The Slavic Dolls And The Christian East
Things have evolved in conflicting ways between the heads of the Constantinople and Moscow Patriarchates since the refusal of the Russian Orthodox Church to participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council of Crete in 2016. Is this only a quarrel of power and primacy? Constantinople has repeatedly opposed the establishment of the Moscow Rus, particularly during the re-establishment of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate by the Provisional Government.
Metropolitan Tikhon (Belavine), elected Patriarch on November 5, 1917, had declared: “the night will be dark and very long”. Little is known on the history of the Russian Orthodox Church: it was tragic, fraught with uncertainty, marked by an almost constant submission to the civil power, in particular the Tzarist system. The history of the Rus Church in Kiev and Moscow is the result of an extension in which the influences were contrasted and marked by important contributions of the Little-Russian theologians, who came from many regions now called “Ukrainian”.
Quibbles did not fail to show up among the actors of the matter. Occasionally, old grimoires dating back to the 17th century were brought out of ancient archives. The Patriarchate of Constantinople entrusted the spiritual care of the Kievan Rus to the Church of Moscow in 1686. Four hundred years later, at the request of a Ukrainian President whose country is at war with the Russian Federation, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew – “Primus inter pares “of the leaders of the Orthodox Churches – denounced the temporary agreement with the Russian Church of Moscow with the aim to unite the Orthodox faithful of the Republic of Ukraine into a new Church placed under its protection and authority.
On January 6, 2019, the Phanar confirmed by Decree / Tomos that this “Orthodox Church in Ukraine” can not extend her ruling authority outside the territory of the Republic of Ukraine. On the other hand, the Patriarch of Constantinople will exercise his canonical and spiritual authority over all the Ukrainian Orthodox who, throughout the world, recognize his jurisdiction.
Former “patriarch” Philaret of Kiev, excommunicated by the Russian Church of Moscow , was recently reinstated without any consultation with the Patriarchate of Moscow and all the other canonical Orthodox Churches. This paved the way to Metropolitan Epiphanyi, elected head of the new Ukrainian Church. This als ounderscores that only very few (two) canonical bishops of the the patriarchate of Moscow accetped to show at the geenral “unifying Ukrainian Synod” on December 15, 2018. Nonetheless the new Ukrainian hierarch refuses the conditions currently proposed by the Phanar. The negotiations will take time.
Indeed, things have not been clarified. Many wonder: why did the Ecumenical Patriarch take such a decision? Repeated requests of Orthodox Ukrainians were sent to the Phanar to be granted autonomy. Ukraine is the cradle of Eastern Slavic Christianity. The atmosphere of multi-faceted political distrust aggravates the relations while the war emphasizes the deep fracture that appeared after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Twenty-six years ago, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was severely impacted by continuous splitting processes. It encouraged the demand for more autonomy, even autocephaly, by the Ukrainian Church that was under the omophorion (spiritual and canonical authority) of the Patriarchate of Moscow. In fact, the Kyivan Rus obtained large autonomy whilst remaining in the body of the Church of Moscow. Thirty years have passed but it is too short in terms of history.
The Patriarchate of Moscow went through the period of the collapse of communism and the disappearance of the Soviet Union by maintaining an effective canonical link with various local entities present in the immense territory of the Tsarist Empire. In 2007, the union with the Church Abroad confirmed that the 21st century opened up with negotiated forms of reconciliation and unity while preserving particular liturgical and community specificities.
Geopolitical strategies are mentioned; the American support enjoyed by the Phanar and the Republic of Ukraine. Others speak of a need for freedom and trust … Theological reasons have all too often been missing in the course of the discussion that turned into a real political dispute. There was more talks on power, domination than sincere concern for announcing or celebrating the Mysteries of the Church and Jesus of Nazareth.
