Politics behind the Kyiv-Moscow religious clashes involving Constantinople

On November 16, 2017 Patriarch Filaret (Denisenko) of Kyiv and all Rus-Ukraine wrote a letter of reconciliation and communion to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). But two weeks later he denied any apologies or formal unity with the ROC. So why then did he write that ambiguous letter?

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On November 30, 2017, the whole Orthodox World was shocked by media reports about a letter of the unrecognized Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) Patriarch Filaret (Denisenko) to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) Bishops’ Council. This former Metropolitan of Kyiv left the ROC after he lost the election of its Primate. In the document of November 16, 2017 he claimed his will “to end the divisions and dissensions among Orthodox Christians, to restore communion in the Eucharist and in prayer, as befits the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”. “For the sake of achieving the God-commanded peace between coreligionist Orthodox Christians and the reconciliation between nations” Patriarch Filaret called the Council to “nullify” the anathema imposed on him in 1997. The letter concluded with words of mutual forgiveness: “as your brother and concelebrant, ask forgiveness for all that I have done in word, in deed, and through all my senses, and likewise sincerely from my heart I forgive you”.

Having considered the appeal, the ROC hierarchs didn’t find it possible to ignore the words of caring for the Orthodox Christian Church’s good. Council members immediately established a special commission to negotiate with UOC-KP on how to restore the canonical order in Ukraine and how to address the related technical issues.

However, once Moscow started to implement preliminary agreements and the media got suspicious about possible confidential talks behind it, the UOC-KP suddenly reversed its course. Instead of making another step towards the dialog they made two steps back. At the pressconference on December 2, Filaret (Denisenko) announced that his appeal to the ROC Primate’s Council had been misunderstood. The UOC-KP’s Primate stated that in his letter he hadn’t intended to deliver apologies for anything or seek any formal unity with the ROC. He said the letter had been written to give Moscow an opportunity to correct its mistake and lift “unjust” prohibitions that prevent the ROC from recognizing autocephaly to which the UOC-KP is “rightfully” entitled. In its turn, the Synod of the Kyivan Patriarchate decreed to “agree to negotiate with the ROC”, but didn’t establish any corresponding commission for that.

It’s just amazing why on Earth the Russians believed that Patriarch Filaret repented for his schism! I mean Filaret himself had repeatedly declared that he wouldn’t submit himself under any other patriarch – neither of Moscow nor of Constantinople. Moreover, while dealing with Constantinople, UOC-KP leadership has already shown its inability to fulfill agreements and maintain confidentiality. Now Moscow has learnt it the hard way.

Supporters of Filaret have been covertly seeking assistance at the Fanar for decades, addressing it as their Mother-Church. In 2016, Ukrainian authorities adopted and submitted appeals to the Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and waited for a response (or at least a hint of it) for almost half a year. And when all these efforts proved to be in vain they made an instant U-turn. Ever since Ukrainians accuse the Ecumenical Patriarchate of “spiritual wandering“, «Byzantine art of “palaver“», intriguery and Greek chauvinism. In contrast to the Fanariots, the ROC not only received delegates of the UOC-KP but almost welcomed them all with honours. Representatives of the Kyivan Patriarchate were accommodated in the 5-star hotel Metropol, had a peaceful conversation and were presented with valuable books.

Besides, Bishops’ Council in Moscow demonstrated its openness and readiness to talk by establishing a commission to further negotiate with Patriarch Filaret after his former letter. According to the comments from the UOC-KP’s clergy, the whole process took just about a month from the first unofficial meeting to the creation of the commission by the ROC. Nevertheless the matter remained stalemated due to Kyivan Patriarch’s backtrack later. Why then did he write that ambiguous letter?

The question of UOC-KP’s motives is indeed complicated. One could suggest, there are some actors in the UOC-KP that strive for improvent of the relations with the canonical Orthodox Christian Churches, but attempts to bring Filaret to the negotiation table were blocked by those interested in alienation of the contestant Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP, self-ruling entity under the jurisdiction of Moscow Patriarchate). This provokes tensions between different groups and movements within the UOC-KP that fight for influence and opportunities to enthrone their own candidates on the Kyivan See at the right moment. If this is true then the UOC-KP is likely to split further and further.

The Patriarch Filaret’s appeal to Moscow might be also driven by the intention to make the Fanar jealous and thus prompt it to take more specific actions. But we remember that according to the statements of the UOC-KP’s hierarchs their Church is de facto autocephalous and they don’t care if this status is formally recognized by other Patriarchates. Thus we can suppose that it is Ukrainian politicians who might be eager to simulate the start of the negotiations with Moscow. Yet, it’s unlikely that their inelaboate maneuvers will meet their goal. Patriarch Bartholomew is well aware of the complexity of the situation in Ukraine and takes into account all possible risks.

Moreover, his wisdom and deep situational vision are proved by the unofficial discussion of the appeal of the Ukrainian parliamentarians to the Ecumenical Patriarch on the sidelines of the Holy and Great Council in Crete. As the majority of hierarchs in attendance expected back in June 2016, His All-Holiness obviously distanced himself from Ukrainian issue.

However, one cannot rule out that the real mission and the raison d’etre of the Kyivan Patriarchate is to maintain the present instability which weakens the UOC-MP and gives benefits for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics. The Uniates are interested in promoting other Orthodox Christian denominations in Ukraine. For example, most of the Ukrainian parliamentarians who initiated the letter to the Patriarch Bartholomew are Greek Catholics. And even some clerics of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church prove that gathering all Ukrainian Orthodox believers under the omophorion of the Ecumenical Patriarch is a first step to bringing them under the authority of the Pope. Besides, the situation between patriarchates of Moscow and Conastantinople is one more trouble-issue in the context of the Russian –Turkish relations. This is exactly the objective of the Washington’s foreign policy in the region. And the White House is by the way one of the crucial partners of the present Ukrainian Administration.

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COLORAIL ADVOCACY MEETING SET FOR FEBRUARY 17TH — railswestern

ColoRail, a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to preserving & expanding passenger rail in Colorado, has set its Winter meeting for Saturday, February 17th. The session runs from 8am to Noon, and will be held at the Kimpton Hotel Born, just southwest of Denver Union Station. This writer, who spends significant time in the state, has […]

via COLORAIL ADVOCACY MEETING SET FOR FEBRUARY 17TH — railswestern

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How Civil Wars End — Political Violence at a Glance

By Lise M. Howard, Associate Professor of Government and Alexandra Stark, Ph.D. Candidate, both in the Department of Government at Georgetown University. As with most civil wars, the war in Yemen is marked by the influence of outside actors. It began in September 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthis took over the capital Sana’a, and it…

via How Civil Wars End — Political Violence at a Glance

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Syrian Army Unearths Ancient Byzantine Mosaics in Hama

As Veteran’s Today reports referring to Sputnik,  Divisions of the Syrian army have come across ancient mosaics dating back to the Byzantine era, while clearing mines in a rural area around Hama.

photo by Mohammad Najm

Speaking to Sputnik Arabic, Abdel Qader Farzat, the head of Hama Museums and Antiquities Department in Hama said that “valuable artefacts have been found outside Akerbat, which lies 85 kilometers east of Hama. When the first reports from the military arrived, a group of our experts traveled to the scene and determined that the mosaic dates back to the Byzantine epoch. It was created in the first half of the fifth century. The large-sized mosaic features birds and is covered with a 1.5-meter layer of earth.”

photo by Mohammad Najm

“As we were digging the newly found mosaic out, we spotted yet another one, just 80 centimeters away. The second one lies not that deep, it’s 7×8 meters in size. The image shows peacocks, ducks, pigeons, plants and animals, geometrical figures as well as six Greek lines. One of its sides is semi-circular, which might have housed an apsidal altar in a church,” he added.

According to the speaker, the excavation works have now entered the third week. The best specialists with the Antiquities Department are engaged in cleaning up the artifacts so that they could be transported to laboratories for renovation later on.

Once all the work is done, the objects will be put on public display, Farzat noted.

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How the U.S. Promotes Extremism in the Name of Religious Freedom

Rethinking the USCIRF

Foreign Affairs

On July 26, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his nomination of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback as U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom. The position was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which also established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), with whom the ambassador’s office closely cooperates. President Trump and members of Congress will appoint new commissioners to the USCIRF in 2018. The commission reports on global violations of religious freedom and makes recommendations to the president and the State Department for action, including sanctions.

Despite Congress’ best intentions, the USCIRF has strayed far from its mandate. In its 2017 report, the commission effectively supports the right of Islamist extremists to operate in several Muslim-majority countries, Iranian mullahs to spread radicalism abroad, and hardline Islamist organizations to receive foreign funding. It also castigates policies that promote secularism, such as bans on headscarves for girls in public schools. In its quest to protect freedom of religion, the USCIRF is championing the rights of groups that aspire to impose religious coercion on others.

