Andreas Loudaros, editor-in-chief of Greek website Orthodoxia.info
Russian church's self-inflicted isolation is something that is very likely to become a reality
24.10.2018 13:10 1110

The issue of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been actively discussed and reported in the media not only in Ukraine. The reason is that after the Moscow Patriarchate adopted a destructive position, world Orthodoxy is on the verge of a split - the largest after the Great Schism and the faction of Christianity into Catholics and Orthodox Christians a thousand years ago.

The Greek website Orthodoxia.info pays great attention to the main topic of the Orthodox world.

This "church news agency" earlier published an exclusive record of a meeting between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill, who arrived in Istanbul late in August to "solve" the Ukrainian issue. The website in Greek, English, French and Russian informs its readers about all other major events around Ukrainian autocephaly.

Ukrinform decided to talk to Orthodoxia.info editor-in-chief Andreas Loudaros.

Question: On October 15, the Holy Synod of the Russian church decided to sever all Eucharistic ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in response to the latter's decision to begin the process of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian church. Also, some problematic statements concerning Constantinople and Patriarch Bartholomew himself have been made of late by the Russian church. How do you assess this decision and the behavior of Moscow, the 'third Rome'?

Answer: This reaction was expected, as the Russian church had previously warned that it would do this. Of course, I should note that the decision came a lot earlier than expected.

Remember that when Constantinople sent its exarchs to Kyiv, the Russian synod decided to cut Eucharistic ties with Patriarch Bartholomew and the hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, warning that should Constantinople grant the Tomos, Moscow would proceed with severing all remaining ties.

And this is what ended up happening, though not because the Tomos was issued, but because a decision was made to annul the letter of 1686 and to reinstate the schismatic bishops.

I really do wonder what the Russian church's response will be when the Tomos finally gets issued.
What troubles me is the level and quality of the Russian church's arguments. We are hearing them talk about a decrease in Russian tourists visiting pilgrimage sites. We are reading about a ban on donations to the monasteries of Mount Athos.

These are not ecclesiastical arguments. These are more like disagreements between two states. We even heard them talk about the Islamic nature of the country in which the Ecumenical Patriarchate is based. Where was the Ecumenical Patriarchate based when it decided to recognize the Russian church's autocephaly? In some sort of 'Orthodox paradise'? These are not serious arguments.

Q: The Ukrainian authorities transferred the majestic St. Andrew's Church to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for permanent use. Is there any possibility of Patriarch Bartholomew's moving in the future his permanent residence to Kyiv so that the Russians are no longer able to use their 'Islamic arguments'?

A: It is something beyond science fiction. The Ecumenical Patriarchate stayed in Constantinople even when the Turks were slaying the Christians. There is nothing in the world that will force the Patriarchate to leave its seat.

The Russians have a major problem with their arguments. They are more akin to anecdotes than serious positions.

Q: How do you assess the transfer of the St. Andrew's Church to the Patriarchate of Constantinople?

A: It is a move that strengthens the ties of Kyiv with its Mother Church. I believe that the St. Andrew's Church will be the point where the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be able to carry out the moves it needs to complete the process. It is a neutral space. He does not belong to Onoufri, neither to Philaretos nor Makarios.

Q: Can the Moscow Patriarchate be considered a canonical church now that it has severed Eucharistic ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

A: I am not a theologian to be able to answer this question with clarity; but, in any case, when someone severs Eucharistic ties with the source of their existence, which is what Constantinople is for the Russian church, I think there is a problem.

Q: What could the Ecumenical Patriarchate do in response to Moscow's decision? Will the other churches support Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew or the Russian church? Will the Russian church face self-imposed isolation?

A: I am not a theologian to be able to answer this question with clarity; but, in any case, when someone severs Eucharistic ties with the source of their existence, which is what Constantinople is for the Russian church, I think there is a problem.

