Interview with Bishop Akakije of Serbian True Orthodox Church on St. Sava’s Day 2020

NFTU: This is the interview by Bp. Akakije that caused the recent reply by the Omsk-centred RTOC Synod.  It is reproduced in full from the linked site, since we reproduced the entire interview of the RTOC reply.  The interview can be read here at the Serbian True Orthodox Church website.

It is reproduced in full below.

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The Orthodox portal site Serbian True Orthodox (serbiantrueorthodox.blogspot.com) has been witnessing to True Orthodoxy in Serbian web circles for twelve years already, publishing for the first time in the Serbian language texts about the contemporary history of the church concerning the great apostasy and the resistance against it. This apostasy began to develop in the beginning of the 20th century through Sergianism, the New Calendar schism, and the pan-heresy of ecumenism. The response to this apostasy consisted of the holy war against it conducted by zealots of Orthodoxy piety throughout the world. Our portal also published the lives of contemporary confessors of Orthodoxy, theological texts on the same subject, and information about the current events in the True Orthodox Churches and the apostasy of “Orthodox” ecumenists. We hope that the SerbianTO portal has contributed significantly to affirming True Orthodoxy as much as possible in all the Serbian-speaking regions, Serbian lands and the diaspora. In the last few years the work of the SerbianTO editors has been brought down to the minimum, which nonetheless has not effected a notable decrease in the popularity of the website. The SerbianTO has quietly continued to witness to True Orthodoxy with its already-published but always relevant themes. This portal was founded by Bishop Akakije, who was for a long time its main editor, and with whom we have already done two exclusive interviews, one in 2010 when he was a hieromonk, and the next in 2012 as a bishop. Both interviews had an impressive number of views, about 10,000 views each.

Since that last interview, many things have happened in the Orthodox world in Serbia, and thus new questions and new themes arise which will surely be of interest not only to our readers, but to all those who are interested in the fate of Orthodoxy in Serbia, and thus indirectly in the fate of Orthodoxy in the entire world.  Therefore we decided, after the passage of eight years, that it is an opportune time to interview His Grace Bishop Akakije of Uteshiteljevo once again.

 

SerbianTO: Your Grace, we would like to have a conversation with You on a few current themes, especially concerning the Serbian True Orthodox Church of whose Holy Hierarchical Council You are the chairman. We would like to start with the question, what is the status of Your church in relation to the official Serbian Orthodox Church?  Many think that you are some newly-founded church or even some sort of Serbian branch of a foreign church?

Bp. Akakije: According to the definition made by the (for us, historical) Church-laity Council of the Serbian TOC in Novi Banovci in 2013, we consider our community an organic part of the Serbian Orthodox Church and Her canonical heir after the hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church fell into apostasy. When we say they fell into apostasy, we are referring to their acceptance of the godless communist authorities and cooperation with them, communion with the new-calendar schismatics and new-paschalionists, and organic membership in the satanic synagogue of the World Council of Churches, which are the main features of the ecumenist-sergianist heresy. In such extraordinary circumstances, the Serbian Church was left without a right-believing, canonical episcopate, without a head, i.e. in ecclesiastical widowhood. Therefore  the Russian True Orthodox Church, which received its apostolic succession from the canonical Russian Church Abroad, renewed the episcopacy for the widowed Serbian Church – the flock which for the sake of loyalty to holy Orthodoxy broke communion with false pastors – by ordaining bishops for her.  Therefore, we have not, as some assert, founded a new, “our” church; on the contrary, as I said, we are an organic part of the Serbian Church – the monarchist, Barnabian and Nikolaen[1] Serbian Church – not the Germanist-communist[2] church. Usually people are confused by the prefix “True” which we had add to the name of our church, but that is only for the practical reason of making the difference between those who have remained faithful to Orthodoxy and those who are in heresy and communion with heretics, while both continue to call themselves the Serbian Orthodox Church. We were not the ones to come up with the practice of adding the prefix “True”; the confessors of the Russian Catacomb Church and the Greek Old Calendar Church introduced this practice in the first half of the 20th century.  Concerning the question as to whether we are a branch in Serbia of some foreign church, I can say that we were indeed such a thing for fifteen years while we were under the omophorion of the Greek Old Calendarist synod, but since 2011, as I have already mentioned, with the help of the Russian TOC to ordain two bishops and found the Holy Hierarchical Council of the Serbian TOC, we acquired an independent church structure which de facto does not have quite all the attributes of autocephaly, but according to the canonically and historically-acquired dignity of the Serbian Patriarchy, we de jure have the potential right to autocephaly, which no other local church can contest or dissolve.

