Soon it will be one month since the Ecumenical Patriarchate reinstated the primates of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC KP) and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) and finally headed for granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church the Tomos of Autocephaly.
This decision has already led to large-scale changes in Ukraine and the Orthodox world. So, what’s happening?
Ukraine: Property redistribution, fighting for the new Church’s Primate chair and uncertainty
The first thing the Ukrainians did was redistributing property. A part of the deal between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Autocephaly was a number of real estate items in the center of Kyiv. As it is rumored, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France visited the country to review the objects; their size and value quite impressed him.
On October 18, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada passed the President’s bill on handing St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Up to that moment the church served as the UAOC’s cathedral but its primate Metropolitan Makarios supported the presidential decision since his organization will be part of the new united Ukrainian Church and he is ready to sacrifice for it.
Meanwhile the UOC KP is getting ready to obtain new real estate items. On October 20, the Synod changed the title of its head: now he will also be the “Holy Archimandrite of the Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavras”, which belong to the UOC MP. On the eve of elections, Filaret seems to demonstrate his supremacy before Makarios and the UOC MP. As it is known, the UOC KP and UAOC are in long-lasting conflict, which escalated since the Tomos will be granted shortly.
The UOC MP certainly is in no haste to recognize Constantinople’s decision: the clergy of a few large eparchies of the Moscow Patriarchate vote for Metropolitan Onufriy and against the Tomos. Met Onufriy openly claims that the Phanar’s actions are uncanonical and calls for defending the faith. Bishops won’t join the new Church without their clergy and dioceses.
For instance, in predominantly anti-Russian Rivne Oblast in western Ukraine, all the clergy and monks unilaterally supported Met. Onufriy.
At a voting by secret ballot in Odessa Diocese, only 3 (!) priests of 406 were against Met Onufriy.
Metropolitan Sofronios of Cherkasy was the only bishop of UOC MP dioceses who openly supported Autocephaly. Cherkasy Diocese’s voting by secret ballot showed that nearly all of the local clergy deprecate the Autocephaly. Facing criticism, Met Sofronios had to publically state that he “won’t join the same Church with Filaret.”
In case Filaret and Makarios don’t reconcile and UOC MP bishops stand aside, the Unification Council will fail. The only result yielded by the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s strategy would be an exarchate and valuable property in the center of Kyiv. But where is the promised unity of the Ukrainian Church?
The world: A schism, the declining authority of the Greek Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Patriarch
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has failed to reach concord in the world Orthodoxy. It is starting to divide into two camps. Despite the cut ties, Moscow couldn’t be isolated: the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Slavic Churches are against Constantinople’s hasty actions on the Ukrainian question and the conflict is expected to be universal.
Such stand-offs can’t foster the positions of the Greek Orthodoxy. Constant quarrels between the Local Churches undermines the authority of the Orthodox Church in the eyes of Roman Catholics and Protestants: the Greek Orthodoxy once again looks ridiculous.
The ambiguous events influencing the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s reputation also added oil to the fire. First, the contents of the confidential talks on August 31 with Patriarch Kirill were leaked. The negotiations were recorded only by Constantinople’s representative, so it couldn’t have been published without prior consent of Patriarch Bartholomew.
The Ecumenical Patriarch is quite aggressive toward the Russian Orthodox Church without presenting grounds for his accusations. Thus, he has recently blamed Moscow for the dissemination of “well-paid articles” and “black propaganda” without clarifying what he meant.
Obviously, scandals like this one and aggression toward other Churches negatively affects Bartholomew’s reputation. Moreover, it looks like the Ecumenical Patriarchate strives not for the Unity of the world Orthodoxy but for its own supremacy over other Churches.
There should be recalled the situation with the “pearl in Constantinople’s crown” – the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA). In summer, some of its influential supporters spoke about independency following the example of Ukraine, but these talks were cut off. Meanwhile, for several months the Phanar has been trying to displace Archbishop Dimitrios. Against the background of the Ukrainian Autocephaly and open war with Moscow, the attempts to restrict the GOA’s independence and kick out its primate look cynical. Otherwise, it can urge the Archdiocese’s clergy and laity to unite for independency.
