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The two-pronged attack on Orthodoxy and Russia

As US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin prepare to meet in Helsinki, all eyes are on what generally are regarded as the “usual” political issues that divide the world’s two foremost military powers: Ukraine, Syria, sanctions, claims of election interference, and so forth.

Jim Jatras

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This reflects the near-universal but erroneous view that this current, second Cold War against Russia is not ideological, as opposed to the first Cold War that pitted atheistic Soviet communism against America’s “in God we trust” capitalism. (Leave aside whether “capitalism,” an anarchosocialist term popularized by Marxists, is the proper description of contemporary neoliberal corporatism.)

No, we are told, the current Washington-Moscow standoff is a turf war, nothing more. Unlike the 1945-1991 rivalry it “lacks an ideological dimension” beyond the authoritarian determination to elevate “the Russian state, ruled by him and his clan.”

Such a view totally dismisses the fact that following the demise of communism as a global power bloc there has been an eerie spiritual role reversal between East and West. While it’s true that during original Cold War the nonreligious ruling cliques in Washington and Moscow held basically compatible progressive values, ordinary Christian Americans (mainly Protestants, with a large number of Roman Catholics) perceived communism as a murderous, godless machine of oppression (think of the Knights of Columbus’ campaign to insert “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance).

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Conversely, today it is western elites who rely upon an ideological imperative of “democracy” and “human rights” promotion to justify a materialist global empire and endless wars, much like the old Soviet nomenklatura depended on Marxism-Leninism both as a working methodology and as a justification for their prerogatives and privileges,. In that regard, promotion of nihilist, post-Christian morality – especially in sexual matters – has become a major item in the West’s toolkit.

This has a special importance with regard to Russia, where under Putin the Orthodox Church has largely resumed its pre-1917 role as the moral anchor of society. This elicits not only political opposition but a genuine and heartfelt hatred from the postmodern elites of an increasingly post-Christian West, not only for Putin personally and Russia generally but against the Russian Orthodox Church – and by extension against Orthodox Christianity itself.

This antipathy has many facets, too many to be detailed at one time in this short space. But for now it is sufficient to note two current attacks, both of them arising from within Orthodoxy itself, though no doubt with outside encouragement. One such attack relates to ecclesiastical structures and is overtly political. The other is in the moral sphere and seeks to inject into Orthodoxy the moral decay that has undermined so much of western Christianity.

The first, overtly political attack aims to split Ukraine from the main body of the Russian Orthodox Church under the authority of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. The post-Maidan authorities in Kiev, namely Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the Verkhovna Rada (parliament), have asked Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople (Istanbul) to issue a Tomos of autocephaly to the self-styled “Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate” led by former Metropolitan Filaret (Denysenko).

In such case, the Ukrainian authorities declare that the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church under the authority of Metropolitan Onufry, would be forbidden to call itself “Ukrainian” would regarded as a representative of an “aggressor” power. Issuance of a Tomos would also set the stage for the government’s forcible seizure of churches and monasteries from Metropolitan Onufry’s canonical Church and handing them over to the state-approved schismatic body, with the world-renowned Kiev Pechersk (Caves) Lavra and the Holy Dormition Pochayiv Lavra in west Ukraine the most prominent likely targets.

For their part, Ukrainian officials state their chances of getting the Tomos are virtually certain, but so far public signals from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew have been mixed. Recently, it was announced by pro-Moscow observers that the Ecumenical Patriarch had turned down Poroshenko’s request after a visit of bishops from the Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Church. Other reports, however, indicate that Constantinople considers it an open question whether the areas now constituting Ukraine were ever permanently transferred to Moscow’s jurisdiction in the first place – which one voice, “Orthodoxy in Dialogue” (to which we shall return below), cheered as “taking Moscow down a peg”.

