Orthodox Church facing schism

After the Russian Orthodox Church's announcement that it was cutting its ties with the Patriarchate of Constantinople it has told its worshippers not to pray in Constantinople-linked churches. This comes in reaction to Constantinople's decision to grant the Ukrainian Orthodox Church independence. For commentators the conflict has major geopolitical dimensions.

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Trud (BG) /

Bartholomew driven by power fantasies

Bartholomew I wants to make not only the Orthodox church in Ukraine independent of its mother church in Russia, but also that in Macedonia from its mother church in Serbia. But that's not within his remit, Canon law expert Borislav Tsekov criticises in Trud:

“According to the Canon there is only one path towards autocephaly for both the Ukrainian and the Macedonian churches: if both the mother church and all other Orthodox churches agree to this. With his unilateral actions Bartholomew is greatly harming the unity and the conciliatory leadership of holy Orthodoxy. His actions are driven by fantasies of power and geopolitical considerations that contravene churchdom and therefore also Christendom.”

Echo of Moscow (RU) /

Kiev's revenge for Crimea

Commentator Anton Orech of the Echo of Moscow sees Ukraine's drive for the independence of its church as a response to Russia's aggressions:

“The autocephaly is a bitter defeat for Putin. And the only way for Ukraine to hit back. Ukraine can't recover either Crimea or Donbass and it can't beat Russia in a military confrontation. ... But taking the church territories away from the Russian Orthodox Church is no less satisfying than getting Crimea back. This is a matter of such dimensions that it will take another thousand years to digest the consequences. As silly as it may sound, the united church territory created the illusion of a continuation of the USSR. The Bolsheviks destroyed the Church, but ultimately the common Church was the only thing that still held us together formally.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Ukraine not suited to having a national church

Autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is not in keeping with the times, writes political scientist Radu Carp in his blog with Adevărul:

“The efforts of the political elite in Kiev to create a 'Ukrainian national church' are a purely political step through which President Poroshenko hopes to maintain his grip on power. Ukraine doesn't just consist of one ethnicity (Ukrainian) or one denomination (Orthodoxy). It is multi-ethnic and multi-denominational. Can a church be granted autocephaly nowadays simply on the basis of the idea that a new state in which a majority nation with a majority religion lives has been created? ... The hesitant stance of the other Orthodox churches at the Holy Synod in Crete [in 2016] on the issue of autocephaly shows that there is no consensual answer to this question. ”

Polityka (PL) /

Does Putin need a new war?

Polityka sees a Russian campaign against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under way and suspects it is the result of the Kremlin's domestic machinations:

“In Russia there are many voices saying that in view of the problems Vladimir Putin and his system are encountering a new war is necessary and possible. For this scenario images of the violent takeover of sacred sites and bloodshed in Ukraine's Orthodox churches will be needed. Patriarch Kirill is already formulating such visions in Russian media. The Moscow media point out that the 'Ukrainian fascists' have already been supplied with weapons from the United States and that Patriarch Bartholomew is backed by the US State Department which has been preparing this anti-Russian intrigue for years.”

Echo of Moscow (RU) /

Christianity facing third major schism

The break with Constantinople could lead to a historic schism in Orthodox Christianity, Echo of Moscow writes:

“The 15 October 2018 could go down in world history as the day on which the third major schism began. Comparable with 16 July 1054, which saw Christianity divide into an Eastern and a Western Church, and 31 October 1517, which divided Western Christianity into Catholics and Protestants. Today's meeting of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, which wants to give an 'adequate and harsh' response to the decision made on 11 October by the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, will likely be seen as the starting shot for the new schism.”

Financial Times (GB) /

A blow for Putin's expansionist policies

The Ukrainian Church's looming secession will curtail Moscow's influence, the Financial Times believes:

“If Bartholomew grants autocephaly to the Kiev church in November as expected, Ukrainian independence will receive a powerful boost. So, too, may the prospects in elections next May of president Petro Poroshenko, who has championed Kiev's religious freedom. ... Losing the Ukrainian patriarchate will diminish Russia's weight in eastern Orthodoxy, and hence Moscow's 500-year-old claim to be the 'Third Rome' since the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. It will also demonstrate the extent to which Mr Putin's actions have backfired by driving a wedge between Ukrainians and Russians.”

