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Will Constantinople ask other Local Orthodox Churches for help?

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The hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople from all over the world are to meet at the Synaxis (meeting) in Istanbul from September 1-3. It will mark the beginning of the new 7527th year of the Byzantine church calendar.

The significance of the event is also emphasized by the fact that the previous EP bishops’ meeting took place three years ago – at the start of the final stage of preparations for the Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete. It is expected that the forthcoming Synaxis will largely determine the position of Constantinople in the Orthodox world since it will deal with such important issues as the crisis in the Greek American Archdiocese and especially the church situation in Macedonia and Ukraine.

This April, President Poroshenko, Ukrainian parliament and some bishops sent appeals to the Ecumenical Patriarchate asking to issue a Tomos of  autocephaly (independence) of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The head of the State assured that the request would be granted by the 1030th anniversary of Christianization of the Kyivan Rus’-Ukraine. However, this did not happen.

Either did not the current status of the Macedonian issue change.

In fact, having announced the anticipated date of the autocephaly,the Ukrainian leader placed the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew in an awkward position. “Poroshenko returned from Istanbul after meetings with the patriarch with a bit of exaggerated enthusiasm,” the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA which is under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Metropolitan Anthony, commented on the situation to the Voice of America.

In the last few years, the Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly appealed to Constantinople with requests for autocephaly. At the same time, whether trying to win the favor of His All Holiness, or because of their superficial knowledge of the church sphere, Kyiv officials exaggerated his capabilities as the “first” in the Orthodox Christian world.

Patriarch of Constantinople is indeed highly respected by the other Local Orthodox Churches. However, he has no right to make unilateral decisions on such important issues as autocephaly: a consensus of the Councils of all the Local Churches on this matter is needed. As per information from the Phanar, some Churches have already voiced their displeasure over the non-oservance of the procedure of granting ecclesiastical independence which was elaborated and agreed by all the Orthodox Churches back in 1993.

Another option for the Phanar is believed to be the restoration of its jurisdiction over the historical Metropolis of Kyiv and establishment of the Exarchate in Ukraine.However, this scenario is also problematic because the boundaries of the Kyivan Metropolis as of 1686 differ significantly from the boundaries of modern Ukraine. Thus, in this case, it is equally inappropriate to speak of the creation of the One Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine which was promised by Petro Poroshenko.

Besides, the Orthodox community in Ukraine is divided into three competing entities – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (under the Moscow Patriarchate), the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The first of them is quite satisfied with a large measure of autonomy and does not seek greater independence. And the other two are not recognized by the Orthodox world.Up to now, none of the other Local Orthodox Churches has supported the granting of the Tomos in the situation when Ukrainian Orthodoxy remains divided.

As Metropolitan Anthony notes, this complicates the task for Constantinople even further. “In most cases, when the country is given autocephaly, there is only one church, so the question arises: whom should the tomos be given to.This issue must be considered very seriously,” the hierarch explained.

The process is not that complicated, when in one country there exist several canonical Orthodox Christian structures of diasporas every of which amounts to less than 1% of the population. However, more than 65% residents of Ukraine consider themselves Orthodox Christians. The division between a would-be Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate on the basis of ethnicity also does not work: Russians are by no means a minority in Ukraine (they comprise about 17.3% of the country’s population), and some of them also stand for church independence.

Probably it is for these reasons that even in the middle of July the discussion on the issue of the Ukrainian autocephaly was still in full swing at Phanar. “We are not certain yet that the Tomos is going to be given, and this issue is still being discussed in Constantinople. Archbishop Daniel and I were there a few weeks ago, and we were told this clearly,” His Eminence Anthony told the Voice of America.

The head of the UOC of USA does not exclude that a meeting of all Orthodox bishops from around the world may be required to resolve the issue.This is how in 1998, at the Pan-Orthodox Council in Sofia, convened by the patriarch Bartholomew, the schism in the Bulgarian church was healed. The readiness of the Phanar to apply this approach to Ukraine was also claimed by Archbishop Job of Telmessos in 2016: “The Ecumenical Patriarchate is ready to help to heal the church schism following the recent example of the Bulgarian Church and the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia.