SerbianTO: We are fairly familiar with the disagreements between the Serbian and Greek TOCs. In 2011, the Greeks declared you schismatics. What is Your opinion about the Greek position?

Bp. Akakije: When, after many unsuccessful discussions over a decade-long period with the Greek synod (which, I might add, over that decade never deemed us worthy of a single clerical, much less episcopal visit), we finally decided to suspend their temporary administration over us, on the basis of the 74th canon of the Carthaginian Council which limits the period that a bishop of another local church can administer a widowed church, we had no intention to incur any kind of enmity with the Greeks. On the contrary, in our official declaration of our departure from their temporary administration which we sent to the Synod of the Greek GOC, we expressed our hope that we would preserve unity with the Greek GOC  in a spirit of peace, brotherhood and love. What followed was an arrogant response that Serbia is a part of the Greek Church and that we have no right to separate from them, and that they declare us schismatics because of our action.  From then until now, nothing of their resolution has changed, even if from our side we extended several humble, brotherly petitions and initiatives to establish communion between our two churches. The last petition was sent to them quite recently. However, we have always gotten the same response from them: they will only consider communion with us if we recognize their authority over Serbia. Of course, despite all of our love, respect and gratitude towards our Hellenic sister Church, the terms which they offer were and still are absolutely unacceptable. Both sides still have not changed their positions to this day. As far as we are concerned, we have not lost hope that this Phanariot-minded stance of the Greek GOC hierarchy towards the Serbian Church may change. And despite these problems that we have mentioned, there is still some sort of unofficial cooperation between us. When it is necessary, when our believers in the diaspora do not have a Serbian TO church to go to, we send them to parishes of the Greek GOC as to a canonical sister church. The opposite is also true: their believers can commune in our parishes without any problem.

SerbianTO: How did the cessation of communion with the Russian TOC, from whom You received apostolic succession, come about? Could You please tell us about how that happened?