Viewed from western countries, where ecclesiastical matters have long ceased to have life-and-death political consequences, the Ukrainian church situation may seem archaic, even bizarre, especially taking place in a part of the world that not too long ago was under the domination of militant secularists. Be that as it may, the current Ukraine crisis fits into a dismal pattern of powers hostile to Orthodoxy attempting to create new church bodies to serve their political purposes. The most notorious of these were the purported creation of a “Croatian Orthodox Church” in 1942 under the genocidal regime of Ustaša dictator Ante Pavelić as a cover for the genocide of Orthodox Serbs in the so-called “Independent State of Croatia,” and the so-called “Renovationist Church” formed in early Soviet Russia during the most murderous period of communist anti-religious persecution.

At stake today is not only the peace of Ukraine – where violence over state-imposed church transfers is a real concern – but peace within the Orthodox world as a whole. While the honor accorded the Ecumenical Patriarch in Orthodoxy doesn’t remotely approximate that of the Pope of Rome within his confession, as the bishop of the former imperial capital and once-foremost city in Christendom he speaks with great honor and authority. On the other hand, the flock of the Church of Russia under the Patriarchate of Moscow as currently structured (including Ukraine) constitutes an absolute majority of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

An incautious move could trigger a major rupture, not just in Ukraine but worldwide, with the constituent national churches forced to take sides. For his part, Patriarch Irinej of the Serbian Orthodox Church has spoken strongly against the Kiev authorities and their aspiring autonomous church: “Anyone who helps the Ukrainian schismatics is an enemy not only of the Russian Church and the Russian world, but also of all Orthodox Slavic nations and the entire Orthodox world.”

Shifting now from the structural to the moral sphere, recently there appeared on the excellent websites Fort-Russ and Pravmir a commentary, “ORTHODOXY, CAPITALISM, AND “THE WEST”: IS ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY STUCK IN THE PAST?” by Nathaniel Wood, identified as a scholar of Orthodox theology and political theology and associate director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University. The piece opens with an unobjectionable observation mainly relating to economic issues:

‘Orthodox political theology has often been strongly communitarian, skeptical of rationalist legal order, and reliant on the benevolence of autocratic rule. In… Russia, for instance, the influential Slavophile movement of the 19th century praised the Russian peasant commune as the highest expression of Orthodox social principles and even made it a basis for their model of the Church (the notion of sobornost’). The Slavophiles’ ideal Orthodox society was not only explicitly anti-capitalist, going as far as to ground all property ownership in social obligation, but was critical of the “rationalist” culture of legal relations standing behind the Western capitalist order, even to the point of investing all political authority in the autocrat out of fear that a society based on legal rights was antithetical to Orthodoxy.’

In addressing Mr. Wood’s comment on economics, Professor Jonathan Chaves of George Washington University, observes as an Orthodox Christian:

‘It is perfectly possible and respectable to be a Christian conservative and unhappy with “Plutocracy.” Plutocracy is the conglomeration or aggregation of small businesses into vast multinational corporations. In the 1920’s G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, both devout Roman Catholics, founded a tint party, the Distributist Party. Distributism said, “No” to Socialism, recognizing that private property is a foundation-stone of Liberty; and “No” to Plutocracy, realizing that it led to vast entities aggregating power to themselves. They said “Yes” to private, small business. And so must we all. If this discussion takes place only within the Orthodox Church, it will remain a tempest in a teapot. Let us link arms with those in agreement on the specific issues we can agree on.’

So far so good.  It’s one thing to question whether Orthodox Christians should uncritically accept the neoliberal global order and its corporatist economic and financial system (“capitalism”). Neither Scripture, nor the Canons of the Ecumenical and Regional Synods, nor the Church Fathers had much specific to say about this system simply because it didn’t exist in their day. Neither did socialism, for that matter.

But it’s quite another thing to redefine, under the guise of scholarship, moral principles that far precede the modern era and are central to Christian anthropology. Today, as noted above, those principles are under threat in increasingly godless Western Europe and North America. Moreover, in a manner reminiscent of the 20th century Bolshevik assault on Christianity (including the so-called “Renovationist” church), the West has made moral aggression against the socially conservative countries of formerly communist Europe a key element of its foreign policy. (See my “The West’s Quest to ‘Save the World Through Degeneracy’.”)

