Ukraine Link to Patriarch of Constantinople Upsets Russia

RISU reports:

On 20 May 2008, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko met with a delegation of the Constantinople Patriarchate (CP) of the Orthodox Church. At the beginning of the meeting, Yushchenko expressed his gratitude for the efforts of the CP to consolidate Orthodox Churches.

…”Both the Ukrainian religious community and the state are convinced that we should promote closer relations with the mother Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate,” said Yushchenko. “Ukraine is going [down] this road.”

Yushchenko also invited the Patriarch of Constantiople to come to Ukraine in July. However, the nascent alliance has provoked criticism from the Russian Orthodox Church, which is is bitterly opposed to a Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of Moscow (I blogged that issue here). A second report adds:

21 May 2008, the secretary of the Department of External Church Relations of Moscow Patriarchate, archpriest Mykola Balashov told “Interfax-Religion” that Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople could only participate in the celebration of the 1020th anniversary of baptism of Rus in Ukraine only upon an appropriate invitation from Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and All-Rus.

“The head of a particular Church may visit the territory of another Church only upon invitation in accordance with established Church tradition,” said the archpriest.

The ROC is also keen to sideline the the Constantinople Patriarchate more generally; ROC theologian Andrey Kurayev comments on the meeting:

“In those times when Kiev metropolitans were appointed in Constantinople, Constantinople was an Orthodox center of Orthodox Empire and it was natural to depend on Constantinople patriarchs, but today it is a bit strange, to put it mildly…how strange Ukraine’s fate is as it faces the same choice in various centuries: to be under Russia or under Poland and Turkey…this strange dream to be subordinated to the Turkish Patriarch,” Deacon Kurayev said.

In fact, this is only “a bit strange” in a purely worldly sense: spiritually, the Patriarch of Constantinople is regarded as “first among equals” among the Orthodox Patriarchs, despite the fact that his city has been under Turkish rule for centuries, and that the Greek population of Turkey declined markedly during the 20th Century. The sneering dismissal of Patriarch Bartholomew as “the Turkish Patriarch” throws away centuries of tradition, and the idea that the link would amount to Ukraine being “under Turkey” is absurd. Patriarch Bartholomew may need to be politically cautious, but he is hardly an instrument of the Turkish state – in sharp contrast to the ROC, which, as Time has put it, is the Russian government’s “vital foreign policy instrument”.

As I blogged a few months ago, the ROC has also for a long time challenged the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and in 2007 Russian church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin called for “All-Orthodox meetings” despite reluctance from Constantinople. As I noted then, the subtext seems to be that Moscow ought to be taking the lead here, as it did back in the Tsarist days when the city was known as the “Third Rome”.

The ROC is also keen to establish its Orthodox primacy in the Middle East; earlier this month I noted Kurayev’s description of the Patriarch of Jerusalem as the “local Greek Patriarch”, and his suggestion that the Moscow Patriarchate ought to be targeting Russian Israelis for evangelization. Theofilos, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, in turn has complained of Russian “nationalism” and “aggressive policy”.