Bp. Akakije: That was a very difficult case and an overly-wide subject for this interview. Furthermore, I consider that some of the reasons for the break in communion should not be mentioned in public, even if that open explanation might be to our benefit, because much of our public quarrels and finger-pointing which are intended to discredit our opponent simply ruin the reputation of (True) Orthodoxy in the world. Of course, those reasons, which for the above reason we will not release to the public, are not questions of confession of faith or of a moral nature, and therefore it is no sin to remain silent about them. Changes began in 2014, when under very suspicious circumstances  the secretary of the RTOC Vitaly Shumilov was replaced by Protopriest Victor Melehov, whose arrival in the RTOC heralded a noticeable change in ecclesiastical direction, from a healthy, Philaret (Vosnesensky)-pastoral stance to a sort of church fanaticism of the Matthewite-Boston spirit, a sickly, “zealous” exclusivist and isolationist spirit. Thus, in 2014, the RTOC, led by Fr. Victor Melehov, condemned the joyous event of union between the Greek GOC and the Synod in Resistance or “Cyprianites,” and declared that the Greek GOC had fallen into the heresy of Cyprianism. This stance of the RTOC bishops under the powerful influence of the new synod secretary towards events in the Greek Church led to the first serious disagreements between our two churches. After this slight cooling of relations came a new unpleasant surprise which led to an even deeper divide between the Serbian and Russian TOCs. To be precise, the Synod of the RTOC received into communion several Greek clerics (February, 2016) whom the Greek TOC had defrocked on a canonical basis, and that during the Archbishopric of Chrysostom (Kiousis) of Athens, of blessed memory, that is, during the time when the RTOC still considered the Greek GOC to be a canonical Orthodox Church. We made our stance about this known immediately in an official letter to the Synod of the RTOC, condemning this unlawful act, while this decision was still under consideration. After our written intervention was disparaged, I, in the name of the Hierarchical Council of the STOC, with the hope that we would be able to prevent the coming disaster , went urgently to Moscow (Dmitrov), to the session of their synod, in order to express to the Russian bishops our firm disagreement with this rough, lawless interference in the canonical jurisdiction of another local church,.  As a response to our stance, not only were our concerns completely ignored, but the RTOC even consecrated one of the defrocked priests as a bishop. Our shock now had no bounds. This was an act of a sister church which we could no longer tolerate, because to be in communion with them would indicate that we agreed with their open lawlessness in which the Russian Church ordained a bishop for the canonical territory of the Greek True Orthodox Church which already has over ten bishops!  Even if the break in communion with the RTOC has never been officially declared on our side, our friendly relations with them had nearly completely ceased, except in the case of Bishop Stephan of Trenton (USA), who did not agree with this change of course and uncanonical behavior in the Synod of the RTOC. This same bishop’s own North American eparchy was constantly threatened by frequent canonical incidents caused by the new RTOC synod secretary.  For this reason, Bishop Stephan, like many clerics of the RTOC, fell into disfavor with the RTOC Synod. Any clerics or monastics, including the well-known Lesna convent and her western European missions, and Bishop Stephan himself, who opposed the new course of the Synod, were constantly met with administrative aggression from the new synod secretary, inappropriate public attacks, punishments, and in the end defrocking. We could not turn a blind eye to all of this blatant injustice. We openly took the side of Bishop Stephan, many upset clergymen from Russian and the Ukraine, and the Lesna convent. The official break in communion with the RTOC was inevitable. It should be emphasized that on the basis of a petition from Bishop Stephan before his repose, we were obliged to accept temporarily under our omophorion all the Russian clerics (including Lesna convent and her Western European mission) who opposed the new course of the RTOC. The RTOC to this day, instead of reconsidering her new course and making peace with those she has scandalized, bringing them back into communion, has on the contrary, with her continued inconsiderate actions and declarations only deepened this great divide in the Russian TOC and in True Orthodoxy in general.

SerbianTO:  You began a dialogue with the part of the Russian Church Abroad under Archbishop Andronik. How far has this gone? Might communion between your two churches be established?

Bp. Akakije: Yes, in my opinion, our dialogue in Paris with this part of the Russian Church Abroad had positive results, but its continuation depends on Archbishop Andronik’s group, that is, when they fulfill some of our agreed-upon requests. In principle, we are waiting for them to take the next step.

SerbianTO: What is your attitude towards Bishop Artemije and other anti-ecumenist groups in Serbia?  Is there any chance that there could be a union of all the anti-ecumenists who have broken off communion with the Belgrade patriarchate?

