January 9, 2021

Commentary on the Opposition of the Russian Church to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the Occasion of the Interview of Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

By Kostas Karakotias

The establishment in the public sphere, but also in the minds and lives of people, of the pandemic and its tragic consequences does not cancel or suspend the efforts of many and various opposing social and ideological forces to consolidate and expand their political and cultural rule. Often this effort is manifested along narrow roads and in oblique ways. Suddenly in the [Greek] newspaper "Kathimerini", on Sunday 12/13/2020, a long interview of the Russian Metropolitan Hilarion, a close associate of the Patriarch of Moscow, was published. The exclusive topic of the interview was the secession of the Ukrainian Church from the Russian one and the recognition of its autocephaly by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The interviewee was a strong complainant towards the Patriarchate of Constantinople and even directly and personally against Patriarch Bartholomew himself, whom he even accused of "knowingly violating ecclesiastical canons to harm the Russian Church." Of course, even the most ignorant of the ecclesiastics realize that the Russian Church, which is completely connected to the Russian state and its international political interests, under the pretext of some alleged ecclesiastical reasons, is trying to maintain its influence in Ukraine and prevent its Church from being independent. Especially when the relations between Russia and Ukraine are extremely disturbed and whole areas of the latter have been almost annexed by the former. It is easy to understand the enormous benefit for Russia of the religious/ideological disciplining and subordination of the Ukrainian faithful to all forms of dictates of the Russian Church.

It is also understandable the recognition of the independence and autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and its subsequent attachment to it. The Patriarchate of Constantinople, the "Great Church in Captivity" as it was considered by the emblematic historian and Byzantine scholar Steven Runciman, trapped in the power and cogwheel of the Turkish state, is trying to expand the limits of its influence and gain more support. It is also trying to counter the aggressive and rich economic and political means of claiming the expression and representation of the Orthodox Christian world by the Russian Church and its integration into the state strategy of Russia. But the opposition is not just about domination in the Orthodox Church. The Patriarchate of Constantinople is strategically linked to the Western world and its Christian rhetoric is openness, ecumenical, much more modern than the other Orthodox Churches and tries to adapt to the needs of the modern age. On the contrary, the discourse of the Moscow Patriarchate is deeply traditionalist, socially reactionary, full of anti-Westernism and, of course, fully in line with the directions of Russian state policy.

Apparently, the above-mentioned Russian Metropolitan, interviewed in "Kathimerini", knows all this. He also knows that he is addressing a [Greek] society, large sections of which are, almost pathologically, Russophiles, captives of various historical myths, religious ideologies and irrational beliefs. He also knows that a very large part of the Greek hierarchy and clergy is deeply anti-Western and anti-Enlightenment, that lives, albeit imaginatively, in the era of Byzantine anti-Enlightenment, extremely phobic and closed to the modern world, and his Christianity is practiced more as a ritual and administration of an inherited tradition. He also knows that the views of many hierarchs on various ecclesiastical issues and the place of religion in society coincide perfectly with those of the Russian Church, as well as with Moscow's political despotism and international politics. He knows, finally, that through the so-called religious tourism from Russia to Greece it can channel or suspend cash flows in specific areas and metropolises and thus exert corresponding pressures. That is why Metropolitan Hilarion speaks so cynically and aggressively against the Patriarchate of Constantinople, despising his special relationship with Greek society and its Church and the special weight it has, with its pros and cons, in the national historical consciousness and narrative. He openly tries to guide and strengthen the various pockets of Russian influence scattered throughout the country and in the Church and to create unrest in relations with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Regarding the interview, obviously there should be no question of censorship or non-publication of the views of Metropolitan Hilarion. But it was a caressing interview, without any critical exploratory question or answer from the journalist who gave it and with a special projection of its aggressive elements and the well-known rumors about friendship and homodoxy of the two peoples. Its publication in this way in the largest bourgeois systemic newspaper is another mystery, which is added to the many that surround the domestic public sphere. Unless it reflects the view of some of the various domestic elites to change the political and cultural direction of Greek society.

Source: From Athens Voice, 12/20/2020. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.