By Matthew Dubas
October 30, 2020
The Ukrainian Weekly
PARSIPPANY, N.J. – During a divine liturgy on October 24 at the Chrysoroyatissa (Our Lady of the Golden Pomegranate) Monastery in Pathos, Cyprus, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, primate of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, commemorated Metropolitan Epifaniy, primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
The move officially recognizes the autocephaly of the OCU. The Orthodox Church of Cyprus thus joins the Orthodox Church of Greece, the Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Ecumenical Patriarchate in its official recognition of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
The move is seen as a landmark event, since the Church of Cyprus holds a special position, belonging to the “ancient” rather than “new” autocephaly, and enjoys high authority among the Greek Churches and in the Orthodox world as a whole.
The archbishop was at the monastery for the consecration of Bishop Pankraty (also spelled Pagkratios) of Arsinoe. In March, during a visit by Archbishop Chrysostomos to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the patriarch commemorated Metropolitan Epifaniy during a divine liturgy, and because there was no objection from the archbishop, it was seen as a sign of recognition, albeit unofficially because Patriarch Bartholomew was the prime celebrant.
“We are grateful to our Orthodox brothers and personally to his beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos for their support through the difficult time of formation and pray for them in our turn, for the entire Church of Cyprus and the pious people of Cyprus,” the OCU stated in reaction to the move.
The commemoration of heads of the officially recognized Orthodox Churches, known as diptychs, takes place during the Great Entrance of the divine liturgy. The Church of Cyprus occupies 10th place on the list of commemorations, while the OCU is 15th on the list.
The move was not without controversy. The Moscow Patriarchate has called the archbishop’s decision into question by appealing to the Synod of Bishops of the Church of Cyprus, where four out of 18 bishops share the “sentiment” and “vehemently disagree” with the recognition of the OCU.
Metropolitans Athanasios of Limassol, Nikoforos of Kykkos, Isaias of Tamasos and Bishop Niklaos of Amathous, as members of the Synod of the Church of Cyprus, issued a joint statement denouncing the move by Archbishop Chrysostomos. Metropolitan Nikoforos cited the threat of a schism within the Church of Cyprus over the decision.
The Moscow Patriarchate is demanding that a convocation of the Synod be made to rescind the archbishop’s official recognition of the OCU, and Moscow has removed Archbishop Chrysostomos from its diptychs.
A meeting of the Synod of the Church of Cyprus was held on September 9, when it elected Bishop Pankraty, but it remained unclear what decisions were made at that meeting. Metropolitan Athanasios was at the divine liturgy and consecration at Pathos, but left immediately afterwards and did not speak to Archbishop Chrysostomos.
The aim of this misinformation is “to create confusion about the actual commemoration of Metropolitan Epifaniy to an audience that does not know the Church procedures well enough, with the aim of giving valuable time to the Russian centers of influence to push the archbishop of Cyprus to change his opinion under the pressure of people and conditions that are more or less controlled by Russian funds,” wrote Kostas Onisenko, a reporter at InsideStory, media coordinator for the Federation of Greek Communities of Ukraine, and a member organization of the Federal Union of European Nationalities, in an opinion article for the website Orthodox Times. (https://orthodoxtimes.com/how-russia-reacts-to-commemoration-of-metropolitan-epifaniy-by-archbishop-of-cyprus/)
Archbishop Yevstratiy (Zoria), spokesman for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, noted that “Everyone can calculate how much four out of 18 make up, and conclude whether these four hierarchs will be able to achieve the advantage of their [specifically, pro-Moscow] position,” adding, “the archbishop is well aware of the internal situation in his own Church and would never have taken today’s step if he was not confident that he relies on the support of the overwhelming majority in this matter.”
“My position first serves Orthodoxy and then the Church of Cyprus,” Archbishop Chrysostomos said; he is convinced that all primates, with the exception of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, recognize his case. The archbishop added that all the primates of the local Orthodox Churches, except Patriarch Kirill, have acknowledged that the archbishop did the right thing in including Metropolitan Epifaniy during the service.
If there is a request to convene the Synod, Archbishop Chrysostomos said he would do so, set out in accordance with the Charter of the Church. At such a meeting, the Synod would consider the text of the letter by which the archbishop plans to inform the Ecumenical Patriarch about the decisions and actions that have taken place.
“The archbishop assumes that the content of the letter will be supported by the Synod – if not unanimously, then by a majority. Thus, all the statements and protests are nothing more than a ritual attempt by hierarchs closely connected with Moscow to cover up their defeat in the two-year struggle against the recognition of the OCU by the Church of Cyprus,” said Archbishop Yestratiy.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) echoed Moscow’s position, underscoring that the decision of Archbishop Chrysostomos is his own, and not representative of the Synod of the Church of Cyprus. “ It should be noted that the interests of politics and geopolitics continue to interfere in the affairs of the Church. Unfortunately, the victim of such a process is both the general unity of world Orthodoxy and individual Orthodox Churches,” stated Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanych), chancellor of the UOC-MP.
The OCU is not discouraged by the UOC-MP’s and the Moscow Patriarchate’s attempts to undermine the decision by the head of the Church of Cyprus, and it expects a “similar upcoming new decision of the heads of local Churches regarding Ukrainian Orthodoxy,” said Metropolitan Oleksandr (Drabynko) of the OCU. “In my opinion, this can be done (and I would be delighted as a frequent pilgrim to the Holy Land) by the Church of Jerusalem, which is also one of the Greek Churches in the pentarchy.”
Metropolitan Oleksandr was optimistic that the Romanian Orthodox Church also has no obstacles to recognizing the OCU, and the Romanian Church has not made any canonical or ecclesiological claims or comments, except for mutual requests, including the establishment of a Vicariate between the Churches. There have not been any discussions by the Romanian Synod related to recognition of the OCU, and, according to Metropolitan Oleksandr, Patriarch Daniel of Romania can act the same as Archbishop Chrysostomos, or just like Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria, and put an end to Moscow’s pursuit of the primacy and “papacy” pre-programmed by Joseph Stalin.
In a Facebook post, Archbishop Yevstratiy echoed the sentiment of Metropolitan Oleksandr. “ Today’s event is not something spontaneous or induced by emotions, circumstances or individuals. This is the fruit of a long process, reflection, consultations.”
Moscow did itself a disservice by “intensively creating problems among local Churches, influencing the position of some hierarchs including through ‘generous donations.’ Both in the Church of Greece and in the Patriarchate of Alexandria, many bishops openly complained of the frantic pressure on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church. As a responsible archpastor, the archbishop of Cyprus was actually confronted by the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church urging him to make a choice – to act for the benefit and unity of Orthodoxy, or to unwittingly assist Moscow in its destructive cause.” Archbishop Chrysostomos “decided to act in favor of preserving Orthodox unity, which should be protected from the hegemonic encroachments of Moscow,” Archbishop Yevstratiy noted.
The media struggle and propaganda campaign by Moscow will continue, he added, but it should be stated that officially, five out of 15 diptychial local Churches (one-third) maintain a consolidated positive stance on the Tomos of Autocephaly that was presented to the OCU. This also indicated that this number will continue to grow. “This [growth] will continue until the Moscow Patriarchate remains alone in its denial of the reality of the OCU’s existence as a local Church. Then, sooner or later, the Moscow patriarch will also remember the name of the primate of the OCU in the diptych,” Archbishop Yestratiy summarized.