The upcoming Synaxis will, to a large extent, show how Constantinople will manage to reconcile the expectations of Kyiv, positions of other autocephalous churches and the requirements of the Holy Canons.

Whatever happens, let’s wish Ukrainians to be patient. And for Autocephalous Local Churches it might be advisable to be there to assist the Phanar in making a well-considered and truly conciliar decision together. That is, if Constantinople wants it to be so, of course.

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Theology in post-apartheid South Africa and the prophets of the city

Abigail George

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So, I think about the brave, and the thoughtful, and the supernatural, I think about divine intuition, our divine assignment, our divine meetings when it comes to the sensibility of persuasion. I fix my eyes upon the Cross, upon the crowds, upon the crossroads wherever I find myself. I think of the waiting game. Waiting for my prayers to be answered, waiting to be loved, waiting, waiting, always waiting. I am like a fugitive down here. Prayer explodes in my head and my neck, and something exquisite snaps back I to place as girl, as child, as adolescent, as woman. When I think of the revolution from within, how it comes with a price, how it comes with a breakthrough from memory and desire, a kind of spiritual persuasiveness, milk-fed, book thief, and I think of all the tragedies that this world of ours has seen. War, depression, global recession, climate change, global warming When I was at my most vulnerable I turned to theology. I turned to fasting, prayer, and meditation. I turned to the filmmaker Mikale Barry, Shakespeare, and to John Updike, Hemingway and Ghandi, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Trevor Noah, Macbeth.

 I knew I was purposefully crafted in the image of Christ, but only came to that realisation late in life, and if I bloomed into piety, righteousness, and Christianity, if I bloomed at all into theology, a theology that conditioned me into thinking that the universe was/is somehow aligned with God and science, the psychological framework of philosophy and education about religion, for the omniscient being is both the alpha and omega, the unseen, quiet miracle-worker and guard of our mouth, the helmet of salvation, the breastplate armour is made of redemptive powers, and separation-anxiety, attachment to karma has marked humanity’s indifference, and great aloofness when it comes to evolutionary biology, detachment of history, and there have been times when I don’t feel good, and have turned to prayer in the centre of my winter, and it greatly helped the acute suffering of my heart. I think of love, not in the divine sense, but the love that carries with it shame, and guesswork, and all I want to say is that the wolf must not think of me. I am awake now only because of reconciliation, democratic values, the origin of the species, which is theology and not Darwinism.

 It is God’s will be done. To my art, the contact I make with other artists, I only have this to say. To know when to say please and thank you. I’m the girl who knows not to make a scene in front of your beautiful wife, your children look like her, your children look like you. Nobody loves me. I try to ignore you, I try to ignore this. It is in theology that I find my identity now, that my psyche remains intact, that. I find confidence in winter, spring, summer, and autumn. I remember what I had as a child when I think of theology, I wait for the dust of the Colonial Masters to settle, eat the breadcrumbs off their table, congregate around their prophetic words, their prophetic visions, their divinity rules, the school of their thought, and law, and philosophy, and education rules. Tonight, it is theology that is holding me her arms like the scientist Niels Bohr, the writers John Eppel, Virginia Woolf, and my own father Dr Ambrose Cato George, the poets Brian Walter, William Blake, John Keats, the playwright Athol Fugard, the philosopher and educationalist Athol Williams, the journalist Lee Gary McCabe, and Ithink of our struggle heroes, Stephen Bantu Biko, Dulcie September, Rick Turner, and Chris Hani.

