1st Report of the VI All-Diaspora Council – by Archbishop Sofroniy – The Causes of the Profound Crisis in the ROCA
The Causes of the Profound Crisis in the ROCA
I would like to begin my report by quoting from the 1848 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs: “Neither our Patriarchs nor our Councils have ever been able to introduce anything new, because the guardian of our piety is the very body of the Church, that is, the people themselves who always desire to keep their faith unchanged and in accord with the faith of their fathers.”
It is specifically for this reason that it was essential to convene the All-Diaspora Council, with the participation of the entire fullness of the Church, our bishops, clergy and laity, in order to find a way out of the profound crisis within our Church.
We anticipate that some will object that our actions are a flagrant violation of the canons. According to the canons, no church council can be convened without the First Hierarch (Antioch 16, 20). There is no question that the canons safeguard church discipline, but they cannot be used as justification for arbitrary rule by the leadership of the Church. In God’s judgment there is no favoritism. Every violator of the canons, of whatever rank, can be called before an Ecclesiastical Court. As stated in the 9th Canon of the IV Ecumenical Council: “And if a bishop or clergyman should have a difference with the metropolitan of the province, let him have recourse to the Exarch of the Diocese, or to the See of the Imperial City of Constantinople, and there let it be tried.” The 6th Canon of the II Ecumenical Council states: “And if the provincial bishops should be unable rightly to settle the charges brought against the bishop, then the parties must take themselves to a greater synod of the bishops.” That is to say, if justice cannot be achieved at the first level of an Ecclesiastical Court, one must turn to the greater Council of Bishops. But our situation is peculiar in that, although the “Regulations on the Ecclesiastical Court of the ROCA” stipulate that the Council of Bishops is the highest court, given the current membership of the Council of Bishops, we cannot expect them to restore order. As a result, our problems stem from the abnormality of our canonical status. The canons do not provide for the existence of a very small and completely isolated ecclesiastical jurisdiction. It is clear that such a situation provides the opportunity for ill-intentioned people to abuse their hierarchical authority without fear of accountability. This is exactly what has taken place in our Church.
Numerous attempts have been made urging Met. Agafangel to return to a conciliar, evangelical form of church government but all to no avail. We convene this Council not from whim nor disobedience, but because we simply have no other option other than to ourselves seek a path to restoring a canonical, conciliar order in the Church.
The issues that I will speak to in my report are not intended to be of a personal nature, and I am motivated by a concern for the welfare of the Church, for the preservation of the immutability of its dogma and canons on the basis of conciliarity, and for fostering an open discussion of all aspects of the life of our Church.
Our Church vessel, which floats in the stormy sea of life, once again turns in an opposite direction from Christ and His Church. The words of St. John Chrysostom come to mind: “As we have no one who is completely healthy in the faith, all are ill, some more than others, there is no one able to aid the ailing. So, if someone should come to us and well learn the commandments of Christ and the disorder of our lives, I do not know if he could imagine other worse enemies of Christ than us because we are following such a road that one would think we have decided to go against His commandments!”
During the nine years of Met. Agafangel’s leadership, we have seen changes not only in the traditional course of the ROCA, in the path that was set for us by our spiritual leaders of blessed memory Met. Antoniy and Anastasiy, St. Filaret of New York and St. John of Shanghai, Met. Vitaliy and other pillars of Orthodoxy, but we have also witnessed violations of the canons and practices of Christ’s Church.
I acknowledge and repent that I share in the blame for this change in our direction, through my sometimes passive participation in the decisions of the Synods and Councils, and in my silence for the sake of preserving unity in the Church. But as we know, “silence may betray God” and this concern for the preservation of the appearance of unity in the Church has led to this spiritual crisis. Since the day that the union with the MP was signed in 2007, more priests and parishioners have been “banned” and “excommunicated” from our Church than have joined it in the same time frame.
The Lord says in the Gospel: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7: 19-20). We are faced with a choice: either continue to remain silent for the sake of appearing united or following the Gospel, to distinguish between the good tree and the bad, seek spiritual unity and the return to the canonical and conciliar path.
As we know, the truth is not afraid of rebuke but craves it, and so I cannot understand those who apply all sorts of intimidation lest their untruth be revealed. We are threatened with excommunication from the Truth by the very people who are afraid of open and honest discussion of developments in our Church. If the Truth is on your side, why are you afraid to come and bear witness to the righteousness of your actions?
The canonical judgment of the actions of Met. Agafangel, that is included on the agenda for the 6th All-Diaspora Council, is not an Ecclesiastical Court. Such a court is the responsibility of the Council of Bishops. The task of our All-Diaspora Council is to provide an assessment of the discord that has occurred in our Church and to point out that this discord stems from the violation of canons. The canons were compiled so that relationships between members of the Church were built on the basis of the Gospel commandments. The Lord Jesus Christ instructed his disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27)
The First Hierarch is not an autocrat, he is the first among equal bishops. The relationship between diocesan bishops and the First Hierarch is defined in the 34th Apostolic Canon as follows: “The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head … But neither let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The principle of conciliarity in church governance that is described in this Apostolic Canon, unfortunately, is being grossly trampled upon by Met. Agafangel.
