By George Gilson
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos derided the Patriarchate of Moscow over its decision to cut off communion with the Church of Constantinople, which is the first ranking church in Eastern Orthodoxy.
The Moscow Patriarchate and the Kremlin have unleashed incessant personal attacks against Vartholomeos and the Ecumenical Patriarchate over his decision to grant, in January, 2019, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine autocephaly, which is to say administrative independence, in this case from the Russian Church.
The Ukrainian Church that was recognised had for decades sought independence from the Moscow patriarchate, a quest that went hand-in-hand with the country’s political independence.
The US government has steadfastly supported the Ecumenical Patriarchate for nearly a century and has supported it in this move as well and the dispute with the Russian Church was high on the agenda of Vartholomeos’ 25 October one-hour meeting with US President Joe Biden and top advisors in the Oval Office
Moscow severed ties with Ecumenical Patriarchate
The Moscow Patriarchate took the extreme move of cutting off communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and has since not memorialised Vartholomeos – who did not follow suit – in church liturgies.
Patriarchs memorialise and pray for all of their brethren at liturgies, reading their names from the so-called dyptichs in order of hierarchical rank, with Vartholomeos first as primus inter pares in the Eastern Orthodox world.
Brushing off the harsh verbal attacks of the Russian Church but also of the Kremlin, Vartholomeos has in the past said that the Moscow Patriarchate will in the end accept his decision because it has no other choice.
At an event held in his honour by the archdiocesan council of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which he is visiting, Vartholomeos addressed the issue bluntly and said that the Russian Church is ungrateful, as it had been granted autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the 16th century
Exclusive privilege of Ecumenical Patriarchate
Only the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the right to grant autonomy to another Eastern Orthodox Church and historically it has done so many times.
“As you know, over the last years we have been tried by the ungrateful stance of the Russian Church toward the Mother Church (Constantinople). We are the Mother Church because we brought Christianity to them. We gave them the light. We gave them the Cyrillic alphabet. They, as we say in ecclesiastical language, moved their heel against their benefactor. They became angry with us because we granted autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine,” Vartholomeos said.
“Why should we not have done the same with Ukraine, just as we granted autocephaly to Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, Romania, and Albania? It is the exclusive privilege of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to grant autocephaly. All of the aforementioned Churches received autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which empties itself because it grants territories under its jurisdiction to become autocephalous, independent Churches,” Vartholomeos said.
“Why should the same not have occurred with Ukraine, which has a population of 40-50mn. Our Ukrainian brethren wanted not only now, but much earlier, though now more intensely, to have their own Church and not be under Moscow’s jurisdiction, not to be oppressed by Moscow. We did so with a sense of responsibility toward history and toward Ukraine and its residents. They removed my name from the diptychs and do not memorialise me. I couldn’t care less,” he said in gest.