All Local Churches have accepted clergy, even suspended or defrocked clergy, without letters of release throughout history. Indeed, it has been common practice among all the different parts of the Russian Church in the Diaspora for many decades, but also among many other Local Churches down the generations. There is nothing new in this practice for the simple reason that suspensions and defrockings are often carried out for purely political purposes or to attempt to seize properties or money. In one extreme case, in 2006 a bishop from the Diocese of Sourozh (Moscow Patriarchate) issued letters of release to his clergy addressed to himself, then joined the Patriarchate of Constantinople where he was named Bishop of Amphipolis, and received those selfsame clergy into his new Diocese with his previously written letters of release. Apparently, this was acceptable.
In recent years the Patriarchate of Constantinople has accepted many clergy from the Russian Church without letters of release and I am talking about suspended and even defrocked clergy, suspended or defrocked for political reasons, for example for praying for peace in the Ukraine. In turn, the Russian Church, especially zealously its American Synod, known as ROCOR, has recently accepted many clergy from the Patriarchate of Constantinople without letters of release, six in Western Europe alone. As for the Moscow Patriarchate itself, it has recently accepted over 200 clergy from the Patriarchate of Alexandria, also without letters of release.
The Romanian Orthodox Church has also accepted many clergy with large numbers of Romanian-speaking parishioners without letters of release. This situation is especially topical in Moldova, where even before the present phase of the conflict in the Ukraine erupted in February 2022, some 20% of the Church (720,000 people) had transferred from the Russian jurisdiction of Chisinau to the Romanian jurisdiction of Bessarabia. Since then, this tide has been turning into a flood, with the result that the once monopoly of the Moscow group of Chisinau is smaller and more impoverished and may soon become a minority. Below is the statement of the Metropolia of Bessarabia in Moldova issued by its Communication, Media and Public Relations Department on 29 June:
The Metropolia of Bessarabia receives into its jurisdiction all clerics and believers who want to be in the jurisdiction of the National Church
In the course of the last centuries, the Orthodox Church in Bessarabia went through trying times, caused by the Tsarist and the Soviet Communist occupation (1812, 1940 and 1944). Then the clergy and believers in this region were abusively included in the jurisdiction of the Russian Church, without canonical leave and without the Russian Church taking into account the provisions of Church legislation.
This imposed its authority contrary to the wish of the Bessarabians to remain under the jurisdiction of the Metropolia of Iași and its dioceses, which had spiritual and canonical responsibility on the left bank of the River Prut. Thus, they went against the will of the inhabitants of Bessarabia, they forgot about the religious freedom of the people to choose, a fact also recorded by the historians of the time.
At present, when in a canonical, free and legal way, the clergy and the faithful want to return to the bosom of the Mother Church, the descendants of the former aggressors issue administrative acts of intimidation and stop nature and the natural process of things. In this sense, we must specify that the change of canonical jurisdiction is a legal act, guaranteed by the legislation of the Republic of Moldova, of which we cite only a few laws:
“A religious community may join any religious cult or dissociate from it by the freely expressed will of its members, without additional approvals or hindrances from outside.” (LAW No. 125 of 11-05-2007, Art. 6, paragraph 3, regarding freedom of conscience, thought and religion).
“The right of religious association of believers and their communities is defended by legal or administrative means.” (Art. 7, para. 1).
“The State guarantees religious communities the defence of their legitimate rights and interests.” (Art. 7, par. 3).
Because no child denies his parents, except when he is forced, as happened in Bessarabia during the more than 150 years of Russian occupation, it must be understood that the Metropolia of Bessarabia is the only Church structure canonically and historically entitled to shepherd and protect its believers in Bessarabia.
It operates within the Romanian Patriarchate, according to the decision of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church of 19 December 1992, when it was decided to make an act of reparation, and ‘all clerics and their pastors who are already, or will become, members of the Metropolia of Bessarabia under the Romanian Patriarchate are canonical clerics and blessed believers, and, as such, any ecclesiastical disciplinary sanction directed against them on the grounds of belonging to the Metropolia of Bessarabia is considered null and void’.
From the above, it is understood that the arguments of those who say that this is how things are known to them, that they were baptised in this Church, are not natural arguments, but show an ignorance of the suffering of our forefathers who were tortured, persecuted, exiled and killed for truth, faith, and the desire to express their God-given identity.
