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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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The Relics Of Saint Seraphim: A Journey Through Russian Orthodoxy

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Saint Seraphim of Sarov

The Orthodox Church is going through deep changes in these last days of 2018. Ukraine is establishing an independent church leading to a serious controversy within the Orthodox world that has prompted a schism between the Russian Orthodox Church and Constantinople patriarchate.

In this series of articles, elements of the history of Orthodoxy in Russia will be (re-) explored to feed the debate covered in most media around religion, power and politics.

The story of Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833), one of the most revered Orthodox saints, is a symbolic journey through the various milestones in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) over the past two hundred years till nowadays.

After decades of seclusion, the pious hermit began to receive visits from pilgrims as word of his ability to heal body and soul spread among the faithful. Some accounts relate Seraphim’s prophesies about the fate of the last tsar Nicholas II who was killed during the Bolshevik revolution in 1918. Seraphim would also have foreseen the future of Russia under the Soviets. According to these narratives, he anticipated the repression against the church during the twentieth century. Other accounts raise the affinity that Seraphim might have had with the Old Believers, the Orthodox Christians who refused Nikon’s reforms of the mid seventeenth century to preserve traditional ways of worship. Seraphim’s teachings of internal unity and spiritual purity thus transcended the canonical differences between the ROC and the Old Believers, a schism that still exist today.

It is known that he was canonized in 1903, but Soviet authorities confiscated his relics when they closed the Sarov Monastery in 1923, at the beginning of the repressions against the Orthodox Church. Like many other objects of veneration, his relics were kept in a storage room in the Museum of Religion and Atheism in Leningrad. The place of origin of Seraphim, the city of Sarov, became the birthplace of the Soviet nuclear program. Sarov was a closed city with limited access to keep the research secret. During the buildup of the nuclear center, many churches were destroyed or repurposed in a failed, yet violent attempt to eradicate religion and all its manifestations.

With the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Saint Seraphim’s relics were uncovered and displayed in a Moscow convent. In the wave of spiritual revivalism and enthusiasm for Russian saints, Russian believers were now able to pay tribute to the holy man. In 2003, the Patriarch Alexey II and President Putin paid a visit to Sarov to celebrate Seraphim’s hundredth anniversary of canonization and the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 2016, a tiny piece of these relics orbited around the earth on board the spaceship Soyuz MS-02. Russian cosmonauts now regularly take religious objects with them into space, such as icons, the Gospels, and stones from Mount Tabor (the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus), symbolically spreading their faith around the world. This practice has become a tradition for space missions since 2008, when relics of Saint Sergius of Radonezh accompanied cosmonauts into space. Ironically, space conquest was formerly heralded as a great achievement of the antireligious Soviet authorities. A popular Soviet propaganda poster even depicted Yury Gagarin in space with the caption: “There is no God!”

Another chapter in the story of Seraphim’s relics was the meeting in Cuba in February 2016, where Patriarch Kirill offered some fragments of the saint’s remains to Pope Francis as a token of the rapprochement between the two churches. For memory, Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church are at odds since the great schism of 1054. This historic encounter in Cuba held a highly symbolic value as no head of the ROC had met with the head of the Catholic Church. During this encounter, both pontiffs agreed that “the past method of ‘Uniatism’ is not the way to reestablish unity”. The Joint Declaration further cast“ hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms,and that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony.” It was almost three years ago.

Recently, in December 2018, archeologists from the Russian Academy of Science have made interesting discoveries during their excavation in Sarov monastery. They found a marble plaque commemorating the canonization of Seraphim and testifying the attendance of the Tsar Nicholas II with his family. This artifact resurfaces as a thread connecting the past and the present.

Saint Seraphim’s unique journey during his life has continued after his death with each milestone epitomizing a key moment in the unfolding history of Russian Orthodoxy.

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After secularism, what?