Lietuvos žinios (LT) /

Russia has been punished

The Russian Orthodox Church is being punished for its hubris, Lietuvos žinios gloats:

“After the meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis in 2016 the Kremlin's propaganda machine celebrated the coming together of the most powerful leaders of the two Churches. As if the Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople were less important and Moscow were the epicentre of the Orthodox Church. But this behaviour had consequences. The Ukrainian Orthodox Christians account for almost half of all the faithful in the Moscow Patriarchate. It's unclear how many of them will join the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [of the Kiev Patriarchate] that has now been recognised by Constantinople, but the Moscow Patriarchate has clearly been weakened. And that means Putin has less leeway in his attempts to use religion for his imperialist policy.”

newsru.com (RU) /

Church row will become Russian reason of state

Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov fears in a Facebook post published on newsru.com that the Kremlin is politicising the church conflict:

“What difference does it make in the 21st century whom people who dress according to the fashion of an empire that collapsed half a millennium ago decide to follow? I would just ignore it - if there wasn't a 'but': the state power will use this autocephaly against all of us, I fear. Why? Putin's popularity ratings have slumped, the war with Ukraine is frozen, Trump is definitely not our type and sport stinks of urine nowadays. Where, if not in the Church, will he find the next resources to mobilise his own people? For this reason we can reckon with intensified clericalisation.”

Evenimentul Zilei (RO) /

Moscow's threatening behaviour

Moscow's reaction will send a shock wave through the entire Orthodox world, writes Evenimentul Zilei:

“Moscow has already threatened with a complete schism, with breaking off Church and Eucharist relations with the Ecumencial Patriarchy. And it also announced a total church war in Ukraine, where its priests and churchgoers will oppose the voluntary cession of Church property. ... If we believe the words of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, which will convene [today] for the holy synod in Minsk to decide which measures to take, not only Ukrainian Orthodoxy but also the entire religious community is now threatened by a division akin to the Great Schism of 1054.”

Dzerkalo Tyzhnia (UA) /

Washington wants to destroy USSR once and for all

Dserkalo Tyzhnia believes Washington is supporting the efforts of the Ecumenical Patriarchate:

“Ukraine is not a bad starting point [for the Ecumenical Patriarchate]: there is a conflict that no one wants to resolve, dissatisfaction with the current Church headquarters [Moscow], the political will of the country's leadership to become a situtative ally, and a critical mass of 'unsupervised' believers. ... On top of that there's the geopolitical interest in the definitive collapse of the USSR. Yes, those in Moscow who say that the 'autocephaly' project is being backed by the 'Washington Obkom' [a pejorative term used to refer to US interference in the politics of the post-Soviet states], which has finally realised what an important role the Church plays in Slavic geopolitics, are right.”

Ukrayinska Pravda (UA) /

Why Russia is panicking

Russia is in panic at the prospect of Ukraine getting its own independent church, writes the pro-government political scientist Kostyantin Matviyenko in Ukrayinska Pravda:

“The hysterical behaviour of the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian media and social networks and also the Russian authorities came as a result of the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople to send his official representatives to Ukraine. It shows how panicked Russia is. ... Where does this panic come from? It mainly has deep-reaching political causes. It is a reaction to the protagonists having suddenly realised how fundamentally flawed Russia's entire policy in its bilateral relations to Ukraine is.”

Zeit Online (DE) /

Religion as Russian rulers' tool

The Russian Orthodox Church is far too embroiled in political matters, Zeit Online also believes:

“Ever since the times of Peter the Great, the Russian Church has not constituted an independent force but has been subservient to the state. Under Putin it has become an organ for executing state policies. That was its role in the Ukraine War in 2014, when Russian priests blessed the weapons of the separatists and soldiers in Donbass, and fuelled the fires of nationalism with historic exhibitions. In Ukraine, meanwhile, Orthodox priests in Donbass refused to give fallen Ukrainian soldiers the last rites. ... Whether in Ukraine or Syria, the loyal Russian Orthodox clergy has extolled national expansion. For them religion is not the opium of the people but a tool of the rulers.”