A significant interview with the Hierarch (at Amen.gr) regarding his recent meeting with representatives from the Moscow Patriarchate who visited Seoul.
In the far-off Korea, the Land of the Morning Calm, there has been for at least four decades a unique spiritual and missionary work, which has resulted in a strong Orthodox witness. The responsibility of these efforts fall to the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea, whose work has resulted in good fruit as a result of the inspired choices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, together with the profound endeavours, first from the Bishop of Zela and then Metropolitan of Korea, Sotirios Trambas, then by his predecessor and current Metropolitan of Korea, Ambrosios Zographos.
This work is supported and enhanced by the holy clergy, in collaboration with the small yet dynamic flock, who together are distinguished for their openness in a country whose powerful tradition favours quietness and introversion. The Orthodox Metropolis of Korea, clergy and laity, together comprise an icon of ecclesiastical community that is characterized by strong ties, solidarity, a willingness to help, and of courtesy, which characterizes the people of Korea; with humility, they resemble the Christians of the first ancient Church.
However, this multifaceted work, which testifies to the best witness for the Orthodox Church, is often harmed, not by external threats but by internal ambitions and claims, which remind us more of a political mindset, rather than brotherly relations within the framework and as defined by the Holy Canons and the decisions taken by ecumenical and local synods throughout the centuries. At least this is what was shown to us as a result of our interview with Metropolitan Ambrosios of Korea following his recent meeting with representatives from the Moscow Patriarchate who visited Seoul.
According to Metropolitan Ambrosios, he was informed of this meeting at the last minute, and expressed his disappointment that the Moscow Patriarchate ignored the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea: “It is not in keeping with the ecclesiastical order to be informed by representatives of the Russian government about the arrival of Archbishop Sergey in Korea and his desire to visit our Metropolis,” said Metropolitan Ambrosios, referring to his being informed jus one week before the arrival of the Russian delegation.
Metropolitan Ambrosios expressed his deep annoyance and bitterness towards the uncanonical actions, as he describes them, which have taken place over the last few years by officials of the Church of Russia against the recognized jurisdiction of the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea, noting that, “What is at stake is not me, but the Church of Christ.”
Below is the full text of the interview with Metropolitan Ambrosios of Korea:
Your Eminence, recently on the occasion of a book published in the Korean language by His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Freedom and Responsibility: A Search for Harmony, a Russian delegation led by Archbishop Sergey of Solnechnogorsk visited the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea. Can you please describe this meeting for us?
I am happy to answer your question, Mr. Papachristou, although let me begin my thanking you for the opportunity to discuss this issue. As you said, a Russian delegation did also visit the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea during their visit to Seoul (June 14-17), which included His Grace Archbishop Sergey of Solnechnogorsk, Mr. Dmitry Petrovsky, and officials from the Russian Embassy in Seoul.
What do you mean by also visited the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea?
As far as I know, they also visited and had dialogue with high-ranking Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants, in addition to the Mayor of Seoul, always accompanied by Russian diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Seoul. Now, for what purpose Russian diplomats participate in the interactions of Russian clergy with the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea, heterodox churches, and the Mayor of Seoul, I leave it to the discernment and judgment of the readers of this interview.
Do you know the reasoning behind these interactions, or were they ceremonial in nature?
To answer your question, I must mention some history and context about the visit of the Russian delegation to Korea. Last February, a senior official from the Russian Embassy in Seoul requested a meeting with me. The only purpose of our meeting was to give me a book by His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Freedom and Responsibility: A Search for Harmony, which had been translated into Korean.
From my brief browsing of the book, once I saw it, I found that it was issued by a Protestant publishing house, and had been translated by a person, who the Russians present as the one responsible for the self-proclaimed “Russian Orthodox Mission in Korea”. I also noticed that the preface had been written by the Roman Catholic Cardinal in Korea, as well as the former Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Korea. I immediately expressed to the envoy of the Russian Embassy my deep disappointment with the Moscow Patriarchate for totally ignoring the Orthodox Metropolis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Korea.
Eleven days before the presentation of the book at the building of the Russian Embassy in Seoul (June 15), the same envoy from the Embassy presented me with an invitation for the event, informed me that Archbishop Sergey would be visiting Korea, and that he desired to visit our Metropolis, as well as informing me that the Moscow Patriarchate desired I should attend and participate in the book presentation ceremony. Since I did not have the opportunity to fully explain myself, because our meeting at that time took place following the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral Parish of St. Nicholas in Seoul, specifically during the distribution of the Antidoron, I only told him the following: “Whatever has happened until now regarding this book has been improper. Nothing has been done correctly.”
