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Orthodox Messes Great And Small

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, left, marches with Moscow Patriarch Kirill, in 2010 religious festival (De Visu/Shutterstock [1])

“Why don’t you ever blog about bad things going on in your own church, the Orthodox Church?” people sometimes ask. The answer is because we don’t get a lot of news about it, and besides, there are so few Orthodox in the US that we are a drop in the ocean. However, I regret to inform you that there is some bad news.

There’s a terrible battle underway in the Orthodox world, with massive stakes. It hasn’t been much noticed in the US press. From Sandro Magister’s report on his Settimo Cielo blog: [2]

It is the conflict that has Ukraine as its epicenter and is dramatically dividing the Orthodox world, with ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew on one side and on the other the patriarch of Moscow “and all Rus,” Kirill.

Bartholomew will be there in Bari. But not Kirill, who will instead be represented by his head of external relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. Who a few days ago sternly rejected yet again the idea of creating an autonomous Orthodox Church in Ukraine, going so far as to say that “blood will flow” if this is legitimized and therefore removed from the jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Moscow. And legitimized by whom? By none other than the patriarch of Constantinople, who would have the discretion to do this in that he is traditionally “primus inter pares” among all the heads of Orthodoxy.

change_me

Settimo Cielo provided one month ago, after Metropolitan Hilarion’s visit to the Vatican, the essential facts of the dispute, which in spite of being primarily internal to Orthodoxy also involves the Catholic Church to a significant extent, especially after Pope Francis lined up solidly on the side of the Russian Orthodox Church:

More:

Currently in Ukraine there are three Orthodox communities. The only one canonically recognized by the whole of Orthodoxy, with Metropolitan Onufry, is the one subject to the patriarchate of Moscow. But in addition there is an independent patriarchate created and still headed by a former high-ranking official of the Russian Church, Filaret. And finally there is another Ukrainian Orthodox Church that has proclaimed itself as such, with Metropolitan Methodius.

So then, for some time there has been a very strong push in Ukraine to rejoin these three great trunks in a single autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, under the wings not of Moscow but of the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew.

If the Ukrainian Orthodox united under an autocephalous church, doing so would take away 40 percent of the Russian Orthodox Church’s parishes, and make the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church the second-largest Orthodox church in the world (behind Russia).

Read the whole thing. [2] This is all tied up in geopolitics too, in particular the Russia-Ukraine war.

On Monday, Patriarch Bartholomew met with Patriarch Kirill in Moscow. No word yet on what they decided. [A reader points out that this fact, reported by Magister, is incorrect; Bartholomew was not in Moscow. — RD] For those not in the know, Orthodoxy has no pope. Bartholomew, who lives in Istanbul (Constantinople), is called the “ecumenical” patriarch because he is seen as the first among equals — a symbolic figure of unity. In truth, there is a strong rivalry between his see and Moscow, which has considered itself the de facto leader of world Orthodoxy since Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453.

Meanwhile, here in America, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has just concluded its 44th annual Clergy Laity conference with Mike Psaros, its national treasurer — who was brought in from the private sector to fix the disastrous accounts stemming from financial corruption — resigning in disgust as the delegates shredded his balanced budget. [3] Said Psaros:

“I am a global businessman. I own and operate multimillion dollar global corporations. Can you imagine any for-profit enterprise institutionalizing a budget where expenses exceed revenues? And for that reason I have decided in honor of my family, my family name, to step down from my position as treasurer.

“I cannot take my name, my family’s name and my reputation and attach it to this budget. For clarity, I will serve to the rest of my term because I was raised the right way and I am a gentleman and I have made a commitment.”

The priests’ pension fund is deeply in the red because it hasn’t been funded for the past few years. It seems that money that was supposed to have been deposited in that fund has gone missing. An observer for the Greek Orthodox press called the event a “tragicomedy” [4] and “an angry mob dressed in religiosity.”:

I saw a clergy full of pain and anger with the absence of the Bishopric paternity so visible and begging from Archbishop Demetrios himself, who was sitting as a simple observer, speechless, inexpressible, and ignored.

