Orthodox church schism is mutated virus, says Albanian bishop


Eastern Europe


Archbishop Anastasios (right) and the Russian Patriarch Kirill in better times, in April 2018. Photo EPA, Malton Dibra

The split in the Orthodox church family is like a virus with many mutations, says Archbishop Anastasios from Albania. Denying the “crisis” is similar to saying there is no Covid-19. The leader is calling for “urgent treatment and vaccine”.

The Ukrainian conflict is causing a schism in the church at the moment. Anastasios said that he had been calling for healing from the early decisions around the Ukrainian church. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, granted autonomy to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kiev Patriarchate in early 2019. Bartholomew is, so to say, the ‘Pope’ of the Orthodox churches. That decision was never accepted by the Moscow Patriarchate, which still has the majority of the churches in Ukraine.

In the past weeks, the Russian church has made new steps by accepting 102 priests from Africa and creating a church province in the region that belongs to the Patriarchate of Alexandria. The African priests had asked for this because they disagreed with the decision of Alexandria to recognise the autonomy of the Ukrainian church. A next step might be doing the same for the Russian speaking people in Turkey, part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Unity very important for the Orthodox

All this is creating unrest in the World Orthodoxy. The church’s unity is very important for this church family, much more than for other groups like the Protestants.

“Since the beginning of the church crisis in Ukraine”, the Albanian Archbishop said, “we have emphasised, orally and in writing, that time does not heal church division and schisms. On the contrary, it deepens and intensifies them”, Radio Sputnik reports.

The recent decision from Moscow “confirms the original fears”, he adds. Some people deny a schism, but that is “similar to the theory that there is no coronavirus. A schism with many mutations is obvious. Urgent treatment and vaccine are required, which are determined by the apostolic tradition: reconciliation.”

Moscow broke with Constantinople

In 2018, Anastasios asked for a pan-Orthodox council before deciding about the independence of the Ukrainian church. He was supported in this by the Patriarchs of Moscow and Jerusalem. As a result of the decision by Bartholomew, the Moscow church stopped contact with Constantinople, as Ria Novosti reports. The Archbishop is asking for such a meeting again now.

The Orthodox Times publishes the articles and declarations by Anastasios on the matter and says that the bishop speaks about an “ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine”. “The scandal and the weakening of Orthodox testimony as a result of this schismatic activity are obvious. This is a painful scenario,” stressed the Primate of the Albanian Church.

There is no split

The head of the Kiev Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphanius, denies a schism in the church. “There is no split in the Orthodox world”, he says, according to the web portal RBC Ukraine. He admits that the Russian church has stopped contact with the centre of the church family in Constantinople, but many other national churches did not.

Like the Russian tanks in Prague

The Ukrainian portal Kyiv Orthodoxy publishes an article by the church journalist Andreas Laudaros, saying that the Russian Orthodox Church is just full of powerplay. Her action has nothing to do with spiritual service, he writes. He says that the Russian dogma bears a “striking resemblance to the raid of Russian tanks in Prague in August 1968”, he says. Or, in other words, the church’s handling is “American shock and awe”.

The Russian church is powerful, large and has “almost endless resources”. “We cannot say for sure whether it remains the Church.”



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