What did you mean?
I meant that they completely ignored the Orthodox Church in Korea and only at the last minute, only to uphold the proper order as pretence, did they invite me to the event. I reiterated that it is not in conformity with ecclesiastical order to be informed by a representative of the Russian government about the travels of Archbishop Sergey and his desire to visit our Metropolis. Imagine what the reaction would be if I did something similar while visiting Russia; for example, if I communicated my trip and my intention to visit the Russian Orthodox Department for External Church Relations through a diplomatic official from the Greek Embassy in Moscow.
Five days later, at the event of the Russian Embassy, to which the Russian ambassador invited for the first time the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea, a representative of the Russian ambassador gave me an envelope; in it was a letter from Archbishop Sergey in Russian and in English. In his letter, Archbishop Sergey informed me, for the first time formally from the Moscow Patriarchate, about the event for the book of His Beatitude the Russian Patriarch, invited me to the book presentation at the Russian Embassy, and expressed his wish to meet during his visit to Korea.
Did you reply to him?
Of course I replied to him, including electronically, so that he would receive my response before arriving in Korea. In my reply I express our gladness to receive him at our Metropolis in Korea on a specific date and time, and I also invited him to concelebrate the Divine Liturgy on Sunday at our Cathedral parish.
Did he respond to you?
He did not, but Mr. Dmitry Petrovsky did, who works in the Russian Orthodox Department for External Church Relations and who is responsible for Asia.
From what you have described, do you believe that the proper ecclesiastical order was adhered to? That is, you wrote to an assistant bishop and a lay employee responded to you.
Of course the proper ecclesiastical etiquette was not kept; but I did not pay any attention to this fact in order for love and peace to prevail. However, that which I do wish to comment upon regarding the response received is the following: “With profound sorrow His Grace [Bishop] Sergey cannot respond [positively] to your invitation to concelebrate, in order to showcase our unity through the Holy Eucharist, because in the morning of Saturday, June 17, he will depart from Seoul.” When I read this immediately my thought went to what happened during the 10th General Assembly of the WCC [World Council of Churches] in Busan [Korea]. I always remember with regret that during my participation in the General Assembly, I sought to meet His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. I greeted him, I welcomed him to Korea, and I informed him that on the upcoming Sunday, November 13,  the participating Orthodox representatives will conduct a pan-Orthodox Divine Liturgy at our parish in Busan, with another pan-Orthodox Divine Liturgy taking place at our parish in Seoul for Orthodox WCC participants travelling on Saturday to Seoul in order to visit the country’s capital. In a cynical style he replied to me, “I will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the Russian Consulate in Busan.” With this action, the Russian delegation destroyed the unity of the Orthodox Church within the Holy Eucharist, since all Orthodox, local Koreans and those visiting, celebrated together the Divine Liturgy at our parishes in Busan and in Seoul that were filled to capacity; on the other hand, the Russians conducted the mystery of the Holy Eucharist in the hall of the Russian Consulate with a “parish” of only five or six Russians!
In the end, did the Russian delegation visit your Metropolis? What was discussed?
On Friday, June 16, at 1:00 PM, Archbishop Sergey, accompanied by Mr. Dmitry Petrovsky and members from the Russian Embassy, arrived at the Metropolis. Regarding our meeting, you can view details on the website of the Moscow Patriarchate, in a news release posted the day after our meeting.
Following our discussions, during which we spoke in a straightforward manner and in a spirit of love, we thought they comprehended the correctness of our position and for this reason we had no intention of following-up or publicizing our meeting. When, however, we saw the publication, we were very disappointed. Therefore, since they published the fact of our meeting, we thought we had the right to comment on their posting in order to list the facts as they are, not as some wish they were.
Do you recognize, therefore, that publishing the details of your meeting did not happen objectively?
Yes, unfortunately, it did not happen objectively; I deeply regret that I am obliged to answer your question like this. The details I will provide shortly will prove, I think, that unfortunately in the behaviour of our Russian brethren expediency and diplomacy prevails, not brotherly relations.
First of all, I believe it is very awful from the Russian side the fact that they recognized all participants in our joint meeting but omitted our Slavophone priest, Fr. Roman Kavchak.
Do you think there was a reason for this?
