Phanarocynicism as an example of hypocrisy
Archbishop Elpidophoros has brought forth a number of charges against the Russian Church. We analyze and find out how close they are to the truth.
On July 15, 2021, the head of the Phanariot Archdiocese of America, Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis) made a presentation on "religious nationalism" and "nationalistic religion" at the International Religious Freedom Summit, 2021.
In his report, the representative of the Patriarchate of Constantinople presented a number of significant theses that shed light on the activities of the Phanar in relation to both Ukrainian schismatics and Catholics and other religions. In his speech, the head of the Phanariot Archdiocese in the United States focused on the situation in Ukraine, and the main spearhead of his criticism was directed against the Russian Orthodox Church, which, however, in the mouth of the hierarch, closely cooperating with the State Department and the US authorities, is no wonder.
Another thing is surprising – how cynically the Phanar hierarch accuses the ROC of what the Church of Constantinople itself can be reproached with. Let's clear that up.
Nationalism or Hellenism?
Reading the title of the report "The Rising Tide of Religious Nationalism", which was devoted to "nationalistic religions” and “religious nationalism", one might think that the Phanar representative intends to soberly and critically reflect on the place of nationalism in his own Church only because the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in the hierarchy of which Archbishop Elpidophoros occupies one of the leading positions, has never in its entire history had a non-Greek primate! In contrast, for example, to the same ROC, which is not always headed by ethnic Russians but whose hierarchs are people of many nationalities – from Ukrainians to Japanese and English.
Moreover, the Greek-speaking Orthodox Churches (of Greece, Alexandria, and Jerusalem) are called Greek-speaking because almost all of their bishops are Greek. Therefore, when the hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of America (as the Phanariot Archdiocese in the USA is called there) starts talking about “nationalistic religion” or “religious nationalism”, it’s just right to hear from him suggestions on how to overcome this very nationalism within his Church. But ... the Phanar hierarch speaks about a completely different thing.
Thus, Archbishop Elpidophorus talks about “charismatic leaders” in the United States who put the ethnic issue above the religious one and for some reason completely forgot to mention his colleagues who have been doing the same openly and for a long time. For example, they claim that the Gospel spread throughout the world thanks to Hellenism, or they call on Africans to spread Hellenism in Africa. Many other examples can be cited showing that Orthodoxy is viewed by a certain category of Greek hierarchs as a "package" for the promotion of Hellenism and vice versa. The problem of Greek religious nationalism is so acute that it was even condemned under the name "ethnophyletism" by one of the Councils of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Do all religions lead to God?
If you listen to Archbishop Elpidophoros, then yes. He strongly condemns the religious situation in Iran, where Islam is a state policy (not remembering Greece, where the Orthodox Church has the state status). And then the American bishop makes a passage that testifies not so much to his position as to the mood that prevails in the Phanar: “When you elevate one religion above all others, it is as if you decide there is only one path leading to the top of the mountain. But the truth is you simply cannot see the myriads of paths that lead to the same destination, because you are surrounded by boulders of prejudice that obscure your view."
This thesis is outright heresy because it contradicts everything that Christ says in the Gospel, and what the Church has been talking about for many centuries. Lord Jesus Christ: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14: 6). In other words, Christ clearly indicates that "there is only one path leading to the top of the mountain". And this path is He Himself. But the Phanar bishop thinks differently. It turns out a kind of an oxymoron – the hierarch of the Orthodox Church says things that contradict Orthodox teaching. After such a phrase, can Archbishop Elpidophoros be called the shepherd of the Church? The question is debatable.
But, apart from outright heresy and obvious flirting with ecumenists (“the myriads of paths that lead to the same destination”), the thesis of Archbishop Elpidophoros sounds definite in Ukrainian realities. And we have every right to assert this as the Phanar hierarch, judging by his speech, is familiar with our realities, even though this familiarity may be called distorted.
Phanar, OCU and the state of Ukraine
So, it is the Ukrainian government that "elevates one religion above all others". Ukrainian politicians have created the OCU, and now they are working hard to provide it with "normal" conditions for existence, squeezing the UOC with its millions of believers out of the public space.
