Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Carol Saba on the Ukrainian Crisis and Orthodoxy's Impasse (III)

Arabic original here. Part one , part two and part four.

The Transformations of the 19th Century:
Laying the Groundwork for the Competition and Rivalry of the 20th Century

Istanbul, 1872. Let's go back a little... "In the Church of Christ, which is a spiritual communion that aims, through her Head and founder, to encompass all nations in one brotherhood in Christ, considers Phyletism and discrimination on the basis of ethnic and linguistic origin to be something completely foreign to the concept... when each ethnic church strives to realize what is particular to it, is a deadly assault on the dogma of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church..."

Thus spoke the fathers of the famous Synod of Constantinople, which met in 1872 in response to the conflict that had been raging since 1856 between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Bulgarian dioceses in the Ottoman Empire, which were striving for ecclesiastical independence from Istanbul. For the Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément, this was "the last council of the Pentarchy." That is, the Church's ancient system of governance based on the principle of five patriarchates: Rome (which left it in 1054), Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. As for the Russians, they regarded it as a "Greek council" because all the patriarchs of the East and all the bishops who attended it were of Greek origin, an indication of the Greek ethnicity's domination over the patriarchates of the East.

Competition and rivalry in the twentieth century had as background the ongoing struggle between Moscow and Constantinople, which had become deeply rooted since the rise of ethnic and nationalist chauvinisms and European and Russian interventions in the Ottoman Empire shortly after the issue of the famous Ottoman Hatt-ı Hümayun in 1856, which spoke of reforms to the system and the rights and responsibilities of every millet, whetting the appetite of the Orthodox of the empire for independence from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

After the fall of Constantinople and the Sultan Fetih's recognition of its patriarch as the sole leader of all the Orthodox of the "Rum Millet" in the empire, Constantinople tightened its control over the empire's patriarchates and bishoprics, from the Middle East to the Balkans, including the Bulgarian lands. Theories developed, declaring that the Ecumenical Patriarch had inherited the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodoxy of Constantinople came to be a synonym for the "Hellenic nation", which encompassed many ethnic groups and languages. Greek became the holy language of Orthodoxy and any move towards independence was an attack on this Orthodoxy.

A "gerondist" (in Greek, geronda means 'elder' or 'senior') movement developed in Constantinople, establishing a conservative ecclesiastical aristocracy, which regarded the continued existence of the Ecumenical See over the course of history as being due to resisting change and preserving traditions and inherited prerogatives. It resisted all reformist movements in the See, accusing their followers of being creatures of western politics. And so Constantinople came to be "the Great Church" and "the Mother Church" which, even if it reluctantly accepted the independence of the empire's churches from it under the pressure of circumstances, continued to regard them as daughters dependent on it. These established relations characterized by an attitude of superiority and paternalism toward the churches, which continues until today, in defense of the prerogatives of byegone Byzantine and Ottoman times.

Nevertheless, movements of national liberation arose in the East, due to the European Enlightenment and Western influences, which threatened these methods of Constantinople's. Ideas of "national" independence from the Ottoman yoke developed among the peoples alongside ideas of ecclesiastical independence from submission to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The leaders of the Greek Revolution in 1821, which in 1830 won independence for Greece from the empire, demanded and declared ecclesiastical independence in 1833. They accused the Patriarchate of Constantinople of being attached to and dependent upon the Sublime Porte. Constantinople did not recognize the autocephaly of the Church of Greece until 1850 and there continue to be disagreements on various thorny issues between the mother and her daughter.

Greek independence whetted the Bulgarians' appetite. The shifting tides, the ecclesiastical, political and diplomatic negotiations and interventions and tug-of-war between Constantinople and Moscow continued from 1856 to 1870. Constantinople attempted to prevent the Bulgarian autocephaly that was declared unilaterally by the Bulgarians in 1870 and in 1872, the Holy Synod of Constantinople came out against the Bulgarian schism, to which it gave its assent in 1945.

The competition and rivalry over this issue testifies to the struggle between Moscow and Constantinople starting in that time, as does the role of the Russian ambassador to the Ottomans, Nikolai Ignatiev, in the Bulgarian issue. Then came Serbian autocephaly in 1879, which was recognized by Constantinople in 1920.

As for Antioch, the election of Meletius Doumani in 1898 as the first Arab patriarch of Antioch since 1724 provoked a crisis of his recognition by Constantinople, which saw Moscow's fingerprints on this election under the cover of Arabization. This delayed the sultan's confirmation of the patriarch for a year, so that his enthronement in Damascus took place on December 31, 1899.
Will the 20th century be any less cruel for Orthodoxy than those that preceded it?

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