The Second Great Schism- and the fourth overall in the eastern world -continues as the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest of the Orthodox Churches, has formally cut ties with the Greek Patriarch of Alexandria, the second of the five ancient Patriarchates.
The Russian Orthodox church has cut ties with the head of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria following his decision to recognize Ukraine’s new independent Orthodox church.
The Russian church’s Holy Synod ruled late Thursday to rupture all links with Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All Africa.
It noted, however, that it will remain in communion with those clerics of his church who didn’t support the decision.
The Holy Synod also decided that its parishes in Africa will be removed from the Patriarchate of Alexandria’s jurisdiction and made directly subordinate to the Russian Orthodox church’s head, Patriarch Kirill.
The move follows January’s decision by Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who is considered first among equals in Orthodox patriarchy, to grant independence to the new Orthodox church of Ukraine, severing its centuries-long ties with the Russian Orthodox church.
Many Ukrainians had resented the status of the Moscow-affiliated church. The push for a full-fledged Ukrainian church intensified amid a tug-of-war between the two ex-Soviet neighbors that followed Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
The Constantinople Patriarch’s move angered the Russian Orthodox church, which cut ties with the Istanbul-based Patriarchate. The decision to grant independence to Ukraine’s church has split the Orthodox world, with some churches supporting it and others criticizing the move.
The Eastern Orthodox Church in Africa represents a small fraction of Egypt’s Christian Eastern Christians, the majority of whom belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, which is part of the Oriental orthodox communion of churches, which only recognize the first three ecumenical councils. (source)
There are almost no Christians (comparative speaking) under the direction of the Greek Patriarch of Alexandria, as most of the Christians in Egypt are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is part of the Oriental Orthodox Schism that split in 451 AD along with the Armenians and Ethiopians over the Monophysite heresy.
The move by Moscow is essentially symbolic, and while I and Ted have pointed out how the separation of the Ukrainian Church is clearly political, Moscow’s insistence on Ukraine being a part of the Russian Orthodox Church is also political because while all Christian denominations partake of the political realm, the Orthodox Church is, per the words of Patriarch Anthony from 1395, inseparable from the concept on Empire because Church and State are one. This differs from the Catholic sense in that while the Church partakes of the state, she also does of the people, and so binds and separates both. This is also the issue with Protestantism, except that Protestantism lacks apostolicity whereas the eastern churches have it.
This schism has been opened for over a year now and is getting a lot worse, for if there has not been separation as in this case, there has been silence from other Orthodox Churches, as the infighting continues to grow. Yet the interesting irony of this is that if one were to bring up the Catholic Church, it is almost guaranteed that “orthodox unity” would emerge just like with Protestantism, whereas the main “protest” is against the Catholic Church but fighting vigorously among themselves, including as few have pointed out here, the question as to the veracity of the Churches themselves.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople, also known as the ‘see of St. Andrew’, St. Peter’s brother, has been called as such since ancient times. After the destruction of Constantiople in 1453 by the Ottomans, many people fled to Moscow, and thus Moscow began to style herself as the “Third Rome”. However, this also was destroyed by the Communists during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. But even before that time, while the Eastern Church had been associated with the Byzantine Empire, the nominal “transfer” to Moscow was likewise inseparable from the expansion of the Russian Empire and thus possessed an inherent political dynamic.
By contrast, the Catholic Church, while having associations with national governments, never has had the Protestanteqsue relationship that the Orthodox have with their governments. Thus when England, Germany, Holland, and much of Northern Europe rebelled against the Church, while it was a very sad thing, the Portuguese, Spanish, and later French brought the Church around the world, and while having ties to the governments were never one in accordance with them. Thus there was no “Spanish Catholic Church” or “Portuguese Catholic Church” save for the Catholic Church buildings in those nations who served the people but were all, as Sacred Scripture clearly points out, under the umbrella of the see of Peter upon which Christ promised in the Gospel of Matthew that He would build His Church and which the gates of the netherworld would not prevail over.
From a political viewpoint, this just represents the continued fracturing of the Orthodox world and the further isolation of Russia as a political entity. However, the consequences of this will be very serious, as this is creating essentially two orthodox churches- those with Moscow, and those with Constantinople -and both will claim legitimacy. The situation is further exacerbated by the national changes taking place in Russia as well as the Balkans, with the pressure from a rising Turkey and migration from the Middle East and Africa there but in Russia with the mass movements of people from Central Asia, mostly of Muslim extract and who are generally speaking, not filling up the orthodox churches, but who are building mosques.
The problems of the Catholic Church, while well-known and serious, are not tied to issues of national identity, and if anything, the Church is not only becoming “browner” by the conversion of many peoples from the Middle East and Africa, but due to her universalism as well as the words of Sacred Scripture, she is not going to disappear. However, the Orthodox Churches are in a far more precarious state, for as they are inseparable from their host nations, if the nations change, while the churches may still survive, they may become effectively impotent in terms of any position in society, being just titular and ancient relics of the past.