10/26/2018, 09.58
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Moscow and Constantinople struggle on Mount Athos and in the Kiev Caves

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The breaking of the communion between the two patriarchates led to the closing of pilgrimages to Mount Athos by Russian pilgrims. The "Society of Russian Athos", which also includes Putin, had donated up to 500 million dollars so far. Poroshenko prepares to transfer  the jurisdiction of the Caves of the monks Antonij and Feodosij in Kiev to Istanbul.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - The breaking of the fraternal relations between Moscow and Constantinople is the epilogue of a long diatribe between the two main offices of Orthodoxy, but also the beginning of a phase that promises to be turbulent. 

Since October 15, the day on which the Patriarchate of Moscow declared the suspension of Eucharistic communion with the representatives of the ecumenical patriarchate, the declarations of the two conflicting parties follow each other, showing the lack of respect for canonical rules, traditions and principles of ecclesial life, in addition to submission to political interests that involve not only Russia and Ukraine, but also the United States and other powers interested in the status of Eastern European countries.

The first painful result of the quarrel is the closure of Mount Athos to Russian pilgrims, as the spokesman of the Patriarch of Moscow, Aleksandr Volkov, also reiterated on October 23. He argued that the ban applies only to participation in the sacraments, but he suggested to the faithful "to abstain from journeys to Mount Athos, as long as this state of confusion persists". 

In fact, the loss of the "holy mountain" can greatly disorient the faith of the Russians, who have turned to the monasteries of the Chalkidiki peninsula from the beginning; the foundation of the Athos monasteries is contemporary to the Baptism of the Rus' in Kiev (end of the 10th century), and throughout the Russian history the mountain has always been the source and guarantor of the great renewal and rebirth movements of the Orthodox spirituality for the Russians, as it has been for the past 25 years. The life of Orthodoxy in general, and Russian in particular, is mainly based on monastic practice.

It is no coincidence that over the last few decades the 20 great monasteries and the many hermitages of Athos have welcomed, besides numerous pilgrims, rivers of funding coming from Russia. Inspired by the Church and by Putin's own politics, many Russian businessmen and politicians joined a very elite association, the "Society of Russian Athos", led by former St. Petersburg Governor Georgij Poltavchenko (Putin's trusted colleague at the Kgb during the Soviet years). 

The members of the society can be recognized by a special rosary that they wear on their left wrist, also worn by Putin himself. According to various estimates they have invested  between 200 and 500 million dollars in Athos. Last June, following overly unscrupulous attempts by members of the group to "buy" a good part of the monastic territory, the Greek government had suspended the granting of visas to the Russians.

Also for this reason, in recent days, Metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeev) invited the "devotees of Athos" to transfer the offers from the Greek mountain to the many Russian sanctuaries and monasteries, especially the monastery of Valaam in Russian Karelia, exalted in recent years by repeated visits by Putin and Patriarch Kirill and called "the North Athos". 

The invitation had been addressed previously, without success, but now the hope is for a more enthusiastic response. Funding was also used to organize the major exhibitions of the most beloved relics, such as that of the rib of Saint Nicholas of  Bari in 2017 and even before that of the The Virgin's belt in 2011, coming from the Athonite monastery of Vatopedi. In recent months the pilgrimage to Russia of the relics of the ancient Holy Spiridity of Trimitonte, a bishop of the fourth century and thaumaturg of Cyprus has had great resonance. His remains were transported from Corfù, which is also the territory of the patriarchate of Constantinople, always with the support of the "Athonite sect" of the Russian oligarchs.

Another important event of the Orthodox cult is the annual translation to Moscow of the "holy fire" of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, a miraculous flame considered genuinely and exclusively Orthodox. The fire of Holy Saturday is immediately transported to Russia, in recent years by the planes insured by the Foundation of St. Andrew Protoclite, led by the former president of the Russian Railways Vladimir Jakunin, another faithful of Putin. The sacred fire is brought into all Russian churches as a guarantee of the true faith, arousing great fervor among the Orthodox people. These days the declarations of officials and journalists on television and in the Russian media are constantly incessant, ensuring the continuity of the miraculous ignition, which will not be stifled by the schism with the "traitors" of Constantinople.

In Ukraine itself, the great fear of the Russians is the loss of the first historical Rus' monastery, the Lavra of the Kiev Caves. Founded in 1073 by the monks Antonij and Feodosij, linked to Mount Athos, the great monastery preserves the relics of the first monks in the original caves, and is the first and most significant sanctuary in the whole history of Russian Christianity. At present it is entrusted to the responsibility of the patriarchate of Moscow, even if in it are also monks of other jurisdictions. The Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovnaja Rada, is preparing a project of expropriation, to transmit the Lavra to the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The church of St. Andrew in Kiev, near the Caves, has already been indicated as the seat of the patriarchal Stavropegion that will deal with the autocephaly procedure sanctioned by the synod of the ecumenical patriarchate. If this change of jurisdiction really occurs, there is a real risk that street battles will ensue.


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