Friday, October 4, 2019

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

From yesterday's an-Nahar. Arabic original here. Read part III here and part V here.

The Suffering of the Orthodox Church during the Twentieth Century:
Internal and External Dangers Alike

The twentieth century was crueler to Orthodoxy than previous centuries. All the Orthodox churches were-- and continue to be-- along geopolitical fault lines, pulled in different directions by various countries' interests and hot and cold wars. After Eastern Orthodoxy's imprisonment in the Ottoman cage for four hundred years, there came the First World War, which started in the Balkans and went on to weigh heavily on all Orthodox societies.  This was followed in 1917 by the atheistic Bolshevik Revolution, which struck Russia, the largest Orthodox nation, and Orthodoxy was crushed between the anvil and hammer of Communism.

Before Stalin resorted to Orthodoxy and nationalist sentiment in 1941 to save Russia from the Nazi steamroller, around 600 bishops, 40,000 priests and 120,000 monks and nuns were killed and thousands of cathedrals, churches and monasteries were destroyed. Communism was defeated in 1988, and Gorbachev asked Patriarch Pimen to jointly organize the celebration of the thousandth anniversary of the Baptism of the Rus. Then, Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe was liberated from the Soviet cage when the Berlin Wall fell in 1990.

As for Greek Orthodoxy, it suffered repeated blows: in 1923, with the ethnic cleansing of the Greeks of Asia Minor; with the bloody events of September, 1955 against the Greeks of Istanbul to expel them; the invasion and occupation of Northern Cyprus in 1974; the Greek economic crisis and its being under international trusteeship since 2008; and the efforts by the radical socialist, atheist government of Tsipras to tame the Church of Greece by force.

The rise of radical, Salafist Islamism on account of the weakness of Arab civil society has threatened the Middle Eastern churches and pushed their members to emigrate.  And let us not forget the suffering of Serbia, the Yugoslav wars since 1991, and NATO's campaign against it; the hostile situation for Serbian Orthodoxy and its historic sites in Kosovo; the seizure of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli struggle since 1948; "others' wars in Lebanon," in the words of Ghassan Toueini, since 1975; and the ongoing tragedy in Syria. Efforts to enervate and divide Orthodoxy continue with the Ukrainian crisis and attempts to split Orthodoxy in Macedonia and Montenegro from Serbia. In this way, the lines of fire shifted within the Orthodox space over the course of the twentieth century and they continue to do so, their flames biting at the body and flesh of Orthodoxy.

Blows have come from within and from the outside. Internally, with Orthodoxy's inability to coalesce and anticipate and cope with the transformations of the globalization of the twentieth century, and on account of the rivalry, deadly for universal Orthodoxy, between Constantinople and Moscow, which has opened the door for global powers to exploit the weaknesses of nationalist Orthodoxies, which has damaged the the Orthodoxy of faith which, even if the arrows have struck it and it has become a martyr, continues to bear witness. In the midst of these transformations (the West seeking to seize the East, religious radicalism, atheistic Communism and irreligious, secularized and globalized liberalism), Orthodoxy has tried to break the bonds around it.

Within the context of attempting to strengthen the Ecumenical Patriarchate because of the transformations that were weakening it, Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis called for a Pan-Orthodox Congress in Istanbul in 1923. He was also the originator of the idea of saying yes to Orthodox unity in the diaspora, but under the banner of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which was rejected by Moscow and a large portion of the Orthodox Churches. There followed meetings at Vatopedi Monastery on Athos in 1930, the first conference for Orthodox theological institutes in Athens in 1936, and the Moscow conference in 1948, which was held amidst difficult international circumstances and a growing cold war for leadership between Moscow and Constantinople. The latter rejected Moscow's right to call for Pan-Orthodox meetings and boycotted the conference, along with the churches of Jerusalem, Cyprus and Greece.

Then came the election of Patriarch Athenagoras, who opened a window of hope and whose star shined in the Orthodox space like a man of peace, striving "to bring the Orthodox together into one house, albeit with many windows." The path toward the Great Orthodox Council began on Rhodes in 1961 with hope and tribulations. It was followed, over some decades, by several Pan-Orthodox conferences and synaxes of the primates of the Orthodox Churches which should have, were it not for the pathologies of competition and primacy that prevented attention from being paid to the common good and to finding solutions to crucial ecclesiastical problems-- among them, the issue of Jerusalem's violation of Antioch's jurisdiction in Qatar. Confrontational positioning between the churches grew at the expense of true conciliarity, which accompanies and proceeds slowly and deliberately. The Crete meeting of 2016 was fragmented and not universal, given the absence of four large churches: the apostolic Church of Antioch, Moscow, Bulgaria and Georgia.

The competition and blockage has continued through the Ukrainian crisis of 2018.

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