Games of Church Thrones: Bartholomew unjudgeable and forgetful
Patriarch Bartholomew has made a new portion of scandalous statements that require commentary. We analyse his main theses.
On 1 September 2023, during the celebration of the Indiction (ecclesiastical new year) according to the new style, Patriarch Bartholomew delivered a powerful speech in the presence of Serhiy Dumenko. He declared the non-subjection of the Phanar to other Churches, stated that there would be no Pan-Orthodox Council regarding Ukraine, criticized the ROC for an 'unacceptable and inexplicable' disruption of Eucharistic communion, and disclosed the number of Ukrainian soldiers who had died in the war.
We do what we believe is right, and it is not for you, serfs, to judge us
“We, for our part, do what we believe is right. We are challenged and invited by various sister Churches that the Ecumenical Patriarchate once again convenes a Pan-Orthodox Conference or a Synod of Orthodox Primates to deal with the Ukrainian ecclesiastical issue and our Patriarchate rejects these proposals because it is not willing to put it under the judgment of others Churches a Canonical Act (the Tomos of the OCU – Ed)…. We are not going to convene a Pan-Orthodox Synod, nor a Synod of Primates because we have no desire to put the decisions and initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate under the judgment of the new ecclesiology," Patriarch Bartholomew said.
He once again reiterated that the Phanar had done everything right with the Tomos for non-ordained Ukrainians and would not convene any Pan-Orthodox Council on the Ukrainian issue. And if Bartholomew did not say anything new about the Council itself, the thesis about the "non-jurisdiction" of the Phanar to other Churches sounds quite fresh. He said that he excluded putting the Phanar’s decisions "under the judgment of the new ecclesiology", referring to the "theology of war" of the Russian Church. And there are indeed grounds for criticising the ROC, but the following should be mentioned here.
1. The Russian Church's support for the war does not excuse the "Ukrainian" lawlessness of the head of the Phanar, who in 2018 "appointed" non-ordained men as bishops and metropolitans, despite the fact that these men are waging a "war" against the canonical UOC.
2. The necessity of convening a Pan-Orthodox Council has been discussed not only in the ROC but also by the primates and hierarchs of many other Local Churches who do not support the "theology of war" and, consequently, have no relation to the "new ecclesiology".
3 To accuse someone of a sin, one must be completely free from it oneself. Just recall the letter from the head of the Phanar to Turkish President Erdogan supporting the military invasion of Syria in 2018: "We wholeheartedly pray to Almighty God that Operation Olive Branch will provide an opportunity to establish peace in Syria... We wish success to you personally and the Turkish Armed Forces, and express our hope that Operation Olive Branch will bring peace to the region and become a hope for a secure future for the people."
Thousands of Kurds have been killed and hundreds of thousands of civilians have lost their homes as a result of this military operation. Yes, it's on a larger scale in Ukraine. But the problem is that Turkish citizen Bartholomew supports Turkey's aggression just as Patriarch Kirill approves of Russia's aggression.
Thus, the head of the Phanar himself is not at all unfamiliar with that very "new ecclesiology" that he so fervently accuses the ROC of. Therefore, if we set aside the inappropriate moralizing tone of Bartholomew, we see only another manifestation of Phanariot papalism: "It is not for you, serfs, to judge the master."
Disruption of Eucharistic communion is only permitted to us, heaven-dwellers
"The disruption of Eucharistic communion between the Russian Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate is unacceptable and inexplicable. We cannot use the Divine Eucharist as a tool to pressure each other and force other Churches to go along with this new ecclesiology," said Patriarch Bartholomew.
Recall that the decision to break the Eucharistic communion between the ROC and the UOC was made in response to the actions of the Phanar in Ukraine, which ultimately led to repressions and actual persecutions of the episcopate, clergy, and believers of the UOC.
But once again, to accuse someone of wrongful actions, one must be an example of those actions themselves.
Let's briefly recall a couple of instances of such actions by the Constantinople Church during the tenure of Patriarch Bartholomew.
