NEITHER GREEK NOR RUSSIAN

Written by Vladimir Moss

NEITHER GREEK NOR RUSSIAN

     On August 2/15, the feast of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, patron of the Royal House of Serbia, Hieroschemamonk Akakije (Stankevich) was ordained in Lesna monastery, France, as Bishop of Resava and Shumadia (Eastern and Central Serbia), by bishops of the True Orthodox Church of Russia led by Archbishop Tikhon of Omsk and Siberia. This joyful event, full of direct and symbolic importance for the future of the True Orthodox Church worldwide, has predictably elicited furious objections from members of the True Orthodox Church of Greece, under whose temporary protection the True Orthodox Church of Serbia used to be. The canonical questions raised by the Serbs’ decision to go for this ordination to the Russian Church have been discussed in a previous article by the present writer, and will not be discussed in detail here. Suffice it to say that, in the present writer’s opinion, the ordination was both perfectly canonical and vitally necessary for the survival, stability and growth of the Serbian True Orthodox Church. But there can be no question that it has offended the feelings of Greek Church nationalists, giving them an excuse to cut off union negotiations with the Russian True Orthodox Church; and so it may be useful to attempt to place this event in the context of the recent and not so recent history of Orthodox Church nationalism.

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     It is always difficult for a once-great nation to accept the fact of its decline. Nations, like individual persons, are proud, and like to blame others for their own failings. For nations, as for people, it remains forever true that “he who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23.12).

     The first nation to fall away from the Church were the Jews. As Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) argued in his article, “Christ the Saviour and the Jewish Revolution”, the main motive of the Jews’ decision to kill Christ was the fear that Christ would hinder their planned revolution against Roman power. This fact by itself shows how extremely serious the vice of nationalism can be.

     After the falling away of the Jews, the first nations in the Church were the Romans and the Greeks. After the conversion of St. Constantine, they combined to form one single organism, Christian or New Rome, later known as the Byzantine Empire. Its statehood was Roman, its predominant culture was Greek, and its citizens – that is, those who chose to call themselves “Roman”, even if they were not ruled from Rome, -were people of all nations of the then-known inhabited world, from the Britons in the West to the Ethiopians in the south, to the Georgians and Armenians in the East. 

     As long as Christian Rome was spiritually strong, Church nationalism was a peripheral problem. Thus in the Early Byzantine period it was confined to the Welsh Britons in the far West and to the Armenians in the far East. However, these two nationalisms were sufficiently serious to lead to the falling away of both nations from the Church – the Welsh for about one century after 664, and the Armenians, on and off, until the present day.

     A new situation arose after the Triumph of Orthodoxy in 842. Christian Rome had now lost all her Coptic and Semitic provinces in the East, and was in the process of losing all her Latin, Germanic and Celtic provinces in the West. In both cases nationalism played a part in the losses: the Easterners accepted Islam or Monophysitism partly because they did not want to be identified with the religion of the hated race of the Romans, while Charlemagne created his “Holy Roman Empire” of the West in conscious opposition to the “Greeks” (a term with pagan connotations in those days) of Byzantium. However, closer examination reveals that nationalism was not only to be found in the rebels against Rome: a specifically Roman nationalism was also part of the picture – although we should now call it Greek nationalism insofar as Latin had by now ceased to be the official language of the Byzantine Empire, and Byzantium was now far less cosmopolitan and almost exclusively Greek, not only in its culture, but also in its ethnic composition. So from the later ninth century we can talk about two kinds of Church nationalism: imperialist (the nationalism of the ruling nation) and anti-imperialist (the nationalism of the subject nations).

     The two mutually exclusive nationalisms clashed fiercely on a new mission-field in the north – Bulgaria. This is ironic, because the conversion of the Balkan Slavs by Saints Cyril and Methodius and their disciples, under the patronage of St. Photius the Great, was one of the greatest achievements of Byzantium – and proof that in the ninth and tenth centuries, at any rate, Byzantium still lived by the cosmopolitan ideals of earlier centuries. For true missionary zeal is the exact antithesis of nationalism: it is impossible to risk your life for the spiritual salvation of a man of another race if you despise him or think of him as a being of a different and lower kind. That is why periods of increased nationalist (as opposed to patriotic) feeling are almost always accompanied by a decline in missionary zeal. However, whereas most Roman missionaries in earlier centuries converted either peoples who were already firmly within the Roman empire, or peoples whose political independence was not threatened by their conversion (for example, Anglo-Saxon England), Bulgaria was too powerful and too close for comfort to the Byzantines, so that the question of the Bulgarian tsar’s political relationship to the Byzantine emperor (full submission, affiliation, or full independence?) became critical.

