Of all the Orthodox churches, the Serbian church was hit the hardest by the Covid pandemic, which resulted in the death of its Patriarch Irinej as well as that of the highest bishop in neighboring Montenegro, Metropolitan Amfilohije. While the Serbian and Balkan media will be laser-focused on the profile of the new Primate and what his election, on February 18, will mean for church-state symphonic ambitions, it is evident that the new Serbian Patriarch will inherit accumulated problems regarding its disputed canonical jurisdictions in North Macedonia and, to lesser extent, in Montenegro.
The election of the new Serbian Patriarch is being monitored closely in Skopje and Podgorica. The authorities in both capitals have invested considerable resources and employed a number of tactics (with variations in results) to advance their pro-autocephaly claims in recent years. So what are the stakes for the Serbian new Patriarch?
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 →
When the Ecumenical Patriarchate granted autocephaly to the newly established “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU), it intended to create a single local Church which would basically comprise all the Orthodox believers in that country. The name of the new Church as it appears in the tomos, namely “Most Holy Church of Ukraine,” implies that idea, as do several statements of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the course of 2018 in which he underlined the need of unity for Orthodoxy in Ukraine. The OCU affirmed this as well, calling itself on its website for a long time the “only” or “single” local Church (yedina in Ukrainian, a term which is difficult to translate), and stating on its home page, “Our Church is open for all!” The main idea was to unite Orthodoxy in Ukraine.
It is well known that the till-then only canonical Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), rejected the initiative. Several hundred parishes changed their jurisdiction, but there was no landslide movement toward the OCU; the UOC still remains the largest Church in the country. In fact, self-proclaimed “Patriarch” Filaret split off from the new Church (though he has only marginal support) so that the attempt to re-establish unity obviously failed. Realistically, for a long time to come there will be two large Churches in Ukraine, one acknowledged by Constantinople, the other by Moscow. Continue reading →