The claims made by former Aglipayan priests, then baptized laypeople in the Moscow Patriarchate just three years hence, were incredibly serious. What had been presented in the mainstream Orthodox media in the West and Russia as a joyous missionary success was at best a failure of catastrophic proportions or at worst a deliberate attempt at a property grab, complete with photo-ops, while making claims of some miraculous flowering of Orthodoxy in the Philippines while spiritually starving the people so recently converted.
In 2015, over 30 clergy of the Philippine Independent Church– a national break-off of the Roman Catholic Church, also called “Aglipayan” for its first Supreme Bishop, Gregorio Aglipay– and thousands of laypeople were baptized en masse by priests of the Moscow Patriarchate. The following is the tragic story of what happened after this event, and finally how a group of a few hundred faithful appealed to a True Orthodox Metropolitan, familiar with the Western Rite, on the other side of the world and its results.
Presented are the facts as we know them and we allow the reader to draw their own conclusions. What is inescapable is that presented with the charges against the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan John of the Autonomous Metropolia saw little option but to correct what was conclusively a bad situation: when it was over, the Metropolia had ordained nine Western Rite priests, one deacon, one sub-deacon, and 10 other men in minor orders; allowing the new clergy to baptize over 140 people who had been received by chrismation and chrismating over more 100 people from the Moscow Patriarchate– with more baptisms, chrismations, and marriage blessings to perform still for the new priests– and ultimately leaving behind a functioning Philippine deanery capable of self-propagation and preservation.
How this massive undertaking occurred is as dumbfounding as the story of how the Metropolitan got there in the first place.
According to the charges of the board of trustees of the Orthodox Church in the Philippines (Moscow Patriarchate of May 12, 2017) signed by 11 former clergy of the the Aglipayan denomination, at that point Moscow Patriarchate laypeople, the impression given by representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate was far different than the one found in mainstream World Orthodox media: far from mass baptisms being the sudden result of missionary work, it was largely the movement of the clergy of the Aligipayan group studying and seeking to find Orthodoxy, who then advised their parishioners in the thousands to accept mass baptism. In at least the largest case of “missionary work”, the former Aglipayan clergy themselves were the ones who sought Orthodoxy as opposed to some proactive work on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate, etc, in the Philippines.
The charges against the Moscow Patriarchate priest mentioned in the charges are extensive: false promises made by a Father Kyrill Shkarboul concerning everything from the promise of a seminary to ordinations to provide for the large amount of laypeople. This was certainly not inconceivable (it had been done a few times with ROCOR a few years back in America and in the Antiochian Archdioceses as well, as well as during other periods of Orthodox missionary activity in the last 2,000 years) but it was, according to the charges, nothing but an empty promise long forgotten. But the charges get worse.
The group further claim that not only did Fr Kyrill have little to no idea where money for ambitious (and ultimately unfinished) church projects for which laypeople donated land and labor would come, but seemingly had little idea of where money would come at all, thus misleading– and ultimately disillusioning– the large number of MP laity throughout the country. All the while the Patriarchate managed to acquire some of the Board’s buildings (“as a good faith offering,” the Metropolia clergy were told) and were able to write great stories of the IOCC’s charitable work for public consumption.
In the meantime, the charges note that two former Aglipayan clergy turned laymen of the MP, disillusioned with the false promises of the Moscow Patriarchate, left for the heretical Iglesia Ni Cristo sect (one died before his “rebaptism” into the sect). One former Aglipayan bishop and some of his people, disgusted at what was presented as “Orthodoxy” in the MP, simply returned to the Aglipayans. Two other Aglipayan bishops and their people who had been interested in coming to Orthodoxy, had adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude, and by waiting and seeing they saw their suspicions confirmed. Finally, more and more laity became scandalized. Hieromonk Enoch, who assisted Metropolitan John at the baptisms and chrismations for the former Moscow Patriarchate faithful (a number of whom are now Metropolia clergy) noted that some simply gave up altogether, or while claiming to be Orthodox, had no idea what to do without a functional church life.
Finally Shkarboul scandalized the faithful in what this author thought was the strangest of the charges, but turned out to be the worst: instead of missionary work, the Moscow priest was strangely obsessed with “treasure-hunting,” or searching for precious metals. In fact, younger missionaries were asked by the priest to search for precious metals during his visits. This sounds a bit odd until it is understood that the Phillipines are a mineral-rich nation with a history of foreign exploitation, and in many places mining is locally banned.
This last straw led to the board of trustees banning Fr Kyrill Shkarboul from entering any of their churches in 2017, in search of another Bishop for help.
If this wasn’t bad enough, tensions between Moscow and the Phanar, long simmering over the past 20 years and boiling over in Ukraine most recently also took their toll in the Philippines. The EP Metropolitan declared the Moscow Patriarchate clergy and services to be uncanonical, leaving many scandalized and causing others to leave. Their treatment to their new charges was even worse than the first in some ways, and there was a general feeling among the converts that the Ecumenical Patriarchate had little interest in them at all, treating them in a derisive manner. When asked about the potential for a monastery they were told by the Metropolitan of Hong Kong that perhaps if a few lived in Greece for 20 years they’d one day have one.