CHURCH AND STATE

Although it operates around the world, in recent years the USCIRF has been particularly harsh in its condemnation of the Muslim-majority, ex-Soviet states of the Caucasus and Central Asia—Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The committee has criticized them for excessive restrictions on religious freedom and repression of non-traditional religious groups. All these countries observe strict separation of church and state, have refused to designate Islam as a formal state religion, and maintain secular laws and courts. And in sharp contrast to their treatment in most of the Middle East, non-Muslims in these countries can live as equal citizens.

These states, with their Soviet heritage, have at times been heavy-handed in their handling of religious issues; for instance, authorities in Tajikistan forcibly shave men’s beards and instruct women to wear their headgear only in the traditional Tajik way. It is no secret, moreover, that none of the countries in question are smoothly functioning democracies. But it must also be acknowledged that their rules help protect secular Muslims, women, and minorities, from religious coercion. Islamists who would like to overturn this secular order and enforce a religious state are not allowed to do so. Yet the USCIRF pays no attention to these nuances and simply declares the states to be violating their citizens’ religious freedom.

In its 2017 report, for instance, the USCIRF, as part of its justification for categorizing Tajikistan as a top violator of religious freedom, lists the country’s legislation requiring religious institutions and studies to register with the government. But Tajikistan, which shares a long and porous border with Afghanistan, says the purpose of the law is to prevent terrorists from operating in the country under the guise of legitimate religious activity—an understandable concern. The USCIRF report also criticizes Tajikistan for a law that requires parental consent before a minor can receive religious instruction. The law in question, however, was instituted in order to protect vulnerable young people from falling under the sway of extremists, who often seek to recruit them in public spaces such as soccer fields and markets. Finally, the USCIRF report objects to Tajikistan’s prohibition of the international Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. Yet this group advocates the use of violence to establish an Islamic caliphate and is blatantly anti-Semitic. It is banned in Germany as well as in most Arab countries.

(…)

The USCIRF also criticizes several states for preventing foreign funds from reaching local Islamic organizations. For instance, its 2017 report censured Kazakhstan for blocking the bank accounts of individuals included in the finance ministry’s list of people “connected to financing of terrorism or extremism.” But not only do these policies respond to the real threat of the spread of radicalism from the Gulf States or Iran, they are also in line with U.S. legislation aimed to combat terrorist financing. The USCIRF is thus actively opposing a key element of the U.S. government’s own counterterrorism policies.

GUESSWORK

An inherent problem with the current system concerns the accuracy of the evidence on which USCIRF bases its conclusions. Because the commission’s mandate is to cover the entire globe, it rarely conducts original research, relying instead on reports from local and international NGOs. It then recycles these reports, without independently verifying their accuracy, and puts the U.S. government’s stamp of approval on them. Worse, the USCIRF provides no specific information on the sources of their data beyond naming NGOs and opposition media. In other words, the reader has no basis for verifying the commission’s data. A further problem with this approach is that many NGOs are highly partisan groups that make no pretense of hiding their agenda, whether it is to actively support a government or to bring it down. In its current report, most of the reporting relating to Central Asia and the Caucasus draws from the website of a Norwegian organization called Forum 18. This group has no research division and declares itself a “Christian initiative” that “affirms on the body of the incarnation of Jesus Christ” the right to freedom of religion—not necessarily a recipe for a dispassionate and rigorous research.

The USCIRF staff, moreover, possesses neither the language skills nor the regional expertise needed truly to understand the intricacies of church–state relations around the globe. This is understandable, given that the commission has only fifteen employees. No wonder, then, that James J. Zogby, who served as the commission’s vice-chair until May, stated in his dissenting opinion in the 2017 report that due to insufficient resources, “the commission’s staff is forced to write their drafts based largely on secondary sources or accounts from advocacy groups or the results of a few three- or four-day trips commissioners take each year to some of the countries. After receiving the draft, commissioners are then asked to review and comment on chapters dealing with countries, many about which we know very little.”

