Arabic original here.
The Ukrainian Crucible between Moscow and Constantinople:
Who will Prevent the Coming Schism in Orthodoxy?
The situation in global Orthodoxy is worrisome. Its catholic unity is threatened while it still has not yet healed from the repercussions of the 2016 “Council of Crete”. The manner of preparing it and holding it with the presence of some rather than all of the Orthodox churches and its decisions has resulted in complications and a rift between the fourteen Orthodox patriarchates. It appears that in the Ukrainian crisis raging between the two poles of Orthodoxy, the Greek and the Russian, we are headed for the first application of “majority rule” in universal Orthodox ecclesiastical decisions, at the expense of a logic of unanimity, the standard that must prevail in order to prevent schism, especially with regard to decisions to grant autocephaly to a region within the universal Church.
On the surface, the crisis centers on the intention of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, at the request of Ukrainian political officials, to grant the church in Ukraine ecclesiastical independence and so make it an independent church like the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox patriarchates. Constantinople is acting individualistically in this dangerous endeavor, considering it her right as the “Mother church” of the Church of Kiev, as the process of evangelizing the Slavic countries was launched at her hands from Thessaloniki, from the womb of Byzantine Christianity, by the Byzantine monks Cyril and Methodius. Constantinople adds that it was she who baptized Vladimir the Great on July 28, 988 and through him all the Kievan Rus, an event that changed the entire geopolitical map of Christianity. She continues her case by saying that the metropolitan and metropolis of Kiev were dependent on her for a long period of time.
As for the Russians, they say that the metropolitan of Kiev’s glow diminished with the rise of Muscovy, where he sought refuge after the Tatar invasions of the 13th century, placing himself under the protection of the rulers of Russia, first in Vladimir and then in Moscow. The Ukrainian church became increasingly dependent on Moscow when the latter received autocephaly from Constantinople in 1589 as a new patriarchate, and even more so with the rise of the power of the Cossacks in Ukraine, as they defended it from Tatar and Polish attacks. There followed a great deal of give-and-take between Constantinople and Moscow, until the Russians held a local council in 1685 to confirm Moscow’s ecclesiastical authority in choosing and electing the new metropolitan of Kiev. Moscow says that Constantinople acquiesced in the end and granted a patriarchal tomos in May of 1686, confirming Moscow’s ecclesiastical authority over Kiev and agreeing to the appointment of a metropolitan for it who had been elected in Moscow. Moscow also says that Constantinople’s agreement is still in force after more than 330 years by the recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which, despite all the schisms in Ukraine, still recognizes the autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Moscow.
Vacillation began with the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s independence in 1991, when discussions of autocephaly began between Constantinople and some of the schismatic Orthodox in Ukraine. While Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew recognizes the exclusive representation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Patriarchate of Moscow, he has on more than one occasion indicated, criticizing the agreement of 1686, that political interventions made with the Sublime Porte and that the events of 1686 amount to an annexation of Ukraine.
It is evident to everyone today that the driving forces of this crisis are not only ecclesiastical, but also overlap with global political rivalries between Russia and the West. President Poroshenko of Ukraine is acting openly and encouraging the Ukrainian parliament and its Western allies to obtain ecclesiastical independence from Russia. The NATO-aligned West once more wants to encircle Russia and to prevent it from expanding to the west, while Russia wants to foil these schemes in preparation to dominate Eastern Europe and encircle Western Europe using influence and gas. Over the course of history, the geography of Ukraine has been a territory disputed between the East and the West and has been at the heart of Russia’s geopolitics of defending the country’s interior since the rise of tsarism. The Russians do not forget the words of Bismark, “If you want to defeat Russia, strike her in Ukraine.” The fall of tsarist Russia in 1917 awakened a desire for ecclesiastical independence in order to get out from under the mantle of the Russian church that was inseparable from the defeated tsarist state. This desire reappeared after the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s independence in 1991.
Today both Moscow and Constantinople fiercely defend their historical rights in Ukraine, displaying their historical ties and documents. Successive shuttle visits by the foreign ministers of the two patriarchates, the Russian Metropolitan Hilarion and the Constantinopolitan Metropolitan Emmanuel of France to the Orthodox churches in order to mobilize them are merely an indication of the severity of the situation and a prelude to the big confrontation. Deep down, however, Ukraine is only an expression of the general crisis of Orthodoxy. It is not a crisis of unity of faith or ecclesiological unity, but rather a crisis of ecclesiastical governance centered on the sin of love of primacy that strikes at integration between the churches in the interest of competition and opens the way for global geopolitical interventions in the Orthodox Church. It is also a crisis of modernity. The Orthodox Church, which was Eastern in character and geography, in the twentieth century became globalized in form without being globalized in substance and institutionalization. Her governance has remained traditional, without any arrangement for regular meetings between the patriarchs for consultation, integration and prevention of the competition that is pushing the Orthodox Church further and further toward fragmentation and schism instead of integration, collaboration and unity. The responsibility of the ecclesiastical leadership is great because it still acts in a traditional manner and does not rise to the level and dimensions of these dangers.
The question remains today, who will prevent the schism in Ukraine, of which the foreign minister of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Metropolitan Hilarion, spoke, comparing it, if it occurs, to the Great Schism of 1054?