Bp. Akakije: The anti-ecumenist front of the battle for Orthodoxy in Serbia is fairly narrow and weak, and has few participants. The variety of ecclesiologies, disagreement, and thus division are much at fault for this state of affairs. Mutual accusations and affirmations by each group that only they are in the right, while all the others are wrong, also contribute to the division.  Despite our ecclesiological disagreement with Bishop Artemije, who leads the largest group of anti-ecumenists in Serbia, we tried several times to establish a friendly relationship with them, but none of this came to life because of the explicitly unfriendly stance of Bishop Artemije himself and his closest people towards True Orthodoxy. We faced the same animosity towards True Orthodoxy in two other small groups who have gathered around Fr. Nikodim Bogosavljevic and Fr. Anthony Davidovic. To make this tragedy worse, these three groups who are united in anti-ecumenism but also in non-recognition of True Orthodoxy are divided among themselves. Do you know why there is so much division between Serbian anti-ecumenists? It is because there is no fundamental humility and respect towards an already-existing church tradition. We do not need the discernment of Artemije, Akakije, Nikodim nor Anthony. The ecumenist-serganist heresy did not appear with Patriarch Irinej Gavrilovic, with the exile of Bishop Artemije, nor with the Cretan Council about which so much scandal was raised, as if nothing of importance in the betrayal of Orthodoxy happened before it. The ecumenist-sergianist apostasy has already devastated the Orthodoxy for 100 years. Let me describe this apostasy briefly. It began with the encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, “To All the Churches of Christ,” in 1920. Then Sergius, the founder of the modern Moscow Patriarchate in the USSR signed his declaration of loyalty to the god-fighting Bolshevik government. In Greece and Constantinople the New (Papist) Calendar was introduced. Then in 1948 (the same year that the state of Israel was created), the World Council of Churches was founded, a satanic union of which all the official Orthodox churches are members. Afterwards, in 1964, the Ecumenical Patriarchate lawlessly lifted the anathemas from the unrepentant papist heretics. Then, in Chambesy in 1990 a union between the Orthodox ecumenists and the Monophysites was made, and quickly after that with the papists in Balamand in 1993, in which the churches recognized each other’s holy mysteries, etc. You see then that this terrible apostasy from Orthodoxy has been going on already for a century.  At the same time, the battle against apostasy, for the defense of Orthodoxy, has been waged by the confessors of the Russian Catacomb Church, the Russian Church Abroad, and the Romanian and Greek Old Calendarists over the last century. All these confessors have already blazed the trail of battle for Orthodox zealots all over the world. These confessors, independently of one another, were already calling themselves the True Orthodox, and crystallized the ecclesiology of militant Orthodoxy in opposition to the ecumenical-serganist apostasy.  They are the new holy fathers, and we should follow in their footsteps. We ought to humble ourselves before them and to submit our own discernment to the judgment of the living, apostolic, patristic tradition of the Church. We should not ignore or reject the confessors, true fighters for Orthodoxy, the protagonists of this holy battle, and instead trust in our minds and our own judgment, thinking up some kind of new, made-up ecclesiology, founding some kind new church communities. We must realize that the ecumenist-serganist part of the episcopacy has already long ago fallen away from Orthodoxy. On the other hand, stalwartly standing on the ramparts for the defense of Orthodoxy are the True Orthodox Christians, who, if few in number, weak and divided, are nonetheless connected and unwavering in the Truth of Christ. A clear division already long existed between the church of antichrist and the Church of Christ, the True Orthodox Church.  No one has the right to think up a third option, as is now popular, a so-called “royal way.” That very middle, “moderate” way of those who follow it, and boast in it, exposes their lukewarm spirit. We know that the Lord will spit the lukewarm out of His mouth.

SerbianTO: In Your account of the anti-ecumenists in Serbia You confined Yourself to those who broke communion with the Belgrade Patriarchate. Does that mean that You do not recognize the so-called battle from within as part of the anti-ecumenist fight?

Bishop Akakije: I respect all those who have perceived the apostasy in the official church and have contributed their part in the battle against it, despite the fact that they remain in communion with the apostates. Even if I do not support and do not recommend this kind of fight, because an overwhelming fire on a house should be extinguished from the outside, and not from inside, I have the habit of saying that we will all, if we are truly honest fighters for Orthodoxy, find ourselves in the same place, outside the ecumenist church of antichrist. I come to this conclusion from the fact that evil is advancing and becoming all the more obvious, and the pious soul of an Orthodox Christian cannot bear communion with obvious evil. There are a good number of sincere Orthodox Christians in the official church, both among the clergy and the faithful, who are not heretics, but, alas, they remain in communion with heretics, which in Orthodox ecclesiology ends up being the same thing. I’m against attacking anyone. We True Orthodox Christians publicly confess our faith, making it accessible to everyone. But we don’t judge any of our compatriots who try to make peace with their Orthodox conscience outside of True Orthodoxy. Let everyone decide according to their conscience what kind of battle they are going to wage against the ecumenist-serganist heresy. However, there is a danger that he who remains longer in communion with evil will begin, if unwillingly, to tolerate it. Making this compromise with one’s conscience, with time a person will become cold and become all the more amenable to evil, until finally, alas, he will voluntarily accept it.  For the holy fathers say, he who looks upon evil without disgust, will soon look at it with satisfaction. Fighters from within hope that the official church will turn away from the way of apostasy.  God grant that this be so. If this happens, we will accept them with joy as our Orthodox fathers and brothers. Nonetheless, if we look at things realistically, from all that we have observed, these kind of hopes are without foundation.  Is it not obvious what a state the official ecumenist-orthodox church is in and in what direction it is going? Furthermore, among the “fighters from within” there is the evil, apostasy of those beaten-down apologists of the ecumenist-serganist  Belgrade Patriarchate, who with their supposed “fight from within” are wolves in sheep’s clothing, like false opposition parties in democracy, who consciously or unconsciously are working for the same government. By defending the ecumenists, these “fighters from within” relativize the soul-destroying essence of heresy, and with their demonic advocacy make the heresy of ecumenism attractive for their naïve audience.

