Source: The National Herald
By Dennis Menos
In the history of the Orthodox Church, the year 2016 could have been momentous. It was, after all, the year of the Holy and Great Council (HGC), the once in a millennium mega event that was designed to bring together all fourteen Orthodox Autocephalous Churches in a grand demonstration of unity. Sadly, it did not turn out to be. Four Churches boycotted the event, in the process providing evidence of the disunity that sadly afflicts today the Orthodox Church.
The degree of disunity, demonstrated by the absence from the Council of the Patriarchates of Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, and Antioch, should not be underestimated. Not only did the four decline to attend, but to this date, are refusing to accept the legitimacy of several documents that were promulgated by the Council during its deliberations. The most notable and important of these is entitled “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.”
Sadly, the year 2016 saw also a deterioration in the relations between the Patriarchate of Russia and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The rivalry between the two is not new, of course. It traces its origins to the Ottoman and Tsarist days, and though dormant during the years of communist rule, has returned with renewed energy after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ascendance to power of Vladimir Putin and of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all of Russia.
Since the rivalry has its origins in Moscow, it is extremely difficult for outsiders to assess its real intentions. Some observers suggest that the Moscow Patriarchate is striving to become the “New Rome,” in the process replace Constantinople and assume primacy over the entire Orthodox Church. Others differ, however; Moscow has no such ambitions, they claim.
Being the largest of all Patriarchates in terms of Orthodox faithful under its jurisdiction, it is only logical that it pursue an activist policy. This view is officially supported by Moscow, which in all its public expressions gives credence to the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch as the first in honor in the Orthodox East. But “primacy in honor,” it points out, does not also extend to “jurisdiction,” an area which in its view the Ecumenical Patriarchate has a tendency of nfringing upon.
There is no Canon of the Church, Moscow emphasizes, that gives primacy of “jurisdiction” over the entire Orthodox Church to the Patriarch of Constantinople. He is merely the “first among equals” in the East – no more.
Compounding the uncertainties between the two Patriarchates is the future status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate). This Church, established when Ukraine received its political independence, is functioning at the present time outside the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. It also has the strong support of the government of Ukraine. Repeatedly, during the past years the Ukrainian government has petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarch to grant autocephaly for its “Ukrainian” Church. Needless to say, the likelihood of such action infuriates the Patriarchate of Moscow. Granting Kiev such status by the Ecumenical Patriarch, it warns, will result in a major schism within the Orthodox Church. Thus far, Patriarch Bartholomew wisely has resisted the demands of the Ukrainian government, but the future on this issue is uncertain.
While disunity is increasingly making its mark in the Orthodox East, powerful forces in Rome as well as in Constantinople, are promoting the reunification of Christ’s Church after a senseless separation of a thousand years. Successive Ecumenical Patriarchs and Popes, since Patriarch Athenagoras of Blessed Memory and His Holiness Pope Paul VI met in Jerusalem in 1964, have been seeking the reconciliation of the two principal branches of Christianity. The conditions for reconciliation could not be more favorable than they are at the present time, with the leadership of both Churches being on record of supporting such an action, and with neither imposing unacceptable conditions.
Orthodox reconciliation with Rome cannot be accomplished, however, as long as the Orthodox East is divided and unable to speak with a single voice. A change is imperative: The fourteen Churches constituting the Orthodox East must end their preoccupation with their own narrow interests; they need to stop operating as fourteen separate mini-kingdoms, and begin the process of building one unified Church.
How this will be accomplished is difficult to predict. Perhaps a follow-up Council will have to be convened or other mechanism be created for the purpose of resolving the differences between the Patriarchates leaning to Constantinople and those to Moscow. Orthodoxy can no longer operate as if all is well within its ranks. Unity is power and restoring Orthodox unity now is of the utmost importance.
