In the aftershock of US President Donald Trump’s bombshell decision to pull American troops out of Syria and to draw down US forces in Afghanistan, plus the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis and Brett McGurk, the Special Envoy to the anti-ISIS Coalition [sic: never mind who created ISIS in the first place … ], we are already seeing progress. The Syrian flag has been raised over Manbij as the Kurds scramble for protection from Damascus against threatening Turkish forces.
We’re not out of the woods yet though. Given the “orgy of shrieking and caterwauling,” “the horrifying collective scream” emanating from Washington, a pushback from the Deep State and the bipartisan Washington establishment is inevitable and possibly imminent. A false flag chemical attack blamed on the Syrian government but perpetrated by the jihadists (and likely cooked up with assistance from the British MI6) remains a looming danger. Also unpredictable is the next move by Israel, whose jets operating in Lebanese airspace struck targets near Damascus following Trump’s withdrawal order. In turn, Syria and Russia responded by considering extension of air protection to Lebanon and declaring that future Israeli strikes on Syria will prompt counterattacks on targets inside Israel. The danger of escalation should not be underestimated.
But the big worry remains Ukraine. Given the more than two-year long Russiagate witch hunt, the most toxic smear against Trump’s Syria withdrawal is that it’s a big “gift” to Russian President Vladimir Putin. As shown by the unanimous western response to the November Kerch Strait incident, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko knows he can do pretty much anything and any Russian response will be blamed on Russia.
Poroshenko has a menu of options. He can go back the well at the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, a tempting possibility if the British (who are at the root of Russiagate and are at least as desperate to prevent a Washington-Moscow détente than Poroshenko is) are dumb enough, or cynical enough (they don’t call them Perfidious Albion for nothing), to risk the lives of sailors of Her Majesty’s Navy on a confrontational stunt where Moscow has an overwhelming preponderance of power. Likewise, Poroshenko could launch an attack on the Donbas. Kiev’s forces recently occupied most of the “gray zone” separating forces at the Minsk agreement ceasefire line. There are also concerns over reports of chemicals stockpiled at Mariupol (hey, if a chemical provocation works in Syria, why not Ukraine?).
But the most likely proximate avenue for Poroshenko may be an attack on the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is an autonomous (self-governing) part of the Russian Orthodox Church. Following what some are already calling the Robber Council of Kiev on December 15, which purported to create an “autocephalous” (independent) church headed by “Metropolitan” Epiphany (Dumenko) from a merger of schismatic groups, Poroshenko and the Ukrainian parliament are moving with alacrity to strip the canonical Church of its legal status and turn its property over to Dumenko’s bogus church (which actually isn’t independent at all but is subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople). Lists of monasteries for seizure are being prepared. Canonical clergy are investigated and harassed by the SBU, Ukraine’s successor to the old Soviet KGB. Any resistance or disorders these actions will provoke are already being blamed in advance on – you guessed it – Putin and the canonical Church.
Where is the US government, that great proponent of human rights and religious freedom? Cheering it on of course. On the day of the Robber Council, the US Embassy in Kiev tweeted out its congratulations in English and in Ukrainian (not in Russian of course, the language of Untermenschen). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo placed a personal call to Dumenko as the “newly elected head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Metropolitan Epifaniy.” US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch extended her congratulations to Dumenko in person. When the trouble starts, there’s no mystery as to on whose side the US government, or at least the State Department, will come down.
One might well ask why? Aside from the obvious impropriety of the United States’ taking sides in a question of the Orthodox Church’s internal governance, why is the State Department so committed to promoting a transparently political power grab by Poroshenko, the schismatics, and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople?
