[Note: this analysis has been written for the Unz Review]
Warning: the following text was written specifically to help Christians make sense of the “hijacked vocabulary” used in the discussion of the current attempts by the Empire to take control of the Orthodox people of the Ukraine. For atheists/agnostics this discussion will offer just some irrelevant and boring mumbo-jumbo with no relevance to the lofty realms of enlightened modern positivism.
The latest move by the Anglo-Zionist Empire in the Ukraine is truly an exceptionally ugly and dangerous one: it appears that the Patriarch of Constantinople will soon grant its full independence to the so-called “Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate”. This move is openly directed against the current biggest ecclesiastical body in the Ukraine the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate” and it will almost certainly lead to bloodshed and massacres similar to what took place in Odessa on May 2nd 2014: the Ukronazis will use force (riot police or even Nazi death squads) to forcibly seize the churches, cathedrals, monasteries and other buildings and properties currently owned by the Moscow Patriarchate.
There are many articles written about this development, but almost all of them are written from a secular point of view, even when written by supposedly Christian or Orthodox authors. The paradoxical element here is that a lot of theological terms are used by authors who have only a very vague idea of what these terms really mean. I have no desire to enter into this conversation and use the pseudo-spiritual reference framework typically used by such commentators and what I propose to do today is much more modest: I want to explain the original, Christian, meaning of the terms which are (mis-)used on a daily basis.
The reader will then decide how to apply them, or not, to the current crisis.
I will begin by the very basics.
The term “Christian” can mean one of two things: first, it can designate any person or group calling itself Christian. When used in this sense, the word “Christian” includes not only the all main Christian denominations, but also Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, the Mormons or even the 17% of British Christians who do not believe in the resurrection of Christ. Basically, in this context the term has no objective meaning whatsoever and this is how the term is mostly used nowadays.
There is also another use of the word “Christian”. This second definition is based on two very ancient statements. The first by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (4th century) and the second one by Saint Vincent of Lérins (5th century). The first one says that the Christian faith is the faith “which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian“. The second one says that this faith only includes that “which has been believed everywhere, always and by all”. By these definitions, “Christianity” is an objective category not a “free for all”. The key words affirming this are “if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian”. These ancient definition preclude not only any form of dogmatic innovation, they also imply that words can be used either in a truly Christian sense or not. There is no middle-ground here. This belief, which was shared by all the Church Fathers and all the members of the ancient, original, Christian Church has tremendous implications, especially for what is called “ecclesiology”.
The term “ecclesiology” refers to the Christian theology concerning the Church. In other words, the teachings of Christianity about what is, or what is not, the Church (and what is, or is not, within the confines of the Church) is an objective corpus of beliefs, of key tenets, of dogmas.
What I will do next is to explain the meaning of a number of concepts when used in this second, original, context and contrast their original meaning with the basically secular and pseudo-Christian meaning which is so often attributed to them nowadays.
One more thing, for the sake of clarity: I will be writing the word church with a lower case “c” when dealing with a building (as in “the church of Saint Paul in the city’s downtown”) and with a capital “C” when dealing with an ecclesiastical jurisdiction/body (as in the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate”); in this latter case the use of the word “Church” with a capital “C” will in no way imply any recognition of legitimacy.
1. Canonical, canonicity and “recognized”
Most authors nowadays speak of a “canonical” Church as being a “recognized” Church. This is a circular definition, by the way: a Church is canonical because it is recognized and it is recognized because it is canonical. This begs the obvious question: recognized by whom?! The answer is also obvious: either recognized by the country’s civil/secular authorities or recognized by other “canonical” Churches.
From a truly Christian point of view, this is utterly absurd. Since when do civil/secular powers have the expertise or, for that matter, the authority to recognize or not recognize Church “A” as “canonical” and Church “B” as “non-canonical”?! And what does “canonical” mean anyway?
“Canonical” simply means “in conformity to the Church canons”. As for the word “canon” it is simply the Greek word for “ruler, measure”. Simply put, something is “canonical” when it is in conformity with the dogmas, rules, decrees, definitions and practices proclaimed and adopted by the Christian Church, primarily by means of decisions by the various recognized Church councils (I won’t go into the issue of what constitutes a recognized council since that will take too much time). You could say that something is canonical if it conforms to the the rules of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria and Saint Vincent of Lérins quoted above. This, again, is an objective category which cannot be twisted and turned into a free for all. So let’s look at one such canons and see what it says. The 31st Apostolic Canon decrees that:
If any bishop makes use of the rulers of this world, and by their means obtains to be a bishop of a church, let him be deprived and suspended, and all that communicate with him.
