Moscow Celebrates Baptism, Rejects Autocephaly – Part IV

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
(William Butler Yeats)

Dear Readers:

Today it is time to finish up this excursion into the Byzantine (ha ha!) world of Russian religion.

Where we left off, we learned the astonishing fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is somehow involved in these tawdry intra-Slavic disputes about Autocephaly and Orthodoxy.  The latter word from the Ancient Greek ὀρθόδοξος (orthódoxos), from ὀρθός (orthós, “straight”) + δόξα (dóxa, “opinion”).  The Orthodox religion, hence, is all about having the “correct opinions”.  Not unlike the Democratic Party of the USA!

But whose opinion is the correct one, as Yeats might ask?  Indeed, these disputes involve “paltry old men” playing dress-up in their colorful robes, and sucking up to the various Caesars of the real world.  One such Caesar, or rather Sultan, being the current heir to the mighty Ottoman Empire and the ruler of the great city of Byzantium itself, which now goes by the name of Istanbul.

Another major player in this game of Cosmic Football, is the Patriarch of Byzantium himself, man goes by the name of Bartholomew.  Who resides in Istanbul and carries the exalted title of “Universal Patriarch” — the Big Cheese, in other words.  Recall that Ukrainian President Poroshenko was delighted to obtain an audience with Bartholomew and even bragged afterwards, to Ukrainian citizens, that Bartholomew was on the verge of granting Self-Headedness to the Ukrainian Church, just in time for the Big Show!  [which didn’t happen]

Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453

Reporter Alexei Nechaev quotes a pundit named Konstantin Bondarenko who writes about Ukrainian poltics for a think tank.  Bondarenko commenting on the Autocephaly issue and its international implications.  For those who are keeping score out there:  The U.S., NATO, and the current Ukrainian government are rooting for Autocephaly; whereas Russia is rooting against; that is the core conflict here, and the team that one roots for is every bit as important as any international football match-up.

Bondarenko:  “On the one hand, the [American] State Department has something with which to blackmail Bartholomew:  Many Orthodox Americans would like to break away from Constantinople.  On the other hand, we have Erdoğan.  Poroshenko is trying to obtain the latter’s assistance and has been shipping Turkish oppositionists back to Turkey (to face the music).  [yalensis:  that’s a whole ‘nother story, which I might do a post on later…]. But Erdoğan has his own motives not to force the issue.  He doesn’t want to exacerbate relations with Russia; there is also the conflict between Greece and Turkey; and many other problems.  This is why the issue of Autocephaly goes well beyond the religious framework and becomes a problem of international proportions.”

No country for Old Men: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Quoting another pundit named Mikhail Pogrebinsky, who believes that, if the Ukrainian Schism should occur, then Bartholomew himself will have ceased to be “Universal Patriarch”, since only 5 out of the 15 Churches will support such an action.  In other words, it would be a demotion for Bartholomew.  And by the way, I just now learned that the Russian term “Universal Patriarch” should be translated into English as “Ecumenical Patriarch”.  Pogrebinsky:  “If Bartholomew should take this [Autocephaly] upon himself, then he would be throwing out a challenge to Moscow, since he would be entering into canonical territory that does not belong to him.  On August 9 he is due in Moscow, where he will have a conversation with (Patriarch) Kirill.  It is expected that he will offer some kind of compromise formula, but, according to my sources, Moscow will not retreat one iota on this issue.  Bartholomew will be sent away empty-handed.

The Kirill of whom this pundit speaks, is, of course, the Patriarch of Moscow and of All Russia (всея Руси), which, of course, includes the Borderlands (=Ukraine)!  Kirill sits as the representative of Christ Himself in the capital of the Mighty Third Rome.  He has previously issued dire warnings about splits and schisms.  He explicitly warned the leaders of the Ukrainian Church, that the efforts of their secular caesars to split the Ukrainian Church from Moscow, would lead to a catastrophe of all-Orthodox proportions!  Not to mention the Kremlin’s wrath.  These men who sit in the Kremlin, they are no paltry men, they will have no truck with these appalling ruffians and schismatics.

Patriarch Kirill flips a bird

But what do the Ukrainian Orthodox people themselves think of this?  Well, it seems they voted with their feet.  During the “Christening” celebrations, the followers of the Moscow Patriarchate in Kiev were able to gather hundreds of thousands of worshippers.  Whereas the Kiev Schismatic Patriarch was only able to herd roughly 20K people, and most of them members of Nationalist political parties and “Anti-Terror” veterans, dressed in camo and t-shirts, waving Ukrainian flags and Nationalist symbols, instead of ikons.

It is a noted fact that the official “pro-Moscow” Orthodox religion in Ukraine is gaining in popularity, with more and more people coming out for the processions and festivities.  Mark my words, these are the same people who would cheer and toss flowers if Russian tanks were to roll through the streets.  See, it’s just one more way for real people to show how they really feel about the Poroshenko regime.  My point being, that Religion is often just another word for Politics.


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4 Responses to Moscow Celebrates Baptism, Rejects Autocephaly – Part IV

  1. Ryan Ward says:

    A couple points on this. Firstly (more for interest’s sake than anything else), there’s an interesting point of etymology involved in the word “Orthodox”. As you note, one meaning of the word is “correct opinion” (opinion being the original meaning of the word “doxa”). But by the time the church was appearing, the word doxa had taken on other meanings. Starting from “opinion”, it came to also mean specifically “reputation” (a fairly natural shift, since your reputation is the opinion of other people about you). Then it further shifted to mean specifically “good reputation” or even “glory”. In the Greek language liturgy, for example, a common phrase is “Doxa si o Theos” (Glory to you, o God). With all these shifts however, the word retained its original meaning as well. So “Orthodoxy” means both “correct belief” and also “correct glory” (the latter emphasizing worshipping in the correct way). Interestingly, when the word was translated into Slavic languages, it was the latter meaning that was emphasized. For example, in Russian, you have “pravoslavni” (pravo – correct, slava – glory).

    On a more substantive issue, it’s certainly not true that religion in general, or Orthodox Christianity in particular, is “only” or even primarily, a matter of politics. Of course, that’s not to say that it’s hermetically sealed off from politics either. Instead, religion and politics are two things that, while always being distinct, butt up against each other and interact in all sorts of different ways. Of course, there’s always a temptation to “instrumentalize” religion and turn it into an appendage of politics (you can see this in the US as well where some Evangelical churches are little more than the “Republican party at prayer”, whereas many Episcopalian and United churches are the Democratic equivalent). But when this happens, the religious group in question tends to lose credibility and begin to decay. I think that’s precisely what’s happening with the schismatic churches in Ukraine. As you note, they’ve been so thoroughly co-opted by Maidanites that ordinary people are losing patience with them. In the case of some of these ordinary people, this might be a matter of affirming a more pro-Russian stance. But I suspect for many of them it’s a reaction against excessive politicization of whatever kind. The Ukrainian Church-Moscow Patriarchate has not been aggressively pro-Russian in recent times. Instead, it’s tried to avoid being compromised by ongoing political struggles, and as a result it’s maintained its credibility to a much greater degree than its competitors.


    • yalensis says:

      Thank you for your fascinating comment, Ryan. I was not aware of the shift of meaning of “doxa” to “glory”. And yet the Russian word “pravo-slavny” stares one right in the face, so thanks for pointing that out!
      As for the word “slava” itself, that has an interesting etymology, tracing all the way back to an Indo-European word, quoting wiki here:

      ḱlew- (“be spoken of, glory”), cognate with Ancient Greek κλέος (kléos “fame”), as in the name Pericles, Latin clueo (“be called”), and English loud. Not English “clue”, though, which comes from a different word, meaning “key” (literally, like to lock a door).

      For the word “Slava”, that initial palatal velar *k’ morphed into s- in the satem language group via a very well-researched sound change. The usual poster-child for this sound-change is the word for “one hundred” which gives k’entum in the kentum branch and satem in the satem branch (which includes Balto-Slavic and Indo-Persian families).


    • Pavlo Svolochenko says:

      Attempts to create a Nazified ‘German Christian’ church were not very successful either, illustrating another point – politicised churches cannot survive if the regime they serve loses power.


      • yalensis says:

        Mostly a true statement.
        But the counter-example is the Church of England!
        Which still survives to this day, even though the Tudor dynasty eventually fell, and was replaced by the Catholic Stuarts.


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