Relations with the ROC: the future of the ecumenical dialogue in question
The rupture between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate has influenced not only the processes between the two Churches. In cooperation with the ROC, Constantinople conducted active inter-confessional negotiations, but since Moscow refused to take part in them, the future of the relations, first of all with Roman Catholics, are not that promising. Now the talks led by Constantinople won’t be all-Orthodox, and this can be a pretext for predominantly anti-Ecumenical Churches to abandon them.
Besides, the Phanar’s actions will affect the Orthodox Diaspora: without the ROC, the Assemblies of Bishops won’t be that effective, their activity can stall.
At this moment, it’s unclear what awaits us in the future but one thing is obvious: the Orthodox world has changed and it will never be the same. Yes, Constantinople has won in the battle for supremacy becoming “the first without equals.” But the price is too high.
Recognition of Macedonian schism by Constantinople – Threat Remains
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.
The Jews of Chalkida
“When we returned, we had no bed to sleep, no pots to cook, nor clothes to dress. We went to our house and it was confiscated by others. We rented a room in our house and the whole family lived there.”
At Kotsou Street
Mair Maissis is in the Synagogue of Halkida, eager to guide anyone who passes itsdoor and wants to learn more about the Jewish community and the Jewish cemetery of Chalkida. Willing and full of energy, he would start explaining me the architecture of the — the Romaniote type — Synagogue.
“The two columns of our Synagogue prove its antiquity. A large number of scholars regard the Synagogue of Chalkis as the oldest of Europe and many believe that the first presence of Jews in Evia dates back to 586 BC. Around the Synagogue was the Jewish ghetto, the Jewish quarter where most Jews lived until the end of the Ottoman domination.
“On Good Friday in 1854, a great fire broke out which destroyed the biggest part of the Synagogue. Of course it was an arson. Nearly all community archives, books, heirlooms and manuscripts were destroyed. Only three Torah scrolls of the 13th & 14th century have survived until today. The Synagogue was rebuilt in 1855 with the donation of the Dutchess of Plakentia. Luckily today, we do not have any anti-semitic incidents here in our city. We are completely asssimilated.”
“We came from Italy. We were doing business with cornflakes and in italian mais means corn. So we were named after the profession. We left when the persecutions of Ferdinand and Isabella began. We crossed the city of Patras, then Mystras and finally Chalkis. At that time, we were traveling in enormous groups. They did not leave each other back. “
With the annexation of Thessaly to the newly established Greek state, several Jews in Chalkida moved to Volos. There, they found a new dynamic community. The mother of Mr Mair came from this community.
“My mother was Sephardi and she was speaking Ladino. Of course, at our house in Chalkida we only spoke Greek, neither Ladino nor Hebrew.”
He was born in 1935 a few years before the great disaster. His father Solomon was a merchant like most of the Jews at that time.
“Then the Community consisted of about 300 people. All merchants, spinners, craftsmen, etc. The weekly market in Kriezotu street was 90% Jewish. “
When the war broke out, he had only been able to go to school for a few weeks. The Jewish community had its own Jewish school where students were taught all the lessons and additionally the Hebrew language and Jewish religion.
“We were only able to learn about two or three songs and to dig out some scribbles. Nothing else we’ve got. “
The Partisans and the Orthodox Church
“We were almost all saved. With the help of the partisans and of the local Bishop Gregory. Without them we would have followed the others. The Bishop saved Jews whohad been prisoned and hide the Sacraments of the Synagogue in a place of the Central Church.
The partisans mobilized the Jewish families to leave Chalkida and go to the mountains. They were hidden in villages such as Steni and Gides.
