Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an unprecedented attack against Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew over the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine during a recent press conference?on December 20.
According to?kyivpost.com, Putin made the comments about the Patriarchate at his annual press conference in Moscow stating, “Look how it is becoming dependent on Turkey, the Turkish Patriarchate. It involves appointments, and a lot of other things, and money, most importantly. I think Bartholomew’s main incentive and motive is to subdue this territory and then start profiting from it.”
The Voice of America also reported that Putin suggested that Bartholomew’s “main motive” was to “subjugate” Ukraine. “It is also done with the aim of a further split between the peoples of Ukraine and Russia,” Putin said.
Putin’s accusations are also connected to attacks from Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow and his protege Metropolitan Ilarion. They have been accusing Patriarch Bartholomew of “anticanonical actions” because they were unsuccessful in convincing him not to proceed with the granting of Autocephaly to Ukraine.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew allowed almost ten days to pass without any reply to Putin - until December 24. He responded for the first time not directly to Putin but to the “Russian Church," in the form of a joke in order to show the lack of seriousness of Putin’s allegations.
Specifically, speaking to pupils from the Greek Schools of Constantinople who visited him at the Phanar to sing the Christmas carols, Bartholomew said that “although the Russian Church accuses me of receiving money in order to grant autocephaly to Ukraine, in reality I didn’t receive money, but I received many candies and chocolates from Poroshenko’s factory.”
The Patriarch explained to the children, to the teachers, and to the parents who accompanied them that “Mr. Poroshenko owns a chocolate factory. He is a businessman like President Trump of America. At some point he decided to go into politics, he filed his candidacy and like Trump won the elections. Now out of his great joy that his Church will have autocephaly he sent me many bags like these filled with chocolates and candies from his factory and I have distributed them all. These two are the last ones, I will open them and toss the candies at you and whoever are the lucky ones will get them”.
High ranking ecclesiastical officials as well as political observers that The National Herald spoke with, and who for obvious reasons requested their anonymity to be protected, said that they believe that Putin’s accusations are so serious that Patriarch Bartholomew’s do not constitute a convincing response.
Meanwhile, to date, only the Archons – the Order of St. Andrew, have responded to Putin’s allegations against Patriarch Bartholomew and Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium.
A statement issued by the Order of St. Andrew, led with the headline: Putin Falsely Claims that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Wants to Subdue Ukrainian Church, Profit From It.
The statement, signed by National Commander Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, Archon Aktouarios, says that “the Order of Saint Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, notes with disappointment the words of Russian?President Vladimir Putin on the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s recent decision to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church…none of the claims made at the?press conference in Moscow on December 20 are true…The granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church actually makes the Ukrainian Church less dependent, not more dependent, upon the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to which Putin derisively refers to as ‘Turkey, the Turkish patriarchate.’ Putin’s frustration is that the Ukrainian Church is no longer dependent upon the Russian Church, or state, for that matter.”
“His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew explained this on Thursday, November 29, 2018, when he?received delegates?of the?Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy, including Russian deputy Sergei Gavrilov. His All-Holiness?noted that granting autocephaly to the Churches had not augmented, but reduced the domain of the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself: “Certainly this has had as a consequence an enormous reduction in the flock of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, reduced to the outskirts of Constantinople, for political reasons,” and the statement continued, ”Nonetheless, His All-Holiness stated,?‘We believe that granting autocephaly is doing the right thing. We believe that it is their right to have their own autocephaly, which all the countries and peoples of the Balkans have obtained precisely from Constantinople.’”
The Archons’ statement also says that Putin also claimed that the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s action was?a “blatant breach of religious freedoms. His All-Holiness, on the contrary, explained that autocephaly granted the Ukrainians’ religious freedom, as the Ukrainians had the same right to independence as other Orthodox: ‘As all Orthodox peoples have received their autocephaly, this right also belongs to the millions of Ukrainians who have been living for years in a situation of absurd schism. And to satisfy their will and their just request, they addressed the Mother Church of Constantinople, as all the other peoples have done in the past.’”
The statement concludes with the declaration that “The Order regrets the baseless aspersions that President Putin has cast upon the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We hope that he will make a more sober appraisal of the situation, and realize that the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not profit in any material way from the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. Doing so was a matter of Canon Law, religious freedom rights, and simple justice. We hope and pray that it will be the occasion for a spiritual renewal in the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and for harmony and peace in the Orthodox Christian Church worldwide.”