The big news in geopolitics in Ukraine and Russia the last several weeks has been about the status of a church more than about the fighting in Donbass or the assassination of the leader of the Donetsk Republic. However, the uncanonical (this is synonymous with “illegal” in matters concerning the Eastern Orthodox Church) efforts by Ukraine’s so-called “Kyiv Patriarchate” to leapfrog from schismatic status to the official national Church of Ukraine have been assisted by – you guessed it – the United States.
And it is working.
The self-proclaimed leader of this schismatic Church, Filaret Denisenko, known by many as “Patriarch Filaret” is making an American tour. This is of course being billed as a “Patriarchal visit to the United States” and for many well-meaning people it will certainly be that way.
However it is a farce. The Kyiv Patriarchate is not accepted as a legitimate Orthodox Jurisdiction by any of the fifteen canonical local Orthodox Churches. It is actually amazing that the Patriarch of Constantinople is even giving this matter the time of day, but for the understanding that this man, Patriarch Bartholomew, is alternately having dreams of papal grandeur (well, he was educated in Rome) and apparently, support from American people, probably with the promise of money.
Maybe he should ask the people of Ukraine how well that promise worked out before taking the bait.
So, why is this important? This is just a religious issue, isn’t it?
Actually, probably not. One of the often discussed, but poorly documented conspiracies regarding Russia from the Soviet times is called the “Dulles Plan.”
Given the present state of American denial of Christianity as much more than an out-of-date set of nice ideas and traditions, the American people generally would have a difficult time understanding that a major component of the society of Russia and the adjoining countries to it like Poland, Ukraine, the Czech lands, Bulgaria, Serbia, Georgia and so on is a very strong relationship with Eastern Orthodox Christianity. These countries all have very dedicated Orthodox populations, even in lands like Poland, where there is a great deal of persecution by Roman Catholics and others.
The biggest Church in all of Orthodoxy is that of Russia, with the Patriarch of Moscow leading this group of Christians. For the last thousand years since the breakaway of Rome from this very ancient communion, the Orthodox Church has held together as a confederation of local national jurisdictions, sometimes differing in language and cultural traditions, but adhering, letter-perfect, to the faith as it was taught by Christ and his Apostles.
This adherence is remarkably strong and the aforementioned Dulles Plan, coined for the name of its creator, Allen Dulles, lays out a strategy for defeating Russia – not just Communist Russia, but Russia after the fall of Communism – by attacking the resurgent Russian Orthodox Church.
One of the reactions of the local churches was a round condemnation of Patriarch Bartholomew’s actions and a voicing of unity with the Moscow Patriarchate. But most of the Churches that voiced this are those communities that are physically close to Russia. While the oldest Church in the world – the Antiochian Orthodox Church – also voiced her support, the implication has come to the open talk of Russia breaking communion with Constantinople if the Ukrainian schismatics are legitimized.
A possible blowback for this is actually to further isolate Russia, which has been getting this treatment on the geopolitical end ever since President Vladimir Putin put the 2013 Valdai speech about the collapse of Western morality into action. Once the Western media and politicians saw that President Putin meant to be serious about this the isolation of Russia began in greater and greater force to the point where it is today.
This does not mean that the breaking of communion should not happen if Constantinople continues its wayward course. In fact, to preserve the Church it is probably necessary, though tragic. But this will also result in a new order in the Orthodox Church, with the Patriarch of Moscow becoming the most likely “first among equals” due to the size and power of the Russian Church.
This will have the effect of drawing much more virulent attacks against Moscow from the West. While a possible way around that is to grant primacy to one of the remaining ancient sees, like Jerusalem, Antioch or Alexandria, Moscow nevertheless is very likely to be given the leadership role.
Many people dispute the reality of the Dulles plan. But even if it were not real, what is taking place now would certainly fit the goals that are attributed to it.