The new year brings new challenges for Orthodoxy due to the latest round of aggressive policies enacted by the Moscow Patriarchate, which literally ‘invaded’ the ancient Patriarchate of Alexandria, stealing away 102 of its clergymen and establishing its own exarchate in Africa.
Ecclesiastically speaking, this encroachment is considered an act of hostility and carries severe punishment, including the suspension of communion with the ecclesiastical authority that sanctioned the intrusion.
Meanwhile, Moscow is already threatening similar action in modern-day Turkey, which constitutes the canonical territory of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The recognition of the Ukrainian Church’s autocephaly by the heads of the Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Cyprus, and Greece has angered Moscow and serves to predispose Hellenism regarding Russian nationalism’s self-serving intentions.
Whatever the cause of Russia’s ire, resorting to anticanonical actions evidences that Moscow has ulterior motives. The Moscow Patriarchate had every opportunity to avail itself of the centuries-old established synodical practice for resolving disputes and request a definitive settlement to the question of Ukrainian autocephaly at the Holy and Great Synod of 2016.
There, with the help of the other Slavic Churches, it would have secured the necessary votes to block any decision it viewed as contrary to its interests and impose a solution tailored to its needs. Evidently, Moscow’s provocative stance represents more than just a proportionate response to the issuance of the Tome of Autocephaly by Constantinople.
Moscow’s main problem seems to be Constantinople’s ecumenicity. It disputes it with every opportunity, which explains why it attempted to torpedo the Synod of 2016. Incidentally, this Synod was supposed to be held in Constantinople, but was relocated, at the request of Moscow, to the ‘friendlier confines’ of Crete, due to Russian-Turkish hostilities existent at that time. Nonetheless, Moscow found another reason to abstain and hence avoid the de facto recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s honorary status as ‘first among equals.’
Moscow’s unwillingness likely didn’t have anything to do with the then bad Russian-Turkish bilateral relations (which markedly improved just a few months later) nor with other pretexts it cited, but rather with its active undermining of the ancient and definitive conciliar ranking of Constantinople as Orthodoxy’s honorary senior see.
Since the onset of the Pan-Slavism movement in the 19th century and the rise of nationalism, Russia loses no opportunity to move against the Ecumenical Throne’s privileges and challenge the status quo. This includes illicit granting of autocephaly to its erstwhile eparchies (i.e., Czechia and Slovakia, the Russian Metropolia in America AKA, OCA) and usurping rights that do not belong to it, while establishing exarchates outside of its canonical jurisdiction.
Recently, it has expanded its ‘hostilities’ to the media, setting up an entire network of propaganda, including attempts to influence Greek or Greek Diaspora outlets with its rubles. Sadly, the motives of the Moscow Patriarchate’s current leadership do not appear to be based on spiritual criteria or adhere to established ecclesiastical tradition. On the contrary, they are founded on completely secular criteria, with Moscow justifying its claims by pointing to its wealth and large flock… as if Christ appeared on Earth as a rich man or military commander! It is obvious that the logic espoused by Moscow and its current patriarch is diametrically opposed to that of the Gospel.
The establishment of the honorary ranking of the Churches is the work of Ecumenical Councils and has stood the test of time for centuries for historical reasons, along with the significance and symbolism that the ancient patriarchates hold in inter-Orthodox and international relations.
Still, Moscow’s practices can be attributed to nationalistic delusions and an ethnocentric love of primacy. But what excuse do Greeks who turn against the institution of the Great Church of Christ have? Acerbic voices looking to alienate the Mother Church from its historic eparchies or poison relations between Autocephalous Churches possessing a Greek Orthodox flock and the Phanar are – knowingly or unknowingly – serving Moscow’s agenda, whose motives are hardly aimed at the unity of the faith.
The Phanar is no stranger to martyrdom. It experiences it daily and embodies Christ’s words to St. Paul that “power is made perfect in infirmity.” Although it is surrounded by hostile elements seeking its eradication and belittlement, it manages to survive, and even maintain the grandeur and dignity of Romanity.
In contrast to the Vatican, with its ultra-consolidation of power, or the Moscow Patriarchate with its reliance on the Kremlin but supreme failure to comprehend the Lord’s commandment that “he that is the greatest among you shall be your servant,” the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s polity proves to be the most consistent with the spirit of the Gospel.
During the celebration of the bicentennial of the Greek Revolution of 1821, a look back at Hellas’ modern history reveals a pattern of Russian opportunism and wishy-washiness that left Hellenism in the lurch. This year’s observation of the centennial of the Asia Minor Catastrophe will provide many opportunities to review the calamities that befell the Greeks of Anatolia and the Phanar, as well as their legacy and contribution in shaping modern Greece. With this in mind, it is unconscionable for Greeks – clergy or laity, journalist or politician – to betray the Ecumenical Patriarchate for thirty pieces of silver and hand it over to its would-be crucifiers.
Greek antagonists of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are proving themselves to be Moscow’s stooges, and this begs the question of what they are receiving for their ‘services’. Naturally, there are also those with inferiority complexes who attack the Phanar purely out of spite…
The times, however, are challenging and demand concord and a united front. Hellenism worldwide will always need to pass on the light of the faith proceeding from the unwaning lamp burning vigilantly at the Venerable Center of Orthodox in Constantinople to the coming generations.
Hellenism has had its fair share of Ephialteses. What it needs now are more Cosmases of Aetolia, Germanoses of Kastoria, and Chrysostoms of Smyrna.
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