Peter Anderson reports from the Orthodox world.

Longstanding reporter of the news from the Eastern Church, Peter Anderson shares our dream of a unified Christianity. His love for Orthodoxy has driven him to this personal mission to share the news of East with the world through his email list. The Urbi et Orbi Foundation is proud to share his efforts and his insights with you.

For Orthodox, tomorrow is Palm Sunday, and Pascha will be celebrated on May 2.   In view of the increase of Covid cases in many countries, the last few days have seen more conflicts between church and state with respect to the celebration of Pascha.  A good example is Cyprus.  On Friday, the government in Cyprus decided that the presence of believers inside or outside a church at services during Holy Week is prohibited except for the Resurrection Liturgy of Holy Saturday.  For the Resurrection Liturgy, a maximum of 50 believers are allowed inside the church subject to the distance and other health protocols, while an unspecified number of believers are allowed in the courtyard of the church subject to the distance and other sanitary protocols.  For those attending this Liturgy, the beginning of the travel ban is extended to 1 a.m.   Later on Friday, Archbishop Chrysostomos, primate of the Church of Cyprus, announced:  “We will not obey, and we will invite the faithful to come to the churches with distances and wearing masks.”   Still later on Friday, the government modified the ban on attending services during the other days of Holy Week by allowing attendance of up to 50 believers inside the church, provided that they have had at least one dose of the vaccine three or more weeks earlier.  Believers can also be in the courtyard of the church subject to the distance and the other protocols.   Today, Saturday, Archbishop Chyrsostomos rejected the maximum of 50 and the vaccination requirement and has stated that “if they have 4 meters between them and a mask, everyone can go to church.”  He plans to instruct his clergy accordingly.

In Greece, the government has decided that the Resurrection Liturgy must begin at 9 p.m. rather than the usual time of midnight.  The Holy Synod of Greece has agreed to this. (listing all of the anti-Covid measures approved by the Holy Synod).  In Russia, it appears that anti-Covid measures are determined by the various regions.  Today, Metropolitan Hilarion expressed the hope that Pascha services in 2021 will not be limited due to the pandemic.  It appears that in St. Petersburg, the government is only requiring masks, with recommendations as to distancing, disinfecting, and ventilation.

At the meeting of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate held on April 13, the Holy Synod made major changes in the church structure of the Moscow Oblast (Region).  (Journal No. 4)  The Moscow Oblast is a political subdivision encompassing a very large area surrounding the City of Moscow, but not including it.  The Oblast has a population of over 7 million, while the city of Moscow itself has a population of 12 million.  The current Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church contains specific provisions relating to the Moscow City and Oblast.   Thus, Chapter IV, Section 9, of the Statute provides as follows:

The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia shall be the diocesan bishop of the Moscow diocese, which includes Moscow and the Moscow Oblast.  The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia shall be assisted in the administration of the Moscow diocese by the Patriarchal Vicar with the right of a diocesan bishop with the title of Metropolitan of Krutitsy and Kolomna.  The territorial boundaries of the governance exercised by the Patriarchal Vicar with the right of a diocesan bishop shall be determined by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

This unusual arrangement of a “Patriarchal Vicar with the right of a diocesan bishop” appears to be a special arrangement to accommodate the historic fact that Metropolitan Yuvenaly (Poyarkov) of Krutitsky and Kolomna has led the Moscow Oblast since 1977 in the same manner as a diocesan bishop.

The Holy Synod in its decision on April 13 divided the Moscow Oblast into five separate dioceses and made Metropolitan Yuvenaly the diocesan bishop of one of the five, namely the Kolomna diocese.   Under the Statute, Patriarch Kirill has the right to reduce the “territorial boundaries of the governance exercised by the Patriarchal Vicar” as was done in this case.  On the other hand, the creation of five dioceses within the Moscow Oblast seems to be in direct conflict with the provision in the Statute that there be a single Moscow diocese covering both the City and the Oblast.  Consistent with the concept of a single diocese, the City of Moscow itself is divided into vicariates.  Perhaps, the Holy Synod reasoned that it could violate the Statute by having dioceses within a single diocese mandated by the Statute because it intends to propose to the Bishops’ Council, which will be meeting next November, an amendment to the Statute to eliminate this conflict.

In its decision on April 13, the Holy Synod made the area of the Moscow Oblast, which now consists of five dioceses, a metropolis called the “Moscow Metropolis.”  “The Metropolitan of Krutitsky and Kolomna was given the right to govern the Moscow Metropolis with the powers determined by the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church.”  Under the decision, Yuvenaly remained the Metropolitan of Krutitsky and Kolomna, Patriarchal Vicar, and a Permanent Member of the Holy Synod.  However, when one examines the Statute and its regulations relating to powers of a metropolitan to govern a metropolis, one sees that those powers are very limited and that the diocesan bishops in the metropolis report directly to the Patriarch.  See   From all of this, one can see that the Holy Synod on April 13 drastically reduced the powers of Yuvenaly with respect to the Moscow Oblast

On the morning of April 14, Metropolitan Yuvenaly prepared a petition to retire because of health, and it was immediately posted on his website.   On April 15, the Holy Synod, meeting remotely, granted the petition and appointed Metropolitan Pavel (Ponomarev) as the new patriarchal vicar for the Moscow Metropolis. .  As you may recall, Metropolitan Pavel had been the exarch for Belarus and a permanent member of the Holy Synod from 2013 to August 25, 2020.  He was suddenly removed from this position during the height of the Belarus protests, perhaps due to the unhappiness of Lukashenko over some of Pavel’s actions, and transferred to be metropolitan of Yekaterinodar and Kuban.  Now he is back as a permanent member of the Holy Synod.