     There was another problem here that related to what we may call the ideology of Romanity. Since pagan times Rome had seen herself as the universal empire having a right to rule possessed by no other state or nation. Of course, the Romans knew that there were other states and nations beyond her frontiers who thought differently, and who had the power to give the lie to the idea that Rome ruled the world. However, the myth of universal rule died hard; and by adopting the pagan Greek distinction between the Greeks and the barbarians, the Romans were able to dismiss the claims of non-Roman states on the grounds that they were barbarians, and, moreover, non-Christian rebels against Christ the King. This meant that even when Rome was defeated or weakened, such a condition was considered to be merely a temporary blip in the natural order of things, which was Roman rule, de jure if not yet de facto, over all nations, as the instrument and  reflection of the truly universal rule of Christ.

     St. Photius, being zealous first of all for the spiritual salvation of the Bulgarian people, was more concerned with preventing them coming under the influence of the heretical papacy than in making them come under the rule of the Byzantine emperor. Nevertheless, he was sufficiently Byzantine also in his political thinking to accept the claims of the Byzantine emperor over all other rulers. Thus he once wrote to St. Boris-Michael, first Christian king of Bulgaria, that the Roman Empire would last to the Second Coming of Christ – as if to convince him that resistance to Roman rule was ultimately futile…

     But later Slavic tsars, however sincerely Christian they might be, and however much they respected the Emperor in “Tsargrad”, “the City of the King”, instinctively rejected the imperial ideology of Romanity, and at times turned their rejection of the universal empire into outright war. Byzantium reacted with great cruelty at times, as in the actions of Emperor Basil “the Bulgar-slayer”. And so the problem of the relationship between Bulgaria and Byzantium was never resolved in the medieval period… Serbia, too, quarreled with Byzantium. Thus when Tsar Dushan claimed to rule both the Serbs and the Greeks, St. Gregory Palamas, though he had been rescued from captivity by Dushan, still boldly reminded him that there could not be two Orthodox Christian empires – and the Serbs withdrew their claim...

     Political nationalism was closely intertwined with ecclesiastical nationalism. Thus when Bulgaria was in the ascendant, during the First and Second Bulgarian Empires, she demanded autocephaly – full independence, with a native hierarchy – for her national Church. The Byzantine emperors and patriarchs reluctantly granted it – only to revoke the gift when the tide of war turned in their favour again.

     This suggests that, for the Byzantines, the granting of autocephaly to a new Local Church was something entirely within their gift (although there is no agreed procedure for it in canon law) and a useful political bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations. But it was to be permitted only in extremis. The purely pastoral case for the autocephaly of a given Church – the fact that the Church is likely to have better relations with the ruler of the country if it is precisely the Church of that country; that the evangelization of a country is likely to go faster if the hierarchy and priesthood are native and serve in the native language; and that the fusion of spiritual conversion and patriotic feeling is likely to allow the faith to put down deeper roots and make it less vulnerable to inroads from foreign missionaries – appears to have played little part in their calculations…

     In favour of this conclusion is the fact that, for nearly 500 years, from the official conversion of Russia in 988 to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Russian Church was never given autocephaly, but remained a junior metropolia of the Great Church – and this in spite of Russia’s vastly greater size, the great number of her native saints (already in the twelfth century there were 50 monks of the Kiev Caves Lavra who could cast out demons, and in the fourteenth century St. Sergius had over 100 disciples who were later canonized), and the constant independence of her State from Byzantine rule. Of course, it will be pointed out that the Russians - out of humility, but perhaps also for political reasons, to help the unification of their vast territories, - did not ask for autocephaly. But that is just the point: the Byzantines never granted autocephaly unless they had to, not even to a nation so clearly ready for it as was Russia.

