In the service of Empires: what Phanar will be taken to by new patrons
Ukraine, the USA and the worldview impasse of the Church of Constantinople.
The meeting of the head of the US State Department Michael Pompeo with the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Epiphany Dumenko in Kiev, as well as demonstrative lobby of this structure by the Americans, compells us to talk about a phenomenon that, at first glance, has nothing to do with this meeting. Of course, we all understand that the State Department’s interest in the OCU project is primarily due to the “anti-Russian” nature of this religious structure and that it obviously fits into the US’s global struggle with its main competitor in the international arena. But there is another, deeper layer in the already close relations between the Department of State and the OCU.
It is a well-known fact that the new Ukrainian “Church” is the vassal structure of Phanar. This dependence is no secret. It is clearly spelled out in the hyped Tomos and is clearly visible in everyday relations of the OCU with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. And it is impossible to consider the relations of the State Department and the OCU without mentioning the close relations between the USA and the “Ecumenical Throne” itself.
We will consider the characteristics of the psychology of the Church, which claims to be primary in Orthodoxy. The Church, which arose in the capital of the empire as “courtier”, shaped its greatness hand and glove with imperial power and even after the collapse of the empire did not get rid of paradoxical psychology.
This paradox is that the Ecumenical Throne is confident in its superiority over other Churches and at the same time is desperately looking for a new “emperor" – a force that will ensure the platform to turn this superiority into reality.
Birth of greatness
Constantinople became a major church center in the 4th century, after Emperor Constantine the Great directed his eyes to the small provincial town of Byzantium, making it his capital. Proximity to power, of course, guarantees influence but also imposes obligations.
The proximity to the imperial court throughout the history of the Church of Constantinople obliged its primates to focus on the views, desires and interests of the emperor. And the patriarchs did it. They would often profess Arianism if the ruler was in sympathy with Arians, or support iconoclasm if it was planted by the emperor.
It will just suffice to mention Patriarch Sergius, who articulated the Monothelite doctrine to please Emperor Heraclius, who sought to smooth out doctrinal discrepancies with the Monophysites of Egypt.
The emperors imposed their will on the patriarchs; the emperors changed the patriarchs as they chose to. Let us recall the story of the patriarchs Ignatius and Photius, who succeeded each other several times at the see during the entire second half of the 9th century, depending on who the emperors wanted to see as the patriarch at the court of first the unfortunate emperor Mikhail Pyanitsa and then the groom Vasily Macedonian, who got the upper hand and became an emperor.
The proximity to the imperial court throughout the history of the Church of Constantinople obliged its primates to focus on the views, desires and interests of the emperor.
If the emperors wanted a union with Rome, the patriarchs secured the union, and if the patriarch’s opinion might be similar to John Chrysostom’s or Mikhail Kerullarius’, the obstinate primate got every chance to be deposed and die somewhere on the outskirts of Armenia or on ship on the way to exile.
For the sake of truth, it is worth noting that not all the primates of the Church of Constantinople were opportunists, acting exclusively on the orders of the Byzantine emperor. The history of the capital’s see knows a lot of worthy people who led the Church at different times. There are many saints among them.
However, even the saints did not always see the need to combat the usual state of affairs for the imperial capital, especially when the emperor and the patriarch, as they say, breathed the same air.
For example, St. Gregory the Theologian assumed the Constantinople’s See at the request of the Emperor Theodosius the Great. On the one hand, the emperor’s assistance contributed a lot to the success of the saint’s activity in the city, where initially there was no place for the Orthodox to gather, except for a single church on the outskirts. On the other hand, that very assistance later became a pretext for accusing the saint of illegally occupying the see.
Rus as a substitution for Byzantine Emperors
The situation could be fundamentally changed after the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, but, alas, the traditions that had been taking shape for more than a thousand years turned out to be stronger than the political ambience. While the centuries-old dependence of the Constantinople primates fit well in the formation of relations with the Ottoman Porte, the former court patriarchs, in search of income and profit, turned their hopeful eyes to Rus once enlightened by the Greeks, which was rich and gradually gaining political weight.
Constantinople patriarchs would appeal to Rus for alms on a regular basis. According to the authoritative church historian Anton Kartashev, the amount of annual assistance from Moscow after the collapse of the empire was about 500 gold rubles. Even such an epoch-making event as the personal visit to Moscow of Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople in 1588 targeted the replenishment of the patriarchal treasury given that the patriarchy, which had been expelled by the Turks from the Cathedral and its monasteries, was in dire need of money, which could be only supplied by Rus.
It is not surprising that the friendship of the patriarchs of Constantinople with Moscow was strong, long and fruitful until the beginning of the last century, when the October Revolution of 1917 turned the once powerful empire into a poor country with bloodthirsty rulers who systematically destroyed the Church.
Flirting with Bolsheviks
Another swing-round in history did not catch the Patriarchate of Constantinople by surprise. Taking advantage of the helplessness of the Russian Church being on the verge of survival, in 1922, yesterday’s friends without a shadow of embarrassment recognized the renovated Higher Church Administration as the only canonical church authority in Russia. A year later, they claimed to spread their own jurisdiction over the entire Orthodox Diaspora.
At the same time, churchly Istanbul began to search for another empire, whose interests it could serve with devoted and vested interest. Is it any wonder that in the situation at hand the choice fell on the United States? The traditions of a long, strong and mutually beneficial friendship in the ancient Patriarchate of Constantinople have always been strong.
Taking advantage of the helplessness of the Russian Church being on the verge of survival, in 1922, yesterday’s friends without a shadow of embarrassment recognized the renovated Higher Church Administration as the only canonical church authority in Russia.
In 1948, the administration of President Truman, by the hands of the Turkish and Greek authorities, conducted a big operation to replace Patriarch Maxim, who was unfavorable to America, by the American Archbishop Athenagoras, who, three years after the election, openly declared in the press that “he sees the promotion of American ideals as a cornerstone of his activity as the patriarch" and he himself "will live and preach American ideals".
The US Consul General in Istanbul, Robert Makati, was so embarrassed by the explicitly pro-American rhetoric of the patriarch that he wrote about this to the State Department: “His affection for the United States was sometimes so unreasonable that it almost made me embarrassed. I could not help feeling that if his views as a Turkish citizen were equally openly expressed to non-Americans, he would instantly be tagged as something like a professional lobbyist of American interests, his influence in Turkey and among the Orthodox would accordingly decrease, and someone would regard his remarks simply as part of American propaganda.”
Dubious Christianity of the new patron of “Ecumenical Throne”
Now, half a century later, we can see an undisguised cooperation of the hierarchy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople with the US Department of State. The format of the article does not involve citing numerous facts of the meetings and mutual support of Phanar representatives and senior US officials. There are plenty of them to be found both on the UOJ resource and any other outlets – no one actually hides them.
As regards the relations between the Church of Constantinople and the current hegemon of world politics, everything is the same as in previous centuries: lack of independence in decision-making, serving the interests of an influential patron, exorbitant ambitions, treachery, cynicism...
There is only one thing to seriously distinguish the current situation from all the previous ones. In the old days, all states, whose interests were served by the Patriarchate of Constantinople to one degree or another and whose help it sought, used to be Christian: the Byzantine Empire, the Moscow Principality, the Russian Empire... Even the USA in its “golden age” of 1945-1973, despite the aggressive external politics, racism and sexual revolution, were nevertheless the state with deep Christian traditions and strong moral principles.
However, in recent decades, we have entered a new era – post-Christian. In addition, it is the United States that are at the forefront of modern post-Christian society today. Pathological tolerance, aggressive imposition of LGBT ideology, the desire to destroy the institution of the family in its traditional sense, religious discrimination, and depreciation of religion as such – these are the “values” that America is actively promoting worldwide.
In relations between the Church of Constantinople and the current hegemon of world politics, everything is the same as in previous centuries: lack of independence in decision-making, serving the interests of an influential patron, exorbitant ambitions, treachery, cynicism...
How far can the Constantinople Patriarchate go in serving its patron's interests? What price will the Orthodox world have to pay for the subservience to anti-Christian forces of “the first among equals” which deems itself as “the first without equals”? What can be opposed to the harmful processes by sound church forces in World Orthodoxy, which have not succumbed to the influence of Patriarch Bartholomew? I have no doubt that the Patriarchate of Constantinople is hardly concerned about these issues.
But it should be, after all … The history of the Church of Constantinople has proved many times: flirting with political forces gets the Church to do everything it is told to. Just one example of the Ferraro-Florentine Union with Rome says it all.
What kind and size of payment the current post-Christian politicians can charge for their support is daunting. We can only say with certainty there will be a day of reckoning. As for the Ukrainian schismatics as subordinates of the Ecumenical Throne, they are also participants in this global religious and political game.
Therefore, those who seriously take the bright advertisement of the OCU as “the Church of the fulfilled centuries-old aspirations of the Ukrainian people” may as well think about it.