In 2018, I wrote about the recent schism between Moscow and Constantinople from the perspective of the GOC/TOC. I was particularly interested in how the same people who clutch their pearls and condemn the Old Calendarists for separating themselves from the ecclesiological errors and subsequent heresy of the new Calendarists as they plunged headlong from an uncanonical and non-conciliar breaking of the unity of the Feasts to an unapologetic embrace of ecumenism, syncretism and modernism now minimized, justified and dismissed the break of communion between the second and third Rome for “non-dogmatic” reasons.
Now as we near five years of separation and see the consequences of the actions of both sides, it is worthwhile to reflect for just a few moments on what has passed in the years that have followed. From an objective standpoint – without discussing the separation of Old Calendarists or the issue of grace in the world orthodox – the actions, particularly of Moscow, in the time that have passed truly reveals a very confused ecclesiology and one that sheds quite a bit of light on how this current separation has nothing to do with theology and only truly involves ecclesiological disputes to the extent they impact the power and reach of Moscow.
The initial break was established on October 15, 2018, in reaction to Constantinople’s papal designs and uncanonical encroachment into the Ukraine. Met. Hilarion of the DECR stated unequivocally that the EP was not schismatic: “As of today, we have very clearly stated: the fact that the Patriarchate of Constantinople has recognized a schismatic structure means for us that Constantinople itself is now in schism. It has identified itself with a schism. Accordingly, we cannot have the full Eucharistic communion with it.” It has also been stated as “one who joins himself to schism, becomes schismatic.” Now, this declaration and determination of the Holy Synod is very significant, because there have been numerous separations and breaks in communion in the Church that were not considered schismatic, but merely temporary breaks owning almost always to human frailty. They have been healed via repentance or even common confession without issues of the presence of grace or other the need to rebaptize or reordain the faithful or clergy of one of the parties to the break. Example of this are replete in the history of the Church and anyone who tells you that whenever there is a break in communion one side must be schismatic, they are simply lying or uninformed about church history. So the declaration that the EP is schismatic is a big deal. It does matter that those words are used. Because it does has ramifications about the existence of grace and the recognition of mysteries. And this is the manner in which Moscow chose to proceed.
Thereafter, their actions further reflected a belief that these errors are not a mere administrative disagreement, but actually a break from the Church. For example, they further broke communion with bishops that recognized or concelebrated with the OCU structure. The Archbishop of Athens was struck from Moscow’s diptychs (though apparently seven dissenting Greek metropolitans are apparently still considered not in schism). Shortly thereafter, the Pope of Alexandria and his synod was stricken. Following this, Moscow established a mission and accepted parishes under its protection in the canonical territory of Alexandria. This resulted in Alexandria likewise severing communion with Moscow. They also purported to depose a Russian metropolitan for interference on their territory. In 2020, communion with Cyprus was also broken following their recognition of the OCU. Moscow further gave life to its vision that the EP and all supporters of the OCU are in schism by stationing priests in Turkey.
Now, what remains though is a Moscow that still holds communion with other World Orthodox jurisdictions such as Jerusalem, Antioch, Serbia and others. However, none of those jurisdictions have broken communion with the EP, though they have not concelebrated with or otherwise recognized the OCU and Epifanios. Likewise, to my knowledge, none of them have stricken Constantinople, Alexandria, Greece or Cyprus from its diptychs. This places Moscow in a most peculiar position given it’s previous position that when one joins itself to schism, one becomes schismatic. As near as I can tell, this is current Moscow/ROCOR ecclesiology:
1) If you join with schismatics (whatever that means), you become schismatic therefore, it is incumbent on your jurisdiction to break communion with the schismatics and those who join them.
2) But if you just commune with schismatics, you don’t become schismatic.
3) Therefore, you can commune with those who commune with schismatics with no issues whatsoever.
Simply put, Moscow has unapologetically labeled Constantinople as schismatic, and broken communion with it and other patriarchates that recognized the OCU. However, while they will not commune with those jurisdictions, apparently they see no problem with other sees doing so. There is no logical difference here. Orthodox unity is found in the chalice. If Constantinople joined itself to schism and became schismatic, every jurisdiction that thereafter maintained their communion with schismatic Constantinople has joined itself to schism and become schismatic. Moreover, Moscow, by maintaining communion with them has now, but its own definition, made itself schismatic.
And we won’t even get into the EP legalizing the Macedonian schism in the Serbian church. Not a peep from Moscow about that. No break of communion with Serbia, though it now has bishops and clergy ordained out of a schism. The EP celebrated with Met. Tikhon of the OCA and just months later, so did Kirill. How many different ways has schism been joined? But the OCA is a comfortable supporter of the MP and Met. Onufry so again not a peep is heard, much less any break in communion.
For those of us in the GOC/TOC, these World Orthodox foibles are more amusing than anything. But it does shed some light on the zealot new converts who love to yell “schismatic” as GOC/TOC synods and clergy. Apparently, your overlords don’t really care much about that, nor do they consider it to be any real impediment to communion. Be careful of the weapon you wield, as you may find that it is actually pointed right back at you.