The canonical violations of Met. Agafangel can be divided into several categories:
Violations of Conciliarity
- The classification of meeting minutes
The Synod of Bishops on October 29, 2015, decreed that all minutes of Synod and Council of Bishops’ meetings would from now on bear the “secret” classification and would not be provided even to ruling bishops. “Resolved: Henceforth, the original minutes of the meetings of the Synod and the Council of Bishops must be kept in the archive of the Synod and marked as ‘classified’.” We meekly accepted this unprecedented decision and this has resulted in the loss of Conciliarity in the Church. To keep the minutes from the people by classifying them means that members of the Church are not permitted to know of dissenting opinions. The Synod, in undertaking such an important decision, usurped the authority of the supreme administrative body in our Church, the Council of Bishops. Earlier, the Сouncil of Bishops had decided to not publish meeting minutes for seven years, but now the error of this decision is clear as it has made possible the manipulation of resolutions, which can no longer be verified because of the classification of minutes.
- The consecration of Bishop Roman
The election and consecration of a new bishop belongs to the entire Council of Bishops (I Ecum. 4, and Ap. Canon 1; VII Ecum. 3; Antioch 19, 23; Laodicea 12; Sardica 6; Constantinople 1; Carthage 13). In violation of these canons, on July 7, 2014, with “the blessing of Pat. Irenaeus,” Met. Agafangel, Abp. Georgiy and Bp. Nikon performed a secret monastic tonsure and episcopal consecration as Bishop of Haifa, of Fr. Roman Raduan, without verbally or in writing seeking the opinion of absent bishops (as required by the ROCA Statute, paragraph 10 and 11, g), and without a vote on this issue. (Ap. Canons 5, 51; I Ecum. 3; Trullo 30, 48; Carthage 3, 4, 25, 70).
In this instance, the canonical crime was the consecration of a bishop in violation of the “ROCA Statute,” but to an even greater extent, it is also the fact that Met. Agafangel, without following conciliar order, undertook a decision of the utmost importance, i.e. the consecration of a bishop for the Holy Land. The consecration of a bishop for the Holy Land is an unheard of historical precedent and runs counter to the traditions of the ROCA. Throughout its history, the ROCA has possessed monasteries and temples in the Holy Land and has never appointed bishops for the Holy Land. Today, when we have practically no churches in the Holy Land, what was the imperative that made it necessary for Met. Agafangel to conduct a secret consecration?
As Bp. Roman was consecrated in secret, not all of the bishops were aware of it. Met. Agafangel, in order to create the appearance of canonical order, proposed at the Extraordinary session of the Council of Bishops, November 25-27, 2014, that the bishops sign a document about the consecration of Bp. Roman. This document was signed by four out of the 12 bishops, with two bishops not present, and on December 18/31, 2014, the Metropolitan was forced to announce that the consecration had been performed.
In March 2014 representatives of the Old Calendar Churches of Greece and Romania signed an important doctrinal document, the Omologiya.
Met. Agafangel signed this document and it was approved by the Council of Bishops meeting at the Mountain View Orthodox Spiritual Center in May 2014. The consecration of Bp. Roman on July 7, 2014 contradicts the provisions of the Omologiya for the following reason:
At the same Council of Bishops meeting, the Metropolitan explained the necessity of the episcopal consecration of Fr. Roman by saying that he would be an “assistant to Patriarch Irenaeus, so that Bishop Roman would be the future successor to His Holiness on the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.” The title of Bishop of Haifa was assigned to Bp. Roman by Pat. Irenaeus and was not approved by our Council of Bishops. We honor the act of moral courage and braveness exhibited by Patriarch Irenaeus, especially his signing of the epistle condemning ecumenism. On the other hand, the fact that he has not made any official declarations of breaking with groups involved in ecumenism, does not make it possible at this time to establish Eucharistic communion with Patriarch Irenaeus. I have nothing personal against and respect Bp. Roman and Pat. Irenaeus, but I want to draw your attention to the fact that Patriarch Irenaeus has not made any official statements about breaking with the ecumenical community, and quite the opposite, continues to submit appeals of his case to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the well-known heretic-ecumenist. In this fashion, communion with Pat. Irenaeus, who has not officially abandoned the ecumenical community, and particularly the consecration “with his blessing” of a bishop, is a violation of several points of the Omologiya such as paragraphs 4, 7, 10 and others.
Met. Agafangel, at the August 2016 meeting at a Greek monastery with Metropolitan Demetrius, in response to Met. Demetrius’ question if Bp. Roman commemorates Pat. Irenaeus, stated that Bp. Roman does not. Bp. Roman, however, has said in his own words, that he commemorates Pat. Irenaeus and there is video evidence of this. As a cleric of our Church and a vicar bishop subordinate to Met. Agafangel, Bp. Roman to this day commemorates Pat. Irenaeus at the Great Entrance during the Liturgy.
To our knowledge, none of the other True Orthodox synods have bishops in the Holy Land. Such an important decision should not have been made without coordination with the other anti-ecumenist Churches. This canonically reckless adventure has diminished the reputation of our Synod in the eyes of our sister Churches.
- The acceptance of Bp. Anastasiy
It was joyful news for us to learn that Bp. Anastasiy (Surzhik) had been accepted into our Church. But, as was subsequently determined, several bishops knew nothing about the acceptance of the bishop. True there was an electronic survey of Bishops’ opinions on this question, but some of the bishops do not use email, some did not read the email quickly enough, and some responded with a categorical protest. Nonetheless, Met. Agafangel, with no regard for the opinion of the bishops, first on his own authority blessed Bp. Anastasiy to serve the liturgy on Saturday at the convent, and then on Sunday, himself concelebrated with Bp. Anastasiy without any formal rite of reception. In doing so, Met. Agafangel recognized the validity of the consecration of Bp. Anastasiy, although we have never had Eucharistic communion with the ROCiE Synod. And now Met. Agafangel accuses us of a “heresy of schismo-ecumenism.”
