Russian Church responds to Patriarch Bartholomew’s accusations made in December speech

Russian Church responds to Patriarch Bartholomew’s accusations made in December speech

Moscow, February 6, 2023


On December 9, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople addressed the World Policy Conference “For a Reasonably Open World” in Abu Dhabi.

According to the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department for External Church Relations, Pat. Bartholomew “hurled a number of incorrect, groundless, and openly slanderous accusations at the Russian Orthodox Church,” in a talk that was “devoted almost completely not so much to the theme of the conference, but to criticism of Russian Orthodoxy.”

The DECR published a response on Friday.

Read below the Patriarch’s speech and the DECR’s response.

Patriarch Bartholomew’s speech:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends,

We would like to warmly thank the organizers of this new symposium of the World Policy Conference “For a Reasonably Open World”, for inviting us once again to participate in this very interesting work.

The Ukrainian war, provoked by the unjust aggression of Russia in February 2022, constitutes the worst European geopolitical and humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War. It is accompanied by the sacrifice of a large number of Ukrainians, Russians and others, as well as the destruction of an entire country. Was such a disaster to be expected?

Specialists in international relations seek to explain this situation by referring to the conditions of the end of the Cold War. Was the West wrong to take advantage of the implosion of the Soviet Union to establish its influence in the East? Has the change in the major balances in Europe reawakened old fears of a possible encirclement of Russia? On the other hand, how can we not take into consideration the desire for independence of peoples who lived under Soviet oppression? How not to respond with acts of solidarity to the culpable abandonment of Eastern Europe to the domination of Moscow in the name of the system of zones of influence established by the Yalta agreements?

This debate is undoubtedly valid. However, the vision of our Church lies beyond these current perspectives. Her gaze is more rooted in history in general and in ecclesiastical history in particular. We consider the source of our misfortunes to be the consequence of errors in judgment regarding matters related to faith. It is for this reason that we identify with the term “orthodoxy,” a just and upright faith.

The Orthodox Church has played a fundamental role in the emergence of these two realities, both separate and intertwined, which are Russia and Ukraine. The place of the drama is at the intersection of a double crossroads, Europe and Asia. First of all, there is the isthmus between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, an essential axis for trade between Northern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. Perpendicular to this corridor, in the southern part of present-day Ukraine, a corridor is formed open to the circulation of peoples, through which several successive invasions have passed. The commercial function allowed the structuring of powers and the opening to civilization and to the outside world. The waves of invasions and the covetousness of the surrounding powers have, on the other hand, often undone the political structures and subjected the populations to enormous suffering. It is this dialectic between construction and destruction that explains the emergence of a Ukrainian identity.

The spatial political map of present-day Ukraine has changed shape many times over the centuries, from Kievan Rus in the 9th century to Catherine II in the 18th century, when most of Ukraine found itself integrated into the Russian Empire. Over the centuries, the populations of Ukraine have been subjected to successive foreign dominations: Russian, Polish, Mongol, Lithuanian or Austrian. The 20th century was particularly hard on Ukrainians. They endured the great Stalin-era famine, Holodomor, and found themselves in the midst of armed confrontation between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during World War II.

This history explains the desire to differentiate itself from the Russian whole and to connect with Europe and its values. These conditions also make it possible to understand the importance of religion, an element that is both founding and liberating of Ukrainian consciousness. From Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate introduced Christianity and Byzantine civilization already in the 9th century to the peoples of this region. We played a fundamental role in the organization of the religious communities that formed around the Metropolis of kyiv, and then around the Patriarchate of Moscow.

However, its teachings regarding the rules of organization and ecclesiastical functioning, inherited from the long history of Christianity and which reflect all the administrative and philosophical wisdom of the world of the Eastern Mediterranean, have not always been respected by Moscow. The imperial power wanted to submit the church to its will in its effort to instrumentalize the religious feeling for its political and military ends. Thus, from the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, Moscow aspired to replace the Ecumenical Patriarchate by proclaiming that Moscow represented “the third Rome”. This long-lasting policy of Moscow constitutes a fundamental factor of division of the Orthodox world.

