Last Friday the Russian Church took the first step towards a schism: They will stop commemorating the Ecumenical Patriarch’s name and the will stop “community” with the higher clergy of the Patriarchate. It is now very likely that Bartholomew will be the last Patriarch to be truly “Ecumenical”.
The rushed and anti-canonical decision by Patriarch Batholomew to grant Autocephaly to the – already schismatic – Ukrainian Orthodox Church (the one under Patriarch Filaretos) started a huge controversy within Orthodoxy which will likely lead to Schism. The announcement from Moscow was very clear and showed that the first step was already taken: “…The Holy Synod… has decided to stop commemorating Patriarch Bartholomew’s name… and to suspend participation in all structures chaired or co-chaired by representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople”. Communion in Eucharist is still shared between the two branches of Orthodoxy and this leaves a small opening for healing. But nobody is now hopeful that the final Schism will be avoided.
Granting of Autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Filaretos proceeded hastily despite previous assurances given by Patriarch Bartholomew both to the Russian Church and to the canonical Patriarch of Kiev Onufriy that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no plans to proceed to such a risky step. It was also performed against the rules of the Orthodox Church which provide for extensive consultations with other Orthodox Churches leading to consensus before Autocephaly is granted. There may have been substantial dispute on the historical jurisdiction over the Ukrainian Church, but there was no confusion at all about the canonical rules for granting Autocephaly and the necessary consensus.
Why then this extreme rush? Why Bartholomew chose to act more as a Pope than as a Patriarch? Especially at this juncture, where Erdogan’s Islamist regime in Turkey allows no sense of security for the Patriarchate? Adding fuel to the fire, the Patriarch sent two hierarchs from America to the Ukraine to handle the transition to Autocephaly, a choice that raised many red flags in Moscow about the geopolitical underpinnings of Bartholomew’s decision. To be fair, one should note that Vladimir Putin never concealed his use of Orthodoxy as the most important form of Russian “soft power”, and chose to promote such power in every way possible: He paid an official visit to Mt.Athos at least twice and has been there privately several more times. In addition, he sent people under his influence to many Orthodox countries and supported many other local “frontment” to promote Russian interests under the guise of the shared religion.
However, it was not the Russians who started this distasteful use of religion in geopolitics. These policies by the American foreign policy establishment have their roots in Samuel Huntington’s analysis known as the “Clash of Civilizations”, initiated about 25 years ago, when Putin was not in power. In his famous theory Huntington talks about the conflict of worldwide civilizations, one of which is the Orthodox Civilization, under the leadership of Russia. In a very notable map Huntington puts both Greece and Cyprus under the Orthodox Civilization along with most Balkan countries. In page 37 of his book under the same title (1996), one can read in amazing detail today’s developments in the Ukraine. It’s as if the author had knowledge of today’s news when he specifically predicted that there will not be a clash between the countries of Russia and Ukraine but rather between the “Russophone” Eastern Ukraine and the western-leaning rest of the country. Needless to point out, this book is necessary reading in all schools of Diplomacy and International Relations, and is considered to be the Bible of many in the State Department and elsewhere. It clearly explains many recent events in the Balkans, the Ukraine and beyond.
I have repeatedly commented on the prominent role of the unofficial Archbishop of our Church, Father Alex Karloutsos, as a pawn of the foreign policy establishment in Washington. It was his total control of the Panorthodox Synod in Crete (2016) that caused the first rift within Orthodoxy with the non-participation of the Russian, Bulgarian, Georgian and Antiochean Churches. And it is he who guides the Patriarch’s moves behind the scenes. On the basis of such past, it is not hard to predict the near future: the Patriarch will very likely grant Autocephaly to the Church of Belarus and to the Church of Abhazia, as some persistent rumors for the past few years signal. The common denominator: to further the geopolitical choices of those in Washington who favor open conflict with Russia at all costs and all the time.
The rush and expeditiousness Patriarch Bartholomew showed in granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church is certain to raise many questions within our Church in America. When it comes to our Church, the Patriarch not only refuses to entertain any discussion of Autocephaly but he lacks the willingness to do anything at all towards establishing the financial transparency and accountability our Church so much deserves. Here is the short list: About $15 million are missing for the St.Nicholas at Ground Zero Fund (controlled by Father Alex), about $50 million are said to be missing from the Priests’ Retirement Fund (because of which the Archdiocese’s budget is – once again – in deficit), complete darkness covers the financial affairs of “Leadership 100” and “Faith Initiative”, whose tens of millions of financial assets are controlled by Father Alex, ad so on. Loading all responsibility for the financial troubles on the shoulders of Archbishop Demetrios (who certainly has publicly accepted his share) is not a policy but an escape tactic and results in nothing more than demonstrating, once again, Batholomew’s arrogance.
In the meantime, we all have realized that weddings in our Church have declined by about 40% the last 10 years, and that the parishes are shrinking and 75% of them can hardly meet their financial obligations. But in Constantinople the main worry is how to collect and stash away all cash they can siphon off the Church of America (again without any accountability) and how to promote their own self interests. At every instance they have someone else to blame and above all they blame the “bad Turks”. Yes, of course, Turks were never known for their respect for human rights or their civility and friendliness. But invoking the “Bogeyman” of the Turks can no longer hide the huge responsibility of the Patriarchate for abandoning our Church to the vultures who exploit it in order to advance their financial and geopolitical goals. Neither will it ever hide the Patriarch’s share of responsibility for the coming Schism of World Orthodoxy and for abandoning the Patriarchate’s “Ecumenical” heritage to promote interests unrelated with Christ’s teachings.
As for the Church of America, Patriarch Bartholomew can rest assured that he has already lost it, as he lost the trust of its followers. The Church of America will either bring to life a new grass-roots movement leading to its complete re-organization, or it will suffer a partial or total loss of its living body, a painful process that we all have been witnessing for at least the past decade.
New York, September 15, 2018