- The use of manipulation to “ram” his decisions through the Synod
Met. Agafangel habitually uses blackmail and manipulation to achieve his goals during Synod meetings. We can cite several examples to illustrate this:
At a meeting of the Council of Bishops on 9/22 May 2012, held at the Epiphany Monastery of the St. Petersburg diocese, the bishops by majority vote did not accept Met. Agafangel’s proposal to proclaim anathema on Sergianism. In reaction, Met. Agafangel burst into shouts of “we are slipping into the swamp, we should be dissolved, and we are not a church, if you cannot accept this resolution,” etc. What is this if not psychological pressure on the conscience of the bishops? The vote notwithstanding, already at the next meeting of the Synod on 11/24 October 2012, a resolution was adopted that exceeded all conceivable authorities of the Synod: “Pending subsequent confirmation by the Council of Bishops, adopt the proposed text as the basis for the anathema of Sergianism. Bless each of the ruling bishops to determine at his discretion whether or not include this text of anathema in the Rite of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The final decision on this matter will be left to the Council of Bishops.”
According to the ROCA Statute , the Synod is not authorized to decide doctrinal matters as this is the responsibility of the Council of Bishops. Thus, despite the fact that the Council of Bishops had five months earlier voted against this proposal, the anathema was nonetheless “rammed through.”
Subsequently, at the next Council of Bishops on 6/19 May 2014, at the very end of the meeting after awards for clergy had been discussed, the matter of confirming the anathema on Sergianism was suddenly raised, even though it had not been initially on the agenda. This important doctrinal question was brought up for discussion right before the Council was brought to a close after all other agenda items had been decided. The anathema was approved without seeking the opinions of all the other bishops who were not at the Council, as is required by the ROCA Statute. In this fashion, Met. Agafangel through manipulation, and neglecting the views of the other bishops, makes decisions of great importance to the Church. Such are the management techniques of Met. Agafangel as the ROCA First Hierarch.
- Conducting Synod meetings in the absence of a quorum
Contrary to the ROCA Statute, Met. Agafangel chaired a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on 21-22 October 2014 without a proper quorum.
According to the ROCA Statute: “Meetings of the Synod are considered valid when they are attended by at least half of the members of the Synod, not counting the Chairman. In discussion of issues and matters of extreme importance, an expanded synod is required and a meeting will be considered valid if at least six bishops, including the Chairman of the Synod, are in attendance.” As the Synod of Bishops at the time included five bishops, in addition to the Synod Chairman, the obligatory quorum required the attendance of three bishops, not including the Met. Agafangel himself, yet only two bishops were present. Moreover, at this illegitimate meeting of the Synod important decisions were taken, among them: “In connection with existing circumstances, conduct meetings of the Synod of Bishops with any number of its members present.” Such a decision can only be made by the Council of Bishops, whose authority, in this case, was appropriated by the Synod, without even the necessary quorum. That is, the Synod assigned to itself authorities, which it did not have before, at a meeting that did not have a quorum, changing the governing ROCA Statute, and canceling the quorum requirement completely.
Addendum: Met. Agafangel reacted to this accusation in his article “A Note on the Synod of Bishops Quorum” He writes: “The puzzlement that has arisen (regarding the Synod of Bishops quorum) is completely resolved by the Charter of the ROCA Supreme Administrative Church Authority under the title the ‘First Hierarch and the ROCA Synod of Bishops’ that was adopted by the ROCA Council of Bishops on November 23/December 6, 1950, (Protocol № 7), which is also the governing legislative document of the ROCA. Paragraph 9 of this section clearly articulates: ‘For annual and regular meetings to be valid, at least three members of the Synod of Bishops, including the Chairman or his Deputy, must be in attendance’.” But this Charter, which was drawn up in accordance with the laws of New York State for the purpose of registering the Synod as a U.S. corporation, is obviously not a canonical document . On the question of a quorum for Synod meetings this Charter contradicts the explicit instruction of the ROCA Statute, which was confirmed by a decision of the ROCA Council of Bishops on September 25/October 9, 1956 and a decision of the Council on June 5/18, 1964. Even if one formally relies on the Charter cited by the Metropolitan that was adopted in 1950, the ROCA Statute was adopted in 1956 and confirmed in 1964. The legal principle “subsequent laws supersede earlier precedent” applies in this case.
In addition, this Charter is not a “governing” document as after the ROCOR union with the Moscow Patriarchate, the Synod of Met. Agafangel was re-registered on the basis of a different charter, in which no mention of a quorum was made, and citing civil documents of this kind in addressing religious questions is not permissible for a First Hierarch. This is how Met. Agafangel handles documents, by manipulating the facts.
- Interference in the affairs of other diocesan bishops
The canons strictly safeguard the rights of diocesan bishops and prohibit bishops from functioning on another’s canonical territory or attempting to seize another’s parishes. (Ap. 35; I Ecum, 16; II Ecum. 2; III Ecum. 8; IV Ecum. 20; Antioch 9, 13, 22; Carthage 65; Ancyra 13; Sardica 15.) The rules addressing such violations by a Bishop call for punishment up to defrocking.
Met. Agafangel has repeatedly violated the canons by interfering in the affairs of other diocesan bishops. For example, at a Synod meeting on 16/29 April 2015 in Odessa, it was resolved: “To establish joint management by the First Hierarch and Archbishop Andronik of the parishes in the United States. The First Hierarch exercises full authority when he is in the U.S., and in his absence these authorities pass to Archbishop Andronik. Controversial issues will be decided jointly but the deciding vote belongs to the First Hierarch.” (Minutes of the Synod, 16/29 April 2015).
