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Moscow creating new Exarchies, Constantinople finalizing tomos, primates praying at… Gethsemane

ORTHODOXIA.INFO | Andreas LoudarosOnly a few days out from the new metropolitan of Kyiv Epiphanius receiving the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian church, the Moscow Patriarchate has upped the ante by establishing two new Exarchies in Western Europe and South East Asia as well as a metropolis in Spain and Portugal.

With this move, the Russian church is further widening the gap between Moscow and Constantinople despite a high-ranking spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate (Vladimir Legoyda) having stated in an interview with Russia Today on Christmas Eve that the Russian side is “ready for dialogue” without, of course, this meaning “backing down from our positions.”

The ROC’s tactics have come to confirm what international analysts have been saying for some time, that the goal of the Patriarchate and the Kremlin is to show the rest of the Orthodox world that Moscow is so confident of its power that it has no problem in standing alone in this fight, especially when territories belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate are involved.

Moscow has already established a fully functioning parish in Constantinople and metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk has expressed his concern for the Russian faithful living in Crete, the Dodecanese, and other parts of Greece which are under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

IN ANTICIPATION OF RECEIVING THE TOMOS

Meanwhile, preparations are well underway in Constantinople for the reception of the new autocephalous church’s first primate, metropolitan Epiphanius. Indeed, the finishing touches are currently being made to the tomos which will be presented to the Ukrainian Primate at the conclusion of the celebrative liturgy in St George’s patriarchal cathedral at the Phanar on January 6.

With the granting of the tomos being the final step in officially establishing the autocephalous church of Ukraine, all eyes are now on the primates of the other local Orthodox churches who will have to decide whether they will accept the ecumenical patriarch’s decision or whether they will give in to pressure from Moscow and challenge Bartholomew’s prerogative to grant autocephaly.

Well-informed sources have informed orthodoxia.info that the official letter by which metropolitan Epiphanius will formally announce his election to the other primates and request his inclusion in the other churches’ diptychs has already been written.

THE BATTLE CAMPS

The question of Ukrainian autocephaly has created a headache for most of the Orthodox primates, many of whom are now uttering the biblical phrase “let this cup pass from me.”

It therefore follows that the process by which the new Ukrainian church and its primate will be recognized will take some time. At present, given few hierarchs have made known their view on the issue, it is rather difficult to analyze each church’s strength and assign their leaders with certainty to one camp or the other.

In any case, with regard to the ancient patriarchates, Antioch is expected to support Moscow just as it had done during the synod of Crete in 2016. As for Jerusalem, looking at its response following Moscow’s decision to break ties with Constantinople, it is very unlikely the church in the Holy Land will question the ecumenical patriarch’s authority.

The situation is a lot more complicated in Alexandria. «Judge of the universe» being part of his official title, patriarch Theodoros would have really liked to mediate in the dispute and pacify both sides, but it would appear that, for the time being, there is little room for such an endeavor.

Indeed, the Alexandrian primate essentially blew up his chances of playing the role of arbitrator when he began his tour in Odessa a few months ago and took a swipe at Constantinople for its exploits. The reaction Theodoros triggered forced him to back down and abstain from further commenting on the issue in public.

Will he recognize the new church or not? If it was in his power, he may have opted to maintain a neutral position for as long as this would be possible, but the fact of the matter is the Alexandrian Synod does not appear willing to go down this path.

Serbia, Poland, and the Czech Lands are considered the most Russophile at this stage based on statements previously made by their respective primates and hierarchs.

Despite initially wanting to preempt an escalation in the dispute, archbishop Anastasios of Albania is likely not going to turn his back on the Phanar.

As for Bulgaria, which also sided with Moscow during the Crete synod, this church is yet to reveal its cards, with addressing the Ukraine issue having effectively become the responsibility of several ecclesiastical committees.

Romania, in contrast, is expected to be among the first churches to welcome the creation of the new church in Ukraine.

The position of the church in Cyprus is another mystery, as it has never declined to support the Phanar despite enjoying very good relations with Moscow. It is worth mentioning that at the synod in Crete, archbishop Chrysostomos was one of the primates who gave their full support to patriarch Bartholomew.

THE CHURCH OF GREECE

As for Greece, at this point in time the ecumenical patriarch’s relationship with archbishop Ieronymos and prime minister Tsipras is at an all-time low. Athens and the Phanar, in both an ecclesiastical and political sense, are acting more like a family facing a deep crisis which is yet to reach its peak.

In the eyes of those within the archbishop’s inner circle, the Ukrainian question could have had many parallels with the issue of the New Lands in northern Greece. In this sense, many would like to see Athens choose not to endorse the Patriarchate’s arguments, as they fear this could backfire on them.

Yet, as in all families, there are those, and there are many of them, who like to remind us that the ties which bind the churches of Constantinople and Greece are much stronger and deeper than believed and that Athens is in no case capable of lifting the burden of questioning the Phanar’s ecumenical role in the Church.

If times were different, archbishop Ieronymos would have surely begun commemorating metropolitan Epiphanius well before the latter’s letter arrived in Athens, but given the way things are at present, it seems that the Greek church’s position will be decided by its synod, and without there being any need for haste.

 

Translation by Evangelos Nicolaidis

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