Category Archives: Inter-Orthodox Relations

Schism as a Stance of Nonexistence
The Moscow Patriarchate and New Lines in Orthodoxy

by Heta Hurskainen | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Jerusalem / Church of the Holy Sepulchre

With its autonomous church in Ukraine, the Moscow Patriarchate could not accept the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s actions to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine (OCU) in 2018–2019. The Moscow Patriarchate severed its relationships with Constantinople and other primates who recognized the OCU and searched for ways to emphasize conciliarity within Orthodoxy while at the same time ignoring the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s position. The decision to establish the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa at the turn of 2022 was a nonaccidental result of this development.

The Moscow Patriarchate had already cut ties with Constantinople in 2018 before the tomos was handed to the OCU in January 2019. By October 2018, the entire Constantinople Patriarchate was considered tainted. The Moscow Patriarchate referred to Constantinople as schismatic, stopped mentioning Patriarch Bartholomew’s name in the liturgy, and dissolved the eucharistic connection with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. For the Moscow Patriarchate, finding a new way to cooperate within global Orthodoxy was essential.

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Russia’s “Scramble for Africa” and Its Church
The Geopolitical Perspective

by Cyril Hovorun | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Map of Africa

On December 29, 2021, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate decided to establish a Russian exarchate for the entire African continent. The exarchate is to consist of two dioceses: one for northern and one for southern Africa. The title of the bishop of the northern diocese would be “of Cairo and North Africa.”

Many saw this decision as a violation of the ancient rights of the Alexandrian patriarchate. As early as in 325, at the first ecumenical council in Nicaea, which adopted the universal Christian creed, a canon of the council stated: “The ancient customs of Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis shall be maintained, according to which the bishop of Alexandria has authority over all these places, since a similar custom exists with reference to the bishop of Rome.” In other words, the Nicene council confirmed the territorial sovereignty of the Alexandrian church in the way similar to the territorial sovereignty of the church of Rome. Indeed, from the early centuries, the two churches followed the same pattern of the evolution of their administrative structures and prerogatives. Sometimes, the church of Alexandria set an example for its Roman peer. For example, the archbishops of Alexandria were called “popes” a century before the bishops of Rome adopted this title.

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The Orthodox Church of Ukraine: Ecumenical Reception

by Pavlo Smytsnyuk | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Golden Domed Monastery

The establishment of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) created division within the global Orthodox world. Yet, what has received less attention is the effect of the Ukrainian autocephaly on other Christian denominations and ecumenical institutions. Inevitably, and sometimes unwillingly, these churches were drawn into the conflict and forced to choose sides between Constantinople (and the new Ukrainian church) and Moscow.

At the international level, the clash between Constantinople and Moscow has led to the withdrawal of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) from the inter-Orthodox and ecumenical commissions, which are chaired by the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This act endangered relations which the Orthodox had with other churches on a number of levels: Moscow’s withdrawal has put the ecumenical role of the assemblies of Orthodox bishops, which exist in many countries of the diaspora, in jeopardy. It has also threatened multilateral and bilateral dialogues, such as theological dialogue with the Catholic Church, as well as the functioning of various international ecumenical bodies.

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The Tigray Crisis and the Possibility of an Autocephalous Tigray Orthodox Tewahdo Church

by Habtom Yohannes | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Tigray Orthodox Church
Debre Selam Kidist Selassie Church before and after the War

The ongoing war in Tigray, the cradle of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Christianity, might lead into yet another split of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EtOTC), this time into an Amhara-based Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church and a Tigray-based Orthodox Tewahdo Church, weakening further the second largest Orthodox Church after Russia and the largest church of the Oriental family. The first split of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church took place in 1994, when the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church (ErOTC) was granted autocephaly by the late Pope Shenouda III following Eritrean independence from Ethiopia on May 24, 1993 (Stéphan, Bonacci, & Persoon, 2014). If Tigray opts for secession from Ethiopia and establishes its own independent nation-state like the Eritreans, then Alexandria has no option but to grant Tigray Orthodox Tewahdo Church (TOTC) autocephaly. Both options, autocephaly or continuation as part of the Ethiopian Synod, entail immense challenges.

Ironically, the current Ethiopian crisis started to surface in April 2018, when Abiy Ahmed Ali became Prime Minister[1] of the second most populous African country after Nigeria. Immediately after Abiy Ahmed ascended to power, he released all political prisoners and granted amnesty to all disgruntled exiles to come back to Ethiopia, including opposition groups and their media outlets who were stationed in Europe and the United States. Some of these Ethiopian opposition groups had their army in neighboring Eritrea. After Abiy Ahmed and the Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki, signed a peace agreement in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, on July 9, 2018, eight rebel groups returned to Ethiopia. Furthermore, Ahmed went all the way to the United States to convince Patriarch Abune Merkorios (an Amhara) and his synod to return home after 27 years in exile and reconcile with the Ethiopian Synod under Patriarch Abune Mathias. All these earned Abiy Ahmed the Nobel Peace Prize of 2019. However, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which had dominated Ethiopia for the last 27 years, felt alienated by the velocity of transformations.  

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