Friday, October 4, 2019

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

Arabic original here. Read part IV here.

An Orthodox Church or Churches?
Elements for Escaping the Crisis of Universal Orthodoxy

The crisis is unprecedented. Moscow boycotts the "council" of Crete in 2016 and Constantinople responds in its own backyard by granting autocephaly to the schismatics in Ukraine at the expense of legitimate Orthodoxy there, which has been tied to Moscow for three hundred years. Moscow rejected the decision and broke communion with Constantinople. The Orthodox churches were flabbergasted and their activity was paralyzed. Appeals to the Ecumenical Patriarch to hold an emergency synaxis received no response. This state of schism spoils communion between the Orthodox Churches and hurts their credibility as one, indivisible body.

In the twentieth century, Orthodoxy became globalized and went from being "Eastern" Orthodoxy to being "global" Orthodoxy  on all continents, without revsing its tradtional governance in order to catch up with this new geopolitical situation. The crisis today is two crises: a crisis of governance that is producing intractable crises (Estonia, Qatar, Czechia, Crete, Ukraine, etc.) and the crisis of an absence of mechanisms for conflict resolution.

The most difficult thing right now is that Constantinople is both plaintiff and judge. Exiting the impasse requires diagnosing the roots of the illness. Is Orthodoxy one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church or competing ethnic churches with no complementarity among them, despite Paul's request to the Corinthians, "...  there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other"? Yes, Constantinople fell before falling due to nationalist self-interest. And with time, the Orthodoxy of faith transformed into a nationalist Orthodoxy that searches for God's history in books of geography, geopolitics, and affiliations.

Metropolitan Georges Khodr foretold in August, 1991, as he was analyzing Orthodoxy's maladies, what is happening today in Ukraine: "Can the official Church which is subject to Moscow religiously preserve this allegiance if the Ukrainian Republic splits?" He continued, "No one can see the future because the historical custom, since the last century, is for those who obtain independence nationally to become independent ecclesiastically." "The historical custom" for Sayyidna Georges is only a painful indicator of the influence of nationalisms on Orthodoxy, which was condemned at the council in Constantinople in 1872.

Nationalism is not the criterion, but rather communion of faith. Until now, this "historical custom" has never been applied in Antiochian experience. The Orthodox in Lebanon did not seek to establish their own national church at Lebanon's independence and it is my hope that they will not seek it today. And they won't, despite all the talk about imminent dangers to Antiochian unity and that Antioch, like Serbia, is the target after Ukraine. Of course, there are problems of governance, sensitivities and estrangement, but they must all be dealt with under the roof of Antiochian unity, so dear to Christ.

Here lies the seriousness of the Ukrainian crisis: as an attempt to subject the governance and geography of the Church-- today more than ever-- to variable nationalist and geopolitical considerations. Did not the new president of Ukraine, Zelensky, withdraw from the invervensions of his predecessor, President Poroshenko, in the Church?

Historically, the Ancient Patriarchates were centers of communion of faith for circles of communion for flocks that transcend national, geographic and political considerations. Apostolic Canon 34 expresses this in the most marvelous way. However, with the rise of ideologies of national liberation in the 19th century under Western influence, there came the theory of the inevitability of ecclesiastical schism upon national indepdence, against the backdrop of the Greek national revolution.

The ideologue of this equation, which states that the boundaries of the Church, like the boundaries of the nation, should follow political boundaries and not the opposite, was the Archimandrite Theoklitos Farmakidis, the theorist of Greek autocephaly, which was declared in 1830 and recognized by Constantinople in 1850. Greek independence from the empire was also independence from Constantinople, which the leaders of the Greek Revolution accused of being dependent on the Sublime Port. But Farmakidis' analogy reversed the ancient ecclesiastical rule and subjected the church to variable geopolitical considerations, opening the way for nationalist Orthodoxies and the intertwining of the ecclesiastical and the political in Orthodoxy, especially for Constantinople and Moscow in the context of their struggle over leadership.

For example, the correspondence of Harry Truman's advisor Myron Taylor with Truman and the American ambassador in Turkey, as well as other documents of correspondence with the Vatican, show that during, before and after the election of Patriarch Athenagoras, there was an ongoing relationship between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the American administration in order to oppose Russia, Communism and, at the time, the Soviet Union. This relationship continues until today and one might point out statements from the US State Department in support of Constantinople's decision in Ukraine.

On the other hand, many documents also demonstrate the exploitation of the Church in Russia by the Soviet state and today the Church in Russia is accused of identifying with the politics of the Russian state.

Escaping the crisis requires both sides and all the Orthodox Churches to look critically at the intertwining of the ecclesiastical and the political in Orthodoxy, to make nationalist Orthodoxy submit to the Orthodoxy of faith rather than the opposite, and to put into place modern practices and rules for participatory clergy-lay governance that constructively and productively connects the dialectic of primacy and conciliarity.

As for escaping the Ukrainian crisis, this requires historical boldness and sacrifices on both sides for the sake of the higher Orthodox good. It requires:

1) A decision by Constantinople to "freeze" the tomos of autocephaly.

2) A decision by Moscow to suspend the decision to break communion in order to open the way for a meeting, discussions and negotiations between the two sides.

3) A decision by both sides for the necessity of cooperating with the request for Ukrainian autocephaly in an open, churchly manner through joint agreement on the terms and conditions of this autocephaly: including the special relationship with Russia and the historical relationship with Constantinople, bearing in mind both sides' historical rights and preventing any political exploitation of the issue.

It remains to wonder: the people of God or peoples of God? Church or churches? The future is close at hand. Kyrie eleison.

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