The 200 million-strong Orthodox Church is in an unheard-of state of schism between the clerical leaders of 14 million Greek Orthodox and the clerical leaders of 140 million Russian Orthodox. This crisis has been caused by nationalism. Indeed, even the word heresy is being used of this schism.
Thus, Greeks accuse Russians of nationalism by promoting their concept of ‘the Russian world’, which Greeks find akin to the heresy of ‘phyletism’ (racist nationalism), which denies the Catholicity of the Church. For them this is what the conflict in the Ukraine is about – the nationalist desire of the Russian government to unite into Russia all Russians, including the Russians who were persecuted and massacred while living near the Russian borders in the east and the south of the old Ukraine and keeping the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under its control. In the nationalist Russian world, non-Russians, even if they are Orthodox, may be treated as second-class citizens.
Russians also accuse Greeks of the same heresy of phyletism, in their claim that the whole Orthodox world must be under the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople, who is effectively an Eastern Pope, and that all Non-Greeks, even if they are Orthodox, are therefore effectively second-class citizens. This we have seen in the Greek establishment of dependent ‘Churches’, led by some very dubious individuals and even criminals, in the Ukraine, Estonia and elsewhere. And all this on the age-old canonical territory of the Russian Church and under the political patronage and with the finance of the US State Department.
We are neither Greek nor Russian, as we are drawn from the other 46 million Orthodox. We, who belong to the majority of the fourteen other Local Orthodox Churches, with over a third of us belonging to the Romanian Orthodox Church, are left in the middle. We are in communion with both Russians and Greeks, but in disagreement with both. We find that they are influenced by extremism and that they should sort out their problems at a real Council of the whole Church. Sadly, the elderly Patriarch of Constantinople has rejected this, claiming that he is above Councils!
Given the Greek rejection of a Council, which Council has been promoted by us in an attempt to resolve their schism, cynics say that the Church will just have to wait until the two aged Patriarchs, of Moscow and Constantinople, have died. Only then will the situation be resolved, as the only way out of the crisis is for both patriarchs to pass on and be replaced by new, non-political patriarchs, free of nationalism and US interference. This is to reduce the whole affair to a mere personality issue. That is not at all the case, for here is a vital theological issue about putting the Catholicity of the Church above nationalism, and also we are not cynics. We are believers.
We have already lived through a similar situation of blockage, that of the Cold War, when Church affairs were blocked by politics, in the USSR for 75 years, in the rest of Eastern Europe for 45 years. (Although there was no Greco-Russian schism then). What happened? In 1991 the USSR fell overnight. The hand of God. The present schism is, we believe, not yet as serious and as long-lasting as the era of the Communist captivity of the Church. Those who despair have forgotten the Faith. The hand of God intervenes and all can change in a moment.
As we have seen, there is no possibility of a Council of the whole Church, as it will be boycotted by the Patriarch of Constantinople, as he has stated. What is possible, however, is a Council of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) which recognises that the USSR no longer exists. One country became 15 independent republics. Surely the ROC needs to decentralise and found new Local Churches, by giving independence/ autocephaly to those Russian Orthodox who for over thirty years have lived in other countries. If independence (autocephaly) were granted by a Church Council in Moscow to those Orthodox outside Russia, but who were formerly in the USSR, this would completely undermine Constantinople’s fake Churches in the Ukraine, Estonia and Lithuania (this latter created only by Moscow defrocking priests for no canonical reason), pulling the rug from under Greek feet.
Firstly, a new Local Church for the New Ukraine is required, as Moscow mulled over doing in the 1990s. The New Ukraine is what will be left of the old and purely artificial Soviet Ukraine, once the latter has been dismantled. Already five provinces with the Crimea have been transferred to Russia. It is not known if other provinces, perhaps two (Nikolaev, Odessa?) or even two more than that (Kharkov, Dnipropetrovsk?), will be transferred to Russia, another two may return to Romania and Hungary. Russia has never wanted to invade or occupy the whole of the Ukraine. It has enough territory of its own and knows from recent history that it cannot occupy areas that are not Russian, where it is not accepted.
So a New Ukraine will still exist, not as large as the old Ukraine which is a construct invented from 1922 on, but still large, between half and three-quarters of the old one. It will be a Ukraine that does not have a US puppet government and one that is demilitarised and denazified, that is, neutral. Unlike the old Fascistic Ukraine which is now collapsing, it will also have to grant all its citizens democracy, freedom to practise their religion without fear of the secret police, and other essential human rights.
The New Ukraine will need a Church which is fully independent of the ROC in Moscow. Similarly, a new Local Church for the three Baltic statelets and another new Local Church for Moldova can end divisions there. However, if Moscow does not do this, Orthodox there and elsewhere, notably in Latvia, will precisely turn to Constantinople for autocephaly and Moscow will also lose Moldova to the Romanian Church. Ultimately, the same may well have to happen for Orthodox in Kazakhstan together with the other four ‘stans’ of Central Asia and then in Belarus.
The point is that Russian nationalism only works with Russians, just as Greek nationalism only works with Greeks. The situation with Greek nationalism is all the more critical for Constantinople. Still seemingly denying that the Greek Orthodox Empire fell in 1453 and still addicted to US dollars, the Patriarchate of Constantinople is going to have to deal with the consequences of the Russian military and technological victory in the Ukraine and its economic and diplomatic victory in BRICS +, which includes Africa, where the ROC is very active.
Both Russian victories already mean the humiliation of the United States and Western Europe, especially of the fatally divided NATO and the EU, which are both likely to collapse. For example, Turkiye, whose President was saved from US assassination by Russia on 15 July 2016 and who was recently in Moscow for talks, has shown great interest in joining BRICS + and so leaving NATO. And Turkiye, whose application to join the EU has been humiliatingly rejected by it on many occasions over the decades, is precisely where the Patriarchate of Constantinople is fixed.
If Turkiye, whose army is for now the second largest in NATO, joins BRICS +, US influence there will collapse, as also in the part of Syria which it occupies and exploits. BRICS + means the end of the prospect of a potential future World Dictatorship, as foretold in the prophecies of Antichrist. Since Russia has good relations with Turkiye and thousands of Russians live there permanently, it will not be long before the ROC opens an Exarchate there, as it has already done in Africa. In Africa it seems as though the Greek Patriarchate of Alexandria will go back to what it was 100 years ago and still essentially is, a small Greek diocese covering Egypt and Libya.
If Constantinople boycotts a Council of the Church, then a Council will go ahead without it. It will be its loss. If Constantinople does not need the Church, the Church will not need it. However, if Moscow does not give autocephalies to the Orthodox in the independent countries formed over thirty years ago, it will find that those countries will gain their Orthodox autocephaly without Moscow. This has already happened in Latvia, just as generations ago it happened in Poland, Czechoslovakia and North America. The peoples of the Church do not need bureaucracies, protocols and their pieces of paper to live and develop. They need freedom. This should be blatantly obvious. Sadly, to some it is not.
In any case, both Greeks and Russians will have to recognise that there is no future in phyletism, racist nationalism. Nationalism is the hatred of other countries and, as it is hatred, it can have no place in Christianity. Patriotism, however, is a Christian value, for it is the love of our native country and, as such, in no way excludes positive feelings towards other countries. Let both Greeks and Russians be patriotic, as much as they want, but let patriotism not degenerate into nationalism. The Church of God is much larger than Greeks and Russians. It is the Holy Spirit Who alone creates the spirit of Catholicity, uniting all peoples in their Local Churches. It is called Unity in Diversity and is the image of the Holy Trinity.