At present, we are not expecting any particular reaction from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and I cannot imagine what it might do, though it seems nothing has changed in the process regarding autocephaly, which is well underway. The Russian church's self-inflicted isolation which you mentioned is something that is very likely to become a reality if we think back to the Synod at Crete in 2016, when only three other churches sided with Patriarch Kirill.

I think that recent developments should be of concern to the Russian church's leadership, which might benefit from improving how it views its position in the Orthodox world and the way the people might react to this.

Q: How do you personally interpret the decisions made by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on October 11 vis-à-vis the Ukraine issue? Do you know how many churches took part in the meeting of the Synod and supported the move in granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian church? Besides the Russian church, which other churches oppose this move?

A: Only metropolitans of the Ecumenical Patriarchate take part in the synod in Constantinople. No other Orthodox church has taken part in the decision process thus far. The remaining Orthodox churches will be called upon to take a position on the matter once the final decision to grant the Tomos is made. Only then will we see which churches support the Russian church. Naturally, there are some churches which have voiced their concern, such as the Antiochian, Serbian, and Polish churches, but I suggest that we wait until the final decisions are made.

Q: The Holy Synod is expected to convene again in November. Is there any possibility that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will issue the Tomos to the Ukrainian church during this session? Could Patriarch Bartholomew go back on his decision and give in to pressure and threats from Moscow?

A: In its recent announcement, the Ecumenical Patriarchate made it clear that it is proceeding with the autocephaly as per normal. I cannot, however, foresee Constantinople’s next move, as there are many factors which need to be taken into account.

I think it is unlikely that we will not have any developments at the next meeting in November, and we should not ignore the fact that on the Ukrainian side in Kyiv there is already talk of some disagreements. For example, the head of the Kyiv Patriarchate, Filaret, continues to consider himself a patriarch.

As far as the Orthodox Church is concerned, there is no Kyiv Patriarchate nor a patriarch in Ukraine. I think these things should first be sorted out before the final decisions are made. In my opinion, if there is anything that can make the Ecumenical Patriarch change his mind, it is not pressure from the Russians but the apparent weakness of some people in following the established canons of the Orthodox Church.

Q: In your opinion, in its struggle for influence within Orthodoxy with Moscow, which considers itself the 'third Rome' and cites its enormous flock, will the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian church weaken the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate or, on the contrary, strengthen its authority and reconfirm the status of Constantinople, the 'second Rome,' as the main capital of the Orthodox world?

A: There has never been a 'second Rome,' only a 'New Rome that has certain responsibilities and prerogatives which were granted to it by the Ecumenical Councils. Of course, this issue could be put up for discussion in a future Ecumenical Council; but, until then, we have canons which need to be followed.

If every time someone feels stronger than the rest they try to gain control of the leadership, the Orthodox Church will become a rabble. The head of the Orthodox Church has a mission which is clearly spiritual. He is not the 'alpha male.'

Q: In your opinion, what ramifications will there be for the Russian church as a whole as well as for its head, Patriarch Kirill, should autocephaly be granted to the Ukrainian church?

A: Given the Moscow Patriarchate enjoys close ties with the Kremlin, I fear the issue of Ukrainian autocephaly might create major disturbances. How Russia deals with the autocephaly issue is a matter for the Russians, and nobody can tell them what to do or what not to do.

Without doubt, though, Moscow losing influence within the Ukrainian church is something that will tarnish the patriarchy of Patriarch Kirill. In my opinion, the Moscow patriarch's decision to convene his synod for the first time in Belarus was not something a man who is powerful and sure of his power would do.

This is something a man who is afraid of what tomorrow might bring would do. In any case, I think that the Russian church is not doing itself a favor by citing its superior numbers over the other Orthodox churches. Russia has a rich spiritual heritage which it can showcase and be proud of.

The Russian church is more than a 'large group of people with both money and power,' and this is something Russia itself has to first realize.

Vasyl Korotky, Vienna

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