Yes, because he is Ukrainian who belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and not to the Russian Patriarchate. In order for this matter to be better understood, I need to provide some historical context to this issue. During our meeting, as well as on the website of the Moscow Patriarchate, they stated that from 2000 to 2011, the pastoral care of Russians in Seoul, and in all cities of Korea, was the responsibility of the Russian hieromonk Fr. Theophane Kim. This is only slightly true. His Grace Bishop Theophane, with whom we had and we have excellent brotherly relations, came to Korea following the request of His Eminence the Metropolitan of Korea, and presently of Pisidia, Sotirios, which was communicated to the Patriarchate of Moscow through the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the Church etiquette calls for. Fr. Theophane was under the Moscow Patriarchate, but in Korea he performed his duties not as a clergyman of the Moscow Patriarchate; instead, he was a clergyman of the Korean Church, which is why he commemorated Metropolitan Dionysios, now of blessed memory, and from 2004, when the Exarchate of Korea was elevated to the Metropolis of Korea, he commemorated His Eminence Metropolitan of Korea, Sotirios.
It is troubling to read some of the texts from the Moscow Patriarchate that declare the history of Orthodoxy in Korea began with Russian missionaries in 1900, which it actually did, but that it was stopped in 1949 “under pressure from American occupying authorities.” Was South Korea under U.S. occupation in 1949? This is a falsification of history. The truth is that the last Russian archimandrite, Polikarp (Priimak), was expelled from Seoul in 1949 by Korean authorities for reasons that are not relevant for me to disclose.
Another troubling thing is that after the expulsion of Fr. Polikarp in 1949, they [the Moscow Patriarchate] present Fr. Theophane, who came from Russia in 2000 and who ministered under the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Church of Korea, as the successor and a continuation of the original Russian missionaries in the first period of the Orthodox Church in Korea – completely ignoring the great work undertaken by Greek military priests during the Korean War, as well as the spiritual work of the Ecumenical Patriarchate from 1955 to the present day. In 2011, when the Moscow Patriarchate elected Fr. Theophane Kim as bishop of Kyzyl and Tyva and he departed from Korea, we informed the Ecumenical Patriarchate and requested that they send a replacement clergyman to Korea for our Slavophone flock.
Immediately following his election as a bishop and before his ordination, I asked Fr. Theophane to recommend a Russian who could replace him. He asked some married clergymen he knew but none agreed to come to Korea. During his ordination as a bishop in Moscow, in which a five-member group representing the flock of the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea participated, His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow asked me what we would do [on this issue] and I replied to him that the Ecumenical Patriarchate had already been informed about this issue and we would await its reply. Indeed, very shortly thereafter the Ecumenical Patriarchate found and ordained, both as a deacon and a priest, Fr. Roman Kavchak, and sent him to Korea.
Fr. Roman is an excellent clergyman and successful family man, and I often say that he is a great gift from God to our Church in Korea. With his ethos, his ecclesiastical mindset, and his hard work, he is loved by all, and has managed to bring together Russians and Ukrainians at a time when because of political discord relations were hostile. This was described by a journalist from the largest newspaper in Korea, Chosun Ilbo, who came on Sunday, October 25, 2015 – when the fighting between Russia and Ukraine was still intense – and saw the friendly and brotherly cooperation between Russians and Ukrainians during the organizing of our International Food Festival at the Cathedral Parish of St. Nicholas; on the Monday the journalist wrote an article with the impressive title: “Russians and Ukrainians shatter borders in Seoul,” and emphasized in his article the peace-making role of Orthodoxy.
That which was understood by a non-Christian Korean journalist seems difficult for some Orthodox to understand because they think nationalistically. The final point I wish to reiterate is that Fr. Roman has devoted himself to serving the spiritual and liturgical needs of Russians, not only in Seoul but in all of Korea and so the representatives of the Russian Church should recognize and appreciate his service to their compatriots and not ignore it, out of expediency. I confess to you that I am truly moved every time I see him, for example, running in the service of others – regardless of the time of day or weather conditions – to the hospitals to help the many Russian cancer patients, and especially young children who come to Korea for treatment.
Beyond this is there something else which troubled you as a result of the visit from the Russian delegation to Korea?