With some parishioners chrismated from Roman Catholicism (the Antiochians), some baptized (the Moscow Patriarchate,) and some rebaptized (the Ecumenical Patriarchate), the situation had degraded into the ridiculous. The scandalization of the faithful was almost fully complete, with clergy in communion with each other warning the new converts attendance at one or the other competing parishes would make them “schismatic.” More became disillusioned. More left.
All in all, the miraculous flowering of Orthodoxy in the Philippines had largely withered away.
It can’t be said that there were not priests of the Moscow Patriarchate who were sincere in perhaps their own personal ways, who were indeed interested, in some limited manner and as they saw fit in their minds, in the ‘spiritual care’ of the people, but against the backdrop of Fr Kyrill’s alleged misdeeds, their own circumscribed concern appeared as no more than passivity and acquiescence in the face of what was happening. Indeed, after the ordinations began, a well-meaning convert priest in the Moscow Patriarchate resident in the Phillipines, Fr Silouan Thompson, expressed disgust on social media over the sudden move of people he considered his parishioners to a schismatic group.
Father Silouan is himself a convert priest who converted from Pentecostalism to Orthodoxy in 1998 and was made a deacon in 2006 by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (the branch of ROCOR under the Moscow Patriarchate). Due to the tenacity of the people to have needed ministrations, he was made a priest in 2014. So his disgust was unsurprising at the sudden appearance of pictures: pictures of former MP laity, suddenly in Western Orthodox rite vestments alongside a Bishop in similar vestments. Of course, it only led to forthcoming blasphemies from men who apparently have a deep hatred for the Orthodox West, its Saints, and its liturgical rites– despite the fact that in other places they use the same rites themselves.
So it is no shock that there would be discussion on Facebook over the earliest pictures: Fr Silouan declared the Church the clergy had joined to as “not Orthodox”, and went so far as to accuse the new priest Fr Andreas (formerly Br. Alphaeus Sucayre) of bigamy. In what was an almost painful dialogue with this author, Fr Silouan conceded that in fact the priest’s “second marriage” was performed as a marriage by the World ‘Orthodox’, and that perhaps what Fr Andreas was told by Father Philip Banglit, who was said to have asked Metropolitan Hilarion of ROCOR himself– that he was told his first non-Orthodox marriage was no impediment to ordination– might well have been correct. The shock was probably further compounded by the Western Rite Orthodox liturgical use of the Metropolia, which was then demonstrated to be allowed in ROCOR-MP itself. (Since that discussion, the author also realized that perhaps Fr. Silouan’s argument that they didn’t have enough time being Orthodox might not exactly jive with some of ROCOR’s Western Rite ordinations in America, but then Fr Silouan might not have been aware of that either.)
Other Russian clergy involved in the Philippine mission were equally aghast, but unfortunately it was too late: the Old Calendarist, Western Rite Metropolitan had come, and he wasn’t leaving until his goal of restoring some semblance of order and a native Orthodox hierarchy in the Philippines was accomplished. Behind all the politeness of the MP clergy appeared to be simmering hatred and anger.
Sometimes this manifested: one MP priest suggested burning down one of the churches, arguing that if it would not be for the MP, it would be for no one. In one town the Metropolitan went to, the laity were initially afraid, as they had been told that the previous day that Metropolitan John and his clergy charge money to receive the Mysteries of the Church, that they would have to be “paid for” (this fear was immediately dispelled upon his arrival). And there were even stranger claims: donated bags of rice were demanded back as they “no longer belonged to the Church.” Icon prints which were of moderate quality were demanded back. Any donation was suddenly now recalled; medical bills paid for people years ago were now to be ‘repaid’ with interest. Perhaps we missed the part of the Gospel where it was said, “do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return; EXCEPT when people disagree with you and leave you, then you can ask for charity back, even with interest.”
This pettiness had a profound effect on both the people and the visiting clergy, who were shocked by the sheer poverty of a response– devoid of any logical argument against the visiting True Orthodox Bishop, lies, accusations of theft and even outright threats by Moscow clergy became the manner of each of the 16 days of the visit. When Metropolitan John and Hieromonk Enoch confronted two MP priests who had come to accost the people, with the testimony of the New Martyrs of the Russian Church to the heresy of Sergianism, as well as the full embrace of the Moscow Patriarchate of ecumenism [with even Met. Hilarion (Alfeyev), the current ‘second in charge’ of the MP, recently visiting and praying at Fatima, meeting with papal representatives, etc, etc], etc, the MP priests quickly realized that they had encountered something they had not expected: an outpouring of knowledgeable resistance.