It is clear that such a redefinition of Christian morality, not economics, is the real deliverable in Mr. Wood’s essay and of the Fordham program he represents. Moreover, Russia is the particular target. The following is from website of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University (emphasis added):

‘Fellow co-director Aristotle Papanikolaou, Ph.D., professor of theology and the Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, said the Russian Orthodox Church has been trying to redefine human rights language in such a way that allows them to uphold “traditional values” for the last decade. This understanding of human rights doesn’t protect a band like Pussy Riot from protesting in a Church, or art that’s deemed blasphemous, and it’s consistent with laws that ban gay marriage and homosexual “propaganda.”

‘“Normally people would say, that’s a violation of human rights, and some Orthodox Christians want to say ‘No it’s not. We have our own particular interpretation of human rights, and we are justified in doing that because the West’s concept of human rights is biased and anti-Christian,” he said. “Our project hopes to offer a more nuanced understanding of Orthodox Christianity’s relation to human rights language than the diametrical opposition proposed by certain Orthodox Christians, especially in the post-communist context.”

‘Papanikolaou further noted that the Russian government also uses the language of human rights and the defense of religious freedom to justify its ongoing military intervention in Syria.’

So, “a more nuanced understanding of Orthodox Christianity’s relation to human rights language” doesn’t have a problem with blasphemous antics in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral (lovingly rebuilt after being blown up by the Bolsheviks)? With sacrilegious “art” (which in the west is often subsidized with believers’ tax money)? With indoctrinating innocent young children in alternative sexual morality (for example, in several US cities “Drag Queen Story Hour”)? With marriage not restricted to one man and one woman? With western-supported head-choppers seeking to kill, enslave, or uproot the Christians of Syria, and have been prevented from doing so mainly through Russia’s heroic intervention in that country?

Also, as an Orthodox Christian of Greek origin myself, I can’t help but notice more than a whiff of Hellenic intellectual and academic arrogance in the way mainly Greek principals of the Fordham project formulate their criticisms of the Russian Church’s positions. (Similarly, it is important to bear in mind that if the Ukrainian schism spreads further, the fault lines will partly though far from entirely split between Russians and Greeks, with disastrous results.) Rather than a case of the Russian Church’s seeking to ‘redefine human rights language in such a way that allows them to uphold “traditional values”’ it is quite clear that it is the Fordham academics who are themselves seeking to redefine authentic Orthodox Christian traditional values (without the quotation marks) as stated forthrightly, clearly, and faithfully in the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church (which link, to give Mr. Wood credit, he did include in his posting).

Sadly, the Fordham program is not alone in cutting-edge Orthodox academia. Another effort, “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” cited above with respect to the Ukrainian crisis, displays the same agenda, including demanding that Orthodox clergy advocate open borders in the US on a par with opposing abortionbeing Orthodox and “genderqueer,” explaining the finer points of “intersex” vs. “transgender” (and faulting the esteemed Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou for ignoring the priceless “contributions that empirical sciences have made to our understanding of sexual and gender variance in human nature”), trashing respected American Orthodox Christian voices like Fr. John Whiteford and Rod Dreher, and – well you get the idea.

What is perhaps most tragic is that while ever-growing numbers of western Christians, lapsed Christians, and non-Christians are attracted to the Holy Orthodox Church precisely because they perceive Her, correctly, to be the Ark of Salvation that – with the powerful global support of the Russian state – does not change course with the gales and storms of a tempestuous and darkening world, revisionist Orthodox scholars would have us trim our sails to match the course of some western confessions that are increasingly rendered Christian in name only, if that. It is counsel we dare not heed.

Submitted by author, via Strategic Culture

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Vince Dhimos
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Vince Dhimos

Great insights. The perpetual wars and the resulting immigrant waves are also part of the de-Christianization of the West and the Muslim world. http://www.newsilkstrategies.com/news–analysis/how-the-us-dollar-is-de-christianizing-the-west

daveycrockett
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daveycrockett

Revisionism of any form, even the most minute diversions from scriptural doctrine, is game over. When a schism develops for political reasons the outcome is disaster. A prime example is the fate of Christianity in the U.S. Those churches are, by and large, completely apostate. The fruit is rampant moral decay.

