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14 January, 2019  ▪  Ihor Losiev

Hell hath no fury

How Moscow can respond to the provision of the tomos for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine

Ukraine did it! The tomos from the Ecumenical Patriarch acknowledging the autonomy of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is a fact. All of the Moscow Patriarchate’s intrigues and multi-purpose moves in the world of orthodoxy have ended in failure at this point. All the standard KGB technologies have so far proved powerless. All of Moscow’s efforts to reshape the thousand-year-old institution of the Ecumenical Orthodox Church to its own benefit have collapsed. All the recent moves by the Moscow Patriarchate now look not so much like its own style as the style of Vladimir Putin – arrogant and brazen. Weeping and gnashing of teeth can be heard all over Russia’s capital.

It’s hard to believe that Kirill (Hundiayev) would have taken the initiative on his own to obstruct the Ecumenical Sobor in Crete or to organize a dirty propaganda campaign against Patriarch Bartholomew in the Russian press and elsewhere. Patriarch Kirill is quite an erudite theologian and ecclesiastic politician. By contrast, brutal actions are entirely natural and typical for Putin.

There is reason to believe that the Kremlin, having gotten the ROC’s leader and his organization involved, will now try to arrange a “terrible revenge” against Constantinople, Ukraine and their supporters. Just in recent days, the ROC leadership issued a very aggressive statement declaring that Patriarch Bartholomew had broken with world Orthodoxy in granting Ukraine the tomos. Who gave Moscow the right to speak in the name of world Orthodoxy is not clear, but what is clear is that Putin is preparing for an all-out war among churches against Phanar, the site of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s residence in Istanbul, in order to isolate the Orthodox leader from all his churches and to discredit him as the “first among equals” of all Orthodoxy.

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Moscow is clearly determined to start a massive religious schism, which could lead to unpredictable and unexpected consequences. Historically, the Great Schism of 1054, when the Roman Pope and the Constantinople Patriarch declared anathema against each other, instead of ending with one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, two emerged: the new Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. What could happen now? The modern-day Russian Orthodox Church could end up as a completely separate religious phenomenon, something like the Russian Old Believer Church, whose dogma and rituals are essentially orthodox but which has operate for several centuries as an entity apart from world Orthodoxy.

Next, Moscow, meaning firstly Putin and only secondly Hundiayev, will get very busy working hard on the Orthodox Churches. Today there are 14 independent churches. There is also a 15th, the American Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which was formed by the Moscow Patriarchate, is largely unrecognized and is not included among Ecumenical Orthodox churches.

Second on this ecumenical list is the Alexandrian Church. There were times in the distant past when it fought with Constantinople for primacy and in the 19thcentury it was in very close contact with the Moscow Patriarchate. These days, Moscow continues to have considerable influence with Alexandria, while the African church’s relations with Constantinople remain strained. In recent times, the Alexandrian patriarch was known to make pro-Putin statements about how Russians and Ukrainians are “one people.” Still, whether the patriarch would risk contributing to the ruination of the millennial institution of the Orthodox Church is not so clear.

The Antioch Orthodox Church is located in Syria and Lebanon for the most part. Today, a good chunk of its canonical territory is occupied by Russian Federation forces, which could quite possibly affect the position of the leader of the Antioch Church.

The Jerusalem Orthodox Church is more oriented towards the Ecumenical Patriarch than most Eastern churches.

The Serbian Orthodox Church is one of the most pro-Russian. Patriarch Irenei has already managed to declare himself against Ukraine’s autocephaly and against the Ecumenical Patriarch. Most likely it will continue to act as a client of the Moscow Patriarchate.

There is reason to believe that the Romanian Orthodox Church will support both Ukraine and Constantinople.

Most likely the Hellenic churches, the Churches of Greece and of Cyprus, will support both Bartholomew and Ukraine. There will be considerable pressure from Moscow on the Bulgarian Church. The Georgian Church is likely to face blackmail threats: Tbilisi is afraid that Moscow will subordinate the Georgian Orthodox Eparchies in occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Polish Orthodox Church is really just a satellite of Moscow, as is the Orthodox Church of Czechia and Slovakia.

In short, the Jerusalem, the Greek, Cypriot, Romanian, and Albanian churches are likely to stand by Ukraine and Constantinople. The Georgian and Bulgarian churches could go either way. And so it’s easy to see two ecclesiastic coalitions forming: one pro-Constantinople and one pro-Moscow.

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Other than getting busy in the world arena, Moscow will obviously not play dead in Ukraine, either. It’s quite possible that it will organize some bloody provocations to fill the Russian and world press.

In terms of its strategy of increasing chaos, the ROC could go for some really non-standard, bold moves, including granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. This would, of course, be a completely illusory autocephaly, but it would create a total mess in the religious environment in Ukraine, with two formally equal churches that are at war.

At that point, the Moscow Patriarch would begin claiming that he had always intended to grant autocephaly in Ukraine but the “unlawful acts” of Phanar spoiled everything.

Quote, unquote

To prevent this crisis from escalating, the Serbian and Antioch patriarchs appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch with a plea to restore fraternal dialog with the Russian Orthodox Church in order to… resolve the conflict… and restore the unity of the Orthodox Church.

– Joint Statement from Antioch Patriarch Ioan X and Serbian Patriarch Irenei 

We support the need for dialog and call on all local Orthodox Churches to resolve the current crisis with Ukraine by calling an Ecumenical Council. We are prepared to participate in such fraternal discussions.

– Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All the United States and Canada Tikhon, of the Orthodox Church of America (not one of the recognized churches) 

Given that there are several schismatic groups in Ukraine, they should first do penance and return to the bosom of the canonical Church. Only then can discussion begin about granting autocephaly. Autocephaly in and of itself, in accordance with the tenets of the Local Orthodox Churches, is granted upon the application to the Mother Church after consultations with all leaders of Local Orthodox Churches.

– Metropolitan of Warsaw and All Poland Savva


Translated by Lidia Wolanskyj

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