To begin with, the visit itself, and for the purpose for which it was organized, taking place under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The presentation of the book of His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Russia was the pretext for the visit. This is evidenced from the fact that following Korea the itinerary of the Russian delegation was to travel to other East Asian countries in order to visit other “parishes”! Let us note here for the benefit of the reader that in these countries the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been carrying out missionary activity for more than 40-years; it has built parishes and ordained clergy following the proper training, in addition to establishing Holy Metropolises in Hong Kong and Singapore for the further development of the Orthodox witness. Notwithstanding all of this, the Moscow Patriarchate has done something in this part of the world, which is completely novel; it has appointed Archbishop Sergey as the “Head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Parishes in the countries of East and Southeast Asia.” Has there ever existed in ecclesiastical history such a title for a bishop?
Are there parishes belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate in Korea?
In the imagination of some people, yes, but in reality they do not exist. In Korea, there is an anticanonical situation, which the Moscow Patriarchate is trying to cultivate instead of ignoring it. They do the same, as I understand it, in other countries under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Asia.
Can you please describe for us what you mean by an “anticanonical situation”?
There is a long history here but I will try to be as brief as possible. On February 13, 1993, a Korean priest, Justinian Kang, was defrocked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate for regular misconduct. When Justinian was informed of being defrocked he went wildly to the office of His Eminence, Sotirios, abused him and even threatened him that he would have him expelled from Korea. A short while later he left Korea and went to Russia to supposedly study the Russian language and theology at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, trying to hide the fact that he had been defrocked. The individuals responsible there, without examining the case, that is, to inquire with the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea, as they should have, accepted him as a student.
Ultimately, following the intervention of the Ecumenical Patriarchate towards the Moscow Patriarchate, he was expelled from the Theological Academy. When this happened, Justinian cried out and did inappropriate things for a theological student, which his fellow classmates still remember with dismay. He eventually returned to Korea, pretending to be a priest. At that point, he joined with the schismatic ROCOR Metropolitan, Hilarion, (currently Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York [ROCOR]) and he began to be active as a priest and head of the Russian Orthodox Church missionary in Korea.
Hilarion, a schismatic bishop, began visiting Korea – as he did and continues to do in other countries under the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Asia – celebrating the Divine Liturgy in the house of the former priest, Justinian, which he had converted into a “parish” and where he conducted many uncanonical actions. This takes us to the unity agreement between Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR in May 2007. Then Metropolitan Hilarion did not cease having relations with the priest defrocked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Justinian, as one would expect from a person who respects the proper Canonical Order.
The “cover” provided to Justinian by Metropolitan Hilarion resulted in Justinian being completely careless and presenting himself as a canonical priest and boasting to Orthodox and non-Orthodox that he belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate. We protested with the Moscow Patriarchate through the Ecumenical Patriarchate; we finally received a letter from the Department for External Church Relations, which noted that they do not recognize Justinian Kang as a priest, yet the prior schismatic Metropolitan Hilarion recognized him and therefore with his support Justinian unabated his uncanonical activities in Korea. Metropolitan Sotirios, in order to protect the flock of the Church in Korea, was forced to publish in our weekly newsletter Jubo the official notice that he [Justinian] had been defrocked.
You see, Metropolitan Sotirios did not do this for many years, out of respect for him and his family. As a result of the publication, Justinian took Metropolitan Sotirios to civil court for defamation and slander and forced the elder Metropolitan in his old age to run to the courts, for the first time in his life. This was the “thank you” for the many benefits that Justinian and his family received from Metropolitan Sotirios over many years. When he came to our Church poor and in need, Metropolitan Sotirios gave him a house to live in, money to support his family and for his children to go to school, support for his health care, etc. We also helped him in his studies, since at that time he had not even completed high school.
To better understand the magnitude of the uncanonical actions of the former schismatic Metropolitan Hilarion and the responsibility of the Moscow Patriarchate for this big problem, I will also mention the following. On June 23, 2009, the former schismatic Hilarion came to Korea and “tonsured” the married Justinian an abbot, and his wife Eleni an abbess, thereby “establishing” two “monasteries”. One with an abbot who was previously defrocked, the “Hieromonk Justinian,” and the other with his wife as the abbess. An even more tragic fact is that the place where these two supposed monasteries was created was the shared house of the married couple! Thereby Metropolitan Hilarion is the creator of a world-first in Korea: one house with an abbot and an abbess without any monks or any nuns! I wonder how this dreadful situation is accepted by the Moscow Patriarchate and how they allow the sacredness of the priesthood and monasticism to be humiliated in this way.
That is to say they “made” a married man a “Hieromonk”?
