Orthodoxy in Dialogue editor Giacomo Sanfilippo has been invited to become a regular contributor of Orthodox Christian commentary at the Kyiv Post, Ukraine’s English-language newspaper and winner of the 2014 Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism. Its global audience peaked at more than 65 million pageviews in 2014.


Worse than 1054? A Schism of Moscow’s Own Making

In his 1996, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” Samuel P. Huntington predicted the rise of Russia’s “political Orthodoxy” as a global geopolitical threat no less worrisome than political Islam. Some 15 or so years later, Patriarch Kirill and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the transplant of “Byzantine symphonia” — a model of church-state “co-voice” which produced ambivalent results in Orthodox Byzantium — in 21st-century Russia. The current escalation of Russian military aggression against Ukraine on the eve of the Ukrainian Church’s reception of autocephaly from Constantinople leaves us no choice but to take them at their word: Patriarchate and Kremlin speak with one voice in Russia.

This brief essay focuses on the Patriarchate’s half of that unified voice.

In the wake of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s announcement that it intended to move forward with the grant of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, responded swiftly with a “prediction” of violence in Ukraine and a worldwide schism “worse than 1054.”

I say “prediction” in quotation marks because his words rang out ominously like a threat. They stood in sharp contrast with Patriarch Bartholomew’s appeal to avoid violence and the forcible takeover of church properties, and his insistence that the Ecumenical Patriarchate intended to break communion with no one by its actions in Ukraine. Rather, it restored an enormous swath of the Ukrainian population to communion with the Orthodox Church around the planet. (Moscow’s responsibility for precipitating the Kyiv Patriarchate’s “schism” falls beyond the scope of this essay.)

The Moscow Patriarchate wasted no time in confirming the presentiment of a threat.

To be clear, no one with knowledge of church history—and especially Russian church history, with its “Third Rome” pretensions since at least the 15th century—doubted that Moscow would respond forcefully to Constantinople’s plan to proceed with Ukrainian autocephaly. What shocks is the sheer magnitude of Moscow’s response. One might have expected, at most, a temporary break in concelebration at the primatial and episcopal levels, and perhaps even the clerical level, with the corollary removal of Patriarch Bartholomew’s name from Patriarch Kirill’s diptychs: this means simply that, for the nonce, Kirill would no longer commemorate Bartholomew at the moment in a primatial Divine Liturgy when the primates of the other autocephalous churches are named and prayed for. (In the Russian tradition, with which I am most familiar, the names are chanted by the senior deacon one by one—followed by “Many Years!”—and repeated by the choir. This occurs after the troparia and kontakia of the day and immediately prior to the Trisagion Hymn.)

Moscow went to much greater lengths than this. It forbade its bishops and clergy to concelebrate with those of the Ecumenical Patriarchate anywhere in the world. It forbade them to participate in any commissions and committees of any kind, anywhere in the world, in which bishops and clergy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate take part. This includes not only various ecumenical commissions, but also the regional Assemblies of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, established beyond the borders of historically Orthodox lands around the world for the purpose of working toward a unified, canonically structured Orthodox Church in each region. Most stunning of all, it forbade its laity to take Holy Communion or even to attend divine services in parishes and monasteries of the Ecumenical Patriarchate anywhere in the world. This absolute prohibition for the laity extends even to Russian pilgrims to Mount Athos.

As if these restrictions did not already move the Moscow Patriarchate beyond the pale of all reason and ecclesial dignity, Moscow has also threatened the Patriarchate of Jerusalem with dire financial consequences if bishops and clergy of the newly autocephalous Ukrainian Church are admitted to serve liturgically anywhere in the Holy Land.

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia—itself schismatic for many decades until 2007—has fallen predictably into lockstep with the Moscow Patriarchate.

On the other hand, Metropolitan Anastasios of Tirana, primate of the Orthodox Church of Albania, wrote to Patriarch Kirill to deplore his use of the Eucharist as a weapon. (See his letter here.) More recently, Patriarch Daniel of Romania hosted Patriarch Bartholomew to consecrate the newly constructed national cathedral in Bucharest.

The facts seem clear: Moscow has wilfully created and orchestrated a global schism the scale of which we have never seen in Orthodox history—worse than 1054, as promised. These do not look like the actions of a church motivated by pastoral concern for anyone at all, but the retaliation of a thug who sees his power slipping through his fingers. In a twist of supreme irony, the Moscow Patriarchate has only proven the need for the Ukrainian Church to break free from its canonical control, even as the Ukrainian nation liberates itself from the Kremlin’s political and military stranglehold.

This article appeared on December 14, 2018 at the Kyiv Post.


Byzantine Symphonia Is Bad for Russia, Bad for Ukraine

Louis Althusser (1918-1990), a French Marxist philosopher whose main body of work antedates 1980, continues to exert significant influence on postmodern thought some 40 years later. Of relevance to this article is his notion of “ideological state apparatuses” (ISA), articulated almost 50 years ago in his essay, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation),” which has drawn the attention of Slavoj Žižek, among others.

