Tuesday, October 1, 2019

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

 Arabic original, from today's an-Nahar here. Read part one here and part three here.

"O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance."

Orthodoxy from the Fall of Constantinople to the Rise of Moscow

"O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance." This lament for Constantinople upon its fall is like weeping by the rivers of Babylon, words that mourn with nostalgia, sorrow, pain, tears and grief over the holy Queen City. Byzantium rose with Constantine the Great, it flourished and its wealth amassed for more than a millennium. It established a civilization that Europe has inherited. With its defeat on the walls of Constantinople on May 29, 1453, the earth shook and a deep wound was opened in Orthodoxy that still bleeds today.

Orthodoxy entered into the Ottoman era and experienced a state of historical stasis, during which its powers declined, its immune system weakened, and factors of worldly anxiety grew within it. The Ottoman sultanate encompassed it and enfeebled the Eastern Patriarchates and the churches of the Balkans over the course of four hundred years.

Nor was the West absent from efforts to weaken Orthodoxy, absorb it, and drain it of its blood through missions, biting off chunks, poaching, efforts to dominate the East and effectuating schisms within it. The Orthodox became strangers in their homelands and their theological and leadership capabilities for recovery and renewal declined. Their worldly anxiety pushed them to develop ethno-phyletist politics based on wedding Orthodoxy to nationalist chauvinism as a means of liberation from the Ottoman cage. The Orthodox were transformed from being masters of the house to being a closed-off protectorate. After having been the "people of God" in harmony with its patriarchal and imperial leadership, according to the idea  of "Byzantine symphonia" upon which Justinian's empire was based, the Orthodox turned into the Rum ethnic millet, which was seen as a minority that was closed in on itself and subject to certain privileges granted to it by the Muslim Ottoman Empire.

The Ecumenical Patriarch inherited the position of the Byzantine Emperor. A crown of imperial majesty, studded with precious stones, was placed on his head. There began a transformation of the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch along with an effort to further develop canonically his inherited authority by way of the Patriarch Gennadios' agreement with Sultan Mehmet II Fetih immediately after the fall of Constantinople. The latter recognized the former as patriarch and "ethnarch". That is, as the temporal and religious leader of the Rum Millet.

After the fall of the empire, the Ecumenical Patriarch comprised in his person two authorities: ecclesiastical and temporal. He became the symbol of the double-headed eagle, responsible for defending religious and historical Orthodoxy. Over time, his synod was transformed into a "permanent synod" that incorporated the Orthodox patriarchs of the East, who were forced to reside in Istanbul for long periods of time because the Ecumenical Patriarch was their gateway, passage and intermediary before the Sublime Porte, because he was the only one recognized by law for Orthodox affairs in the sultanate.

The Greek element overwhelmed the leadership of the Eastern Patriarchates and the Ecumenical Patriarch became a "super-patriarch" who decided as he saw fit. In practice, this established a quasi-papal canonical hierarchy of ecclesiastical authority far removed from the universal Orthodox conciliarity that had constituted its governance since the time of the Apostles. The governance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was ottomanized and it became a "court" where Byzantine and Ottoman courtly practices and traditions were mixed. The patriarch became a sultan and he was characterized by sultanic manners of acting, which became for them an involiable Orthodox tradition.

In contrast, the rise of tsarist Russia began as the largest Orthodox nation numerically. The baptism of Prince Vladimir and his people, which took place in Kiev in 988, came as the result of Greek missions that had been evangelizing the Slavic peoples since the time of Saints Cyril and Methodius. The growth of the influence of Muscovy and its prince, however, came after Tatar invasions in the thirteenth century and the transfer of the princes of Rus from Kiev to Moscow.

Constantinople hesitated very much to grant independence to the very influential metropolis of Moscow that was dependent on it and which had for some time begun to elect its own bishop locally. Constantinople's recognition of Moscow as a patriarchate took place in 1589 after the mediation of Patriarch Joachim V of Antioch, "who visited Moscow in 1586," as Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of thrice-blessed memory informs us, "and supported Tsar Boris Godunov's request to turn the Church of Russia into a patriarchate. He raised the issue with Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople, who after that visited Russia in 1589 and took part in the election of Job, the first patriarch of the Russian Church." Appended to the historical document of the tomos of autocephaly is his signature, in addition to that of Jeremiah of Constantinople and Sophronius of Jerusalem.
Thus, as Moscow rose, its military, diplomatic and political influence was magnified and its role as protector of the Eastern Orthodox grew, talk began of Moscow as "Third Rome", which laid the basis for the competition and tug-of-war between Moscow and Constantinople in the Orthodox world. This, alongside the transformations of the nineteenth century and the rise of ethnic chauvinism, continues to menace Orthodoxy's purity, its evangelistic momentum and the edifice of its catholic unity.

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