This ruling of the apostles themselves has later been recognized and confirmed during an Ecumenical Council. The 3rd Canon of the 7th Ecumenical Council says:
“Every appointment of a bishop, or of a presbyter, or of a deacon made by (civil) rulers shall remain void in accordance with the Canon which says: “If any bishop comes into possession of a church by employing secular rulers, let him be deposed from office, and let him be excommunicated. And all those who communicate with him too.”
You see the problem now? How can anybody consider that civil/secular authorities are competent to “recognize” this or that Church as “canonical” when the canons of the Apostles and of a Ecumenical Council (the most authoritative Church Council) specifically state that if a bishop has obtains his “legitimacy” (office, rank, diocese or church properties) from civil/secular authorities he should be deposed, thus making him totally illegitimate? From a canonical point of view, the recognition of civil authorities is not only meaningless, it could, depending on the exact circumstances, constitute grounds for deposition!
The reality is that during much of the 20th century what we have seen is the civil/secular authorities of various countries supporting one Church against another for purely political purposes. This was especially prevalent in the Communist countries. Some bishops were considered “friendly” and others “enemies of the people”. The secular authorities then simply used brute force (usually in the form of riot police) to evict the latter and replace them with the former. The “friendly” bishops then took control of all of the churches, monasteries and other properties and declared themselves to be legitimate and canonical because they were recognized and because they were placed in control of a lot of very visible and historical real estate.
Needless to say, that kind of dependence on the goodwill and support of civil/secular authorities placed the “friendly” Churches into a complete subordination to the state, exactly what the civil/secular authorities wanted in the first place. The fact that, unlike in most similar cases before the 20th century, the civil authorities in the 20th century were not only secular, but openly and militantly atheistic created a qualitatively new phenomenon: the subordination of bishops and Churches to the will of anti-religious secular regimes. Nowadays, of course, most governments in nominally Orthodox countries do not declare themselves as militant atheists, but the subordinate relationship of the official “state Churches” to the secular authorities has remained unchanged (even if their official rhetoric has been adapted to the new realities).
The bottom line is this: all this talk about “canonical” and “recognized” Churches is a self-serving canard used by those Churches who have obtained their official status by completely uncanonical means. In the overwhelming number of cases, when individuals or organizations use the term “canonical” they never mean “in conformity to the Church canons” simply because they are both ignorant and indifferent to what the Christian teachings really says about these matters.
2. Bishops, Patriarchs and wannabe “Eastern Popes”
Who is the biggest Ortho-boss, the bishop, or maybe the Archbishop, or the Metropolitan, or the Patriarch? It must be the “Ecumenical” Patriarch, right? Since he is “Ecumenical” he must be like an “Orthodox Pope”. Check out his official title: “His Most Divine All-Holiness the Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch“. God is, by definition, (only) “divine”. The Third Person of the Trinity is (just) the “Holy” Spirit. But the Patriarch of Constantinople is his “most divine and all-holy”! Wow – he surely must really be some kind of super Ortho-Pope!
There are only four main “ranks” in the Church: faithful, deacon, presbyter and bishop. All the rest are just honorific and/or administrative titles including reader, subdeacon, chanter, acolyte, protodeacon, archdeacon, protopresbyter, archpriest, archimandrite, mitred archpriest, protosyngellos, archbishop, metropolitan and patriarch. The rank of emperor, by the way, was associated with the rank of subdeacon and the emperor would receive the Mysteries (aka “sacraments”, the Eucharist) to the side of the altar with the subdeacons. None of these titles indicate any qualitative difference or mystical superiority.
The Church, while essentially mystical (thus referred to as the “theandric Body of Christ”) also has an administrative/organizational aspect which must exist within the social and political environment of the society in which it operates. For example, while in mystical terms all bishops are equal, it was obvious from the beginning that being the bishop of the imperial city (be it Rome or Constantinople) was a far more important office than being the bishop of some remote and scarcely populated diocese. Furthermore, while all important decisions were made in councils (local or ecumenical) day to day decisions could be made by bishops specially invested with that authority (sometimes assisted by a few more bishops). But except for honorific and administrative reasons, all bishops are fundamentally equals, invested with the same charisma (gift) and authority. The Latin expression primus inter pares, or “first among equals”, expresses this reality.
