Hopefully this will be my last piece on religion, at least for a while. I am hoping to return to more secular subjects, like astronauts, opera, and perhaps even the escape from Sobibor. (Although, if the Mummy Apocalypse starts in Kiev, then all bets are off, just warning y’all…)
However, I did want to give at least a quantum of closure to the Autocephaly story. The Russian Church Synod reacted surprisingly firmly yesterday (a lot of people thought they would be too chicken to go that far, but they did, so bravo to them!), so there was a complete split with Constantinople, and a declaring of the latter to be “Raskolniki“, aka Splitters. From the Russian POV, Constantinople is now Churcha Non Grata. Believers of the True (=Canonical) Orthodox Faith are informed they are not to pray or take communion in any Churches under the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarch, Bartholomew. Good to know. Being an atheist, raised in a sovok-type family, I never set foot in a church anyhow, nor took communion. But were I ever to do that (highly dubious), it certainly wouldn’t be in Constantinople! Not so long as that Banderite-loving SOB is in charge, so there!
So, I have this piece by Alina Nazarova, which lays out the rules of conduct of this new religious war. The rules were laid out by Archbishop (Протоиерей) Igor Yakimchuk, who is the liaison to the public of the Moscow Patriarch. According to Igor: The Synod says its decision must be obeyed by all members of the canonical Russian Orthodox Church. The following churches and cathedrals are forbidden to worshipers: All the functioning churches in Stamboul, that one single Christian church in Antalya (Turkey); the ones on Crete, and on the islands of Dodecanese in Greece. Some of these areas coincide with vacation spots beloved of Russian tourists. Of course, they can still go to the beach, that’s not the issue. They could even go inside a church probably, as a tourist, you know, like gazing at the ikons. The issue is that they cannot light candles, participate in the mass, or take communion. If they disobey these rules, then the punishment will be as follows:
If any member of the priesthood violates above rules, then he would be subject to прещение, which is defined as a traditional form of disciplinary punishment employed in Russian churches. The punishment ranges from a slap on the wrist, to a demotion, to full-blown Anathema.
But what about the lay persons? What would be their punishment if they disobeyed Archbishop Igor? “Repentance in the confessional” [do Orthodox have a confessional like Catholics? I didn’t even know that…] for disobeying the Church,” Igor elucidates.
But What About The Grace-Giving Fire?
People who have been through a divorce know what it’s like that “day after” the fateful words are spoken. That’s when people ponder and start tallying up their losses. Like, who gets the dog. How am I going to feed myself? etc etc.
Similarly, in this “divorce” between Russia and Constantinople, which only happened yesterday, the Russian side in particular is coming to grips with what it lost in this process. Not that there are regrets: It had to be done. But one cannot paste on a happy face and just pretend there are no negative consequences.
So, I have this other piece, also by Alina Nazarova, which concerns the Grace-Giving Fire. Apparently there is this Fire, sort of the mystical version of the Olympic Flame. It’s a Miracle-Flame that never goes out, no matter how many fire extinguishers you spray it with! This flame normally resides in Jerusalem, but every Easter it is brought to Russia. People were worried that the split with Constantinople will affect this. But Moscow Patriarch Kirill’s Press Secretary Alexander Volkov reassures believers that the fire will arrive on schedule. Since it travels directly from Jerusalem, it will not be affected by the Schism.
What will be affected, however, are other miraculous artifacts and relics which arrive in Moscow every Easter, by special delivery from Tsargrad, aka Constantinople! “The bringing of these holy relics is something that the two churches arrange between themselves,” Volkov explains. Adding that this is not going to be possible any more, for obvious reasons. But the good news is that the Sacred Flame will still be arriving on schedule next Easter, like always. Whew, I was worried about that! [Actually, I never heard of it before…]
The Elephant In The Room
But now we get to the Elephant in the room: Mount Athos. Of all the things that the Russian Church is sacrificing, and the price that it has to pay for its principled decision: Barring believers from making the pilgrimage to Mount Athos is perhaps the most painful of all. See, Athos was the one glorious ace in Bartholomew’s deck of cards. He boldly played it … and the Russian Church boldly called his bluff. And yet with open eyes, knowing that this loss will be painful for them. When asked about this specifically, Igor confirmed that, yes, the Russian Church Synod has forbidden believers of the canonical church to go to Mount Athos. At all. Not even as tourists.
Not that the place even welcomes tourists. I have this wiki entry which explains how this thing works. Athos is the Eastern Orthodox equivalent of the Vatican. It is an independent polity within the Greek Republic, subject to its own laws, and home to 20 monasteries. All of which are under the direct jurisdiction of Schismatic Patriarch Bartholomew.
wiki: “Mount Athos is commonly referred to in Greek as the “Holy Mountain” (Ἅγιον Ὄρος Hágion Óros) and the entity as the “Athonite State” (Αθωνική Πολιτεία, Athoniki Politia). Other languages of Orthodox tradition also use names translating to “Holy Mountain” (e.g. Bulgarian and Serbian Света гора Sveta gora, Russian Святая гора Svyatya gora, Georgian მთაწმინდა). In the classical era, while the mountain was called Athos, the peninsula was known as Acté or Akté (Ἀκτή).
Mount Athos has been inhabited since ancient times and is known for its nearly 1,800-year continuous Christian presence and its long historical monastic traditions, which date back to at least 800 A.D. and the Byzantine era. Today, over 2,000 monks from Greece and many other countries, including Eastern Orthodox countries such as Romania, Moldova, Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia, live an ascetic life in Athos, isolated from the rest of the world. The Athonite monasteries feature a rich collection of well-preserved artifacts, rare books, ancient documents, and artworks of immense historical value, and Mount Athos has been listed as a World Heritage site since 1988.”
wiki goes on to say that, when Greece joined the European Union, the special status of Athos was codified as an exception to the usual EU rules of “free movement of peoples”, namely: “The free movement of people and goods in its territory is prohibited, unless formal permission is granted by the Monastic State’s authorities, and only males are allowed to enter.”
That last point being important, as the EU normally frowns on gender-based discrimination. But this is a church matter, so they make an exception, just like they do with the Catholics. So, the only issue here is those Russian males who want to go to one of the monasteries on Athos and do whatever it is they do in there. They can’t do that any more! As Archbishop Igor noted, “Tourists don’t go to Athos anyhow.” Which is why my blogpost title is tongue-in-cheek, in case anyone was wondering…
In conclusion: Mount Athos: This was NATO’s ace card, and they played it well! Gotta give credit to the enemy, when he makes a clever play. NATO and the Banderites thought to force Russia into Zugzwang. However, the Russian Church responded also with a clever (and highly principled) if forced move. Now we wait to see what happens next!