Of course, this is how they presented him, even on their website. It would admittedly be interesting and very instructive to learn, not only for Metropolitan Hilarion, but for all of those involved in this sad story that not even Justinian, despite his relationship with Metropolitan Hilarion, ever stopped until his death to try to free himself from the fact that he was defrocked. This is why sometimes he used friendly approaches, other times with letters, and even with threats towards His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch and Metropolitan Sotirios, he tried to return to the canonical Orthodox Metropolis of Korea, because never, it seems, did he believe that he was under a normal [canonical] state with Metropolitan Hilarion. In the archives of our Metropolis, one can see his letters and his unrepentance.
Meanwhile, was the son of the late Justinian also ordained?
Yes. The day after the “tonsure” of Justinian, that is, on Wednesday, June 24, 2009, Metropolitan Hilarion ordained his son Paul in his house (and according to other sources, in the room of his hotel, where he was staying) to the priesthood and appointed him responsible for the “Russian Orthodox Mission in Korea.” He ordained him in secret and underground, not publicly in front of the people of God, as is compulsory by the long-standing practice of our Church, because he very well realized his uncanonical behaviour. Let us also add a note at this point that Paul Kang has broken off relations with the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea for 25 years. Because he lacked any theological education and basic knowledge of Canon Law, he did not hesitate, as an Orthodox, to get married in the Anglican Church. Such a person is responsible, according to the Moscow Patriarchate, for the “Russian Orthodox Mission in Korea”! It is a regrettable situation.
Your Eminence, as the Canonical Shepherd of the Orthodox Church in Korea, have you informed the Moscow Patriarchate about all of this? Did you inform the Russian delegation at your recent meeting with them?
I informed them in detail; but with much regret we witnessed – all of us from our Metropolis who participated at the recent meeting – that they are trying to cover-up the uncanonical conduct of Metropolitan Hilarion. The astonishing thing is that they know all of this, as they admitted, yet they still included Paul Kang during their various visits with the leaders of various churches and denominations, including with the mayor [of Seoul], except for the visit to our Orthodox Metropolis of Korea.
The purpose of this was unfortunately to showcase him as the one responsible for the supposed Russian parishes and missionary activities in Korea. It is characteristic of their lack of respect towards the canonical order that before coming to our meeting, Archbishop Sergey performed a memorial service – without the permission of the local Metropolitan – for the fallen Russian sailors of February 9, 1904, at the Russian monument “Varyag” in the city of Incheon.
Is this considered a nonstandard act?
Of course, because the memorial service did not take place on the land of the Russian Embassy, which some could justify, but in a public square where the monument to the departed is located.
Did they provide you with an explanation for the position of Metropolitan Hilarion, particularly regarding those things you have drawn our attention to?
Archbishop Sergey, after what he heard, told us that His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is very strict with him. When we insisted that his uncanonical activities expose the Orthodox Church as a whole, and the Moscow Patriarchate in particular, his replied that “we tolerate them for reasons of oikonomia.” Our response was that Metropolitan Hilarion, in accordance with the Holy Canons, should have been defrocked for all of his uncanonical acts after the union between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate. As is well known, the improper use of oikonomia is hurtful and does not benefit the Church.
Did you also raise the issue of the person responsible for the “Russian Orthodox Mission in Korea”?
After all that we told them which, as I said, they admitted to already knowing, their response was again “oikonomia.” Archbishop Sergey actually advised us to understand that Paul since he is still suffering from his father’s death three years ago; that he wants affection and love; that we need to approach him, to converse with and allow him to celebrate the Divine Liturgy with our Slavophone priest, Fr. Roman, twice a month. In addition, he suggested for us to teach him theology, liturgics, and other related activities. After this, I informed them of the following incident:
One afternoon two years ago, Paul Kang came to the parish of St. Nicholas. I observed then that a young man sat for a long time in the parish and I asked Deacon John if he knew him. When I heard that he was Paul Kang (I did not know him and was seeing him for the first time) I invited him to come to the office so that we can have a conversation. I spoke with him with as much courtesy and kindness I know, because I know that he is a victim of his father’s uncanonical behaviour. I conveyed my condolences for the death of his father and tried to explain that he should not continue the uncanonical activities of the past. As a young person, he should walk the correct path for his salvation and for his release from this regrettable story.
He showed that he heard this message well. Moreover, he requested to visit His Eminence Metropolitan Sotirios of Pisidia at our Monastery of Metamorphosis, so that they can discuss this issue together, since it was during his time as the Metropolitan in Korea that his father was defrocked. At that time, however, Metropolitan Sotirios was in Pisidia. I promised him that as soon as he returned to Korea, we would arrange a meeting with him. Our proposal seemed to satisfy him [Paul]. We offered him as a gift a book from our publications and we agreed that in short order we would contact him. When Metropolitan Sotirios returned to Korea, we immediately arranged the meeting.
