Monday, September 30, 2019

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

Arabic original, in today's an-Nahar, here. Read part two here.

The Ukrainian Crisis: 
The Apogee of the Crisis of Impasse in the Orthodox Church 
Part One

The new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, recently visited the Phanar, headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. He is someone who knows the importance of Russia's geostrategic reach in Ukraine and is working, contrary to his predecessor, President Poroshenko, to reach an understanding with it. After his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew, Zelensky refused to sign a joint declaration with him, stating that "the state must not intervene in ecclesiastical affairs." In addition to the fact that the Ukrainian presidential delegation was purely secular, this position  may be considered to be a radical change contradicting the behavior of his predecessor, who openly interfered in the affairs of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, spurring Constantinople with pressure, promises and concessions to grant "autocephaly" unilaterally.

Geopolitical and ecclesiastical politics and interests intersected and on January 6, 2019 Constantinople granted a tomos of autocephaly to schismatic Ukrainian groups without any legitimacy, at the expense of the legitimate Ukrainian Church tied to Moscow, which had been granted autonomy and is recognized by all the Orthodox Churches.

Thus, despite the warnings of the Orthodox Churches, Constantinople imposed a new ecclesiastical reality in Ukraine, hoping that parishes would attach themselves to it and that it would be recognized by the Orthodox Churches. This has not yet happened, despite enormous pressure.

Moscow responded by breaking Eucharistic communion with Constantinople and withdrawing from all Episcopal Assemblies, committies and organizations in which the latter's bishops were present. This put the entire Orthodox world into a state of stasis and unprecedented crisis and no one knows how it will end. The struggle between Moscow and Constantinople is not a product of the moment, but is rather the end result of historical accumulations and the politics of competition for primacy between them over the twentieth century, which is impairing Orthodox conciliarity and leading the Orthodox Church off along papist paths that are ruinous for her.

Who is using who, the Church or international politics? The ambiguous geopolitical-ecclesiastical overlap in Ukraine, which is seriously damaging the credibility of universal Orthodox spiritual witness, has blown up the global Orthodox crisis and fanned its flames. Constantinople's critics speak of the intersection between its attack on Moscow in Ukraine and Western Atlanticist policies seeking to encircle Russia politically and ecclesiastically by separating the Church of Ukraine from the Patriarchate of Moscow to which it has belonged since the agreement signed by Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysius IV and the members of his Holy Synod in 1686 and sent to the tsars of Russia, the protectors of Orthodoxy at that time. Moscow's critics, on the other hand, speak of the necessity of preventing the expansion of the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is the largest, accuse it of greed to be "Third Rome" and identify it with the Kremlin's diplomacy.

Constantinople's offensive in Ukraine can, however, only be understood through an analysis of the factors behind the decline of its leading role and its transformation over the twentieth century on account of various geopolitical factors, the fall of the bipolar world and the Berlin Wall, and Russia's political return to its previous glories, as well as the engines of globalization, especially "Orthodox globalization", which brought its churches, on account of forced emigration, from the geography of the East to a worldwide geography on all continents.

Constantinople started to fear for the exclusivity of its declining primacy, especially after the Havana summit in February, 2016, between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis and after the "Council of Crete" in June, 2016 failed to be a universal Orthodox council, a council of unity, after four large churches--Antioch, Moscow, Georgia and Bulgaria-- backed out. And so it started to behave confrontationally according to the principle of "cutting off my nose to spite my face."

But Constantinople's strike in Ukraine was not only painful for Moscow, but for the entire Orthodox world. Things took place without any agreement between the Orthodox Churches, but rather by a unilateral decision of Constantinople, as if the intention of the intersection of the geopolitical with the ecclesiastical is to remake a new global role for Constantinople that would give its primacy hierarchical content, as canonical leadership over the other Orthodox Churches, far removed from honorary primacy.

The new theory of the Ecumenical Patriarch's primacy worldwide is defended by Constantinople's new champions. At their forefront is the Ecumenical Patriarchate's new bishop in America, Archbishop Elpidophoros, who hold Turkish nationality, is avid to become the next patriarch and has strong American and Western relationships. This theory goes beyond the primacy of honor that the Ecumenical Patriarch has according to Orthodox tradition to a global "canonical" primacy that makes him "first without equals", where he is the one who knows the highest good for Orthodoxy and he is the one who decides without referring to his brothers, the leaders of the local Orthodox Churches and their holy synods, while they are to follow him...

How did Orthodoxy arrive at this crisis point?

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