     The granting of autocephaly to the Serbian Church in 1219 is the exception that proves the rule. St. Sava chose his moment to ask for autocephaly well: after the Fall of the City to the Latins in 1204, the Greeks were divided into four political and ecclesiastical provinces or jurisdictions: Epirus (including the autocephalous archiepiscopate of Ochrid), Thessaloniki, Nicaea and Trebizond. Anticipating that Epirus and its Greek Archbishop Demetrius, in whose jurisdiction the Serbs at that time found themselves, would never grant them autocephaly, St. Sava took advantage of the absence of a single, undisputed authority in Church and State, “changed jurisdictions” (to use the modern phrase) and went to Nicaea, where the emperor and patriarch granted his request – partly, no doubt, for political reasons, since it gave them an advantage over their Epirot rivals. Demetrius strongly protested, on the grounds not only that Sava had left his ruling bishop without his blessing, but also that the emperor in Nicaea was not as genuine as his own Epirot despot. But the protest looked weak after the last Nicaean and first Palaeologan emperor, Michael VIII, re-conquered the City in 1261 and reunited the Greek jurisdictions under his sole authority…

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     The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 should, in theory, have removed the grounds both for imperialist nationalism and for anti-imperialist nationalism in the Orthodox world – which is doubtless one reason why Divine Providence allowed it to take place. For now that there was no Christian Empire, there was also no longer any “top” Christian nation – all were equal in their miserable subjection to the Ottoman Sultan… However, in his respect for Rome, the first Sultan after the Conquest gave a kind of regency, under himself, to the Ecumenical Patriarch, making him the ethnarch, or civil and ecclesiastical leader, of the whole of the Rum Millet, or Roman nation, which included all the Orthodox Christian peoples of the Balkans. There was an implicit lesson in this, not from the Sultan, but from God: “You – Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians, - are one nation, the Christian nation. Cease your nationalist quarrels, for you are all one in Me.”

     Unfortunately, while the Conquest in this way gave the Orthodox nations an opportunity to revive their unity in Christ, there were other factors that rekindled the flames of nationalism. First, the Greeks were never reconciled to the loss of their Empire. The “Great Idea” of the restoration of the Byzantine Empire appeared soon after 1453; and the former non-Greek subjects of that Empire were left in no doubt that if the Great Idea were ever to be realized, they would return to their subject status. After all, a Greek, in the person of the Ecumenical Patriarch, was still their ruler under the Sultan. It would only take the removal of the Sultan to restore the situation to what it had been before the Conquest.

     Secondly, the Ecumenical Patriarchs began to tax the Serbs, Bulgars and Romanians in order to pay for the ever-increasing bribes they were compelled to give to the Sultan in order to occupy their see. Now it could be argued that the Greeks were not to blame for this, and that it was in the interests of all the Christians to have a patriarch in the ruling city, however difficult the financial burden. Naturally, however, the non-Greek Christians did not always see the matter in this light, especially when the patriarchate’s financial exactions were accompanied by the abolition of the patriarchates of Serbia and Bulgaria (in 1766-67) and the sending of Greek-speaking priests to serve non-Greek-speaking populations.

     Thirdly, while the peasants groaned under these and other pressures, wealthy Greek merchants from the Phanar district of Constantinople enjoyed extensive privileges and power throughout European Turkey, especially in Romania, which essentially became a Phanariot territory under the rather loose suzerainty of the Sultan.

     Russia, meanwhile, in sharp contrast with the nationalist Balkans, was rapidly becoming a truly international empire. The overcoming of the nationalist, anti-Greek schism of the Old Ritualists allowed the eighteenth-century tsars “to open a window to the West” – and send a powerful missionary drive to the East. Of course, the westernism of the St. Petersburg Empire has been frequently and rightly criticized; and it is true that the “Third Rome” in its Petersburg phase was in some ways more reminiscent of the First, pagan Rome than the Second, Christian one. Nevertheless, no kingdom in history has sacrificed more for the liberation of other nations – the nations of Siberia, Central Asia and the Far East from the yoke of paganism, and the nations of the Orthodox Balkans and Middle East from the Turkish yoke. And if the last and greatest of the Petersburg tsars, Nicholas II, had not been overthrown by an internal coup in 1917, his armies, which had already driven the Turks out of the Caucasus, might well have conquered Constantinople and restored the cross over Hagia Sophia…

     However, throughout the nationalist nineteenth century the Greeks rarely, if ever, looked to the Russians for help. For the Phanariot merchants stood to gain more from the preservation of the status quo than from a Russian “liberation” of their City. So in the Crimean War, when Tsar Nicholas I went to war with Turkey, France and Britain over access to the Holy Places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the Phanariot-backed Ecumenical Patriarch continued to pray for the victory of the Turkish armies, in spite of the fact that the Holy Places were administered by the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem. For this he was harshly criticized by the Georgian Elder Hilarion of Mount Athos, who declared that the only true king upon earth was the Russian tsar and that all true Christians should support him and pray for him…

     Another reason for Greek coolness towards Russia, in spite of the enormous help, financial, military and diplomatic, that Russia provided all the Christians of the Balkans and the Middle East, was that the Greeks never accepted Russia as the true successor to Byzantium. They could not believe that God could raise true sons of Constantine from the stony hearts of the Russians. It was as if they said (to parody the famous saying of Elder Philotheus of Pskov): “Constantinople is the Second Rome, and a Third Rome there will not be…” So if Constantinople was to be liberated, it would not be by “Panslavist” Russians in their barbaric northern fastnesses, but by the Greeks themselves, the only true Romans...

