Orthodox Christianity is threatened by a schism greater than that between the East and the West, Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Bishop Irinej has warned.
“For the first time in the history of the Orthodox Church, it is faced with a real danger of a new big schism, this time not between the Christian East and West, but within the East itself. If that were to happen, and I hope that, despite everything, it will not, it would be a bigger and harder schism than all the previous ones in the history of the Church, quantitatively greater than the schism of 1054, given the present number of Orthodox churches and their widespread distribution in the world,” Bishop Irinej has told the daily Politika.
He in this way commented on the warning of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church that the entire Orthodox world was in danger after the decision of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to appoint two “exarchs” for Kiev, i.e., the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Christians.
“Namely, they have not been appointed there, but sent for a period of time on a concrete mission of implementing a plan to assign autocephaly to the Ukrainian schismatics of several colors and species, and against the will of the lawful, canonical church in Ukraine, the only one that is the Orthodox Church in that country, recognized by all churches, starting with the Patriarchate of Constantinople,” explained the bishop, pointing out that the word “exarch” in this case means “simply an envoy, a legate, a representative.”
Asked whether the danger of a schism is already becoming a reality – because the statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church says that “the process is, according to the statements of the ecumenical patriarch, irreversible and will continue” – Bishop Irinej told the daily that “there are no irreversible processes in history, even when they are completed – let alone when they are in progress and yet have to be completed.”
At the same time, he voiced his hope that the Constantinople Patriarchate “will not cross that fatal Rubicon and would put the holy unity of the Church above the worldly ‘primates’, antagonisms, interests, influences…”
He also noted that the Serbian Orthodox Church does not accept the existence of two different and bickering Orthodox Christianities, one “Phanariotic”, and the other of “Moscow” – but instead believes in one, holy, communal and apostolic Church of Christ.
“In short: we are not for Moscow, but for the full respect of the centuries-old canonical order, and we are not against Constantinople, but against any initiative that, even independently of good intentions, would certainly cause even more severe shocks and divisions than we already have,” he said.
Asked if there is a possibility that – should non-canonical church structures in Ukraine receive autocephaly in this way – something similar might happen in Macedonia, where there is also a canonical church, along with unrecognized structures – the bishop warned that “if something passes in Ukraine, it will pass not only in Macedonia, but also in Montenegro, Abkhazia, and wherever the contracting authorities and perpetrators have imagined, even, perhaps, in Greece.”