Better the Godless East than the Immoral West
Great Power Logic and the Approach of the Russian Orthodox Church towards China

by Alicja Curanović | български | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Image: iStock.com/Oleksii Liskonih

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, experts have been scrupulously analyzing the Russian Orthodox Church’s (ROC) reaction to the conflict. Its support for the Kremlin triggered comments about the Church being a state-controlled ideology entrepreneur which has confused Christian values with imperial geopolitics. Indeed, the inclination towards geopolitics and great power logic can be noticed in the position of many representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate. However, this is not only the case with Ukraine or post-Soviet territory. The ROC’s entanglement in geopolitics goes beyond this and often contradicts Christian teaching. This is well seen in the Moscow Patriarchate’s approach towards China, which is discussed here. It is intriguing to observe how a Communist Party hostile towards religion has become a desirable ally against the liberal West with whom Russia shares its Christian tradition.

The fact that the US is unable to convince China to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine confirms the significance of the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership. Russia’s reorientation towards China accelerated after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The cornerstone of the new opening between Moscow and Beijing was laid, though, in 2001, when the bilateral Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation was signed. The Plan of Actions foreseen by the treaty (2004) included a point which provided information about “initiating a dialogue and a cooperation between the ‘leading religions’” of both countries. This rather modest formulation has provided the Russian state and Church with the formal ground to address the situation of Orthodox believers living in China.

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Maria Spyropoulou, the Semi-Transparent Deaconess

by Athanasios N. Papathanasiou

Image: Maria Spyropoulou, with Fr. Daniel Na

On January 17, 2022, a deaconess of the Orthodox Church was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Church Triumphant. Maria Spyropoulou, deaconess of the missionary Church of Korea, fell asleep after an 89-year journey to earth.

Born February 6, 1933 in Greece, she studied Pedagogics in Athens (1952-54) and worked as a teacher. She studied theology and journalism in France (1963-66) and collaborated with the magazine Contacts of the Orthodox Theological Institute of Saint Sergius in Paris. She then went to Bucharest (1968-70), where she attended courses on the Romanian language and theology.

Returning to Greece, she worked on the Standing Synodal Committee and at the Inter-Orthodox Center of Athens, responsible for relations with the Church of Romania.

Ultimately, however, the European context played a small role for Maria, who already felt that mission was (as she told us) “a madness”—a stretching forth of the wings to the ends of the earth!

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Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi? Ukraine and the Second Sunday of Pentecost in UOC and OCU Liturgies

by Nadieszda Kizenko

Image: The “Virgin of Vladimir” Icon

Most people who have written about the tensions between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) after the Russian invasion tend to focus on one thing: who is commemorated. This is not surprising. Accepting the authority of this bishop, but not that one, is an easy shorthand for where one stands on all sorts of other issues. The recent UOC decision not to commemorate Patriarch Kirill anymore was emblematic of its clerics’ denying Russian claims, attacks, and brutality. The UOC’s subsequent declaration of independence opens the door to dialogue with the OCU.

The focus on commemoration and canonicity, however, may obscure other, less obvious challenges. Even before February 24, the differences between the UOC and OCU went well beyond which bishop one was willing to follow. The liturgical choices of both churches—what language they use, which saints they invoke, which hymns they sing, which icons they venerate, what wording they use for such traditionally State-glorifying services as those to the Elevation of the Cross, which national holidays or traumas they commemorate and how—indicate divergent approaches. Any future rapprochement will need to consider those divergences as well.

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Why Did Viktor Orban Block the EU’s Sanctions against Patriarch Kirill of Moscow?

by Daniela Kalkandjieva | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Hungarian flag on parliament building in Budapest
Image: iStock.com/MarinaLitvinova

On June 3, the European Union reached an agreement on the sixth package of sanctions against Russia after difficult talks with Hungary. To avoid its veto, the other member states had to remove the name of the Moscow patriarch from the EU’s blacklist. Why does the prime minister of a non-Orthodox state so fervently support to head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the main ally of Putin in the war against Ukraine?

Some observers search for the answer in the conservative mindsets of Viktor Orban and Patriarch Kirill, who endorse traditional values. The present partnership between the Hungarian state and the Moscow Patriarchate, however, also has historical roots. A lesser known page of their history is the Kremlin’s project for establishing an autocephalous Hungarian Orthodox Church after the Second World War.[1] The initial idea of a unified Hungarian Orthodox Church belongs to Horthy’s regime. As an ally of Nazi Germany, it established control over areas with a significant Orthodox population and considered that a unified church institution would facilitate its administration.

Despite the political change after the fall of Nazi Germany, the postwar Hungarian state did not give up the idea of a local Orthodox Church. The major obstacle to this plan was the specific composition of the Orthodox minority in Hungary. Only a small number of its members were ethnic Hungarians. Meanwhile, the majority of the Orthodox believers had settled in the country as refugees from the Ottoman Empire and Bolshevik Russia. As a result, the Orthodox minority consisted of different ethnic groups belonging to five different jurisdictions: the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Serbian Patriarchate, the Romanian Patriarchate, the Bulgarian Exarchate, and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. When the Red Army occupied Hungary, however, the last one was not able to administrate its parishes because it was treated as Hitler’s ally by the Soviets.  

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