A Major Reshuffle in the Orthodox World (Part II)

A Major Reshuffle in the Orthodox World (Part II)

Българската църква в Москва | Снимка: agionoros.ru
Българската църква в Москва | Снимка: agionoros.ru

 

Българската църква в Москва | Снимка: agionoros.ru
The Bulgarian Church in Moscow | Photo: agionoros.ru

 

As I mentioned in my previous text, the “Great Schism” in the Orthodox world did not take place. In fact, none of the local Orthodox churches expressed an ultimate opinion and did not suspend communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate because of the Moscow one. Even the highly dependent Antioch Patriarchate has not done it and probably will not do it in future. However, what certainly will happen is that Kiev Archbishopric (the new ecclesiastical body in Ukraine) will still remain unrecognized as an autocephalous by a number of close to Moscow orthodox churches such as the Serbian, Bulgarian and Orthodox Church of the Czech and Slovak Lands.

 

Their bishops, for sure, are not willing to annoy the Council of the bishops (Holy Synod) of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Moreover, the political and economic presence of the Russian Federation, as a whole, in these countries is significant. Meanwhile, it became clear the week before that the Patriarchate of Moscow was supported by the leader of the Polish Orthodox Church in the will to convene a Pan-Orthodox Council focused on Ukraine, while the Romanian Patriarch Daniel and the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church decided that the Ecumenical and Moscow Patriarchates should agree on Ukraine, taking into consideration the opinion of the other local churches, as well. However, this statement does not refer to a “Pan-Orthodox Council”. Probably, the Romanian bishops mean consultations where to set forth the disputes they have with the Moscow Synod over Moldova, where currently both churches are functional.

 

Presumably, the nationalist media attacks against the Ecumenical Patriarch in countries like Bulgaria and Serbia will increase – a few articles, mostly translations from Russian, have already been published in Bulgarian. In the absence of a serious approach and a clear strategy on behalf of the state administration and civic organizations, this state of play, definitely, will result in withdrawal of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC) and Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) from all-Orthodox and inter-Church events and meetings. Up till now the BOC has been, to a certain extent, in such a position; from now on the SOC is likely to set herself in similar position for fear of losing her influence in FYROM as a result of the intensified inter-Orthodox relations and a possible similarity between the situation in Ukraine and that in FYROM. Both churches (BOC & SOC) will keep long-lasting warm relations with the ROC.

 

The explanation is that the Bulgarian and Serbian identities were formed in the 19th century on the basis of a reorientation from South to North and their whole new history, the establishment of their literary languages, political and education system, the setting up of the administrative structure and “national church” have been formed under the influence of Russia and its church. These facts figure the specific characteristics of the national self-consciousness of these two nations and the way their “national churches” are comprehended (no matter that this term has no theological value). Therefore, I’d rather expect in the near future a more prominent pro-Russian position of their Synods. Even if they do not join the schism in Constantinople, they will definitely not recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), thus putting themselves at a distance for a long time. This reaction will be admired by a large enough people in both countries who see themselves as part of the “Slavic family”, identified, more particular, with Russian Orthodoxy. While the political players in Bulgaria were disregarding this fact since the changes have taken place in 1989, as well as the lack of deep understanding of the transformations going in the world, the aggravation of mechanisms the local identities follow, resulted in a serious discrepancy between the self-identification of a large number of Bulgarians and Serbs and the real status of these two nations in Europe. The lack of vision on the improvement of education and national identity in the light of contemporary Western values place the society of these two countries at a disadvantage keeping them hazardous close to “Russian World”.

 

All this happens in the context of the increasingly active role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in international and inter-Church relations, where the Patriarchate is the initiator of a number of Orthodox events, charity, environmental, human rights and educational programs. The spiritual and moral integrity of Patriarch Bartholomew raise no doubts in international organizations. In the context of theological debates and Orthodox episcopal conferences in Western Europe and America the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have a leading role.

 

Nowadays, if we compare the image of John Paul the 2nd, the spiritual leader of the West in the 1980s of the 20th century, who dealt a severe moral blow on the repressive apparatus of the USSR and his international image, with the one of Patriarch Bartholomew, we will find a number of interesting similarities. As Guardian wrote last week, the Patriarch was the only Western leader who had the courage to openly oppose the leadership of the Russian Federation (i.e. in the face of its state church).

 

The Bulgarian society, however, will skip these events, as usual, constrained in its 19th century. Let us not forget that the man who raised a gun against the Pope John Paul the 2nd was supported by the Bulgarian diplomacy, and last spring Dilyan Nikolchev, a Professor at the University of Sofia, found in the archives of the Bulgarian Communist State Security Services documents displaying employees of the services in the preparation of a terrorist act in the early 1970s against the building of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.

 

In conclusion we can point out that no sudden movements of the Holy Synod of the BOC are envisaged in any particular direction. However, the Synod is not going to recognize for a long time the autocephalous status of the Ukrainian Church and will continue to stay aside from most of the world’s Orthodox activities, in order not to tease Moscow, whose representatives have already boycotted all institutions with representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. At the same time there is no tendency the BOC to fully solidarize with the Russian episcopate and break the Eucharistic communion with Constantinople. Informally, the BOC will continue to support and accept in its spiritual schools Ukrainian pupils of Bulgarian origin, which will probably enable further alternative contacts for establishing closer relations between the two local churches.

 

By Svetoslav Ribolov

 

A Major Reshuffle in the Orthodox World (Part I)

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