How the Phanar is using the war in Ukraine to consolidate its power
Pat. Bartholomew said that because of the war in Ukraine, all Churches should recognize the OCU. Is this a desire to further assert himself at the expense of Ukrainians?
On January 25, at the conference "Ukraine – Autocephaly and the War that Changed the World", the head of the Phanar made several loud statements. His main theses are as follows.
- The ROC is trying to impose a new ecclesiology which is overthrowing the ecclesiastical order on the basis of new data. But it must understand that the Phanar is the only guarantee of the unity of Orthodoxy. Without the Phanar, Orthodoxy will fall into a maelstrom of nationalism.
- It is not the Phanar but the ROC that claims the papacy. It wants to turn Orthodoxy into a "confederation of Сhurches" to have a say.
- There is no need for an Ecumenical Council on the Ukrainian question. Instead, the Сhurches should simply recognise the OCU.
- There is no division of Orthodoxy over the OCU. On the contrary, the Tomos "is an essential contribution to the unity of Orthodoxy as a practical expression of Orthodox ecclesiology”.
- There is war in Ukraine and therefore all Churches should recognise the OCU and Epifaniy Dumenko. In this way, they will "support the people of Ukraine".
Let us analyze what is behind these words and can Patriarch Bartholomew's statements be considered morally and reasonably justified?
A new ecclesiology?
According to Patriarch Bartholomew, the Russian Orthodox Church is trying to impose a new ecclesiology which is destroying the Church's order. "But he must understand that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the only guarantee for the unity of Orthodoxy. Without the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Orthodoxy will fall into the vortex of nationalism ..."
This statement is based on false assumptions.
Firstly, it is the representatives of the Phanar who seriously take up constructing the idea of "First without equals", which can well be seen as introducing new elements into the Church doctrine. Here are just some quotes.
Patriarch Bartholomew: "Orthodoxy cannot exist without the Ecumenical Patriarchate... If the Ecumenical Patriarchate... leaves the inter-Orthodox scene, the Local Churches will become 'like sheep without a shepherd'.”
Archbishop Elpidophorus: "The Archbishop of Constantinople and, accordingly, the Ecumenical Patriarch, is First without equals."
Metropolitan Efstathios of Monemvasia and Sparta: "Although in general, we consider Christ to be the Head of our Church, on earth it is the Ecumenical Patriarch."
What is this if not a new ecclesiology?
Secondly, the degree to which nationalism manifests in the Greek-speaking Churches, as well as in the OCU, is truly significant.
For example, Metropolitan Maximos of Ioannina believes that Hellenism made the preaching of the Gospel possible, while Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria explicitly encourages seminary graduates to spread not the word of Christ but Hellenism.
The OCU does not lag behind. For example, Dumenko states that he is proud to be a "Bandera follower”. And one of his associates believes that Ukrainian Nazis of the SS Division "Galicia" are saints.
Therefore, the words of Patriarch Bartholomew that "without the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Orthodoxy will fall into the vortex of nationalism" are nothing but surprising.
Geopolitics and Tomos
At the very beginning of his speech, Patriarch Bartholomew said that granting the Tomos to the OCU has nothing to do with geopolitics. After all, we all remember perfectly well the role the U.S. State Department played in the whole story of the "Ukrainian autocephaly”.
For example, long before Petro Poroshenko came to power, the then head of Ukrainian schismatics Filaret Denisenko visited the USA 13 times where he met with Greek lobbyists and US politicians, including Joe Biden. Sam Brownback, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, was most active in granting the Tomos to the OCU. For example, he flew to Kyiv on September 11, in the midst of negotiations to unite the schismatics into a single religious structure.
Even after "autocephaly" was granted, Metropolitan Seraphim of Kythira of the Greek Orthodox Church said that the USA was pressuring the Local Churches to recognise the Tomos of the OCU. Mike Pompeo, the then Secretary of State, made no secret of this, saying during a visit to Kyiv that his country had secured international recognition of the OCU and supported Epifaniy Dumenko. And the US support was provided not by philanthropic but by geopolitical interests, because, according to the US Ambassador to Athens Geoffrey Pyatt, "support for the Patriarchate of Constantinople is a matter of US national security".
Therefore, the words of Patriarch Bartholomew that the Tomos and America's foreign policy are in no way connected are untrue.
