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The Sunday of Orthodoxy and the Divided Church

March 16, 2023
Analysis by Theodore Kalmoukos

On March 5, which was the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the newly elected Archbishop Georgios of Cyprus made his first official visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The visit in ecclesiastical language is called ‘the peaceful visit; and it was done according to the long-standing tradition of the Church. The Cypriot Archbishop co-celebrated the Divine Liturgy with Patriarch Bartholomew and members of his Synod, an act which manifests the unity of the two churches of Cyprus and Constantinople.

On the same day Metropolitan Epiphanios of Kiev and All Ukraine made his ‘peaceful visit’ to the Patriarchate of Alexandria, which is second in rank in the system of the Orthodox Church. He co-celebrated the Divine Liturgy with Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria and his Holy Synod and, in this case also, the Eucharistic unity was manifested between the Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine.

Both visits and co-celebrations of the Divine Liturgy are acts of high ecclesiastical importance not simply symbolically but also ontologically, because what manifests the ‘Christocentrism’ (την Χριστοκεντρικότητα) of the Church is participation in the Paschal Supper of Christ and in the Common Cup.

All of these things are good and blessed and according to the ecclesiological and canonical ordinances of the Orthodox Church, but we should admit that there continues to exist in the relations of the Orthodox Churches around the world a spirit and status of division regarding Ukrainian Autocephaly. This issue has unfortunately created a visible rupture, with churches distancing themselves from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Except for the three Greek-speaking churches of Greece, Cyprus and Alexandria, the rest of local Slavonic speaking churches and also two more Greek speaking ones, the churches of Albania and Jerusalem, continue to hold a ‘wait and see’ attitude regarding Ukrainian Autocephaly and at least for now, they don’t show any signs of an intention for resolve the issue.

Certainly, the comforting and encouraging thing is that the above-mentioned ‘contrariety’ churches, except Moscow, have not interrupted Eucharistic Communion and the commemoration of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Thank God for that because the opposite would be not only tragic but catastrophic for the Orthodox Church.

I am aware of the games that the Patriarchate of Moscow plays and the influence which it exercises on the Slavic Churches, incidents of ‘ecclesiological imperialism’ if not gangsterism. One case is that of Moscow’s ‘invasion’ of the Patriarchate of Alexandria with the creation of an Exarchy there. It is a punitive move in response to Patriarch Theodore recognizing Ukrainian Autocephaly. Here we have unbelievable Muscovite behaviors of blatant politicalization and hooliganism.

To make the long story short, it is very clear that there is a serious problem of tears and division in the Orthodox Church, a bloody wound which needs to be healed immediately because are times are extremely dangerous.

And one more thing: The situation will worsen even more if Bartholomew gives in to the recommendations he receives from some members of his Patriarchal Court to grant Autocephaly to Skopje. Until now he held his stance: let us wait and see how things will develop; we are not in a hurry. If in the end he grants Autocephaly to Skopje that will lead to the widening of the divisions of the Orthodox Church, but also the further darkening of his fame after thirty years of a glorious Patriarchy, and that would be a pity. Truly, what kind of an Orthodox Church does he want to leave behind?

Let me say this also: Beyond the general manufactured climate of division in World Orthodoxy, Bartholomew soon or later will have to deal with our painful inner problems. Regarding the issue of his legacy and good name I remind that the noisy failure and littleness of the past four years in America have reflected negatively on the Patriarch and unfortunately on our venerable center of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

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