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.
“The actions of Constantinople in Ukraine are not in accordance with the tradition of the Church. We are on the side of order and canon,” . . . He also added that “Many are going to say that we [the Serbian Orthodox Church] are on the Russian side. But we are on the side of orders and canons.”
Such all-too-common statements ignore the fact “that concerning. . .the manner of establishing the autocephaly of any part of the Church, none of the sacred canons provides direction or inkling.” Statements such as those of the Patriarch beg the questions “Which canons? Whose order?”
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?
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 →