Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The Constantinople Patriarchate appointed two exarchs “for the preparation of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church”. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church responded to this decision with a statement that is unprecedented in its sharpness.
It included words about the deadlock in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Constantinople Church, and also about the threat to the unity of global Orthodoxy. The arguments given by the Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew in defence of his position were called false.
If not to delve into the essence of the problem, then it is possible to say that such things have happened before. The Russian Orthodox Church in 2000 already expressed deep concern about the actions of the same Bartholomew in Estonia, where he, encroaching on the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, also promoted a split in the church.
Now, however, it is not about concern, but about a resolute protest and deep indignation. Taking into account that the church always chooses its words much more accurately than diplomats do and always tries to start with small things in order to not immediately bring things to a deep confrontation, we can ascertain that Bartholomew committed a deed that, if we draw an analogy between the church and state relations, could be called direct and barefaced aggression.
In other words, in 2000, the Constantinople Patriarchate was engaged in petty theft in Estonia. But today it is not about theft, not about a robbery, and even not about banditry, but about the beginning of open war. And not against the Russian Orthodox Church, but against all of world Orthodoxy.
If Patriarch Bartholomew simply wrote out Tomos to some abstract Ukrainian Orthodox Christian, then it would be troublesome for his relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, but not a catastrophe for world Orthodoxy. Because, of course, the fight for canonical territory between the actual leading orthodox force (Russian Orthodox Church) and the nominally “first in honor” Constantinople Patriarchate would touch all world Orthodoxy, but it wouldn’t be critical for it. It would just be a conflict between two orthodox chairs, similar to those that often happened in the past. It terms of its scale it would be larger than the Estonian one, because the church and political value of Ukraine is much more, but in general it would keep within this same framework.
The problem is that Bartholomew took not a church decision, but a political one. He laid down claims to “orthodox papacy”. The Patriarch of Fener individually determined himself as being not just “first in honor”, but also the chief of all Orthodox Christians, having the right, in his arbitrariness, to interfere in the affairs of any church, and in reality – of any diocese.
He didn’t just intrude into the canonical territory of others (which in itself is bad). He accused the Russian Orthodox Church of provoking a Ukrainian split, having actually put at the same level the pseudo-Patriarch Denisenko, Metropolitan Onufry, and Patriarch Kirill. He stated that he doubts the fairness of the anathema of Denisenko and that he is going to consider this question personally. I.e., for him the Russian Orthodox Church, the autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and the self-proclaimed Patriarch Filaret (Denisenko) are equal parties to the conflict that he is going to judge. In order for this to be understandable for people who are distant from church problems, this is worse than when it is declared in the West that Stalin and Hitler are equal parties to the conflict. It is even worse than if, having reached the limit of “tolerance”, in the West it is declared that Roosevelt, Churchill, and de Gaulle also bear responsibility equal with Hitler for the Holocaust, the genocide of Slavs in occupied territories, the initiation of war, the tens of millions of victims, and even repression in Germany. It is worse because in the case with Hitler’s evaluation there would be talk of a terrestrial political example, of a temporary phenomenon. But in the available case we are dealing with eternity, with the problem of the immortality of the soul. And it’s not even about one soul, but millions of orthodox souls being plunged into split.
If to go straight to the point, Bartholomew suddenly decided to allocate to himself the same (and even vaster) powers than the ones the Pope has in the Catholic world. At the same time it is necessary to understand that the Pope isn’t just the Supreme bishop of the Catholic church, but also a secular sovereign governing the state of Vatican. The Pope is only half (as the head of the church) monk and half (as the head of state) politician. Contrary to the precept of rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s, the Pope tries to combine in himself the divine and the political.
With Bartholomew it is worse. Firstly, he has no territorial state (unlike the Pope, who has the Vatican). He lays claim to political influence within the borders of other states. At the same time, his influence is initially destructive, since he can obtain it only by influencing existing churches. And the mechanism of influence available to him, making him allegedly an “arbitration judge”, is giving support for splits. In the same way that he is unable to pave his way to the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church if he doesn’t support the pseudo-orthodox sectarians of Denisenko, he won’t be able to influence neither Serbian, nor Bulgarian, nor any other orthodox church without the support of such schismatics. Splits are his pillar of support. Only the equation of a bandit with their victim in terms of responsibility (or even the bandit’s justification) allows this Turkish subject working (according to local, Turkish legislation) with a status of nothing more than a tourist attraction to claim to be the supreme all-Orthodox judge and the individual determinant of the canonicity of any heresies. The head of a structure that signed uniatism three times – at a minimum – on the terms of the Holy See, whose “Orthodoxy” was recognised by other churches rather out of charity and the unwillingness to create additional split, suddenly decided to become “holier than the Pope”.
He can’t but understand that he initiates a split in Orthodoxy. At the same time, he understands that he violates not just canons and traditions, but also the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, which established not only the rules of relations between episcopal chairs, but also the symbol of faith. If today it is possible to ignore one of the decisions of these Councils, then tomorrow it will also be possible to rewrite the symbol of faith. Especially since the Constantinople Patriarchate already three times signed uniatism with the Roman throne, each time recognising its subordinated position towards Rome.
