Kiev Pechersk Lavra.
This is what Nicetas, Archbishop of Nicomedia, wrote in the 12th century about the Great Schism (1054) between Catholicism and Orthodoxy:
My dearest brother, we do not deny to the Roman Church the primacy amongst the five sister Patriarchates; and we recognize her right to the most honourable seat at an Ecumenical Council. But she has separated herself from us by her own deeds, when through pride she assumed a monarchy which does not belong to her office… How shall we accept decrees from her that have been issued without consulting us and even without our knowledge? If the Roman Pontiff, seated on the lofty throne of his glory, wishes to thunder at us and, so to speak, hurl his mandates at us from on high, and if he wishes to judge us and even to rule us and our Churches, not by taking counsel with us but at his own arbitrary pleasure, what kind of brotherhood, or even what kind of parenthood can this be? We should be the slaves, not the sons, of such a Church, and the Roman See would not be the pious mother of sons but a hard and imperious mistress of slaves.
Difference between then and now?
A millennium ago, the Vicar of Christ presided over a flock that was about as demographically predominant within Christendom as the Russian Orthodox Church is within Eastern Orthodox world today. As quasi-monarch of the European core, who could command European kings to crawl to him on their knees in penance, the Pope could afford to forget the “pares” part of “primus inter pares.” In contrast, Bartholomew I – His Most Divine All-Holiness the Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch, not to mention reserve officer in the Turkish Army – is ensconced in an infidel country and presides over a local flock of a few hundred ageing Greeks.
Now to be sure, even one man is a majority when God is on his side. Even so, when he is in such a precarious position, it pays to be extra careful to make sure that’s indeed the case.
This is something that Bartholomew I has patently ignored with his disastrous decision to enter communion with Ukrainian schismatics.
Its basis is a revocation of the Synodal letter of 1686, which granted the Patriarch of Moscow the right to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev. Constantinople’s stated ultimate intention is to grant autocephaly (self-governance) to the Church of Ukraine; since the officially recognized Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Patriarchate of Moscow has neither asked for it nor will take it, this means it could only apply to schismatic Ukrainian churches, such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Patriarchate of Kiev and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. At that point, Ukrainian nationalists will proceed to seize Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Patriarchate of Moscow churches.
This revocation is illegal and outrageous on account of a whole host of factors.
Historically, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has consistently insisted on one church in the lands of Rus’ (amusingly, the earliest example of ecclesiastical separatism came in the late 12th century from a region in modern day Russia, when Andrey Bogolyubsky attempted to take the Metropolitanate of Vladimir out of the jurisdiction of Kiev – an attempt that was rebuffed by Constantinople). After the Mongol invasions of 1237-40, the Metropolitanate of Kiev and All-Russia – a title it held until the 16th century – would gradually migrate over to Vladimir and Moscow – first in the 1250s, in response to the Uniate tendencies of Daniil Galitsky in Volhynia-Rus; and permanently so in 1299. Constantinople did recognize a Metropolitanate in part of the modern-day western Ukraine in 1301, but clarified that “Microrussia” (της Γαλίτζες της Μικράς Ρωσίας) was a daughter church of All-Russia. The Kiev Metropolitanate was canceled and reintroduced several times on account of nakedly political factors – namely, Polish and Lithuanian demands on Constantinople to avoid ordaining Orthodox hierarchies on those territories that looked to Moscow, on pain of the region’s forceful Latinization.
In the event, this eventually proved unavoidable. The latest Metropolitanate of Kiev, created in 1458, would eventually accept papal authority and transition into Uniatism in 1596 at the Union of Brest. While this church had been under the tutelage of Constantinople, that did not translate into a splintering of the Russian church; in 1516, the Patriarch Theoleptus I of Constantinople would continue to call the Metropolitan of Moscow Varlaam the “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia.” Meanwhile, the confirmation of the Moscow Patriarchate in 1589 implied its control over all the canonical territory of the Russian church. In 1620, Constantinople re-established Orthodox dioceses under the Metropolitan of Kiev for the Orthodox population of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Metropolitan held the title of “exarch”, a title that signified Constantinople’s acceptance that it was not acting within its canonical territory and that its representative was a temporary placeholder, meant to provide Orthodox services to the faithful while the Poles remained in control of Kiev and were not about to accept a Moscow-appointed Metropolitan. Although the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus had full canonical rights over Kiev (the city being part of Rus) it did enter into negotiations with Constantinople to avoid any ill will once Kiev reverted to Moscow’s control for good in 1686. This was granted by the Patriarch Dionysius, who wrote that the Metropolitan of Kiev would henceforth owe “submission” to the Patriarch of Moscow and made no reference to or hint of the (as now claimed) temporary nature of that decision.