Terrible, terrible. We cannot afford this. We cannot afford any of this.

36 Comments (Open | Close)

36 Comments To "Orthodox Messes Great And Small"

#1 Comment By timmy_the_lemur On July 10, 2018 @ 3:40 am

“On Monday, Patriarch Bartholomew met with Patriarch Kirill in Moscow.”

Huh? No… Metropolitans Emmanuel of France and Bartholomew of Smyrna visited Moscow. These are the same two bishops who have visited I think by now all the autocephalous churches to discuss the Ukraine issue. I think Magister saw “Bartholomew” and got them confused.

[5]

#2 Comment By Kirt Higdon On July 10, 2018 @ 7:19 am

If the Patriarch of Constantinople claims the authority to decide which bishops are legitimate and which aren’t, how is this any different from the Pope’s claims except for the latter’s claims being of longer standing and more prestige since the church of Rome dates to Apostolic times?

#3 Comment By First_Deacon On July 10, 2018 @ 7:48 am

well, if you want to pile on the Orthodox a bit, there is also this
[6]

If one has to live with messes in one’s church, I’d rather have financial malfeasance and mismanagement, lukewarm parishioners, and battles over ethnicity, language, and global politics, than the lavender mafia of the Catholic church, or the heresy and apostasy of much of the Episcopal and other mainlines (if you want more bad news on that front, just follow the updates on the ongoing 2018 TEC general convention).

All the same, this really is disheartening. But in the end, if the Orthodox Church is really the true Church (and I believe it is) where else is there to go?

[NFR: I agree with you. A thousand million times better to have to deal with these problems than the other. Still, these problems are compromising our witness. — RD]

#4 Comment By JonF On July 10, 2018 @ 8:38 am

There’s a similar, though much smaller, problem in Macedonia, where the Macedonian Orthodox Church is in the middle of a tug-of-war between the Serbian patriarch (backed by Russia), the Ecumenical Patriarch, and the Bulgarian patriarch.

#5 Comment By Jason On July 10, 2018 @ 8:52 am

If Kirill wants to preserve the Russian Orthodox Church’s jurisdiction in Ukraine, which is perhaps reasonable, he should demonstrate his sincerity and good will by taking serious steps to end Russian military aggression in the sovereign Ukrainian state. Or is he simply too much a poodle now of Putin to do that?

#6 Comment By Brendan On July 10, 2018 @ 9:00 am

By none other than the patriarch of Constantinople, who would have the discretion to do this in that he is traditionally “primus inter pares” among all the heads of Orthodoxy.

He doesn’t actually have the power or the “discretion” to do this. He is not a Pope. He has no specific jurisdiction in Ukraine. The idea that the EP has jurisdiction everywhere the Phanar says he does is a joke, really.

Is this dispute unfortunate and annoying? Yes, it is. But the foundation of the dispute is the reality that the EP, as an institution, is dysfunctional — it is a shell of its former self, based in an Islamic city that will never be Constantinople again, and is tied to the fortunes (literally) of the Greek diaspora churches. It is in no shape to lead the Orthodox Church as a whole, even as primus-inter-pares. The EP should either be moved to a location that makes more sense, or the primacy should be passed to the church that actually, you know, leads Orthodoxy in the world — not the rump patriarchate in Istanbul.

I realize that this seems like a “partisan” position, but it’s not. At the very heart of the dysfunction in Orthodoxy structurally lies the utterly dysfunctional EP — unless that situation is fixed, the structural disarray in Orthodoxy will continue.

#7 Comment By Rob Maloney On July 10, 2018 @ 9:02 am

Orthodoxy, perhaps as implied by its name, has at times a tendency to think of itself as the “true” faith, granting that almost all Christian denominations have believed this, at one time or another. Didn’t the monks of Mt. Athos freak out when Pope John Paul II visited Greece? I once attended a talk about Eastern Rite Catholics given by a Ruthenian Catholic priest. He still seemed to resent the imposition of celibacy on Eastern Rite Catholic priests coming to America by admittedly the lunk-headed Irish-dominated bishops much earlier in the century. Poor ignorant young (at the time) RCs probably didn’t even know this rite existed nor the controversy. Some were put off by the tone. Such is my admittedly superficial impression of orthodoxy.