The short answer is that it is strictly geopolitics. From the point of view of the State Department, the Russian Orthodox Church – and hence the canonical autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church – is nothing more than an instrument of the Kremlin’s soft power. According to one person rather new to the relevant issues but nonetheless considered authoritative by the State Department:
‘The Church, for its part, acts as the Russian state’s soft power arm, exerting its authority in ways that assist the Kremlin in spreading Russian influence both in Russia’s immediate neighborhood as well as around the globe. The Kremlin assists the Church, as well, working to increase its reach. Vladimir Yakunin, one of Putin’s inner circle and a devout member of the ROC, facilitated in 2007 the reconciliation of the ROC with the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile (which had separated itself from the Moscow Patriarchate early in the Soviet era so as not to be co-opted by the new Bolshevik state), which reconciliation greatly increased [Patriarch of Moscow] Kirill’s influence and authority outside of Russia. Putin, praising this event, noted the interrelation of the growth of ROC authority abroad with his own international goals: “The revival of the church unity is a crucial condition for revival of lost unity of the whole ‘Russian world’, which has always had the Orthodox faith as one of its foundations.”’
Hence, weaken “Russian state’s soft power arm,” weaken the Russian state.
But unfortunately there is even more to it than that.
The authors of the current US anti-Russia, anti-Orthodox Church policy know, or at least instinctively sense, that the revival of Russia’s Church-State symphonia after a hiatus of eight decades is not just a political alliance of convenience but is the source of deep spiritual, moral, and social strength. This is reflected, for example, in Putin’s warm remarks on the dedication of a Moscow monument to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the acknowledged godfather of Russia’s restoration as a Christian country, on the centenary of the writer’s birth.
In Russia’s reborn symphonia, President and Patriarch speak as one:
‘At the height of the Cold War, it was common for American conservatives to label the officially atheist Soviet Union a “godless nation.”
‘More than two decades on, history has come full circle, as the Kremlin and its allies in the Russian Orthodox Church hurl the same allegation at the West.
‘“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a recent keynote speech. “Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.” [ . . . ]
‘Mr. Putin’s views of the West were echoed this month by Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church, who accused Western countries of engaging in the “spiritual disarmament” of their people.
‘In particular, Patriarch Kirill criticized laws in several European countries that prevent believers from displaying religious symbols, including crosses on necklaces, at work.
‘“The general political direction of the [Western political] elite bears, without doubt, an anti-Christian and anti-religious character,” the patriarch said in comments aired on state-controlled television.
‘“We have been through an epoch of atheism, and we know what it is to live without God,” Patriarch Kirill said. “We want to shout to the whole world, ‘Stop!’”’ [“Who’s ‘godless’ now? Russia says it’s U.S.: Putin seizes on issue of traditional values,” by Marc Bennetts, The Washington Times, January 28, 2014]
Such sentiments can hardly sit well with Western elites for whom the same-sex partnerships decried by Putin (and placed by him on a moral level with belief in Satan) are esteemed as a mark of social enlightenment. That’s why an inseparable part of the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made during the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity” is wholesale acceptance of “European values,” including the kind of “Pride” symbolized by LGBT marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like Athens, Belgrade, Bucharest, Kiev, Odessa, Podgorica, Sofia, and Tbilisi. (Note that after the march in Odessa in August of this year a priest of the canonical Church targeted by Poroshenko cleansed the street with Holy Water.)
It is hard to assess exactly how significant the moral/sexual component of undermining Orthodoxy in Ukraine is, but there is no denying it is a factor. There is a curious consistency between advocacy for non-traditional, post-Christian sexual morality and support for the schismatic pseudo-Church sponsored by Poroshenko and Patriarch Bartholomew.
To start with, the relevant US government officials cheering the church schismatics are also up-front and visible in Ukraine in their advocacy of the LGBT agenda. The US Embassy Kiev website displays Pompeo’s declaration on behalf of all Americans that “The United States joins people around the world in celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Pride Month, and reaffirms its commitment to protecting and defending the human rights of all, including LGBTI persons.” As of this writing, the press release describing the Secretary’s call to “Metropolitan” Dumenko appears just below the “Pride Month” message.
