Cyprus' Archbishop Chrysostomos threatened
A Schism in the Orthodox Church?
Russian secular and religious leaders may be ganging up to pre-empt
what they see as a bid for influence in Ukraine on the part of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. Church in Russia is seen
as "department" of government.
A high-level source at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople
has told this newspaper that Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus
cancelled his participation in a pan-Orthodox celebration after
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov threatened to withdraw support
of Nicosia on the Cyprus problem.
Negotiations between Cyprus and the Turkish-Cypriots for political
reunification are about to reopen on July 25 after more than four
years in abeyance (see article on page 8).
"Chrysostomos was subjected to raw and clear blackmail," the source
"The Cyprus case proves clearly now that, essentially, the Church of
Russia is a department of the Russian state. It is not an independent
church. It is a state organ that expresses Russian state policy at
the church level," the church source told the Athens News.
The alleged blackmail from Lavrov came two days ahead of a letter
dated July 20 from Patriarch Alexei of Moscow to all Orthodox
patriarchs and archbishops. In the letter, Alexei warns them not to
attend celebrations for the 1020th anniversary of the
Christianisation of Ukraine because that could produce a schism like
the one that split Christendom into East and West in 1054.
Alexei accuses the ecumenical patriarch of talking to Ukrainian
schismatics in a bid to undermine Moscow's authority in Kiev.
The Ukrainian Church (about 9.5 million faithful) is under the
canonical jurisdiction of Moscow, with Metropolitan Vladimir, but two
breakaway churches (14.5 million faithful combined) developed after
the fall of the Soviet Union.
The one led by Filaret of Kiev seeks independence from Moscow with
the blessing of Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko. Alexei was
reportedly enraged when Filaret and Yushchenko's brother visited
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos on July 14 at the Phanar.
Alexei's four-page letter and Lavrov's alleged warning to
Chrysostomos have opened an explosive rift between the Ecumenical
Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow. Patriarch Theodoros of
Alexandria, who once served as church envoy to Moscow, will not go,
and Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem was hedging until the last
But Archbishop Anastasios of Albania will attend, and Archbishop
Ieronymos of Greece called an emergency synod on July 22 before
deciding to go. The patriarchs of Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania will
not attend due to advanced age or health problems.
Alexei's letter narrowed his earlier invitation for the other
Orthodox churches to send delegations, asking the leaders of the
churches "to avoid your personal participation in the celebrations so
that your presence cannot be interpreted as a show of support for
possible anti-canonical acts".
Vartholomeos responded angrily to Alexei on July 22 that his letter
was "insulting to my person" and included threats based
on "indiscriminate rumours". Vartholomeos underlined that he had no
intention of praying with the schismatics, and he again invited
Alexei to celebrate the liturgy with him in Kiev.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate privately expressed its outrage to this
"The source of the clash between the two patriarchates is precisely
the significance of Ukraine, which for the Orthodox Church is as
great as the geostrategic, political, energy and defence importance
of Ukraine is right now. Ukraine has shifted Westwards in all these
areas, and it is doing the same ecclesiastically. The West for
Ukraine means Constantinople, the opposite pole from Moscow, which
also happens to be Kiev's mother church," the high-level Ecumenical
Patriarchate cleric told the Athens News.
Church sources told the Athens News that on July 23 Metropolitan
Kyril of Smolensk, the Moscow Patriarchate's foreign minister who
hopes to succeed Alexei, offered autonomy to the canonical
metropolitan of Kiev, but he refused. He then offered autonomy to the
schismatic churches, and they also refused, showing that Moscow is
losing ground rapidly in Ukraine.
George Gilson writes for Athens News and appears here with permission.