[NFR: Orthodoxy doesn’t have “at times a tendency.” We really do believe this, openly. As the Catholics do about their faith. This does not mean, of course, that we should, or even have the right to, treat other Christians (and non-Christians) with contempt and disrespect. The Athonite monks ought to have been ashamed of themselves. — RD]

#8 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 10, 2018 @ 9:47 am

Evidently, no man is an island. This is an age of a great apostasy, and all these churches have drunk deeply from the same well and are reeling in dissipation. Sauve qui peut.

#9 Comment By Christopher Jones On July 10, 2018 @ 9:49 am

Warning: pedantry ahead.

called the “ecumenical” patriarch because he is seen as the first among equals

The title “Ecumenical Patriarch” has its origin in the days of the Byzantine Empire. The Greek term “oikoumene” meant “the whole civilized world” and was essentially synonymous with “the whole Empire.” The adjective form “ecumenical” came to mean “pertaining to the Empire or the imperial administration.”

So originally the Patriarch of Constantinople was called the “Ecumenical Patriarch” simply because he was the bishop of the imperial capital. It didn’t refer to his supposed role as “primus inter pares,” because in those days the bishop of Rome was still part of the Orthodox Church and it was he, not the bishop of Constantinople, who was recognized as “primus inter pares.”

That is not to say that the Patriarchs of Constantinople have not, over the centuries, tried to invest the title “Ecumenical Patriarch” with more significance than it originally had — they surely have done. But they have never been able to sell that to the other Orthodox Churches, especially not to Moscow.

#10 Comment By Tony D. On July 10, 2018 @ 10:00 am

I can’t speak to the Ukrainian situation, but as for the U.S. Greeks, St. Paul just about has it covered in his first letter to St. Timothy:

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

1 Timothy 6:10, King James translation

We in the OCA went through this a few years ago, and no doubt will again some day.

#11 Comment By Old West On July 10, 2018 @ 11:00 am

The answer to where the money went is probably found in the first part of the article. The GOA would be in great shape were their primary financial mission not the supporting of a globe-trotting would-be Pope in Constantinople.

The EP has only a few thousand faithful in his historical patriarchate, and can play his games only because of deep American pockets. He has done nothing to try to re-Christianize Turkey, preferring instead to meddle with politics in Eastern Europe and around the globe as though the Byzantine Empire still existed.

Given his love for whatever Rome is up to, don’t be surprised if the EP stirs the cultural pot with a few “who am I to judge” comments of his own. But he won’t do it until he is done messing around in the Ukraine, igniting a new front on their civil war in the process.

#12 Comment By Andrew On July 10, 2018 @ 11:09 am

There is a support network for those abused by clergy in the Orthodox Churches. Sadly, this disgusting plague of abuse is everywhere:

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#13 Comment By MrsCole On July 10, 2018 @ 11:09 am

Wait, they’re under-funding priests’ *pensions*?? You should see the donation requests the GOA sent out the last couple of years for extravagant building projects at the Diakonia retreat center, and for the St.-Nicholas-church-near-the-WTC “rebuilding” in NYC (I’ve seen the plans, it’s a modernist monstrosity). My eyes bugged out a little when they were requesting $100-per-family contributions, with more than a little high-pressure-sales language behind it. Wish I still had the flyer…

#14 Comment By John Peter Presson On July 10, 2018 @ 11:13 am

Just a quick note -the term “ecumenical” have less to do with his role in World Orthodoxy, and is more of a vestigial anachronism from the Byzantine days of the See of Andrew when he was Archbishop of the “Ecumenical” City or center of the known world (or Ecumene). Particularly the last few modern Patriarchs since the 60’s have somewhat usurped the appellation to create some sort of condition of canonicity similar to the modern papacy.