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OPEC Plus: Putin’s move to control energy market with Saudi partnership (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 150.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss OPEC Plus and the growing partnership between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which aims to reshape the energy market, and cement Russia’s leadership role in global oil and gas supply.

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Russia and Saudi Arabia’s ‘long-term relationship’ WILL survive

The Express UK reports that Russia and Saudi Arabia’s ‘long-term relationship’ will not only survive, but grow, regardless of geopolitical turmoil and internal Saudi scandal…as the energy interests between both nations bind them together.

Ties between Saudi Arabia and Vladimir Putin’s Russia have a “long-term relationship” which is strategically beneficial to both of them, and which underlines their position as the world’s most influential oil producers, alongside the United States, an industry expert has said.

Following concerns about too much oil flooding the market, Saudi Arabia on Sunday performed an abrupt u-turn by deciding to reduce production by half a million barrels a day from December.

This put the Middle Eastern country at odds with Russia, which said it was no clear whether the market would be oversupplied next year, with market analysts predicting the country’s oil producing companies likely to BOOST proaction by 300,000 barrels per day.

But IHS Markit vice chairman Daniel Yergin said the decision was unlikely to jeopardise the relationship between the two allies.

The Saudis have faced significant international criticism in the wake of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Speaking to CNBC, Mr Yergin made it clear that Moscow and Riyadh would continue to be closely aligned irrespective of external factors.

He explained: “I think it’s intended to be a long-term relationship and it started off about oil prices but you see it taking on other dimensions, for instance, Saudi investment in Russian LNG (liquefied natural gas) and Russian investment in Saudi Arabia.

“I think this is a strategic relationship because it’s useful to both countries.”

Saudi Arabia and Russia are close, especially as a result of their pact in late 2016, along with other OPEC and non-OPEC producers, to curb output by 1.8 million barrels per day in order to prevent prices dropping too far – but oil markets have changed since then, largely as a result.

The US criticised OPEC, which Saudi Arabia is the nominal leader of, after prices rose.

Markets have fluctuated in recent weeks as a result of fears over a possible drop in supply, as a result of US sanctions on Iran, and an oversupply, as a result of increased production by Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, which have seen prices fall by about 20 percent since early October.

Saudi Arabia has pumped 10.7 million barrels per day in October, while the figure for Russiaand the US was 11.4 million barrels in each case.

Mr Yergin said: “It’s the big three, it’s Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, this is a different configuration in the oil market than the traditional OPEC-non-OPEC one and so the world is having to adjust.”

BP Group Chief Executive Bob Dudley told CNBC: “The OPEC-plus agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC producers including Russia and coalition is a lot stronger than people speculate.

“I think Russia doesn’t have the ability to turn on and off big fields which can happen in the Middle East.

“But I fully expect there to be coordination to try to keep the oil price within a certain fairway.”

Markets rallied by two percent on Monday off the back of the , which it justified by citing uncertain global oil growth and associated oil demand next year.

It also suggested  granted on US sanctions imposed on Iran which have been granted to several countries including China and Japan was a reason not to fear a decline in supply.

Also talking to CNBC, Russia’s Oil Minister Alexander Novak indicated a difference of opinion between Russia and the Saudis, saying it was too soon to cut production, highlighting a lot of volatility in the oil market.

He added: “If such a decision is necessary for the market and all the countries are in agreement, I think that Russia will undoubtedly play a part in this.

“But it’s early to talk about this now, we need to look at this question very carefully.”

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The Duran Quick Take: Episode 17.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at Nigel Farage’s blistering speech, aimed squarely at Angela Merkel, calling out the German Chancellor’s disastrous migrant policy, wish to build an EU army, and Brussels’ Cold War rhetoric with Russia to the East and now the United States to the West.

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The Ukrainian President Signs a Pact With Constantinople – Against the Ukrainian Church

There is still a chance to prevent the schism from occurring.