2018 was marked by the 170th anniversary of the presence of the Ecclesiastical Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow in the Holy Land. This event went unnoticed in Western circles. Thus, numerous conferences and celebrations have been organized by the Moscow Patriarchate in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tiberias and Hebron. The prestigious monasteries built in the region over time (the Gornensky Women’s Monastery at Ein Karem) has been widely celebrated.
Other sites belong to the Russian Church Abroad like the Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene at the Mount of Olives. The British princes Charles and Andrew visited it twice, emphasizing the historical and pan-European character of the Eastern Christian faith of Russian tradition rooted in the Greek Byzantine tradition.
Other historical possessions are disputed by various jurisdictions and this remains a problem because of existing claims against the Israeli authorities. This is the case of the Mary Magdalene Monastery of Tiberias. The metochion (monastery) Alexander Nevsky, located in the prolongation of the Holy Sepulcher, was resolved after many difficult negotiations with both the Israelis and the Greeks. It is today a very visited place because of the archeology and the historicity of the Russian presence in Jerusalem.
Pilgrims from the Russian Federation and countries that are linked to the Patriarchate of Moscow (Moldavia, Belarus, Ukraine to date, the faithful of Central Asia) are developing quite significantly. Thousands of visitors arrive everyday in the Holy Land, in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. The old imperial organizations are re-deploying in each of these traditional ecclesiastical regions. The King of Jordan – who sometimes opposes the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem that is under his custody – has promoted the establishment of touristic and cultural centers that are under the spiritual and administrative care of the Russian Orthodox Church, in particular on the Jordan River.
Israel is sometimes considered as the second Russian country in the world. The country has absorbed more than one million people from the former USSR. Yet Ukrainians say they are the largest group in the country versus the Russians. The immigrants came mainly from Ukraine or Byelorussia, Moldavia-Bessarabia. These “Ukrainians” remain rather unable to get organized in Israel whilst pretending to maintain a special link with Ukraine. Others were from Ukraine but had been deported to Siberia during the Second World War. Some had settled in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution which legally abolished the existence of areas of residence where the Jews had to dwell under discriminating Tsarist rules.
The revival of the so-called “Russian Palestine / Русская Палестина”, initiated by the Orthodox Synod of Moscow in the 19 th century, surfaced and showed evident hardships to carry out a positive dialogue of the Russian Church with the Israeli authorities. The Israeli athorities are more likely to favor the Greek-Orthodox patriarchate, while the Russian Church has long had important contacts in all Arab countries and the Patriarchate of Antioch.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople has no representation in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
In 2005, Patriarch Bartholomaios solved canonically the election of the current patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem following the testimony of the former patriarch Irenaeus, allegedly accused of being involved in illegal sales of land and properties in the Holy Land. This was possible thanks to an exceptional synod which obtained the assent of the Patriarchate of Moscow and all the canonically autocephalous Orthodox Churches.
The creation of a Ukrainian metropolis can be part of a larger project. The decision to organize a “Synod of Unification” in Kiev was held on December 15, 2018. This undoubtedly precipitated the implementing of projects that had been planned for years. For the Church of Constantinople, it is a matter of rationalizing the diasporic Church bodies who want to get more autonomy from the Phanar. It must also ensure the authenticity of the Orthodox message as it is announced and transmitted in various continents.
This is the very same concern of the patriarchate of Moscow. On December 28, 2018, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow decided to create two new structures. Following the events of the Ukraine, the Russian patriarchate created the “Exarchate of Chersonese (Korsun) and Western Europe” which includes all European countries formerly entrusted to Metropolitan Eulogyi (Georgievsky). However, it should be noted that the Scandinavian countries are not included in the new entity, although the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad have parishes in Northern Europe… along with the Patriarchate of Moscow.
A second Exarchate was created in South-East Asia with the See of the city of Singapore. It includes all the countries of these Far-Eastern regions (Republic of Singapore, Cambodia, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myamar, Philippines, Thailand) .
