Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

More spilled ink, as global Byzantine puzzle games continue with the Orthodox in Ukraine

More spilled ink, as global Byzantine puzzle games continue with the Orthodox in Ukraine

I know that this will be hard for many journalists think about the following concepts without their heads exploding, but let’s give it a try. After all, the events unfolding at Orthodox altars in Ukraine are very important and may take years or decades to settle — not that readers would know that from reading mainstream news reports on the schism.

Ready?

First and foremost: There is no Eastern Orthodox pope, no one shepherd who can snap his fingers and make Orthodox disputes vanish.

Yes, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin are key players in the current drama. However, this dispute between Moscow and Constantinople transcends politics and enters the world of doctrine and church polity. The ties that bind between Kiev and Moscow are far older than the current politics of Europe and Russia.

Yes, it is true that are are arguments about whether the Ecumenical Patriarch — based at the tiny, embattled Orthodox church in Turkey — has the power to grant “autocephaly” (creating an autonomous national church) in Ukraine. However, these debates are not, ultimately, between Poroshenko and Putin — they are between Patriarch Bartholomew and the rest of the world’s Orthodox patriarchs.

With that in mind, before we turn to the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Christianity Today, let’s pause for a recent word from the ancient church of Antioch.

Responding to Patriarch Bartholomew’s request to recognize the results of December 15’s “unification council” and the nationalist Ukrainian church created there, His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch urged Pat. Bartholomew to stop the process of granting autocephaly until a pan-Orthodox solution could be found to the Ukrainian crisis. 

In other words, this Ukrainian issue is creating a global Orthodox crisis. Thus, it will require a global Orthodox solution. Repeat: There is no Orthodox pope.

Additional information:

The Patriarch of Constantinople sent letters of appeal to recognize the Ukrainian church to all the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches on December 24. The request has thus far been explicitly denied by the Polish and  Serbian Churches. 

In his response, Pat. John emphasized that the events surrounding the creation of the new church cause concern not only because of the disunion they create in the Orthodox world, but also because the opinion of the Local Orthodox Churches was not taken into account by Constantinople. …

Journalists: Please look for this. The issue here is not what churches remain in Communion with Moscow or the Ecumenical Patriarch. The issue is how many other patriarchs declare themselves to be in Communion with this alleged new church in Kiev. This is what matters to the Orthodox, not whether Kiev is in Communion with the U.S. State Department and the European Union.

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Bitter news with roots 1,000 years old: Russian Orthodox Church cuts Istanbul ties

Bitter news with roots 1,000 years old: Russian Orthodox Church cuts Istanbul ties

Anyone who has studied the history of Orthodox Christianity knows the details of this story, as well as the arguments about its significance.

As the first Christian millennium was drawing to a close, something big happened among the East Slavic and Finnic tribes of Europe. As always, the change involved economics, culture, military might and, last but not least, religion.

Here is a typical short take on this complicated subject:

The chronicles report that the Great Prince of Kiev sent embassies around the world to find the faith that best suited his nation and people. Travelling from nation to nation they visited Muslims and Jews at worship observing their forms of worship and pondering the way of life that each religion taught. The emissaries judged neither of these worthy religions suitable for Russ. Finally, they visited the city of Constantinople and attended Divine Liturgy in the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia. … They breathlessly reported back to Kiev that in Hagia Sophia they were unable to tell if they were on earth or in heaven.

Thus, Prince Vladimir was baptized In 988 and commanded his whole nation to follow his conversion to Orthodoxy.

Just in case you missed it, one of the key words in this account is “Kiev.”

In the past week or so, I have received all kinds of contacts asking for my take on mainstream news coverage of the split that has taken place between the giant Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch based — with a tiny, persecuted flock — in Istanbul.

To be blunt, this topic is so complex that most of the Orthodox folks that I know think it would be next to impossible for journalists to handle it in a few inches of type or sound bites. Many of the Orthodox are reading the transcripts of statements by Orthodox leaders and that’s that.

However, I would like to note a few key issues that news consumers should watch for, when reading about this important story.

