One of the keystone prerogatives claimed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate is its jurisdiction over the so-called “diaspora”—regions not included within the geographic boundaries of the other Autocephalous Churches. She insists that this exclusive extraterritorial jurisdiction is rooted in Canon 28 of Chalcedon which states:
[O]nly the metropolitans of the Pontian, Asian, and Thracian dioceses, as well as the bishops of the aforementioned dioceses among barbarians are ordained by the aforementioned most holy throne of the most Holy Church of Constantinople.
But that’s not what the canon explicitly says; it’s an interpretation. On its face, the canon seems to refer only to bishops who belong to the dioceses of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace, who are ministering among certain barbarians. The standard canonical commentators—Zonaras, Balsamon, Aristenos—all interpret the phrase literally, referring to specific barbarian groups who were adjacent to Pontus, Asia, and Thrace. At the turn of the 19th century, St Nikodemos repeats this interpretation in the Pedalion. The modern theory is nowhere to be found.
Four months ago, a UOC (Ukrainian Orthodox Church) Council in the Feofaniya monastery in Kyiv introduced fundamental changes into the Church’s statutes. That Council has already become a historic event—with possible implications for world Orthodoxy. But properly understanding the logic of its decisions means understanding what happened in the UOC after the Russian army’s full-scale invasion into Ukraine.
Before Russia launched the war against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the UOC was in a complicated position. Although it had been internally independent for many years, Ukrainian society (influenced by mass media) referred to it as the “Moscow Church,” accusing the UOC of secret connections with the Russian government and working against the interests of Ukraine. On the very first day of the war, however, the UOC’s First Hierarch Metropolitan Onufry categorically condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine, calling it “the sin of Cain” (fratricide) and appealing to Russian leadership to immediately cease military actions and to seek a diplomatic resolution of any problems. For many of his opponents, this was utterly unexpected.
The war also prompted serious internal discussions about the further fate of the UOC. UOC priests (especially those in the western dioceses) began to refuse to commemorate Patriarch Kirill at church services.
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.
After the communications breakdown between the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP) over the status of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the issue of consensus in the Orthodox Church was of utmost importance. Moscow and Constantinople were questioned on whether they share the same ecclesiology, but the issue of resolving the schism of the Orthodox Church of North Macedonia (Macedonian church) has just arisen, giving new hope for the future.
Orthodox dioceses in North Macedonia were part of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) until 1967. After the Second World War, the SOC was under the communist regime in Yugoslavia, and it could not act freely due to tremendous repression. During that period, the Orthodox dioceses in the territory of today’s North Macedonia unilaterally declared autocephaly from the SOC and started a schism. Because of that schism, the Macedonian church was for decades isolated and outside unity with all Orthodox churches.