This violates the 8th canon of the I Ecumenical Council, which reads: “There will not be two bishops in the city.”
This Synod decision de facto abolished the Syracuse diocese led by Abp. Andronik, and placed the diocese under the authority of the Metropolitan. With this resolution, Abp. Andronik was essentially relegated to the position of Vicar Bishop to Met. Agafangel.
It must be noted that the Metropolitan appears in the New York Diocese only once or twice a year for visits of two or three weeks, thus violating the 16th Canon of the First-Second Council: “For because of his woefully neglecting the flock which has been entrusted to him, and tarrying in some other region for a period of more than six months, the holy Council has decreed that he shall be deprived altogether of the prelacy whereby he was appointed to act as a pastor, and that someone else shall be chosen to fill his place in the episcopacy.”
The St. Petersburg diocese was also disrupted as a result of Met. Agafangel encroaching on the canonical territory of a diocese that did not belong to him. It is worth recalling that, at the time of these disruptions in the St. Petersburg diocese, its ruling bishop, Abp. Sofroniy, was neither prohibited from serving nor removed from the diocese. The following resolution was adopted at a Synod meeting on 15/28 April 2015: “In response to the submitted petition, temporarily transfer the church complex under the direction of Priest Aleksandr Sukhov, located in the village of Dudachkino near St. Petersburg, under the jurisdiction of the Chairman of the Synod of Bishops. Assign Bishop Afanasiy the responsibility to oversee the practices of these religious communities.”
This resolution completely ignored the fact that Priest A. Sukhov was a cleric in the diocese of Abp. Sofroniy and was banned from ministry pending a diocesan Ecclesiastical Court. In this fashion Met. Agafangel, without a letter of release from the St. Petersburg diocese, and without the knowledge of the ruling bishop, received a parish, led by Priest Aleksandr Sukhov, who was subject to a diocesan court and was banned from ministry. Metropolitan Agafangel personally blessed the same Priest Alexander, who was banned from ministry by his ruling bishop, to perform church services. Unbeknownst to the ruling bishop of the St. Petersburg diocese, Met. Agafangel blessed Bp. Kirill to perform the monastic tonsure of Priest Aleksandr, on the canonical territory of the St. Petersburg diocese. (Sardica 15).
Another instance of violating the canons was Met. Agafangel’s acceptance of the convent, led by Abbess Sofroniya, under his direct subordination without a letter of release and without any notice to the St. Petersburg diocesan authorities to whom the convent was subordinate.
The canons forbid bishops from appropriating clerics of other dioceses, and clerics are forbidden to transfer to another bishop without the permission of their ruling bishop. (I Ecum. 15, 16; IV Ecum. 10, 20; Trullo 17).
The canons require that clerics must have a letter of release from their bishop to transfer to another diocese. (Ap. Canon 12, 33; Trullo 17; Antioch 7).
The canons threaten a bishop with excommunication for accepting a cleric without a letter of release. (Ap. Canon 16; Trullo 17; Antioch 3).
The canons threaten bishops with defrocking for accepting into their communities clerics excommunicated in other dioceses. (Ap. Canons 12, 13, 16, 32, 33; I Ecum. 5, 16; Antioch 6; Carthage 11, 133).
The canons stipulate that the cases of those excommunicated by their bishops may be decided only by the same bishop. (Ap. Canons 12,13,16, 32; I Ecum. 5, 16; Sardica 13).
The question arises as to why the majority of bishops do not oppose the existing order of things, but even seemingly support Met. Agafangel? Undoubtedly this is the result of the personnel policy that Met. Agafangel has consistently put in place. Met. Agafangel selects bishops on the basis of loyalty to himself, and these bishops are placed in important positions, while trying to rid the Church of those bishops who uphold their episcopal conscience and the canons of the Holy Church. In this manner, Met. Agafangel has gradually achieved the current situation in which he can unilaterally cancel Synod decisions and even guarantee the outcome of future Synod decisions. For example, in the August 2016 meeting with Met. Demetrius (GOC), Met. Agafangel by his signature alone reversed the Synod decision to retire Abp. Andronik and even “predicted” the future Synod decision on another matter.
Here is the text of this strange decree: “In connection with the declaration by Abp. Andronik of acceptance and obedience to the Decrees of the ROCA Synod and Council of Bishops, I retract the Decree of the Synod retiring Abp. Andronik and restore the Syracuse and Canadian dioceses to the status in which they existed prior to the last meeting of the Synod of Bishops on 19-20 July 2016. The diocesan subordination of the parishes in Astoria and Valley Cottage will be voted on at general parish meetings and these decisions will be affirmed and confirmed by the Synod. (3/16 August 2016).” In essence, the main problem is that the canonical violations of the Metropolitan are being covered up by the other bishops. This is a sign of a spiritually unhealthy condition, i.e., that the Council of Bishops is unable to adequately respond to the untruths that are being introduced into the Church by Met. Agafangel.
- Disregarding the opinions of the Church membership
Met. Agafangel does not take into account the opinion of the laity in his decisions and instructions. A typical example of this is the consecration of Hegumen Ioann (Smelic) as Bishop of Melbourne.
The Australian Diocese essentially consists of a single parish in Yarraville (Melbourne). Hegumen Ioann began serving in this parish in 2007, but within a few months a conflict arose between him and the parishioners and as a result Hegumen Ioann left the parish.
