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. 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.
The late February fraternal gathering of six local Orthodox churches in Amman was instructive and at the same time disheartening. Instructive because the gathering exposed truths in global Orthodoxy; disheartening because it was a sad showcasing of Orthodoxy to the world (for the presumably relatively few outsiders who are still paying attention to us).
The first hard truth it highlighted is the lack of deference local churches have towards the Moscow Patriarchate. It exposed Moscow’s lack of spiritual maturity (phronema) to play a pan-Orthodox role that is divorced from its national self-interest.
During a conference on the crisis in Orthodoxy caused by the establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, several participants used the concept of a “frozen conflict” to describe the “stable unresolved conflict” (Georgij Kovalenko). Given that the term is commonly used for several deadlocked conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union with crucial participation of Russia, it seems plausible to link the conflict around the Ukrainian church to this concept. Yet, at least in two regards, the description of the conflict in Orthodoxy as a “frozen conflict” fails. First, the conflict is not frozen. The conflict between the churches is quite hot, with both sides using all possible means to establish their superiority and blame the other for recent tensions. Moreover, the armed conflict in Ukraine continues and people are dying on the frontline almost every day—a fact we all must not forget. Second, the church usually refuses to be judged with political concepts, claiming that the way the church deals with conflict should transcend the worldly manner.
Nevertheless, the fact that theologians try to frame the conflict within the political concept of a “frozen conflict” points to the helplessness to find ways to make sense of this painful situation. Therefore, it is worth taking a closer look at the concept to find out how experts construct perspectives for such deadlocked conflicts. I would like to focus on three noteworthy aspects. Continue reading →
Fernando Haddad attends a celebration of Divine Liturgy with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in São Paulo. Credit: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of São Paulo.
The recent elections in Brazil have once again placed religion and politics at the fore of public debates. Not surprisingly, the election of President Jair Bolsonaro has focused attention on the growing influence of Evangelicals in Brazilian politics. This factor is now frequently touted alongside the affirmation that Brazil is the largest Roman Catholic country in the world. While Bolsonaro is himself a Roman Catholic, his election campaign played to an alliance of Evangelicals and traditional Roman Catholics. In the final run-off, the Evangelical vote showed a 2 to 1 split in favor of Bolsonaro, while the Roman Catholic vote was equally distributed between both candidates. Bolsanaro’s opponent was the Orthodox Christian Fernando Haddad. Added to this, Bolsonaro’s immediate predecessors in the Presidential Office were both influenced by Orthodoxy. Orthodox Christianity is in the political mix in Brazil, although it is frequently misunderstood (in the case of Fernando Haddad) or overlooked (in the case of Presidents’ Michel Temer and Dilma Rousseff).
Following a campaign television appearance in which he cited the Bible, Fernando Haddad was savaged on social media and from Evangelical pulpits. Continue reading →