The epoch-making rupture this week in the Orthodox Christian Church has made some commentators refer to it as the biggest event since the Great Schism in the 11th century.
The latter historical watershed almost a millennium ago was when the unitary Christian Church split into Western and Eastern hemispheres, each subsequently centered on Rome and Constantinople, respectively.
That timescale suggests the magnitude and gravity of this week’s rupture, when the Russian Orthodox Church decreed that it could no longer be in communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate.
The Russian move was prompted by Constantinople’s controversial recognition of breakaway Ukrainian Churches, which have been in schism with the Moscow Patriarchate for several years now.
To many people in the Western world these developments may seem rather obscure, or even inconsequential. But they are a direct result of geopolitics, which are further fueling international tensions.
In particular, the dynamic follows the US-led NATO military alliance’s relentless attempts to shift former Soviet countries into Washington’s geopolitical orbit.
The use of religion as a vehicle for imperial conquest is certainly nothing new. Centuries attest to that unseemly business.
More recently, when the Soviet Union broke up in the early 1990s, the Vatican (Rome) and Western political powers exploited the dismemberment of Yugoslavia to undermine the Serbian Orthodox Church, and to encroach on Russia’s sphere of influence, religiously, but primarily, politically.
The Ukrainian Churches’ schism since the early 1990s with Russia has been driven by NATO and Kiev’s partisan political agenda to repudiate Moscow. The Cold War didn’t die. It was resurrected through religious means.
Since the CIA-backed coup in Kiev in 2014 by Neo-Nazi factions, the sectarian religious tensions have intensified, with the Ukrainian Churches expropriating properties and sanctities belonging traditionally to the Russian Church. Historically, the Moscow Patriarchate has included Kiev under its religious jurisdiction.
Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) is the titular head of the wider Orthodox Church. Its move earlier this month to grant recognition to the Ukrainian Churches as independent from Russia was reproached this week by the Moscow Patriarchate as unlawful and a breach of its clerical authority. That move has now led to the epoch-making rupture between Russia and Constantinople, which oversees the Greek Orthodox Church.
The present schism is an extremely regrettable fracturing of the entire Orthodox Church, which numbers some 300 million people among several countries. The Russian Patriarchate, while announcing the split with Constantinople this week, has expressed a desire for common sense to prevail in the future and for a reconciliation.
Nevertheless, there are serious implications from the latest schism. There is a real danger of an even sharper sectarian polarization in Ukrainian society and more broadly across Eastern Europe. Despite the breakaway Churches under Kiev, many Ukrainians still profess adherence to the Russian Orthodox faith and the Moscow Patriarchate.
It is ominous that the Kiev Patriarchate is now demanding Ukrainians to repudiate the Russian Church. That will further sharpen the West-East divide within that country. The sectarian tensions reflect the growing belligerence from the current Kiev political leadership towards the ethnic Russian people of Eastern Ukraine.
How deplorable that supposed religious aspirations are adding to the drumbeat of war.
Again, it must be stressed that Washington and NATO’s agenda of enlisting Kiev into its ranks is a key factor in why the religious tensions have burst into a rupture. That, in turn, is leading to more divisiveness and conflict across Ukraine.
The irony here is that Washington and other Western capitals accuse Russia of interference in their countries, when in fact the much more extant interference is from the West in Russia and its region, as can be seen from the momentous schism unfolding in the Orthodox Church.
Another factor is that the Orthodox schism is consonant with Washington and NATO’s agenda of trying to isolate Russia geopolitically. By fomenting a rupture in Orthodox unity, it is calculated that the Russian Church and the political leadership of President Vladimir Putin will be seen as more isolated internationally.
This NATO-inspired assault on Russia’s religious standing is without doubt connected to the war in Syria. Russia’s military intervention in Syria since late 2015 is viewed by Orthodox Christians in the region, as well as by other faiths, as saving that country from a covert, dirty war sponsored by NATO using barbaric Islamist proxies.
The latest intrigue to undermine and fracture the Orthodox Church, Russia in particular, is a very dangerous, not to say reprehensible, assault on the internal stability of countries, ranging from the Middle East, Africa to Asia.
By undermining religious institutions and forcing sectarian polarization, the fabric of societies is being tampered with. That potential instability is being propelled by Washington and NATO’s agenda of trying to weaken Russia under Putin, who is viewed as a serious obstacle to US-desired global hegemony.
The unholy intrigues in the Orthodox Church are beckoned by completely areligious and profane political objectives. It is a shame that the Constantinople and Kiev Patriarchates are evidently willing to make an expedient, selfish pact with the devil of foreign imperialist ambitions.