At the Council of Bishops’ meeting, May 19-21, 2014, Met. Agafangel proposed to consecrate Hegumen Ioann as a bishop for Australia. As not all of the bishops agreed with this proposal, it was decided to assign to Abp. Andronik the task of clarifying the situation in person. Abp. Andronik at a general parish meeting in Yarraville on 21 September, 2014 proposed the candidacy of Hegumen Ioann. Abp. Andronik advised in his report that the over 70 parishioners present at the meeting unanimously rejected this candidacy. Nonetheless, at the subsequent meeting of the Synod of October 21, 2014, it was resolved: “To confirm the desirability of consecrating Hegumen Ioann (Smelic) as bishop of the Australian diocese.”
Although the Extraordinary session of the Council of Bishops (November 25-27, 2014) entrusted Abp. Andronik with the pastoral care of the Australian diocese, at the Council of Bishops’ meeting on October 25-27, 2016, it was resolved to: “Perform the episcopal consecration of Hegumen Ioann (Smelic) as vicar bishop for Australia with the title “Bishop of Melbourne.” This consecration was performed.
Another example of the administrative abuse of power is the conflict in the Holy Trinity Church in Astoria, which will be discussed separately.
- Provoking a schism in a parish
To what end did Met. Agafangel establish a parallel parish in the Synod residence in Valley Cottage, which is located four hundred meters from the existing parish of St. Sergey of Radonezh under its rector Fr. Grigoriy Kotlaroff? Several years ago the Metropolitan brought to the residence everything needed to perform the liturgy and began to organize a new congregation consisting of members of the existing parish that is under the authority of Abp. Andronik. Regular church services were begun in the Synod residence and the parishioners of the St. Sergey congregation were faced with a choice of in which church to worship. In this manner a united congregation was split. Moreover, these actions were begun by the Metropolitan long before the current conflict. There is audio evidence of the Metropolitan, in his homily at the parish of Fr. Grigoriy, openly calling upon the parishioners of the St. Sergey church to join the “Myrrh-Bearers” congregation.
We must recall here events in the diocesan life of the Moscow diocese when it was under the control of Met. Agafangel. The rector of the parish of the New Martyrs of Russia, Fr. Valeriy Leonichev, on the parish website preached the heresy of Millennialism, blessed Easter cakes and eggs that had the image of the Nazi swastika, and propagandized these beliefs at a children’s camp that he established. In response to protests from the church warden, M.V. Nazarov and the parishioners, the Metropolitan accused the parishioners themselves of instigating a rebellion against Church authority, while the rector received no canonical sanctions from his ruling bishop for the dissemination of non-church teachings. As a result the parish was shattered. (A detailed account of these events can be found on the website rusidea.org).
Canonical Punishments without a Trial
- Failure to comply with Ecclesiastical Court procedures
The procedures for an Ecclesiastical Court are described in detail in the “Regulations on the Ecclesiastical Court of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.” However, contrary to these regulations and to the canons, many clergymen and laymen have been punished, without trial, by either the Metropolitan himself or by the Synod and Council of Bishops.
Bp. Dionisiy was banned by the Extraordinary session of the Council of Bishop (25-27 November 2014) solely on the basis of a telephone call. Bp. Iriney was banned at the same Council session solely on the basis of Bp. Dionisiy’s assertion in the above telephone call that Bp. Iriney stood in solidarity with him.
Excerpts from the minutes of the Council of Bishops, November 25-27, 2014:
“Bp. Grigoriy: Maybe we should give them time until the next synod to reconcile?
Chairman: These types must be cast out or they will continue to degrade our Church…
Chairman: They undertook virtually no activity as diocesan bishops while they have been with us. Bp. Iriney abandoned his diocese….
Bp. Nikolay: The Gospel and God’s law do not allow this. An individual makes a mistake and we crush him?
Chairman: But if we don’t, they will crush us.
Bp. Nikolay: The canons require that they be invited three times to appear…
Chairman: It is necessary to restore order, a number of them must be banned for rudeness on the Internet. They have already exceeded all limits, and it is only our Church that has all this dirt being poured out. We must stop…
Chairman: …they have fallen away from the Church, from unity. If we release them, they will continue to foment lawlessness, to establish all sorts of new jurisdictions…”
It should be noted that Met. Agafangel was already declaring that the bishops had fallen away from the Church, without any investigation or admonitions to them, and he already rendered a final verdict from which there was no appeal.
The same Council of Bishops’ meeting resolved: “In the event that Bp. Iriney repents and in view of the absence of serving priests in his parishes, to provide the First Hierarch of ROCA the authority to retire Bp. Iriney with the right to perform church services in the priestly rank, with a subsequent consideration of his case at the next meeting of the Synod of Bishops.”
The Council of Bishops in this manner granted the Metropolitan the authority to remove a bishop’s episcopal privileges. A bishop cannot step down to the rank of a priest, just as a priest cannot serve in the rank of a deacon. In addition to this, five months later, on behalf of the ROCA, the Metropolitan wrote to the Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan, requesting that Bp. Iriney’s registration be revoked. In making this unilateral decision, the Metropolitan reveals himself to be a person who denounces your brethren to civilian authority and is an example of “Sergianism,” which the ROCA has resisted throughout its existence.
Further, at a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on April 15/28, 2015 in Odessa , the Metropolitan, in contradiction to the proper order of an Ecclesiastical Court, referred to Bishops Dionisiy and Iriney as “our former bishops.”