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AP mixes Byzantine politics with Russian hacking to tell an Orthodox story that's way too simple

AP mixes Byzantine politics with Russian hacking to tell an Orthodox story that's way too simple

Orthodox Christians around the world are waiting to find out what did, or did not, happen in a high-stakes meeting the other day between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Patriarch Kirill of Russia.

The issue was one of the most important, and symbolic, landmines in the history of Orthodox Christianity. That would be Kiev, a city that represents the "Baptism of Rus' " in 988 (click here for background), when Orthodox faith entered the world of the Slavs.

For the massive Russian Orthodox Church, everything begins in Kiev. The presence of the great Kiev Pechersk Lavra -- a monastery founded in 1051 -- only raises the stakes in this struggle for control of holy ground.

The Associated Press ran a feature before this showdown that mixed in spies, hackers and a hint of Donald Trump-era craziness. But before we get into all of that, let me offer a sample of the confusing news -- the word "Byzantine" applies here -- that followed the meeting.

KIEV (Sputnik) -- Reports about the decision to grant autocephaly to an Ukrainian church allegedly taken by the Ecumenical Patriarchate are false and distort the reality, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) said on Saturday.

On Friday, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and the parties discussed "issues of mutual interest." Following the meeting, Ukrainian media reported that Patriarch Bartholomew had allegedly informed Patriarch Kirill of Constantinople's decision to grant Ukrainian church with autocephaly.

What, you ask, does "autocephaly" mean? It literally means "self-headed." Thus, the leader of an autocephalous church does not answer to a higher ranking metropolitan or patriarch.

Currently, the church In Ukraine that most Orthodox believers consider canonical (as opposed to two competing flocks, as I discussed in this 2009 column written in Kiev) is linked to Moscow. Back to that news report:


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Rainforest thoughts: Considering news coverage of Orthodox ecumenical patriarch's views on climate

Rainforest thoughts: Considering news coverage of Orthodox ecumenical patriarch's views on climate

I’m writing this sitting on the deck of a rainforest lodge in a remote corner of southwest Costa Rica just a few miles north of Panama. And I’m wondering; when will today’s afternoon tropical downpour begin?

They don't call them rainforests for nothing.

The forest surrounding the Golfo Dulce is thick and seriously humid, filled with a dazzling variety of climbing, slithering, flying, and just plain-old walking wildlife doing what they can to survive and multiply. (My wife would be happy to do without the gazillions of insects, but it just ain't a rainforest without them. Sorry.) And the best part?

Virtually all the hills and mountains here are government protected. No hunting, no logging -- no human habitations other than a few widely scattered, and small, lodges along the gulf’s shoreline and reachable only by small boat.

Given where I am, is it any wonder that the following two stories caught my attention the day previous to my arrival here last week?

The first was from The New York Times, detailing the rapid loss of rainforest environments around the globe -- and their importance to slowing the growing planetary upheaval we call climate change. Click here for that story. If you happen to know little about how critical rainforests are to the global environment, or how fast they're disappearing, please read this piece in full. Consider it a crash course.

The second piece is from the Washington Post. It carries the enchanting dateline, “ABOARD THE SHIP MORE SPACIOUS THAN THE HEAVENS.” That’s the name of a ship commanded (not literally; I'm sure he didn't steer it) by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, one of the world's most environmentally oriented global religious leaders.

Just goes to show you that while you may be a staunch theological traditionalist -- is there any Christian body more traditionalist in form than the Orthodox churches? -- you can still be quite progressive on other issues. This is one reason the GetReligion team is not fond of journalists pinning shallow labels on people with complex beliefs.

Here’s the top of the story written by Juliet Eilperin, who deserves a shoutout for her prolificacy and ability to toggle between being the Post’s senior national affairs correspondent chronicling the Trump administration’s policy changes, and global environmental stories.

(Wait. Maybe that’s how she stays sane in today’s Washington.)

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Byzantine details: How are the Orthodox Christian churches organized, and why?

Byzantine details: How are the Orthodox Christian churches organized, and why?