From the 19th century, the instrumentalization of religion by Moscow was combined with the innovative ideas of German nationalism. Inspired by Pan-Germanism, the new ideology of Pan-Slavism, an organ of Russian foreign policy, acquired a religious component. This is the idea that churches should organize themselves according to the principle of ethnicity, the central marker of which would be language. It is this approach that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople denounced in 1872 as heresy (the heresy of ethnophyletism, a form of ecclesial racism). It is in flagrant contradiction with the universalism of the Gospel message, as well as the principle of territorial governance which defines the organization of our church.

This heresy was, however, useful to Moscow’s objectives since it distanced Slavic-speaking believers from the influence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The aim of this strategy was to create, within the Ottoman Empire, and later in the form of an independent state, a separate political force, at the service of the Russian thrust towards the warm seas. She is responsible for the hatreds between Balkan Christians that led to the Balkan wars and atrocities of the early 20th century.

During the Soviet Union, religion was marginalized and oppressed. Communist ideology had occupied the terrain attributed to the screen to a religion exploited by the Tsarist Empire. After its fall, the faith was again used for ideological purposes. The Russian Orthodox Church has sided with the regime of President Vladimir Putin, especially since the election of His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill in 2009. It actively participates in the promotion of the ideology of Rousskii Mir, of the Russian world , according to which language and religion make it possible to define a coherent whole encompassing Russia, Ukraine, Belarus as well as the other territories of the former Soviet Union and the diaspora. Moscow (both political power and religious power) would constitute the center of this world, whose mission would be to combat the decadent values of the West. This ideology constitutes an instrument of legitimization of Russian expansionism and the basis of its Eurasian strategy. The link with the past of ethnophyletism and the present of the Russian world is obvious. Faith thus becomes the backbone of the ideology of Putin’s regime.

The autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church granted in 2019 by the Ecumenical Patriarchate has worsened relations with the Russian Church. Here we find tensions already expressed, when the Patriarchate of Moscow decided not to participate in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church gathered in Crete in 2016.

The invasion of Ukraine on February 24 pushed the polarization to a fever pitch. Patriarch Kirill’s ambiguous stance on the war and support for President Putin’s policies have provoked strong criticism within the Orthodox world and beyond. The Orthodox of Ukraine, who had chosen to remain under the tutelage of the Russian Church, also expressed their disapproval.

Thus, the division of the Orthodox world deepens and expands. Some Churches agree with the Ecumenical Patriarchate; others, whose countries are too dependent on Russia, blindly support the Moscow Patriarchate; still others prefer to keep a complicit silence. Meanwhile, the Russian Church uses the means of the state to establish its influence on the canonical territory of other Churches, despite the most elementary rules of the ecclesiastical organization of Orthodoxy. Its interferences in Africa are presented as punitive actions against the Patriarchate of Alexandria for the recognition of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It is obvious that in these conditions, the peacemaking role of the Church becomes very difficult.

What does this mean for debates beyond church circles? It shows once again the growing role of the religious factor in major global issues. Ideologies are weakening one after another. The end of communism left a great void in a whole part of the world that lived under its domination and in other populations that had invested their hopes in it. The crisis of globalization and liberalism is also creating deep frustrations and dangerous resentments. In this landscape of collapsing materialist ideologies, the spiritual is making a strong comeback. However, this return can constitute a danger, if it is not expressed according to approaches integrating the wisdom of religious traditions drawn from the heritage of the great civilizations of the past.

Errors in discernment, heresies, are not insignificant phenomena that interest only a few clerics and a few scholars. On the contrary, they have very serious consequences for the spiritual life and for material life. The source of the problems is the instrumentalization of religion by actors who often have no real faith.

The Russian Orthodox constitute a great wealth for Orthodoxy and for the whole world. Russian Orthodoxy offered an enormous intellectual, spiritual and artistic contribution. It was unfortunately the victim of interference from Russian political power. Soviet oppression wreaked havoc, depriving entire generations of the blessings of the Church’s faith and wisdom. The neo-imperial regime, in its need to strengthen itself, drew on what seemed to it to be precious political capital: the renewed religious sentiment of the Russian people. Unfortunately, it was able to lead part of the Orthodox clergy on this path. Above all, it took up and reinforced the heretical approaches of the Tsarist regime in a context of poor knowledge of ecclesiastical rules, due in part to the spiritual decay of the Soviet period.