CARROTS OVER STICKS

(…)

Various liberal democracies around the world have adopted differing models for separating  church and state. A stark contrast exists, for instance, between the American and French models. The Muslim-majority states of Central Asia and Azerbaijan have adopted something close to the French model, which upholds public secularismandfocuses on defending the state and society from religious coercion. Thus, France and the states following its model limit the expression of religion in the public sphere. This model may seem harsh to Americans, who have never had to contend with a dominant religious authority and have been more concerned with securing freedom for their churches to operate than with protecting their citizens from religious coercion. Yet the USCIRF and other U.S. institutions that deal with religious freedom globally should be more tolerant of diversity in the various approaches to managing the relationship of church and state, and accept that different states with different historical challenges will adopt different models.

 Rather than leading to positive change, Washington’s current tactics cause bewilderment and anger. One former Tajik minister wondered why United States opposed his country’s fight against extremists, and privately asked one of this article’s authors whether the U.S. planned to sacrifice Central Asia to ISIS in some future deal with the group. Indeed, at the same time as U.S. forces are bombing the bases of Islamist insurgents in Iraq and Syria, the USCIRF is attacking allies in the Muslim world with secular governments, secular laws and courts, and secular systems of education. Their sin? Trying to keep those same extremists at bay.

As the Trump administration and Congress appoint new commissioners and weigh the USCIRF’s latest report, it is important that they thoroughly rethink the purpose and practices of the commission. Moving forward, several steps need to be taken. First, the USCIRF should recognize that the United States’ approach to church–state relations is not the only valid model—in particular, it should accept the legitimacy of French-inspired models that seek to protect state and society from religious coercion. Further, the USCIRF should only report information that it can independently verify. Foreign governments will be much more amenable to U.S. recommendations if they focus only bona fide violations.

Finally, the USCIRF should focus more on carrots than on sticks. Instead of simply classifying and censuring U.S. partners, or demanding sanctions, it should focus on constructive steps that various agencies of the U.S. government could take in cooperation with these governments in order to address problems and improve governance with respect to religious freedom.

 

Read more.

 

 

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A White House Reception Does Not a Policy Make…

tnh chi

 

Source: The National Herald

June 24-30, 2017 Edition – Page 12

By Peter Marudas

Once again, The National Herald has demonstrated its unique role in stimulating dialogue and the open exchange of ideas concerning important matters facing our community. Its most recent contribution was reflected in two informative items appearing in the May 6 edition regarding the status of the Greek-American political presence in Washington.

First, a Herald editorial titled “Emerging Greek-American Leaders” is a serious and thoughtful review of our past and present-emerging leadership in Washington.

The other, an article by Washington insiders, Andy and Mike Manatos, suggests that the annual Greek-American Presidential reception at the White House is the most important aspect of our community’s effort in Washington.

Andy and Mike Manatos, who run a Washington lobbying business, have been active for many years in Greek-American activities, and in collaboration with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, instituted the Presidential Reception now in its 31st year. Their article featured a remarkable assertion that the Presidential Reception – a largely social and ceremonial event – is the keystone of the Greek-American presence in Washington.

This claim was puzzling and disappointing.

The Manatos’s major thesis that the Greek Orthodox Church in America through Archbishop Demetrios and his chief political agent, Father Alexander Karloutsos, are and should be the key individuals in our Washington presence, is simply unrealistic in the real world of U.S. government and political policy.

First, it raises a fundamental question whether it is effective or appropriate for clerics to intrude in complex foreign policy issues in contemporary America,the largest and greatest democracy in history. It raises the red flags of confusion as reflected in the Archbishop’s continuing involvement in the Cyprus dispute and other Greek-related issues. While his concern is commendable, it is counter-productive and betrays an inability to separate secular political issues between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey from the Church’s understandable concern for the welfare of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.

Such action is not only politically wrong-headed but harmful. Harmful in that it sends a signal to Ankara that Archbishop Demetrios whose immediate ecclesiastical superior is Patriarch Bartholomew and Father Karloutsos, a publicly acknowledged confidant of the Patriarch, are working openly against Turkish political interests. How does this help Cyprus or the Ecumenical Patriarchate? Turkish President/Prime Minister Erdogan and his ministers whose cooperation is essential to relating pressure on the Ecumenical Patriarchate, certainly can’t be happy with the Patriarch Bartholomew’s American representatives’ political maneuverings. The Church in America has simply no business interjecting itself into Greek political issues.

