By Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano*
(UCA News) – Nearly a thousand years ago, the most tragic division among the adherents of a once strong Christian religion occurred. The religion founded by Jesus Christ was split into two, the Orthodox Church in the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the West in what is historically known as the Great Schism of 1054.
It was indeed a “counter-witness”, a distortion of the beautiful face of the beautiful Bride of Christ, to say the least.
In our time, the scandal of division within the Orthodox Christian Churches, quite similar to the scandal of division within the Protestant Churches, continues. Who will believe in Christ when the religion he instituted is divided into different groups? Therefore, a “counter-witness”.
What is the connection with the Russian invasion of Ukraine? The Russian-Ukrainian war did not start in 2022. The armed conflict began when Russia annexed Crimea and declared war on Donbass, following the so-called “Ukrainian Dignity Revolution” initiated by pro-Russian protesters and Ukrainian separatist groups in 2014. Crimea and Donbass are internationally recognized as constituent parts of Ukraine.
A religious conflict rooted in the Russian-Ukrainian war spilled over into Southeast Asia in 2018, pitting the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) led by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow against the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul led by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, recognized by many as the “first among equals.”
In 2018, according to Vladimir Legoyda, head of the ROC Synodal Department for Church, Society and Media Relations, the ROC opened four dioceses in Southeast Asia without the blessing of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. They are: Diocese of Singapore (comprising Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia); Diocese of Korea (Russian Orthodox Church) (including North Korea and South Korea); Diocese of Thailand (comprising Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar); and Diocese of the Philippines and Vietnam.
Therefore, ROC opened and operated two parishes in Vietnam, in Hanoi and VÅ©ng TÃ u; some parishes in Indonesia, mainly in Bali, Jakarta and Surabaya; 16 parishes in the Philippines, mainly in Mindanao; and several parishes in South Korea. We’re talking about tens of thousands of Asian ROC members here, including about 6,000 in South Korea.
ROC is today the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches with over 100 million adherents served by more than 40,000 full-time priests and deacons.
This is where the line between the religious and ideological-political dimensions in the complex structure of the different Orthodox churches thins out. The creation of these four dioceses was seen as an attempt to expand Russian reach in Asia as ROC has a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew initiated the Constantinople-Moscow Schism when in 2018 he officially recognized the Ukrainian Orthodox Church or UOC’s independence from the ROC which traditionally claims jurisdiction over the three Orthodox churches of Ukraine, namely: UOC-Moscow Patriarchate-ROC; UAOC or Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church; and UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate, now separate from the ROC since 2018.
Putin, a practicing Russian Orthodox Christian, maintains and has repeatedly announced that Russians and Ukrainians are essentially one people.
To avoid oversimplifying the situation, the three Orthodox Churches of Ukraine mentioned above are said to have completely disagreed with the position of the ROC led by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, which supported and even justified the Russian invasion. from Ukraine. It is in this context that ecumenical dialogue has been complicated by war.
The most recent disagreement between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow was based on Patriarch Kirill’s agreement with Putin’s line of ideological-political reasoning that Russians and Ukrainians are essentially one people and that, to achieve this, it behooves Russia to invade Ukraine to unite the people. As Putin has repeatedly told the world, this is neither a war nor an invasion but a âspecial military operationâ to achieve unity.
Let us remember that Saint John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter of 1988 Euntes in mundum hinted that Europe (also Christianity) has two lungs, East and West. Our Polish pontiff said it with such modesty: âHe will never breathe easily until he uses both.
Since the Second Vatican Council, Rome, through the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has been increasingly pushing ecumenical dialogues with other Christian Churches, especially with the Orthodox Churches. Pope Francis said it emphatically: âThe division among us Christians is a scandal. There is no other word: a scandal.
Passionate about ecumenism, Pope Francis met with Patriarch Cyril of Moscow at Havana airport in Cuba, a historic first meeting between leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the ROC since the Great Schism of 1054.
Unfortunately, the long-awaited second meeting between them in Jerusalem did not take place after Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year. An ecumenical dialogue at the highest level, so desired by the Second Vatican Council and the popes after the council, was canceled until the ROC changed its position and declared that Putin’s ideological-political reason for invading Ukraine is unacceptable and until Patriarch Kirill denounces the “horrific cruelties of war” and condemns the needless killings of civilians in Ukraine.
For some, the cancellation of the second meeting means that Pope Francis has completely cut off the bridges of dialogue between Rome and the Moscow Patriarchate. In my humble opinion, no. This second meeting will resume one day, I am absolutely sure. Despite this and other ideological-political obstacles, the Roman Catholic Church is tireless in its attempt to reconcile with all Christians of different denominations, even if it takes forever, because it is its mandate coming directly from its Founder. who said :
“That all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21).
*Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano is the author of âTHE CHURCH CAN HANDLE THE TRUTH: Mercy Healing Historical Woundsâ (Claretians, 2017). The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.