The events surrounding the Orthodox Church in Ukraine that escalated at the end of last year and the beginning of this one have clearly shown the true intentions not just of those involved in the split, but of their supporters as well. President Poroshenko has demonstrated that the decision to create an autocephalous church is necessary for his election campaign. The actions of Patriarch Bartholomew I have shown that he is using the situation to advance his own interests, first and foremost to seize new canonical territories. And, by siding with the schismatics, Washington has shown that it is pursuing its long-held goal of destroying the Orthodox Church throughout the world.
The church issue has been essential for improving Poroshenko’s ratings on the eve of the presidential election. The Ukrainian president’s extremely low popularity among the people was proving a serious threat to his plans to be re-elected for a second term. The loss of his authority and immunity would not only put him at risk but his whole business empire, which has seen incredible growth during his time in office. So, for him, winning the presidential election is a matter of life and death. Every effort is being made to achieve this, including the spectacular move of promoting his image as the founder of the national church.
Poroshenko is having to risk everything, however. There is no guarantee that efforts to create a unified local autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine will increase his popularity among the Ukrainian people and ensure election victory, and they could even risk the independence of the church itself. Hence he was initially prepared to use formal aspects of the procedure for obtaining a tomos – a decree on autocephaly. In an effort to hide the blatant violations and unattainability of his stated goals from the voters, however, the Ukrainian president hurriedly made a big show of announcing the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) before the process had been completed. Particular importance was given to his appearances in public holding a scroll (the tomos).
Yet it is important to stress that no autocephaly has actually been granted. There are a number of indications that the newly established OCU is not a local church. First, bishops will be appointed in Istanbul, whereas the status of a local church should grant such powers to Kiev. Second, the canonisation of saints will also take place in Istanbul, although a local church has the right to do this itself. Third, the chrism – a special oil used in religious services and a sacred element of the Orthodox church – will be produced in Istanbul too.
Attention should also be paid to the appointment of 39-year-old Metropolitan Epiphany, who has had a meteoric career under the false patriarch Filaret, as head of the OCU. Filaret couldn’t head the new church himself, but has maintained his position and influence within its structure. Nothing like it has ever been seen before in the history of the Church. It is possible for an official leader to be subordinate to an unofficial one in political parties, but not the Church. That is why there isn’t a single Orthodox church rushing to recognise what has happened in Kiev.
Local Orthodox churches have also reacted negatively because there are many other issues to raise with Patriarch Bartholomew I besides the split in Ukraine. He has repeatedly violated church canons over the past few years, including serving Catholics and blessing the bigamy of priests, which has been unacceptable since ancient times.
It seems that the head of the Constantinople Patriarchate does not regard either ancient canons or rules of law as immutable. Rather, he is seeking to establish his own rules by increasingly laying claim to the status of an “Eastern Pope”, a status that neither belongs to him nor theoretically exists. The events surroundings the Ukrainian church seemed to have pushed him towards actively expanding the influence of Phanar. The decision to grant the tomos to the OCU was not the only managerial move of its kind. It was preceded by the legally insignificant revocation of the 1686 tomos on the separation of the Kiev Metropolis from the Constantinople Orthodox Church and its accession to the Moscow Patriarchate. After that, Patriarch Bartholomew I revoked the tomos that he had granted to the Exarchate of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe in 1999. A total of three tomoi virtually simultaneously.
This kind of “grant a tomos, revoke a tomos” policy cannot fail to impact the effectiveness of the instrument itself and the authority of those who used it. Indeed, not only has Patriarch Bartholomew I failed to achieve his desired goals, he has undermined the status of the tomos. Just like both of Phanar’s decisions regarding the church in Ukraine, his attempt to subjugate the Orthodox Russian parishes in western Europe has simply failed.
The clergy of Orthodox Russian churches in western Europe has stressed that interference in the internal life of the exarchate is illegal from the standpoint of both canon and civil law. The fate of the exarchate will be decided at a general assembly to be held on 23 February 2019. Several options are being considered: joining the Russian Orthodox Church abroad; self-government or broad autonomy within the Moscow Patriarchate; or moving under the wing of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The latter has its own difficulties, however, since church organisations in Romania have official status.
Thus, the decisions of the head of the Constantinople Church with regards to both the western European exarchate and the new local church in Ukraine clearly demonstrate his ambitions. Such actions undermine the status of the tomos as a document recognised by all churches, effectively making it nothing more than a patriarch’s personal decree.
And what about the US?
Washington is actively and progressively dividing Orthodoxy in Ukraine, and it is being done on a variety of levels using a broad arsenal of methods.
In April 2018, after Poroshenko announced his intention to create an autocephalous church in Ukraine, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, visited Istanbul and met with Patriarch Bartholomew I. A short while later, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine requested a tomos from the Constantinople Patriarchate. In response, Phanar announced that the procedures necessary to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine had begun.
Meanwhile, the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, which is part of the Constantinople Patriarchate, also appealed to Phanar to grant autocephaly to Ukraine. At the same time, the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, met with the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Shevchuk. It is known that, prior to this meeting, the Greek Catholics were fairly sceptical of autocephaly and the creation of the OCU, justifiably fearing that it would strengthen Orthodox believers and reduce the influence of Greek Catholics in western Ukraine. After the meeting, however, they spoke more positively about the OCU.
In addition, in April 2018, Geoffrey Pyatt, former US ambassador to Ukraine and current US ambassador to Greece, met with priests from the Athos monasteries to discuss important Orthodoxy-related issues throughout the world. Following his trip to Mt Athos, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church began experiencing problems entering Greece.
There is no doubt that unofficial channels were used to ensure Washington’s influence over Phanar. To begin with, there is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, or rather certain of its priests such as Protopresbyter Alexander Karloutsos, who handles the money being sent from the US to Phanar. Journalist Justine Frangouli-Argyris, author of a biography on the former Archbishop of America, Spyridon, writes: “Since at least the 1990s, Father Alexander has handled the cash moving from the US to Istanbul. In fact, this is the lion’s share of the money on which Phanar lives. The proceeds from small parishes in Turkey or Greece are minuscule compared with the money that comes from the rich Greek American community. It has made him the most important person in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and given him unprecedented leverage over the hierarchy.”
Given the scale and intensity of America’s efforts to create an autocephalous church in Ukraine, there can be little doubt that it has an interest in a church schism in the country. Not only did Washington support the schismatics, it actually initiated many of their moves.
And America’s actions with regard to the Orthodox church in Ukraine and Russia are understandable. According to Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former adviser to President Carter: “After the victory over communism, we [America] need a split of Orthodoxy and the breakdown of Russia…” It is an old plan and they are long-held goals, but what do their aspirations mean for the rest of the world?
Provoking conflicts in the Orthodox world has become a new area of US intervention in the internal affairs of other states, and the geographical spread of their activities is expanding rapidly. Besides Ukraine itself, the Ukrainian schism will directly affect Russia, Turkey, and Greece. Attempts to fuel dissension are currently being observed in the Balkans. At the core is the same autocephalous principle and the territorial breakup of the united Serbian Orthodox Church into Montenegrin, Macedonian and other churches.
Perhaps it gives a new understanding of why Brzezinski called the Orthodox Church the biggest enemy of the US. Being a restraining force, Orthodoxy hinders the introduction of a new morality, something that is essential for exercising control over the masses.