Considering all of this, we make it known to the believers and clerics of the Republic of Moldova that the decrees issued by the Metropolia of Chisinau (a religious structure of Russian affiliation) against the members of the Metropolia of Bessarabia have no value and are administrative acts that do not affect the spiritual state of those who come to the Mother Church, the Romanian Patriarchate.
In order to avoid the syndrome of the victim who sympathises or identifies with oppressors (Stockholm syndrome), believers must be correctly and honestly informed about the realities, in order to heal the wound and rectify the state of affairs in accordance with canonical, statutory and regulatory provisions and according to historical truth.
In this context, we make it clear that Archpriest Alexei Sîrbu, the parish priest of St Nicholas church in the village of Puhoi, Ialoveni district, a former cleric of the Chisinau Metropolia, at the community’s request has since 2022 been a cleric of the Metropolia of Bessarabia, specifically of the Diocese of South Bessarabia. All the measures taken against His Reverence are null and abusive, as he has a working priesthood and can celebrate without any restriction all the holy services.
In this sense, we urge all the spiritual sons and daughters in the parish to be with their priest and spiritual father to share in the grace of the Holy Spirit poured out through the intercession of Christ’s servants.
Knowing the decisions of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church regarding Church life in the Metropolia of Bessarabia, the clerics who wish to come under the jurisdiction of the Mother Church are welcomed with joy into the Romanian Patriarchate.
To this the Moscow-run Church of Chisinau replied very aggressively and polemically on the very next day:
The Opinion of the Orthodox Church of Moldova Regarding the Press Release Issued by the Metropolia of Bessarabia
The Metropolia of Chisinau and All Moldova regrets the fact that in the press release issued by the Metropolia of Bessarabia on 29 June 2023, there is talk of canonicity, but no canon of the Orthodox Church is cited that would justify the reception of clerics from the Metropolia of Chisinau. The Metropolia of Bessarabia considers that the transfer of the clergy and the faithful into their jurisdiction represents nature and the natural process of things. In the Church, the corruption of priests and believers cannot in any way be called nature and the natural process of things, but on the contrary a violation of the canons. Selling anyone, like Esau, for a plate of lentils (Exodus 25; 29-34), was and will remain an abomination before God. The representatives of the Metropolia of Bessarabia state that the change of canonical jurisdiction is a legal act, guaranteed by the legislation of the Republic of Moldova. But we ask ourselves: Is this act also justified by canon law? How can a Church entity put the Law of the Land above the Canons of the Church?
In this sense, we quote the canons of the Orthodox Church:
Apostolic Canon 11 (condemnation of communion with the Catholics)=
If someone, being a cleric, were to pray together with a cleric who had repented, let him also repent. (28 ap.; 4 Antioch.; 10 Carthage);
Apostolic Canon 12 (letters of release)
If any cleric or layman condemned, or (yet) not received (into communion), and goes to another city has been received without a letter of release, let both the one who received him and the one who is received him be damned; (So the Moscow Patriarchate damns itself?)
Apostolic Canon 15 (transfer of clergy)
If any priest or deacon or, in general, any of the clergy, leaving his parish, goes to another, moving altogether he will go to another parish, contrary to the judgment of his bishop, we command that he should no longer serve, especially if, after being called by his bishop to return, he did not obey, remaining in disorder, be nevertheless received there into communion as a layman; (And if he leaves because he is fleeing schism?)
Apostolic Canon 16 (transfer of clergy)
And if the bishop to whom (some like these) were to be found, disregarding the suspension decided against them, receives them as clerics, let him be damned, as a teacher of disorder. (15 ap.; 15 sin. I ec.; 17 Trul.; 3 Antioch). (And if the suspension was uncanonical, but carried out for reasons of personal hatred, jealousy and greed and for schismatic reasons?)
The Metropolia of Bessarabia, in order to argue its reactivation, talks about the decision of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church of 19 December 1992. However, we wonder to what extent this decision respects the canons of the Orthodox Church established by the Holy Fathers at the Universal and Local Councils. In this connection:
Canons 129 – 133 of the Council of Carthage
If someone (the Metropolia of Chisinau and All Moldavia) … has shepherded a territory for three years and no one has asked for this territory (the Romanian Patriarchate), then they will never ask for it again, especially if during this period there was a bishop to do it and did not do it; (This interpretation ignores the total lack of freedom under the USSR for Romanian bishops to do so and the support of the Soviet Establishment for the Russian Orthodox takeover of the region).