The consequences are very serious. The ethno-religious fanaticism inculcated in Russian youth stifles prospects for peace and reconciliation. The Orthodox world is divided and this fragmentation is projected onto poor countries, whose people hoped to find relief in the faith. Above all, it harms the Russian Church since sooner or later the people will realize the excesses of a Church subject to objectives that have nothing to do with its original mission.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Specialists in international relations sometimes tend to ignore or marginalize the role and significance of the religious factor, authentic or manipulated. We have, however, entered a period in which this factor is becoming increasingly important. Theologians and other specialists in questions having to do with the functioning of the Churches must undoubtedly open up to other perspectives and develop dialogue with other scientific disciplines. It is also important that specialists in the social sciences, political sciences and international relations overcome a certain hesitation to deepen religious questions. The understanding of a new world that is being formed before our eyes cannot disregard the religious fact. Thank you for your attention !

The response of the Russian Church’s DECR:

On December 9 during the World Policy Conference ‘For a Reasonably Open World’, Patriarch Bartholomew hurled a number of incorrect, groundless and openly slanderous accusations at the Russian Orthodox Church. In his speech, devoted almost completely not so much to the theme of the conference but to criticism of the Russian Orthodoxy, he gave a biased and distorted interpretation of the history of our Church and peoples she unites and alluded to an alleged deviation of the Russian Church from the Orthodox doctrine and canons.

Regardless to Patriarch Bartholomew’s utterly disputable, incompetent and politicized evaluations of a number of historic events in the history of Russia and Eastern Europe, we have to state the following.

Orthodox Christianity did really underlie the political and cultural identity of the Kievan Rus’ and in many ways formed the national identity of the peoples who trace their history to the Kievan Baptismal font. In spite of periods of fragmentation and upheavals, these peoples have always perceived themselves as a one ecclesial community.

Kiev, called in our most ancient chronicles ‘the mother of Russian cities’, historically was the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy and the first see of the Russian Church. As ancient Antioch was for the Orthodox East, Mtskheta for Georgia, Patriarchate of Pec for Serbia, so for our peoples Kiev has remained to this day the common holy place venerated throughout the Russian Church.

The emergence of Ukrainian identity is not related to ‘the dialectic between creation and destruction’, as the Primate of the Church of Constantinople vaguely formulated, but rather to the consequences of the history of South-West Rus’ in a situation of ages-long struggle of Orthodox Christians for the preservation of their faith, culture and traditions in the situation of an aggressive non-Orthodox expansion both from the East and the West. In this struggle, our ancestors relied on the support of their same-faith brothers in the North, and it resulted in the unification of Moscow and Kiev in the 17th century, the unification both political and ecclesial. It met the ages-long expectations of our ancestors and its voluntary and nationwide nature was sealed in documents and this unification by no mean can be called ‘Russian foreign dominion’ because the participants in this unification on both sides felt, thought and called themselves Russian at that time.

Later on, our peoples endured together both glorious and tragic times in their shared history. The 20th century, of which the Patriarch of Constantinople made a special mention, was ‘especially cruel’ not only for the Ukrainian but also the Russian people. We endured together the hardships and losses of the First World War (1914-1918), the devastation brought by the Civil War (1918-1923), the mass starvation in the USSR (1932-1933), which encompassed lands not only in today’s Ukraine but also in Volga region, the Urals, Central Chernozemye, North Caucasus, and finally the intervention of the German Fascist invaders in 1941.