#15 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On July 10, 2018 @ 11:36 am

This is all tied up in geopolitics too, in particular the Russia-Ukraine war.

Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent.

#16 Comment By Will Harrington On July 10, 2018 @ 12:16 pm

To add a bit of information that was missing from your post, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is part of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s see. Without the Arch-diocese, the Patriarchate of Constantinople would be greatly diminished, which may be part of the reason that the EP is considering involving himself in Ukraine, though he seems to have no support from the Orthodox world. If the Arch-diocese in the US rebels or collapses, then Ukraine might be seen as a back up support. Remember, the EP has a congregation of maybe 5000 in Turkey and lives under a rather hostile government. Without direct support from outside Turkey, it is conceivable that the Ecumenical Patriarchate could cease to exist.

#17 Comment By RFB On July 10, 2018 @ 1:16 pm

The Church is a mess. It’s always been a mess. It always will be a mess. Corruption among bishops and priests is the norm, not an exception. Judas was the first corrupt bishop and there has been an endless line of others since. I’ve been reading the Lives of the Saints over the past year and it’s the same story repeated over and over. Many of the saints were persecuted by their fellow clergymen. Corruption was rife in every era. Saints stand for the truth despite the corruption. They are the men and women who carry the Church through troubled times. There are saints living today who will carry us through these times as well.

I’m Catholic but believe that saints exist in most Christian denominations. I have met a few over the course of my life. They may never be officially canonized but they are serving God nonetheless. I’m sure the Orthodox Church has a few so don’t lose heart. God always raises up saints to speak the truth to power.

#18 Comment By Rob Maloney On July 10, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

It is terribly easy to except one’s own group (RC, Orthodox, or anyone) or some idealized group (the Amish) from inclusion in St Paul’s “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. It is a universal failing.

#19 Comment By John On July 10, 2018 @ 1:31 pm

The EP has been emphasizing how placing the see of Kiev under Moscow was not permanent. In theory they could then unilaterally undo that act. The canonical bishops, priests and parishes of UOC-MP would then be under the care of the EP. As much as the Russians are upset with the schismatics and the UGCC, the real conflict is with the EP.

Here is a translation of an EP homily, where he pursues that argument.
[8]

This interview with +Hilarion preceded the homily, but he is very concerned with the possibility of Kiev returning to the EP.

[9]

#20 Comment By JonF On July 10, 2018 @ 2:00 pm

Re: how is this any different from the Pope’s claims except for the latter’s claims being of longer standing and more prestige since the church of Rome dates to Apostolic times?

The bishop of Rome was not appointing other bishops in Apostolic times. Or even during the early Middle Ages, outside of Italy. Bishops were generally named by secular rulers throughout the Middle Age and even into the modern era, with Rome eventually gaining a veto over the appointments. Attempts by various medieval popes to gain wholesale appointment powers were met with strong resistance, mainly due to fears that corrupt popes would use foreign sees as a sinecures for papal favorites and relatives.

#21 Comment By Liam On July 10, 2018 @ 2:43 pm

For historical context about Roman practice with regard to appointing bishops: the current centralized model effectively dates from the establishment of the Kingdom of Belgium in the 1830s, a Catholic country whose first king was Protestant (Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg) and spread over time. (Two generations earlier, Rome was shocked that President Washington didn’t want to control the nomination of the first Catholic bishop of the USA, and the US was considered a mission country (over which Rome traditionally had more control via over episcopal appointments via the jurisdiction of the Propaganda Fide) until 1908, if memory serves.)

#22 Comment By John N On July 10, 2018 @ 2:44 pm

So…uh…the Russian Patriarch is effectively threatening violence unless his ethnicity gets to keep being on top of the Ukrainians “blood will flow”, and everyone here just ignores it? I mean, this is the paragon of the one true Christain way?

And you wonder why we seculars don’t respect this stuff?