DAVID ASKS:

Most of us in the U.S. are aware of Orthodox Christians but don’t really understand their organization. Can you expand on their split around the world?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Our previous Q and A about Islam’s founding Sunni-Shi’a split mentioned divisions within Orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy, which means “correct teaching,” sees itself as preserving Christianity’s earliest and most authentic form. This faith is in the spotlight what with (1) history’s first meeting between a Catholic pope and a patriarch of Russia’s massive Orthodox church, and (2) the June 16-27 “Holy and Great Council” of all bishops in Crete, potentially (if it is held) Eastern Orthodoxy’s most consequential event in more than 12 centuries.

Writing online Feb. 10, sociologist Peter Berger (a Lutheran) said through recent centuries this faith has existed mostly in three contexts: as a state religion, as a “persecuted or barely tolerated” church under Islamic or Communist rule or in the diaspora outside its heartland (e.g. in the United States) where separate and competing churches under foreign hierarchies generate “ethnic cacophony.”

The ancient churches of Eastern Orthodoxy -- Orthodoxy dates its birth at Pentecost -- are organized into three branches that stem from the 5th Century debate on how to define the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ.

Caution: This gets technical.

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Talking Turkey: What’s the 'most important' Godbeat gathering in summer of 2016?

 Talking Turkey: What’s the 'most important' Godbeat gathering in summer of 2016?

As journalists plot their new year plans, note that The Economist’s “The World in 2016” year-end special leads off the international section with “the most important gathering during the summer of 2016.”

That isn’t the Rio Olympics in August but the Great and Holy Council of 336 Eastern Orthodox bishops at Istanbul in late June.

Not to dis all those talented, sweat-drenched pole vaulters and sprinters, but the British newsmagazine’s claim is solid, considering that the Orthodox number as many as 300 million (by the more extravagant claims) and that this could be their most decisive event since the last authoritative council in A.D. 787. At minimum, it should or could turn out to be Orthodoxy’s equivalent of the Catholic Church’s celebrated Second Vatican Council in 1962-65.

If, that is, the council accomplishes anything important. And if it actually occurs at all. Can you say "byzantine"? (As in the fifth and sixth definitions found here.)

As the newsweekly observes, last-minute church feuds, or tensions in the host country of Turkey, could postpone the event, which has been discussed for more than half a century yet somehow could never take place. Might the meeting be moved elsewhere?

The scheduling of the gathering is a diplomatic triumph for the presiding host, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 75, who since 1991 has been the “first among equals” who head Orthodoxy’s 14 self-governing branches. The key challenge has always been gaining full cooperation from the mighty church of Russia, currently led by Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill.

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What? You thought Francis, Peres and Abbas really prayed?

What? You thought that the mainstream journalists covering the remarkable Vatican rite offering prayers for Middle East peace rite would actually produce coverage that included any content from the prayers? Friends and neighbors, this event was all about politics and statecraft. Clearly, if the men wanted to produce real change in the real world then the only words that they spoke that mattered were addressed to one another and, thus, to the press. Get real.

The story that most American news consumers saw this past weekend was from the Associated Press, so let’s consider that text (in the version used by The Washington Post). Here’s some of the key material about this encounter between Pope Francis, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas:

The event had the air of an outdoor summer wedding, complete with receiving line and guests mingling on the lawn as a string ensemble played. …

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Pod people: Vatican III? Nicea III? Press blind spot 666?

The questions jumped into Twitter in a flash, which is what one would assume would happen when there is a chance that a once-a-millennium news story could be breaking. So Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Pope Francis have proposed a 2025 event to mark the great Council of Nicea.

Line up, religion-news consumers, to ask your big questions. Father James Martin, you go first:

Whoa! Huge news. Pope, Patriarch call for Ecumenical Council in 2025. Vatican III? No. Nicea III. East/West together. http://t.co/abrV3rjVse

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Pod people: Vatican III? Nicea III? Press blind spot 666?

The questions jumped into Twitter in a flash, which is what one would assume would happen when there is a chance that a once-a-millennium news story could be breaking. So Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Pope Francis have proposed a 2025 event to mark the great Council of Nicea.

Line up, religion-news consumers, to ask your big questions. Father James Martin, you go first:

Whoa! Huge news. Pope, Patriarch call for Ecumenical Council in 2025. Vatican III? No. Nicea III. East/West together. http://t.co/abrV3rjVse

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