This pre-supposes a more subtle positioning for the two patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow, whichtends to exercise or impose their authority and traditional religious influences in specific regions of the world. It is possible to define a move toward significant territorial redistribution, secured bybrand new canonical statutes that can be rejected or denied by other Orthodox jurisdictions.
Europeans will be astonished to see the emergence of Muscovite Exarchate in Western Europe. It will definitely take over the spiritual actions conveyed by the structure created in 1931 by Metropolitan Euloge. The current Archdiocese of Russian Churches in Western Europe is facing a very difficult choice with regards to its survival. It should be resolved in February 2019.
The Exarchate of Southeast Asia seems a bit away from Europe. Yet, it directly concerns Israel. The Hebrew State includes a very large number of expatriate workers from all these Asian countries. Filipino communities have been present for decades in the country, as a lot of Thais, Tamil people. Pilgrims from Indonesia, South Korea come en masse to Jerusalem.
They are not only Catholic; many are Orthodox and those who join the Eastern Christian communities (strong presence of the Church Abroad). Shortly after the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Constantinople), Patriarch Bartholomew went to South Korea where the Greek diocese under the spiritual care of the Phanar was quite renown till the Patriarchate of Moscow created a new parish after the recent clash with Constantinople.
Patriarch Bartholomew requires the right or canonical privilege to control all the Ukrainian churches linked to the former schismatic Patriarchate of Kiev, restricting the authority of the young Metropolitan Epiphanyi, elected at the Unification Synod (December 15, 2018), to the territory of the Republic of Ukraine only. It is not accepted yet by the new hierarchy. They first have to exercise within the framework of the Tmos the received on January 5th, 2018, on the eve of the feast of the Theophny (Greek new comput).
This territorial claim is due to the importance of the Ukrainian diaspora in the world, especially in North and South America. By taking the canonical and spiritual control of this international portion of Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarch could also overlook the Ukrainian faithful who live in Israel or in the Palestinian Territories. A lot of Ukrainians also work as expatriates in the Gulf Emirates. In Jerusalem, hundreds of Orthodox Ukrainians arrive everyday to visit the Holy Places.
It is too early to describe with precision what this could mean for the territory of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has an important moral debt towards the Phanar. It faces growing difficulties with the local communities: the Arabs of Israel and Palestine, the native clergy of Jordan. The maintenance of a Hellenic Orthodox clergy, traditionally composed of descendants of the Greeks of the Pont-Euxin, exterminated during the 1915 genocide led by the Young Turks is not an easy affair. Patriarchal bodies struggle to maintain direct contacts with the local inhabitants, with is not evident just for high defects in the linguistic level of their clergy and monks in common use of Hebrew, Arabic and other European languages.
The representatives of the Republic of Ukraine in Israel supported the creation of the “unified” Orthodox Church. They did this in a trans-jurisdictional way: in the Holy Land, all Churches are normally under the authority of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. Thus, the whole affair deals with Israeli parliamentary and legal projects: verification of land property, territories. Jewish and / or Israeli groups have secretly acquired – sometimes with the help of Orthodox Arab worshipers or some embezzlement from Greece or Cyprus – land or properties. The press and the local people hardly know that some of these properties once belonged to the Jews during the British Mandate (the two hotels of the Jaffa Gate, for example).
There is a permanent face-to-face process between Israelis and the Christian religious bodies should normally be intensified because of the projects of the Israeli authorities to rationalize their relations with all the denominational structures mainly run by authorities outside of Israel. The question of the participation of the churches – laity, clergy and hierarchy – in the “civic” life of Israeli society is still a dream. It remains that the CHurch simply have to settle their operating costs and expenses accordingly, pay the income-taxes since the Church debts accumulated over several decades, more than 70 years to be exact.
King Abdullah II of Jordan has often questioned the actions of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. On the other hand, he allowed the Ecclesiastical Mission of the Moscow Patriarchate in Jerusalem and to the representatives of the Imperial Orthodox Society of Palestine (Императорское православное палестинское общество) – created in 1882 – to open cultural centers for pilgrims of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Aboard.
