Editor’s note: Monday, the Christian world was rocked by the news (old/broken link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russian-orthodox-church-breaks-ties-with-orthodoxys-leader/2018/10/15/e0f7f032-d09e-11e8-a4db-184311d27129_story.html?utm_term=.1621c5b5a175) that the Patriarchate of Moscow, which governs the Orthodox Church of Russia, was breaking its ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
While the history behind this is long and complex, its effects today cannot be ignored or easily dismissed. Millions of Christians around the world could ultimately be affected — especially those in the world of CNEWA.
Here’s a brief Q &A with Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D. , in which he addresses some of the questions we had about this break and its significance.
Okay. So the patriarchate in Moscow has announced it is breaking relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. What does that mean?
Initially it means that the Orthodox Church of Russia will no longer pray for the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. It can develop to the point where Russian Orthodox Christians will no longer be able to attend the liturgies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and that Russian Orthodox bishops and priests will not be able to concelebrate liturgies with those Orthodox churches in full communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In other words, they are no longer in full communion. It is technically an excommunication.
Why are they doing this?
Because the Ecumenical Patriarch has begun the process which leaves room for a fully autonomous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The Patriarch of Constantinople, who is considered the “first among equals” in the Orthodox communion of churches, traditionally has the right to do this. The Moscow Patriarchate, however, believes that Ukraine is part of its ecclesiastical territory.
What are the immediate effects of this?
Probably cessation of talks and relations between Moscow and Constantinople.
How does this impact those we serve?
CNEWA works in Ukraine where there are four Christian — three Orthodox and one Catholic — churches. While working primarily with the Catholic Church, CNEWA maintains good relations with the other churches. This will be greatly complicated and hostilities both old and new might surface.
Has this happened before?
Yes, this has happened before. Tragically, schisms remain a seemingly unavoidable part of Christian history. There were schisms after most of the Ecumenical Councils of the first five centuries; there was the schism between the East and West in 1054 and the great schism in the west brought on by the Reformation. Also, there have been schisms in the last two centuries involving other patriarchates, but these were healed eventually.
Why should we care?
A divided and mutually hostile Christianity is contrary to the will of Christ and undermines the ability of the church in preaching the Gospel. It took almost 1500 years to begin to heal the schisms of the first five centuries; discussions to heal the schism of 1054 are sporadic and of very varying success; the divisions of the Reformation, while showing some tractability, are still strong. This could have a lasting impact on any efforts to advance Christian Unity. With this in mind, we should fervently pray — as Jesus did in John’s Gospel — ”that all may be one.”