Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios has wrapped up his successful week-long visit to northern Greece that was crowned with a visit to Mount Athos, home to the oldest surviving monastic community in the world, where he marked the 30th anniversary of his election to the Ecumenical Throne.
On top of being the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, Vartholomaios is also an excellent ecclesiastical diplomat. He thus avoided pouring oil in the flames which already burn in the worldwide Orthodox Church. He requested neither the deportation of Russian monks from Mount Athos, as some circles had expected (or perhaps desired), nor the evacuation of zealot monks from the Esphigmenou Monastery (the Esphigmenou order of monks has broken away from the 19 other monasteries in the all-male community and refuses to recognize Vartholomaios as the head of the Orthodox faith).
After all, the Istanbul-based patriarch has made known where he stands on these issues and things are now in the hands of the Greek state, which has the authority to implement the law and court rulings. Vartholomaios did not play into the hands of those who had been eager to see images circulating on international media of zealot monks clashing with riot police on Mount Athos; or of black-clad monks that are illegally residing on Mount Athos being forced onto ferries from the port settlement of Dafni and being sent back to their homeland.
Vartholomaios is able to see the big picture; and he moves in a deft diplomatic manner on the ecclesiastical chessboard. He realizes that the Orthodox ecclesiastical map will be different in the wake of the Ukraine war
The patriarch’s visit, rather, projected a message of unity at a time when global Orthodoxy is threatened with a rift because of the divisive reaction of Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church to the “diabolical,” as Vartholomaios described it, war being waged by Russian President Vladimir Putin against fellow Orthodox Ukraine. Kirill, “Putin’s altar boy,” as Pope Francis called him in an interview, has launched an attack on all fronts aimed at bringing the different Orthodox churches under his control. Should he fail to control them, the aim will be to bring them down or simply divide them in order to prevent them from challenging his objectives and imperial visions – which happen to be the same as those of the Kremlin.
Vartholomaios is able to see the big picture, and he moves in a deft diplomatic manner on the ecclesiastical chessboard. He realizes that the Orthodox ecclesiastical map will be different in the wake of the Ukraine war.
The Moscow patriarch is trying to tailor this map to Russia’s interests and to the detriment of the ecumenical center of Orthodoxy, which it fights on all fronts. Using the Serbian Patriarchate as a tool, Moscow is trying to manipulate the churches (as well as the faithful) of other Slavic countries such as North Macedonia and Montenegro. Meanwhile, it seeks to intervene inside the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria and Greece in a divisive and underground manner, making use of pro-Russian priests.
Vartholomaios’ actions are guided “for the union of all,” which is also the constant prayer of the Orthodox Church.