News stories are important. Obviously. No one denies it. But, people also like to read some analysis. You can disagree with the analysis, but, hopefully, you would still learn something from it. So, we can do both. Let analyze then, and report. I should warn you, I’m not some neutral arbitrator of ideas; that is, I favour some views over others. However, I can still at least try to portray the opposing views in the manner approaching what they would say.
Let us look at the Phanar. First off, what is the Phanar? It is shorthand for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the actual word comes from the neighborhood in Istanbul where the offices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are.
It moved there in Ottoman times; it operates several churches, as well as the Phanar Greek Orthodox College, known by the Greeks sometimes as the Great School of the Nation.
But, let’s jump ahead a bit to the modern period. The Phanar (which we’ll use as shorthand for the Ecumenical Patriarchate) is the prime mover in the entire ecumenical movement in World Orthodoxy. Now, there are other key players for sure; the Patriarchate of Antioch has its own ecumenical agenda in the Middle East, and, it being Arab, it has more independence than the largely Phanar and Greek controlled Jerusalem and Alexandrian Patriarchates. And, we should mention that the Moscow Patriarchate has been making major overtures to the Vatican, and placing itself as a competitor in the ecumenical movement.
The other Patriarchates are, to a certain degree, players of the second fiddle, so to speak. The Romanian Patriarchate is pretty much well beyond redemption, as regards the infiltration of ecumenism (as evidenced by the public concelebrations between RP and RC clergy, defacto intercommunion, etc), and there is already a large and strong true Orthodox Church of Romania centered in Slatioara. It’s numbers vary between a low figure of 500,000 to an high figure of 1.5 million, and, it’s more than capable of being a safe haven for the World Orthodox fleeing Bucharest.
Bulgarian Patriarchate has been mired in a number of scandals, but, it has, surprisingly been reported to have retained a rather high degree of confidence from the populace. Those numbers have gone down of course after several incidences. There are competitor groups to the ‘official’ World Orthodox Bulgarian Church. These are generally GOC jurisdictions that are under various Greek GOC synods; a few of the Bulgarian Alternative Synods (which originated from the challenges of Metropolitan Innocent to the sergianist policies of Patriarch Maxim back in the late 60s) have adopted the Church Calendar, with some of them becoming more consistently conservative and joining themselves officially to GOC synods in Greece, though, even there there have been many problems. Yet, Bulgaria has largely seemed like a land of indifference and a non-player in the anti-ecumenist world, even among the Patriarchates, which is probably why persons like Metropolitan Tikhon have been able to have public meetings with the Pope, kissing his hand, talking about how lay people don’t understand the differences and that we should have union now, etc, etc.
Serbia is mired in complete corruption at the highest hierarchical levels like you wouldn’t believe (yes, you wouldn’t believe, or maybe you would); Serbia itself has always occupied some strange place in the history of 20th century Orthodoxy. It’s been an issue that I’ve tried to study and solicit multiple opinions from, especially the always official relationship that existed between Serbia and ROCOR, even after the 70s, when many in ROCOR followed the steps of Fr. Justin Popovic and would have nothing to do with Patriarch German in communio in sacris. Although, there were always, it seems,, concelebrations and relationships at smaller levels. Serbia has always been a strange case, somewhat like Jerusalem, but, unlike Jerusalem, the Serbian Patriarchate and the hospitality of Patriarch Gabriel in the 1930s is what provided ROCOR the necessary support. Otherwise, without a base of operations, it would have been more difficult, especially prior to World War II. I’ve never gotten an explanation as to how those persons who maintained that ROCOR was in communion with Serbia even after the anathema against ecumenism could explain this; the explanation of Metropolitan Vitaly that the anathema was more of a warning, such as was found in his Nativity Encyclical, never sat quite right. Do you just issue anathemas as warnings? I do not know if I will ever have a clear explanation, and, to a large degree, it has become irrelevant, since no Synod professing True Orthodoxy has any communion with the Serbian Patriarchate; in fact, there is a Serbian True Orthodox Church, and even many of the Serbian monastics, lower clergy, and even one Bishop, from the Patriarchate have broken communion with Belgrade recently, and have a growing consciousness of the issues. I know a lot people would criticize them as johnny-come-latelys, but, I rather someone wake up later, than not at all; all the issues can be figured out about how to integrate such people.
Serbia’s Patriarch Pavle always was an enigmatic figure of sorts to me. I’ve always had the most contradictory reports. One side would tell me that he was a holy man, that he was against ecumenism, that he didn’t know what was going on, and that, he never knew the extent to which people were using the World Council of Churches against Orthodoxy. Some said he may have just thought it was some organization for debate or charity. Needless to say, if this were true (and, I’ll admit that there is a possibility), it would mean Patriarch Pavle was a very otherworldly type man, who didn’t pay attention to things, and must have had an absolute gaggle of criminals surrounding him, ghost writing letters, and filtering information (one Serbian lady explained the story of how she repeatedly tried to tell him that Metropolitan Christopher in America was a Mason, at which Pavle expressed disbelief, asking his aids, who quickly said it was all lies by schismatics and troublemakers; true story). On the other hand, its possible he was just a standard old traditionalist World Orthodox type, who just thought ecumenism isn’t bad, and it’s a phase, and just let things fall to pieces around him. If that’s so, then he bears a great deal of responsibility. However, the worse case is that he was an absolute branch theorist ecumenist, in the model of Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch or Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. I don’t know exactly what’s true, but, I’d hazard a guess that the truth lies somewhere between options 1 and 2.
As for the others, most of them are of little to no consequence as far as the wider ecumenical movement pushing for union with Rome. The Georgian Patriarchate was always portrayed by some as more willing to make shocking moves. For example, Georgia was a small country, it had few churches, and a few major monasteries. In the early 90s there was an massive influx of anti-ecumenical literature into Georgia, and it created an upsurge of conservative sentiment in the natural fertile ground of the monasteries; the lower clergy became more vocal. And, then, in the early 2000s, the heads of the major Georgian monasteries declared that they would break communion with the Patriarchate unless Georgia left the World Council of Churches, and the whole ecumenical movement. HOCNA and other traditionalist synods began to make in roads in Georgia, and had contacts among these monasteries. It was, at this time, very likely that a major break could have taken place, and resulted in something profound. There were already Georgian bishops that had broken from the Patriarchate years before, and had adopted traditionalist mindsets, or confirmed them, and just pointed out the obvious Sergianist past. The story, for example, was well known of how Patriarch Elias, while he was only a diocesan bishop, had intentionally betrayed Metropolitan Gennady of the Catacomb Church, after Vl. Gennady refused to submit to him. Vl. Gennady spent some time in the dungeons for that (yes, actually he was in a dungeon, and with 20 Georgian bishops and 4 Russian bishops, all of which had the gall to constantly resist the Sergianism in the Patriarchate). That’s an interesting story that never gets really told. Well, back to the main story. Georgia began to panic. Georgia had already made several concessions to the traditionalists, they had even criticized the Balaamand agreement and Antioch’s official communion with the Syro-Jacobites. So, what did Georgia do? They left the WCC. But, not before having the secretary of their holy synod give out statements about how Georgia really wasn’t rejecting ecumenism, and that even Fr. Seraphim (Rose) became an ecumenist before he died (!!!); oh, yeah, there was one more thing, they also deposed all those abbots that had got them to leave the WCC to begin with. A nice bunch running things in Tblisi, I suppose.
