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Third-World Africa — again!

8 January 2019

Most of us thought that the Cold War ended back at the end of 1991.

Even if we thought that Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis was over-oprimistic, it did seem that the day of the three-worlds paradigm was over. For over forty years the world had lived in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. As one parody of a Western hymn put it:

The Day God gave thee, man, is ending
the darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.

The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
And in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky-high.

Samuel Huntington, rather less optimistic than Fukuyama, predicted that after the end of the Cold War, international conflicts would be intercivilizational and would be religious rather than ideological. Instead of three “worlds” — the West (First World), the East (Second World) and the Rest (Third World), there would be nine civilizations, divided by religion.

But even Huntington did not foresee that the Cold War would revive as a result of the manipulation of the Orthodox Church by political leaders. But it happened in 2018, when the new ecclesiastical Cold War started.

First World Church

President Poroshenko of Ukraine and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople agreed to establish a new autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine. It seemed to many that the deal was facilitated, or even brokered by the CIA.  And so the old First World was visibly reestablished in ecclesiastical form.

President Poroshenko of Ukraine and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople

In this Poroshenko was following historical precedents.

King Henry VIII of England wanted his own national church, independent of Rome, and so he nationalised the Church of England, and made life very difficult for clergy who would not go along with his new nationalist church.

Perhaps not as well known, outside South Africa, is the fact that Kaiser Matanzima, ruler of the Transkei “homeland”, did the same thing with the Methodist Church. Matanzima nationalised the Methodist Church in Transkei in 1978, and banned the Methodist Church of South Africa, from which it was forced to secede, in almost exactly the same way as Poroshenko has treated the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Second World Church

In the same way as the new Ukrainian body is being seen as a creation of the CIA, so the Russian Orthodox Church is said to be linked to the KGB. and to be under the thumb of the state in the person of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is said that President Putin wants the Church support his vision for a Russi8an World (Russkiy Mir).

And so the First and Second Worlds have been revived by political manipulation of the Orthodox Church, and the secular media on both sides see whatever happens as either to the advantage or disadvantage of the political leaders. So, in the Western media, the most significant and important thing about the the formation of a “Ukrainian Autocephalous Church” is that it will be “a blow to Putin”, never mind that it is a blow to Orthodox unity. They rejoice to see the Orthodox Church destroyed, as long as Putin is humiliated in the process.

Third World Church

The rest of the Orthodox world is dismayed by these political rivalries, and cannot understand the behaviour of the Patriarch of Constantinople (it is hard to think of him as the “Ecumenical” Patriarch any longer, because his unilateral actions certainly don’t represent world Orthodoxy — he’s gone out on a limb and seems to be sawing off the branch he’s sitting on). And so the rest of the Orthodox have become a kind of ecclesiastical Third World. This was perhaps best expressed by the Patriarch of Antioch when he said “It is unreasonable to stop a schism at the price of the unity of the Orthodox world”—Pat. John of Antioch / OrthoChristian.Com:

Pat. John emphasized that the events surrounding the creation of the new church cause concern not only because of the disunion they create in the Orthodox world, but also because the opinion of the Local Orthodox Churches was not taken into account by Constantinople, reports the official site of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Synods, primates, and hierarchs of the Orthodox Churches from around the world continually warned Pat. Bartholomew that unilaterally creating a new church would have disastrous consequences and they called on him to convene a pan-Orthodox council to resolve the matter, though he repeatedly refused.

“We want to see the unity of the Orthodox world strengthened and consolidated,” Pat. John writes. “From your letter, it seems that you have decided to continue the process of granting autocephaly… Therefore, we call upon you to not make any decisions not supported by the consensus of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches. It is unreasonable to stop a schism at the price of the unity of the Orthodox world.”

The Patriarch of Moscow no longer commemorates the Patriarch of Constantinople, so there is a schism right there. But if the Patriarch of Constantinople is the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria is the Ecumenical Judge, and perhaps he should be called in to judge between them and act as a mediator. And what does the Ecumenical Judge have to say? He recently visited Ukraine.

“The Church does not bow to politicians”—Patriarch of Alexandria / OrthoChristian.Com:

The Alexandrian primate again offered words of support and consolation to the Ukrainian faithful, as he had during the services he celebrated in Odessa, noting that he came to Ukraine to bear witness to his love and to the fact that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is the only canonical Church in Ukraine, reports the site of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

“Here I lived and shed tears for this country,” the patriarch said. “I have come here to say that I am always with you.”