We called him many times, but he never answered. We sent him a message with his sister, when we saw her at an event at an Anglican Church, where she works as a secretary. Again, though, there was no response to our outreach. At this point, I specifically asked Archbishop Sergey: “Your Grace, what else can we do for Paul? It is clear that he does not want any contact with the canonical Orthodox Church in Korea.” His response was, “Do what they do at monasteries, at Vatopedi, for example, what Elder Ephraim does, who is my spiritual father.” That is, he explained to us, that at Vatopedi if you encounter problems among the monks the abbot treats them with oikonomia … this is what you also have to do with Paul.
The difference, I responded, with Paul and the problems which can not only be found at Vatopedi, but at many monasteries and more generally in the Church and in our society, is that Paul does not want to cooperate, he does not want to have contact with us, but continues down the uncanonical road set by his father. Please, Your Eminence, insisted Archbishop Sergey, show understanding for this problem and help him. We kindly ask that you work with us regarding this person.
Mr. Dmitry Petrovsky also added, “Think about the Church and his flock.” At this point, I was forced to take a hard-line, replying: “Excuse me, but what church are you referring to – for his house? What flock? Are you aware of any flock that we do not know about? Which Korean or Russian goes to “church” in his supposed parish? Please, when you employ certain terms, including sacred ones, they must correspond to reality.”
Your Eminence, if I understand correctly, they prefer “oikonomia” rather than support action against uncanonical behaviour; that is, you as the Canonical Shepherd to accept uncanonical behaviour for the sake of “oikonomia”?
You put it elegantly. But, if we would call things by their name, we would say that they deluded us shamelessly. Allow me to provide you with an example from Indonesia, although it does not belong to our own ecclesiastical jurisdiction, it is, however, relevant to our subject. During our discussion about Justinian [Kang], we raised the issue of Daniel Bamband Dwi Byantoro, who was defrocked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in order to highlight the uncanonical actions of Metropolitan Hilarion.
We told them that Daniel Bamband, an Indonesian, was introduced to Orthodoxy in Korea and was baptized in 1984 by then Archimandrite Sotirios Trambas, during his studies in Seoul, Korea. Thereafter, with a full scholarship, he studied at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, was ordained a clergyman by a hierarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and received a salary from the Orthodox Eastern Mission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. They told us that they recognize all of this but, unfortunately, it seemed that it did not impact their consciousness. Otherwise, how does one explain that a large part of the missionary work of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Indonesia has been appropriated by the Moscow Patriarchate?
How did this happen?
This happened because Metropolitan Hilarion accepted Daniel Byantoro after he was defrocked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Not only this, because the defrocked Daniel Byantoro brought other Indonesian clergymen who were under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In addition, Metropolitan Hilarion did not only take our priests, he also took the parishes and the property of our Orthodox communities, which, in order for them to have been purchased and built, Metropolitan Sotirios, as the head of the Orthodox Eastern Mission, became a beggar in Greece to missionary associations and private individuals. All of this work has been appropriated, as I mentioned, by the Moscow Patriarchate, thus acknowledging the uncanonical action and illegal activities of Metropolitan Hilarion.
It is very characteristic of the methodology of doubletalk, which are brothers follow, that the Deputy of the Russian Orthodox Department for External Church Relations, Fr. Nicholas Balashov, in one of his letters from 2009 wrote reassuringly, “Metropolitan Hilarion does not at all want to overturn the proper authority of the Church of Constantinople,” and in the same letter also wrote, “we are now carefully examining the practical aspects of this issue, which is connected with the state guarantee of the Orthodox community and their property in Indonesia”!
One could describe all that you have characterized as unbelievable…
Unbelievable, but, unfortunately, they are beyond being true.
If you ever came across Metropolitan Hilarion, what would you tell him?
I would ask him to respect the work of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Vineyard of our Lord in the countries of the Far East and East Asia. In particular, to respect the work of the Metropolitan of New Zealand, Dionysios, who, as Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in India, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippine islands, and Hong Kong, despite his old age, toured, built and continued to build Orthodox parishes in these countries.
