The initiative of Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem to convene in Jordan a meeting of the Primates Local Orthodox Churches saw strong opposition from some of those very Primates.
Archbishop Chrysostom of Cyprus, Hieronymus of Athens, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew have called on Patriarch Theophilos to “recall the non-canonical initiative” of convening a council in Jordan, which is undermining the Ecumenical See. The reaction of other clerical leaders is yet to be voiced.
However, we can assume such a largely adventurist move will ultimately be taken. It’s not hard to guess that for Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, this event is of great importance. After all, experts have repeatedly noted that once the Orthodox Church of Ukraine received a tomos of autocephaly, Kirill in Moscow felt his patriarchal throne rocking. There is a number of reports suggesting the Kremlin might replace Kirill with a more suitable candidate. Therefore, it is likely that this future “Council” will be the last chance for Kirill Gundyayev to hold on to his patriarchal koukoulion. Bearing this in mind, it appears quite logical that the initiative to hold a meeting of the Primates was announced after patriarchs of Jerusalem and Moscow met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Thus, Kirill showed his master that he never ceased his work, while all he needed was government support. Such a meeting also testifies to the fact that the Kremlin leaders see the upcoming meeting of clerics as a strategic event.
That is why the Church and secular Russian authorities will walk any lengths to ensure that the meeting is held, regardless of itsstatus and representation. Religious experts and propaganda outlets in Russia are already spinning the narrative claiming that for the Council to be recognized as Ecumenical, there’s no need to have all Local Churches in attendance, while it’s allegedly not only the Ecumenical Patriarch who has the prerogative to convene it.
It’s clear that it’s not the unity of the Church or peace in Orthodoxy which Moscow is rooting for – they’re only acting in own interests, that is, achieving primacy in the Orthodox world. Russian hierarchs believe now is the most favorable time to realize their ambitious plans. Russians point to what they call another “fall” of Constantinople and brand it a schismatic and a heretic over the granting of autocephaly to the church in Ukraine. Therefore, Moscow claims, Constantinopple can no longer be the First among Orthodox Churches.
It’s not the first time the Church in Moscow has pursued such logic. In the same way, Moscow proclaimed own autocephaly in 1448, which led to 141 years of self-isolation. At that time, the Russian bishops, with the support of the Moscow prince, arbitrarily broke away from the Metropolis in Kyiv, which was under the omophorion of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and elected without consent of the Ecumenical Patriarch their Metropolitan Iona (Odnoushev), expelling the legitimate Metropolitan. Muscovites justified their actions by Constantinople’s “fall” into heresy, as the latter at that time entered into a “union” with the Roman Church. So this was the first example in the history of Orthodoxy of self-proclaimed autocephaly. Accordingly, the Russian Orthodox Church has never obtained a tomos of autocephaly.
Subsequently, after this event in Moscow, the desire of Primacy emerged born, which was also conditioned by the Constantinople’s “fall”, this time from the Mohammedans. That’s, in fact, how the concept of Moscow becoming the “Third Rome” was born. The idea was authored by abbot Philotheus. The essence boils down to the following sentence” “The two Romes fall, while the third one stands, and there can’t be the fourth one.”
It is this idea that Patriarch Kirill and his predecessors have been trying to realize for many centuries. However, all attempts failed.
One such attempt, whose plot is quite consistent with today’s efforts of Patriarch Kirill and his adherents, came 500 years after the proclamation of the Autocephaly of the ROC, namely in 1948. With the support of the Soviet government, in particular, the Secretary General of the Communist Party Central Committee and personally Joseph Stalin, Russian clerics sought to hold in Moscow the Ecumenical Council “to resolve the issue of granting the Moscow Patriarchate the ‘Ecumenical’ title.” Referring to declassified correspondence, researchers say the authorities at the time allocated large sums to “encourage” representatives and Primates of other Local Churches. And all this was happening amid the euphoria of the “great victory of the Soviet Union” in WW2.
However, the Greek Patriarchates turned down the invitation, which resulted in a downgraded status of the gathering. A “Council” turned into a “Meeting of the Heads and Representatives of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches”, which didn’t bring Moscow the desired results. In addition, as history has shown, Stalin took ROC’s failure as a personal offense and a new wave began of persecution against the Church, which was also deprived of government support.
Today, 72 years after the first failed attempt, the Russian Church, having enlisted support of the new dictator, amid the euphoria of the upcoming celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Great WW2 Victory, is once again trying to hold the Ecumenical Council, for the same purpose.
It is clear that at the moment the ROC took into account the mistakes of their predecessors and therefore did not dare to hold a “Council”, instead instigating the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The location chosen is not accidental as it has a certain sacred status, because Jerusalem is the mother of all Churches, the place where Christ preached, and where the Christian Church was born. That is why the Moscow sees Jerusalem as the best place to solve global church issues, and it’s not for the first time, either. After all, the Soviet church “upgraders”, so hated by the ROC today, also sought to hold the Ecumenical Council in Jerusalem back in 1925.
Today, however, the ROC is in no hurry to name an upcoming gathering in Jordan an “Ecumenical Council”, opting for a cautious “meeting,” which also shows that Moscow took into account the mistakes of their predecessors, who were too careless with terminology. The Soviet clerics sought to hold the meeting as a rehearsal about 12 months before the Council. However, it didn’t happen as expected.
So far, the ROC has been acting very cautiously, and in 2017 they held a kind of quiet rehearsal of this Council, when Moscow pompously celebrated the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the Patriarchate. At that time, the ROC gathered most of the Primates and representatives of all Local Churches in a power move aimed at Constantinople following the latter’s failure to bring all top clerics together for the Cretan Council of 2016. While the rehearsal went well, it’s unclear if Moscow will succeed in reaching the climax of its arrogant desires.
The stakes are high, including for Patriarch Kirill. However, it is possible that this Council will have the same consequences as the previous one did, which will infuriate the Kremlin chief – and that’s when Kirill will be kicked out from his top post and the ROC will have to forget about government support. As they said on one of the panel shows on Ukrainian TV, “Ignorance in historical issues does not absolve from responsibility”.