But, how does this all fit in with the Phanar. Well, the Phanar wants union with Rome. They may phrase it by saying that ‘unions models of the past are unacceptable’, or other such coded phraseology, which ultimately leaves open the door for other union models. But, how are they going to get this? One of the keys has been the establishment in the minds of so many World Orthodox that to be Orthodox means to be in communion with the Phanar; if not directly, then at least indirectly through one of the other Patriarchates. This theory ultimately breaks down when one examines the history of the Arian crisis, the Acacian Schism, Monotheletism, and Iconoclasm. Those were times in which to be Orthodox meant to not be in communion with Constantinople. But, why this drive on the Phanar’s part? Part of it is left over from the late 1200s and after, especially the period following the collapse of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire (which was really just Constantinople with a few surrounding towns; the Despots of Epirus would never prove much help to Paleologan’s). There seemed to be in the mind of several Patriarchs almost a competitor attitude to Rome. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was anything like what the Vatican had, but, there was already a marked tendency to centralize all liturgical and even administrative control, de facto, since obviously there was no de jure basis for any of it (thus, we see Theodore Balsamon consecrated patriarch of Antioch when he never left Constantinople, and ‘ruled’ as patriarch when he never set foot in the city; one could almost tell St. Nikodemos in his notes and commentary in the Pedalion was more than a little perplexed, or even annoyed, at the fact that Balsamon had the gall to say there was not such a thing as the Liturgy of St. James, and to instruct the Church of Antioch to adopt everything as the Great Church practices).
This tendency continued as time went on, and we eventually come to the point where after the Ottoman conquest, the Ecumenical Patriarch became the head of the Rum Millet, or the Orthodox peoples in the Ottoman Empire. The Phanar anti-canonically had, or assisted, in the complete abolition of the Bulgarian Church’s autocephaly. Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch became more or less adjuncts to the Phanar (really, kind of stepping stones, especially Alexandria, for later promotion to Ecumenical Patriarch). There was a sort of canonical procedure, but, only the semblance. Of course, there was not an issue of heresy (except for the case of the pro-Calvinisit who managed to get made Patriarch, Kyril Lucaris, who, while publicly engaging in Orthodox rituals and rites, privately hated many of them, and rejected many Orthodox beliefs; while one could make an argument against his Confession being authentic, how does one deal with his now exposed private correspondence??? you can’t).
Part of this domination of non-Greek speakers was just plain chauvinism. And the whole Old Rite controversy in Russia partially proved this; during this the Greek patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch and the rest of the filthy lucre loving nature of that degenerate ecclesiastical culture, would gladly anathematize what was in actuality the older Byzantine practices. Obviously, the Greeks didn’t care so much about the books as they did about the 20,000 rubles and furs they got; and, well, hey, if they could push some Slavs down in the mud while they lorded it over their brothers, so much the better. God had punished the Romans of the East before, and, the Greek hierarchs would continue their buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices for a few more centuries, expounding on the purities of Constantinople, all the while having forgotten to mind their own business when getting involved in the only minor-moderate non-essential differences they shared with a sister Church.
Eventually this wasn’t going to hold. The Melkites Schism was a complicated matter of Vatican intrigue, Phanar heavy handedness, and anti-Constantinople and Greek feeling (remember, Antioch had a few Arab types in power now). But, we see what happened. Monk Sylvester became the new Patriarch, and there would continue to be Greek domination of Antioch until later into the 19th century. Once the Arabs took over, they never gave back into Phanar control; even the extremely branch theory minded ecumenists in Damascus today, are less than happy about Bartholomew’s papalistic pretensions. While they are ecumenists as well, they believe that ecumenism should be a joint venture.
So, we see a lot context. The Phanar eventually was going to succumb to pride, the same pride, dare I say, that took over Rome. Pride goes before a great fall, as the proverb states. So, now the Phanar is still stuck in its old phase of believing in the old imperial glory, and, frankly, it sees ecumenism as the mode of self-aggrandizement. This doesn’t mean everyone in it has been bad, certainly not; but, just because you get a decent person into a corrupt system that doesn’t make that system inherently any less corrupt. And this does not mean that some how all the Patriarchs of Constantinople from the 20s up have been men who couldn’t have any compassion for the Christians under them, who suffered during the massacres in Smyrna, or the anti-Greek riots of the 50s in Istanbul. But, was the solution to all this really to just bend over backwards to attack the tradition of the Church? Were things like the imposition of the new calendar, promotion of joint prayer, ecumenism, branch theory, modernistic abolition of fasting rules, and even holding synods in Constantinople to depose saints (yes, Meletius Metaxis had St. Tikhon ‘deposed’), the right way to go about this. Hmm. Where did this get you? There are probably less than 500 Greeks living in Istanbul today. Average church attendance at St. George’s, the EP’s cathedral, isn’t that great. So, everything went to hell in an hand basket, and for what? So you could get more recognition from Rome? Or were you afraid of what the Muslims in Turkey would do, or the fear of Turkish nationalist?. Constantinople could very well have moved to a safer location, after all, that’s what Antioch did. You see, people are only held captive to the idea that they must compromise to survive, if they count survival of their lives, or the lives of others, as the highest goal. For a Christian, it isn’t. The highest goal is to Love God; to Love the Truth, Who is Jesus Christ, and Orthodoxy is that Truth in our lives.