     The consequence of all this was that when the hour came for the Orthodox peoples of the Balkans to rise up against the Turks, there was no unity or common purpose among them, or between them and their Russian benefactors. Thus when the Serbs rebelled in 1804, and some Greeks offered their help, they were politely but firmly refused…

     Again, when the Greeks of the Peloponnese rebelled in 1821, they did it without proper coordination either with the Greeks under Alexander Ypsilanti in Romania, or with the Russian Tsar, or with the Patriarch in Constantinople – while the non-Greeks of the Balkans sat on their hands and waited... Indeed, the Greek revolution may well have ended in complete collapse if it had not been for the intervention of the heretical European powers and of the Russian Tsar Nicholas, who, suppressing his dislike of “Greek demagoguery”, pursued the Turkish armies as far as Adrianople. Nor were the spiritual fruits of the revolution good: a bitter schism between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the newly autocephalous Church of Greece, the persecution of zealots of the faith like Cosmas Flammiatos, a drastic reduction in the number of monasteries on Free Greek soil, and the attempt of Metropolitan Germanos of Patras, who first raised the standard of revolt on March 25, to achieve union with the Roman papacy…

     But it was the Greco-Bulgarian schism of 1872 that demonstrated most forcibly the disastrous spiritual consequences of ecclesiastical nationalism. Technically, the Bulgars were in the wrong: they obtained from the Sultan permission both to have their own national Church in Bulgaria and to include all Bulgarians in the Ottoman empire in that Church, which was contrary to the territorial, non-ethnic principle of church organization. The Ecumenical Patriarch duly anathematized them for the heresy of “phyletism” (nationalism). But Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia and other Churches refused to break with the Bulgars. For they knew that, while technically in the wrong, the Bulgars had been exasperated and incited by the Greek policy of trying to Hellenize Bulgaria. The Greeks were condemning the Bulgars for a sin of which they were the first guilty ones. Thus the anathema against phyletism, while both correct and timely in itself, only served to emphasize how blind the Greeks were to their own spiritual malady...

     The Russian philhellene, diplomat and future Optina monk Constantine Leontiev pointed to another source both of Greek and of Balkan Slav nationalism in this period: western liberalism and democratism. The French revolution had proclaimed, on the one hand, that all men were equal, and on the other, that the source of all truth and holiness was the nation. Taking the two propositions together, it followed that while all nations are theoretically equal, my nation is more equal than others as being the source of all truth and holiness, so that no other nation should be conceded superiority in anything. This made all the nations – except Russia - depressingly similar in their aims and obsessions, their envy and their egotism - and in their vulnerability, as Leontiev pointed out, to the great heresy of the age, indifferentism – or, as we call it today, ecumenism. For what is ecumenism if not a quest for recognition by the world, the determination that my religion, like my nation, should be accepted as good (or bad) as everyone else’s?

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     The Fall of the Russian Empire in 1917 removed the last effective Orthodox peacemaker and bearer of the cosmopolitan ideals of Christian Rome. Now nationalism could be given a free rein in the ecclesiastical sphere as it was simultaneously being given – through the proclamation, in 1919, of the principle of the self-determination of nations – in the political sphere. A vivid example was North America, where the multinational Orthodox Church, united before the revolution in several national but non-autocephalous dioceses under the overall leadership of the Russian Archbishop Tikhon (the future Martyr-Patriarch of Moscow), disintegrated after the revolution into a host of jurisdictions based on purely nationalist principles. The first to break away were the Greeks, who under the Freemason Meletios Metaxakis formed their own Church with the grandiloquent title of “Archdiocese of North and South America”. This was only the beginning of Metaxakis’ career as the destroyer of the pre-revolutionary structure of the Orthodox Church. In the next few years, as Patriarch of Constantinople, he illegally created exarchates of his patriarchate in Western and Central Europe, and several new national Orthodox Churches on the territories mainly of the Russian and Serbian Patriarchates: Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Albania. Ironically, in order to satisfy Turkish nationalist aspirations, he also had to concede the creation of a “Turkish Orthodox Church” on his own canonical territory!

