Editor’s note: The following article was submitted in response to a recent article entitled, “The End of Post-Soviet Religion: Russian Orthodoxy as a National Church.”
The End of Post-Soviet Religion
The Ecumenical Patriarchate as a National Church
There were many ways the EP could have chosen to go with the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the EP under the leadership of Athenagoras sided completely with the United States and the NATO powers in order to set itself on the side of human freedom against the godless atheism of the Communists. The EP tried to position itself as an instrument to ensure that while the Soviets made inroads into the traditional lands of the patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria the synods of these Churches would remain anti-communist and pro-west.
The EP also tried to position itself as a multi-national church entity with a jurisdiction over lands not officially part of any autocephalous church. During the Russian Civil War, it granted autocephaly to churches in eastern Europe. It created archdioceses throughout the world. The version of Hellenism promoted by the EP was one of a universal cultural inheritance that was above any kind of racial or ethnic identity. When the EP received the Carpatho-Russians and later the Ukrainians in North America, all were allowed to retain their distinctive languages and liturgical traditions.
The EP also promoted the idea of a Pan-Orthodox Synod to help coordinate the efforts of the Orthodox Churches according to the traditional conciliar model of governance. The EP considered itself as first among equals among the hierarchs. Its role as a presider over Pan-Orthodox gatherings was to find a consensus of the Churches – not impose its own will.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, the EP had the choice to continue in this inclusive and multi-ethnic vision of Orthodoxy exercised with its synodal view of its primacy. Over the course of thirty years since the fall of the Soviet Union, it seems these higher ideals have been cast aside in favor of Greek nationalism and a subservience to the agenda of the western powers – namely the United States.
The breaking point was the failed Council of Crete – which was the culmination of the dream of Athenagoras to host a Pan-Orthodox Synod. The dream of this kind of new synodal structure was undone, however, by the racial loyalties of the EP and its desire to accommodate the religious sensitivities of the western powers.
The churches of Jerusalem and Antioch had broken communion over the territorial issue of Qatar. The patriarchate of Jerusalem, an ethnically Greek oligarchy ruling over an Arabic flock, had used the political rift between the Emir of Qatar and the Assad regime of Syria to place an Archbishop on the up-until-then undisputed canonical territory of Antioch. Since Antioch was not in communion with Jerusalem, its representatives declined to sign off on attending the Crete Council until the EP helped to arbitrate the dispute. In a clear instance of the EP prizing its consanguinity with Jerusalem, it refused to address the issue until after Crete – betraying the principles of the Soviet era.
The documents to be decided upon in Crete were meant to be more ecumenical in outlook and less combative on the moral issues faced in the secularized West. These documents met fierce opposition in many church circles – particularly with monastics of Mount Athos. The ambiguity of some of the documents led the churches of Georgia and Bulgaria to rescind their commitments to attend Crete. In this case, the pro-western agenda of the EP was chosen over Orthodox conciliarity.
Since the failed council of Crete, the EP has chosen to take the course of its nationalistic and pro-western orientation to the fullest extent. Out of revenge for what it considers the Russian influence over the decisions of Georgia, Bulgaria, and Antioch, the EP decided to unilaterally grant autocephaly to the Orthodox in the new nation of Ukraine. This decision was a complete rejection of everything the EP had proclaimed about autocephaly during the Soviet period about Orthodox synodality and primacy. It also granted the autocephaly to those it had previously recognized as schismatic and anathema.
In order to justify this brazen power grab, the EP relied on its supposed status as a race chosen by God to lead Orthodoxy. The EP used calls to racial solidarity to rally the Greek Church and Patriarchate of Alexandria to support his new church in Ukraine. He abandoned the Soviet era multi-national, synodal vision for a new ecclesiology of Constantinople as a “Light” and “Primate” and “Head” of Orthodoxy instead of Christ – because somehow God chose his race to have this primacy.
The EP’s decision to align itself with the United States and western elites also came to a fruition with these actions in Ukraine. The US had fomented a “color revolution” to separate Ukraine from Russia’s desire to create a counterbalance to the EU – a Pan-Eurasian Union. The US was actively involved in the change of government in Ukraine. One of the State Department envoys, Geoffrey Pyatt, was recorded on the phone with other officials deciding which Ukrainian would be chosen as the next president. This same Geoffry Pyatt was sent to the EP, Mount Athos, and Greece to further cement the alliance of the EP with western political interests by helping bring about the new autocephaly in Ukraine.
We now see the failed fruits of these efforts in Haghia Sophia being returned to its status as a mosque. The EP has completely given itself over to its nationalistic identity and alliance with the western powers, and now its racial grievance over the status of “the Great Church of the Nation” has been only weakly supported by its supposed friends. The Orthodox Church of Russia, with its close relationship to the Russian State, is in a weaker position to leverage its political power due to EP’s involvement in international politicking.
This sad state of the Post-Soviet era EP is a catalog of missed opportunities to place itself at the head of a powerful and united Orthodox Church of equal nations and ethnicities united in Her proclamation of the Gospel in these uncertain and difficult times.