#23 Comment By Xenia Grant On July 10, 2018 @ 2:58 pm

Rod:

This article shows that a person like me have no political home in this country. I am a socialist who is against abortion and believes that marriage is between one man and one woman. Economically, I am pro labor, pro union and for the breakup of multinationals. I even go as far as nationalizing an industry or two. I am for full employment (or something close to it), while treating guns like cars in that if one owns a gun, A. Either be a member of the military or B. What is likely to happen and that guns will be treated like cars with insurance premiums, DUI if a person is injured and/or killed, and strict safety measures. Also I am for disability rights and non discriminatory employment. The ADA needs teeth and decent enforcement. When it comes to immigration, the more the merrier. I doubt that ICE will be abolished, but racism and territorialism need to go.

#24 Comment By Old West On July 10, 2018 @ 3:08 pm

John writes: “The EP has been emphasizing how placing the see of Kiev under Moscow was not permanent. In theory they could then unilaterally undo that act.”

This theory requires believing that the EP has the authority to grant and revoke autocephaly unilaterally. This is a specious claim, and one doesn’t need to get into minutiae of canon law to
figure it out.

The EP’s grandiose claims run counter to the whole spirit of Orthodox ecclesiology, which is collegial, not autocratic. There was a Great Schism over the issue of whether one bishop calls the shots for all of the others, and I don’t think we want another one.

I understand that you are just reporting the facts of what the EP claims and not necessarily advocating for the EP position. I’m writing this just to make sure people understand clearly that the idea of the EP being some sort of “Pope of the East” is a distinctly minority opinion within the Orthodox world.

Metropolitan Hilarion is therefore right to be concerned, as I am. But not because the EP has any authority in the Ukraine — only because he has the ability, especially with his Vatican and US State Department and CIA connections (he was developed as a counterweight to the Russian Church during the Cold War when that church was full of KGB agents) to stir up lots of trouble wherever he goes.

#25 Comment By Andrew On July 10, 2018 @ 3:40 pm

The financial malfeasance and the moving of accused sex offenders is also an alleged problem in the Greek Orthodox community in Canada as well. Read the article, notice the metropolitan charges parishes…wait for it…yearly “franchise fees” of $40,000 each. Lord have mercy!

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#26 Comment By VikingLS On July 10, 2018 @ 4:22 pm

“If Kirill wants to preserve the Russian Orthodox Church’s jurisdiction in Ukraine, which is perhaps reasonable, he should demonstrate his sincerity and good will by taking serious steps to end Russian military aggression in the sovereign Ukrainian state. Or is he simply too much a poodle now of Putin to do that?”

Maybe he, correctly in my opinion, understand that Putin or no Putin the residents of the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine have legitimate grounds to secede. The American colonies seceded over FAR less.

But perhaps some Americans are too much poodles of Kiev to admit that.

#27 Comment By Old West On July 10, 2018 @ 4:37 pm

John N writes:

“So…uh…the Russian Patriarch is effectively threatening violence unless his ethnicity gets to keep being on top of the Ukrainians “blood will flow”, and everyone here just ignores it? I mean, this is the paragon of the one true Christain way?”

I think you misunderstand what he is saying. The vast majority of Orthodox– parishes, priests, faithful, and bishops — are all loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate. Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with the Ukrainian government.

What the Ukrainian government is egging Constantinople to do is to make a declaration that there is only one church in the Ukraine, and put it under the authority of a group closely allied with the Ukrainian government.

Constantinople doesn’t have the authority to do this, but the Ukrainian government would then be able to use it to justify the use of force to take property, expel bishops and priests, and install new church leaders more to their own liking.

In a setting where there is already a civil war going on, there is no possible outcome to this other than blood flowing. That’s why it is a bad idea for Constantinople to do anything of the sort.

Metropolitan Hilarion is not threatening anything, he’s just predicting what will happen and begging Constantinople not to precipitate a worsening of the situation. I personally wish he hadn’t said what he did, since to anyone familiar with the situation, it is already obvious, so he didn’t need to say it. Too easily taken out of context in an isolated quotation.