Dmitry Babich

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Authored by Dmitry Babich via Strategic Culture:


Increasingly tragic and violent events are taking their toll on the plight of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine . After several fights over control of the church’s property, prohibitions and blacklists are starting to spread, affecting respected church figures coming from Russia to Ukraine. The latest news is that the head of the Moscow Theological Academy, Archbishop Amvrosyi Yermakov, was deported from Ukraine back to Russia. Amvrosyi’s name popped up on the black list of Russian citizens who are not deemed “eligible to visit” Ukraine. Obviously, this happened right before his plane landed in Zhulyany, Kiev’s international airport. After a brief arrest, Amvrosyi was put on a plane and sent back to Moscow. This is not the first such humiliation of the Orthodox Church and its priests that has taken place since the new pro-Western regime came to power in Kiev in 2014. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has been declared persona non grata throughout Ukraine since 2014. That decision was made by humiliatingly low-level officials. A department within the Ukrainian ministry of culture published a ruling stating that Kirill’s visit to Ukraine’s capital of Kiev “would not be desirable.”

Since the ancestors of modern Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians were first baptized in 988 in Kiev, the Patriarchs of the Russian Church have never had problems visiting Kiev, the birthplace of their church. Not even under the Bolsheviks did such prohibitions exist. So, for Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church to be denied permission to visit Kiev can only be compared to a possible prohibition against the pope visiting Rome. Since 2014, there have also been several criminal cases filed against the priests of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC MP) because they have called the hostilities in eastern Ukraine a “civil war” and have discouraged the faithful from supporting that war. This has been interpreted by the Ukrainian state authorities as a call for soldiers to desert the army.

Why Poroshenko’s meeting with Bartholomew is ominous

Despite the fact that the UOC MP has become used to all sorts of trouble since 2014, things have been looking even worse for the canonical church lately, as 2018 draws to a close. In early November 2018, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko broke the wall of separation between church and state in the most overt manner possible — he signed “an agreement on cooperation and joint action” between Ukraine and the so called Constantinople Patriarchate, the oldest institution of Orthodox Christianity, which is now based in Turkish Istanbul.

Rostislav Pavlenko, an aide to Poroshenko, wrote on his Facebook page that the agreement (not yet published) is premised on the creation of a new “autocephalous” Orthodox Church of Ukraine — a development that the official, existing Orthodox Churches in Russia and Ukraine view with foreboding as a “schism” that they have done all they can to prevent. Why? Because Poroshenko’s regime, which came to power via a violent coup in Kiev in 2014 on a wave of public anti-Russian sentiment, may try to force the canonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine to merge with other, non-canonical institutions and to surrender to them church buildings, including the famous monasteries in Kiev and Pochai, as well as other property.

President Poroshenko was visibly happy to sign the document — the contents of which have not yet been made public — on cooperation between the Ukrainian state and the Constantinople Patriarchate, in the office of Bartholomew, the head of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Poroshenko smiled and laughed, obviously rejoicing over the fact that the Constantinople Patriarchate is already embroiled in a scandalous rift with the Russian Orthodox Church and its Ukrainian sister church over several of Bartholomew’s recent moves. Bartholomew’s decision to “lift” the excommunication from two of Ukraine’s most prominent schismatic “priests,” in addition to Bartholomew’s declaration that the new church of Ukraine will be under Constantinople’s direct command — these moves were just not acceptable for the canonical Orthodox believers in Russia and Ukraine. Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), as well as Onufriy, the Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine, are protesting loudly, viewing this situation as a breach of two basic principles. First of all, the Ukrainian state has interfered in the church’s affairs, asking Constantinople to give the Ukrainian church “autocephaly,” which that church never requested. Second, Constantinople itself has interfered in the affairs of two autonomous national churches, the Russian and the Ukrainian. In the eyes of Ukrainian and Russian clergy, Bartholomew is behaving like the Roman pope and not as a true Orthodox leader who respects the autonomy and self-rule of the separate, national Orthodox Churches.

The Russian President sympathizes with the believers’ pain

Two days before Poroshenko made his trip to Istanbul, Russian president Vladimir Putin broke with his usual reserve when commenting on faith issues to bitterly complain about the pain which believers in Russia and Ukraine have experienced from the recent divisions within the triangle of Orthodoxy’s three historic capitals — Constantinople, Kiev, and Moscow.

