The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church held on November 15 in Minsk decided to interrupt the Eucharistic communicaton with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This means that the clergy of Patriarch Kirill cannot yet serve with the clergy of Patriarch Bartholomew, and the laity cannot be baptized or get married in Greek churches in the West, as well as in Northern Greece and Crete. The Athos, a monastic peninsula in northern Greece, also belonging to the Constantinople, or Ecumenical patriarchy, also got under the Minsk ban.
In the future, this may also affect those parishes in Ukraine that are going to join the Church of Constantinople. There is no doubt that Ukraine is in the center of events and around it the relationships not only of Russia and the West, but also of local Orthodox churches are built (or, rather, collapse?).
The scales of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of Constantinople, from which Kievan Rus adopted Christianity a thousand years ago, are not very comparable. The ROC is the largest Orthodox church in the world. However, the Patriarch of Constantinople since Byzantine times is revered in the Orthodox world first among the other patriarchs. And if today he does not have the levers of pressure that he had in the Byzantine or Ottoman empires, then still he is a kind of "focal point" of the Orthodox world. Athos as a multinational monastic community is also a vivid example of this universal service of the Church of Constantinople.
Often, critics call Patriarch Bartholomew the "Istanbul Patriarch". However, only his “office” remained in Turkish Istanbul: the Greek population of the once largest Greek city in the world was consistently driven out of it in the course of the 20th century. There is only one Greek region - Fanar, besides not very densely populated. However, the patriarchy includes the north of Greece, a number of Greek islands (Crete, for example) and, most importantly, the entire Greek diaspora in the West. Partially Russian and Ukrainian ones, too.
In total, the congregation of the Ecumenical Patriarch today has about 5 million people. This is not the largest of the Orthodox churches, but not the smallest. And the combination of the ancient significance of Constantinople with the first of the Orthodox patriarchal departments with the political and economic opportunities of the Greek diaspora makes the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate very significant.
For long time, Ukrainian churches that are not in communication with either the Russian Orthodox Church or other Orthodox churches (primarily the so-called Kyiv Patriarchate of Filaret Denisenko) are trying to return to church communion through the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Ukrainian Orthodox cannot reconcile with each other in any way, but the “schismatics” have been trying to get recognition from Constantinople for a long time.
In September, personal ambassadors of Patriarch Bartholomew, or exarchs, were sent to Ukraine. They were two bishops of the Patriarch of Constantinople of Ukrainian origin, whose departments are located in North America. In Ukraine, they were supposed to negotiate with two unrecognized churches that expressed a desire to restore their communion with the fullness of the Orthodox Church. The reaction of the Moscow Patriarchate was harsh: the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church were suspended from serving with Constantinople, and they left the Orthodox Episcopal conferences in Western countries, which are always headed and coordinated by the bishops of the Church of Constantinople.
A turning point was the Synod of Constantinople on October 11, which acknowledged invalidating its long-standing decision of 1686 to transfer the Kyiv Metropolis under certain conditions (practically "on lease") to the Moscow Patriarchate, and also removed the excommunication (anathema) imposed in the 90s by the Moscow Patriarchate on the head of the Kyiv Patriarchate Filaret Denysenko and Macarius Meletych, head of the unrecognized Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Also, they and their followers were restored in their priestly or episcopal dignity.
Their future is still unclear, and the Constantinople church structure does not yet exist in Ukraine, but the possibility of the return of the “schismatics” to the Church is already opened. Let through the creation of a parallel jurisdiction, and then the autocephalous Ukrainian church. A quarter-century-long conflict between millions of Ukrainian believers and "world Orthodoxy" began to come to an end.
Russian Orthodox Church decision
The reaction of the Russian Church, formulated at the Synod in Minsk on October 15, turned out to be extremely tough: the rupture of Eucharistic communication with Constantinople, while the Ecumenical Patriarch did not withdraw his decision on Ukraine. Breaking relations with Constantinople, but not with the other local Orthodox churches.