The head of the Phanar convenes a "Hellenic" Council with the participation of the Churches of Alexandria, Greece, and Cyprus, dedicated to the condemnation of Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem. The formal reason for convening the Council was the decision of the Jerusalem Church to set up parishes in Australia, a diaspora that the Phanar considered its own. One of the decisions of this Council was the rupture of Eucharistic communion with the Patriarch of the Jerusalem Church.
A similar story occurred with the Greek Church in 2004 when the Phanar broke Eucharistic communion with Archbishop Christodoulos due to disagreements over the appointment and approval of bishops in the so-called "new territories," which have dual subordination to the Constantinople and Greek Churches. Because of Bartholomew's pressure, the Greeks were forced to make concessions.
Therefore, today's words of the Phanar head "We cannot use the Divine Eucharist as a tool to pressure each other" appear, to put it mildly, cynical. After all, Patriarch Bartholomew was precisely engaged in such pressure. In fact, he introduced this practice as a "weapon" against other Churches.
Little "Ukrainian" manipulations
"The granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine with its 44 million believers was within the framework of the rights and ministerial responsibilities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate... The brother Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine is the sufferer (from the war – Ed.). He sees his flock decimated, cities and villages destroyed, temples, schools, and hospitals levelled...," said Patriarch Bartholomew.
Officially, there are currently around 29 million residents in Ukraine. Among them, there aren't that many Orthodox believers, and certainly not many under Dumenko. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), excluding the seized churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), has about 6,500 parishes, with very low attendance. If the OCU has 60-80 thousand actual parishioners throughout the entire country, that's a very optimistic estimate. The UOC, according to government estimates, has about 6 million believers, and it's these believers who have suffered the most from the war.
Official data indicate that around 240 churches of the UOC have been partially or completely destroyed, while for the OCU, the number is 36.
Where does Patriarch Bartholomew get these manipulations? The answer is simple: in his "worldview", the Ukrainian Orthodox Church does not exist at all. In his view, all churches and believers belong to Dumenko's structure. Therefore, Bartholomew believes he has done everything right in Ukraine, and there's no need for any changes. He has even decided to turn the suffering of Ukrainians caused by the Russian invasion to his advantage.
Misinformation about Ukraine's military losses
"In this war, about 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers and countless civilians have died. I repeat, this is a tragedy. This certainly also has an impact on the relations of the corresponding Orthodox sister Churches," said the head of the Phanar.
Just recently, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Mr. Danilov, has referred to the figure of 70,000 Ukrainian casualties reported in Western media as "misinformation". Against this backdrop, Patriarch Bartholomew's words seem even more misleading. It's unclear where he got this figure from, but it's evident that, from his perspective, this is a new attempt to use the war in Ukraine as a weapon in his struggle against the ROC. Hence, the statement that the Ukrainians who died in the war "have an impact on the relations of the corresponding Orthodox sister Churches".
In 2018, the Phanar, by granting autocephaly to non-ordained people, essentially gave a green light to repressions against the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Not everyone in the Orthodox world dared to openly condemn this move, but Patriarch Bartholomew's moral authority suffered a lot. It was evident to all that the Phanar was acting as an unlawful aggressor.
But in 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Suburbs of Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, and so on, were destroyed. There are deaths and suffering of civilians in Ukraine. In this situation, the Russian Orthodox Church took a well-known position.
This position of the Russian Church became a priceless gift for the Phanar. Against this backdrop, all the canonical transgressions of Patriarch Bartholomew suddenly seemed to fade and became somewhat "not so bad" and scary.
And now the Phanar is talking about a "new ecclesiology" due to which it "has no desire" to subject its decisions to the judgment of other Local Churches.
Is all of this a manifestation of papalism? Undoubtedly.
And now we find ourselves in a situation where, on one hand, the commandment "thou shalt not kill" is ignored, and on the other hand, the new "pope" commits lawlessness and is confident in his immunity from other Churches' authority. On one hand, deaths and suffering are justified by some "metaphysical" geopolitical goals and state tasks; and on the other hand, the church dictator justifies his actions by the fact that others also sin.
And Orthodox Ukrainians have become hostages to these "Games of Thrones". On the one hand, it is very difficult. On the other hand, for some reason, God sent such trials to the UOC faithful. We can already see these trials bearing fruit: war and persecution are turning the Gospel into our handbook, and Christ is close to us today like never before.