The Orthodox World Is Reconfigured According to the Political Events

It is certain that the celebration of the millennium of the baptism of Rus’ in June 1988 and the resistance of the churches to Communist ideology triumphed over the CPSU and over the desire of certain reformers to return to the myth of the Leninist ideal. The meeting of Gorbachev and John Paul II on December 1, 1989 in the Vatican was proof of the accuracy of Berdyaev’s thesis on the sources of the religious foundation of Russian Communism. Conversely, the reconfiguration of the Orthodox churches was initiated by political upheavals, starting with the victory of the Solidarity trade union in June 1989 at the Polish parliamentary elections. After the collapse of the USSR in 1990, the Central European countries obtained their independence while the old socialist republics sought to become nation-states. Some other countries in the world, especially in Africa, obtained their independence. New heads of the churches were elected: Alexis II in Moscow and Bartholomew I in Constantinople (1991), and also Paul I in Belgrade (1990), and Peter VII in Alexandria. It was thought that the free churches would be able to conduct fraternal dialogue. The pre-conciliar meeting in Chambesy of 1990, then the assembly of the heads of all Orthodox churches in March 1992 in the Phanar, gave hopes in particular for the churches of the diaspora. In France the Inter-Episcopal Committee of Orthodox bishops created in 1967 became an assembly of Orthodox bishops in 1997. And in the United States the SCOBA created in 1960 also took on more importance. But the international context placed these badly prepared churches in the midst of a storm. Very quickly conflict erupted in the former Yugoslavia (between 1991 and 1995) and in the Chechen republic (1994-96, then again 2000).

The countries of Orthodox tradition obtained their independence or were separated into smaller states as in the former Yugoslavia, where war was declared between Serbs and Croatians in 1991. The heads of the churches wasted time coordinating with each other. It was only in February 1994, just a year before the agreements of Dayton on Bosnia-Herzegovina, that the Bosporus declaration was published. (It was renewed in 2005 two years after the start of the war by the American coalition in Iraq). Patriarch Bartholomew gathered together in Constantinople many leaders of the three great monotheistic traditions, especially from Southeastern Europe. They denounced the crimes against humanity committed in Bosnia and the nationalist use of religion. Paul, the Patriarch of Serbia, also declared: “If the price of the crime is not a large but small Serbia, I would not accept it either.” The forces of NATO however would have to intervene in Serbia in the spring 1999 and to install the KFOR in Kosovo in order to avoid a new conflict. The churches during this conflict were forced to make the distinction between people, territories and identities. Indeed certain Orthodox populations were, as in Kosovo, in minority situation in territories which were regarded as Orthodox, and were not able to assert their rights.

But the Orthodox Churches would also have to fight against the evil of phyletism. The Orthodox Church of Georgia was swept over by a wave of nationalism from the very beginning of 1990’s, following the tensions maintained by Moscow, which shattered unity even within the country between the populations of Ossetia, Ajaria and Abkhazia. In a parallel manner, certain churches born by these geopolitical upheavals did not manage to be recognized. I mean in particular the Orthodox Church of Macedonia. On the other hand, other Churches were recognized immediately, like the Orthodox Church of Albania. Certain conflicts appeared between Orthodox Churches concerning the problem of the canonical territory as in Moldavia (between Moscow and Bucharest) or in Estonia (between Moscow and Constantinople), which for a few months between February and May 1996 caused a Eucharistic rupture. This tension between Moscow and Constantinople would be exacerbated as the Patriarchate of Moscow again wished to play an international role. In France a merciless conflict opposed the Patriarchate of Constantinople with the Patriarchate of Moscow concerning the issue of the church properties of the Russian emigration.

Certain churches, confronted because of their totalitarian past, were divided like the Bulgarian Church, while others on the contrary, threatened by many risks of schisms have quickly stopped self-criticism, like the Russian Church after 1994. Such self-criticism did not support the review of recruiting forced by Stalin in order to suppress the Byzantine Churches united with Rome. In Western Ukraine, since 1989-90 the Eastern Catholic Church recovered thousands of parishes that it possessed before the invasion of the USSR and its suppression by Stalin. This would be experienced as a shock by the Russian Church, which thought of itself as deserving recognition for having sheltered this church for more than 50 years. But the shock was transformed into traumatism when in Western Ukraine there appeared two other Orthodox churches, of the Kyiv patriarchate and the Autocephalous Church, which also disputed in a virulent way the right of the patriarchate of Moscow to control a great number of ecclesiastical properties which had been returned by the government in Ukraine. In other places in Europe, in particular in Slovakia and Romania, similar tensions appeared between the Greek Catholics and the Orthodox.