The Patriarchate of Moscow therefore has serious plans for the renovation and re-deployment of its spiritual, theological and strategic activities in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. This is rooted in the old traditions of the Slavic Churches: the Russian Orthodox believers in-depth adopted the Christian message when it was accepted by the Kievan Rus before it extended to Moscow: “They did not resign themselves to Germanic, Latin or Greek mythologies. They really coped with the Biblical accounts that definitely impacted their culture and ways of living.
The Moscow Patriarchate is the heir of privileged times in the history of the Holy Places of Christianity. The Russian Orthodox Church backed the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem that also got the support that the Sublime Porte. The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem remains the first Church or “Mother of all the Churches of God” as affirmed by the inscription of the Katholikon , the nave of the Holy Sepulcher entrusted to the Hagiotaphite Brotherhood. Relationships have not always been easy. Things get better, only apparently and for ambiguous tactics developed for the contradictory benefits of each jurisdiction present in the Holy Sepulcher.
In a more confessional prospect, the Russian Church considers that she plays a significant role in the Holy Land and subsequently should be granted more power and rights in managing the local Church. Recently, the Patriarchate of Moscow intervened to settle the water debt of the Holy Sepulcher that had to be paid by the Hellenic Orthodox Patriarchate on behalf of the Christian communities. Patriarch Kyrill personally traveled to Jerusalem on this occasion, which he had refuse to do since he became a patriarch…
A large number of Orthodox faithful have arrived in Israel since the time of the refuzniki came in the country in the 1970s, thus a million and a half between 1991 and today. Many Russian or Ukrainian citizens may consider theyare entitled to migrate because of their right of return under Israeli law. Others arrived as spouses of a person who could benefit.
In the South Negev, there are about 150,000 baptized people. The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem has little developed assistance to these faithful, often hesitantly. I created groups that use Hebrew, the Slavic or other languages (including Ukrainian and Belarussian, Moldavian). Cultural nostalgia and some sort of unsettled Orthodox Christian identity often continue to develop into conflictual situations toward strong Jewish identities. It results in oppositing and political clashes. I therefore chose to set up parallel structures, especially thanks to digital and new techniques, always referring to Canon Law.
The Moscow Patriarchate did little either to promote Hebrew inculturation. Still, I celebrated in Hebrew and Slavonic at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Jerusalem (Kikar Safra). It did not last, not that it was not possible per se. But this was possible because the texts had been published by the Moscow Synod in 1841. The Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Russian Orthodox authorities had given their agreement. Some security administrative rules defined by the Federation of Russia unfortunately complicated a movement that needs to be revived. It will pass.
Historically, the Russian Church has been helping Orthodox Arabic Christians since the establishment of the Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. Some Arab priests studied in the Soviet Union, perfectly speak Russian and have often married a Russian or Ukrainian woman. There is a flow of exchanges of dense people between Israeli society and families in the Palestinian territories.
Mixed marriages must be taken into account, often between Jews who have become Christians and Christian Arabs who are seeking newcomer women/men to marry. This is a usual situation in the region. Innovation is everywhere: the Samaritans, alerted by their demographic decline and consanguineous problems, have integrated a significant number of Ukrainian women admitted to their community without any conversion rite. This does not mean that these wives renounced Christianity. Things are very subtle in the country.
Israel does not accept the – sometimes legitimate – demands of the Moscow Patriarchate though some of these requests are duly legitimate. The Russian Church affirms the regeneration of “Palestinian Russia” created in the 19 th century. Patriarch Kyrill readily experienced this in 1967 when he made his first trip to Jerusalem while he was in charge of the Moscow Patriarchate’s External Affairs.