Canon 17 of the Fourth Universal Council establishes a term of thirty years to litigate disputes concerning the property even of individual parishes; (See above).
The parishes in each diocese…must remain unaltered under the authority of the bishops in charge of them—especially if for thirty years they have undoubtedly had the given parishes under their jurisdiction and management; (See above).
Canon 8 of the Third Universal Council
Let it be observed, in certain situations and everywhere in dioceses, that none of the bishops who love God should extend their jurisdiction over dioceses that do not belong to them… that the rules of the fathers should not be violated and that the arrogance of secular authorities should not be allowed to creep into the bosom of the Church and let us not gradually and unnoticed lose that freedom, which our Lord Jesus Christ, the One who freed all mankind, gave us by His Precious Blood. (See above).
The Metropolia of Bessarabia states: ‘Considering all this, we inform the believers and clerics of the Republic of Moldova that the decrees issued by the Metropolia of Chisinau (a religious structure of Russian affiliation) against the members of the Metropolia of Bessarabia have no value and are administrative acts that do not affect the religious status of those who come to the Mother Church, the Romanian Patriarchate’. We ask ourselves: how is it possible that the act of ordination, the decree of appointment as a parish priest, the acts of awarding distinctions by the hierarchies of the Metropolia of Chisinau and of All Moldova are truthful, recognised and have religious value, and the act of suspension issued by the same bishop loses its value, being considered null and void? We have the same question regarding the priest Alexei Sîrbu, stopped from serving the holy things. How is it possible that his ordination and its distinctions are valid, and the decision of His Holiness Vladimir to stop serving is not valid? (Perhaps because one act is canonically valid and not the other, because the latter is political?)
We believe that the attempt of those from the Metropolia of Bessarabia to corrupt clergy and laity from the Metropolia of Chisinau and the whole of Moldova, defending themselves with certain decisions of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, flagrantly violates the Canon Law of the Orthodox Church. The current mode of action on the part of this Church entity also leads to the violation of the teachings of Holy Scripture: Eager to evangelise where Christ was not called, so as not to build on a foreign foundation (Romans 15, 20). (But who evangelised this territory first? It was not the Russian Church).
We urge all clerics who have left the Metropolia of Chisinau and All Moldova, within which they received the gift of priesthood, to remember the oath given at ordination and its violation, the slander they caused and continue to cause. Let us remember the words of the Saviour:
And whoever offends one of these little ones who believe in Me, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world, because of the fools! For folly must come, but woe to that man through whom folly comes. (Matthew 18, 6-7). To also take into account the canons of the Orthodox Church, which they must respect until death. (What if the bishops involved are offending the little ones and not obeying the canons? And surely this extract concerns pedophiles?)
Misleading the clergy and the faithful through their behaviour and personal life (Matthew 18: 7; First Universal Council, Canon 3, Sixth Universal Council, Canon 5): (And if the bishop is misleading through their behaviour, personal life, as the public photographs show?)
Violation of Oath (Apostolic Canon 25);
Public slander and blasphemy of the Metropolitan, the bishops (Second Universal Council, Canon 6). (What slander and blasphemy? Is this an attempt at censorship despite Christs’ words that ‘the truth will set you free’).
Celebrating the Divine services after ceasing to serve the holy ones (Apostolic Canon 28);
If someone has been suspended from liturgical communion and goes elsewhere to be received into liturgical communion, let him be deposed from the clergy. The canonical Epistle of the Council to Pope Celestine also tells us the same: “Those who are excommunicated in their diocese cannot be perceived as sanctified by your communion… Any misunderstandings that arise should end in their dioceses”. (Canons 116 – 118 of the Council of Carthage); (What if the original diocese is under a schismatic bishop?)