“We left before the invasion of Germans. We had already been aware for the incidents in Thessaloniki and Athens, and there was no possibility to follow the same fate. The partisans told us to pick up things and by horses, we went up to the mountains. We were hidden in Steni like many other Jews, although this was extremely dangerous. There we stayed in Christian homes. But we knew these Christians. They have been our customers for so many years, we have had personal contact with them. “
Even the Italian Commander urged them to leave as soon as possible. On March 24, 1944, the Germans announced that all the Jews would gather in the synagogue to give them flour to make the enzymes for their Easter. They opened the door and they only saw Rabbi.
“They believed we would follow Rabbi and stay there. But we had chosen to be mobilized and save ourselves. “
22 Jews were lost from the Chalkida community. But how did they get lost?
“Mainly by German traitors”, Lili Kosti answered to me.
“So they captured my father and his sister. My father stayed in Chalkida to look after his parents who could not move. A Nazi partner betrayed him and caught him immediately. His sister descended from the mountain to take him out and so caught her. We could not leave our families.”
Who were the traitors, I wondered? I asked her to describe me the profile without telling me the name.
“Everything is now publicly available. I can tell you the name if you want. But do not imagine that their traitors and associates were reputable individuals, with family and educated. They were just criminals.”
Jews entered the guerrilla I asked them?
“Of course, havent’t you heard about Sarika?” And I had never heard her.
“17, 5 year old girl. Sarah or else Sarica Geoshoua. At first she entered the guerrilla and helped with chores. She slowly became a leading figure and propagated in the villages to get everyone into the guerrilla. She focused on girls and after a while she got teamed and had her own team of 12 young girl partisans. “
After the end of the Occupation and with the civil war, Sarica was led to the prosecutor. He told the prosecutor, “I am not with either communists or the right side. I went up there to fight the Germans. “The prosecutor released her with the condition of leaving Greece for ever. She left for Israel and never returned to Greece.
After the Occupation
“When we returned we had no bed to sleep, no pots to cook, nor clothes to dress. We went to our house and they were already others. We rented a room in our house to stay the whole family, “says M. Maisis.
America was first helped by the first time. Huge balls with clothes, beds, kitchen utensils, books for children.
“Many left for Athens, others for Thessaloniki because they thought they would find opportunities there. Others fled for Israel. As early as 1944, 160 people of ours had left for Israel. We then had a Chalkidiki lawyer, Sotiris Papastratis. He organized the mission for Israel. Free spirit, democrat. Later, he was honored with the Yad Vashem Prize for the Law of Nations. “
His family had nothing when he turned from the mountain to Chalkida.
“We went with my father to Athens to get some goods and start over again. As soon as he entered the shop and saw him the merchant shouted: Solomon lives! Download and give whatever he wants. “He knew his money was for sure. We had such a relationship of trust between us.”
The community saw a significant reduction in the number of its members. The day-to-day operation of the Jewish school ceases, and the rabbi was stopped in the early sixties.
The current community
“Today we are about 50–60 people. All older in age and we have only 2–3 children. Of course we keep all traditions and customs. We do it as we did before. “
When does the synagogue come to life?
“Every Friday we normally do our Shabbat service. We gather about 20–25 people. For the needs of the function we have a hazzan, that is, a cantor.
But in the great feasts, Ross Ashana, Pesach and Kippur, we bring a rabbi. “
Entering the Synagogue, my eye fell on a shelf with his books. He writes about the history of the Jewish community and the Synagogue and in a few days he will present his second book entitled “The History of the Jewish Community of Halkida since 580 BC. until 2001 The Cemetery. “
“ Do tourists and people visit the place in order to learn more about the Jewish community?” I asked.
“In recent years we have a lot of people to visit us. This month, you are the fourth who comes to learn information. Not just tourists. Many local Halkidians are coming too. “
We are preparing to lock down the Synagogue and go tothe exit where we would say goodbye.
“This year, on the anniversary of the Holocaust on January 27, I went to talk to 7 schools. Halls were filled with 350–400 children and neither one stood up. They first heard about all this. Teachers are now mobilized. If nothing is done through education and school, nothing can be done. “
The Politics of Canons and Borders
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
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