Once again, the United States and its policies are creating chaos, setting up the murder of innocent people, and disrupting an ancient institution. Only this time, it is direct interference in the affairs not just of a nation state, Ukraine, but of a religious institution, the Orthodox Church. And the effect of this is not just on a local, but worldwide level.
The granting of autocephaly to the schismatic Ukrainian body, the so-called Kiev Patriarchate, is not primarily an ecclesiastical issue, but a political one. Ecclesiastically, the US policy is interfering on a number of different levels. It is not, of course, interfering for the sake of human rights, freedom of religion, of religious institutions governing their own lives without government interference, or the fundamental American principle of the separation of church and state. It is rather operating contrary to these fundamental American principles, and trying to force the faithful people of Ukraine into a unified state church, supporting an unpopular government installed, supported and maintained by the United States, and essentially appointing the clergy and hierarchy, particularly the patriarch, for that body.
Undoubtedly it will support the Ukrainian government in its efforts to nationalize the 12,000 churches belonging to the legitimate canonical Ukrainian Church and i ts faithful people, confiscating the buildings and property, including the ancient sacred monasteries and national landmarks.
The Ukrainian people, faithful Orthodox Christians, will fight against the confiscation of their churches, just as they fought the Soviet confiscation of their churches by the Communists in the 1920s. And now as then, they will give their lives for the protection of their holy places from defilement by false brethren. Just as they heroically fought the Nazis in the Second World War, and then the Communists again after the Nazis were expelled, they will reject the false patriarch Denisenko and fight against a government that they know cares nothing for them and their interests, their liberty, and religious freedom, just as they rejected the Living Church Renovationists in the 1920’s.
Thousands will die, protesting against American policy translated into violent action by the Ukrainian government. This is a grave sin, for the Ukrainian leadership and their American masters.
Moreover, not content to manipulate the ecclesiastical and political mafiosi of Ukraine, a failing state grasping for power and lacking legitimacy from its people, the State Department, and other agencies have injected themselves into the Patriarchate of Constantinople. They have manipulated the elderly Ecumenical Patriarch, either directly or through their proxies, through his greatest weakness: the precarious position of the Patriarchate within Turkey, politically and financially. They would expand his jurisdiction and have ensured his financial stability with bribes of millions of dollars. They are using and abusing an old man who is trying with all his might to preserve an ancient institution. They have compromised him, and the institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and are thereby disrupting not only Ukraine and its precarious peace, but fostering a schism that will rend the Orthodox world, a community larger than the United States. This is a bitter and cynical
move, and profoundly evil.
Their justification is that they want to curtail the influence of Russia. The neoconservatives and others who control so much US policy are possessed by a paranoid Russophobia, left over from the first Cold War, and a new hatred of the Christian values espoused by the resurgent Russia. Despite Russia’s overtures for greater cooperation and détente, and President Trump’s apparent willingness to make friends with Russia, we remain hostage to the fears of State Department and Pentagon bureaucrats. Should we not to mention that Russia has a GDP less than that of Texas, and a military budget of less than one-tenth that of the US. So the United States tries to hit the Russians in the place they care about the most: their Faith, their Church, their Christianity.
The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, under Metropolitan Onuphry, is a maximally autonomous church attached to the Russian Orthodox Church. It is the Mother diocese of the Russian Church, and there is a thousand year connection between the Kievan Metropolitanate and the rest of the Russian Church. For years, the Kievan Metropolitanate has been autonomous, which means that their main connection with Moscow is that they commemorate (pray for) the Patriarch of Moscow at services. Otherwise, they govern their own life.
The Russian Patriarch has far less authority over the Church in Ukraine than the Pope does over the Roman Catholics in America. (There is a close parallel to old deep-seated American anti-Catholic attitudes and fears of the Moscow Patriarchate.) Yet there are close personal ties, and huge numbers of Ukrainians serve in parishes and dioceses throughout Russia. The ties are organic, and the canonical Ukrainian Church has no desire, and has not asked, for autocephaly.
And so the United States State Department and agencies support a disgraced and legitimately defrocked charlatan who is all dressed up, and who is himself manipulating the pathetic Poroshenko, for his own ambition. They have blackmailed the elderly Ecumenical Patriarch, in regards to the disappearance of funds from the American Archdiocese, and then bribed him. To justify himself he asserted an interpretation of his own jurisdiction that is rejected by the rest of the Orthodox Churches.
The other thirteen Orthodox Churches, with one or two exceptions that have remained silent, condemn this move by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. They do not accept the assertion of virtually universal jurisdiction by the Patriarch of Constantinople, nor the authority to act unilaterally, especially on matters that require the consensus of all the Churches, such as the granting of autocephaly. While the Patriarchs cannot control what happens politically in Ukraine, what is more likely is that they will meet and try to remove Patriarch Bartholomew for having acted contrary to the universal canons. The greatest hope is that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will repent and stop this madness. It may be too late.
In the meantime, if they go through with the autocephaly, babushki—grandmothers—will be dying in Ukraine trying to defend their beloved churches from the new Ukraino-Nazis.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople will have relegated itself to schism from the rest of the Orthodox world; it might as well then join the Vatican. In any event, it will lose any claim to the primacy, save historical memory, and thus any influence.
Sooner than later in Ukraine, Poroshenko will be voted out, and Denisenko, 90+ years old, will die. Then the schism will fall apart, regardless of its status. Ukraine will continue to collapse, autocephalous church or no, into political, social, economic and ecclesiastical chaos. No one, not the US and not Russia, is willing or able to step in and save it. It will finally have to emerge from the ashes. So it will join Iraq, Libya, Syria and other places destroyed by US intervention.
Orthodoxy, however, will survive – preferably with the Ecumenical Patriarchate intact, but even without it. The other churches have already rallied around the Patriarch of Moscow as standing for and maintaining canonical order; and around Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev as a victim of profound injustice, revealing Christ suffering in the midst of persecution. So thanks to US policy, Moscow emerges strongly as the moral leader of the Orthodox world. Poetic justice.
But you, State Department, will have the blood of the little Ukrainian grandmothers and old men on your hands and your heads. And you will have to answer for your decisions and actions before God. Or do you even care?
Metropolitan Jonah is a bishop within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the former Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and a native-born American.