Georgia N. Gleoudi

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In the beginning of December 2016, Angela Merkel called for a burka ban during the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party’s congress. Specifically, she said “The full veil must be banned, wherever legally possible. Showing your face is part of our way of life,” and “Our laws take precedence over honor codes, tribal customs and sharia.”

It is really interesting to demonstrate a case where the cross as a European value has the dominant position: the Lautsi case. Lautsi case proved us that religion still travels hand by hand with politics and that political coalitions are still very powerful when cultural memory has to be protected. An Italian national, Ms Soile Lautsi accused Italian Republic for the compulsory display of crucifixes in Italian public schools. According to ECHR’s decision there was no violation of any right derived from the Convention. As Marco Ventura has pointed out: “The Grand Chamber has designed a Europe in which every country is free to decide which place to give to religion and to favor Christianity, or rather the dominant churches. For this reason, Italy has been supported by the more confessional of European countries, Russia and Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus, which the European Court has repeatedly condemned for the oppression of minority religions.” The coalition of Vatican State — Italian governments with other Eastern States formed a new ecumenical movement against radical secularism which according to the religious leaders, ECHR tried to promote during its first decision on Lautsi case. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill in a letter to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expressed the following opinion: “Christian religious symbols present in the public space in Europe are part of the common European identity without which neither the past nor the present or the future of this continent are thinkable”.

However, does this new ecumenism of Christianity or ultra — secularism lead to Islamophobia? Religious pluralism a new social fact with which European states have yet to come to terms, and, country by country, they are plunging into national debates about religion and public policy. Indeed, Europe has made many efforts to cultivate the interreligious dialogue and to bridge (at least, a theoretical) gap between the relations between Christianity and Islam. The Vatican’s effort to reach Islam culminated in a March 2001 visit to Damascus where John Paul spoke about the neighborly relations over the centuries between Christianity and Islam and delivered a message of interfaith peace. On 16th April, Pope Francis with the Ecumenical Patriarch visited the island of Lesvos in show of support to refugees. Leaving for Vatican, the Pope was accompanied by some families of Syrian refugees as a symbolical gesture towards Europe and its strict policies for asylum seeking and the closing of borders. An anti — Muslim sentiment is increasing by placing the blame on Islam’s antiliberal tenets and Muslims presumed obedience to those doctrines. Muslims feel that they are second class citizens and victims of discriminatory attitudes and that their religion becomes more important than their education, personal and professional skills, qualifications and virtues in the eyes of the Western community. Are they really free and first class citizens when their religious leaders cannot be educated in Western and national institutions such as Christian clergy? Is this a true religious expression? Many imams are educated in Muslim countries and most probably they have traveled abroad before their religious mission to Europe. This may cause a lot of problems as the majority of those imams does not speak the national language and brings in his suitcase attitudes and traditions totally incompatible with Western values. In many cases, these imams come to carry fundamentalist and extremist messages which may find very welcome ears from disappointed, conservative or marginalized individuals. Beginning in September 2004, New Home Office rules for “overseas ministers of religion” came into effect in Britain. The rules require “imams and priests..to show knowledge of, and engagement, with British civic life, including an understanding of other faiths.”

Inside Muslim communities various attitudes towards the position of sharia have been formed. Many scholars, especially Muslim scholars have tried to strike a balance between the implementation of sharia in private affairs and of National Laws in their public life and activities. Furthermore, a movement within Islam, called “Moderate Islam” sees the today context as an opportunity for an Islamic revival movement that focuses on jihad-the individual’s believers efforts to master scriptural reading and reinterpretation and aims to redefine all core Islamic concepts, in particular the balance between religious law and individual spiritualism. As Tariq Ramadan, a representative of Moderate Islam writes in his article “Europe’s Muslims find a place for themselves” in “Le Monde Diplomatique”: Five basic principles were arrived at, and these now provide the basis of a virtual consensus among both Islamic experts and the Muslim communities of Europe : 1) a Muslim, whether resident or citizen, should see himself as involved in a contract, both moral and social, with the country in which he lives, and should respect that country’s laws, 2) European legislation (which is secular in nature) allows Muslims to practice the basics of their religion, 3) the old concept of the dar al harb — which does not derive from the Koran, and is not part of the prophetic tradition — is seen as outdated; other concepts have been suggested as ways of reading the Muslim presence in Europe in more positive terms, 4) Muslims should see themselves as citizens in the full sense of the term, and should participate (while at the same time seeking respect for their own values) in the social, organizational, economic and political life of the countries in which they live, 5) in European legislation as a whole, there is nothing to prevent Muslims, or any other citizens, from making choices that accord with their religion.

Our secular societies found themselves in front of a big challenge: the revival of religion and the un-secularization of the world. The most crucial problem is the balance that both individuals and societies have to create in order to avoid a situation of “survival of the fittest”. The priority is a society where human rights will not be crucified in the name of religion and where individual spirituality will not be beheaded in the name of National Law or in the name of media.

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Recognition of Macedonian schism by Constantinople – Threat Remains

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After the publication in Macedonian news agency Sloboden Pecat, many believers of Serbian Orthodox Church gave a sigh of relief supposing that the common sense prevailed and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew discarded his intention to grant autocephaly to the schismatic Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC). But it appeared that such hopes were premature.

The article in Sloboden Pecat reads that Patriarch of Constantinople had sent a letter to MOC that admitted Serbian Orthodox Church’s (SOC) jurisdiction over Macedonian archdioceses and thus he had no rights to satisfy Skopje’s request for autocephaly. Ironically Greek mass media used this as an pretext to accuse Fanar of bribery.

A few days ago Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a refutation on its official cite, claiming that they didn’t sent a letter to the MOC and haven’t even heard of the Serbian gold.

While Serbians keep praying, Constantinople continues secret negotiations with the MOC. According to some sources this is why Metropolitan Amphilochios of Adrianople carries out frequent trips to Macedonia. At the same time statements of Fanar’s clergymen and Patriarch Bartholomew demonstrate phyletic intentions with a purpose of establishing the superiority of “Greek” church over all others as “the first without equals”. So the threat of the recognition of Macedonian schism by Constantinople is still relevant.

But the Fanar’s primary aim now is to force SOC into recognizing the autocephaly of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) – such a precedent will path the way for Macedonian tomos of autocephaly in the future.

Obviously our Church shouldn’t trust fake publications of the mass media. On the other hand there’s no point in passive expecting of “His All-Holiness” Bartholomew to declare his will. Considering that the community temporarily believed in a possibility of a “fair verdict” from the Fanar, Serbian Patriarchate’s position must be based not only on historical truth and church canons but on public opinion as well. In this regard the separatists’ worst nightmares of Constantinople going back to the canonical path can come true.

Constantinople has the right to revoke the tomos of autocephaly of any Slavic church at any time. Recently Archbishop Job of Telmessos. In the same interview he said that the name “Serbian Orthodox Church” is uncanonical and is a sign of ethnophyletism. If it’s not a declaration of war, then it’s at least a direct threat to Serbian Patriarchate. History shows that accusations of ethnophyletism sound when Greeks need to infringe the rights of Slavic Churches or deprive them of independency.

The Ukrainian example proves that Constantinople easily revokes the historical signatures of its patriarchs and no matter how much gold they were paid and how long ago the papers were signed – 100 or 300 years ago. Will Constantinople be allowed to go on rejecting its own decisions unilaterally and broaden its borders in the future? It mostly depends on the position of Local churches including ours. If we don’t react now then Serbian Church will face the fate of Moscow which is losing its territories land by land.

Patriarch Irinej needs Constantinople to officially recognize that the tomos of 1922 still has legal power despite the changing historical circumstances and that the extension of SOC jurisdiction over Macedonian archdioceses is no discussion point. We need a document that will be undoubtedly canonical and impossible to cancel at a moment’s notice. At least personal signatures of patriarch Bartholomew are still more trustworthy than fake mass media publications.

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