In a decision at the Synod meeting of October 21-22, 2014, which was conducted without a quorum but whose decisions were nonetheless confirmed by the Council of Bishops, the Izhevsk priests (Archpriests Sergey and Mikhail, and Priest Aleksandr) were transferred under the jurisdiction of Bp. Afanasiy. On November 6, 2014 these three priests were indefinitely banned not by their ruling bishop, but by Met. Agafangel, an action for which he had no canonical authority. As a result their numerous congregation was left without church services. No priests were appointed to the parishes to take the place of the banned priests. This is yet another example of how the Metropolitan takes action against clerics of another diocese and demonstrates indifference to the fate of hundreds of the Church faithful leaving them without the sacraments.
At the Extraordinary session of the Council of Bishops in 2014, at Bp. Afanasiy’s request, Hieromonk Vladimir (Khorunzhiy), a cleric of the St. Petersburg diocese, was defrocked without an Ecclesiastical Court. The reason for the defrocking was offensive statements on the Internet made by Hieromonk Vladimir about the Metropolitan. Thus, Hieromonk Vladimir was defrocked in circumvention of a trial by a court of original jurisdiction in the form of a Diocesan Court, and in circumvention of a court of appeal in the form of the Synod of Bishops, and had no right of higher appeal as the Council of Bishops is the highest court in our Church. Moreover, the ruling bishop of the St. Petersburg Diocese, Abp. Sofroniy, based on the lack of a diocesan trial of his cleric, voted against the defrocking.
M.V. Nazarov was banned from Church communion without an Ecclesiastical Court, and the Metropolitan issued a decree on behalf of the Synod excommunicating Nazarov.
I do not condone rude pronouncements about our Church hierarchy but I believe that we must always adhere to the Regulation on Ecclesiastical Courts. It should be noted that, as a rule, these coarse remarks were provoked by the unjust actions or words of Met. Agafangel himself. All of the persons listed above were punished in absentia, without a summons to an Ecclesiastical Court, without the opportunity to defend themselves against the accusations, and contrary to the Gospel: “Does our Law convict a man without first hearing from him to determine what he has done?” (John 7: 51)
- Unjustifiably cruel punishments
The punishments imposed by Met. Agafangel have been often disproportionately cruel. A few examples:
In a decision of the Synod of Bishops on October 29, 2015, under pressure and intimidation by Met. Agafangel against Abp. Andronik, the Astoria parish under Abp. Andronik was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan. After the death of the parish rector, Fr. Vsevolod Dutikow, the Metropolitan, against the will of the parish, appointed Fr. Vladimir Petrenko from Brazil as the parish rector. This appointment provoked discord in the parish. For the sake of peace in the Church, nine months later, Abp. Andronik was forced to return this parish to his jurisdiction.
An Ecclesiastical Court was designated for July 2016 to judge Abp. Andronik’s actions. The resolution of this Court stated that: “… Archbishop Andronik is subject to defrocking and the denial of communion on his deathbed….The Court has ruled: Guided by fraternal love in Christ, archpastoral stewardship and concern for the needs of his flock…to retire His Grace Andronik with the right to perform church services only in the church in Mountain View.”
On the basis of the above violations, I, at the Synod meeting in May 2016, declared that I was filing a complaint against Met. Agafangel with the Ecclesiastical Court. However, the Secretary of the Synod, Abp. Georgiy, refused to accept the complaint.
Addendum: According to the “Regulation on the Ecclesiastical Court,” one-third of the members of the Council of Bishops must agree before an accusation can be made against the Metropolitan. It should be noted that this rule is not based on the canons and in fact contradicts them. For example: “And if a bishop or clergyman should have a difference with the metropolitan of the province, let him have recourse to the Exarch of the Diocese, or to the See of the Imperial City of Constantinople, and there let it be tried.” (IV Ecum. 9). That is to say, a bishop or a cleric can demand the trial of the Metropolitan before a higher court.
Having denied me the opportunity to file a complaint with the Ecclesiastical Court, Met. Agafangel instead filed a complaint against me with the court. This Ecclesiastical Court was conducted during the Extraordinary session of the Synod in July 2016 under the chairmanship of Met. Agafangel. Neither Abp. Andronik nor I were invited in their capacity as the accused in violation of the “Regulation on the Ecclesiastical Court.” Instead, we received three emails over the course of three days inviting them to attend the meetings of the Synod. Met. Agafangel’s complaint was examined with the Metropolitan himself presiding over the court. Thus, the Metropolitan went from being the accused to suddenly being both the prosecutor, and concurrently, the chairman of the Court judging his own complaint. These actions trample the principles of justice of both ecclesiastical and civil courts.
To cite another example of unduly cruel punishment. In 2014, the nuns Kseniya, Paraskeva and Khristina, with the blessing of Abbess Aleksandra, transferred from the Monastery of St. John of the Odessa diocese to the diocese of Abp. Sofroniy. For this action, Met. Agafangel imposed on them four punishments: 1. denied them Communion until Easter 2015; 2. denied them the right to wear the monastic habit until the end of their lives; 3. ordered that they take Communion under their monastic names, but without using their monastic titles as nuns, but only as “servants of God;” and, 4. decreed that in the event of their deaths, the funeral rites for laity would be served rather than the monastic rites. (Minutes of the October 8/21, 2014, meeting of the Synod of Bishops). Upon their deaths they would also be referred to as servants of God and not nuns. It is a strange decision to deprive someone of only half of their monasticism: to be called by their monastic name but to bear no other attribute of the monastic order.