     Greek Church nationalism now, as always, was an offshoot of political passion. In 1917 the Greeks joined what turned out to be the winning side in the world war. Turkey was defeated, and this incited the Greeks to realize their “Great Idea” and recover the “lost territories” of the Byzantine Empire, recreating it “on two continents and washed by five seas” (Eleutherios Venizelos). The result was the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922-23, comprehensive defeat at the hands of the Turks, which finally crushed all realistic hopes of a restoration of the Byzantine Empire. (By the 1960s the Greeks appeared finally even to have abandoned monarchism in favour of that old pagan Greek heresy – democracy…) God had humbled Russia, the Third Rome – but He was not about to raise up the Second Rome in her stead… In fact, the unmitigated disaster of the period 1914-45 for all the Orthodox nations showed that in God’s eyes all of them had fallen short of His glory. Church nationalism had shown itself to be a completely bankrupt policy. All the national Churches formed in this period were uncanonical and only created hatred among Orthodox Christians. The only exception was Georgia, which re-established her autocephaly that had been illegally abolished a century before. But the Georgians’ motivation, too, was suspect: they accepted the socialist revolution, rejected the White Russians and were mightily punished by God…

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     Turning now to the present, and the conflict between the Greek and the Serbian Churches over the re-establishment of the Serbian autocephaly, we have to conclude, sadly, that the Greeks have learned nothing from history and therefore seem doomed to repeat it. Their leader, Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens, is an old-style Church nationalist of the worst kind. He frequently talks about “the lost territories” and is clearly trying to recover them in the ecclesiastical sphere. His almost total neglect of his non-Greek parishes in Western Europe has led to their decimation in the twenty years since 1991. In 1994 he wrote that the Slavs, unlike the Greeks, put their nationality above Christ, and that they “have never been good Orthodox”. So much for St. Sava of Serbia, St. Sergius of Radonezh and St. Seraphim of Sarov! Very soon after this, Kallinikos was entrusted with the temporary administration of the True Orthodox Serbs and proceeded to show his contempt for their aspirations. Monasteries, priests and individuals named after Slavic saints had to change their names to Greek ones. Thus the men’s monastery of St. John Maximovich at Vrdnik had to changed its patron to Saints Cyril and Methodius. When the Serbs asked for money to build much-needed accommodation for homeless confessor-nuns who had been expelled by the heretical patriarchate, they were told that they would be helped only if the monastery built for the nuns became the property of the Greek Church. The Serbs refused this offer and proceeded to build the monastery of Novistjenik in a remote part of the Balkan mountains with their own hands and from their own very meagre funds. Archbishop Kallinikos has never visited this monastery, which is perhaps the best example of women’s monasticism that can be found in the True Orthodox Church... Spiritual sons in monasticism of Fr. Akakije, the founder and builder of the Serbian True Orthodox Church, were taken from him without his blessing and made to serve parishes in other countries. All the resolutions of the Serbian Administrative Council were blocked. The (relatively small) opposition to Fr. Akakije in Serbia was listened to, and their unfounded accusations allowed to circulate without proper investigation, thereby undermining the unity of the Serbian Church. One member of the opposition, a monk who had broken his back in two places after quasi-epileptic seizures, was secretly and against the will of the whole of the Serbian Church ordained to the priesthood. On the other hand, the many petitions, extending over several years, for the ordination of Fr. Akakije to the episcopate, were steadfastly ignored. Only in June, 2011, when it became clear that the Serbs might seek to have Fr. Akakije ordained by bishops of the Russian True Orthodox Church, did Kallinikos begin to spell out how, when and under what conditions he might – just possibly - ordain a bishop for the Serbs…

     Kallinikos’ whole policy in Serbia was one of “divide and rule”, and its purpose, whether consciously or unconsciously conceived, was to keep the Serbs weak and indefinitely dependent on, and part of, the “Mother Church” in Greece. But when the Serbian True Orthodox first approached the Greeks for help in 1997, they made it clear that they were not seeking to become part of the Greek Church but only asked for temporary help in order to re-establish their own Autocephalous Serbian Church. In any case, they argued, it would be uncanonical for a bishop of any other Local Church, such as the Greek, to claim permanent jurisdiction over Serbian Orthodox Christians living on the territory of the Serbian Orthodox Church (Canon 8 of the Third Ecumenical Council; Canon 74 of the Eighth Council of Carthage).