To say that the Ukrainian people just found themselves ‘amidst an armed confrontation between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, to present them as an apathetic and weak-willed victim of the global conflict means to undervalue and belittle the feat of Ukrainians during World War II. From 1941 to 1945, the Russian and Ukrainian nations held out shoulder to shoulder against Europe united by fascism. Over five million Russian soldiers and about a million and a half Ukrainian ones gave their lives for the victory over German Nazism. It was by their rights as victors in World War II that both Russian and Ukrainian nations were included in the number of founders of the United Nations Organization. It is sad that the Primate of Constantinople is unaware of our nations’ services for the world history, nor does he feel for their sacrifices, that he is ready to insult the memory of the fallen for the sake of momentary political rhetoric and the current state of affairs.

Considered among the trials endured by our nations in the 20th century should also be the atheistic persecutions under the communist regime, which Patriarch Bartholomew mentions only in passing. These religious persecutions, ones of the most brutal in the history of Christianity, cost lives of many thousands of the Russian Orthodox Church clergy and hundreds of thousands of lay people. In the 1920s, the communist authorities artificially created a Renovationist schism in the Russian Church and Constantinople openly supported it.

The Patriarch of Constantinople’s accusations against the Russian Church appear ungrateful and unfair as he alleges that after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 ‘Moscow claimed its right to substitute the Ecumenical Patriarchate’. Even in the most infamous years for the Church of Constantinople when she deviated into unia (1439) and legitimated the Ukrainian church schism (2018), the Russian Orthodox Church restricted herself only to a rupture of communion with those who excommunicated themselves from the doctrinal and canonical unity of the Orthodox Church. But she never claimed the place of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the family of Local Orthodox Churches.

After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the principality of Moscow and later its reign actually remained for many years the only independent Orthodox state capable of supporting Orthodox Christians in the East. It is for this reason that Patriarch Jeremias of Constantinople, in his 1589 Legislative Letter on the establishment of patriarchate in Rus’, addressed the Tsar Feodor Ivanovich, saying, ‘O Devout Tsar, your great Russian Tzardom, the third Rome, has excelled everybody in piety, and all your pious tzardoms have been brought together, and only you under the Christian heaven is named tzar in the whole universe, for all Christians’.

However, from the times of Patriarch Jeremias and to this day, in none of the official documents and statements of the Russian Church the political concept of ‘the Third Rome’ has ever been applied. In the 20th century, the ideas mentioned by Patriarch Bartholomew have mainly become Fanar’s instrument of ideology and propaganda. During ‘the cold war’ waged by the notorious ‘Third Rome’ and ‘Pan-Slavism’ were traditionally used to intimidate our Greek bothers in faith and the Western community. As is shown by the documents recently published by the CIA on Patriarch Athenagoras’ cooperation with the U.S. intelligence, the mythical ‘Third Rome’ argument was actively used by Fanar, mainly for fostering the religious factor in international politics and involve the support of world political forces.

It is sad that the aid given to the nation of the same faith in the Balkans, including the fraternal Greek people in delivering them from the Ottoman yoke is referred to by Patriarch Bartholomew as a ‘Moscow’s long-standing policy ‘to divide the Orthodox world community’. It is evident that from the force of habit the Primate of Constantinople sees the world of Orthodoxy limited to the Ottoman Empire’s boundaries of the 18th-19th centuries. Its support and administrative enforcement machine were used at that time by the Phanariots to eradicate mercilessly the distinctive culture of the Balkan nations, their liturgical traditions, singing and even language by replacing them by Greek. This is how Fanar understood at that time ‘the universal nature of the Gospel’s message’ and any opposition to this aggressive expansion among the Bulgarians, Serbs, and Romanians was given the label of ‘ethnophyletism’ and was condemned as a heresy. At the same time, the idea of the exclusive right of Constantinople was invented to recall unilaterally the autocephaly of Local Churches obedient to it, which was based not on the millennium-long Tradition of the Church but rather on the administrative powers of the millet-bashi granted by the Turkish authorities.

Having invented the notion of ethnophyletism and condemned it at the 1872 Council of Constantinople, Fanar actually condemned its own long-standing policy of the cultural subjection of Orthodox nations. The accusations of the Russian Orthodox Church for ‘ethnophyletism’ or, more than that, for ‘ecclesial racism’ sound absurdly and vulgar; for it is the Church that unites millions of the faithful and hundreds of nations and daily preaches, prays and celebrates divine services in dozens of languages of peoples in the world.

The canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church includes 17 states and in each of them our Church supports the sovereignty of a country, promotes the spiritual improvement of society, fosters public accord, makes her contribution to the strengthening of the traditional moral values and the institute of family.

Against this background, the efforts of the Church of Constantinople for strengthening the traditional and family values appear to be far from adequate while her position appears extremely ambiguous. The open support given by some hierarchs in Fanar to the LGTB movement, abortions and family planning program as well as the official permission of the second marriage for clergy crush the millennia-long canonical principles of Orthodoxy, discord with the universal Orthodox documents adopted earlier and provoke a great temptation in the world Orthodoxy, including among the clergy and faithful of the Church of Constantinople herself.

The preaching of ‘a new world’ does not hinder the Patriarch of Constantinople from accusing his opponents of heresy. Appeals to ‘basic rules of the ecclesial order of Orthodoxy’ have not hampered his recognition of ‘hierarchs’ of the Ukrainian schism who have no apostolic succession. And the promotion of ‘Western values’ mentioned in the speech, including the peculiar interpretation of the theme of human rights, does not prevent the Primate of the Church of Constantinople from turning a blind eye to the glaring violations of the basic rights and freedoms of the clergy and faithful in Ukraine.

During the days when the Patriarch Bartholomew’s Abu-Dhabi speech was drafted, mass searches and interrogations were held in monasteries and churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; criminal cases were initiated against her hierarchs and clergy on the basis of artificial or slanderous accusations, forcible captures of her churches and the assault on the clergy continued; her archpastors and pastors were deprived of their constitutional rights and a full-fledged opportunity to live in their own country. No word about it was pronounced in the gala speech of the Primate of Constantinople. Meanwhile, Ukrainian politicians and officials refer directly to the Tomos of the Patriarch of Constantinople as the basis for persecution and absolute prohibition of the activity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Moreover, Fanar hierarchs publicly support the persecutions in Ukraine, hypocritically calling them ‘the purification and renewal of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy’.

In his speech, Patriarch Bartholomew has groundlessly accused the Russian Church of ‘using public resources’ to achieve her aims. It is difficult to give a more obvious example of using state levers with ecclesial aims than the process of legalization of a church schism undertaken by Constantinople in Ukraine and its recognition by Primates of some Local Orthodox Churches. According to eyewitnesses, in 2018 the president of Ukraine sat in the presidium of the so-called ‘Council’ of the schismatics, put pressure on schismatic hierarchs and even on the representative of Constantinople, the present Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon. American diplomats and special service representatives carried out a colossal work putting pressure unprecedented in our time on the Primates and episcopate of Local Orthodox Churches with the aim to force them to agree with the anti-canonical deed of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Precisely this brute pressure of world political forces on the Orthodox Church throughout the world and Fanar’s desire to act in Ukraine unilaterally, contrary to the will and protests of other Local Churches, has led to a profound division in the Orthodox world community that Patriarch Bartholomew referred to in his speech.

With deep regret we have to state that now too the Primate of Constantinople only supports and deepens this division. He does not only attempt to accuse indirectly the Russian Orthodox Church of some ‘mistakes’, ‘heresy’, deviation from the canons and dogmata, but also in abusive tone makes comments on the stand of all the Local Orthodox Churches which have not taken Fanar’s side in the Ukrainian ecclesial issue.

Precisely this disrespect of the Patriarch of Constantinople for his brothers in other Local Churches has become the principal cause of the failures experienced by the 2016 Council of Crete. Over the dozens years of preparation for the Council, representatives of Constantinople had kept suppressing the undesirable discussion while blocking the most acute issues of inter-Orthodox relations and excluded them from the agenda. Naturally, this led to slowing down the preparation process and later to an actual breakdown of the Council. By his scandalous speech in Abu-Dhabi the Primate of Constantinople only re-affirms his actual loss of the moral right and ability to be the coordinator of inter-Orthodox relations.

We would like to hope that the stand of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople will not extend to its Primate’s personal views and opinion and she still has healthy forces who remember the Saviour’s words: Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mt. 20:26-28).

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