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.
Most observers are growing increasingly more worried about the drifting apart of Constantinople and Moscow on the basis of Ukraine’s imminent autocephaly. I would like to make a case to the contrary. There are indications that the possibility of a full-blown schism between two halves of the Orthodox world (rather than between two patriarchates) has lessened recently due to Moscow’s problematic handling of the crisis during the last few weeks.
A necessary disclaimer: this essay is not about theology, but about (ecclesiastical) politics. And it is not about the Ukraine (ecclesiastical) crisis in general, or its geopolitical context, but specifically about Moscow’s recent handling of the crisis. It is most unfortunate that it has become necessary to treat seminal patriarchates as if these were political parties/players engaging in positioning and information warfare, but this does not make the current lamentable situation less of a reality.
The up-until-recently-justified fear of many is that, following the granting of a Tomos of autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to Kiev/Ukraine (and not to one of the currently non-canonical churches), Moscow would not recognize the new church and its primate and would break its communion with Constantinople, leading a number of autocephalous churches under its influence to do the same. This would lead the Orthodox world to a “new great schism,” a fragmented state between two “halves” (with varying estimates as to which church would go to which direction, etc.) without communion with one another. Thankfully, however, the overabundant trigger-happiness of the Moscow Patriarchate seems to have undermined this possibility in the following four ways: Continue Reading…
The death of Patriarch Alexei II marked the end of the “cold era” contacts between Moscow and Constantinople and started a new epoch in inter-Orthodox relations. Kirill’s first foreign visit since his January 2009 election as Patriarch of Moscow was to Constantinople and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Unity and ecumenism were priorities for Patriarch Kirill, and the 2009 visit and his address prove it. He even attempted to put pressure on the Turkish government to reopen the Orthodox Theological School of Halki. But this was then. Now, the relations between Moscow and Constantinople have drastically changed over Ukraine.
In preparation for the independence celebrations, on April 10, 2018, the Ukrainian President Petro Porošenko made a request to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew to create a new Ukrainian Orthodox Church and grant autocephaly to end the abnormity of three Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine. There are three Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine: 1) the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church), 2) the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (established in 1992, headed by Filaret Denisenko) and 3) the Ukrainian autocephalous Orthodox Church (with the smallest number of faithful and parishes). Out of the three Orthodox jurisdictions, only the first is considered canonical, while the remaining two jurisdictions are considered “schismatic” and unrecognized by the Orthodox sister churches. Read More…
The historical path of the Church in Ukraine is controverted and complex: both Moscow and Constantinople claim Ukraine as their canonical territory. As a result, one of the largest Orthodox Churches in the world has experienced schism for over twenty-five years.
In April 2018 the Government of Ukraine officially requested a Tomos of Autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This news brought joy to some, and caused anxiety for others.
The Appeal refers to a “schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy,” implicitly recognizing that the Orthodox Church in Ukraine extends beyond the borders of the canonically recognized Moscow Patriarchate jurisdiction, which is useful. Other statements, however, portray the struggle for Church unity somewhat disingenuously. Continue Reading…