Dennis Menos is the author of several books and writer on Orthodox and Hellenic issues. He can be reached at [email protected]
The Holy and Great Council that transpired in Crete – June of 2016 – was an absolute disaster before it was even held. Blaming it on Georgia, Antioch, Russia and Bulgaria is absolutely misguided. Although I am not a part of any of those jurisdictions, I am really appreciative that they did not participate. Many documents were, in fact, very problematic. The “Relations” document is an insult to Orthodoxy. If Rome wants re-unification with the Orthodox Church, they must return to the Orthodox faith. This syncretic call to unity is heresy and is not the call of unity that is required. I’m tired of the Christian faith being compromised by disguised humanism (which is part of what motivates such talk of “unity”). If the church was interested in real needed unity, there would be actual progress involved in the making of a unified and autocephalous church for America, instead of the excuses and exaggerated claims of impossible barriers proclaimed by the American bishops. It’s all about the local guys keeping their pensions and the oversees guys keeping their cash cow church colonies in the new world, helping to insure their old world thrones.
No, my friend. The Holy and Great Council was not a disaster. Sadly, it was unable to fulfil all its goals when Georgia, Russia, Bulgaria, and Antioch decided to boycott it. As for the “Relations” document, viewed from the perspective of the 21st Century, it is as good a document as any on that subject. Perhaps not so from the perspective of the 10th Century, but we live in 2017.
According to Billy Jack,
On the one hand there should not have been a Council at all because a discussion of “Relations” with the rest of Christianity is a heresy unless all of them “return to the Orthodox Church”. On the other hand “real needed unity” depends on “the making of a unified and autocephalous church for America”.. which he claims hasn’t happened because “the local guys [insist upon] keeping their pensions and the overseas guys [insist upon] keeping their cash cow church colonies in the new world.”
With respect to the first point: Conditioning any discussion of relations with the rest of the Christian world on their “return to the Orthodox Church” is an attempt to preclude discussion by imposing an impossible barrier, at best, or a fig-leaf for Fundamentalism, at worst.
With respect to the second point: While we can all agree that a unified and autocephalous church for America is the only canonical solution to the existence of 14 overlapping, competing ethnic “jurisdictions”; the reasons for the failure to unite is not the “pensions of the local guys” or the “cash” that the colonies remit to the “overseas guys”. The problem is that the “local guys” (except for the OCA) were all appointed by, and have pledged obedience to, the “overseas guys”. They were not elected or approved by the people they are supposed to serve, They apparently are still searching for the leadership skills and courage to re-evangelize the multitudes who have left the Orthodox Church in the US and to reach out to the rest of the un-churched Americans and “bring Orthodoxy to America”. Rather than demeaning them, we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will enter into their hearts and minds and move them to make decisions that are “well pleasing to God” and His people.
There is no such thing as “Orthodox unity”. “Orthodox Unity is an oxymoron!
Let’s face it, the Orthodox “Church” is a cultural fossil from the 11th century.
I don’t have a problem with dialog. It is a matter of recognition. It is not wrong to dialog with non-orthodox Christians. It is wrong, however, to recognize their faith communities “churches.” Orthodox theology cannot be sacrificed as a means of relating to others. No one should be condemned as a “fundie” for sticking up to this very important Orthodox issue.
As to the other points, I am not saying them off the cuff:
Former US ambassador to Yemen, Arthur Hughes: “It’s no wonder that such a situation induced the Patriarchate to establish close ties with the American political elite. Congregations in the US and the donations from American businesspersons of Greek origin are the main sources of income for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.:
The Assembly of Canonical Bishops of the United States have stated themselves that there is no plan for a unified (all jurisdictions included) autocephalous church for America:
“We are not charged with coming up with a blue print for autocephalous church. We are charged with coming up with a solution to a canonical anomaly.”
They go on to say that forming such a unified church is pretty much an impossible task because it’s too hard on the bishops. “Who’s gonna pay?” “Who goes where” and so on. They aren’t lacking skills or courage. They lack the drive to do what is right and what is needed, because it does not serve their own good. Creating an autocephalous church would upset the power structures of their own thrones as well as their money. Therefore, they will continue to offer deflecting excuses, in order to convince the Orthodox Christians living in the US to believe that it is indeed an impossible task, when it really is not. Meanwhile, the American populace will continue to not receive the gospel as proclaimed by the Orthodox Church – and American Orthodox Christians (who are a part of their parishes ethnic culture) will still have to feel like outsiders at home.