This article has been published in a special edition of Russia in Global Affairs, May 2019
This article is an abridged and edited version of the paper written for the Valdai International Discussion Club and first published at http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/imperialism-geopolitics-and-religion/?sphrase_id=663844
A very serious rift over Ukraine is now developing between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Russian Patriarchate, the biggest and more powerful among the Orthodox Christian Churches. The immediate reason lies in Constantinople’s decision to recognize an independent (from Moscow) Autocephalous Ukrainian Church, directly affiliated to Constantinople.
From time to time there have been quarrels inside the Orthodox world. But all of them were intra-family, secondary ones. Now we may be witnessing a probable “divorce,” a schism, which, if finalized, may represent the biggest shock Orthodoxy has suffered since 1453, when Turks occupied Constantinople. The homogeneity of the Orthodox world will also be badly affected, as it is very probable that each one of the 14 existing Orthodox Churches will adopt a position of its own. Both sides are advancing various canonical and ecclesiastical arguments to defend their respective positions. We are not going to examine them here. We will instead focus on the accompanying geopolitical factors.
This ecclesiastical crisis is closely connected and interrelated with two strong geopolitical tendencies:
- Cold War II, with Ukraine at its forefront
- The rise of a totalitarian empire of finance, in the context of a deep transformation of the neoliberal era.
The Greek “experiment” (the so-called “revitalization” of the Greek economy by using European banks’ templates) since 2010 must be understood in the context of this rise. The empire is trying systematically to “abduct” Greek institutions, political forces, symbols, even resistance or revolt symbols and subjects, using them against the identities they bear and against Greek national interests.
The War of Civilizations and the Orthodox religion
All that has created very favorable conditions for accelerating the attack against both Orthodox countries and Churches by trying to isolate them, split them and, if possible, abduct them or their leaders and transform them into tools for hostile forces. Samuel Huntington who repeatedly described Orthodox Christians as enemy number two (after Islam).
Huntington is the most prominent, deep and influential Neocon theoretician of U.S.-Israeli imperialism and the rising totalitarianism. He is using religion as his exclusive criterion to “classify” civilizations and to structure and “justify” his neo-imperialistic and racist project for a world dictatorship after the end of the Cold War. A close fellow of Kissinger, he was the architect of “urbanization” of Vietnam by bombing its peasants. In 1975, he was one of the main proponents of neoliberalism in the Trilateral Commission. His ideas have inspired a dozen or so catastrophic wars in the Middle East and they continue to inspire many of the policies of the Trump administration and activities of people like Steve Bannon.
Huntington’s ideas represent a transition from “democratic” to clearly totalitarian imperialism. This creates some problems, as he has to use the language and ideology of the democratic bourgeois regime to express totalitarian ideas. This becomes very clear when he speaks about Greece. Trying to classify the country of Aristotle, Plato, Pericles and the Acropolis, whose language was used to write, for the first time in history, the words “freedom,” “logos,” and “democracy,” as “inferior barbarians,” as he portrays everybody except the West, is downright ridiculous.
Obviously, this is not the only problem Huntington is facing with Greece and Greeks. The second one is that they happen to hold an extremely important strategic place in the Eastern Mediterranean. The third one is that they like from time to time to create havoc with their “anarchic” behavior and their resistance to empires, just as they did with their unparalleled resistance to the Nazis. Huntington admits the difficulty when he writes that Greece represents an “anomaly.” He invents the term ‘Slav-Orthodox’ world in order to avoid, as much as possible, putting together the symbolic values of the countries of Aristotle and Dostoyevsky, thus ruining his whole racist construction.
As I have said above, those are not just simple ideas, but they serve to inspire the wars in the Middle East or the return of the nuclear threat. In the case of Greece, the bail-out programs create the conditions for a Greece (and Cyprus) without Greeks, thus resolving the Huntington problem of the Greek “anomaly.”
Now Greece has crossed the stage of purely economic-political catastrophe and is in the phase of its geopolitical destruction, which includes the destruction of any relationship with traditional or potential allies and friends, like Russia. Before the end of the Greek drama, the victim has to be totally isolated and put in a state of such impotence and despair that he would want to beg for his execution, like Mr. K. in Kafka’s trial.
