The Question of Autocephality and the Church

by Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radovic) of Montenegro and the Coastlands


Beginning a conversation about the Church with the issue of autocephality would mean starting our discourse "at the wrong end of the stick". To insist on remaining at this issue would resemble talking about the clothes and not the man who wears them or about the paper and not the contents of the book written on it. Christ's Church has during the course of history changed many "garments" managing, however, to always stay the same, as Christ, its only head, The God-man, is always the same - yesterday, today and unto all ages. The Church, being "the pillar and stronghold of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15 ) the leaven of the life eternal and the witness of Christ resurrected, is called to baptize "all nations in the name of The Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all things that Christ commanded them ..." (Matt. 28:19-20)

The Church has an inner everlasting content together with a basic constitution and order which directs the processes of revealing, witnessing and offering that salvific content to the world. For someone who has through baptism received this eternal Mystery of the Church, this content ( the faith in The Holy Trinity, and in Christ as God and the Son of God, Who for us and for the sake of our salvation was born of The Virgin , was crucified and rose from the dead on the third day) and this order (apostolic succession, coming together in the mystery of the Eucharist of the baptized laos around the bishop with the presbyters and deacons) - brought together represent the main criterion and a test of all forms of life, including the life of the Church through history. The Church can be experienced and 'tasted' only from the inside and not externally: without the right faith (orthodoxy) and outside of living a life according to this faith The Church does not exist. We can find only its empty shells, or "garments". To deify one of these garments means to become blind for God and the mystery of His Church. Hence the "autocephality" bereft of God Jesus Christ as the only Head of the Divine-Human body of The Church represents an empty shell, self-headedness, or better still headlessness, a new form of idol-worship ending up with the creation of the church "after your own image and likeness."

During the course of history many religious sects and so called "churches" appeared and based themselves on these self-centered and vainglorious principles, to finally finish up preserving nothing else of their original orthodox Christianity except their names. Trying not to give in to the constant threat and temptation of human susceptibility to deception and passions, The Orthodox Church kept Her faithfulness to the truth and the contents of The Gospels as Her most precious treasure, confirming this loyalty and testing it against the apostolic succession of the living Tradition of genuine truthfulness and genuine Church constitution. That is why we call our Church orthodox.

Faithfulness to the living Tradition has always been confirmed through humble loyalty to the apostolic sees and churches (O. Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome - until the last one went astray) to their faith and order; it was also witnessed at the ecumenical Councils of the Church and their decisions and canons remain valid for all Orthodox Christians up until today. This was the order and the canonical constitution kept by the old and the new Orthodox churches (O. Churches of Cyprus, Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia, Romania etc.) regardless of whether they were called autocephalous or autonomous, patriarchates, metropolitanates or episcopates. All these titles are historically conditioned and they have been used to express an inner truth of The Church, Her universal message and meaning and not vice versa. The criteria of The Church and ecclesiality, the essential and everlasting in Her, have never been nor today are - her "garments" and titles and names acquired through history. These were never her essential qualities. Among all different peoples and in all different languages the only essential quality of the Church that orthodox Christians confess at every Divine Liturgy is:" I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."

In front of God we do not mention the Greek, Serbia, Russian or Montenegrian... Which means that national identity has never been the essential characteristic of the Church, in the East as well as in the West. Ethnophiletism first surfaced in the 19th century as a temptation of the Orthodox East and as such is still present today in some parts of the Orthodox world. Behind this temptation lies the idea of the deification of the nation and the transformation of the living God into a tribal deity together with placing the Church in the position to cater for the lowly, political interests. It happened in Ukraine, and that is why it today has one (the biggest) canonical orthodox Church, two schismatic "churhes" and also one uniate "church". This principle of breaking the unity of the organism of the Church is behind the schism in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the attempt of making the problem in the Metropolitanate of Montenegro, for the first time in its eight centuries long history.

For the leaders of this schism "Montenegrianness" and "autocephality" are more important than the Church itself, Her essence, Her everlasting meaning and centuries old constitution. These people obviously do not want the Church and the fulfillment of Her mission; they are trying to use the church to accomplish their notions and visions of statehood and other interests.