I would tell him to respect the work of His Eminence Sotirios, who founded many of the parishes which he, as an “alien bishop,” as Apostle Peter writes, now possesses. I would also tell him humbly: Your Eminence, all the fruit that you reap in these countries, “others have toiled and you came in order to harvest their own labor”, as the Lord has said.
I would remind him as well of the Pauline missionary method, as he outlines so emotionally in the 15th Chapter of his Epistle to the Romans: “I always promised to preach the Gospel there where the name of Christ had not yet been heard, because I did not want to build on foreign foundations.” And finally, as I always tell myself, I would tell him that the time is approaching when we will leave this world. Let us repent “as long as we have time for repentance,” so that we can say: “I have fought the good fight, I ran until the end of the road, I have kept the faith.”
The way you describe it would be a miracle…
Let us pray; God is great. This is why we chant, “Which God is as great as our God? You are the God who alone is marvelous.”
Your Eminence, let us return to your meeting with the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate. I would like you to tell us on which subject were you most insistent…
On the issue of canonicity. In other words, because it is now certain that the Moscow Patriarchate is preparing to enter the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Korea and elsewhere, we therefore requested that they not destroy the canonical order which already exists in Korea. As a result of the inspired initiatives and efforts of Metropolitan Sotirios, in Korea there is one bishop for all Orthodox believers regardless of nationality or language.
This, as you know, was the canonical order from the Ancient Church until the 19th-century, when, because of migration from Orthodox countries in Eastern Europe towards Western Europe and America at the outset, this system was replaced by the abnormality of having multiple bishops from various national backgrounds existing within the same city. It is as if it is normal to have multiple fathers within the same family! We requested, I reiterate, that they not spoil the model of the Korean Church, which is the ultimate purpose of the Episcopal Assemblies, following the 2009 Pan-Orthodox decision, to resolve the canonical anomalies in the Orthodox Diaspora. We requested that which is obvious, but you can see, many times, the obvious is not so obvious for those who wear nationalistic blinders.
You spoke earlier about the “inspired initiatives and efforts of Metropolitan Sotirios.” Can you describe for us exactly what Metropolitan Sotirios did?
Thank you for the question. Immediately after the fall of the Eastern Bloc in the 1990s, His Eminence had the foresight to become interested in the earliest group of Slavophone economic migrants, who began coming to Korea. He began to organize them one by one, catechized and baptized the unbaptized, conducted weddings for the unmarried, and at the same time learned to read Slavonic in order to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the Slavonic language, especially during large gatherings that would be organized for the Great Feasts of our Church.
He also provided them hospitality at our Monastery of the Transfiguration, as well as at the guest homes at St. Nicholas in Seoul; he provided them with financial assistance, and helped them find employment. Finally, he also built the parish of St. Maxim the Greek; the foundation stone was laid by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during his visit to Korea in 1995. In order for all the holy services to be conducted in Slavonic, and not just on a rotational basis, he took measures to bring from the Moscow Patriarchate Hieromonk Theophane Kim, as I already mentioned earlier in our interview.
This is how we arrived at the delightful position today that all Slavophones have pastoral care, not only in Seoul but in all of our parishes in South Korea. Our Slavophone faithful rejoice in the liturgical life in their own language in our Church here, and their children participate in our catechetical schools, in our winter and summer camps, and in all programs of our Metropolis in general.
We requested, therefore, returning to your previous question, that they not destroy that which His Eminence Sotirios, created with the blessings of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the help of the Korean clergy and our collaborators.
In addition, we brought to their attention the following point, which is a crucial one for mission work: we told them that we constantly teach, verbally and in writing, that the Orthodox Church around the world is One. However, if the creation of Orthodox Churches from jurisdictions other than the Ecumenical Patriarchate happens in Korea, this will cause a double scandal. First, towards Koreans who are Orthodox. They will justifiably ask themselves, which Church should I go to. And, second, towards the heterodox and especially the Protestants. They will justifiably tell us: You Orthodox are the same as us; just like we are separated into different ecclesiastical pieces, you are similarly separated into different jurisdictions within the same city. You are not one Church as you claim.
They, however, may respond with the argument that, “We are only here to serve the Russians…”
This argument, the least one can say, is from the evil one; because we place national interests above the unity of the Church. In Korea, we nowhere and never use the term “Greek Orthodox Church” but instead the title, Orthodox Metropolis of Korea. Under this umbrella, if you will allow me this expression, the Ecumenical Patriarchate provides affection and rest to ALL Orthodox who live in Korea. From the Mother Church of Constantinople we have learned to think and behave ecumenically. I, for example, was not sent to Korea by the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a Greek bishop, but as an Orthodox bishop in order to work with an ecumenical spirit for the Orthodox Church of Christ in Korea.
