“The hubris of autocephaly,” by Christos Yannaras
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Please find here the English translation of the article by the Greek theologian Christos Yannaras published on October 7 in the Greek daily Kathimerini

Written media and reality TV shows aim to impress and manipulate, not to inform. It is therefore “natural” that they have not said anything on the issue, crucial for Hellenism, about the increasingly insolent ways the “ecumenical” patriarchate of Constantinople has been recently challenged at the international level.

Anticipating the stereotypical croaking of our “progressive” intelligentsia, let us clarify a few points for the nth time: When we speak of “ecumenicity” (according to the understanding of catholicity) of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, this notion has not the slightest link (conceptual or real) with Greek nationalist provincialism. It refers precisely to the opposite: to the cosmopolitan ease and openness that for centuries used to be the characteristic feature of the Hellenic identity. A feature we did get rid of, so that our small and modern Balkan state, with its resale-based economy, could be advertised as being “European”.

Today, who is calling for the suppression (and the usurpation) of the responsibility and service of the ecclesiastical “catholicity” exercised for centuries by the Patriarchate of Constantinople? Moscow. They play the protesters, as always in the name of superiority in number (demographics) and of authoritarianism at the international level. But this time, Moscow is obviously the object of a provocation on the part of American candor (sui generis).

To put it in telegraphic style and thus schematically: this blatant phobia vis-à-vis Russia is an enigma difficult to explain. Whoever the president, the American political establishment is obsessed with it. Americans seem to believe Russia has never ceased to be a Stalinist Soviet Union: a nightmarish threat coming from totalitarian communism. Therefore, NATO also remains the defensive fortress of allied countries facing Marxist danger!

Hence the narrow-minded (and therefore infantile) American obsession to see also the Ukraine join NATO, so that US bases would be established on the soft underbelly of Russia. For such a goal to be attained, the Ukraine should be liberated from its historical, ethnic, cultural, and ecclesiastical ties with Russia. Ecclesiastical “autocephaly” was seen as a crucial step towards this independence. This is the first time in international history that a foreign minister of the American superpower has been bluntly declaring that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church should be proclaimed “autocephalous”, that it should be independent of the patriarchate of Moscow!

The “ecumenism” of the Patriarchate of Constantinople also implies the responsibility (or the service) to grant (as a synod, that is, with the decision of a synod of bishops) to a local church the powers of an administrative autonomy (where they deal with practical problems related to good order), to make it “autocephalous”. Therefore, the way to “autocephaly” of the Ukraine goes inevitably through the Phanar. To achieve their goal, Americans have many opportunities to “put the gun to the head” of the Romiote Patriarch [patriarch of Constantinople, the second Rome]. At the same time, however, the blackmail exercised by America’s short-sighted policy on the Patriarchate of Constantinople offers a golden opportunity to the Russians: it confirms their claim that the responsibility (the service) to guarantee the unity of the Orthodox Churches (the “ecumene”) can no longer belong exclusively to a handful of Romiotes living in Istanbul. According to them, the primacy of responsibility, the role, and the title of “ecumenical” must be conferred on the Patriarch of Moscow “and all Russias”!

In addition, the tragedy of profound secularization (especially mythical wealth and the intoxication of power) which has radically alienated the Russian Church, leads to blatant contradictions: the Russians contest the supranational ecumenism of the episcopal synod of the Phanar, but when the patriarch of Constantinople summons synods of bishops or synods of “primates” of the Orthodox Churches, the Patriarch of Moscow ostensibly refuses to participate. Moreover, he blackmails the “primates” economically (and politically) dependent on Moscow, so that they would follow him in his absence. In ecclesiastical language, such behavior is characterized by “machination” (tureion), and in everyday language by “infamy” (atimia).

In these historical circumstances, the most dramatic and painful challenge is the powerlessness of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to speak with an ecclesiastical language. He waffles, using religious intellectualism and utilitarian moralism terms, a language that ignores the Gospel folly of hope experienced in “trampling down death by death”. Constantinople defends its “ecumenicity” by referring to canonical provisions and legalistic interpretations of synodal decisions.

What could be the “other language” not of religious logic, but of ecclesiastical logic? That the Ecumenical Patriarchate conciliarly announces that “autocephaly” is conferred only on archbishoprics, not on national churches. By definition, the “Church” is a local community, the body of a community of members, a set of communities presided over by a bishop, a body of several bishops, a coherent whole synodically speaking. No, national and racial origin, or nationality, do not constitute a “Church”.

In the fateful (I say fateful, because they tore apart the single body of the Church into state organizations endowed with religious ideology and power, State Churches), Synodal Acts [Tomoi] of autocephaly, the Ecumenical Patriarch will introduce the correction: “Autocephalous Archbishopric of Moscow, Athens, Belgrade, Sofia, and Tirana”. With connections based on synodal perichoresis.

Source in Greek

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About the Author

Emma Cazabonne

Emma Cazabonne

Emma Cazabonne was born and raised in France, where she taught English. She moved to the United States in 2001, and she now teaches French. Beside her anthology on Cistercian texts, she has translated and published articles on Cistercian spirituality, the Middle Ages, and Orthodoxy. She converted to Orthodoxy in 2008. Her husband is an Orthodox priest. If you are interested in having your book translated into French, she can be contacted here https://wordsandpeace.com/contact-me/

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