Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Carol Saba: The Orthodox Patriarchs and the Church's Political Positioning

Arabic original here. Originally published in an-Nahar on December 29, 2017.

The Orthodox Patriarchs and the Church's Political Positioning:
Where are Jerusalem and Metropolitan Paul?

"This night will be dark and long, very long, as long as the night of Good Friday." These words were pronounced by Patriarch Tikhon on his deathbed, on the night of his repose on April 7, 1925 at the historic Donskoy Monastery where he was being held by the Soviets, prophesying Russia's long descent into hell during the Bolshevik era. At the beginning of this month, the Russian Church celebrated the centenary of the election of this patriarch, a holy martyr and confessor of the faith, and his ascending the throne of the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1917, after a local Russian synod, meeting amidst the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, restored the patriarchal system. Tsar Peter the Great had abolished, out of a caesaro-papist tendency, the patriarchal system in 1720, placing the Church under the domination of the state by appointing a lay Ober-Procurator over the Church, replacing the deceased Patriarch Adrian.

Attempts by the Church to dominate the state-- and the reverse-- are many in the history of the Church, east and west. They have been fought against in ancient times by holy fathers who defended the truth, since the time of the patriarch of Constantinople and native of Antioch John Chrysostom, who did not fear being beheaded when he confronted the Empress Eudoxia, wife of the Emperor Arcadius. The scene that is driving the Orthodox churches today remains the competition over primacy between the Russian and Greek poles and the geopolitics linked to each. Analysts connect the politics of the Russian Church with the geopolitics of Russia's return, just as they point to the connection between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the geopolitics of the United States since the time of President Truman. The rest is "photo diplomacy".

The scene of the Orthodox patriarchs in Moscow around Patriarch Kirill and the show of their being warmly and magnanimously met by President Putin is, in the opinion of the correspondent for Vatican Insider, Gianni Valente, an ecclesiopolitical scene intended to demonstrate the greatness, power and influence of the Russian Church and her harmonious relationship with the master of the Kremlin and the extent of his power into Europe, through Ukraine, and the Middle East, through Syria.

All the Orthodox patriarchs, including the patriarch of Antioch John X, flocked to Moscow this month, with the exception of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who did not accept the invitation and did not send a representative and Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece, who did likewise. It is as though the scene of Moscow 2017 is a response to the "Council of Crete" of 2016, where Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew mobilized the Orthodox patriarchs in a photo to demonstrate a scene of universal Orthodox unity around himself in support of his system of primacy. At that time, the Churches of Russia, Antioch, Bulgaria and Georgia were absent.

There are many examples of the Orthodox churches' political positioning around the powers of today's world, something that is causing them to lose their pure, prophetic vision and is impeding their movement. Thus the report during the Russian centenary celebration that Patriarch Vladimir of Kiev, who in schism from the Russian Church, requested forgiveness from Russia and to once more join the Patriarchate of Moscow appeared as a response from Russian diplomacy, both ecclesial and political, to the attempts of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to unify the Orthodox schismatics in Ukraine into an independent church separate from Moscow.

While the Orthodox patriarchs were gathering Moscow around President Putin and praising his role in combating "terrorism" and the vocal cry of the Arabs was being raised over the violation of Jerusalem, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was on a visit to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, where he was received by President Rivlin of Israel and within that patriarchate about suspicions that the rights of the mother church and her children are being violated.

The question remains: for how long will the Orthodox Churches forget the principle place of their prophetic mission in the world and continue to keep pace with politics and powers on the basis of realpolitik?

Dostoevsky and many Russian writers since the end of the 19th century have warned the Russian Church about the dangers of the state's domination over it and the lack of internal reform over the phariseeism that dominated the Church and kept it far away from what the Holy Spirit demands of it. That is, to bear witness to the truth, to tend to man's freedom and dignity, and to support the poor, so that there will not be an internal explosion that causes the entire edifice to collapse. In 1871 Dostoevsky wrote in his famous book Demons, warning about the coming revolution, "Fog will cover Russia, the sea will dissolve and the stage will collapse...." And today, fog will cover all the various Orthodox churches, which confuse what is important and what is more important and inter into the game of realpolitik.

The patriarchs in Moscow passed over two fundamental, critical issues without approaching them from the principle of judiciousness, kept apart from politics: the issue of Jerusalem and the issue of the kidnapping of Metropolitan Paul Yazigi. Where were the patriarchs when it came to Jerusalem and the kidnapping of Metropolitan Paul Yazigi and the demand that his fate be revealed, since a mere reminder about this issue is not enough? Where is their sit-in at the United Nations, a call for a global conference regarding Jerusalem, and a demand that the fate of Metropolitan Paul Yazigi be revealed, not only on account of our love and his brother's love for him, but because it is the single most important issue for Antioch today?

As regards Jerusalem, she is ours and the gates of hell will not prevail over her. She is not holy because of her stones and many successive walls, but for a symbolism that transcends these walls, emulating the Lord who rose from her and from the dead, because, in the words of Metropolitan Khodr, we are people of the resurrection. We do not make pilgrimage to stone but to the Lord: "he who is in the Gospel and in the Eucharist is with Christ, in pilgrimage or without pilgrimage."

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