Think about what will happen after the Russians lay claim to the creation of parishes in the beginning and dioceses later, then our brethren from Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, etc., may do the same since they also have migrants in Korea. Thereafter – may this not happen – we will lose the power of our Orthodox witness in the Korean society.
For this reason exactly, we ask all people of goodwill: “Do you want to work in Korea? Are you genuinely interested in the further spreading of the Orthodox Church in this country? Let us then collaborate for the Glory of God, without any other agendas, which are dictated by political or nationalistic ideologies, and other unimportant reasons. Some respond to our invitation: “I want to but…” “There is no “but” in the work of God. When you decide to minister the Gospel, you do so unconditionally. If you do not feel that the Orthodox Church is ONE family, it is better if you stay in your home. Enough damage has been caused by ethnophyletism in the Orthodox Diaspora. This cancer should not be allowed to be transmitted to new missionary churches. Come with humility and a sacrificial manner to work together, ‘the word of the Lord is running and glorifying.’” There is enough work for all since, “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”
Is it not a pity that we are wasting precious time and mental substance dealing with uncanonical and diplomatic attitudes, rather than concerning ourselves with the redeeming work of our Church? I do not have the smallest doubt that this is a great sin.
When did the claims of the Moscow Patriarchate begin in Korea?
Since old times; almost immediately after their liberation from the communist regime. To date, they have taken many actions directly, but also through Russian diplomacy.
Can you provide us with some specifics from all that you know?
About twenty-five years ago, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Department for External Church Relations came into contact with the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) and asking in writing to give them a large sum of money in those days in order for them to build a parish in Seoul. Those responsible for the NCCK requested the opinion of the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea. They showed us, moreover, the letter they received from the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. We explained to them that we already have a parish for Slavophones and they realized that no further action was necessary.
Your Eminence, there is a lot of talk recently about North Korea. On the occasion of this interview, we would like to ask you about the Orthodox parish which is there. Who really built it?
The Orthodox parish of the Holy Trinity in Pyongyang, North Korea, was built by the government of North Korea by a decision of the late father of the country’s current leader. From Seoul, Metropolitan Sotirios, as the then Metropolitan of Korea, sent large containers three times with valuable materials to build and equip the parish. Additionally, he sent a large crane, which he travelled together with, for the installation of the parish dome. His Eminence went to North Korea as the sovereign Metropolitan, since the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea includes the entire Korean peninsula. When the parish was finally prepared, the then head of the Russian Orthodox Department for External Church Relations and now Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill, with the support of the Russian Embassy in North Korea, went into the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and uncanonically consecrated the parish.
From that point on until today our Russian brethren publish on various websites, which unfortunately are reproduced on Greek sites, that the parish in Pyongyang belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate, which is untrue, as the North Koreans themselves admit. Furthermore, I would like to mention that the “Orthodox Committee of the Holy Trinity Parish, Pyongyang,” invited the then Metropolitan of Korea Sotirios five times to visit them in North Korea. The last time, in fact, His Eminence, Sotirios, went with clergymen of our Metropolis to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the newly built Holy Trinity parish. During his visit, the members of the Committee expressed to him their warmest wishes and gratitude for his contribution to building the parish.
As we conclude this interview, we would like, Your Eminence, one final thought and message from you for our readers.
I thank you, Mr. Papachristou, for giving me the opportunity to conclude with something from my heart. We love the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian people and we are sincerely saddened when we see the Moscow Patriarchate being represented by people with a secular mindset and unorthodox ethos. His Eminence, Sotirios, apart from all he did in Korea for the Russians, continues this work, despite his advanced age, in Pisidia for our Russian brethren. I reminded the Russian delegation who attended our meeting that His Eminence Sotirios, in difficult economic times, managed to build two parishes in the Metropolis of Pisidia for the liturgical and pastoral care of the Russians who live there.
He arranged for two Slavophone priests to serve the spiritual needs of Russians and he himself ensured by all means for their catechism and spiritual progress in every way. Allow me to say that since my childhood years I remember the fervent prayers we made for the Russians and all those who found themselves in communist countries of the time, but also the pain we felt for their martyrdom as a result of their Faith. I will end with what I told Archbishop Sergey: We love you, and we do not have anything personally against you, but we cannot agree with what you are doing, because what is at stake is not me, but the Church of Christ.