But, I think we must move beyond the aspect of ‘political ecumenism’, that is, ecumenism merely for the sake of political expediency. Selling out for politics is horrible. But, eventually, that philosophy of selling out gets some true believers. That is, people who actually believe in what was originally adopted only for mercenary reasons. Bartholomew Archontonis, the current Phanar chief, or Ecumenical Patriarch is one such man. He was trained at the Oriental Institute in the Vatican and went to Rome’s Gregorian University for his degree in canon law. I’d say he really believes what he says. So, we’ve reached the point of having a committed ecumenist, who’s willing to do anything to get union with all the different groups that broke away from Orthodoxy; and this often times means just smoothing over the heresies and re-defining them to not be heresies.
Bartholomew needs more control. He has a money source, albeit somewhat precariously, in the fact that he more or less controls the ecclesiastical world of the Greek diaspora. He also has made significant inroads into assuming more power over the state church of Greece. As was demonstrated by Bartholomew’s attitude towards Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem in the 90s, and then his deposition of Ireniaos in 2005, he’s more than willing to assert the higher authority of the Phanar to overrule. Then there’s the documents from 2 years back, which explain that only the Phanar can grant autocephaly. There were even some ridiculous claims floating around about how Georgia isn’t truly autocephalous since the Phanar never granted autonomy. All of this is leading to a more powerful Phanar, and one that is nearing place to enforce a limited intercommunion. That’s the key, it would be too suddenly shocking to many to have sudden communion with the Vatican. In some areas it is not a big deal, like in Syria and Lebanon. They don’t care. But, in areas of modern day Greece and Eastern Europe, even among those still in the World Orthodox Patriarchates, it is very likely that a mass negative reaction could take place. And the last thing Bartholomew wants are hundreds of thousands, or even a few millions of people switching over to any True Orthodox Churches. Even though unlikely, there’s a possibility of a snow ball effect, and if that happen, that is, true Orthodox once again re-asserts itself in these lands, it will do so with a vengeance; and that’s the end of Bartholomew, Pope of ‘Orthodoxy’. He’d instead go down in history as the leader of some schismatic heretical group. in other words, he’d be remembered like Acacius of Constantinople, or more likely, like a John Beccus. He’s already proven himself more than willing to have monks killed or maimed, especially with the violence done against Esphigmenou Monastery (remember Beccus was the one who also attacked Esphigmenou, except he and the uniate emperor had the monks slaughtered).
Bartholomew wants to avoid all that. So, he’s got to move slowly. There is already a general theological dumbing down, and with the consumption of the majority of ROCOR into the MP, he’s had his major opponent taken off the table. However, now Bartholomew must deal with the 1000lb Sasquatch in the Rome: Kirill Gundyayev of Moscow. Kirill is no fool; he’s a billionair, a former KGB agent, an oligarch, and a politician. Does Kirill believe in ecumenism, that is, really believe in it like Bartholomew? I don’t really know. But, if you asked me, “Does Kirill believe in God?” I’d also have to say, “I don’t know.” What I can say is that Kirill believes in Kirill. I think people overreact when assuming he’s some ideological figure; his only ideology is power.
