The head of the largest diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro has called on the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to call together representatives of Orthodox churches around the world for a council and resolve the dispute with the Russian Orthodox Church over a breakaway church.
Metropolitan Bishop of Montenegro and the Littoral, Amfilohije Radović, told Russian state news agency TASS that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople’s actions were “ruining the foundations” of the 2,000 Orthodox Christians living in Turkey and could spell disaster.
Russia’s Orthodox Church froze its ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, in September 2018 over the Patriarchate’s support for a bid for independence by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to split from Moscow.
In January, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I signed a decree of independence for the Ukrainian church, effectively splitting it from the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Ukrainian church began taking steps to break free from the Russian church after Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was deposed in an uprising in 2014, prompting an ongoing conflict that has seen Moscow invade and annex the Crimean Peninsula.
The Ecumenical Patriarch’s decision to side with the Ukrainian church has caused a split in the church that must be overcome, Radović told TASS in an interview.
“The only thing that Constantinople could do today is to gain strength because it is not easy for it and to convene the Pan-Orthodox Council, agree with the Moscow Patriarchate and find a solution in order to overcome the split in the church. I believe this is the only thing that can be done,” Radović said.
The Ecumenical Patriarch is considered the “first among equals” in the autonomous Orthodox churches around the world, and he does not wield the same authority as the Catholic Pope. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople uses the old Greek name for the city of Istanbul.
Radović said the Ecumenical Patriarch’s decision had been unwise, and that the split had affected Orthodox communities around the world.
“This is a serious damage for the Constantinople Patriarchate. All conferences of bishops, which used to be held earlier around the world, have been almost suspended both in Latin America and in Europe … This is a tragic story,” he said.
The Serbian metropolitan said no local church had recognized the creation of the independent Ukrainian church and added that he was sure the move had been made under pressure from the United States or Europe.
In September, when the Russian Orthodox Church froze its ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Bartholomew responded that his church was not afraid of threats.