In Turkey and in Cyprus, the Christians persecuted by the Turkish authority do not have much more than a hope of survival once Turkey is integrated within the European Union (the official negotiations on this issue began in 2005), and it will be controlled by the Declaration of Human Rights. The Churches of the Greek tradition, as in Jerusalem and Alexandria, were not inculturated enough, despite all efforts of such a great hierarch as Anastassios Yannoulatos, to be able to hold a profound dialogue with Islam. After the failure of the Israel-Palestinian negotiations, violence began again in October 2000. This caused a new conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in July-August

The Orthodox churches set up new relations with the post-Communist states. Usually they obtained a privileged status in comparison with the other confessions and were successful in limiting the rights of the non-traditional religions, as in Russia in 1997. In July 2001, the former king of Bulgaria, Simeon of Saxony-Cobourg, became the Prime Minister and made a point of taking the oath of office in the presence of Patriarch Maxim, thus inaugurating new relations between the state and the Orthodox Church. The Bulgarian President, George Parvanov, also took the oath in January in the presence of the Patriarch.

On the other hand, in Greece, Orthodoxy, which is the official state religion, is more and more the object of scandal and dispute, in particular because of its integration within the European Union. Moreover, corruption scandals have scarred the Greek Church since 2005. Similar corruption scandals involving the hierarchy and other church officials emerged the same year within the Church of Jerusalem and in 2006 within the OCA. The failure of the adoption of the European Constitution, however, will not prevent the European Commission from consulting the Orthodox churches in a more systematic way. Taking into consideration the entry in 2007 of Romania and Bulgaria into the European institutions and the surge of immigrants from Eastern European countries in Western Europe, they will number tens of million of faithful.

New places and institutions appeared in the Orthodox world in the wake of this political and international reconfiguration. In Moscow between 1994 and 2000 the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was rebuilt. New brotherhoods, sisterhoods, and missionary institutions emerged such as the Institute of Saint Tikhon and the Institute of Saint Andrew. A number of publishing houses, reviews and publications also have appeared such as Alfa and Omega, Tserkov i Vremia, Stranitsy, Moskovskiy Tserkovny Vestnik, Nezavisimaya Gazeta-Religii. In Kyiv the Theological Academy reopened, and the European Center for Humanitarian Sciences at the Mohyla Academy created its own publishing house Duh i Litera. Petro Zouyev created also a Museum of Orthodox Martyrs and an Orthodox Institute. In Minsk the Theological Institute of Saints Methodius and Cyril opened its doors again under the influence of Metropolitan Filaret and the direction of Dr. G. Dovguiallo. In Byalistok a dynamic Orthodox youth movement established and sheltered for some time the Syndesmos association. In Tirana a church rises again from its ashes in particular due to the impulse of its new youth movement. Romania counts an incalculable number of monasteries and sketes to which monastic vocations once again stream. Everywhere, from Saint Petersburg to Sofia and Belgrade, the theological academies are filled with seminarians. In France, which always profits from the presence of such institutions as Orthodox Brotherhood or ACER-MJO, there appear such new associations and publishers as the Burning Bush and Salt of the Earth created by Maxim Egger. In Lebanon the Orthodox Theological Institute of Balamand plays a significant role in the diffusion of Orthodox thought among the Arabic-speaking population.

On the intellectual scene, the impression which prevails is a certain decay of Orthodox thought. In Russia we can watch that the majority of such thinkers as Valentin Asmus take the position of traditionalists – they are radically anti-“modernist” and anti-ecumenical. However, a significant rediscovery of the patristic and liturgical tradition is also occurring.

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev holds doctoral degrees from Oxford and Paris. He was consecrated bishop of Podolsk, has subsequently become bishop of Vienna and Austria, and serves in Brussels as Russian Orthodox representative to the European institutions. A member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, he is also active, together with Sergius Hovorun and Ihor Vyzhanov, in Orthodox-Catholic conversations. In his book, Orthodox Witness Today, published in 2006, he writes that Orthodox Christians “must be able not only to criticize others, but also to be self-critical” (Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Orthodox Witness Today, Geneva, WCC, 2006, p. 4). Such independent institutes in Moscow as the Museum of the Russian Emigration, the parish Saints Cosma and Damian or the Institute of Saint Philaret diffuse the more open theological thought of the Russian emigration. The new Orthodox Encyclopedia (under the direction of Serguei Kravets) is a good example of this renewal. In Arkhangelsk Ioann Pryvalov has organised many spiritual and cultural events, and in Saint Petersburg Vladimir Fiodorov is very involved in ecumenical and social work.