I think of political meetings held in secrecy on Table Mountain, and my mind keeps returning to the post-apartheid system of theology, the inaction of congregants from different beliefs, norms, values, faith-based systems incorporated into every sphere of modern-day life. I’ve been living life in a kind of theological bubble. To go to church, or not to go to church. To be hurt in church, or not to be hurt in church. To meet likeminded the individuals there. Or not to meet likeminded individuals there. I believe in God, but I don’t believe in people all that much. I think of my paternal grandparents. It didn’t ever matter to them if they were hurt by people in the church. And when I write, I commune with the angels, with an angelic realm, and the voice inside my head is not a pre-conditioned voice, it is Christ’s voice. And when I write I worship Elohim, and when I write I worship Yeshua. I think of Moses in the wilderness, I think of the burning bush, the multitudes, and how all of that is not part of an indoctrinated religion, but a part of me. I think of the oneness of Jesus Christ, I think of modern-day Christianity, and how it impacts both event and non-event in my theological discourse.

A voice inside my head says tells me what to do, what I’ve always been good at. I think of the Salvation Army’s hymns, and how I’ve devoted myself to something else now. How I’ve decided to devote myself to the church, to research, to writing, and to the writing-world of poetry. I regard God as nothing more than spiritual breakthrough. And I take cognizance of the fact that a prophet has an international vision, that prophecy is not worship, that we have to literally wakeup someone else to anointing and the supernatural. We must respect both the narrative and context of the Scriptures, because the word is truth, and light, and revelation. And I suppose we could look at theology as opinion-based rhetoric, or irrelevant for this day and age, but truths are truths, and semantics are semantics. Far from being commentary on social justice, an incomprehensible expression of dead scholars and prophets, far from departing from obscurity and complexity, theology is a part of us all. It is a part of humanity, a living thing of theatre, a book designed to be interpreted, read, and reread, assumed, branching out into theory and code and philosophy and religion and source and resource.

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No one owes anyone anything?

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Amazing things keep happening in Ukraine: what we (and many others) had been writing and talking about for almost a year was suddenly confirmed by the most unusual and unexpected source.

According to the Orthodox Journalists Union website, citing Ukrainian radio program “ Persona Grata,” Filaret Denisenko not only rejects the status of “former Metropolitan of Kiev” that Constantinople gave him, but also says that he has never recognized the anathema placed upon him in 1997 by the Russian Orthodox Church, of which he was once a canonical hierarch.

“Well, if the Ecumenical Patriarch removed the anathema from me in 2018, does it mean that I had been under the anathema until 2018?”  Filaret wondered. “If I was under anathema, it means that all these bishops are invalid. As to Epiphany, he is not a Metropolitan; he is not even a priest. If the Ecumenical Patriarch lifted the anathema from me in 2018, then the entire episcopate is invalid!” he added. Thus, by dismissing the Constantinople Patriarch’s meddling in Ukrainian church affairs, Filaret is actually implying that either everyone (including the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the UOC-KP) are schismatics and heretics, or no one owes anyone anything now. Then why are we talking about debts? Here is why.

On the surface of it, it might look as if the old intriguer and schismatic is right! The truth, however, lies with the Orthodox Church canons, not with what Filaret is saying. In our October article, titled “Legalizing the Schism – the Patriarchate of Constantinople crossed the red line”, we questioned the Ecumenical Patriarch’s decision to “lift” the anathema, both from Filaret himself and his structure and “clerics.” The article also wondered how come   a schismatic under anathema could all of a sudden become “the former Metropolitan of Kiev,” and his associates “the former” metropolitans, bishops and priests. Our view was fully shared by the Russian Orthodox Church, and also by the Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose position on the issue has been extremely consistent and unswerving: “The Council regrets the canonically ill-advised decision by the Patriarchate of Constantinople to exonerate and officially recognize two leaders of splinter groups in Ukraine as bishops Filaret Denisenko and Makariy Maletich, along with their episcopate and clergy.”

Moreover, Filaret went even further in his statements and exposés.