In the end, they went to leave; and as the Sergianists always operate, they began to spread lies about people charging for Sacraments, that money was being given in the form of ‘stipends’ (though, ironically, one person was convinced to stay in the ROCOR-MP by the promise of a stipend!), and, of course, the accusations that the people and leaders of the people leaving the MP were some of the ‘most evil people’ the MP priests had ever met. But, this is standard: the idea is no one can leave the MP, the gigantic Sergianist ‘cult’, without being evil or bad or stupid (or all three). It can simply be they have different conclusions and perhaps they are just wrong; no, with all groups like it, they can’t fathom anyone having any other different conclusions, and they can’t fathom that because in the minds of the MP leaders and servitors, they don’t believe people really have ‘concerns’ at any higher level than bare necessities like living, etc, certainly, they think, not on any theological level –after all, that was how the false “Moscow Patriarchate” was founded in 1943; it was founded upon the idea that Metropolitan Sergius and the apostates simply wanted to ‘survive’ and not be killed, and all things spiritual and sacramental were simply secondary.
Yet, for all their indignation, Metropolitan John had not invited himself: he had been invited. Going to the Philippines was the last thing anyone thought would happen that year.
In March of 2018, Metropolitan John of New York had received an appeal for help from clergy of the the former Aglipayan dioceses, citing a need for help in a situation which had become spiritually desperate. In fact, the claims seemed almost unbelievable: in the age of the internet, mass canonical infractions and mistreatment of spiritual children would seem almost impossible to hide.
It got more and more difficult to parse over time: the idea that the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Moscow Patriarchate were in a proxy war to act less like Bishops and more like feudal lords demanding near Papal obedience to their perceived fiefdoms. It is all the more impressive (and a testimony to the deep piety of the Philippine flock) to endure such spiritual abuse. But the former clergy of the community (who maintained a level of leadership as the Board of Trustees) had already had enough.
Before World Orthodoxy came in, these parishes were of a traditional nationalist Anglo-Catholic type using a largely intact Anglican Western Rite (comparable to the St Tikhon liturgy in use by the Antiochians), with 30 parishes, most of which were priested, and thousands of followers. The “missionary activity” of the Moscow Patriarchate and Ecumenical Patriarchate had completely decimated what was there: people would see a priest for communion perhaps once a year. Since the people spoke in native languages such as Cebuano (English, however, is a lingua franca there) and the Russians spoke Russian, even confessions became problematic. It is unclear why the Russians just didn’t stick to English translations.
Whatever the case may be, what were once thriving communities languished. Everything had become about the buildings they owned– the Russians and Phanarites wanted the temples as proof of obedience. Without priests, Aglipayans hostile to the new converts attempted to get the buildings back. In the end, as Moscow gained buildings, nothing was done with them. Followers dropped off. Baptized fell away. The much-hyped “missionary movement” of the Moscow Patriarchate was failing. In the midst of the growing discontent, two deacons were made earlier this year by a Bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate.
It was in this atmosphere that the Board of Trustees, the former pastors of these thriving communities, reached out to an American Metropolitan of the True Orthodox who was himself familiar with Western Rites, using them himself. An opportunity to save souls of that such a magnitude was enough to move him, and a trip was planned for autumn.
The sign spread throughout the town square welcoming the Metropolitan and Hieromonk Enoch; many people were filled with hope after three years of formal baptism that they would see some semblance of hierarchy restored. The American Fathers were shocked to see the reality of “church life” in Mindanao; there was no guidance for the people until they arrived. Where they went, they were celebrated as they restored order by restoring the former clergy of the Aglipayans– finally– as native Orthodox priests and clergy.
Thus wherever they went there was an atmosphere of celebration; priests were ordained, people who were baptized
in the Moscow Patriarchate were chrismated, those received in through other forms were granted to receive Orthodox baptism. Training the priests was far from a complicated matter; even relatively modern (pre-Vatican II) liturgy was helpful in quickly training the clergy in the traditional Orthodox Western Rite; and overall, almost each day there would be an ordination, tonsuring of minor clergy, as the Bishop and priestmonk moved from town to town.
As word spread of their arrival, other clergy and laypeople in World Orthodoxy came to see what was happening. Some also joined the True Orthodox, and indeed even new non-Orthodox were suddenly interested in what was happening. What was languishing was now quickly reviving.
As a side note, the traditionally heavy European-style vestments proved to be a bit of a cross for the visiting clergy as the temperature barely dropped below 80 degrees Farenheit (26 degrees celsius), and Fr Enoch has resolved to have lighter vestments made for future visits.
Since their visit, the new priests have been adequately doing the work they had already long intended to do for Orthodoxy. More work is to be done; as new converts to the Moscow Patriarchate they were asked – as a sign of “good faith”– to give away all their ecclesiastical items such as chalices, patens and more. (Strangely they were not asked to remove a couple of statues by the Patriarchate, which is something Metropolitan John asked, and they happily complied.) So one by one, the Churches are being rebuilt, and the Abbey Fathers in New York are sending over things that the Philippine clergy once had originally, but ended up giving away.
Rebuilding is moving along.
In the meantime, the Russian clergy are “fired up;” they are making scandalous claim after scandalous claim, with everything from exaggeration to outright lies. But they have been found out; the emperor no longer has any clothes. One of their priests recently prognosticated that the new clergy would “not last a year”. Of course, that is what Moscow Patriarchate clergy used to say about the True Orthodox American Metropolia and their Western rite in America here years back, and it would seem the future has, for the moment, decided to give such naysayers a different answer.