SerbianTO: May we ask why You have not mentioned the groups of Greek Old Calendarists who are at work in Serbian territory? Do You consider that their contribution to the anti-ecumenist fight is too insignificant, and for that reason You have passed over them, or do You think that their existence in Serbia is counterproductive?

Bp. Akakije: We know all of those people very well. There are very few of them in Serbia. At one period they joined us, but afterwards, for various reasons, they went to various Greek Old Calendar factions which are promoted here in Serbia over the Internet.  The first group is led by Hieromonk Sava (Mikic) from Batajnica who is the pastor of the only Greek parish in Serbia and at the same time the only clergyman of the “Kallinikite” Greek Old Calendar Synod, who, as we mentioned earlier, consider that Serbia is a missionary territory which they first “discovered” and “conquered” and on that basis acquired “canonical” rights to administer Serbia, for those who would accept that. It is interesting to bring up the fact that the Kallinikites granted themselves the right to bring the Serbian Church, which already for centuries had the dignity of a patriarchate, back down to the rank of metropolis, and that in submission to the archiepiscopate of Athens. I will not even comment on this stance.

Then in Serbia there is the group who represent the “Stephanite” Old Calendarists. This faction, like the Kallinikites, has only one priest in Serbia, Fr. Simeon from Indjija, but its real leader is radiologist Boris Petrovich from Novi Sad. In search of the “truest” synod, he ended up choosing one of the many, divided, super-zealot Greek Matthewite groups. Mr. Petrovic was accepted into their church, and though he was a married man, was quickly tonsured into no more or less than the Great Schema with the name Gregory.  However, with the blessing of the “Stephanites”, he continues to live under the same roof with his spouse raising their children. He just recently published on the Internet a crude invective of the lowest and most malicious slander against a canonical bishop of the Russian Church, Archbishop Lazarus (Zhurbenko) of blessed memory, with the aim of discrediting the apostolic succession of the STOC.

In Serbia there are other representatives of a few other Greek Old Calendar synods, who do not recognize each other as legitimate, but nonetheless agree about the following things: they do not recognize us, the Serbian TOC, and do not recognize the Serbian Church of St. Patriarch Barnabas –  just to emphasize, not the Serbian Church under German, which we also declare communist – but even the Serbian Church from the time of Patriarch Barnabas. They also do not recognize St. Bishop Nikolai (Velimirovic) of Ochrid as a saint. They consider Fr. Justin Popovic a heretic. These Matthewites whose zeal verges into eccentricity go even further, not recognizing the Russian Church Abroad, the Russian Catacomb Church, or anyone else who does not recognize their Matthewite, sectarian dogmas and mentality. Furthermore, even if they are True Orthodox Christians, these Greek factions in Serbia do more harm than good, as they associate the fight for Orthodoxy, and even the very existence of Orthodoxy on earth, exclusively with some zealot factions in Greece, asserting that there is no Church, and thus no salvation, outside the Greek Old Calendar, which is simply ludicrous. Besides the fact that they attack the STOC, as if that were their job, which is of course harmful for the Orthodox witness and useful for the ecumenist-sergianists, I consider that their presence in Serbia, both in numbers and in accomplishments in the fight against apostasy, is at best, meaningless, and at worst counterproductive.