     The Greeks appeared to concede, albeit grudgingly, the force of this argument. The expression used by one of their bishops to describe the Serbs, “a mere splinter-group”, was dropped, and the right of the Serbs to call themselves the Autocephalous Church of Serbia was tacitly accepted. However, they continued to prevent the Serbs from turning their de jure autocephaly into de facto autocephaly by providing them with a bishop…  

     And so the Serbs finally turned to the Russian True Orthodox Church led by Archbishop Tikhon of Omsk and Siberia, which had been conducting negotiations on union with the Greeks for over three years. Although the Greek and Russian  Churches quickly discovered that there were no dogmatic or canonical obstacles to union, it did not take place largely through the blocking and procrastinating tactics of Metropolitan, later Archbishop Kallinikos. Thus in September, 2009, the Greek Synod under their then-archbishop Chrysostomos (Kiousis) actually resolved to enter into communion with the Russians and even set a date for the first concelebration (November 13/26). But a few days later, to the astonishment of many True Orthodox around the world, they reversed this decision because Metropolitan Kallinikos threatened to create a schism…

     Having submitted once to Kallinikos’ blackmail (if it was indeed the first time), the Greeks then displayed even greater pusillanimity by electing Kallinikos as Archbishop of Athens on the death of Archbishop Chrysostomos in September, 2010. (Eleven bishops cast their vote, it having been agreed that no junior bishop could be a candidate. In the first round, Kallinikos gained five out of eleven votes. In the second, one of the candidates, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Attica, a former strong critic of Kallinikos, transferred his three votes to him, and so Kallinikos won by eight votes out of eleven.) It was now clear that, whatever the other Greek hierarchs may have thought privately, or even said publicly, about Kallinikos’ actions in the past, there was now no desire among them to resist his will. He was lord and master of the Greek Church…

     Although Kallinikos clearly had no intention of entering into communion with the Russians, he used the bait of possible union between the Churches (in spite of his own earlier sabotage of that union) as a way of achieving his main priority – the prevention of the ordination of Fr. Akakije. So he allowed negotiations to continue, and at a meeting between Greek and Russian delegations held in Odessa in February, 2011, substantial agreement on the last issue dividing the two sides – the question of akriveia or oikonomia, strictness or condescension, in the reception of people coming from the World Orthodoxy – appeared to have been reached. It only remained for the Synod in Athens to confirm that they accepted the Russian position officially. However, the statement that later appeared on the official website of the Greek Church, while expressing satisfaction with the negotiations in rather vague terms, still did not suggest a date for concelebration, but rather stated that both sides needed another two years to prepare for full union. It goes without saying that the Russians denied that they needed two years: as far as they were concerned, concelebration could take place immediately…

     The Russians were now in a dilemma. On the one hand, they firmly believed – and said this to the Greeks - that the Serbs, as an autocephalous Church, had the right to have their own bishop(s), and that the pastoral case for ordaining Fr. Akakije was overwhelming. So if the Greeks were not prepared to ordain him, they were prepared to do it themselves – but without imposing any conditions on the Serbs or interfering in any way in the internal life of their Church. On the other hand, in spite of their growing disillusionment with the Greeks’ negotiating tactics, they did not want to break off the union negotiations. They knew how beneficial a union of the three Churches – Greek, Russian and Serbian – would be for all, and hoped against hope that the Greeks would not take the ordination of Fr. Akakije as an excuse for breaking off negotiations.

     Their hope was in vain. The only Greek who cared for the union of the Churches almost as much as the Russians was the Secretary of the Greek Synod, Bishop Photius. He was the only hierarch who had voted against reversing the decision on union with the Russians in October, 2009. Now he presented a compromise solution to his fellow hierarchs: accept the autocephaly of the Serbian Church, bring forward the date for formal union with the Russians to November, 2011, and then join with the Russians in ordaining Fr. Akakije… However, this excellent proposal was met with a stony silence by the other hierarchs, for whom any such concession evidently constituted an unacceptable “loss of face”… (In their encyclical of August 9/22, the Greek Synod took credit for this excellent proposal, completely omitting to mention that the Synod had in fact rejected the proposal!)

