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Constantinople was unwise to antagonize Moscow, leading Oxford-based Orthodox theologian says

Constantinople was unwise to antagonize Moscow, leading Oxford-based Orthodox theologian says
Patriarch Bartholomew was wrong to declare Ukraine is no longer subject to the Russian Orthodox Church as the conflict hurts the entire Orthodoxy, believes Metropolitan Kallistos, a leading bishop of the Constantinople patriarchy.

Kallistos (Timothy Ware) is an Oxford-based bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and one of the most respected Orthodox theologians today. In a recent interview with Slovo Bozhie (the word of God), a Russian Orthodox news website, he acknowledged that the escalation was initiated by Constantinople.

I feel that it was unwise of the Patriarch of Constantinople unilaterally to say the agreement of 1676 is cancelled. After all, as Aristotle says ‘even God cannot change the past’

He is referring to the 17th century letter, which acknowledged the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church to appoint the metropolitan of Kiev, the highest bishop in Ukraine. In October, Constantinople announced it was revoking this right as part of its effort to create an independent Orthodox church in Ukraine, which would include the recognized Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which answers to Moscow, and two self-proclaimed churches that are considered schismatic by other churches.

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Kallistos said that, with all due respect to Patriarch Bartholomew, he agreed with the Patriarchate of Moscow that “Ukraine belongs to the Russian Church.”

“This is a fact of history that Ukraine has belonged to the Russian Church. I believe therefore, it has been a mistake for the Ecumenical Patriarch to give autocephaly to the two schismatic bishops – Philaret and Makary,” he said, referring to the leaders of the two unrecognized churches in Ukraine. The same decision of Constantinople in October declared them legitimate priests in defiance of Moscow’s position to the contrary.

The Russian Orthodox Church responded to the development by breaking up communion with Constantinople, arguing that since they recognize the two schismatic priests, the entire patriarchy is spiritually tainted. Among other things, the breakup means that priests belonging to the two jurisdictions are no longer allowed to conduct religious services together, at least from Moscow’s standpoint. Kallistos believes it to be a great mistake.

“I am troubled by the actions of the Patriarch of Moscow, Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Church. I am disturbed that they have broken of communion with Constantinople,” he stressed.

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The reason is not only that a quarrel between two of the most influential Orthodox Churches goes against the brotherly spirit they should promote. Kallistos says, for Eastern Orthodoxy, Holy Eucharist and the Divine Liturgy are the foundation of church unity, which is not the case for other branches of Christianity.

“We do not look to the secular state to keep us together. It is the Holy Mysteries which hold us in unity,” he said. For comparison, the Catholic Church is to a large degree bound together by the authority of the Pope, “a juridical rather than a liturgical principle of unity.” And the Protestants find common ground in emphasis on personal faith of the believers, he explained.

The metropolitan suggested that Constantinople and Moscow should seek to overcome their differences through a convention of primates of all Orthodox churches, since their schism affects the entire Orthodox Christianity.

In the interview, Kallistos also spoke about Eastern Orthodoxy’s history as a state religion from Byzantium times, his views on the life of the Russian Orthodox Church under communism and in modern Russia, the ecumenical movement in Christianity, his personal path to becoming an Orthodox priest and his fondness for Russian culture.

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