And he went on to say more — “The Church does not bow to politicians”—Patriarch of Alexandria / OrthoChristian.Com:

Pat. Theodoros also reiterated that he would speak to the primates of all the Local Orthodox Churches about what he “has seen with his own eyes” in Ukraine, as he promised in Odessa, here adding, “I will also tell all the patriarchs that the Church does not bow to politicians. The Church has the Apostolic rules… The canonical Church is guided by the canons. It lives by and will live by the canons.”

Hierarchs from around the Orthodox world have criticized Ukraine’s political interference in Church matters, and a Kiev district court recently decided to hear a case on President Poroshenko’s competency to interfere in Church affairs.

A century of persecution

So it seems that the Orthodox Church has been undergoing a century of persecution by secular politicians, from 1918-2018. In the first period, from 1918-1990, it was by the Bolsheviks and their allies, and from 1991 to the present it has been from the Western Civilization, most notably by the USA, which, in spite of speaking of “separation of Church and State” has actually been working for the destruction of the Church by the State.

Ukrainian security services have been searching church property and interrogating priests just as Stalin’s OGPU and NKVD used to do, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is being threatened with the loss of its property to the new state church, again as happened under Henry VIII in England with the dissolution of the monasteries, and in the Methodist Church in the Transkei under Kaiser Matanzima.

The Western media like to spin this by referring to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as “priests loyal to Moscow” — As Ukraine and Russia Battle Over Orthodoxy, Schism Looms – The New York Times:

Ukraine’s security services have in recent weeks interrogated priests loyal to Moscow, searched church properties and enraged their Russian rivals.

“They just want to frighten us,” said the Rev. Vasily Nachev, one of more than a dozen priests loyal to the Moscow patriarch who were called in for questioning.

But the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is autonomous, and not subject to Moscow. The problem the Ukrainian Security Services have with the priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is that they are loyal to Christ, and to canonical church order rather than to the genius of Poroshenko.

Point of view of the author

In this postmodern age it is recognised that everyone has an axe to grind, and that there are no “neutral” or “objective” reports, so authors need to say “where they are coming from”. Therefore  I shall try to explain my point of view in writing this.

I have no objection, in principle, to the idea of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and I have no desire at all to see it as part of a political project for a Russian World (Russkiy Mir). What I do object to is autocephaly arranged at the behest of secular politicians as a political project, at least some of whom do so with the deliberate intention of dividing the Orthodox Church throughout the world, and others of whom seek to make the church simply a tool for their political ambitions as Henry VIII and Kaiser Matanzima did.

There may be some cultural differences here. It seems that some Ukrainians feel that their country is not independent unless their church is independent as well. I just don’t get that. The Kingdom of God is not a secular state. Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world. As a South African I don’t feel that my country is not truly politically independent because our Patriarch happens to live in Egypt. In fact I’m rather happy to belong to the original African Church, founded by St Mark around AD 44, long before the Russian Church or the Ukrainian Church.

I’m also concerned about the Patriarch of Constantinople’s reckless attempt to divide the Orthodox Church at the behest of politicians, and the way in which this could affect the Orthodox Church in Africa.

In our Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria we have Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian parishes,  many of which have priests seconded from those countries. If some of those churches excommunicate each other because of this incident, what happens to the churches here? At the moment, for example, we go once a month, with the blessing of our Archbishop, to an English service in the Russian parish. What happens if our Patriarchate is forced to take sides in a dispute brought about by a unilateral action taken by the Bishop of Istanbul at the behest of politicians, some of whom have made no secret of their desire to divide the Orthodox Church? Those decisions could affect our church life here too.





2 Comments leave one →
  1. Stan Nussbaum permalink
    9 January 2019 7:59 pm

    Thanks for this helpful description of a sad mess. I’m surprised that you say, “It seems that some Ukrainians feel that their country is not independent unless their church is independent as well. I just don’t get that. The Kingdom of God is not a secular state.” I couldn’t agree more that Kingdom and state are separate, but that truth must be very hard to see in places where the Orthodox are in a strong majority in a country.

    You can see the truth in South Africa where the Orthodox are a tiny minority, and you can serve the global Orthodox community by pointing out how obvious that is to you. But how can they see it? A majority church (Orthodox or any other kind) typically loses its sense of mission to the world and then easily drifts into thinking its mission is to solidify the society and nation where it has the majority.

    • 17 January 2019 9:37 am

      It is full of paradoxes. Poroshenko wanted, and got, a state church, which was given a bogus “autocephaly” by the Patriarch of Constantinople, which actually gives it less autonomy than the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which is now being persecuted and having its churches seized by Poroshenko’s goons. Poroshenko wants to force the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to change its name to try to make it look foreign, to facilitate the grab of church property. The Western media applaud all this, because anything that they think might put Putin’s nose out of joint must ipso facto be good in their eyes.

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