Israel also leaves “vagabonds / vagantes” and invertebrate groups of Orthodox priests ordained in the non-canonical and minority jurisdictions of Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Bulgaria or Greece (Old-calendarists). This situation is little known, rarely mentioned in the current period of “unification” in vogue in Ukraine. On the side of Kiev and Odessa as in the Israeli countryside (!), One can find a whole indeterminate constellation of “sectarians / сектанты” of Slavic expression. In Palestine, some priests have left the patriarchate of Jerusalem for Russian jurisdictions parallel to the official structures.
The ability to appeal to a Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdiction is therefore important for Phanar. If the Ecumenical Patriarch, in addition to the quality of “Primus inter pares” which he invokes in the sister churches, could enjoy a secured authority over the Ukrainian diaspora, he would be able to find more direct ways of intervention, in similar ways in the Holy Land. This would only be possible if, in a still unexpected movement, the Republic of Ukraine demanded, in the name of its new unified Orthodox Church, goods, land and properties that had been acquired since the installation of the Russian missions in the Holy Land.
The political future of the Republic of Ukraine is uncertain, but the creation of the new independent Church on the national territory opens up on seemingly inedicted and new perspectives. These would be based on the “myth” of a powerful Ukrainian Orthodox identity, parallel to the Byzantine, and certainly international, success story. This identity is regularly expressed in the Ukrainian media and in Israel. It could act through political and religious connivance.
This is also confirmed by the attempts of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch to intervene in Jordan. The patriarchate of Jerusalem must redouble its vigilance. He initiated important actions (education, religious life) at the request of King Abdullah. At present, without the centuries-old know-how of the Hellenic Orthodox community, it would not be unthinkable for a fracture to occur in the patriarchate of Jerusalem: a jurisdiction close to Antioch and Moscow in Jordan and the strengthening of Greeks in Israel – West Bank – Gaza.
The “Ukrainian” hypothesis is less illusory than it seems. One would be happy to talk about “plans on the comet” or utopias improbable at the evocation of such perspectives. This would be to ignore the deep jolts that wave in repetitive waves, more and more frequent, the evolution of traditional churches in the Middle East, Jerusalem (Israel, West Bank, Gaza, Jordan). This would be to ignore the fights of targeted influences which occur discreetly between most of the present-day diplomatic superpowers, the States and, subsequently, the churches which are redeploying whereas the region is on fire.
The fact remains that the Patriarchate of Moscow acts most often by conforming to the rules of the canon law of different Orthodox traditions. This might be a surprise. This is what happened in Jerusalem when the candidate for the patriarchal election who was supported by the Russian Church was defeated (Met. Timotheos of Vostra, former Secretary General of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, a son of a communist activist).
Moscow turned his back … and nodded. Similarly, in the unanimous election of Patriarch Theophilos in 2005, the Synod of Moscow acquiesced. In the present vicissitudes, the Moscow Patriarchate does not rebuff, takes disputed decisions (suspension of the Eucharistic Communion with Constantinople).
It must be emphasized that it is acting, most often, by canonical ways such as the constitution of new ecclesiastical structures in Europe and Asia. It must also be borne in mind that the Russian Church has frequently been injured, sometimes severely, during the past century and wants to consolidate its possessions through the Russian Federation. This is not often understood when most churches have state structures that secure their goods and activities (Vatican, European states).
Most Orthodox Churches – including the Greek Orthodox Church – have expressed their disagreement with the initiatives taken by the Phanar to grant unilateral autocephaly to a new Orthodox Church in Ukraine … They said so and wrote …
These are the facts or events of this early 21st century. The real question is the authenticity of the Christ message, the truth of His testimony. There can be no question of competition. It would be childish, even if the tensions went through centuries of antagonism. Finally, the Church has to remain open to all nations, all cultures, all languages without exception.
This faculty to be open to all an reach out to all in the Lord relies upon firm roots in the faith, living faith that is a source of renewed authenticity.
N.B. Translated, adapted and updated from the original published in French on the “Times of Israel Français”, direct link: “http://frblogs.timesofisrael.com/les-poupees-gigognes-de-lorient-chretien/”.