Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew calls out Moscow Patriarch Kirill’s support of Putin’s world vision.
The ideology known as the “Russian World,” embraced by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, is driving a wedge between the Orthodox Christian world, said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I – a wedge that has serious consequences for Church and society globally.
Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, criticized the president of Russia and the Patriarch of Moscow during a speech at an international meeting dealing with policy issues. The meeting, hosted by the “World Policy Conference – For a Reasonably Open World,” took place in Abu Dhabi.
Patriarch Bartholomew, who holds a place of honor among the world’s Orthodox primates, called Putin’s war in Ukraine an “unjust aggression” which “constitutes the worst European geopolitical and humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War.”
His speech last week took aim at the ideology known as the Russian World, or Russkiy Mir, which, according to a declaration drafted by the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, states that there is a “transnational Russian sphere or civilization, called Holy Russia or ‘Holy Rus,’ which includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (and sometimes Moldova and Kazakhstan), as well as ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people throughout the world. It holds that this ‘Russian world’ has a common political center (Moscow), a common spiritual center (Kyiv as the ‘mother of all Rus’), a common language (Russian), a common Church (the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate), and a common patriarch (the Patriarch of Moscow), who works in ‘symphony’ with a common president/national leader (Putin) to govern this Russian world, as well as upholding a common distinctive spirituality, morality, and culture.”
Not the first time
But the ideology is not the first time Russian thought has presented problems, Bartholomew said. Even in the 19th century, Moscow instrumentalized religion and developed an “ideology of Pan-Slavism” as an organ of Russian foreign policy. That ideology acquired a religious component, he said.
“This is the idea that churches should organize themselves according to the principle of ethnicity, the central marker of which would be language,” the Ecumenical Patriarch said. “It is this approach that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople denounced in 1872 as heresy (the heresy of ethnophyletism, a form of ecclesial racism). It is in flagrant contradiction with the universalism of the Gospel message, as well as the principle of territorial governance which defines the organization of our Church.”
However, this “heresy” was useful to Moscow’s objectives since it distanced Slavic-speaking believers from the influence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, said Bartholomew. “The aim of this strategy was to create, within the Ottoman Empire, and later in the form of an independent state, a separate political force, at the service of the Russian thrust towards the warm seas,” he said, in an apparent reference to campaigns under Peter the Great and Catherine the Great to expand Russia to the Black Sea.
By John Burger.