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(Un)Holy networks and tending the flock

September 7, 2016

A month or so ago, the blog wrote a few lines for Intersection (an all too infrequent occurrence due to lack of self-discipline on the part of the blog) regarding the increasing use of influence operations by The Kremlin (in Ukraine and further afield).

A few weeks ago, as August is a quite month with many erudite people on holiday, Intersection published it, probably for lack of anything better due to numerous holidaying authors.  It can be found here in English and here in Russian.

Within it the following prophecy was written – “The march was not without controversy with many in Ukraine perceiving the march of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchy to be nothing short of a Kremlin influence operation within the country, whether planned or co-opted.

The Kremlin has a habit of getting Ukraine seriously wrong, twice erroneously betting upon Viktor Yanukovych, the spectacular failure of Novorossiya, and the war in the Donbas has now turned into a war of exhaustion rather than providing swift leverage to actually change the orientation of Kyiv or, more importantly, the will and determination of the Ukrainian people to withstand The Kremlin.

As such, the march by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchy is far more likely to become a test of the Orthodox Church than it will be a test of the Ukrainian State.  The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchy, is now likely to benefit from an enlarged flock at the expense of the Moscow Patriarchy.

The march also raises prickly issues for His All Holiness Bartholomew 1, the Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, with increased and intensified lobbying from the Ukrainian political and religious classes to remove the Kyiv church’s subordination to the Moscow Patriarch and grant it autocephaly to the Orthodox Church.  Should Kyiv eventually be successful, not only would a Kyiv Patriarchy radically reduce an instrument of influence for Moscow, there will also be many ungodly issues relating to property and earthly riches within the Ukrainian territory.”

The blog, for the sake of full disclosure is not a member of the Orthodox flock – all official institutionally archived documentation relating to matters Godly insofar as organised religion is concerned records Catholic (of the Roman variety) with regard the author.

However this entry is not about theology or religious practices, nor belief (in a spiritual sense).

What organised religion provides beyond such celestial matters is an earthly network.  An earthly network containing more than its fair share of unholy Pharisees.  A network that can therefore be employed for both good and evil.  The Nazi ratlines can hardly be thought of as a particularly divine purpose for a such a Catholic network.  Nor indeed was the KGB (now FSB) infiltration of the Russian Orthodox Church a particularly confidential environment to bare one’s soul – lest a case of sins possibly being forgiven if you trespass where and when told to as (never ending) penance.

The Presidential speech at the opening of the new Verkhovna Rada session, a speech perhaps notable for what is not present as much for what was,  robustly and directly took aim at the prickly issues within the above quoted prose.  Issues now unquestionably faced by the Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.  President Poroshenko stating  “I think, all understand that we will not observe indifferently the interference of another state into our church affairs, its attempts to use in its own interests the feelings of the part of Ukrainian orthodox.

Dear People’s Deputies, I would like to thank you for the address of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as a Primate of our Mother church concerning issuing Tomos of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Such step was and remains necessary, taking into account the tradition according to which the position of the secular power in such issues is important for Ecumenical Patriarch. We took into account this tradition, and, I hope, His All-holiness heard us.

The polls that demonstrate that more and more orthodox Ukrainians would like to have, as it is in most of the orthodox countries, the only one local Ukrainian autocephalous church, were also taken into account.

At the same time, I would like to assure you that autocephaly does not mean appearance of state church. Nothing will be changed in the constitutional principles of interaction between the state and religious organizations and no one will limit the freedom of conscience. Each Ukrainian has and will have the right to believe in God in his own way and go to his church.”

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 1

The unfortunate Bartholomew 1 is now faced with very public and very direct advocacy from Ukraine from a sizeable number of the Ukrainian Orthodox flock, its clergy, and the very top of the nation’s political leadership – and undoubtedly he is also subject to equally robust lobbying against freeing Ukraine from both the Moscow Patriarchy and from within The Kremlin.

A Ukrainian autocephaly will have significant repercussions for the Moscow Patriarchy if such Ukrainian legitimacy from Constantinople is forthcoming.  As an agent of influence the Moscow Patriarchy would certainly diminish with a legitimate and equitable Ukrainian alternative for the devout when/if sanctioned by the Bartholomew 1.  The Kremlin will not be pleased, and neither will its security services.

However, (geo)politics and allowing the “network” to be infiltrated and/or used by the Kremlin spooks aside, there are also the vast earthly materialistic considerations of property and treasure at risk for the Moscow Patriarchy within Ukraine.  The question of “theo-politics” will raise its head over such church assets should the Moscow Patriarchy yoke be officially removed.

(Cynically, whilst the Catholic ratlines smuggled Nazis through the church network, perhaps the first indications of a favourable outcome from Bartholomew 1 for Ukraine will be when the Moscow Patriarchy clergy are caught trying to slip icons and other church valuables over the border to Russia.)

His All Holiness Bartholomew 1 has a very significant decision to make.

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