When Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made the historic decision to recognize the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which was established in December 2018, the reactions on the part of the Russian Patriarchate, namely Putin, were very strong. This resulted in the intimidation of the other patriarchates and the autocephalous Orthodox churches, which for alpha or beta reasons were influenced, though they should not have been, by the Moscow Patriarchate.
Of course, the consequences of his actions did not escape the knowledge of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
Nevertheless, the Ecumenical Patriarch made the brave decision to move forward, to do his duty, and to put the Patriarchate on the right side of history.
Political analysts noted then that beyond the ecclesiastical aspects, there is also a geopolitical side to the issue, which made the patriarchal decision even more important for the West, and therefore more beneficial, now and in the future, for the Patriarchate as well.
And nowadays the geopolitical side has taken on dangerous dimensions as the armed forces of Russia and NATO member states have taken up a firing position opposite each other.
Nevertheless, the other patriarchates and autocephalous churches – with the exception of Greece and Cyprus, although the Church of Albania was sadly not among them – under various pretexts, avoided taking public stands.
Hellenism, however, could not remain ‘neutral’. It had to support the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. It would be unthinkable for Bartholomew’s decision not to receive support, at least among some of the other patriarchates, in which – as weakened as they are – the Russian Patriarchate can and does exert influence to varying degrees.
The Russian Patriarchate, therefore, according to information available about that period, exercised all its influence and used all the means at its disposal to prevent the recognition of the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine.
Nevertheless, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Theodoros, did not surrender. He did not play games. He made the hard but right decision to recognize the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. He put his ecclesiastical and patriotic interests above all others, knowing that he would pay a price.
And indeed last week the Russian Patriarchate struck, taking revenge. It carried out an ecclesiastical coup against the Patriarchate of Alexandria, robbing it of about 102 of its clergymen from eight African countries. Everyone can imagine the ruthless means they used to achieve this.
One could assume that after this move by the Russians would weaken the Patriarchate of Alexandria and that the other patriarchates would be strengthened.
The opposite will happen. The Patriarchate of Alexandria, will gain an aura of heroism, inspiring with its moral stand and attracting believers even from communities that have succumbed to the temptations of the Moscow Patriarchate.
And the opposite will happen with the other Patriarchates. They are the ones that will go into further decline, losing even more their moral status and identity.
However, this brings to the fore another issue: The need to reconsider the strategy of Hellenism towards the patriarchates and to craft a new strategy for dealing with Russian influence in them.
Hellenism is not helpless in this matter. It has quite powerful tools that it can use if it realizes the important role they play.
Patriarch Theodoros won our admiration with his brave decision on the Ukrainian matter.
But this alone is not enough.
Hellenism, but also our Community, must support Theodore – while at the same time pressure the other patriarchs to do their duty.