Bartholomew is not a child small. He knows very well that he acts against the canons of world Orthodoxy and that he touches the interests of all orthodox churches, each of which has its own schismatics who, on the basis of the latest statements of the Constantinople Patriarchate, Bartholomew (as he considers) can recognise as being rather canonical.
Bartholomew knows what he risks. He also understands that the US weakened and can’t provide him with comprehensive support, and that Turkey – which he is a citizen of – won’t be delighted by his actions directed not just against the Russian Orthodox Church, but also against political Moscow, being the ally of Istanbul. It’s also not a secret for him that practically all orthodox churches refuse to support him and to recognise the competency of his actions in Ukraine. Everyone understands that it can become the next victim of the Constantinople “peacemaker”.
Constantinople also ought to understand that the influence of the weak and unpopular (the “pro-European”, or to be more exact – pro-American governments of Eastern European countries) on the church situation is minimal. The church in these countries enjoys bigger authority than the government does. Politicians there have no chance of forcing local churches to support Constantinople. Of course, supporters of Bartholomew can be found among local hierarchs, but this will only create additional lines of split, dividing world Orthodoxy in a worse way than the Great Schism of 1054 divided Christianity.
For Ukraine, Bartholomew’s actions unambiguously mean religious war, in which not streams, but rivers of blood will be shed, and already not only the Ukrainian state (which already burst) will be destroyed, but also the people living on territory that is formally subordinated to the current Kiev authorities. And Fener already knows this. They understand very well that they are provoking a horrible civil religious conflict, thus standing on the side of schismatics and sectarians against true Orthodox Christians. The Istanbul bishop isn’t mistaken. He is aware that he acts against his own faith and hundreds of millions of orthodox believers over the entire world. He sacrifices his immortal soul for the sake of momentary political benefits. Such a decision can be made only by someone whose belief is dead and who stopped being a monk, a priest, a bishop, but who became a politician, who stopped being a servant of God, and who started to serve the knight of this world [the devil – ed]. The Constantinople Patriarch lays claim to the laurels of pseudo-teachers and pseudo-prophets that John of Patmos describes as the forerunners of the Antichrist.
Bartholomew’s actions already don’t correspond even to the interests of the US (which always acted as a supporter of the Ukrainian split). This is much more than the US would’ve liked. The situation stops being controlled from Washington. The Constantinople Patriarch starts laying claim to the status of an independent political figure who is no less influential than the leaders of the largest faiths and heads of leading states. But he tries to obtain this status without having the corresponding opportunities in orthodox sobornost, as a teacher of split. Bartholomew builds his political career precisely by plunging millions and even tens of millions of Orthodox Christians into split, sacrificing not only his, but also their souls, standing on the side of world evil.
His actions are much more large-scale than the split initiated by Denisenko, and is thus more dangerous. In comparison with Bartholomew, who strives for the status of a pseudo-patriarch, the pseudo-patriarch Filaret is a mere child.
Bartholomew’s split is caused by Constantinople’s understanding of the simple fact that the US, which before this served as the base of the ambitions of the Istanbul Patriarchate and gave via its support considerably bigger influence to him than what his weight allows, becomes weaker and is no longer a factor of force.
Only split, only destruction, only pitting orthodox believers against each other – both in a global context and within the framework of every church – can create for Constantinople a new pillar of support. Bartholomew is not the first to try to become equal to God by acting against God. And he is not the last to try to exchange influence bought in this world on the back of bloodshed for immortality of the soul. At his age and with his rank, spontaneous decisions are simply not made. He weighed up everything: both the possibilities of countering other orthodox faiths and the probable reaction of an anti-American orientated Erdogan – who is the situational ally of Russia in the Middle East, and the inevitability of the bloodshed initiated by him in Ukraine. He weighed things up and made his choice, and he will see it to the end.
That’s why the Moscow Patriarchate, although it doesn’t opt for an immediate severance of relations, starts responding with statements that are more rigid than what happened in previous such cases. The Russian Orthodox Church reasonably doesn’t want to assume responsibility for inciting a conflict, but shows absolute understanding of the fact that Constantinople won’t cool its passions any more and will go to the very end. Hence the phrase about responsibility falling on the Fener Patriarchate and its leader Bartholomew.
It is a affirmation of fact that the Second Rome, following the First Rome, definitively (not only in a political, but also in a spiritual sense) turned into a stronghold of world evil. Sooner or later this will be said openly. The church isn’t in a hurry since it is obliged to admonish and heal, and only in second place, if the schismatics and heretics remain incorrigible and stagnate in sin, does it punish and denounce. But we, already now, are obliged to live with the realisation of the fact that the unity of world Orthodoxy once again was subjected to a test and that another split became as inevitable as there being hundreds of thousands, or maybe even millions, of its future victims.
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