As to why he picked the ecclesial world? Well, that’s due to his own circumstances; his father was a priest. He got born into the family business, and he made the best of it. And, from a worldly perspective he did. He’s super rich, powerful, well known, a media figure, owns race horses, mansions, cars, gold watches, and has the adulation of many because of his patriarchal status. But…but…that’s not real success. People who have all those things, are often dead inside, in a way that most of us can’t know. Maybe he does believe in God, and maybe he believes in Orthodoxy of a sorts (which isn’t really Orthodoxy). It’s difficult to get into his mind, and, well, it’s a sad thought. Oh yes, I know of all he did; the betrayals and cooperation with the Soviet government. But, just because I have sympathy for his victims and pray for them, doesn’t mean I also don’t have sympathy for him. Somewhere in that man, there has to be, there must be someone, something, that is somehow susceptible to Grace touching his heart; but, Grace does not force itself, it needs the cooperation of free will.
Kirill wants the Uniates in Ukraine. That’s his prize religiously. That’s part of the plan. That’s what the Jesuits had laid out in the 60s. Can it happen? Possibly. Though, I think the Greek Catholics in Ukraine might actually be willing to become sedevacantists rather than obey an order from the Vatican ordering them to join Moscow. Too much bad blood has been spilled; and the fact that the Soviet Patriarchate was far less tolerant than even the harshest tsars, has not helped the matter. Now that would be an interesting sight; the Greek Catholic Uniates, whose main point of distinction has been union with Rome, and what that entails, would become disobedient to Rome in order not to become not part of Rome! Can a deal be worked out? I think Kirill will have to settle for something else. And, all the recent activity between the MP and the Vatican may indicate some other form of union being envisioned.
The limited intercommunion model is more than likely what will gradually be phased in all over. It’s already been successfully implemented by all groups in Lebanon and Syria; it’s been largely successful between the Greeks and Copts in Egypt. It’s proven successful in Romania. That’s the plan. I don’t expect some big union council. Even if it the Phanar pulls off its ‘Eighth Ecumenical Council”, it may not have some big intercommunion announcement; I’d instead look carefully at the minutes of said council, and of the specific docs. The Devil himself, quite literally, will be in the details. In far less than 50 years, with things going the way they are in the Patriarchates, communion and concelebration will have gradually been phased in. First it will be done quietly in many areas, like the Middle East; there will be a few major ‘incidents’ like in Romania, but, then more will follow. Eventually, people become so desensitized that all of the ‘incidents’ become normal. As time goes on, the new generation, having been trained in ecumenist seminaries which teach that union with the Patriarchates is absolutely necessary no matter what, will no long challenge these actions. It’ll be an accepted part of life. When that fast approaching hour has been reached, it’s completely and solidly over. Don’t look for mass numbers of even a few thousand to leave the Patriarchates of World Orthodoxy. Those who would have left, would have left long before that.
But, then what? Is that the end game? Well, possibly; I myself view this as part of a larger globalist movement to unification of religion. That’s a great evil; and I suspect it portends the coming of the Antichrist. But, what if it isn’t? What if the world continues, hypothetically, for a few hundred more years? Well, in that case, Orthodoxy will survive, because it is God’s Church. It may be small, but, it will not just die out, as some relic of the barbarous ant-ecumenical narrow minded past. Instead, it will rise up. God will not leave mankind to rot in heresy and sin. He didn’t leave them 2000 years ago when He took Flesh. There are seeds being planted. A small mustard seed grows into something big. Men laugh now; they laugh and mock and have their fun at the expense of the Truth. They aren’t willing to make sacrifices and those who do, those who endure hardship, privation, ridicule, and worse, somehow, these men and women, the ones enduring suffering for Truth become the objects of hatred. No, my friends, you don’t have to claim to be a St. Maximus the Confessor, to break with heresy, or to stand alone. You don’t even have to claim to be a St. Severinus, St. Theodore, or St. Martin Confessor and the others who were pushed into the dirt, and tortured by the ecumenists of their day (that is, those who wanted no talk about ‘one or two’ wills, but, compromise that ultimately meant nothing but falsehood). No, you don’t have to be a saint. You just have to be an Orthodox Christian.
“Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”