The best defence is an attack
On December 24, 2022, former US State Department official Larry Johnson wrote an article on his blog in which he said that the Ukrainian authorities were persecuting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church using "Stalinist" methods.
Nick Stamatakis, Editor-in-Chief of the US edition “Нelleniscope”, prefaced Johnson's publication by directly blaming Patriarch Bartholomew for what is happening in Ukraine today. He writes: "Bartholomew's unwise decisions and actions have caused a schism in Orthodoxy, undermined the power of Hellenism throughout the world and allowed the Patriarch to lead his profligate lifestyle."
Stamatakis continues, "What is he thinking of, relaxing in his $10 million villa overlooking the Bosphorus and wondering when to use the Jacuzzi? Is he 'happy' with the ruin his 'policies' have inflicted on Ukraine? Have no doubt, the 'Sun of Truth' - Christ, whose birth we celebrated today, will soon do him Justice..."
“Нelleniscope” is the English-language resource of the Greek diaspora in the US, and that diaspora, in turn, is far from the last place in the country's politics. Therefore, such statements are quite a tangible blow to the image and authority of the Phanar in the US. How did the Patriarch respond?
He acted in the best traditions of his current friend, the Jesuit Francis. Simply put, instead of excusing himself, Patriarch Bartholomew decided to blame ... the ROC for all troubles of Ukraine.
In his opinion, the war is artificially linked by the Church of Russia to the autocephaly of Ukraine in order to cover its responsibility and its big ambitions: "It was Russia who deepened the gap between Ukrainians and Russians, not the Autocephaly of Ukraine that was given to the suffering Ukrainian people. Russia’s reaction stems from an attempt to impose on the Ukrainian people and from the absence of a healthy ecclesiastical conscience."
First, the autocephalous schism is, after all, a schism within the Ukrainian Orthodox people, a schism that did not arise yesterday and not after the Tomos bestowal.
Secondly, "autocephaly" was "granted" only to a part of the Ukrainian people.
Thirdly, it is the Phanar that "imposes" itself on Ukrainians and constantly emphasizes its role in the spiritual formation of our people (omitting 600 years of ignoring it).
Well, as for the "conscience"... The amount of blatant untruths that we have heard from the mouth of Patriarch Bartholomew certainly indicates that he has a serious problem with conscience.
War and OCU recognition
Another thing is surprising: how can the head of the Local Church so blatantly manipulate human grief and war? For example, he said that since there is war in Ukraine, all the Churches must recognize the OCU and Epifaniy Dumenko. In this way, they will "support the people of Ukraine".
However, first of all, we cannot say that war can justify the violation of the canons or the Church's regulations. Canons cannot be broken, neither in peacetime, nor in wartime, nor in any other time.
So, this statement of Patriarch Bartholomew is perceived as an attempt to force other Churches to accept his authority, relying not on ecclesiastical institutions but solely on military realities.
Secondly, the words "the recognition of the OCU will support the people of Ukraine" are a lie. Because the people of Ukraine are also multi-million believers of the UOC. Will other Churches support them by recognising the OCU or, on the contrary, will they only encourage the authorities to immediately destruct the UOC? The answer is obvious.
In any case, listening to Patriarch Bartholomew’s message, it seems that he is trying to use the theme of the war to his advantage. For him, human grief, suffering and tears are just tools with which he is trying to strengthen his position in Orthodoxy and weaken the "rival". Instead of calling on his wards in the OCU not to incite hatred towards the faithful of the UOC, Patriarch Bartholomew backs them in every possible way. His recent statements that the entire Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra must belong to the OCU are shocking. Does he realise that in this case the brethren of the monastery will be thrown out into the street? That thousands of parishioners of Lavra churches will be forced to look for new parishes? Of course, he does. And this position of Bartholomew surprises no one. Because the Phanar has done so before.
For example, in the 1920s, when the Bolsheviks organized the so-called "Living Church" in opposition to the canonical ROC. And now, in the midst of reprisals against priests and hierarchs of the Russian, Church, the Phanar supported the "Living Church", thereby only aggravating the situation inside the war-torn country. And all this only in order to strengthen their authority, to gain for themselves certain preferences. The same thing is happening now.
Unfortunately, we see that the crisis in Orthodoxy is only getting worse. The war, suffering and grief, instead of uniting Christians, are being used by some of them to promote their own interests. We can only pray that this does not lead to new divisions.