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)
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]
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.”
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.
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.