Imagine for a moment that there was a former empire that was in shambles. It had lost its ideological battle against its primary opponent, and as a result had fallen apart. It was no longer of any seeming importance or power. Its former allies were gone, and those former allies in fact had begun to join the victor’s side. Even to the point of joining the victor’s military alliance. This change of allegiance went so far as to encroach right up to the borders of the vanquished empire. And all of this occurred in spite of the ‘magnanimous’ victor’s pledge, at the time of victory, that no such thing was contemplated; indeed, that it would never occur.
A re-hashing of nearly ancient-modern history? A referral to the expansion of NATO up against the very borders of Russia herself, and Russia’s reaction to these moves? Such as the situation we have recently witnessed in Ukraine, resulting in a frozen conflict, a conflict that appears to defy resolution without further actual armed confrontation?
The fallen (yet newly resurgent) Empire I am referring to is not Russia itself. It is the newly-resurgent Russian Orthodox Church.
If NATO was and still is the nemesis of the Russian nation/empire, who then is the bane of Russian Orthodoxy? And where might this confrontation turn into open battle? Here is where the story becomes byzantine. Literally. Because the chief enemy of Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow is none other than Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Who, supposedly, is the first among equals in the Orthodox world. Yet his latest actions threaten to make the Pope more welcome than him. At least, in the eyes of the other three Patriarchs in Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria.
What is the charge these other Patriarchs are leveling against Bartholomew? Nothing less than Papalism! The charge, specifically, is that he is acting unilaterally, without the agreement of his fellow (and equal) Patriarchs. In other words, he is acting just like a Pope would. And in fact, it would seem to be double that, as they are also accusing him of conspiring with Pope Francis to re-unite the Apostolic Church, east and west together. Without any Western contrition, no less. Maybe there will be an eastern and western Pope? This is what they accuse Bartholomew of.
These charges by the other Patriarchs are made in deadly earnest. And their impact has already been felt here, as certain North Americans have been drafted into this looming battle.
We all should know that Constantinople fell to the Mohammedans in 1453 AD, becoming the new Istanbul. Prior to that time, ever since the time of the Crusades, the Byzantine (Roman) Empire had gradually been whittled down to a rump state surrounding the actual city of Constantinople itself in 1453. But since that city occupied one of the most strategic geo-political points on earth, the Bosporus, even this small remainder of the Empire was still significant. International trade has always had that effect on nations and religions.
Prior to the fall of Constantinople, during times of extreme duress under the Mohammedans, several attempts had been made by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire to gain military support from the West. That is, from the Pope. The first attempt was the 2nd Council of Lyons in 1274. The other was the Council of Florence in 1438. Which is to say, right before the final fall of the Byzantine Empire. The quid quo pro demanded by the Pope in each of these attempts, according to Orthodox historians, was simple: cave in on your Eastern schism against the Papacy or you get no help.
The Western version is similar: Give up your resistance to the idea that Jesus set up His Church just exactly the way His Father set up Israel, a hierarchy with an actual head. A true High Priest, with all the powers thereof, and with only one High Priest.
Once Constantinople fell, there occurred over the following half millennium a number of decimations and diasporas of the Eastern Orthodox. Several of these diasporas landed here in America. The Russian Orthodox came via Alaska and down the west coast to California. Patriarch Tikhon granted autonomy to Russians worldwide following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Those who were in North America were recognized as autocephalous by their Mother Church in Moscow in 1970. Their descendants today are known as the Orthodox Church of America (OCA). In practice, for Church politics, they still look to Moscow for their theological orientation.
There are also Greek Orthodox parishes in America, and they are (or rather, were) loyal to the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople. Greece is still nominally under the canonical jurisdiction of Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul. They are known here as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA). They are not autocephalous, let alone autonomous.
Then there are the Antiochians, who are shepherded by the Patriarch of Antioch (which city no longer exists). They are known as the Antiochan Archdiocese in America (AAA). They aren’t autonomous or autocephalic either. Then there is Alexandria, another city that no longer exists. And a Church of about fifty people in America. They have no acronym that I know of.
All of this is a vast over-simplification that represents the main groupings here in America. There are numerous other splinter groups (ROCOR, the Evangelical Orthodox Church, composed of former Jesus Freaks, and others) that will further confuse you if you pursue the matter. The funny thing is that the mantra of all of them is ‘unity’. Especially as they fight each other.