While ISA have no formal relationship to state power, they typically function in more or less subtle ways to inculcate the dominant statist ideology in the citizenry. ISA cover a range of social and political configurations, such as educational institutions, the media, the family—and churches.

In an Orthodox context, Althusser’s ISA provide a useful critical lens through which to analyze church-state relations in Byzantium, the successive stages of Ukrainian and Russian history from the adoption of Orthodox Christianity in 988 to the present, and especially what many Orthodox Christians in the West regard with growing discomfort as a worrisome blurring of boundaries between the Ukrainian state and the newly reconstituted Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).

Given the nation’s ostensible westward tilt socially, culturally, and politically since the EuroMaidan Revolution, those of us Orthodox who generally support its political and ecclesiastical independence from Moscow—as well as the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in conferring legitimacy on the latter—have rather hoped to see Ukraine embrace a model of church-state relations different from that of their Russian neighbors.

“Byzantine symphonia,” as noted in my recent essay for the Kyiv Post, represents the political theory—some would say “political theology”—according to which church and empire were presumed to speak with a single voice throughout the Byzantine era. I say “presumed” because, in reality, Byzantium’s imperial administration attempted repeatedly to dilute Orthodox dogma as a way to quell the political unrest that arose from doctrinal disputes. In one example among many, St. Maximus the Confessor’s defense of christological orthodoxy in the mid-7th century landed him squarely on the wrong side of Emperor Constans II’s designs for imperial unity. At the age of 82 Maximus was maimed and sent into exile in modern-day Georgia, where he soon died from his wounds. In ways sometimes more immediately obvious and sometimes discerned only through the historian’s retrospection, the Church nearly always finds herself on the losing side of Byzantine symphonia.

This makes all the more chilling Patriarch Kirill’s and Vladimir Putin’s open embrace of Byzantine symphonia, some half dozen years ago, as a paradigm for church-state complicity in 21st-century Russia’s domestic and foreign policy agenda. No possible good can come from the Church’s abandonment of her prophetic voice in a modern, majoritarian Orthodox society. Paul Evdokimov (1901-1970), one of the foremost lay theologians produced by the Russian émigré community in Paris after the Russian Revolution, wrote in a 1967 article:

…no social arrangement can be “dogmatized” or “canonized.” Always relative, no particular political, economic or social system incarnates the ideal of divine justice or the good. The Church…transcends all political regimes and economic orders…. Despite the many errors of the historical past, no dependency of the Church upon a political system is justified, except in the case of violent constraint. It is this freedom which gives the Church the power of standing as the moral conscience of humanity and shapes her ministry in society. Such a charismatic ministry seeks approaches to the absolute through the changing and relative forms of history.

“The New Testament,” Evdokimov continued, “canonizes no particular social system. Christ announces the coming of the Kingdom, but he never presents himself either as a reformer or the lawgiver of a specific social order…. [H]e neither concerns himself with nor criticizes any of the political, social, or economic institutions of his time.”

This brings us to the subject of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government’s direct involvement in negotiating the autocephaly of the OCU with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and in assigning a church for the latter’s use as its stavropegion in Kyiv, the christening of Petro Poroshenko as “the new St. Volodymyr” by the Phanar’s exarchs, Poroshenko’s highly visible role at the OCU’s Unification Council and following, the Verkhovna Rada’s legislation of what the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine must legally call itself, and the appeal of the OCU’s newly elected Metropolitan Epifaniy for the retaking of Crimea: these all comprise troubling signs to Orthodox observers in the West—otherwise sympathetic to Ukrainian aspirations for full independence from Moscow—that Ukraine may have learned nothing from Russia’s mistakes and simply made the Putin-Gundyaev playbook its own.

To be fair, given Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine and the Moscow Patriarchate’s expressly stated ideology of speaking in a single, unified voice with the Kremlin, the Ukrainian government’s national security concerns for a local Church liberated from Russian control seem entirely justified. We Orthodox in the West have not had to confront a situation like this. We cannot say how we would deal with a similar set of circumstances.

Ukraine has no imperial past except that of foreign occupation and oppression. Left to their own devices, Ukrainians shine most brightly from the pages of their democratic Cossack history. In crafting its own future—where the Church preaches the Gospel and the state pursues national interests with justice and integrity on the world stage—Ukraine has no need to follow the bad example of its neighbor and former overlord.

This article appeared on December 31, 2018 at the Kyiv Post.
Sanfilippo’s “Ukrainian Autocephaly: An Opportunity, Not a Victory” is scheduled to appear at the Kyiv Post on January 6—Christmas Eve in Ukraine, Theophany at the Phanar—the day on which Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will hand the Tomos of Autocephaly to Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv and All Ukraine.
See the extensive Ukraine section in our Archives by Author.

Giacomo Sanfilippo is an Orthodox Christian of Ukrainian and Lemko descent on his mother’s side, a PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, and the founding editor of Orthodoxy in Dialogue. Earlier in life he completed the course work for the MDiv at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary near New York City.

Orthodoxy in Dialogue seeks to promote the free exchange of ideas by offering a wide range of perspectives on an unlimited variety of topics. Our decision to publish implies neither our agreement nor disagreement with an author, in whole or in part.
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