It also significantly undercuts the Church’s moral credibility and that of thousands of the faithful and religious rights advocates who correctly point to Turkey’s consistent violation of the Patriarchate’s right to religious freedom and to reopen the Chalki Seminary. This situation is clearly a universally recognized issue of religious freedom. In contrast, Greece’s disputes over Cyprus, illegal Turkish flights in the Aegean and other differences, while critical, are bi-lateral political issues. Mixing the status of the Patriarchate with these matters only hands Turkey another lever of pressure, and highlighting the involvement of Greek-American clergymen further roils the waters.

Splitting the Patriarchal issue from Cypriot and Greek national issues in no way diminishes the tragedy that thousands of Turkish troops still occupy that island nation.

But it is important that our precious resources and vigilant attention not be diluted by spreading ourselves too thin. We cannot afford ineffective extraneous clerical interference in the important “national” issues that are best left to secular political leaders in America, Cyprus,Greece and Europe.

It is reassuring that Greek Orthodox Americans feel close to their local churches and view them as centers of community activity but not as political vehicles. It is also well to remind ourselves, however, that we are not living under Ottoman Turkish rule when the Church was designated by the Sultans as the only relatively independent institution. To encourage the Church in America to assume such a role is obsolete and ineffective. We do not need a Martin Luther King; our community faced challenges in America but did not suffer centuries of slavery and oppression.

What is needed now, as the Herald’s perceptive commentary advises, are tested political leaders with recognizable credibility to lead our advocacy.

In chronicling the evolution of our community’s political presence in Washington over the years, the Herald cites the critical contributions made by distinguished Greek-American members of Congress, among them Rep. John Brademas, Senator Paul Sarbanes and Representative Gus Bilirakis, along with Senators Olympia Snowe and Paul Tsongas. They were joined by Phil-Hellenes as Thomas Eagleton, Joe Biden, Ben Rosenthal and Ed Derwinski. It also praises the efforts of present members of Congress, Gus Bilirakis, John Sarbanes, Carolyn Maloney and Senator Bob Menendez. In contrast, the Manatos depiction of political Washingon fails to make not even one mention of the dedicated and hardworking Greek-American and Phil-Hellenic elected officials not just in D.C. but around the country. The Herald rightly recognized these champions, both past and present, of our causes, who like the 300 heroes of Thermopylae have stayed ever-vigilant at their posts and loyal to the cause. Instead, the Manatos article showers extraordinarily lavish praise on Father Karloutsos, portrays Archbishop Demetrios as our political leader and describes their participation in the White House ceremonies as our community’s pivotal presence in Washington. This approach to rely on White House receptions and expensive dinners honoring public officials, some deserving, some not, as important to our collective causes, is in reality a fragile substitute for realistic and substantive policy.

Case in point: President George W. Bush, like his immediate predecessors and successors, sponsored during his first term, presidential receptions where hierarchs, priests and laity were warmly welcomed, and private presidential meetings were bestowed on the “presiding” Archbishop. President Bush, despite sharp political disagreements, was considered, even by many of his most fervent opponents, as an engaging and decent individual. Yet, on the day after his reelection in November, 2004, his administration suddenly and without forewarning, recognized FYROM as Macedonia. This action came as a total surprise, because it contradicted existing U.S. policy, concretely expressed by American-backed negotiations between Greece and FYROM. This shocking announcement blindsided Athens, other nations and our community, creating a firestorm of protest in Greece and around the world. It should now be historically clear that those intimate meetings between President Bush and the Archbishop, at the end of the day, had no impact on the Bush Administration’s policy on the Macedonian issue. In fact, the reverse was true.

And despite dinners and receptions, such turn-abouts are Bi-Partisan. Consider President Carter, an individual of publicly-recognized rectitude, who made a highly public campaign pledge to support the congressionally-approved embargo on U.S. arms sales to Turkey. Then once in office, he completely reversed himself and successfully moved to abolish the arms ban on Turkey. Let the historical record also show that at the very time President Carter was aggressively working against our community on this most important of issues, Archbishop Iakovos trekked to the White House to receive a high Presidential award from Carter before an audience of selected Greek-Americans. My recollection is that to their credit, not one Greek-American member of Congress attended this event. It should be obvious by now, while such ceremonies may be great for our collective egos or for the individual prestige of an Archbishop, they are no substitute for persistent and effective political strategies. For some observers, it might appear that successive presidential administrations might not be incorrect in viewing the Greek-American community through the prism of White House receptions, not as vigorous advocates of principled positions of political freedom and human rights.

