Moscow Patriarch lays groundwork for challenging primacy of Ecumenical Patriarchate

The Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I of Constantinople (R) receiving Moscow Patriarch Kirill (L). Istanbul, Turkey. August 2018 (Photo: orthodoxia.info)

The Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I of Constantinople (R) receiving Moscow Patriarch Kirill (L). Istanbul, Turkey. August 2018 (Photo: orthodoxia.info) 

International, Russia

Edited by: A. N.

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate has laid out his case for challenging Patriarch Bartholomew of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople with an eye either to overthrowing the churchman considered primus inter pares among Orthodox or to setting up an alternative Orthodox world under Moscow.

At a meeting of a Moscow conference on “World Orthodoxy: Primacy and Collegiality in the Light of Orthodox Doctrine,” the Russian church leader extended his criticism of Bartholomew ever since the latter granted autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, something Kirill believes he had no right to do.

According to the Moscow Patriarch, the church since the fifth century has had established rules for such things; and Bartholomew has violated them, an action that is forcing the Russian church as a guardian of order to consider how to respond, a decision about which, he said, will take place at a November meeting of the Russian church.

According to Andrey Melnikov, editor of NG-Religii, Moscow has three choices: seeking to remove Bartholomew by an appeal to these principles and even bringing him before a religious court, creating a parallel Orthodox world led by Moscow rather than Constantinople, or threatening one or the other but continuing to live with the existing ambiguities.

The latter is the most likely, the religious affairs specialist suggests; but by speaking of church decisions of 17 centuries ago, Kirill is showing that he is prepared to raise the stakes considerably, a move that promises to increase tensions among the Orthodox patriarchates and may presage new challenges to the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s traditional status.

Melnikov doesn’t say on this occasion, but it seems obvious that Kirill is seeking ways to recover domestically from what many see as his “loss” of Ukraine and that the Russian patriarch believes that seeking to promote Russian Orthodoxy in this way will stand him in good stead with a Kremlin committed to the building of “a Russian world.”

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Edited by: A. N.

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