These punishments violated the canonical principle of “thou shall not punish a man twice for the same offense” (Ap. Canon 25). That is, for one offense, instead of one punishment, four penalties were imposed. Equally, according to tradition, the transfer of monastics to another monastery is usually resolved by the abbots of both monasteries, not by the Church hierarchy. The nuns wrote many letters to the Metropolitan and to Abbess Aleksandra on this matter, but all to no avail. The Metropolitan replied: “You must placate the abbess, and I will do as she says,” thus trying to shift the blame for the penalties on to the abbess. The abbess, in turn, told the sisters that she went to the Metropolitan several times to beg him to change the punishments, but she could not soften his heart. According to other nuns at the monastery, the abbess locked herself in her cell and cried greatly. This incident aroused the whole of our church for its cruelty. Many bishops and clergy asked the Metropolitan to show leniency but all of these requests were in vain.
- The imposition of punishments with ulterior motives
Met. Agafangel used his hierarchical authority to achieve other hidden objectives. An example of this is the denial of Communion to Vadim Yarmolinets and Larisa Young, members of the parish council of the Holy Trinity Church in Astoria (Decree of June 13, 2016). According to the account of Archpriest Oleg Mironov, during the Synod meeting Met. Agafangel said, referring to these two parishioners: “Order there (in the church in Astoria) will be only reestablished after these two individuals are ‘thrown out’ of the parish council.” With this goal in mind, i.e. to “throw” them out of the parish council, they were denied Communion, in the knowledge that this penalty would preclude them from parish membership and from holding any parish positions.
It can be presumed that the numerous punishments imposed by the Metropolitan have as their goal to get rid of one or another person. As Met. Agafangel said in a private conversation: “It’s easier to consecrate a bishop, than it is to get rid of him.” Is this the reason why he immediately resorts to such severe punishments? The range of possible penalties, according to the “Regulation on the Ecclesiastical Court,” includes for example: an admonition, a reprimand, a monetary fine, a strict reprimand, a strict reprimand and a monetary fine, and a temporary ban from ministry. Met. Agafangel, however, ignores these relatively lighter penalties in favor of the more severe, such as an indefinite ban from ministry, defrocking, etc. In the case of the Izhevsk priests, to cite one case, the severe punishment that was imposed obviously could not be accepted as the parish would have been left without church services.
Violations of Church traditions
- Ordination without a Liturgy
In October 2014 Met. Agafangel ordained Fr. Efrem (Baranovskiy) as a Hieromonk, without serving the Divine Liturgy, but simply robed in a bishop’s mantle, epitrachelion and omophorion. This is unheard of “canonical hooliganism” that has no precedent in the practice of the ROCA. Apparently, Met. Agafangel repeatedly conducted such ordinations, as is indicated in the resolution of the Council of Bishops’ session on October 25-27, 2016 (see below).
In reaction to frequently voiced accusations that the bishops indulge the Metropolitan in all matters, one would expect that this meeting of the Council of Bishops might demonstrate otherwise. And so it did. The Council of Bishops “chided” Met. Agafangel for non-canonical actions. As noted in the Council minutes: “Discussed: The actions of the Chairman in connection with ordinations he performed without serving the liturgy, and his sending antimension by courier. Resolved: in response to these committed violations, issue the Chairman an admonition in accordance with Paragraph 32, point “a” of the Regulation on the Ecclesiastical Court of the ROCA.”
It is not clear, however, why the Council refers to the Regulation on the Ecclesiastical Court, if no hearings were initiated on this matter before an Ecclesiastical Court and no Court proceedings, as such, concerning the Metropolitan took place. It is also not clear why for these very serious violations such a light sentence as “issued an admonition” was imposed? Why not immediately defrock the Metropolitan, or at least indefinitely ban him from ministry? Or why not posthumously deny him the title of Metropolitan? And why was this resolution issued two years after the fact? Is it not clear to all that this is just a comedy? On its face, it is clearly the application of a double standard in our Church.
- The dispatch of an antimension by mail
We have also learned of a case in which Met. Agafangel accepted into the Church a priest from an uncanonical jurisdiction. Fr. Vladimir Petrenko, who heard the priest’s confession, recommended against accepting this priest into our Church, but the Metropolitan did not listen to this opinion. The Metropolitan accepted the priest and sent him an antimension by mail. Not by courier, as was indicated in the above cited minutes to cover up this sacrilege, but by parcel post. A courier means that a specific individual used a round trip ticket and transported the antimension. When asked how he could take such an action, the Metropolitan replied: “Nothing to worry about, I sent it by first class mail not by simple parcel post.” While the antimension was making its way from one point to the other, this unreliable priest had already left our Church. We all know the reverence with which we hold holy relics and this consecrated altar substitute. Do the martyrs who shed their blood for Christ deserve such a sacrilegious attitude toward their holy relics from the First Hierarch. This is an unprecedented action in our Church.
Conduct unbecoming a pastor
- Verbal and written slander
During the October 9/22, 2013 Synod meeting, Met. Agafangel articulated unsubstantiated, defamatory information regarding Abp. Andrey (Maklakov). These statements were reflected in the published minutes of the meeting. As a result, the dialogue that had been begun among our bishops Andronik and Joseph with Abp. Andrey of the ROAC and Bp. Stefan (Sabelnik) of the RTOC, was shattered. We believe that this was a deliberate provocation intended to obstruct the process of discussions on unification.
On the eve of the Extraordinary session of the Council of Bishops (November 2014), the Metropolitan wrote a comment on Internet-Sobor that slandered Abp. Sofroniy by accusing him of collusion with the authorities.
At approximately the same time, in a telephone conversation with an individual, the Metropolitan without any proof accused Abp. Sofroniy of immoral behavior and this was heard over the speakerphone by others who were present.
