Athens decided to enter into communion with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine while Archbishop Ieronymos decided to send a response letter to the Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kiev and to begin to commemorate him. Those two decisions were considered as the key actions that will relaunch the inter-orthodox dialogue.
There is another crucial factor, which is an obstacle for all Churches that intend to recognise Ukraine; the threats and blackmail by officials of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
The “Russian threats and blackmail” factor was also an issue that drew the attention of the Metropolitans of the Church of Greece last Saturday. A wide range of opinions has been expressed during the extraordinary meeting of the Hierarchy. The Metropolitans who expressed their opinion and argued in favour of the recognition of the Church of Ukraine did not mince their words.
The pressure, to which several Metropolitans referred during the meeting, is not exclusively put on Greece. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk has travelled a lot in the recent months, in particular to Greece, Cyprus, Georgia, Serbia, Lebanon and Jerusalem and from there to Moscow and vice versa. It is a common finding that every statement and/or visit of Metropolitan of Volokolamsk to Greece or to other Orthodox Churches was accompanied, as many church officials have denounced, by unrelenting pressure, even threats, with a view to non-recognising the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Who will follow Greece?
The Ancient Patriarchates, that of Alexandria and that of Jerusalem, have received unprecedented threats from Moscow that exploits the weaknesses and difficulties of the two ancient Churches. The Patriarchates of Alexandria and of Jerusalem are in a particularly difficult position; each one for different reasons. That is why they still prefer to remain silent on that issue.
Moscow’s pressures on the Patriarchate of Alexandria have begun to provoke the intense discomfort to certain Metropolitans, who fully support Patriarch Theodore, but urge him to totally ignore the threats and blackmail and to take the necessary steps by recognising Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kiev.
The Patriarchate of Antioch has proven to be a satellite of Russia. The Patriarchate of Antioch undermined the Council of Crete through its non-attendance in order that Moscow can contest the validity of the Council. The Patriarchate of Antioch now gives “land and water” by permitting the building of Russian temples on its territory, despite hundreds of churches ravaged and destroyed in Syria due to the Civil War that need to be reconstructed. The Patriarchate of Antioch, therefore, will take no different stance from the position taken by the Patriarchate of Moscow regarding the Ukrainian autocephaly issue.
The Church of Jerusalem has to face an unprecedented Russian penetration operation. Patriarch Theophilos has to tie up loose ends. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has to deal with the State of Israel for the management of the Patriarchate’s assets and with specific groups of Arabic-speaking believers who are mobilised behind the scenes by the church and secular officials against the leadership of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Patriarch Theophilos and the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre must also confront the provocative actions by Russia.
Metropolitans Dionysios of Corinth and Panteleimon of Maroneia in the Extraordinary Hierarchy described in the blackest terms the way in which Russian bishops, clergy and monks visit the Holy Land, on a pretext of pilgrimage visit, but in practice they are playing a provocative role. “The Patriarch of Jerusalem never said that he recognised Onufriy,” Metropolitan Dionysios of Corinth told the Hierarchy to show how great the pressure was, while painting a distressing picture of the provocative attitude of Russians to the Holy Land. “There are many Russian bishops and clergy who travel to Jerusalem and perform the Divine Liturgy without the permission of the Patriarch of Jerusalem,” said Metropolitan Dionysios. The situation created by the provocative actions by Russia in Jerusalem has forced the Patriarchate of Jerusalem to remain silent on the Ukrainian autocephaly issue.
Archbishop Anastasios of Albania was one of the Greek-speaking primates who gave rise to some strong — perhaps even negative — feelings with his article that criticised the granting of Tomos of Autocephaly to Metropolitan of Kiev. Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus, who has to face a powerful pro-Russian movement within his Hierarchy, chooses to remain neutral.
Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, Metropolitan Sawa of Poland and Archbishop Rastislav of Prešov are fully allied to Patriarch John of Antioch in favour of the Patriarchate of Moscow. Certain bishops in Bulgaria have also supported the Russian side. This event has forced Patriarch Neophytus to remain silent in order to avoid internal problems.
The Patriarchate of Romania maintains a position which is equidistant. Patriarch Daniel is very cautious with his public speeches and so far has not made any comment on the Ukrainian autocephaly issue. However, he always reminds his interlocutors that the observance of the Sacred Canons and the respect of the ecclesiastical order guarantee the harmony within Orthodoxy.
The Patriarchate of Georgia has a very special relationship with Russia for many years. The Patriarchate of Moscow, following the situation in Ukraine, has stepped up pressure on the ageing Patriarch Ilia in order to win his support.
However, territorial disputes over the Georgia–Russia border and the claims of Moscow have created a climate of intense discomfort within the Patriarchate of Georgia.
So, as one can see, regardless of the canonical, theological and ecclesiastical strands, the geopolitical balance of inter-orthodox relations can lean on one side or the other.