#28 Comment By Locksley On July 10, 2018 @ 4:52 pm

The Patriarch of Constantinople is not ‘the EP’; his title is ‘the Oecumenical Patriarch’. If one must shorten this into an abbreviation that forces readers to stop and figure it out, then he is ‘the O. P.’

[NFR: What’s Greek for “pedant”? — RD]

#29 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 10, 2018 @ 5:59 pm

As far as the one true church is concerned, it seems only Cosimanian Orthodoxy can make the claim to have no rival sees!

At least, until I convert.

#30 Comment By JonF On July 10, 2018 @ 6:13 pm

I will note here that this is not a new thing. When the Soviet Union broke up Orthodox Christians in Estonia decided to constitute themselves as a church independent of Moscow and appealed to the EP in doing so– leading to some friction between Moscow and Constantinople then. And even earlier after the Russian Revolution Orthodox Christians in Finland and Poland (yes there were/are some) also created autonomous churches under the direction of the EP.

#31 Comment By Kirt Higdon On July 10, 2018 @ 6:46 pm

My comment above did not mention the authority to appoint bishops but the authority to determine their legitimacy. That certainly is not a recent development; it’s what the Great Schism between East and West was about to begin with.

#32 Comment By JonF On July 10, 2018 @ 9:47 pm

Kirt Higdon
Rome determines the legitimacy of a bishop by whether he was legitimately consecrated according to some ancient canons which it shares with Orthodoxy and the non-Chalcedonian churches. Hence whatever Rome thinks of Orthodox or Coptic bishops it regards them as legitimate bishops. Even Thomas Cramner, who led the English Reformation under Henry VIII, was nonetheless legitimate (though heretical) in Rome’s eyes.

#33 Comment By Locksley On July 10, 2018 @ 10:12 pm

[NFR: What’s Greek for “pedant”? — RD]

Not quite sure, Mr Dreher. The English word is usually derived from ‘paedagogos’, meaning a teacher. It used to mean that in English too, until the fad for philosophical individualism overtook us.

#34 Comment By First_Deacon On July 11, 2018 @ 3:07 am

[NFR: What’s Greek for “pedant”? — RD]

If you really want to know, σχολαστικός ( = scholastikos ) in modern Greek. I think the first generation Greek speakers of our parish know a more colorful, (or colourful, for UK/Ozzie/Kiwi English) way of describing folks that get hung up on minute orthographic details.

#35 Comment By Anastasios On July 11, 2018 @ 8:05 am

“The EP has only a few thousand faithful in his historical patriarchate, and can play his games only because of deep American pockets. He has done nothing to try to re-Christianize Turkey, preferring instead to meddle with politics in Eastern Europe and around the globe as though the Byzantine Empire still existed.”

That is deeply unfair to Bartholomew personally. How, pray tell, is he supposed to re-Christianize Turkey, for example? And one person’s meddling is another person’s taking the responsibilities of the EP seriously.

Having said that, it is true that there are organizational problems with the EP apart from any alleged personal failings of the current incumbent. Many of these failings relate to cultural and institutional legacies of Byzantine power that have become Byzantine burdens. FWIW, one commonly hear’s the observation that the EP should just face facts and move to New York or Washington. The most insightful response to this I have ever heard is “The Patriarchate has evolved over the years to endure persecution and hardship. It can probably stand just about any test – except the test of being totally ignored by the culture and political system surrounding it. In America, it would face a culture completely secure in itself and totally uninterested in the history and legacy of ancient Byzantium in a way even the Turks could not begin to rival. The Patriarchate would probably be completely flustered and uncomprehending by what had come upon it.”

#36 Comment By Steven Sarafian On July 11, 2018 @ 12:18 pm

Didn’t the Moscow Patriarchate (some years ago, and deserving of reiteration) publicly state that if the Patriarchate of Constantinople had to physically depart The City, Moscow would continue to recognize it, despite this tragedy, if it moved within its own territory (Rhodes, Thessaloniki, Athos) but not if it tried to move to Geneva, New York, or whatever. Athens would be a special case, as it could surrender autocephaly and return to the jurisdiction of Constantinople from which it sprang.