News broke a few days ago, on Nov 19th, and has spread across the Orthodox world, that the United States paid Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I some $25 million dollars to foment the disruption of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. James Jatras reported on this, and his report has been republished on RT and across several independent news websites.
Mr. Jatras (“this analyst” in the text) wrote about the latest developments here:
On top of the foregoing, it now appears that the State Department’s direct hand in this sordid business may not have consisted solely of wielding the “stick” of legal threat: there’s reason to believe there was a “carrot” too. It very recently came to the attention of this analyst, via an unsolicited, confidential source in the Greek Archdiocese in New York, that a payment of $25 million in US government money was made to Constantinople to encourage Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on Ukraine.
The source for this confidential report was unaware of earlier media reports that the same figure – $25 million – was paid by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the Phanar as an incentive for Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on creating an independent Ukrainian church. Moreover, Poroshenko evidently tried to shortchange the payment:
‘Peter [Petro] Poroshenko — the president of Ukraine — was obligated to return $15 million US dollars to the Patriarch of Constantinople, which he had appropriated for himself.
‘As reported by Izvestia, this occurred after the story about Bartholomew’s bribe and a “vanishing” large sum designated for the creation of a Unified Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine surfaced in the mass media.
‘As reported, on the eve of Poroshenko’s visit in Istanbul, a few wealthy people of Ukraine “chipped in” in order to hasten the process of creating a Unified Local Orthodox Church. About $25 million was collected. They were supposed to go to the award ceremony for Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the issuing of a tomos of autocephaly. [A tomos is a small book containing a formal announcement.] However, in the words of people close to the backer, during the visit on April 9, Poroshenko handed over only $10 million.
‘As a result, having learned of the deal, Bartholomew cancelled the participation of the delegation of the Phanar – the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia on July 27 in Kiev.
‘”Such a decision from Bartholomew’s side was nothing other than a strong ultimatum to Poroshenko to return the stolen money. Of course, in order to not lose his face in light of the stark revelations of the creation of the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Peter Alexeevich [Poroshenko] had to just return those $15 million for the needs of Constantinople,” a trusted source explained to reporters.
‘For preliminary information, only after receiving the remaining sum, did Bartholomew finally give his consent to sending a delegation of the Phanar to Kiev … ‘
Now, it’s possible that the two identical figures of $25 million refer to two different pots of money (a cool $50 million!) but that seems unlikely. It’s more probable the reports refer to the same sum as viewed from the sending side (the State Department, the Greek Archdiocese) and the delivery side (Poroshenko, Constantinople).
Naturally, the Ukrainian nationalist publication UNIAN is categorizing this story as “just another bit of Russian generated fake news.” However, the story with the Ecumenical Patriarch has legs that go far before this latest revelation.
Back in July of this year, James Jatras published an analysis piece in Strategic Culture that pointed out the nature of the two-pronged attack on Orthodox Christianity and Russia. He made some significant points (emphasis added):
[We are told that] 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). 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.”
This was written in July. And so much has come true since then. The Ecumenical Patriarch acted, “restoring” canonical status to the breakaway Ukrainian hierarchs, Philaret and Makary (who don’t even get along with each other), and plans are hell-bent-for-leather to synthesize an “autocephalous” Ukrainian Orthodox Church, even though most of the Orthodox Christians in the country do not actually want this, and even though only one of the four groups involved has actually asked for this.
When the Ecumenical Patriarchate acted to legitimize the schismatics in Ukraine, this triggered a situation that is certainly a test for the entire Orthodox world. The Eastern Orthodox Church has fourteen canonical “local Churches” – each locality being a nation. There is a fifteenth autocephalous Church operating in North America, but this community has never been formally recognized as autocephalous by Constantinople. But now, all the local churches have to take a side. So far, two have completely and soundly condemned the move of Patriarch Bartholomew and are no longer commemorating him in services, as is the case with Moscow. However, Albania’s church (in a NATO-allied nation) called both sides out as wrong, and other jurisdictions have not weighed in fully yet.
The danger of this is that Moscow may find its church isolated by its hardline stance against the EP, which will get it more pressure from the anti-Christian forces in the West, or it may find itself becoming the “new, de-facto” Ecumenical Patriarchate, if Constantinople were to be completely cut off from all of the other Orthodox churches. This would also get the Russian Orthodox Church even more in the cross-hairs of the secularizers in the West, and it would bolster claims that “Moscow is extending its expansionist wishes to the Orthodox Church as a whole.”.