     Union was now doomed. The Serbs thanked the Greeks for the help they had given them, and then left their administrative jurisdiction while expressing their firm desire to remain in Eucharistic communion with them. Then Fr. Akakije was formally elected by his flock to the episcopate, and formal petitions for communion with the Russian Church and for his ordination were sent to, and accepted by, the Russians. Almost at the last minute, Fr. Akakije and two Russians, Bishop Germogen of Chernigov and Protopriest Victor Melehov, went to Athens to hear the Greeks attempt to persuade them to change their minds. The Russians stood firm, and on August 2/15, Fr. Akakije was ordained as Bishop of Resava and Shumadia. Immediately, Bishop Photius announced that union negotiations between the Greeks and the Russians were broken off. Whether any further sanctions or hostile measures will be taken by the Greek Synod remains to be seen…

      Thus in 2011 the Greek True Orthodox Church has shown itself unwilling to do for the Serbs what the Russians did for them in 1969 – that is, restore their episcopate and the de facto autocephaly of their Church. From a canonical point of view, the only difference between the two situations is that in 1969 the petitioning party, the Greek Church, had no canonical bishops (the ordinations of Bishops Akakije the elder and Auxentios in the early 1960s had been uncanonical), whereas in 2011 the petitioning party, the Serbian Church, was temporarily under the omophorion of a canonical bishop of the Church of Greece - although his canonicity must be considered to be purely formal in that he did not carry out his canonical duties in relation to the people entrusted to his care, and has uncanonically asserted his right to exercise indefinite jurisdiction over the whole of another Local Church…

      In this situation the Serbs can be justly accused neither of schism nor of nationalism. For they wish to be the masters in their own land simply in order that the maximum number of their own countrymen can be saved. They wish to be neither Greek nor Russian, not because they are against Greeks or Russians, or want to be separated from Greeks or Russians, but because it is only a Serbian Church that the vast majority of Serbian people will want to join, and therefore only a Serbian Church in which the Serbian people can be saved.

     A witty Greek has compared Fr. Akakije’s ordination to a bridegroom who jumps out of the window of his father’s house and marries – or rather, elopes with – an underage bride. The clear implication is that the ordination was unlawful… We shall not reject this analogy, but alter it slightly to make it correspond more closely to reality, and append to it a very different moral conclusion…

     Fr. Akakije is indeed the bridegroom of the Serbian Church – the true bridegroom, the only man who real loves and cares for the bride and the only man that the bride truly loves. But since she was underage, she was entrusted to an older man for protection until she came of age. That older man was not her lawful husband, and in truth was not interested in her at all. He did not ask, like the older sisters in The Song of Songs: “Our sister is small and has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister in the day when she is spoken for [in marriage]?” (8.8). In fact, he had no plans for her marriage, least of all to the man whom she loved, whom he locked up in his own house. He wanted the bride to remain forever a spinster dependent on himself and serving his interests. The fact that she already had many unsuitable suitors who wished to take away her honour troubled him not at all. But it troubled the true bridegroom, who finally decided to jump out of the window (since the door was locked) and marry the bride. The moral is that it is best for young women and Churches to be married when young to good husbands than to remain unprotected and the prey of corrupt men…

     It is striking how similar the present situation is to the Greco-Bulgarian schism of 1872. Once again we see a Slavic Balkan Church seeking to re-establish its autocephaly in the face of fierce opposition from the Greeks. Again we see the Russian Church coming to the aid of the Slavic Balkan Church, not because of “Pan-Slavist” tendencies, as the Greeks would have it, but simply because brotherly love and pastoral need require it. And once again we see the Greeks acting as if the Byzantine Empire were still in existence and they had control over the whole of the Balkans…

     But the differences between the two situations are equally striking. In 1872 it was the Bulgars who were invading the canonical territory of the Greeks. In 2011 it is the Greeks who are seeking to establish a “protectorate” over the territory of another Local Church – indefinitely, and against the will of the native Christians…

     The present situation is also reminiscent of the Greek revolution of 1821. Metropolitan Germanos of Patras was a hero of the Greek revolution - and yet almost also a traitor to the faith. He recovered “lost territories” from the infidel Turks – and yet offered the Pope ecclesiastical unia in exchange for political help. He was saved from becoming a uniate like those who signed the Council of Florence only by the fact that the Pope, under pressure from the European powers to recognize Turkey, rejected his offer. His example should give his present-day successor, Archbishop Kallinikos, food for thought; for it shows that fallen nationalist zeal in pursuit of “lost territories”, whether secular or ecclesiastical, can lead to heresy…