Whenever he encounters opposition or resistance to his plans, Met. Agafangel sees in this the machinations of enemies of the Church. In this manner, many people have been slandered verbally and in writing as recruited agents and enemies of the Church.
For example, in the article “The Sirens Have Sounded,” written by the Metropolitan, he says of the Pre-Council Committee of our Council: “… The work is being seriously conducted — these are not the actions of amateur enthusiasts, this is professional work being done according to an approved plan…”
On July 2, 2016 a letter was published on the Internet signed by four bishops, Afanasiy, Kirill, Ioann and Nikon, containing intolerable ridicule and insults addressed to the senior member of the Church Abroad, Abp. Andronik. It would seem that such slander and lies would not go unaddressed. But this was not the case. If the Metropolitan is insulted, then such an offense requires defrocking, but if it is his opponent who is slandered, then this is permissible.
- Failure to address legitimate complaints from the clergy and laity
Since according to the Metropolitan, all those who disagree with him are enemies of the Church, his reaction to appeals from the laity is understandable. These appeals go not only unanswered but they are not even accepted. (This will be discussed in greater detail by V. Yarmolinets).
- Malicious accusations of heresy
On the eve of the Council of Bishops meeting in October 2016, Met. Agafangel maliciously accused the Pre-Council Committee of the 6th All-Diaspora Council of a new heresy of “schismo-ecumenism.” This accusation was nothing more than a dishonest extension of his propaganda war against our Council. A resolution echoing this charge was adopted by the Council of Bishops. From the minutes of the Council: “Discussed: The Chairman’s report ‘On the heresy of schismo-ecumenism.’ Resolved: The group of believers led by their Eminences Andronik and Sophrony have published a doctrine that the local Russian Orthodox Church has split into fragments which are equally saving and grace-filled, which however do not have prayerful, administrative communion or sacramental communion with each other. Further, that these fragments together constitute the Orthodox Russian Church. The Council of Bishops cannot accept this doctrine as Orthodox, and considers it a form of the heresy of ecumenism.”
For Christians there is nothing worse than to fall into heresy, and as a result, a malicious accusation of heresy is the worst of all possible slanders. What is most cynical in this case is that the views that Met. Agafangel has deemed heretical are views that he himself has expressed repeatedly in print. (For example: Met. Agafangel’s article “On our Continuity”.) We would note that this slanderous resolution was signed by all of the participants in the Council of Bishops session in October 2016.
Met. Agafangel has been repeatedly caught in falsehoods. A typical example of this is, when asked the question of whether he commemorates Pat. Irenaeus, the Metropolitan gives conflicting answers, depending on whom he is speaking to. There are specific cases that demonstrate that Met. Agafangel speaks untruths, with just one example being his relationship with the parish council of Holy Trinity Church in Astoria. (A detailed report on these issues can be found on the website of the parish) . Further examples would take too long to enumerate. Generally Met. Agafangel resorts to lies to smear his opponents, to achieve his goals, or to shield himself, i.e., when exposed in a lie, he immediately offers a new lie as cover, and there are many such cases.
In response to a request from the Synod of Archbishop Kalinnikos about punishments imposed on Abp. Andronik and Abp. Sofroniy, Met. Agafangel wrote: “We did not impose punishments on bishops Andronik and Sofroniy. Bishops Andronik and Sofroniy stated publicly that they were no longer subordinate to the Synod and Council of Bishops. We took note of this declaration and, as they themselves requested, placed them in a retired status pending an All-Diaspora Council. This is, in fact, not a punishment but a fulfillment of their desires.”
The level of disingenuousness and the distortion of reality in these lines defies all description.
This recitation of canonical violations, that have led to the departure from the Church of large numbers of parishioners and of entire dioceses, has been presented here not to settle personal grievances, but in order to shed light on what is happening in our Church. Diseases left untreated become incurable. Exposing a problem is the fastest means to solve it.
With this illumination of the situation in our Church we appeal to the bishops, clergy and laity who are attendees and to those who are not present at the Council today. We are confident that, if not for pressure and intimidation by Met. Agafangel, many of the absent would be here with us. We appeal to their Christian conscience with this question. For many years we have made every possible effort to find a conciliar solution to these problems, but all to no avail. Knowing the canonical violations of the Metropolitan, his open disdain for the truth, his covering up with falsehoods, all of which has become commonplace, is it possible to continue to live under such leadership without the fear, like that of the New Martyrs of Russia, that we are impersonating Christ’s Church?
My archpastoral duty before my congregation and before our Church Abroad calls me to make my choice.
We cannot allow the Church to be ruled on the principle of the papal infallibility of the First Hierarch. We are accused of violating church discipline but the reasons for this insubordination are ignored. Obedience is demanded of us to an individual who hides behind the canons, yet those who demand this are themselves in conflict with the canons, which speak of obedience to the law of God and not to a man.
We would be willing to forgive with love all of the facts that we have presented, if we saw from the Metropolitan the goodwill to recognize and rectify this catastrophic situation.
Let us conclude this report with the words that New Martyr Bp. Damaskin addressed to Met. Sergey (Stragorodskiy): “We have all stopped, we are not going with You, and we continue to beg, to call You to return, to once again join with us. But life cannot stop, and we are forced to go forward along our previous path. We beg you, we call to You, Vladyka, we are still near to You and are ready to offer You our hands…But if You still do not heed us, do not come back, then You will go along Your path, BUT WITHOUT US.”
- Sofroniy, Archbishop of St. Petersburg and Northern Russia
2017, All-Diaspora Council, New York
NOTE: Source references are available in the original version of this Report in the Russian section of rocana.org