by Sophia Iliadi*
The hierarchs of the Church of Greece will gather at the Synod on October 7-11. They will elect three metropolitans and two vicar bishops, as well as discuss important issues. In particular, since the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos II refused to decide on the recognition of the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine, the Synod of Hierarchy may consider this issue, though beyond the agenda.
If the Church of Greece establishes communion with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, as Patriarch Bartholomew expected in his interview with Ukrainian journalists, it will be a precedent for any church or pseudo-church group in the territory of any Local Church to be recognized as an “autocephalous” but in fact controlled by the Ecumenical patriarchate.
In particular, the role of the New Lands as a lever of pressure on the Greek Church will increase. Similar threats will arise for many other Local Churches. That is, the acceptance of ‘hierarchs’ with no canonical ordinations into the Orthodox Church will not only undermine the canonical foundations of the church and destabilize it, as is shown by the Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus, but also bring the Ecumenical Patriarch one step closer to “Eastern papism”.
In such new conditions, weak churches will not be able to resist Phanar’s course of rapprochement with the Vatican. Since the creation of the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine was supported by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Petro Poroshenko who relies on the Greek-Catholic electorate, the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine will enter the Unia first. Thanks to new levers of pressure on the Local Churches, Constantinople will ensure the recognition of this step, and then, leaving aside the differences in canons and dogmas, His All-Holiness Bartholomew himself will enter into communion with the Pope.
It is obvious that immediately after the official recognition of the Ukrainian schismatics by the Synod of Hierarchy, the Russian Orthodox Church will extend measures taken in response to the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s actions (i.e. cessation of Eucharistic communion) to the Church of Greece. The absence of Eucharistic communion with the ROC and the rapprochement of the Greek Church with the Phanar, which is becoming increasingly closer to the Vatican, will destroy practically the only factor of commonality between Russia and Greece. As an Orthodox Christian belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, Russian President Vladimir Putin can regard this decision of the Greek Church as an unfriendly step and change his view of Greek-Russian relations. Earlier, he had already expressed his opinion about the role of Constantinople in solving the Ukrainian issue and even accused the Ecumenical Patriarchate of receiving bribes for granting autocephaly to Ukraine. Of course, the possibility of extending the Turkish Stream to Greece then will have to be completely forgotten.
It is believed that the recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine by the Greek Church will become a catalyst for recognition by other Greek Patriarchates and Churches. But this is not obvious. In one form or another, the Russian Orthodox Church has been already supported by the Serbian, Polish and Albanian Orthodox Churches, the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, as well as the Antioch and Jerusalem Patriarchates, where the sympathetic to Russia Arab community has strong influence. Recently, the Jerusalem Patriarch bluntly stated that he recognizes only one Orthodox Church in Ukraine, headed by Metropolitan Onufry, i.e. of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Bulgarian Patriarchate did not speak out, but there is strong reason to doubt that he will support Patriarch Bartholomew on the Ukrainian issue.
In general, the Orthodox world will split into the Greek and the “Russian” groups. This split will grow and acquire more and more nationalistic features. Greece will lose the honorable and extremely advantageous status of the real guarantor and leader of the Orthodox unity. Ultimately, we have a risk of spoiling relations with our closest neighbors, Serbia and Bulgaria.
The Church of Cyprus will cease its role as arbiter and moderator of inter-church conflicts, which Archbishop Chrysostomos II claims, and also ruin his Church’s relations with Russians, a significant factor in the country’s development.
Within the Greek local churches, pressure from Constantinople will cause disorder and division. Due to opponents of the recognition of the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine, Greek old calendarists will strengthen. This will create an extra cause of instability in the canonical Greek Church and deprive it of the support of a conservative part of the faithful. The clergymen may join the schism too, and as a recently published letter from the Greek clergy against the recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine shows, their numbers are big and will only grow.
Similarly to the situation in Turkey, under the pretext of spiritual care for the Russian-speaking diaspora in Greece, parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church can be opened. Hierarchs, clergy and believers of the Greek Orthodox Church who disagree with the recognition of the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine will also find a refuge there. In the future, contacts of the old calendarist schism with the Russians, its support and strengthening from Russia may gain momentum.
All this will damage the reputation of the Greek Church in the Orthodox world and hit the financial situation of the Greek churches, make them dependent on American patrons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Being unable to question them, the church will lose its independent voice, its ability to defend Christian values and mitigate conflicts, calling for peace and mercy.
At a time when American and Turkish interests may clash over new mineral discoveries in the Mediterranean, it will be extremely difficult for Greece to stay on the sidelines. Therefore, it is important for Greece and the Greek Church to focus on improving their relations with Russia rather than worsening them. For example, they might use the Ukrainian church issue as a bargain with Moscow to limit Turkey’s military support.
Without believers, means, being divided over the actions of Patriarch Bartholomew, all Greek Orthodoxy will decay. The church will lose its authority; it will not be able to fulfill either a charitable or a pastoral function. In turn, this will lead the nation to decline.
It seems that the Archbishop Ieronymos and a significant part of the episcopate are well aware of the need to prevent this. Having communion with the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine will benefit neither the Church of Greece nor the nation. Not deciding or just abstaining from decision for a while will benefit a lot.
*Sophia Iliadi is a free lance journalist from Greece.