“Do not call the Ukrainian Orthodox Church the canonical Church, do not state untruths,” declared Filaret, who suddenly started espousing the truth. “It is not recognized by other Churches as canonical, it is recognized only by the Ecumenical Patriarch. It has the Tomos [of autocephaly], but essentially it is not autocephalous. It is not recognized as canonical by 13 Local Churches. So why does it call itself canonical, when no one serves with Metropolitan Epiphany, except the Ecumenical Patriarch?”

According to Filaret Denisenko, “no church, be it the ROC, or those of Hellas, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Poland and  Georgia, recognizes the so-called UOC, just like they didn’t the UOC-KP before. Therefore, we should not be bragging about having the Tomos of autocephaly. It has misled us,” Denisenko says, admitting the obvious fact that receiving the Tomos has not brought the Ukrainian schismatics anywhere closer to the single family of world Orthodoxy.

Obviously, the “honorable patriarch” has uttered nothing new and offered no maxims from the annals of canonic law. What conclusions can one make analyzing similar “revelations” being made by this Ukrainian heresyarch? Are they really signs of him suffering from senile dementia? Hardly so – although old and angry, Filaret is certainly not a fool and is just as perfectly versed in canonical matters as are the most diehard advocates of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

In a thinly veiled threat, “Metropolitan” Epiphany has already hinted that if Filaret and his supporters persist in their efforts to undermine the autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (a clear reference to the Church Council scheduled by Filaret for June 20) they could expect “…all canonical and legal consequences.” 

Assuming that Epiphany is careful not to openly challenge his former benefactor, Filaret realizes that the only canonical backlash he may face will come from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. To Denisenko all this looks very logical, reasonable and legitimate (something he is trying to get across to those who listen): Epiphany and others like him are duly recognized by Patriarch Bartholomew, and since they were all ordained by Filaret, it means that there was no anathema then, therefore Bartholomew never lifted it and so no one owes anyone anything!

Just how the current bickering by these clowns will end we’ll see very soon. And with a great deal of pleasure too since all this squabbling when schismatics keep dragging beards over autocephaly, accusing each other of being pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian, this gives the canonical Church of Ukraine a much-needed breather. May God extend Filaret’s days, so that he comes up with  something good or says something interesting…

 From our partner International Affairs

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Pressure on the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro

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The Montenegrin Government adopted a draft law on May 16 that included a register of all religious objects, for which they claim that they were formerly owned by the independent kingdom of Montenegro before it become part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918. The new law states that religious communities may only retain ownership of their property if they have clear evidence of ownership, triggering accusations from Serbian Orthodox Church that the Government plans to dispute the Church’s property.

”If there is no such evidence, it is a matter of property created and acquired by the state of Montenegro and represents the cultural heritage of all its citizens,” the draft says. Such property will be listed as a cultural treasure, that is, as state property of Montenegro.

On June 8 at the election conference of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in Niksic, Party President Milo Djukanovic said that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) is trying to protect the “big Serbia infrastructure“. Djukanovic also accused the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose members constitute the overwhelming majority of Christians in Montenegro, of hindering the European ambitions of society, and of trying to keep the religious monopoly in the country. Previously, Djukanovic had declared that like Ukraine, Montenego will ask for the autocephaly of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which is not recognized.

According to him, in the Balkans, as well as in Montenegro, there is still a difficult struggle between the two policies – one that the DPS and Montenegro lead, which is the Europeanization of this area, and the other that tries to conserve the state of the lagging behind of the Balkans. Although, as he pointed out, they did a lot on the building of Montenegrin identity, there was another important step, which is to “correct the serious injustice” done at the beginning of the 20th century and the abolition of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. He suggested that he would work devotedly to the reconstruction of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, whether somebody like it or not, as well as to guarantee a real but not formal freedom of religion.