This also fully applies to the “Most Divine All-Holiness the Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch” who had a honorific primacy simply because he was the ruling bishop of the capital of the Empire, just as the ruling bishop of Rome (the “Pope” in Latin terminology) had before him. I won’t go into the history of how the (tiny) Patriarchate of Constantinople used its former position to claim some kind of universal jurisdiction, this would take too much time, but I will simply note that two events which occurred on the 15th century have irrevocably made void any and all claims of primacy (even of honor) by the Patriarch of Constantinople: the False Union of Florence in 1439 AD and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 AD.
[Sidebar: the Russian Orthodox Church, by the way, could lay claim of being the “Third Rome” as successor to the First and Second Rome since the First Rome fell to the Barbarians in 476 and fell into apostasy in 1054 while the Second Rome fell into apostasy in 1439 and to the Ottomans in 1453. I won’t go into the merits of this argument, but I will just point out that it absolutely infuriates the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The fact that the Russian Orthodox Church is by far the biggest of all and the fact that Moscow and Saint Petersburg were the capitals of the last Orthodox empire only further serves to create tensions, and even outright hostility, between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Moscow Patriarchate. This is all very relevant in the case of the current political struggle over the Ukraine and the role of the Patriarch of Constantinople in it].
For all these historical and political arguments, the reality is that the Christian Church has always been conciliar in nature: that is to say that councils (local or major ones) were both the mode and the sole authority by which important decisions could be taken, never any single individual. The example of the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem (in about 50 AD) was the first one to set such an example and it has always been followed by those faithful to the original Christian ecclesiology ever since.
3. The “right” for each country or nation to have its own Church
This is one of the most outlandish and yet also most frequent assertions made by almost every commentator out there: that there is some kind of “right” for each nation or country to have its own, independent, Church. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The reality is that Christianity (like Islam, by the way) absolutely rejects any categories based on ethnicity, race, tribe or anything similar. Here are just a few quotes from the New Testament proving this:
- There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28)
- For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free and have been all made to drink into one Spirit (Gal 5:6)
- Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God (1 Cor 7:19)
- For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit (1 Cor; 12 :13)
But the clearest and most definitive statement on this issue is this one:
- Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all (Col 3:9-11).
So national/racial/ethnic/tribal categories are lies (contrast that with the racist interpretation of the Scripture by rabbinical phariseism aka modern “Orthodox Judaism”!), becoming a Christian renews your knowledge (that is make you adopt new categories) and in Christ all are one (no more national/racial/ethnic/tribal for true Christians).
This teaching have always remained at the core of the true Christian dogmatic anthropology (i.e. teachings about the nature of man). In fact, what is nowadays called “phyletism” or “ethno-phyletism” (nationalism or tribalism) has been condemned as a heresy by a pan-Orthodox council as late as in 1872 (this council was held in Constantinople, of all places, what sad irony!) For those interested in the historical context for this council, you can download a PDF about it here: http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/The-Synod-of-Constantinople-1872-The-Oecumenical-Synods-of-the-Orthodox-Church-Fr-James-Thornton.pdf.
[Sidebar: It is ironical – and sad – that so many of those who today engage in “hunting the Jew” by means of putting silly parentheses around (((names))) and who call themselves Orthodox Christians completely fail to realize two thing: first, they are using categories which the Church has denounced as heresies and, second, they are using the exact same categories as many of the (Orthodox) Jews they are denouncing. Frankly, this is rather pathetic and only goes to show the fantastically low level of spiritual education of those who fancy themselves as “defenders of the Christian faith” and who, in reality, have not even the vaguest basic notions about the faith they pretend to defend]
The truth is that modern national/racial/ethnic/tribal categories are just re-hated pagan categories and that those who use them today, including priests and bishops, are simply catering to the pagan, post-Christian Zeitgeist for petty political reasons. Furthermore, it is also true that since the fall of the last Orthodox Empire in 1917, the Orthodox Church has been undergoing an immense crisis brought along primarily by the infiltration of Greek Orthodox Churches by Freemasons (see here for some background information) and the infiltration of the Russian Orthodox Church by agents of the Bolshevik regime in Russia (see here and here for some background information). The combined effects of these three phenomena (1917 Revolution, Masonic and Bolshevik infiltration) has resulted in a deep crisis from which most Orthodox Churches have yet to recover and which often makes them easy pawns in political battles (I discussed this issue in some detail in my article “Why Orthodox Churches Are Still Used as Pawns in Political Games”).