Back to now. The current Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the First Among Equals in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I, has been feeling his oats lately. According to those in America who have allegiance to other patriarchies, this friskiness is driven by two things: a fat head and the CIA.
These non-Constantinople Orthodox guys are dead serious. Just read one entry on Monomakhos, a web site hosted by an Antiochian adherent. Read the comments all the way through, if you can. Then check out this InterFax site and see that this matter runs all the way through Orthodoxy-outside-Constantinople. There is a full-scale rebellion brewing. And why not? Schism is ever a growing market. Ask Henry, the great Western Orthodox leader of Angland.
What are they fighting about, specifically? Bartholomew has evidently decided to grant autonomy to a splinter group in Ukraine. This group would then logically (if logic can come in anywhere in all of this) owe their allegiance to Constantinople instead of Moscow. Why would anyone in Ukraine feel any loyalty to Moscow? The answer is historically simple, Komrade. Kiev is the birthplace of Christianity in Russia. All of Russia. Great Russia, Little Russia, White Russia, it’s all the same from the standpoint of Christianity. I explained all of this before.
For over a thousand years, all Russians have seen Kiev as their spiritual birthplace. The point at which the Slavic race found their true purpose. Where they found their cosmic meaning as the coming saviours of all mankind. Even when the seat of Russian Orthodox hierarchy moved from Kiev to Vladimir (and thence to Moscow), all Russians have kept their loyalty to Orthodoxy. All of which culminated in the bestowal of the honor of Patriarchy upon the Metropolitan of Moscow in 1589. Bestowed by the other four Patriarchs.
Truth be told, it was the Moscow Patriarchy that kept Orthodoxy alive in the other four Patriarchies when they were suffering under the thumb of their Mohammedan oppressors. An oppression that continues to this day. Without the alms given them by the Church in Moscow (for centuries) there would be no Ecumenical Patriarchate. Nor one in Jerusalem, nor in Antioch, nor in Alexandria.
Yet now, Bartholomew feels that it’s his right to grant autonomy (and then autocephaly?) to a Ukrainian Orthodox splinter group. What does this really mean? That the Church in Ukraine would no longer be beholden to Moscow for its Bishops and leadership. In short, it means that Bartholomew is the tip of the spear that is trying to bring Western Values right up to the borders of Russia. And in fact, since the Russians see Ukraine as an integral part of All Russia, this is the equivalent of trying to expand the membership of NATO to include Ukraine.
How is it that Constantinople can be seen as trying to further western values in an Orthodox environment? Isn’t that an oxymoron? What’s the missing link here? It’s the CIA, according to not a few commentators in the rest of the Orthodox world. They are all accusing Bartholomew of bending to Western governmental pressures to do this. All of which is believable if one supposes there is any truth to the notion that the Western intelligence agencies (and indeed, President Obama and Valerie Jarrett) were complicit in the overthrow of the democratically elected Presidency of Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. And which led to the Crimean and eastern Ukrainian conflict frozen in place today.
You may think this is crazy. And it may be. But why else would Bartholomew go against the advice and exhortations of all the other patriarchs and Orthodox congregations worldwide? None of whom are under the thumb of either Moscow or Washington. Why would he risk fracturing the precious little unity that exists in Orthodoxy today over something like this? Is it just because he wants to be seen as being relevant? Why risk being accused of Papistry, when his whole reason for independent existence was this exact same charge that his predecessors ever since Photius have hurled at Rome since 860? Why become a parody of yourself? Where is the gain here?
On the other hand, it is true that he is now seen as a pivotal figure, geopolitically speaking. At least, in the West. He is disrupting the ecclesial marketplace. But for what? Does anyone actually gain from this invasion of canonical turf? Well, yes, actually someone does. Those who saw their agenda thwarted when Russia reacted to the Western sponsored coup attempt in 2014. Never mind that the Crimea never belonged to Ukraine before Nikita Khrushchev (a Ukrainian by birth) gave it to his homeland as a birthday present in 1954. Never mind that these same Western leaders promised not to expand NATO. Never mind that the Ecumenical Patriarchy of Constantinople would have died of starvation within ten years of the Mohammedan victory were it not for Russian alms that kept it alive from then till now. Yes, till now. You don’t think the Turks have changed, do you?
Speaking of Turks, here is where things will start to get interesting. The Turks have not changed their attitude towards Christianity. But they have changed their attitude towards the secular West. I earlier predicted this would happen.