For the Ukrainian authorities, the OCU is politics rather than a Church or a religion. Therefore, when Archbishop Elpidophoros strongly condemns the religious leaders of the Russian Federation " using the public, political sphere to advance their own agendas" and does not say a word about the religious figures in Ukraine who profit from the political situation in the country and the war in the Donbass in order to promote "their own agendas", we are not even surprised, we laugh.
For example, in 2018, the head of the UOC-KP, the structure from which the modern OCU originates, Filaret Denisenko claimed that "the Lord allowed war for the growth of the Kyiv Patriarchate". His student and pupil Epiphany Dumenko echoes his teacher: "The victims of the Ukrainians at the Maidan and in the Donbass helped to create the OCU." In almost every sermon, in every interview and in every post on social networks, Dumenko speaks of "aggression", "war" and Russia. He translates word for word the political slogans of those who gave him the position of the head of a religious organization. So what? They don't see it in the USA and the Phanar? They do see. They are so well aware of it that they even reward Dumenko as an outstanding fighter for human rights. But there is neither a word of disapproval of his position nor a word about the fact that he as a "religious leader" uses the "political sphere" to promote "his own agenda".
Moreover, Archbishop Elpidophoros, whose Church is actively engaged in advancing Hellenism, and with whom Greeks around the world associate the preservation of their ethnic identity, notes that "nationalistic religion" is " where identity politics are incorporated into a religious entity in order to advance a religious agenda". Let us explain what this means.
There is the Church. It is for everyone. Everyone, regardless of skin colour, language, gender or social status, can become a part of it. Such a Church can be called the UOC, or the Russian Church, or Serbian, Georgian, and so on. Because the words in the names of these Churches, indicating their ethnicity, in fact only speak about the “location” of its church structures, and not about the “national” self-identification of its members. In the Church of Christ "there is neither Greek nor Jew".
And there is a "church". This is when politicians claim that every nation has the right and even should have its own, national religious organization. When politicians, and after them the church leaders, are sure that a "true patriot" can only be a member of that very "nationalistic church". When the "church" leaders urge to pray exclusively in the “native language". When, under the slogan of "struggle" for the independence of the country, they are fighting with the Church, which does not want to change Christ for "national interests". Sounds familiar? Certainly. All this can be attributed to the OCU or to the Montenegrin and Macedonian schismatics, who arose only when, according to Elpidophoros, "identity politics are incorporated into a religious entity in order to advance a religious agenda".
The Phanar spokesman in the US continues: "Should such a tide rise to an undue influence – either in the legislative, judicial, or executive branches of government, it would challenge the very idea of the First Amendment." That is, the American hierarch is sure that if the state takes the side of a particular religious organization, this will affect all spheres of the country's life and call into question the existence of religious freedom in the state.
But this is exactly what is happening in Ukraine today. State authorities at almost all levels have given preference to the OCU. They adopt laws to enable this religious structure to “facilitate the transition of communities from the UOC” (and in fact, to allow the illegal seizure of churches), create favourable conditions for this structure, and provide it with material and other support. However, Elpidophoros again does not notice this. Why? Because he has a specific task – to find another target for his angry speech. And this target, which is not strange, is the ROC.
On the "contours" of the Phanar and the OCU
Archbishop Elpidophoros says: “The Moscow Patriarchate maintains much of the contours of the old Soviet Union. The close relationship between the state Foreign Ministry and the Church Department of External Relations is well known."
And again, this phrase causes bewilderment with its cynicism and double standards. Isn't the Patriarchate of Constantinople trying to preserve its "contours", which it had during the period of great Byzantium? Is it not for this purpose that today the Phanar is creating sees in cities where Christians have long been gone? Isn't Patriarch Bartholomew trying in any way to preserve his place of residence in Istanbul, and therefore suffers any mockery of the Church from the Turkish authorities? Then why is Archbishop Elpidophoros silent about this?
