How could the war in Ukraine blur global Christianity? —GetReligion
Russia faces charges of war crimes amid massacres of innocent civilians and the shelling of homes, hospitals, schools and infrastructure, with the resulting suffering.
The contours of global Christianity could be blurred, as a result of all this. This religious aspect seems like a mere box for the news media today.
But in the long run, the Russian Orthodox hierarchy merged church stature with a regime plagued by widespread moral condemnation, weakened influence, and growing economic and diplomatic isolation. The opprobrium does not come only from the United States and its Western allies. In a vote at the United Nations, 141 nations denounced “aggression” while only four problematic regimes backed Russia. Even China abstained.
The media should be alert to the following possible scenarios.
The starting point for the discussion is a current split in the church in Ukraine, whose Orthodox population is second only to the massive church in Russia. See the detail here in a previous memo.
In 1686, the Ecumenical Patriarch, “first among equals” who heads the independent “autocephalous” branches of Orthodoxy, granted the Patriarch of Moscow jurisdiction over Ukraine, which he still exercises. But after national independence, a rival Orthodox Church of Ukraine, now led by Metropolitan Epiphanius, was born, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew – with the sympathy of Western leaders – formalized his autocephalous status in 2019.
Orthodoxy around the world remains severely divided between those who support Bartholomew’s right to take this step and those churches loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate, who furiously severed communion with Bartholomew because of his edict. Notably, the head of the Moscow-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox Church led by Metropolitan Onuphrius denounced the invasion of Russia, expressing widespread anger among clergy and laity.
There is already talk that the war would mean that these two rival kyiv-based Orthodox churches could one day unite, a prospect unimaginable before the invasion. Meanwhile, there are strong anti-Moscow rumblings in Russian Orthodox flocks outside of Russia. Yet the Ecumenical Patriarchate is in a weak position as it consists of a tiny remnant in Istanbul under pressure from an increasingly Islamist Turkish regime.
Could Orthodoxy ever establish full concord and mutual respect between its branches? Could this happen while Bartholomew and Moscow Patriarch Cyril are still alive? The first council of bishops recognized since 787 AD. Is the only way to achieve this? Can such a council ever take place? Could a council resolve the dispute over the contested autocephaly of Moscow entrusted to the Orthodox Church of America, which Bartholomew rejects?
The Orthodox have faced many crises over two millennia and world patriarchs rarely act quickly. It’s bad for headlines and digital news, but it’s the truth.
Meanwhile, a significant minority of Ukrainians are Eastern Rite Catholics, and the ever insightful Catholic journalist John L. Allen Jr., of Node believes that “Ukraine could reshape the way we think about Christian unity”. Also note this essay of “ecumenical reset” by George Weigel at first things.
Since the ecumenical opening of Catholicism at the Second Vatican Council, popes have triangulated in search of warmer relations with the Ecumenical and Moscow patriarchates. In 2016, Patriarch Kirill met Pope Francis in Cuba, the first meeting between the holders of their two offices since the Catholic-Orthodox split in 1054 AD.
Recently, there were growing hopes for a papal visit to Moscow. Now, Catholic commentators doubt that Francis or his successors are accomplishing much with Moscow — or even want to.
The war could hurt Kirill as a prominent figure on the global Christian stage. This is one of the anti-Kirill articles that have appeared in Western religious media, courtesy of Religion News Service. According to ABC News, the current war and Kirill’s support for Putin underscores the submission of the Moscow church to national leaders.
The embarrassing story of the past, which involved “mainline” Western Protestants and much of global Orthodoxy, has the makings of a 2022 feature film. Kirill was a protege and successor to the wily Metropolitan Nikodim as an envoy to the World Council of Churches, and thus either a reluctant tool or collaborator of the atheist overlords.
(Meanwhile, there is an unusual American Protestant twist that involves “dispensationalists,” who look to Bible prophecy for signs that the end times are near. An extreme example is the interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39 by the (retired TV host Pat Robertson. He and a few others believe Putin was “forced by God” to invade Ukraine as a “staging area” for Armageddon and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.)
Orthodox news site orthochristian.com sides with Moscow’s ‘canonical’ church in Ukraine against what it calls the ‘schismatic’ independent church recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate – but provides vague URLs to crucial documents and statements related to the conflict. The official English site of the Patriarchate of Moscow is here. See also Pravmir.com.
This Greek Orthodox site aligns with the Independent Ukrainian Church of Ukraine in relation to Moscow:
Node covers world church news with a Catholic focus. See also Catholic news and commentary on The pillar.
Ukrainian-American news site — Svoboda.
The Independent Moscow time is here.
Meanwhile, readers will appreciate these tips from Ministry Watch for donations in Ukraine, but note that recommended agencies omit Catholic options, as well as the US-based International Orthodox Christian Charities, which offers this news page. on relief efforts.
FIRST IMAGE : Illustration published by the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta.