Peter Anderson reports from the Orthodox world.
Longstanding reporter of the news from the Eastern Church, Peter Anderson shares our dream of a unified Christianity. His love for Orthodoxy has driven him to this personal mission to share the news of East with the world through his email list. The Urbi et Orbi Foundation is proud to share his efforts and his insights with you.
Today, July 27, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) conducted again its huge annual procession through the streets of Kyiv to celebrate the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil estimated that this year more than 350,000 participated. https://news.church.ua/2021/07/27/350-tisyach-viryan-vzyali-uchast-u-velikomu-xresnomu-xodi-v-den-xreshhennya-rusi/ (link includes many photos of today’s event) These annual processions by the UOC-MP are carefully organized. The number of participants is used by the UOC-MP as proof of its popular support. Yesterday, Metropolitan Anthony gave an interview concerning this year’s procession. https://news.church.ua/2021/07/26/cogo-roku-xresnij-xid-na-den-xreshhennya-rusi-bude-shhe-odnim-svidchennyam-virnosti-pravoslavyu-keruyuchij-spravami-upc-ros/ Groups of pilgrims are formed in the individual parishes in the many dioceses of the UOC-MP. The individual dioceses then march separately in the procession under their own banners. Because Patriarch Bartholomew is planning to visit Kyiv next month, it is likely that every effort was made by the individual parishes and dioceses to maximize the number of pilgrims this year. The biggest hurdle is probably financing the bus or other transportation to take the thousands of pilgrims to Kyiv. The procession began at 1 p.m. which allowed buses to depart from the parishes early in the morning, to take the pilgrims to Kyiv, and to return the evening of the same day. As occurred in the procession of the cross in July 2019 (there was no procession in 2020 because of the pandemic), Vadim Novinsky, the billionaire parliamentarian, walked next to Metropolitan Onufry (the primate of the UOC-MP) throughout the procession. (One can see Novinsky in a bright blue suit in the photos found in the first link.) It is my guess that financial support from him, and from perhaps other wealthy supporters of the UOC-MP as well, enabled the UOC-MP to undertake the great expense of transporting thousands of people.
Metropolitan Anthony did not explain the basis for his estimate of 350,000. The National Police in Kyiv, which provided security and safety for the procession, has given a estimate of “more than 55,000 people.” https://kyiv.npu.gov.ua/news/publichna-bezpeka-ta-poryadok/pravooxoronczi-prodovzhuyut-zabezpechuvati-publichnij-poryadok-ta-bezpeku-u-czentri-stoliczi/?fbclid=IwAR0moeTlYNl3GTd1V0PbqrppZ54Y-7FrGKVklLVPjTGdwhcgmiX77Nm7NiU For 2019, Metropolitan Anthony gave an estimate of 300,000 and for 2018, 250,000. For the 2019 procession where the UOC-MP estimate was 300,000 participants, the UOC-MP posted a very interesting time-lapse (sped-up) video showing the entire procession from the very beginning to the end. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=29&v=HUvf1_1mGXQ The video last 314 seconds. If the UOC-MP’s estimate is correct, there needs to be an average of 955 people (300,000 divided by 314 seconds) passing though the right and bottom edge of the video each second throughout the 314 seconds of the video. In my viewing of the video, this was simply not the case, especially in the last part of the video where the number of participants decreased greatly. Although the number of participants given by the UOC-MP may be substantially inflated, one cannot look at the photos of today’s procession and not be impressed by the number of participants.
Representatives from the Patriarchates of Antioch and Serbia and from the Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia participated today in the UOC-MP procession. https://orthochristian.com/140785.html The OCU declined to hold its own procession this year, giving the new wave of the pandemic as the reason. https://risu.ua/en/this-year-the-ocu-will-not-hold-a-traditional-religious-procession-in-honor-of-the-1033rd-anniversary-of-the-baptism-of-rus-ukraine_n120206 For the celebration of the Baptism of Rus by the OCU, both the Church of Cyprus (https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/predstoyatel-ptsu-pryjnyav-predstavnyka-arhiyepyskopa-kipru/) and the Patriarchate of Alexandria (https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/predstoyatel-ptsu-zustrivsya-z-delegatsiyeyu-oleksandrijskogo-patriarhatu/ ) sent bishops to participate in the services of the OCU.
The Russian government is increasing its role in supporting the Moscow Patriarchate in its conflict with the Ecumenical Patriarchate with respect to Ukraine. The latest example is an interview given by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on July 24 to the Rossiya 24 television network on the occasion of Metropolitan Hilarion’s 55th birthday The following is the official English translation of the interview posted on the website of the Foreign Ministry. https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4830576 Lavrov described Metropolitan Hilarion as “an extremely talented individual” and stated that “[w]e have been closely collaborating for many years now.” In the interview, Lavrov also addressed the religious dispute in Ukraine. He stated in part:
All of us are well aware of how the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was created. It was not just an initiative suggested by Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew. It was directly dictated by the United States. By and large, they do not conceal this fact themselves. The US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom appointed by the previous administration was doing things that were directly opposite to his mandate. He was undermining the freedom of religion and imposing organisational parameters (to use the bureaucratic idiom) on different local churches. He was destroying the unity of the Orthodox believers of Russia and Ukraine and creating in Ukraine a schismatic and, in effect, powerless church. He was also destroying the unity of the Church of Antioch and attempting to wean from it the Lebanese Orthodox believers. The same is happening with regard to the canonical territory of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
We are clearly aware that Constantinople’s actions that are being directly manipulated by Washington have nothing in common with the ideals of Orthodoxy and the traditions that form the basis, upon which the collaboration between the local churches has always been organised. This collaboration is being crudely disrupted. This is pressure in the sense that it requires efforts to oppose this sort of absolutely unacceptable actions. We fully support the ROC.
There have been many accusations that the Moscow Patriarchate is being used as a tool of the Russian government to promote its foreign policies. Perhaps, Lavrov is engaging in a counter-attack by the asserting that Constantinople is simply a tool of the United States government and its foreign policy.
Metropolitan Hilarion on his birthday celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Patriarchal Metochion of the Holy Martyrs of Chernigov, the church of the Saints Cyril and Methodius Institute of Post-Graduate Studies. https://mospat.ru/en/news/87783/ For the occasion, he received letters of congratulations from the Patriarchs of Moscow, Antioch, Jerusalem, Serbia, and Romania, and from the primates of the churches of Poland, Czech Lands and Slovakia, and OCA. For the occasion, an interesting 46-minute film on the life of Metropolitan Hilarion, including childhood photos, has been released. The entire film may be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yz_2rnDlwsw .
President Putin has now authored an article entitled: “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” The following is the official English translation of the entire article posted on the Kremlin website: http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181 . In response to the article, the results of an Ukrainian opinion poll has just been released. http://ratinggroup.ua/research/ukraine/obschestvenno-politicheskie_nastroeniya_naseleniya_23-25_iyulya_2021.html?fbclid=IwAR0N8PrveKHbUTru5FdbUwHfJ1NGWHyzTlzOHAWSzdVHq_6EBd5Kbr_h7KE With respect to President Putin’s statement that “Russians and Ukrainians are one people belonging to the same historical and spiritual space,” 55% disagree and 41% agree. There were regional differences. In western Ukraine more than 70% disagreed with Putin’s statement. In eastern Ukraine, more that 60% agreed with his statement.
On July 14, Metropolitan Hilarion spoke at the International Summit on Religious Freedom, held in Washington, D.C. https://mospat.ru/en/news/87730/ His address of approximately 11 minutes can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPSIWHBq390 (beginning at 4:59:30). More than half of his talk related to criticisms of the Ukrainian government with respect to its treatment of the UOC-MP. For some unknown reason, the Metropolitan was not listed on the posted program of the Summit as being a speaker. Maybe his appearance was finalized only shortly before the event . Interestingly, Metropolitan Hilarion had a meeting at the Summit with Sam Brownback, former US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. This is the same person who was sharply criticized by Foreign Minister Lavrov in the quotation above. The meeting was summarized by the website of the DECR at https://mospat.ru/en/news/87735/ . The summary includes the following:
During the discussion, which lasted for an hour, a wide range of issues were touched upon concerning the persecution of Christians in various parts of the world, including the Middle East and a number of African countries.
The sides exchanged opinions concerning mutual interaction in the sphere of defending religious freedom between the Russian Orthodox Church and American religious organizations. Ambassador Brownback remarked that the voice of the Russian Orthodox Church should be heard in American society.
The sides agreed to continue consultations, including in an offline regime.
The description does not seem to treat Brownback as some type of arch-enemy. In my personal opinion, the Moscow Patriarchate does not really believe that the idea of forming the OCU originated within the U.S. State Department. Rather, Metropolitan Hilarion has repeatedly claimed that the formation of the OCU was “revenge” by Constantinople for the Moscow Patriarchate refusing to attend the Crete Council. See for example https://mospat.ru/ru/news/46891/ . Still, the Moscow Patriarchate echoes the charge that Bartholomew is acting as a tool of the United States.
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America (Ecumenical Patriarchate) spoke at the Summit the following day. His short address can be read at https://www.goarch.org/-/irf-summit . His topics were “Religious Nationalism” and “Nationalist Religion.” His remarks included the following:
Finally, there is a hybrid of the two, as in the case of the Russian Federation and the post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church. The painful history of the Church under the communist regime came to a sudden and stunning halt with the fall of the Iron Curtain.
However, even as the Russian Federation morphed into its present form, the newly freed Russian Orthodox Church struggled to rebuild its place in society. Its cooperation and support of the State has been a way to regain its former glories. Yet, it is the state itself that has benefited from the “Religious Nationalism” created by the reborn Orthodox Church within its borders. Precisely because the Moscow Patriarchate maintains much of the contours of the old Soviet Union. The close relationship between the state Foreign Ministry and the Church Department of External Relations is well known.
Through the networks of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Federation is able to exert influence in the new nation-states that emerged after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Ukraine is a case in point, where a local Orthodox Church was established, legally and canonically, by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, yet the Moscow Patriarchate continues to maintain its own entity. This is clearly in the interests of the Russian Federation which benefits as much, if not more, from its “Religious Nationalism” as the Church does from its “Nationalistic Religion.”
I have seen nothing to indicate that Hilarion and Elpidophoros met at the Summit, although the two did meet together in New Jersey on October 23, 2019, at a meeting arranged by Metropolitan Joseph (Patriarchate of Antioch). The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (Ecumenical Patriarchate) hosted the ecumenical prayer service at the Summit, but Metropolitan Hilarion did not attend. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOEleuEHEMg (video of service).
As expected, Patriarch Kirill consecrated the new reconstructed cathedral at the Mother of God Monastery in Kazan on July 21. http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5830483.html Excellent photos of the events can be viewed at https://foto.patriarchia.ru/news/patriarshiy-vizit-v-tatarstanskuyu-mitropoliyu-osvyashchenie-vossozdannogo-kazanskogo-sobora-na-meste-yavleniya-chudotvornogo-obraza-bozhiey-materi-2021-07-21/ An interesting article describing the day’s activities can be read at https://www.tatar-inform.ru/news/xranit-veru-v-serdcax-nasix-kak-proslo-osvyashhenie-sobora-kazanskoi-ikony-boziei-materi-5830334 . As I previously reported, the cathedral is located over the exact spot where Matrona unearthed the original Kazan icon in 1579. The cathedral is also now the permanent new home of the beautiful copy of the Kazan icon, given by Pope John Paul II to Patriarch Alexy II in 2004. During the consecration services, Patriarch Kirill prayed before the icon twice.
As far as I can determine, this visit by Patriarch Kirill to Kazan is the first time that he has left the greater Moscow area since the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020. (Kazan is 800 kilometers east of Moscow.) He arrived at the cathedral promptly at 10:00 a.m. after a morning flight from Moscow. Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan and Tatarstan had previously stated that he expected that the Patriarch would depart after saying a few words following the Liturgy. However, the Patriarch actually stayed for several additional hours. He gave awards after the Liturgy and then went to the residence of the President of Tatarstan to meet with the President and then with local Muslim religious leaders. The Patriarch appeared very healthy, energetic, and in good spirits. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful cathedral, and a beautiful service. I believe that the Patriarch greatly enjoyed his experience in Kazan. A video of the entire service can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ua15faXUXp4 .
In other news, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has elected Archimandrite Dimitrios Ploumis (previously head of the Church of the Annunciation in Marseille) as the new Metropolitan of France. https://orthodoxtimes.com/archim-dimitrios-ploumis-was-elected-as-new-metropolitan-of-france/ He received his episcopal ordination at the Phanar on July 25. https://orthodoxie.com/consecration-episcopale-de-mgr-dimitrios-nouveau-metropolite-de-france-patriarcat-oecumenique/ The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece has decided to canonize many bishops, priests, deacons, and monks who were martyred by Ottoman troops during the period 1821-22. https://orthochristian.com/140576.html
Peter Anderson, Seattle USA