Ambassador Yovanovitch has really gone the extra mile – literally. Not only did she tweet out her Pride message, she also participated in the parade (and took 60 Embassy personnel and family members with her!) proudly marching behind the American flag. Your tax dollars at work! (Must watch video posted by HromadskeUA, an “independent” Ukrainian media outlet reportedly funded by, among others, the US Embassy, the Canadian Embassy, and George Soros’s International Renaissance Foundation, though the cited HromadskeUA financial reports no longer seem to be available.) Both Yovanovitch’s remarks in the video and the posted text draw an explicit connection between the “freedom” of the 2014 regime change and the new sexual morality (Google autotranslation from Ukrainian):
‘The atmosphere is wonderful. It is important for us because we maintain equal rights. In 2014, people in Ukraine were in favor of freedom, and this is an organic continuation – US Ambassador Marie Yovanovich goes to the March of Equality Column. With her together with about 60 representatives of the American embassy.’
The locals were quick to make the same connection. “KyivPride,” a local LGBT advocacy group supported by (surprise, surprise) the US Embassy, the Canadian government, the German embassy, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Freedom House were quick to hail creation of the new pseudo-church, no doubt reflecting the deep piety of the group’s members. As posted by OrthoChristian.com, The organization posted a message on several platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, reading:
‘KyivPride congratulates all LGBTI Orthodox believers on the formation of a united and independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and reminds everyone that love does no harm to others! Also remember that article 35 of the constitution of Ukraine states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of personal philosophy and religion. This right includes the freedom to profess or not to profess any religion.” Human rights above all!’
Last but certainly not least is the involvement of certain fringe elements in the Orthodox Church itself, plus at least one not-so-fringe element. As this analyst warned months ago the Ukrainian church crisis seemingly facilitates the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. As Anatoly Karlin points out, “many of the biggest supporters of Ukrainian autocephaly in the West are for all intents and purposes SJWs. The website Orthodoxy in Dialogue, for instance, wants Orthodoxy to get with the times and start sanctifying gay marriage:”
‘We pray for the day when we can meet our future partner in church, or bring our partner to church.
‘We pray for the day when our lifelong, monogamous commitment to our partner can be blessed and sanctified in and by the Church.
‘We pray for the day when we can explore as Church, without condemnation, how we Orthodox Christians can best live our life in Christ in the pursuit of holiness, chastity, and perfect love of God and neighbour.
‘We pray for the day when our priests no longer travel around the world to condemn us and mock us and use us as a punching bag.
‘We pray for the day when the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ ceases to be our loneliest closet.’
Sadly, Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon is anything but marginal. Considered one of the world’s most prominent Orthodox intellectuals, his titular see in Asia Minor has been devoid of Christians for many decades, a sad example of the “rotten boroughs” that make up the Patriarchate of Constantinople apart from its extravagant assertions of universal authority based on an imperial reality that died centuries ago. Metropolitan John is one of the foremost polemicists in asserting Constantinople’s fictional claims over Ukraine in the lead-up to the Robber Council.
Not surprisingly, there is reason to suppose Metropolitan John also shares the revisionists’ views on sexual morality. As this analyst was recently informed by a knowledgeable Church source:
‘I have a friend who just came back from an academic conference in Greece. He told me about an incident at the council in Crete [i.e., presumably a reference to the abortive 2016 “Eighth Ecumenical Council”] where [Metropolitan John] Zizioulas had the doors closed and regaled the bishops about how they needed to support the LGBT agenda and gay marriage. How much is the [Ecumenical Patriarchate] pushing this agenda, albeit quietly?’
This report is not inconsistent with the Metropolitan’s public views. As one Orthodox blogger commented in 2015:
‘Another example of gravely twisting the teachings of the Holy Fathers is [Metropolitan John] Zizioulas’s view on homosexuality, quoted by an Anglican publication (the Tablet): “When I raise the question of homosexuality he claims that the Greek Church is traditionally flexible and non-Judgement on such issues (!!!), but is now becoming more puritanical – due to Western Influence”. So, after Zizioulas, the Orthodox tradition does not condemn homosexuality, but the condemnation of this sin would be a Protestant influence! What would the Ap. Paul, St. John Chrysostom and all the saints of the Orthodox Church would say about these serious and blasphemous statements?’
To sum up, we can expect the crisis in Ukraine to get worse, with malign geopolitical and moral agendas both making their mark. It is not easy to sort out which in the end may have the most deadly impact.