The controversy continues related to the efforts of Ukraine to establish an Orthodox Church not affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate. Moscow does not want the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul to send a representative to the church in Ukraine. The Ecumenical Patriarchate spoke to Agos in regard of the topic.
Moscow struck the unity of Orthodoxy
In relation to the problems that have arisen regarding the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, declared that if the Ecumenical Patriarchate transfers the Ukrainian Church from the spiritual territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, they will cut their ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. What does the Ecumenical Patriarchate think about this threat?
As you know, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the Mother Church of all autocephalous churches, with the exception of the four ancient churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Cyprus. The Patriarchates of Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Georgia, as well as the Churches of Greece, Poland, Albania, the Czech lands, Finland, and Estonia, were separated from the spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which granted them the right of autocephaly or autonomy, and even the status of patriarchate to some. It is, therefore, within the duties of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to determine when it is time for a Church to become autocephalous. In this determination, our Patriarchate always maintains the same criteria: The Church must be based in an independent state, while the petition for autocephaly must be made by that church and state. In the case of Ukraine, our Patriarchate is doing exactly the same as it has done in all other cases. Consequently, the reaction of the Moscow Patriarchate cannot be interpreted with ecclesiastical criteria. Nevertheless, it is inappropriate for a Church to behave and act on the basis of political criteria instead of spiritual criteria. Moreover, it is inappropriate to threaten the unity of the Church on the basis of these political criteria. Some days ago, our Patriarch had already stated that the Ecumenical Patriarchate neither threatens, nor is threatened. Yet, today we are unfortunately experiencing the realization of the threat that you mention: the Church of Moscow announced that it is ceasing the commemoration of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Anyone that cuts the commemoration of its head is in danger of spiritual death, in danger of estrangement from the rest of the body.
Is this stance of the Moscow Patriarchate toward the Ecumenical Patriarchate limited only to developments in Ukraine? Or is this stance perhaps an expression of an attempt to increase the power that Moscow has within the Orthodox world?
This is an important question, because it gives us an opportunity to say a little more about the concept of power in the Church of Christ. The truth is that the Moscow Patriarchate still operates under strong dependence on the state, a reality that prevents it from focusing more on spiritual and ecclesiastical criteria. Both from the time of the Czars and the Soviet Union and to this day under Vladimir Putin, the close relationship with worldly power generates problems for the stance and behavior of the Church of Moscow toward all the other Orthodox Churches: those under its influence are considered subjugated and faithful followers, while those it finds disagreeable are treated with distrust and aggression. We experienced this division again very recently when, in June 2016, the Moscow Patriarchate cancelled its participation in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church literally at the last moment, luring away their usual satellites, who quite coincidentally also happen to enjoy close political ties with Moscow: the Patriarchate of Antioch (Syria), the Patriarchate of Bulgaria, and the Patriarchate of Georgia. In this way, Moscow once again dealt a blow to the unity of Orthodoxy. In response, then, to your question, the Moscow Patriarchate indeed seems to be acting in accordance with worldly criteria for the exercise of power, forgetting that the strength of the Church is spiritual and its head is our Lord Jesus Christ.
What are the consequences of this behavior of the Moscow Patriarchate for the Orthodox world? Or what sort of repercussions can this have on the Orthodox world in the near future?
The adoption of worldly and political criteria by churches can only lead us to error and divisions of a worldly nature; divisions, in other words, guided by geopolitical and other areas of influence. However, these matters are fluid and constantly change, while spiritual criteria and principles never change. The first leads to divisions, while the spirit, the Holy Spirit, unites, sanctifies and protects us. Therefore, the consequences of this behavior lead us to division in the Orthodox world. Persevering with ecclesiastical and spiritual criteria is the secret of Church unity.