„We will not formally ensure that people can pray to God but only in those churches that will be monopolized by them, in this case, the Serbian Orthodox Church. No, it’s not the freedom of religion. We will fight for the freedom of religion and the separation of the church from the state. We will not allow contemporary Montenegro to live under the dictation of a religious organization that represents the relic of the past and which can hardly understand that it has long since passed and that Montenegro, like Serbia and all the societies in the Western Balkans, have the right to its own consistent European future, “said Montenegrin president.

Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral (Serbian Orthodox Church) was shocked by the statement of the Montenegrin president.

“I was stunned by what I heard from the President of Montenegro, the man who is the successor of the communist Government and who publicly declare himself as an atheist. On the other hand, he complains that the church should not interfere in politics, and he tries to be the head of the church, to create its own church. This is the first time in history that an atheist creates a church”.

In a previous interview with the news agency TASS, Metropolitan Amfilohije recalled that the project of the so-called “Montenegrin Church” emanated from the communist rule, already in the years 1970-1980. The Metropolitan mentioned that “the Montenegrin Church” is not recognized by anyone, except by the Ukrainian schismatics: “The only one who has recognized this “Church of Montenegro” is [Filaret] Denisenko. Now, they hope that Constantinople will recognize them, but this is absolutely impossible because Dedeic, who is at the head of the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church, was a priest of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Rome, and was laicized because of his crimes. So there can be no such recognition”.

Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej warned Montenegrin President Djukanovic that his actions might lead to a formal curse, or anathema, being declared.

“Let God give him the mind to think what he is doing, and not deserve the anathema of the whole Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox Church,” Patriarch Irinej told a Church TV station Hram(Temple).

Serbian Orthodox Church is the largest denomination in multi-ethnic Montenegro, but its relations with the pro-Western Government have always been poor. The Government considers Serbian Orthodox Church hostile to the independence of the country, and generally as too pro-Serbian and pro-Russian. The story of the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church lasts for almost three decades and has had several development phases. In the first phase, at least officially, its initiators in the first half of the 90s of the 20th century were some separatist political parties and quasi-cultural and scientific organizations. However, when Djukanovic strengthened power in 1997, with the support of the West, it began with the change of the historical identity of Montenegro. Then, in the old capital of Cetinje, the clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church were attacked. The Serbian Orthodox Church easy overcame that first extreme blow in the late 1990s and early 2000s, because, apart from the old capital of Cetinje, the Serbian Orthodox Church was the most important institution in all other cities in Montenegro. The same situation is today.

In line with that Montenegrin regime now started with another tactic. They realized that in spite of strong pressure, the people in Montenegro did not accept the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. That is why the Montenegrin Government decided to take away the temples from the Serbian Orthodox Church and register them as a state property. After that, Montenegrin Government will make appointments for service in the temples for Serbian and Montenegrin Orthodox Church. And then the ruling party will force their party membership to go to the service, when it serves Montenegrin Orthodox Church.  

Western centers of power supported Milo Djukanovic in 1997 and 1999 against Slobodan Milosevic. He was allowed to win the presidential election with various non-democratic methods, and finally in 2006 to make a referendum for separation from Serbia. The referendum was held in a totally irregular atmosphere. Djukanovic is the wildcard of the West who has agreed, to keep Milo Djukanovic in power to change the traditional Serbian/Slavic – Orthodox identity into Montenegrin, Roman Catholic and Western identity. Serbian identity of Montenegro, has already been broken through decades of Yugoslav communist rule which made a strong promotion of Montenegrin nation. As a result, state with a completely new and artificial identity was created.

The only missing link is the Montenegrin church. This is where the global conflict of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy is happening. The so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church openly expresses sympathy for the Catholic Church. If the project of the Government of Montenegro and the West were to pass, Serbian Orthodoxy would be pushed from the Adriatic. That would be the strongest blow to Serbia and Republic of Srpska. It is not pretentious to say that the Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox Church, the historical nation and institution of Montenegro came to the red line of survival of their identity, beyond which there is no further withdrawal.

 From our partner International Affairs

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