Staunton, Mar. 22 – Constantinople Patriarch Bartholemew continues his campaign against the ROC MP, visiting Lithuania to formalize the creation of a parallel Orthodox church there subordinate to himself and reaching out to Belarusian Orthodox living in Lithuania in a sign that he wants to do the same thing with Orthodoxy there.
Bartholemew’s latest move will leave Lithuania in the same position as Estonia, with two Orthodox churches, one subordinate to Constantinopole and the other to Moscow and open the way to organizing either in Belarus itself or among Belarusians abroad something similar for that country (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/02/lithuania-may-soon-have-two-orthodox.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/04/orthodox-in-lithuania-may-soon-have-one.html).
There are relatively few Orthodox in the three Baltic countries and so moves there may not matter to Moscow all that much, but Bartholemew’s threat to expand his reach into Belarus is more serious. Not only are most Belarusians Orthodox but Vladimir Putin views that country as an integral part of his “Russian world.”
Intriguingly, specialists on Orthodoxy have argued that Belarus is more likely to follow the Estonian path than any other if it moves away from Moscow in religious terms. Now that Lithuania has done the same, their predictions look even more compelling (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/orthodoxy-in-belarus-more-likely-to.html.)
But the symbolism of Bartholemew’s latest moves in Lithuania is serious as far as Moscow is concerned. According to one Moscow commentator, it leaves the Moscow Patriarch like Mikhail Gorbachev during the parade of sovereignties: “he forpmally rules but already has little influence” (moscowtimes.ru/2023/03/23/konstantinopol-vmesto-moskvi-a37821).
And the editors of Moscow’s Nezavisimaya gazeta are if anything even more alarmist: they argue in a lead article that what Constantinopole is doing could end not only with Moscow losing its control over all Orthodox churches in the former Soviet republics but in losing control over Russia itself (ng.ru/editorial/2023-03-22/2_8686_editorial.html).
That could happen, the editors suggest, if the Constantinopole church in Lithuania promotes the restoration of Lithuanian Rus, which was subordinate to Constantinopole and controlled much of Orthodoxy in what is now Russia up through the 16th century. If that happens, the Moscow Patriarchate could in principle find itself isolated in its own country.
And that in turn could lead to a new great schism in the eastern church, this time between the Greeks and the Russians, with the Greeks in the person of Bartholemew controlling far more of the eastern church than the Russians and making Constantinopole not Moscow the center of world Orthodoxy.
It seems unlikely that things will go that far, but the failure of the Moscow Patriarchate to respond forcefully to what is going on and the fact that in the church world today as in the geopolitical world Putin has upended by his invasion of Ukraine, the old rules don’t apply and no one knows what the new ones are
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