This is not to devalue completely past and even present contributions by Hellenic organizations in Washington, the Manatos firm included; but the daunting challenges facing Greece today demand a much more inclusive and skillful political Washington presence. These serious challenges and threats are clear and present: Greece’s perilous economic condition; radical and unpredictable changes in Turkey; general instability in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East; and a genuinely new presidential administration in Washington whose policy directions are just beginning to take shape.

The very recent visit by Turkish President Erdogan indicates perhaps the difficult road ahead.

The National Herald’s objective and perceptive analysis of our situation makes the case, in this writer’s view, for an urgent and new approach – one that builds, as the Herald editorial advises, on the community’s emerging broader leadership. Existing arrangements are not to be summarily dismissed; but given the stakes, it is imperative for our community’s institutions and activists to rigorously and frankly reassess priorities.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese must get out of the political business. It is neither equipped or qualified for such an endeavor. Will its mission be Pastoral or Political?

Those who have over the years generously contributed large sums to our causes, must seriously determine whether their investments have generated fruitful outcomes, as must those activists who unselfishly devote great time and effort.

A new, and it must be stressed, vastly more inclusive leadership is needed in Washington. One which tenaciously focuses on the important mission before us and is not preoccupied by irrelevant social-ceremonial activities, too often touted as politically meaningful.

The Herald editorial’s Emerging Leaders again shows us the way. We must recruit and enlist new talent and broaden our reach. We owe this to the struggling and heroic Greek and Cypriot peoples and to those who did so much before us and those who will carry the torch in the future.

In this respect, we must always remember that celebratory Ceremonies and Dinners do not a policy make.

Peter Marudas wrote editorial pieces on Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the Baltimore Sun in the early Nineteen-Sixties and covered the 1965 Cyprus talks convened by President Lyndon Johnson. He served as Chief of Staff to Senator Paul Sarbanes in both his Senate and House offices. Marudas also served as Chief of Staff to Baltimore Mayors: Theodore McKeldin, the city’s last Republican Mayor; Democrat Thomas J. D’Alesandro,III, brother of Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader; and as senior staff and advisor to Kurt L. Schmoke, Baltimore’s first-elected African-American Mayor.

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Reading between the lines of the article “Enhancing the Role of the Ecumenical Patriarch”

Dennis Menos, the author of the publication “Enhancing the Role of the Ecumenical Patriarch” on The National Herald, asserts that the organizational structure of the Orthodox Church based on the principle of autocephaly does not meet the requirements of the present day. In particular, according to Mr.Menos, it does not allow to solve a diaspora problem and impedes interfaith dialogue. He believes that “the Ecumenical Patriarch needs to be elevated to the rank of “head” of the Orthodox East, with authority to act and speak for the entire Church” and that His Holiness “will need to be freed of all responsibility for serving also as the Primate of the Church of Constantinople”. The author argues that the Ecumenical Patriarch would then be able to represent the fullness of the Orthodox Church in dialogues with heterodox Christians and “to focus on activities designed to reunify Greek Orthodoxy”. According to Mr. Menos, one such activity would be the convening annually of a conclave of the Primates of all 14 Autocephalous Churches as “the highest leading assembly of the Orthodox East.”

Comments to the article are quite interesting too. They express moderate support of the author or emphasize the perniciousness of the “religious dictatorship”, exemplified by the OCA and the GOARCH, suggesting that the Church’s influence should be enhanced through reforms aimed at activating missionary activity and democratization of church life.

In my opinion, all these things characterize the current situation in American Orthodoxy quite precisely. That’s why I’d like to share some observations in this regard. Moreover, Dennis Menos isn’t alone. As comments to the article show, he is backed even by some GOARCH clergymen. At least for only this reason, his voice is worth being heard and examined carefully.

Who is speaking on Orthodox Christian affairs?

In his Twitter posts, Mr. Menos has repeatedly called for an early reconciliation of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholics and expressed support of the actions of Patriarch Bartholomew in this perspective. The publications of Dennis Menos repeatedly emphasize that the administrative unity of the Orthodox Church (which is often claimed by Patriarch Bartholomew without taking any real actions to reconcile the Jerusalem and Antiochian patriarchates, for example) is a necessary condition for overcoming the “senseless thousand-year division” between The Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

In addition, he stands for the conversion of the St. Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul to an interfaith sanctuary, where people of all faiths could pray. Thus, he strives for “wrong ecumenism” rather than for healing the great Schism of 1054 through repentance and triumph of Orthodox teaching.