     In fact, Kallinikos shows clear signs of accepting an heretical thinker because of his nationalist ideology. The thinker in question is the famous new calendarist “theologian”, Fr. John Romanides, whose system of “experiential dogmatics” contains a whole series of serious dogmatic errors. But it is not his dogmatic errors that have drawn the attention of Archbishop Kallinikos, Bishop Christodulos, Athanasius Sakarellos (a close advisor of Kallinikos) and others to Romanides’ writings. More interesting to them – the bait on which they appear to have been hooked – is his highly controversial rewriting of Church history. According to the Romanidean schema, the originators of all the heresies of the Catholic-Protestant West are St. Augustine of Hippo, on the one hand, and the kings and popes of Frankish origin, on the other. The Frankish heresies penetrated Russia after Peter the Great, and from there penetrated Greek theology after the Greek revolution. Meanwhile, the Christians of the West of West Roman origin remained Orthodox, because the West Romans, according to Romanides, were in fact Greeks, and Rome was a Greek city…

     This is not the place for a detailed refutation of Romanides’ historical theories. Suffice it to say that the Popes who did most to promote the papist heresy – Nicholas I and Gregory VII – were not Franks, while the most anti-papist and pro-Byzantine pope of the period, Sylvester II, was a Frank… Romanides’ essentially racist theories are easily refuted. But this does not prevent them from being accepted by Greek archbishops and bishops of both the Old and the new calendars because they fulfill a psychological need. This is the need to prove, despite all appearances, that the Greek nation is still as great today as it was in the heyday of the Byzantine Empire…

*

     To conclude: we have seen that Church nationalism has a long history, that it has already caused massive and long-lasting damage, and that it is still, tragically, alive and well, not only in the apostate Churches of World Orthodoxy, where the rivalry between Constantinople and Moscow is everyday news, but also, still more tragically – for we are talking here about the True Church – in the relations between the True Orthodox Churches. Is there, then, a place for some less virulent and sinful form of nationalism – let us call it patriotism – in the Universal Church? Undoubtedly there is. For just as in Christ there is neither male nor female – and yet we have to take the differences between the sexes into account and legislate for them as for something that will not just disappear, so in Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, neither barbarian nor Scythian nor Russian (cf. Colossians 3.11) – and yet we have to take account of differences in nationality and legislate for them as for something that will not disappear until the end of the age. Human nature in both its personal and social dimensions cannot be ignored.

     For we have universal loyalties and local loyalties, personal sympathies and attachments and public sympathies and attachments. “Charity begins at home”, so love for one’s family, one’s tribe, one’s nation is not only not wrong, but obligatory. On the other hand, our earthly homeland, as St. John of Kronstadt said, is only “the threshold of our Heavenly Homeland”, and our love for our earthly father must not hinder our still greater love for our Heavenly Father…

     In The Acts of the Apostles we read that “there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (6.1-2). This and similar complaints were considered serious enough by the Apostles for them to create a whole new degree of the Church hierarchy, the diaconate, in order to deal with them. Is there an analogous institution in the Church to deal with national conflicts on a much wider scale? We suggest that there is, and that this institution is the Orthodox Empire. Historically, the Ecumenical Councils were always convened by Orthodox Emperors, and it was through the Emperor working with the bishops that conflicts between Churches and nations were resolved. As if to show that the Orthodox Emperors carry out the functions of the diaconate on a universal scale, they were given the rank of deacon in the Byzantine Church…

     Historically, we see that universal ideals were strongest, and nationalist passions weakest, during the heydays of the great multinational Orthodox Empires, Byzantium and Russia. This suggests that Divine Providence has indeed ordained the multinational Orthodox Empire as an instrument of the true Christian internationalism that does not drown out national differences but orchestrates them into a rich polyphony. Of course, as we have seen, even the multinational empire can degenerate into the nationalisms of its leading, imperial and subject, anti-imperial nations. But the fact that perversions of the ideal are possible does not invalidate the ideal itself; it only goes to show that nothing in this fallen world is free from the taint of corruption. And this must lead us to the conclusion that if we wish to see the elimination of sinful Church nationalism from Church life, we must pray for the restoration of the multinational Orthodox Empire…

     And which is the nation that should lead that Empire? That is for God to decide… All we can safely say is that the nation that is most worthy to lead the Orthodox commonwealth will be that nation which is most prepared to sacrifice itself for the welfare of others; for, as the Lord said, “let him who is the greatest among you be as him who serves” (Luke 22.26)…

Vladimir Moss.

 August 6/19, 2011; revised September 8/21, 2011.

 

 

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