What was actually changed in the Church after these "Minsk agreements"? Yes, by and large, nothing. After Patriarch Kirill forbade his priests to serve on Athos, and Russian tourists to baptize their children in the Greek Church in Crete, neither the measure of spiritual experience of the Athos elders, nor the grace of Greek baptism has changed. This prohibition expresses an extreme degree of resentment towards the elder brother of Constantinople.
From this decision, Russian people will have more disadvantages than the Greeks. In spite of Bartholomew, they deprive themselves of trips to Athos, and Russian priests in Germany are deprived of the opportunity to teach Russian children Orthodoxy in German schools, and in Belgium - to receive a salary from the state. After all, such system works there with the episcopal assemblies, in which Russians cannot participate now, since they are headed by the bishop of Constantinople. And Russian cannot serve at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem: among the Greek pilgrim priests there is always the clergy of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Are the Russians going to interrogate the Greeks at the Holy Sepulcher on their nationality?
Now the position of the ROC in the Orthodox world will be very similar to the position of Russia itself under sanctions. However, if the Russian state did not want these sanctions, then the ROC itself created difficulties for its believers with a statement about its semi-isolation. Most likely, the Ecumenical Patriarch will not even react to this at all, and other local churches, if they express support for Moscow on the Ukrainian question, will not interrupt their relations with Constantinople. However, they will not hurry to interrupt them with Moscow too.
But in Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarch and his supporters will now do what they need to. If the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate do not serve and do not cooperate with them, then the creation of a Constantinople church structure there may go much faster. The Synod of Minsk has already warned that "the transfer of bishops or clerics from the canonical Church to dissenters or entering into Eucharistic communion with the latter (probably through possible Constantinople structures in Ukraine) is a canonical crime and entails appropriate bans." The threat is quite understandable. But when the Metropolitan of Constantinople or the whole autocephalous church appears in Ukraine, the transition from one jurisdiction to another will no longer cause concern.
Ideas of Kirill vs ideas of Tikhon
Patriarch Kirill and his entourage insist that there can be no "legalization of schism", and independent churches should come and dissolve into the official structure.
However, the ROC has a different experience of reunification with those who have not been in communion with it for decades: in 2007, the Russian Church Abroad was reunited with the Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. At the same time, it was not required to repent or to merge its dioceses with the dioceses of the MP. One of the authors of the successful association was Tikhon (Shevkunov), currently being the Pskov metropolitan. His rival was Metropolitan Kirill, the current patriarch.
It is said that in the last year, Metropolitan Tikhon tried to convince the Moscow Patriarchate that it was time to remove anathemas from Philaret, and somehow return his structure to the Church, gradually uniting it with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. He meant Russia should do it earlier than Constantinople.
But Patriarch Kirill won. And this led not to the "elimination of the split", but to even greater division. So, some of Russian clergy succeeded in 2007, while others, because of their rigidity, lose Ukraine for the Russian Church and block the way to Athos and to the Greek world for their own people.
Both the Russian state and the Russian Church are still trying to build their relations with Ukraine according to the models of the Russian empire or the Soviet Union. Both models are obviously not working. But besides our own past, we can still look around where there are quite a few states which peoples have recently perceived them as a single nation. They dispersed and converged, but in a new way. UK and USA. Austria and Germany. Among them are the Orthodox countries of Greece and Cyprus, which cross-border unity is not hampered by the presence of either two governments or two independent autocephalous churches that have managed to build relations with each other on equal terms.
However, the Greek population of Greece and Cyprus feels that they are one people, even though they live in different political nations, therefore the presence of different churches does not divide them. Between Ukraine and Russia, the situation is now reverse, and that is why the unity of faith is powerless. In ancient times, faith was greater than the state, now both parties to the conflict, including clerics, often willingly demonstrate the opposite: the state is more than faith for them.