In the same way, you can ask him how you can talk about the "close relationship" of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Foreign Ministry to a person of the Church, whose primate flew to Istanbul on Truman's private plane, received Turkish citizenship and assured that he would defend "American values" until the end of his days? After all, the same Patriarch Bartholomew constantly meets with American politicians – from ordinary senators to heads of the State Department and US presidents. It is he, Patriarch Bartholomew, who is considered in Turkey to be an intelligence officer who took part in the coup attempt. That is why a reasonable question arises: what are the modern "contours" of the Phanar in this case? Do they not coincide with the map of US influence in the world?
It is just right to ask the second question: What are the "contours" of the OCU, which was created with the direct participation (and, one might guess, the initiative) of the US State Department, and whose primate regularly meets with the head of the State Department? Moreover, even the recognition among the Local Orthodox Churches of this newly created religious structure is carried out only under unthinkable pressure from the same State Department and the American special services. So what are the “contours” of the OCU? Archbishop Elpidophoros does not answer either the first or the second question. Because he is busy with something else – defaming the Russian Church and, indirectly, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Thus, according to him, “through the networks of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Federation is able to exert influence in the new nation-states that emerged after the fall of the Iron Curtain”. As a case in point, Elpidophoros cites Ukraine, “where a local Orthodox Church was established, legally and canonically, by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, yet the Moscow Patriarchate continues to maintain its own entity (that is the UOC? – Ed.). This is clearly in the interests of the Russian Federation which benefits as much, if not more, from its ‘Religious Nationalism’ as the Church does from its ‘Nationalistic Religion’".
When you read these words for the first time, you get the feeling that they were written by the OCU spokesperson Yevstratii Zoria – they sound so stupid and unproven. What are the benefits of Russia and the ROC, including from the existence of the UOC? It turns out that because of the UOC, the Russian Church "spoilt relations" with the Phanar, Cyprus, Greece, Alexandria. At the same time, the Synod of the ROC does not exert any influence on the UOC. Hierarchs, abbots of monasteries, members of the Synod, etc. are elected in Kyiv without even prior agreement with Moscow. There are no money transfers to the treasury of the Russian Orthodox Church from Ukraine either (if there were such transfers, then they can be tracked and made public – but this is not the case!). What then is the "benefit"? Nothing, except eucharistic and spiritual communion. And this is where the biggest problem for Phanar is.
The fact is that the Phanar has always built all its relations with other Churches exclusively through the prism of personal benefit for the primate of this Church or benefit for its throne and already pretty boring for everyone “privileges”. Let us remember that even at the dawn of the creation of the OCU, the "patriarch" of the UOC-KP Filaret Denisenko often travelдed to the United States where, in addition to representatives of the State Department (looking for their "benefit" in creating a new religious structure in Ukraine), he met with a representative of the Phanar, a certain Kostas Bilirakis. And the latter asked Filaret only one question – what exactly would the Phanar have in the event of the creation of the OCU?
You can also remember how the "father of Tomos" Petro Poroshenko travelled to Istanbul where, during meetings with Patriarch Bartholomew, they discussed how the Phanar would "benefit" after granting the Tomos. Therefore, when Patriarch Bartholomew declares that he received only sweets from Poroshenko after signing the Tomos, we only smile politely.
The report of Archbishop Elpidophoros allows us to conclude that the Patriarchate of Constantinople intends to entirely take the path of destructiveness in relation to Orthodoxy. Its task is not to preserve the patristic heritage, not to develop and creatively rethink it but to strictly follow the patterns dictated by "foreign partners". When you read Archbishop Elpidophoros’s speech, you understand why the Patriarchate of Constantinople legalized Ukrainian schismatics – because it is ready for anything. At least mentally. In this sense, for the Phanar, the recognition of Ukrainian schismatics, as well as joint prayers with Catholics or Protestants, is not at all the line that cannot be crossed. It goes about much more – the creation of a syncretic religion, about “the myriads of paths leading to the same destination”.
Only is the Phanar aware that this "destination" is unlikely to be paradise?