KP: Kiev Metropolitanate in 1686.
In any case, even if Constantinople had the right to reverse its decision – which it doesn’t – then it would only apply to the seven eparchies under its jurisdiction before 1686 (Kiev, Chernigov, Lutsk, Lvov, Przemyśl, Polotsk, and Mogilev), which constitute west and central Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Belorussia, today. It would not apply to Kharkov, which was already within the Russian Empire; or to Novorossiya, which would only be incorporated into the Russian Empire in the 18th century and to which Constantinople has no more rights to than Primorye.
That this is outrageous and unprecedented is backed up by the fact that none of the other Patriarchates appear to be going along with Bartholomew I’s adventurism. This apparently includes all the other ancient Patriarchates (Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem), as well as Serbia and Georgia. This is not so much because they really like Russia, or even oppose Ukrainian autocephaly as such – that is hardly plausible in the case of Georgia – but because of Bartholomew I’s chutzpah in basically proclaiming himself to have the powers of a Pope, ignoring the wishes of canonical Churches, reassigning canonical territories, and cancelling ancient treaties at will. What makes Bartholomew I’s actions all the more astounding is that in the past he has also vetoed Moscow’s attempts to give autocephaly to the Orthodox churches in America, China, and Japan. This has had directly negative effects on the spread of the Orthodox faith – China in particular doesn’t tolerate religious institutions headed from abroad, and some Russian Orthodox missionaries have been intimidated from preaching due to the threat of excommunication by Constantinople.
Granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church is just one more example of anti-Orthodox sabotage, seeing as its supporters read like a who’s who of anti-Orthodox bigots.
First, this includes Ukrainian politicians, including Petro Poroshenko, who has told the Washington Post, “Shortly, we will have an independent Ukrainian church as part of an independent Ukraine. This will create a spiritual independence from Russia.” They conflate the nation with the Church, and as such propound ethnophyletism, which was declared a heresy in Constantinople itself in 1872.
Second, as Arkady Maler points out, while Russian liberals love to condemn Russians propounding Orthodoxy – screeching “Caesaropapism,” “imperialism,” “pan-Slavism,” “political Orthodoxy,” etc. – as soon as there appears an anti-Russian project such as Ukrainian autocephaly, they change their tune and wax lyrical about the “theology of the Maidan,” “Kiev’s special mission,” “an independent nation needs an independent church,” “Putin is the anti-Christ,” etc. Meanwhile, they have recently discovered a new appreciation for the “universal Patriarch” of the “New Rome”, taking a short break from their prior rants about “Greek pride,” “Byzantine arrogance,” “Eastern barbarity,” etc. But this is just a short respite from their customary anti-Orthodoxy.
Third, many of the biggest supporters of Ukrainian autocephaly in the West are for all intents and purposes SJWs. The website Orthodoxy in Dialogue, for instance, wants Orthodoxy to get with the times and start sanctifying gay marriage:
We pray for the day when we can meet our future partner in church, or bring our partner to church.
We pray for the day when our lifelong, monogamous commitment to our partner can be blessed and sanctified in and by the Church.
We pray for the day when we can explore as Church, without condemnation, how we Orthodox Christians can best live our life in Christ in the pursuit of holiness, chastity, and perfect love of God and neighbour.
We pray for the day when our priests no longer travel around the world to condemn us and mock us and use us as a punching bag.
We pray for the day when the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ ceases to be our loneliest closet.
In another recent powerful take, they advised Kavanaugh to apologize to every woman he has hurt – even if he can’t remember it.
Consider going to every woman who claims that you have assaulted or otherwise harmed her in the past—or against whom you even suspect that you might have transgressed—and say, “I’m sorry. I may not remember the incident, but clearly I hurt you. Please forgive me. In every contact I have with others, and especially with women, I will try to do better in the future.”
Apparently, lying is now a Christian virtue. Even Lindsey Graham is more based than this.