As for rank and file Orthodox Christians, they are sometimes induced to come to the wrong conclusions about this because they believe (correctly) that, unlike the Latin Papacy, the Orthodox Church does not have one single super-boss and one single administration. They also believe (correctly) that, unlike the Latin Papacy of the past, the Orthodox Church did not have a single “official” language of worship and that, in fact, Orthodox ritual practice is rather diverse and often includes local cultural influences. These correct beliefs, however, bring them to the entirely false conclusion that each Orthodox nation has some kind of “right” to have its own independent (“autocephalous”) Orthodox Church.
The fact that much of the clergy of the “official” and “recognized” (that is “state approved” vide supra) Orthodox Churches is more than happy to comfort them in these beliefs does not help.
As for the secular leaders of the state, they are more than happy to have an Orthodox Church which is both 1) totally compliant and 2) nationalistic.
What is lost in all this madness is the Orthodox truth, the wordview of the true, original, Christianity, and the “spirit of the Fathers” (or phronema in Greek) which best expresses it. It is also no wonder that the most corrupt Orthodox hierarchs, like the Patriarch of Constantinople, are more than happy to pretend that Orthodox ecclesiology does somehow grant them the authority of some kind of “Eastern Pope”.
This is truly the “abomination of desolation standing in the holy place” (Matt 24:15 & Daniel 9:27)!
Those Orthodox Christians who nowadays succumb to the heresy of ethno-phyletism would do well to remember that besides the, shall we say, “geographical” meaning of the words of Christ (in reference to Jerusalem, of course, but also Rome, Constantinople, Moscow, Kiev and many other cities), there is also a second, spiritual meaning well explained by Saint Maximos the Confessor:
“From the passions embedded in the soul the demons take their starting base to stir up passionate thought in us. Then, by making war on the mind through them they force it to go along and consent to sin. When it is overcome they lead it on to a sin of thought, and when this is accomplished they finally bring it as a prisoner to the deed. After this, at length, the demons who have devastated the soul through thoughts withdraw with them. In the mind there remains only the idol of sin and which the Lord says, “When you see the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place, let him who reads understand.” Man’s mind is a holy place and a temple of God in which the demons have laid waste the soul through passionate thoughts and set up the idol of sin. That these things have already happened in history no one who has read Josephus can, I think, doubt, though some say that these things will also happen when the Antichrist comes.”(2nd Century on Love, #31).
Here we have arguably one of the greatest Christian theologians and philosophers of all times reminding us that the “abomination of desolation” will also happen in the minds of those who, suaded by demons and passions, stray away from that “which has been believed everywhere, always and by all” and, instead, let their minds and souls be polluted by the post-Christian nonsense of modern nationalisms. Nationalism, of course, is not only an modern idol, but it is also a rather crude form of self-worship, yet another truly satanic practice!
Conclusion: what this is all about and we can can do about it
The first sad reality is that none of this is about Christianity, Orthodoxy, ecclesiology or anything else remotely connected to any notion of truth at all.
This is about buildings, real-estate, political power, money, influence, indoctrination and all the other key “values” of our times.
The second sad reality is that innocent and well-intentioned people will suffer and even die as a direct consequence of the immoral actions of a few power-greedy individuals.
The truth is that a religion-fulled civil war appears to have already been set in motion and that there is nothing we, simple rank and file Christians, can do about it, at least not in secular terms. In spiritual terms, we can do two things: we can, of course, pray and we can refuse to become part of a debate in which every single concept dear to us is misused, distorted and perverted. For that, we need to understand that the abomination which is taking place before our eyes did not just pop-up into existence ex nihilo and that there are profound spiritual roots to the almost universal adoption of non-Christian categories by most, albeit not all, Christians. Christ Himself reminded us that “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:9). We also know that the wisdom of this world is “foolishness with God” (1 Cor 3:19) and that it comes “not come from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:15). Then how can we then still operate by using worldly categories or worldly interpretations of patristic concepts?
What we can, and must, do is follow Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s famous appeal and “live not by lies” even if most of our contemporaries, including many Christians (even clerics!) have given up on the very notion of “truth”. In Solzhenitsyn’s words “So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood — of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies — or to shrug off the lies and become an honest person worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries”.
After all, if we are truly Christians, then we can remember Christ’s promise that “blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt 5:6) and, hopefully, this will give us courage to “stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess 2:15).