In Lebanon theologians such as Tarek Mitri and Michel Nseir, marked by the successive wars and the reunion which took place between Christians for common charity work, are regarded as ecumenical and pro-Arab. In Cyprus bishop Basil of Trimithus, moderator of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC, is also one of the leading theologian of his Church.

In America, a new generation of thinkers is appearing on the scene (John Behr, Peter Bouteneff, Paul Meyendorff, Aristotle Papanikolaou, Chrysostom Nassis, David Hart, Vigen Guroian, John Jillions, Anthony Ugolnik, Anton C. Vrame), following the example of Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Archbishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, Bishop Serafim Sigrist, Archbishop Vsevolod Maidanski, Bishop Anthony Scharba, Emmanuel Clapsis, John Break, Michael Plekon, Michael Meerson, Thomas Hopko, Leonid Kishkovsky, Dimitri Pospielovsky, Tristram Engelhardt Jr., John Erickson, Paul N. Tarazi, Thomas FitzGerald, John Chryssavgis. They feel freer with regards to the patristic Tradition than their predecessors Archbishop Iakovos, Jaroslav Pelikan, John Meyendorff or Alexander Schmemann.

In Europe, in addition to the previous and still very creative generation (Metropolitan Athanasios (Jevtic) of Hercegovina, Bishop Basil of Sergievo, Boris Bobrinskoy, André Borrély, O. Clément,195 Placide Deseille, Michel Evdokimov, Denis Guillaume, Bishop Kallistos Ware, John Breck, Dimitri Popescu, Todor Sabev, Annick de Souzenelle, Nikita Struve, Jacques Touraille, George Tsetsis, Christos Yannaras, Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, Metropolitan Jérémie (Kaligeorgis) of Switzerland), we must add among a great variety of different Orthodox thinkers the names of Alexander Belopopsky, Hildo Bos, Costas Carras, Christine Chaillot, Jean-François Colosimo, Gilian Crow, Christophe d’Aloisio, John Dragas, Maxime Egger, Vlassios Fidas, Jim Forest, Metropolitan Gennadios (Limouris) of Sassima, Job Getcha, Bishop Joachim Giosanu, Grigorios Larentzakis, Tamara Grzelidze, Heikki Huttunen, Viorel Ionita, Metropolitan Joseph (Pop), Anastasios Kallis, Pantelis Kalaitzides, Paschalis M. Kitromilides, Jean-Claude Larchet, Christophe Levalois, Nicholas Lossky, Mihail Neamtu, Jamie Moran, Iulian Nistea, Antoine Nivière, Thanasis Papathanasiou, Grégoire Papathomas, Constantine Patelos, Yannick Provost, Ioan Sauca, Constantine Sigov, Plamen Sivov, Michel Sollogoub, Sergius Sollogoub, Michel and Sophie Stavrou, Basile Thermos, Petros Vassiliadis, Bertrand Vergely, Tatiana Victoroff, Andrew Walker, Vladimir Ziélinsky, etc.

Petros Vassiliadis is a professor of New Testament at the theological faculty of the University of Thessaloniki, Greece. He is representative of a new generation of Orthodox thinkers. He writes in 1998 in his preface of Eucharist and Witness: “I belong to the new generation of Orthodox theologians, who, like our great predecessors, are fervent about the ecumenical imperative. Unlike most of the Orthodox who are seriously engaged in the ecumenical dialogue, I do not feel obliged to defend our traditional viewpoint. Rather, I envisage a common understanding of our common witness, one that both respects the church’s great tradition and takes into account current ecumenical concerns” (Petros Vassiliadis,

Eucharist and Witness, Orthodox Perspectives on the Unity and Mission of the Church, Geneva, WCC, 1998, p. viii).

These intellectuals have a greater ecumenical experience and a greater realism with regard to Orthodox institutions than their predecessors. And especially due to the many improvements in theological education, with the profound reflections accomplished by the preceding generation, and with the globalized media context, Orthodox theological thought has been democratized, deconfessionalized and widened. Thus we can see more women theologians (Lydia d’Aloisio, Dimitra Koukoura, Valerie Karras, sister Magdalen of Maldon, Elisabeth Prodromou, Elisabeth Theokritoff). In certain disciplines like exegesis or the history of the Church, we find fewer and less denominational lines of division between Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant theologians. In addition, the diasporas of the second or third generation started to train great theologians who entered the dialogue with the theologians not only of their culture of origin but also with the theologians of other confessions of their respective countries. Finally, due to the Internet, one can find furthermore Web sites with personal blogs, which testify to the democratization of the Orthodox thought.

From the book: Antoine Arjakovsky. Church, Culture, and Identity: Reflections on Orthodoxy in the Modern World. Lviv: Ukrainian Catholic University Press 2007.

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