(ZENIT News – Asia News / Moscow, 12.19.2022).- The words pronounced by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (Archontonis) in a wide-ranging speech have caused a stir in Russia and around the world. For the first time after almost a year of the Russian war in Ukraine, he gave his authoritative reading of Russia’s history and its universal claims, which directly call into question its relations with the mother Church of Constantinople.
Speaking on 9 December about the changes taking place in the world as a whole, and the role of religion in this context, Bartholomew focused his attention on the role Moscow is trying to assume. Giving due consideration to the specific development of Christianity in Russia, the patriarch of the ‘second Rome’ challenged his colleague from the ‘third Rome’ Kirill to perpetuate a misunderstanding that has lasted for more than two centuries, which he identified with the historical ideology of ‘Panslavism’.
The reinterpretation of history is precisely the motivation that drives Kirill to support Putin’s military aggression against Ukraine, and Bartholomew links it to the Russian empire’s role in the historical conflict with the Ottoman empire, from which it intended to wrest all the Balkan peoples of Slavic origin. This, according to Bartholomew, led the Slavs to become increasingly detached from the unity of the original Orthodoxy.
Panslavism was born in opposition to Pan-Germanism, as the Ecumenical Patriarch recalls, when the opposition to the Habsburgs in the second half of the 19th century initiated the most extreme nationalist drift, which with the collapse of the European empires eventually led to the world wars and the establishment of 20th century totalitarianism. Bartholomew calls this ideological line ‘ethnotribalism’, reinforcing the traditional accusation of ‘ethnic philetism’, the nationalist heresy that intends to impose national prevalence on Orthodox ecclesiology itself, denying the original apostolic universalism.
The conviction of one’s own superiority over other ethnic groups and other Churches is the sin that is contested by the Russians, and in this the Patriarch accepts the objections of many Orthodox theologians around the world, who have been accusing Moscow even of heresy for months. In his opinion, this position ‘insists on the detachment of ethnic Slavic believers from their mother Church, to affirm the primacy of Moscow as the Third Rome’, and the Soviet yoke has done nothing but lead the Moscow Patriarchate to become increasingly subservient to the State, to the point of ‘instrumentalising religion’ for political and ideological reasons.
Bartholomew reflects on the new centrality of the religious factor on a global level: ‘ideologies are weakening one after the other; the end of communism has left an enormous void in a very large part of the world that referred to it, and also in many peoples who poured their hopes into it’. The crisis of liberalism and globalisation have generated profound disappointments and terrible offences, and as we witness the downfall of materialism, we wonder what spirituality can return as a point of orientation.
For the Patriarch, ‘this can be a source of grave danger if spirituality is not reconnected to its authentic sources and to the wisdom of religious traditions, heirs of the great civilisations of the past’.
Clearly, Constantinople is siding with the West and its great economic resources, while Moscow stands as a challenger to this hegemony, but now not only the balance of world powers is at stake, but also the reorganisation of the Church’s millenary traditions. The confrontation between the Greeks and the Russians also calls into question Rome, which throughout history has so much practised the politicisation of the faith, and should now help its sister Churches to get rid of these burdens, as Bartholomew I suggests.