Thousands gather expectantly in Kiev’s Independence Square as the rising smoke from burning churches heralds what could be the dawning of a new era. Hearts beat fast and heat rises from the multitude despite the cold. Hundreds of clergy and religious, many of them under house arrest or watching from prisons or hospitals, join the rest of the Orthodox world in anticipation of the answer to the question on everyone’s mind…
DO WE HAVE A POPE?
“Anticipation” might be better called “trepidation.” It’s a shaking the Church has not faced for almost a thousand years: a renegade patriarch, attempting to parlay his honorific primacy into absolute ecclesial power.
From 800 AD on, the Roman Pope was the undisputed primate of the West and protector of the Holy Roman Empire. His power was guaranteed by the Caesaropapist innovator Charlemagne and his Frankish Army. In the West, it was absolute.
This is what Bartholomew seeks to accomplish in the East. His Charlemagne is Petro Poroshenko, the virulently anti-Russian Ukrainian President. Poroshenko’s entire force structure now marches behind Bartholomew’s invasion, including his Volunteer Militia commander, who blithely proclaims that, “hunting UOC priests is pleasing to God.” Yes, you read that right: hunting.
Russia’s suspension of communion has not deterred Bartholomew. For that matter, neither have Constantinople’s three-hundred-year-old Compact of 1686, which affirmed Ukraine as the Russian Patriarchate’s canonical territory, or his Church’s own liturgical calendar and diptychs, or his own statements on the matter. Sadly, he is equally undeterred by the chaos, the bloodshed, and the desecration of churches his actions have caused.
Bartholomew’s invasion has occurred over the objections of every other Local Church. He has ignored them, in apparent confidence that “objection” is the only action they will take. He has clearly staked a claim to absolute authority over all of Orthodoxy, including a “right” to set up shop wherever he pleases, and even to create new Churches, by fiat and force of arms.
This leaves the question: “Do we have a pope?” squarely in the hands of the Local Churches, themselves. How will they respond?
Since Constantinople is ignoring them, not to mention the canons, should the Churches suspend communion with her and convene a clarifying Council, say, under Alexandria? Many seem to think so. The alternative is to continue to verbally (and ineffectually) object, thus conceding to Bartholomew his desired pontificate. And effectively ending Orthodoxy’s 2000-year pilgrimage. A new Church, embracing the papalist heresy, would rise from the ashes.
God’s Will, perhaps? Or would we have simply saved the gates of hell the trouble, and prevailed against ourselves?
Fr. James Rosselli is Rector of Saint Joseph of Arimathea Orthodox Church and House of Prayer, a Western Rite ministry of ROCOR. He is author of The Transformed Life: Living and Growing in Christ, an e-book published by the American Orthodox Institute and available on Kindle, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble Nook.