, the canonical realm of which embraces the territory of Ukraine, qualified the step as a gross violation of Church canons. It passed a decision to stop mentioning the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at liturgies in the Russian Church and prohibited concelebrating [joint services] with the hierarchs of the Constantinople Church for Russian clerics.

Moscow Patriarchate officials explained, however, this prohibition did mean a full breakup of relations between the Russian and Constantinople Churches and members of laity could continue taking communion in the parishes affiliated with the Constantinople Patriarchate.

At present, Ukraine has only one religious organization that enjoys the canonical status in the world of global Eastern Orthodoxy - the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is led by Metropolitan Onuphrius of Kiev and all Ukraine.

Simultaneously, the country has two more organizations referring to themselves as Orthodox Churches - the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to the so-called ‘Kiev patriarchate’ and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church that takes root in a reformist movement of nationalistic Ukrainian clerics of the early 20th century.

The canonical Church has about 12,000 parishes and 200 monasteries in its realm.