Finally, former US diplomat James Jatras notes that all the usual Atlanticists support Ukrainian ethnophyletism for nakedly geopolitical reasons.
The Western proponents are as crassly honest about the political aspects as the Ukrainian politicians. The German ambassador in Kiev, not known to have any particular theological acuity, opined in July, that autocephaly would strengthen Ukrainian statehood. The hyper-establishment Atlantic Council, which hosted Denysenko on a recent visit to Washington, notes: “With the Russian Orthodox Church as the last source of Putin’s soft power now gone, Ukraine’s movement out of Russia’s orbit is irreversible.”
This is the same logic – encapsulated in the drive to create West-friendly Orthodox structures – that governed Polish and Lithuanian relations towards Orthodoxy in the current Ukraine during the late medieval and early modern era.
Likewise the US State Department, after a short period of appropriately declaring that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal church matter,” last week reversed its position and issued a formal statement: “The United States respects the ability of Ukraine’s Orthodox religious leaders and followers to pursue autocephaly according to their beliefs. We respect the Ecumenical Patriarch as a voice of religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue.”
While avoiding a direct call for autocephaly, the statement gives the unmistakable impression of such endorsement, which is exactly how it was reported in the media, for example, “US backs Ukrainian Church bid for autocephaly.” The State Department’s praise for the Ecumenical Patriarchate reinforces that clearly intended impression.
Quite apart from its active efforts to spread the poz all around the world, US State Department is responsible for more Christian martyrs in the 21st century than any other entity apart from Islamic State. Thanks to its destruction of Iraq and opposition to Syria’s legitimate government, it has contributed greatly to the greatly accelerated extinction of Orthodox Christianity in the Middle East. In Christian terms, it would not be an exaggeration to call it a servant of Satan.
So this makes the question of why Bartholomew I has come out against most of the rest of the Orthodox world, including its largest and richest Patriarchate, in favor of heretics and blasphemers such as Ukrainian ethnophyletists, God-hating Russian liberals, “Orthodox” gay marriage activists, and virulently anti-Christian foreign Powers all the more puzzling.
James Jatras has a plausible, if depressingly banal, explanation: Money.
There may be more to the State Department’s position than meets the eye, however. According to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July of this year State Department officials (possibly including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally) warned the Greek Orthodox archdiocese (also based in New York but part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government is aware of the theft of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from the budget for the construction of the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in New York (This is explained further below).
The warning also reportedly noted that federal prosecutors have documentary evidence confirming the withdrawal of these funds abroad on the orders of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It was suggested that Secretary Pompeo would “close his eyes” to this theft in exchange for movement by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in favor of Ukrainian autocephaly, which helped set Patriarch Bartholomew on his current course.
The Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas was the only non-World Trade Center building to be destroyed in the 9/11 attacks (along with a priceless collection of icons and relics donated to it by Nicholas II). After lengthy legal battles, the Port Authority agreed to its reconstruction in 2011; by the end of 2017, almost $37 million had been donated. But in December 2017, all that money vanished, and construction came to a halt; the results of an audit ordered by the archdiocese was inconclusive. This opens up some possibilities:
If the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly, the Greek archdiocese in the US is it. Let’s keep in mind that in his home country, Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has virtually no local flock – only a few hundred mostly elderly Greeks left huddled in Istanbul’s Fener district. Whatever funds the Patriarchate derives from other sources (the Greek government, the Vatican, the World Council of Churches), the financial lifeline is Greeks (including this writer) in what is still quaintly called the “Diaspora” in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand. And of these, the biggest cash cow is the Greek-Americans… It’s an open question how much the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s shaking down the Greeks in the US to pay for extravagant boondoggles like the 2016 “Council” contributed to the financial mess at the New York archdiocese, which in turn may have opened them up to pressure from the State Department to get moving on Ukraine.
It would be an exceedingly sad and ignominious end to see the lingering remnant of a glorious empire do give in to blackmail and foreign pressure. We can only hope that God will not punish them as severely as for the Council of Florence.
In the meantime, the Russian Orthodox Church has decided on a strong response, having already suspended Eucharistic communion with Constantinople. It is fully within its rights to do so. By supporting schism, Constantinople has entered dialogue with anathema, and as such has fallen under anathema itself. Now is the perfect time for Russia to reemerge as the Third Rome and take leadership of Orthodox Christendom.