“Politicking in such a sensitive area as religion has always had grave consequences, first and foremost for the people who engaged in this politicking,” Putin said, addressing the World Congress of Russian Compatriots, an international organization that unites millions of ethnic and cultural Russians from various countries, including Ukraine. Himself a practicing Orthodox believer, Putin lauded Islam and Judaism, while at the same time complaining about the plight of Orthodox believers in Ukraine, where people of Orthodox heritage make up more than 80% of the population and where the church has traditionally acted as a powerful “spiritual link” with Russia.

Despite his complaints about “politicking,” Putin was careful not to go into the details of why exactly the state of affairs in Ukraine is so painful for Orthodox believers. That situation was explained by Patriarch Kirill. After many months of tense silence and an unsuccessful visit to Barthlomew’s office in Istanbul on August 31, Kirill has been literally crying for help in the last few weeks, saying he was “ready to go anywhere and talk to anyone” in order to prevent the destruction of the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Politics with a “mystical dimension”

Kirill said the attack against the Orthodox Church in Ukraine “had not only a political, but also a mystical dimension.” Speaking in more earthly terms, there is a danger that the 1,000-year-old historical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) — which now owns 11,392 church buildings, 12,328 parishes, and two world-famous monasteries in Ukraine — will be dissolved. The roots of the UOC MP go back to the pre-Soviet Russian Empire and even further back to the era of Kievan Rus, the proto-state of the Eastern Slavs in the tenth-twelfth centuries AD, when the people who would later become Russians, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians were adopting Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire. It is by far the biggest church in Ukraine, as Mikhail Denisenko’s non-canonical “alternative” church has only 3,700 parishes that include church buildings (fewer than a third of what is owned by the UOC-MP, despite the fact that Denisenko enjoys official support from the Ukrainian state).

What many Russian and Ukrainian believers fear is that the Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew will eventually grant Kiev what is being called autocephaly. In that event, the UOC-MP may be forced to merge with two other, non-canonical churches in Ukraine that have no apostolic liaison. The apostolic succession of the UOC-MP consists in the historical fact that its first bishops were ordained by medieval bishops from Constantinople, who had in turn been ordained by Christ’s disciples from ancient Israel. Apostolic succession is crucial for the Orthodox Church, where only bishops can ordain new priests and where the church’s connection to the first Christians is reflected in many ways, including in the clergy’s attire.

Metropolitan Hilarion (his secular name is Grigory Alfeyev), the Russian church’s chief spokesman on questions of schism and unity, accused the patriarch of contributing to the schism by officially “lifting” the excommunication from Ukraine’s most prominent schismatic church leader — the defrocked former bishop Mikhail Denisenko. That clergyman stands to gain most from the “autocephaly” promised to Poroshenko by Patriarch Bartholomew. A hierarchical Orthodox Church is considered to have autocephalous status, as its highest bishop does not report to any higher-ranking bishop. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has stated that for Ukraine to be granted autocephaly from Istanbul, this would mean a complete “reformatting” of the country’s religious status quo and the severing of all links to Orthodox Russia and its “demons.”. Most likely, the new “united” church won’t be headed by the UOC MP’s Metropolitan, but by Mikhail Denisenko, who was excommunicated by both the UOC MP and the Russian church back in 1997 and with whom real Orthodox priests can only serve against their will and against the church’s internal rules.

Constantinople’s first dangerous moves

On October 11, 2018, the Constantinople Patriarchate made its first step towards granting autocephaly by repealing its own decision of 1686 that gave the Moscow Patriarch primacy over the Kiev-based Metropolitan. This 17th-century decision reflected the political reality of the merger between the states of Russia and Ukraine and established some order in the matters of church administration. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow gave the Ukrainian church complete independence in financial and administrative matters, but the two churches retained their cherished “spiritual unity.” “Constantinople’s decision is aimed at destroying that unity,” the ROC’s Patriarch Kirill explained. “We can’t accept it. That is why our Holy Synod made the decision to end eucharistic communication with the Constantinople Patriarchate.”