SerbianTO: Your Grace, we would like to finish this interview with just one more question. Almost 25 years have passed of the STOC’s fight for the defense of Orthodoxy in Serbia. As a protagonist in that fight, Your opinion interests us as to how much, and what sort of contribution has the STOC made and still makes through Her confession of True Orthodoxy and opposition to the ecumenist-sergianist heresy from which the Serbian church and people have been suffering for a long time already?

Bp. Akakije: As I have already said, we consider ourselves an organic, inseparable part of the Serbian Orthodox Church whose hierarchy started down the road of apostasy into sergianism and ecumenism. We do not pretend to consider that our church community has the fullness of an autocephalous Serbian patriarchate, because of the fact that we are in difficult, extraordinary circumstances in which the church cannot function normally. However, in relation to other True Orthodox local churches we defend our right to autocephaly, a patriarchal rank, and the impunity of territorial integrity of the Serbian Church’s jurisdiction. Our status could be compared to the faithful sons of the fatherland, who, because of the subtle occupation of their homeland by enemies thanks to the betrayal of that country’s own government, raise the banner of freedom and start a guerrilla war against their enemies, no longer recognizing the collaborative government.  In such underground conditions, by exposing this betrayal and occupation, we are attempting to wrench as many of our compatriots out of the chains of enemy propaganda and to bring them to the knowledge of the truth, for in the words of the Lord Himself, the truth will set us free.

It is true that we are small, and like the church of Philadelphia from the book of Revelation, “we have little strength,” for with two bishops, we have not more than 500 believers, four monasteries and the same number of parishes who are served by seven priests. Yet our little flock of Christ with their little strength “hold on to what we have,” that is, we preserve that which has been passed down to us by the fathers, patristic tradition, church order and the truth of Orthodoxy.  In this sense, in my opinion, we make our modest contribution to the battle for the holiness of Orthodoxy and the church’s freedom from the mystery of iniquity. And when that day of freedom dawns, when in the church true faith and peace are again established, we will, like Metropolitan Meletius “the Drummer”[3], retire and pass St. Sava’s banner, unsullied, to others more competent than ourselves.

[1] Varnavian-Nikolaen Church: A reference to the Serbian Church under the leadership of Hieromartyr Patriarch Varnava (Barnabas) (+1937), who died as a martyr, being poisoned for his resistance to the Concordat, a compromise on the part of the Serbian state with the Pope, and St. Nikolai Velimirovic (+1956), called the “Serbian Chrysostom,” because of his great learning and gift of preaching. He is most famous in the West for his collection of the lives of the saints, The Prologue from Ochrid. Like Patriarch Varnava, he was also poisoned, though already in exile in the United States, for his firm opposition to communism in Yugoslavia.

[2] Patriarch German (+1990): called “The Red Patriarch” as he was hand-picked by the communist government to take over the leadership of the Serbian Church, during which he submitted her completely to the authority of the God-hating regime.

[3] Metropolitan Meletius “The Drummer”: The first Metropolitan of Belgrade who was Serbian by birth after 500 years of Serbian slavery under the Turkish yoke, during which the high-ranking clergymen in Serbia were Greeks placed by the Phanar. Metropolitan Meletius, though not highly educated, won the love and respect of his flock due to his great bravery and patriotism. He got his nickname “the Drummer” from an incident during the Second Serbian Uprising against the Turks led by Prince Miloš Obrenović. During the battle, it was clear that the Serbs were losing and had lost morale; the drummer of the Serbian army had been killed and there was no way to rally the troops. Then-Archimandrite Meletius was present and knelt down to pray for heavenly intercession. Prince Miloš Obrenović, who was next to him, grabbed him, and pulling him up from the ground, said, “Get up and beat that drum!” The Archimandrite obeyed, beat the drum and rallied the Serbian troops, who secured a victory against all odds.