Metropolitan Yuvenaly, age 85, is one of the most well-known members of the Moscow Patriarchate.  He was one of the young men who were selected by Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) of Leningrad to be future leaders of the Church.  Others included Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Patriarch Kirill.  Yuvenaly had many international assignments earlier in his career such as West Berlin, Jerusalem, Japan, and the United States.  In 1964 he became deputy chairman of the DECR under Metropolitan Nikodim.  When Metropolitan Nikodim ceased being chairman of DECR in 1972, Yuvenaly assumed the chairmanship of the DECR and remained chairman until 1981.  In 1978 Metropolitan Yuvenaly headed the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate at the inauguration of Pope John Paul II.  He became a permanent member of the Holy Synod in 1972 and has served on it for almost 49 years!   Metropolitan Yuvenaly considers Metropolitan Nikodim to be his “spiritual father and mentor, friend and brother,” and often attends or leads the services marking the anniversaries of the September 5 death of Metropolitan Nikodim.

On April 19, Metropolitan Yuvenaly posted a brief letter of farewell to the Moscow diocese.  I have not seen any information concerning a possible liturgy or event to mark his retirement.

The dividing of the Moscow Oblast into five smaller dioceses is somewhat similar to Patriarch Kirill’s practice of making an existing diocese into a metropolis and then creating a number of smaller dioceses within the metropolis.  This has been done many times since Kirill became patriarch, and the number of dioceses in the Moscow Patriarchate has increased greatly as a result.  When Kirill became patriarch in 2009, there were 159 dioceses in the Moscow Patriarchate.  At the beginning of 2019, there were 309, and this number has now increased further.  The result is that the Moscow Patriarchate has an ever increasing percentage of the world’s Orthodox bishops.

There continues to be comments by Orthodox hierarchs on the issue of universal primary with references to the positions stated on this issue by the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate and by Archbishop Elpidophoros of America (Ecumenical Patriarchate).  Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil (UOC-MP) addressed this subject at a recent Conference of Students of Ecclesiastical Schools in Kyiv.  The following is the full text of his address: (Ukrainian);  (French).  In summarizing the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Anthony refers to Orthodoxy as a “family of Local Orthodox Churches.”   He states: “Thus, the system of World Orthodoxy is similar to a confederation.”  He concludes that “a dialogue between the Local Churches is vital in order to reach a consensus on these issues.”  Archbishop Ioann (Vranishkovsky) of Ohrid (Serbian Orthodox Church), during a recent visit to Russia, also addressed these issues.  He states that he agrees with the position of the Russian Church that on a dogmatic level, the principle of “first without equal” only applies at the first level, namely the diocese.  He also states that because the Ecumenical Patriarch is not elected by the entire Orthodox Church, he cannot be the “first without equals.”

On April 14, the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Belarus met and elected a new chairman.  The new chairman is Bishop Aleh Butkevich of Vitebsk.  The following is his official biography:  He is 49 years old and is the youngest of the eight Catholic bishops in Belarus.   Last December he wrote a public letter protesting the criminal conviction of one of his priests who had used the social media to protest violence in Belarus.  He speaks Belarusian and attends events dedicated to the Belarusian language.  I enjoyed watching a short YouTube video showing him playing the guitar and singing the Belarusian Christmas carole, Ночка ціхая, зарыста (the night is quiet, glowing).

On April 21, Pope Francis at his general audience addressed the subject of vocal prayer.   The following is a paragraph from his address:

We all have something to learn from the perseverance of the Russian pilgrim, mentioned in a famous work on spirituality, who learned the art of prayer by repeating the same invocation over and over again: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Lord, have mercy on us, sinners!” (cf. CCC, 2616; 2667).  He only repeated this.  If his life received graces, if prayer became so warm one day as to perceive the presence of the Kingdom among us, if his gaze was transformed until it became like that of a child, it is because he insisted on reciting a simple Christian exclamation.  In the end, it became part of his breathing.   The story of the Russian pilgrim is beautiful: it is a book that is accessible to all.  [The English title of the book is The Way of the Pilgrim.]  I recommend you read it; it will help you to understand what vocal prayer is.

In other news, Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church have reached a general accord on a “Fundamental Agreement” governing relations between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church.   Today, Bishop Joanikije (now administering the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro) was asked an number of questions concerning the agreement and stated that its contents would only be made public after the formal signing of the agreement.

To all who are celebrating Pascha on May 2, I wish you a very blessed Holy Week.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA