The conflict surrounding the Orthodox church in Ukraine has moved irrevocably beyond the purely intra-ecclesiastical agenda. Experts, political scientists, and journalists have plunged headlong into the subtleties of canon law, the history of intra-Orthodox relations and discussions of the psychological profiles of the church hierarchs. As a rule, they consider the situation in a rather limited political context, assessing its consequences either for Russia–Ukraine relations or for Russia’s relations with the West.
At the same time, the problem of autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is far broader than the question of the future of Orthodoxy in a particular country or its relations with its neighbours. It would seem that a more extensive analysis of the current processes is possible using the approaches employed in the modern theory of international relations, which acknowledges the existence in global politics of denominational actors with their own objectives and principles . Such a post-secular take will make it possible to delineate the interests of secular and religious actors and assess the balance of power on the political and religious map of the world (that overlap, but rarely coincide).
Orthodox Centres of Power in Global Politics
In recent history, the Roman Catholic Church has long been the only significant religious actor of in the international arena. Historically, the Holy See was sufficiently independent of secular authorities, and had the structure and resources that allowed it to harbour global ambitions. In the 20th century, the Lateran Accords made it possible for the Roman Catholic Church to retain its secular extra-territorial authority. In terms of “religious economy,” the Roman Catholic Church, as the world’s largest denomination, was bound to perceive itself on a global scale, which it does, seeing all countries and continents as its “religious market.” Other religious movements lacked either the requisite strength of numbers or a requisite structure acting on behalf of its followers, or were subordinated to secular authorities, which made it impossible for them to entertain similar ambitions. This applies to autocephalous Orthodox Churches that either viewed themselves as regional actors or simply struggled for survival.
The first window of opportunity for the emergence of independent Orthodox centres of power appeared with the fall of the Russian and Ottoman Empires, the two states in which virtually all the world’s Orthodox population was concentrated. The Patriarchate of Constantinople immediately seized the opportunity afforded by the weakening of control over the religious sphere and attempted to use its status as the “first among equals” to take the leading positions in the family of Orthodox Churches. In 1922, Patriarch Meletius II of Alexandria declared Phanar’s right to govern the parishes of the so-called diaspora (that is, the parishes outside the territories of local Churches), and in 1923, he attempted to hold and chair a “Pan-Orthodox Congress.” Moreover, same year, taking advantage of the difficult situation of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), Meletius II hastened to spread his influence on its territory as well. He took the Orthodox population of Estonia and Finland under the governance of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and also interfered in the affairs of the Church in Poland. The ROC’s independence at the time was so fleeting that the growing demands of the Phanariotes encountered virtually no resistance.
As the USSR grew stronger and the Soviet Empire emerged, the opportunities of independent Orthodoxy were shrinking and finally collapsed when the world split into two global ideological camps. Orthodoxy found itself in the part which did not presuppose any independent ecclesiastical institutions. It should be noted that the provisional “restitution” of the ROC’s canonical territories which took place as the USSR moved West, was the result of the secular authorities, not the ecclesiastical authorities, realizing their interests.
The situation changed radically with the collapse of the USSR. About 185 million Orthodox Christians, over 90 per cent of their total number, lived in the countries of the former socialist bloc (primarily Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Kazakhstan). For the first time in modern history, large Orthodox communities that emerged on the ruins of the Soviet Empire had their own ecclesiastic bodies independent of the secular authorities. The actual, rather than the nominal separation of church and state (which in the post-Soviet and post-Imperial reality mostly meant that the state would not interfere in the affairs of the Church) allowed the ecclesiastical hierarchy to reconsider the significance and purposes of the institutions they headed. As soon as they became accustomed to the new situation of religious freedom, as soon as this part of the “market” that previously had been excluded from the global religious economy was opened, the struggle to define roles, boundaries and common goals intensified within Orthodoxy.
The process of shaping a new system of international ecclesiastical relations was launched in the Orthodox world. The word “new” here essentially means “first.” The Orthodoxy did not have its “Westphal” capable of serving as the starting point for defining common canonical rules and stable canonical boundaries. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, where intra-ecclesiastical relations are regulated by a codified and regularly updated canonical law system enhanced by the efficiency of its hierarchical organization, Orthodox Churches do not have a uniform canonical law for intra-Orthodox relations. The most recent Ecumenical Council took place in 787, and the most Local Council, whose provisions were included in the Orthodox Canon Law, concluded in 880. The majority of key documents on church governance date to the 4th century. Such distance in time inevitably creates room for various readings and interpretations. Local Churches regularly accuse each other of misinterpreting a particular rule to fit their interests. The lack of more modern documents that are recognized by all churches is largely due to the above-mentioned limited international agency of Orthodox Churches.
The “great powers” of the Orthodox world – Constantinople and Moscow – took shape during this process. Of all the Churches, they are the only ones with sufficient resources (although they are of different nature), hierarchs of the requisite mindset and, mostly importantly, with the desire to fight for the right to format the “Orthodox factor” in global politics. As for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, its principal and essentially only resource is the “symbolic capital” of its “first among equals” status. The ambitions of the Phanariotes are determined by the conditions of their survival: without the Pan-Orthodox status and inclusion into the global “religious market,” the ecumene of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will dwindle to 3000 Istanbul parishioners, which even the western media never fail to mention. The Patriarchs of Constantinople cannot afford the role of leaders of a national church, the role most Orthodox leaders assume, because they do not have a national church.
Moscow’s stance is based on an entirely different logic. Even without Ukraine, the ROC’s parishioners account for over a half of all Orthodox believers. The Russian Orthodox Church also inherited from the Russian and Soviet empires the largest and most well-developed infrastructure and an established system of relations with today’s Russian authorities: these are resources that other churches lack. The idea of Moscow as the “Third Rome,” as the holy keeper and defender of global Orthodoxy, is inheritance that the ROC received from its “symphony with the state.” This self-perception of both church hierarchs and large proportion of parishioners, multiplied by their numbers, prompts the Moscow Patriarchate to define its global strategy.
“Phanarian Papism” vs. “Council Confederation”
The differences between the models that Moscow and Phanar offer to the rest of Orthodoxy turned out to be fundamentally opposite. Based on the nature of its resources, the Patriarchate of Constantinople banked on unifying the Orthodox world along the lines of the Catholic model, striving to transform its primacy of honour into unquestionable primacy. The course Meletius II set in the early 20th century was continued by his successors in the late 20th century. Thus, one of Constantinople’s first acts following the collapse of the USSR was to establish ecclesiastical bodies in Estonia parallel to those of the ROC. For obvious reasons, other Orthodox Churches gave Phanar’s ambitions the cold shoulder. It should be noted, however, that Constantinople made a rather effective use of its “symbolic capital” outside Orthodoxy proper, converting it into recognition of the Patriarch as the spiritual leader in the eyes of the West. Such was the purpose of the frequent meetings that the Patriarchs of Constantinople held with Popes, the inclusion of environmental issues on the agenda and the other tactical moves aimed at establishing themselves in the role of Orthodoxy’s principal speaker in the western media space.
The model proposed by the Russian Orthodox Church can be provisionally termed a “council confederation” model. The ROC strove to enshrine the existing areas of canonical influence and set clear rules of the game based on making decisions at councils following the principle of a consolidated position. The ROC probably counted on retaining the leading role through its qualitative and quantitative superiority over other churches. At the same time, the Moscow Patriarchate demonstrated certain flexibility: internal mobilization of resources and centralization of power go hand in hand with the readiness to grant broad autonomy to individual parts, and conservative rhetoric in Russia coexisted perfectly within the framework of establishing contacts with Catholics and Anglicans.
Ukraine as the Point of Collapse
The problem of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church would have never grown to its current scale had it been solely a matter of the independence of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. A competitive environment formed in Ukraine that made it possible for various religious organizations to co-exist in the country regardless of anyone’s recognition. Canonical law does not affect issues of property or worship. Those of Ukrainian Orthodox hierarchs who wanted absolute independence from the Russian Orthodox Church could opt for non-canonical bodies. A significant number of bishops would still prefer to remain part of a larger community with another scale of interests. This desire can hardly be explained by some external pressure, more likely, it is testimony to their similar views on the role and strategy of the Russian Orthodox Church. Ultimately, it should be kept in mind that Ukrainian hierarchs account for nearly a third of Russian Orthodox bishops, and nearly a third of delegates at the 2009 Council that elected Patriarch Kirill of Moscow were Ukrainian citizens.
The current actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople are based on its own interests, which could only be implemented in today’s international situation. The increasing struggle between the ROC and Phanar took its final shape in 2016 with the collapse of the Pan-Orthodox Council that had been in the works since 1961; for the Orthodox world, it would have become the Eighth Ecumenical Council. With the refusal of the Russian Orthodox Church and several other Churches to attend the Council, the issue of determining a universally acceptable system of international ecclesiastical relations was driven into a virtual impasse. The opportunity to determine the map of the Orthodox ecclesiastical world through negotiations was missed. The further logic of the process demanded a conflict that would serve as a catalyst for the public uncovering of contradictions and setting down the real balance of power.
The conflict surrounding Orthodoxy in Ukraine proved to be just such a catalyst. The Patriarchate of Constantinople used a local coincidence of its interests with those of the Ukrainian authorities and the geopolitical situation to move to the active stage of the conflict. Phanar declared the territory outside Russia that was of great importance for the ROC to be its canonical demesne. Additionally, by lifting the anathema from the leaders of Ukraine’s schismatic churches, Phanar practically confirmed its vision of itself as the final judicial body of the Orthodox world. It does not matter whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate will grant autocephaly to a specific religious body in Ukraine or whether it will look for ways to formally subsume the Ukrainian Church. In any case, its key objective is to remove this territory from the area of Moscow’s influence and to stake out its own presence there thereby enshrining the new balance of power.
A Schism or Disintegration?
The conflict between Moscow and Constantinople has reached a new level. Its further development will determine the future of the world Orthodoxy and affect, at the very least, the position of Christianity in Europe, where some 257 million Catholics and about 200.5 million Orthodox Christians live. If the contradictions between the principal centres of power are not resolved, then the risk it that Orthodoxy may cease to exist in its current form. Without the Russian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox world loses any qualitative significance. And without the “symbolic power” of the rest of the Orthodox world, the Moscow Patriarchate is no more than Russia’s national religion, which may sit well with some politicians and hierarchs, but contradicts the internal logic of the Church and Christian universalism.
The current situation encapsulates the failure of both the Phanar and Moscow models, and their revitalization appears unlikely. Subsequently, events may follow one of two principal scenarios. The first scenario will be determined by the disintegration of the family of Orthodox Churches. Granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian church sets a decisive precedent for triggering the atomization of Orthodoxy. The protestant principle of “one state, one church” will deal a blow not only to the ROC, but also to other Orthodox churches, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The scale of disintegration will increase through the collapse of the unified legitimation system and, consequently, through the multiplication of Orthodox sects and the increased personal ambitions of individual bishops who would want autocephaly for themselves or at least autonomy within their states. Ukraine will be the first on the list; ultimate canonical confusion there will create all the requisite conditions for an explosive growth of the number of self-proclaimed patriarchs. Atomization will entail marginalization and relegation to the periphery of the religious world map. Emasculating and adapting the Church doctrine to the new realities, essentially an Orthodox “Reformation” and the end of universal Orthodoxy and the Diptych as its symbol will be the final chord in this scenario.
The second scenario is slightly less dramatic. The conflict between Phanar and the ROC will end with Orthodox Churches splitting into two camps with centres in Moscow and Istanbul. Other Orthodox Churches will try to remain neutral, but the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow will force them to pick a side. Orthodoxy will be plunged in its most deep-running split since the Great Schism. Long-term, neither party is likely to win. The schism will either evolve into disintegration, or return to the starting point of the 1990s. The struggle between the two camps will effectively remove Orthodox Churches from global religious politics; the Roman Catholic Church will boost its standing in global Christianity and ardent Protestant denominations will be far more visible on the religious map than Orthodoxy.
Under both scenarios, a way out of the crisis is possible if new charismatic leaders emerge who are capable of offering new integration points for the Orthodox world. Ethnic or country affiliations will have no special significance; what is going to be of far greater importance is the ability to sweep along the believers who are tired of the canonical confusion, militant rhetoric and the feeling of conflict. One could suppose that the project of “Orthodox reboot” will go beyond the boundaries of the current Orthodox borders. Both Ancient Eastern churches (often counted when calculating the total number of Orthodox churches) and individual non-Orthodox Churches (such as the Armenian Church or the Anglican Church) may also be involved.
Under any scenario, the current situation decreases the level of autonomy of Orthodox Churches while increasing their dependence on secular authorities as their potential sponsors or allies in the struggle against the opposing camp. Given the experience of church–state relations within Orthodoxy, the religious sphere is under threat of politicization, while the influence the Church has on political processes will shrink. Globally, it entails the dwindling of “religious multipolarity” as a factor in maintaining the political multipolarity.
- 1. See, for instance, Wilson E. After Secularism: Rethinking Religion in Global Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 222 pp.
First published in our partner RIAC
How Muslim caste-structure in India has impeded their economic progress?
Modi 2.0 slogan `sab ka vishwas’ (all inclusive) caricatures ongoing persecution of the Muslim in India. In post-election India, the Muslim is being `lynched, shot at and told to “go back to Pakistan” simply for having a Muslim name, carrying or eating beef’ or `wearing a prayer cap and made to shout slogans in praise of Hindu gods’ (Aljazeera, and Organisation for World Peace dated June 4, 2019). Hindus even demanded that eid prayer-goers should not spill over on adjoining roads. BJP MLA Narendra Mehta, affiliated with dangerous bajrang dal, has started live weapons training at his Seven Eleven Academy. A Facebook user Prakash Gupta shared pictures of live-weapons training on Facebook from May 25 to June 1. NGO, Democratic Youth Federation of India, has filed a complaint with Navghar police station (Thane Rural police station). BJP President Amit Shah referred to undocumented Muslim immigrants as termites”. Nathu Ram Godse killed `Mahatma’ Gandhi `for supposedly cowing to Muslim demands’. He is being glorified as a patriot. Modi himself as then chief minister of Gujarat in 2002, `presided a pogrom that killed over 1,000 people; in 2011, a senior police officer testifying in the Indian Supreme Court stated that Modi defended this violence at the time as a legitimate route through which Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger’. He described refugee camps housing Muslims displaced by riots as “baby-making factories”.
Modi’s first five years in office were marred by a rise in violent attacks on minority groups, particularly the Muslim. According to the Sachar Committee Report, conditions of the Muslim in India are worse than that of dalits (downtrodden/untouchable). But, the Muslim itself is to blame for its current plight. The Muslim literacy rate ranks well below the national average and the Muslim poverty rate is only slightly higher than the low-caste Hindu. The Muslim makes up only four per cent of the undergraduate student body in India’s elite universities. He falls behind other groups in terms of access to credit. So is the case despite the fact that the self-employed Muslim population exceeds other groups.
According to Islam, the Muslim society is homogeneous. There is no hierarchical caste-system in Islam, like the Hindu varna system of social stratification. In Sanskrit, varna means type, order, colour or class. The term refers to social classes in dharma-shastra (religious text) books like the Manusmriti. Hindu literature classifies society into four varnas: (a) Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers. (b) Kshatriyas: rulers, warriors and administrators. (c) Vaishyas: agriculturalists and traders. (d) Shudras: laborers and service providers.Communities which belong to one of the four varnas or classes are called savarna. The dalits and scheduled tribes who do not belong to any varna, are called avarna. This four-fold division is a form of social stratification distinguished from jāti or the European term “caste”. The varna system is discussed in Hindu texts, and understood as idealised human callings. The concept is generally traced to the Purusha Sukta verse of the Rig Veda. Contrary to these textual classifications, many Hindu texts and doctrines question and disagree with the Varna system of social classification.
Unlike the Hindu caste system, where it is easy to discern the stratification, caste identities among Muslims are not defined rigidly. As such, the reservation quota and other benefits, available to scheduled castes, do not trickle down to the needy Muslim. It is bitter reality that the Muslim in India could not remain immune from Hindu caste-system. The Muslim is divided into into ashraf (Muslims of foreign lineage) and ajlaf (local converts). The ashraf are regarded as the superior group and are mainly endogamous, while the ajlaf are considered to be inferior. Some scholars use another category, arzal, to denote the Muslim who converted from the lowest strata of society (bhangi, doom, choora or sweeper).
To ameliorate the lot of the downtrodden Muslim (arzal or ajlaf), there should be a caste-based census to identify those deserving `reservation’ in scheduled caste. Is such a census in accordance with definitive text of Holy Quran Allah يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ادْخُلُوا فِي السِّلْمِ كَافَّةً وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا خُطُوَاتِ الشَّيْطَانِ ۚ إِنَّهُ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ
“O you, who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” (Al-Baqarah : 208). Some Indian scholars justify Indian caste system according to Islam.
At the top of the hierarchy are the Ashrafs (nobles), of Arab, Persian, Turkish or Afghan origin. They lay claim to a prestigious lineage that they trace back to the Prophet (in the case of Sayyids) or his tribe (in the case of qureshis). The shaikh (descendants of the Prophet’s companions), the pathan (descendants of migrants from Afghanistan), and even the Mughal (originating in Central Asia and Iran) can also be included in this group. Many ashraf are either ulamas in the case of the sayyid, or else landowners, merchants or business people. One’s birth group constitutes a major criterion for defining social status. At the middle level, the ajlaf (low-born) represent the masses. His status is defined by both his profession (pesha) unlike the ashraf. Many castes of intermediate status fall into this category, such as farmers, traders and weavers (ansari and julaha). Social elite of many ashraf in rural areas believe that this category is not part of the Indian Muslim community (millat).
At the bottom of the social scale is the arzal (vile, vulgar). It is a group comprising non-untouchables and converted “untouchables” who, as in Hinduism, practise supposedly impure trades. This was the case of slaughterers, laundrymen (dhobi), barbers (nai, hajjam), tanners (chammar), and so on.
Like the Hindu caste-ridden society, relations between Muslim social groups are governed by a social taboos _ sharing a table, marriage, sociability) and spatial restrictions (access to domestic areas and places of prayer, segregation in cemeteries and neighbour-hoods.
The ashraf opposes caste based count of Muslim community. But the ajlaf and arzal support it. The ashraf, being a “creamy layer”, obstruct any step that may improve lot of the downtrodden. The Indian Supreme Court decision to exclude the “creamy layer” from the quotas in 2008. But, it was never implemented. Questions about Islam mostly relating to ibadaat like hajj are asked in Indian parliament by the non-Muslim. No question about economic justice for all and sundry is asked.
Though Islam preached homogeneity, social stratification among the Muslim in India is a fact.
The Muslim caste system has hampered their progress in various realm of life. The Indian Muslim is impervious to whatever happens in Kashmir, or in the world.
The Muslim should learn from the Christian. To ruling Bharatya Janata party’s chagrin, Christians are the second most educated religious group in India after the jain. Today, the Christians live all across India, particularly in the South and the southern shore, the Konkan Coast, and Northeastern India. Through sheer hard work, Indian Christians developed niches in all walks of Indian national life. They include former and current chief ministers, governors and chief election commissioners. Christian women outnumber men among the various religious communities in India.
The paradox of belonging to Islam, a religion that is premised on the notion of equality, and at the same time imbibing local traits which affirm inequality has to be admitted. Muslims are segmented into different status categories on the basis of income, occupation, education and lineage.
It is the Muslim himself who can change his lot by following Islam in full. They should resist stratification and demand equality from their community. The Muslim world at large should help them with funds.
Meaning of Macedonian Issue in Geopolitical Game between Churches
On June 11, Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece will celebrate Patriarch Bartholomew’s name day in Istanbul. Right after this, the Hierarchs’ Council of the Church of Greece can be convened to discuss the recognition of the Autocephalous Church in Ukraine, which was established by the Ecumenical Patriarchate earlier this year.
The new Church was created in collaboration with former Ukrainian president Poroshenko and the existence of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate headed by Metropolitan Onufriy was ignored. That led to disrupted ties between Constantinople and Moscow and pushed the Orthodox world to a possible historic schism. None of the Local Churches has decided to recognize the new Church yet. Now the Patriarch is exerting pressure on the Archbishop of Athens to convince him to recognize the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine, which currently witnesses a fierce conflict between its Primate Metropolitan Epiphanius and Honorary Patriarch of Kyiv Filaret both struggling for power.
For saving his political project in Ukraine, Patriarch Bartholomew is ready to sacrifice the reputation of the Church of Greece and its relations with other Local Churches. If Athens decide to obey, the next step will be to make the Church of Greece recognize the FYROM Church schism.
According to available information on negotiations between uncanonical Skopje hierarchs and Constantinople, Patriarch Bartholomew is forced by external political groups to eventually recognize the uncanonical FYROM hierarchy. First of all, this goal is pursued by those who want FYROM to join NATO. But what is the benefit for the Greek people and Greece?
The recognition of uncanonical organizations in Ukraine and FYROM are important for NATO’s expansion and the growth of American influence in Europe. However, a division between Greeks and Orthodox Ukrainians and Russians is not what they’d want. The recognition of the uncanonical FYROM Church is a great blow for Greek interests and can pave a way for a schism with the Church of Serbia. The first step for the recognition is holding divine services in the so-called “Macedonian dialect”. Archbishop Ieronymos understands it well.
When Archbishop Ieronymos seeks compromise in the relations between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, some say that unlike his predecessor he lacks firmness. But here is a document that shows – the Archbishop is unwavering while dealing with the issues important for the Church and Nation.
Archbishop Ieronymos’ letter No. 1308 dated March 28, 2018 and addressed to Patriarch Bartholomew was written to comment on the plea of the “Macedonian-speaking” communities of Northern Greece to His All-Holiness so that they were allowed to hold divine services in the so-called “Macedonian language”. On behalf of the Holy Synod the Archbishop expresses his concern and objection against the request being fulfilled. Ieronymos calls a spade a spade: the “Macedonian language” is a “new Slavic Bulgarian-Serbian dialect – a false construction designed to serve dubious political ambitions and goals”. He warns the Ecumenical Patriarch of the consequences of an “inconsiderate decision” on this issue and suggests that it should be jointly studied.
The letter is said to have been sent with an article by Director of Personal Secretariat of Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, theologian Ioannis Tsouras (Ιωάννης Τσούρας, Διευθυντής Ιδιαιτέρου Γραφείου Αρχιεπισκόπου Αθηνών και πάσης Ελλάδος), which was earlier published on the Internet. Tsouras accurately and conclusively dispels a myth about “Macedonians” and their language and demonstrates the harmful effects of the Prespa agreement for the Greeks.
The Orthodox world can only hope that there are enough Greek hierarchs as rational and brave as Archbishop Ieronymos to prevent the Church of Greece from getting involved in dangerous political games.
Will Georgian Orthodox Church recognize Patriarch Bartholomew’s Primacy in Orthodox World?
The Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church is about to convene in next few days. A group of hierarchs allegedly led by Metropolitan Daniel of Chiatura and Sachkhere is up to discuss the recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which was established in Kyiv in December 2018, and received autocephalous status from the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Constantinople is especially interested in the OCU recognition. If recognized, metropolitan Epiphanius and his organization can augment the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s power in the Orthodox world, weaken the Moscow Patriarchate’s influence and allow the Patriarch of Constantinople to make decisions on extremely important matters for Orthodoxy by sole authority.
Local Churches are in doubt: despite pressure, none of them has recognized the OCU yet. How could autocephaly have been granted to the Ukrainian Church if it still lacks unity, and some parishes seize the churches of other parishes? Why was autocephaly granted solely by Patriarch Bartholomew, without any discussion with the other Local Churches? Why there was so much haste with the Tomos, why did it happen shortly before the electoral campaign of Ukraine’s former president Poroshenko? Could the Ukrainian autocephaly cause a schism in the Orthodox world? These and other questions were addressed to Constantinople delegations by Local Churches before and after the OCU was established.
Some Local Churches have opposed Patriarch Bartholomew’s policy – including the Patriarchate of Antioch, which once granted autocephaly to the Georgian Orthodox Church; and the Patriarchate of Serbia, which claimed that the OCU hierarchy hasn’t got canonical succession. Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus and Archbishop Anastasios of Albania asked Patriarch Bartholomew to convene the Synaxis of Primates but he firmly refused.
The OCU’s future is uncertain; the relations between the groups which formed it are unstable. Even now there is a conflict between Filaret Denysenko, the honorary patriarch of the OCU, and its formal head Epiphanius. This conflict undermines the OCU unity and can lead to its breakup in the nearest future.
If the Georgian Orthodox Church recognizes the OCU, it won’t be able to independently deal with its own issues. Abkhazians have already asked to be allowed to join the Ecumenical Patriarchate and receive the status of autonomy. Metropolitan Emmanuel of France once hinted to the Catholicos-Patriarch at the fact that the Abkhazian plea can get a positive answer if the Georgian Church doesn’t support Constantinople. But now Constantinople pretends to have the right to grant autocephaly anywhere across the world. If we recognize the OCU, we will let the Greeks in to the canonical territory of the Georgian Church.
During the previous meeting of Constantinople
hierarchs with Ilia II in Tbilisi, one of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s
representatives, metropolitan Amphilochios of Adrianopolis is said to have
begun his speech with the words: “There is an opinion that the Orthodox Church
is led by Jesus Christ. But in fact the Church is led by the Ecumenical
Patriarch.” The Catholicos-Patriarch seems to disagree with this statement.
Those Orthodox hierarchs who are famous for their spiritual experience and
purity of their edifying life disagree with that either. For example,
Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, who restored his Church after communist
repressions and who is already considered to be saint by many Greeks.
Orthodox Church has never followed the suit of Roman Catholics. But those of
spiritual clarity understand that the Orthodox Church is facing a new
large-scale threat, and the Ukrainian issue is only a part of it.
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