The Consequences of a Schism
The two patriarchates command roughly half of the international Orthodox community. But a split will leave them with less than half of what they have now. The Russian Church will be pushed into a narrow, Russian or at best Slavic, framework. The consequences for Constantinople will be more serious. It is surprising it seems to be oblivious to them. To put it in a different way, Russia, Greece, other Slavic and Arab Christians together make up a much more influential force than each of them separately.
A schism will be a blow to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, making it more vulnerable, than now, to the Turkish regime and much more dependent upon Washington for its very survival. The position of all Orthodox Churches may be seriously diminished compared to that of the Vatican.
If the (legitimate) ambition of Patriarch Bartholomew I is to establish an ecumenical role for Constantinople, he is running the risk of “killing” it himself for good with his Ukrainian policy. Such a role does not depend so much upon the number of believers directly affiliated to his jurisdiction. It depends more upon the international appeal of his Patriarchate. It will make no good to its reputation, even in Greece, if it is understood as a simple corollary of the American efforts to revive the Cold War, the CIA, and the semi-dictatorial Poroshenko regime, with its neo-Nazi militias.
Any reasonable person would expect the Ecumenical Patriarch, or any sound political, intellectual or religious leader for that matter, to do his best to reconcile Orthodox believers and their Churches in Ukraine, to work for a reconciliation of Ukrainians and Russians, for peace in Europe, and stop the drums of war which are beating in our continent again now. Christianity is, after all, a religion of love, not hate.
The Orthodox World under siege
The teachings of Jesus Christ became enormously popular among the poor masses in Palestine, and later in the entire Eastern Mediterranean, because they provided a convenient antidote to the asphyxiating atmosphere of the Roman Empire, the ancient version of globalization. Nowadays, the key to any church’s influence is putting its weight behind the suffering peoples and nations, above all those who share the same faith. Nowadays, nearly all Orthodox nations are facing a fierce attack from the West and the rising empire of finance, which are seeking to put the whole world under the totalitarian domination of finance.
- The first to experience that were the Serbs, with the Vatican having played an important role in orchestrating the campaign to dismember multinational Yugoslavia.
- Greeks in 2010 became the object of an unprecedented “experiment,” which is leading to their social, economic, political, and demographic catastrophe.
- Russia is facing a new Cold War.
- In the region of South-Eastern Europe, from Cyprus to Ukraine, mostly inhabited by Orthodox Christians, large areas lie in ruins or have been turned into protectorates, oligarchic pseudo-democracies, having even less autonomy than they had during the Cold War. The whole Orthodox world, outside Russia and inside and outside the EU, has been assaulted by a very harsh form of economic neocolonialism, which before 1991 was reserved only to Third World countries.
The very physical existence of those nations is in jeopardy, as a large part of their population is emigrating to survive. We could also speak here of the Orthodox Christian communities in the Arab world, indirect victims of the neocon wars. If those nations want to survive, sooner or later they will have to fight very hard for their survival and in order to do that, they will need to keep all their institutions and symbols, including religious ones. They will need them on their side, not on the side of Western imperialism and neocolonialism. They will also need to cooperate on an equal footing among themselves and with Russia. They badly need Russia, but Russia also needs them, as it has become now the object of Cold War II, a colossal Western effort to encircle and submit Moscow. Such cooperation can be fruitful only on the basis of equality and parity.
The future of Orthodoxy
The analysis above prompts one conclusion. The Orthodox Churches will have a future only as allies of their nations in the struggle for their survival. Currently, the Orthodox world has no alternative to the forces of Western capitalism which are threatening and attacking it. Its capacity to resist will depend to a large degree on its ability to produce such a counter-strategy.
All that does not mean setting the eastern part of the continent against its western one. By defending their interests, Eastern European nations can contribute to the emergence of a socially-oriented and independent Europe, which is absolutely necessary for overcoming the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced in history.