How Moscow “excommunicated” Bartholomew

The end of eucharistic communication means that the priests of the two patriarchates (based in Moscow and Istanbul) won’t be able to hold church services together. It will be maintained as long as the threat of autocephaly continues. The Western mainstream media, however, interpreted this decision by the Russian church as a unilateral aggressive act. The NYT and the British tabloid press wrote that it simply reveals Putin’s “desperation” at not being able to keep Ukraine’s religious life under control.

However, Patriarch Bartholomew seems undeterred by the protests from the Russian faithful and the majority of Ukraine’s believers. Bartholomew said in a recent statement that Russia should just follow the example of Constantinople, which once granted autocephaly to the churches of the Balkan nations. Bartholomew’s ambassadors in Kiev do not shy away from communicating with the self-declared “Patriarch” Filaret (Mikhail Denisenko’s adopted religious name from back when he was the UOC MP’s Metropolitan prior to his excommunication in 1997). For true Orthodox believers, any communication with Denisenko has been forbidden since 1992, the year when he founded his own so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP). Unfortunately, Denisenko enjoys the full support of Ukrainian President Poroshenko, and recently the US State Department began encouraging Denisenko, by giving its full support to Ukraine’s autocephaly.

The lifting of Denisenko’s excommunication by Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul both upset and embittered the Orthodox believers in both Ukraine and Moscow, since Denisenko was excommunicated by a joint decision of the Russian church and the UOC MP in 1997, after a five-year wait for his return to the fold of the mother church. So, by undoing that decision, Constantinople has interfered in the canonical territory of both the Ukrainian and the Russian churches.

The UOC-MP protested, accusing not only Patriarch Bartholomew, but also the Ukrainian state of interfering in the church’s affairs. “We are being forced to get involved in politics. The politicians do not want Christ to run our church; they want to do it themselves,” said Metropolitan Onufriy (Onuphrius), the head of the UOC-MP, in an interview with PravMir, an Orthodox website. “Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has been independent. Our church did not ask for autocephaly, because we already have independence. We have our own Synod (church council) and our own church court. Decisions are made by a congress of bishops and priests from all over Ukraine. We have financial and administrative independence, so autocephaly for us will be a limitation, not an expansion of our rights.”

Poroshenko’s premature jubilation

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Poroshenko did not conceal his jubilation about Constantinople’s moves. “This is a victory of good over evil, light over darkness,” Poroshenko said when the news about the lifting of Denisenko’s excomnmunication came from Istanbul in early October.

Poroshenko said he wanted a “united Orthodox Church” for his country, and he openly pressured Patriarch Bartholomew to provide autocephaly to Kiev during his visits to Istanbul in the spring of 2018 and in November of the same year. Meanwhile, Denisenko said that the provision of autocephaly would mean the immediate dispossession of the UOC MP. “This Russian church (UOC MP) will have to cede control of its church buildings and famous monasteries to the new Ukrainian church, which will be ours,” Denisenko was quoted by Ukrainian media as saying. “These monasteries have been owned by the state since Soviet times, and the state gave them to the Russian church for temporary use. Now the state will appoint our communities of believers as the new guardians of this heritage.” Denisenko also made a visit to the US, where he met Undersecretary of State Wess Mitchell, obtaining from him America’s active support for the creation of a “unified” Ukrainian church.

There is still a chance to prevent the schism from occurring. Poroshenko’s presidential aide, Rostislav Pavlenko, made it clear on Tuesday that the actual “tomos” (a letter from the Constantinople Patriarchate allowing the creation of an autocephalous church) will be delivered only IN RESPONSE to a request from a “unifying convention” that represents all of Ukraine’s Orthodox believers in at least some sort of formal manner. This new convention will have to declare the creation of a new church and elect this church’s official head. Only then will Constantinople be able to give that person the cherished “tomos.”

Since the UOC-MP has made it very clear that it won’t participate in any such convention, the chances of the smooth transition and easy victory over the “Muscovite believers” that Poroshenko wants so badly are quite slim. There are big scandals, big fights, and big disappointments ahead.

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