Erdogan has wisely decided that he cannot resist both the West and the East at the same time. So, after shooting down that Russian fighter jet in 2016, has made his peace with Putin. It was that or see the Kurds and the Armenians gain Russian favor and arms to escalate their still-simmering wars on Turkish hegemony. In return for Putin’s indulgence of Erdogan’s hubris, a few things had to change in Turkey-ville.
First and foremost, Turkey must effectively exit from NATO. This has happened in all but name. You can’t integrate Russian S-400 air-defense missile systems with Western Patriot, Aegis and THAAD systems. In fact, there is only one reason to buy Russian gear. That reason, as any idiot could guess, is to guard against western air strikes that will surely come as things degenerate and the Bosporus becomes closed to western naval transit. The Montreux Convention, you know. We can’t have Western belligerents traipsing about the Black Sea, can we Komrade?
The next thing that had to change in Erdogan’s world is that he must ally himself with the east, economically. Now you may think that Russia is weak, economically, and that is true when it comes to trade with say, Mexico, or Japan. But not with Turkey. Turkish exports to Russia rose over 100% since 2016. Turkey and Russia are joining with Iran (and China) to put together a non-dollar trading bloc that has no need for oceanic transit. Or western banking clearance.
In short, Turkey is moving into Moscow’s orbit in both trade and military affairs. What else is there? Religion. The biggest market of all, my friend. The market that will pay any price, bear any burden, make any sacrifice. And, coincidentally, the market that can be exploited and oppressed without fear. As long as it is Christianity.
What’s the next thing that might change in Turkey? Well, what else is there that might make Vlad smile upon the Turks? That’s easy. Squeeze the Patriarch! Nothing big, just make his life an administrative Hell. And an economic one too. That’s easy to do. Erdogan has already paid the price of making Donald mad over some evangelical pastor. What else has he got to lose?
The western-leaning Ukrainians know this. And they aren’t wasting any time, seizing churches loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate. Numerous reports of this (often featuring the Greek Catholics as the cats-paw of the Ukrainian central government) show that the conflict between Moscow and the West has moved beyond the military battle front. The war is now for the hearts and minds of the people of Ukraine. People will fight to the death for their religious heritage. And the religious heritage of Kiev is oriented towards Moscow. Towards the Slavic Patriarch.
What does this religious warfare have to do with North America? Simple, citizen. Bartholomew has decided to name two North Americans, who are hierarchs in the North American Orthodox communities loyal to Constantinople, to head up the new and improved version of the supposedly autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. That’s like the Archbishop of Canterbury saying he’s going to name the new primate of Poland.
What does Bartholomew get out of all of this? Given the numerous financial scandals reportedly happening throughout the Greek-American Archdiocese (where most of his money comes from), there has to be something connected to money. Isn’t that the usual problem with hierarchs today? You can bet the alms from Moscow aren’t flowing anymore. Where has all the money gone? Just look at the money in America, where the Catholic Bishops have spent over 4 billion hushing up the homosexual pederasty scandals. Guess what the rumours are about in the Greek Orthodox Church in America? Not that CNN is interested. At least, as long as Constantinople is still estranged from Rome.
The war in Ukraine is still on, even though it isn’t in the headlines. But it has moved in a new direction that takes it directly towards the people’s ultimate loyalties. Spiritual loyalties. As I’ve said before, no one is the true ruler of All Russia until they control all four of the ancient Sees of Slavdom. There are four of them that allowed Ivan III to proclaim himself the first Tsar: Novgorod, Kiev, Vladimir and the Duchy (of Moscow). NKVD is my shorthand acronym for this, for those who have a weird sense of humour.
Currently, Vlad Putin has three firmly within his grasp. Only Kiev remains. Vlad has shown he is determined to get it. In my estimation, he will. If that means Bartholomew must go, so be it. After all, what advantage is there to Russia, and to the Orthodox Church of Russia, of having Constantinople continue to exist as a challenge to Russian hegemony, whether political or religious?
In the end, we have to ask ourselves the question Uncle Joe asked when he was confronted by the opposition of the Pope to his anti-Christian holocaust. This time, the question is a parody of the original. This time it’s his political nephew, Vlad Putin that is asking the question. And that question is: How many divisions does the Papist Patriarch Bartholomew have, Komrade?