The Challenge of Schism in the Church
With regret, we note that the decisions taken by the Metropolia of Bessarabia in recent times have led to its unfavorable position in relation to the canons of the Church. Any admission of clerics from the Metropolia of Chisinau and the whole of Moldova without a letter of release is uncanonical and attracts all the canonical provisions against him who leaves, and the clerics who transferred should understand that the duty of His Eminence Vladimir is to gently rebuke those they stand against, that only God will give them repentance to the knowledge of the truth and they will escape from the race of the devil, by which they are caught, to do his will (II Timothy 2:25-26). And again the Apostle says: Rebuke those who sin in front of everyone, so that others may also fear (I Timothy 5:20). Like a loving Father, the Metropolitan waits for his prodigal sons to come home! (Where is the love of one who intimidates, threatens and damns others to hellfire because they are obeying the canons?)
Synodal Department of Institutional Communications and Media Relations
Some of the Scriptural extracts and canons above seem very clear and very strict, but they are all quoted out of context and without any discernment. Moreover, they are quoted by a part of the Moscow Patriarchate, which organisation just in recent years has accepted hundreds of priests from other Churches, also without letters of release! Clearly, Church canons, often called ‘holy’ by those who infringe them (!) are being used politically, not spiritually. As one bishop screamed: ‘I don’t care what happens to you, what I want is the keys! (to the property). In other words, most of these problems are simply about property and the income that comes from it. They have nothing to do with canons and the spiritual, only about lucre and the material.
As we have commented in the text above (comments not in bold), these canons cannot be applied to many situations, especially that in Moldova/Bessarabia, a territory disputed for political and historical reasons between two countries, each having its own name for it, having been conquered by the Soviet Union and taken by military force from Romania. (Somewhat like the Church of Georgia, whose age-old independence was completely and uncanonically suppressed by the Russian Church for some 200 years; once the USSR fell, the Church was restored). Clearly, this is a political problem and these canons cannot be exploited to answer such a question.
Furthermore, the above canons presume that all bishops are Christians. What if they are not and are in fact corrupt and immoral, full of schismatic sectarianism, bullying and racist hatred, publicly declared against other nationalities, who form the vast majority of the parishioners and who therefore want to leave such oppression? The twisted interpretations of the above canons are also contradicted by other canons and by the practice of the Church. Letters of release are only necessary if priests and deacons are corrupt and others have to be warned not to accept them. As we have said, what if clergy, innocent victims of such bishops, are not corrupt, but rather the very bishops who refuse to issue the letters of release most certainly and obviously are?!!! Is there any consultation before such predators are made bishops?
To quote actual real cases in the Russian Church over the last forty years:
What if a bishop wants to sleep with the wife of a cleric or that of another man (as happened in the 1980s elsewhere and as has happened recently under a bishop precisely of the Metropolia of Chisinau?) What should that cleric do? Remain, or flee to another bishop without a letter of release? (There was no letter of release simply because the lustful bishop in question refused to issue it in order to preserve his power).
What if a bishop wants to sodomise a cleric (as happened recently under a bishop of the Metropolia of Chisinau in Moldova, and elsewhere in the Russian Church)? What should that cleric do? Remain, or flee to another bishop without a letter of release? (There was no letter of release simply because the homosexual bishop in question refused to issue it in order to preserve his power).
What if a bishop insists that a cleric become a freemason, what should that cleric do? Remain, or flee to another bishop without a letter of release? (There was no letter of release simply because the corrupt bishop in question refused to issue it in order to preserve his power).
What if a bishop creates a schism? What should that cleric do? Remain in schism against his conscience, or flee to another bishop without a letter of release? (There was no letter of release simply because the schismatic bishop in question refused to issue it in order to preserve his power).
In this latter case, Canon XV of the First and Second Council of the 318 Fathers in 861 does supply a clear-cut answer:
But as for this persons, on the other hand, who, on account of some heresy condemned by the Holy Councils or Fathers, withdrawing themselves from communion with their presiding bishop, who, that is to say, is preaching heresy publicly and teaching it bareheaded in church, such persons are not only not subject to any canonical penalty on account of them walling themselves off from any and all communion with the one called a bishop before any conciliar decision has been pronounced, on the contrary they shall be deemed worthy to enjoy the honour which befits them among Orthodox Christians. For they have defied not bishops, but pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers, and have not sundered the union of the Church with any schism but instead have been diligent to rescue the Church from schisms and divisions.
Beware, God is not mocked.