Is the writer an expert on the topic?

Dennis Menos is clearly unfamiliar with Orthodox ecclesiology since his saying about the unanimous decision-making “by all 14 Primates” in the absence of a “head” of the Church downplays the role of bishops in the Synods of Local Churches. His proposal to establish the annual Conclave of the Primates as the highest governing body is another example that reveals his non-Orthodox way of thinking. This idea is borrowed from Roman Catholics (although the author uses the Latin word conclave here inappropriately). In the Orthodox Church, the voice of the Primate does not mean anything without the support of his Synod, as the 34th Apostolic Rule says. And Mr. Menos proposes that the meeting of the 14 “big bosses” should solve all the problems of the World Orthodoxy in an authoritarian way, without asking their bishops. There was no such body in the Church for nearly 2000 years before Patriarch Bartholomew, this is an innovation alien to the Holy Canons and it’s not envisaged by them.

As to the idea of having a “head” of the Orthodox East, those who really want to have a “visible head” of the Church should know very well whom to resort to. If you want to have a pope – employ the services of a professional but not of an amateur. And we will stand on what the Holy Fathers taught: the Head of the Church is Christ! The visible head of the Church, “the vice-Christ” is another Latin heretical concept in Menos’ piece. Why on Earth the Orthodox Church, after having lived 20 centuries without this false teaching, has to suddenly do a 180 in the 21st century and accept a doctrine completely alien to it?!

It would be better if the author studied the topic and current state of things more thoroughly before writing on it and coming up with suggestions on how to “fix” things.

Who backs him from within the Orthodox Church?

Unfortunately, the ideas of Dennis Menos were supported by the GOARCH clergymen who disrespect church canons and traditions. For example, Metropolitan Elpidophoros Lambriniadis is well-known by his “first without equals” concept too. Fr. Basil Papanikolaou, a former GOARCH archpriest defrocked for the second marriage, and Fr. Steven Vlahos (retired) are far less famous, but cherish the same dream about having “the Patriarch Pope of the East”. Finally, Patriarch Bartholomew fulfills their aspirations through meetings and joint prayers with the Popes, the Cretan “Holy and Great” Council, a letter to the Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos II, etc.

“By proclaiming the patriarch pope of the east the Orthodox Church would be in position to fulfill the plans of this writer. Of course, tradition and canon law would have to be modified and the other Orthodox churches would have to agree. Perhaps this could be accomplished at a future Great and Holy Council,” – Fr. Steven Vlahos stated in his comment to the article. Thus, it is ecumenical aspirations and the ultimate rapprochement with papism that determine the value of the “visible unity” of the Church for the Phanariots.

What fruits these ideas will bear?

Quite surprisingly, blatantly papistic nature of the article “Enhancing the Role of the Ecumenical Patriarch” may facilitate the acceptance of Protestant ideas (such as those expressed in Ashley Navis’ comments to this publication) about reforming the Church to truckle to the laics. Both extremities increase the tolerance of the readers – mostly Americans of Greek origin – toward deviations from the Orthodox Christian teaching.

Is it OK?

Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, members of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle mentioned by Dennis Menos are actively involved in political activities, some of them strongly oppose Donald Trump and do not stop before using their influence in the Church to promote their political views. Many influential laypeople who belong to the GOARCH adhere to liberal views on marriage and “gender equality” and stick to non-Orthodox spiritual practices.

mr__

Marilyn Rouvelas, co-author of the Patriarch Bartholomew’s adviser
Fr. John Chryssavgis, at the Women’s March in Washington, DC

Arey

A book by Mark Arey, former GOARCH priest who left the priesthood in order to remarry but still is actively engaged in Patriarch Bartholomew’s projects

Whom and what will the Ecumenical Patriarch serve to if such people impose their ideas on the Orthodox clergy “in love and humility” in the guise of fighting for “transparency and accountability”? As if it were politicians and millenials, disoriented by the collapse of the institution of the family, who created the Church and have a right to rule over it!

What is a proper response?

Seems like Patriarch Bartholomew becomes a toy, a subsidiary coin in the struggle between the two most widely covered by the media Christian denominations. On the part of His Holiness, the best protection of the interests of Orthodoxy in this situation will be distancing oneself from any influences from outside of the Church and not to take any side while focusing on spiritual life (one’s own and the one of the flock) and standing firmly on the traditional, strictly Orthodox principles of church organization.

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