By Paul Goble
Bartholemew, Orthodoxy’s ecumenical patriarch who has already infuriated Moscow by his grant of autocephaly to Ukraine’s faithful, has now reportedly taken another step that will only deepen the divide between the Russian Orthodox Church and the portions of the Orthodox world which look to him.
According to as yet unconfirmed reporting, the ecumenical patriarch has asked Athens to approve his plans to expel from monasteries in Mount Athos, long a center of monasticism in the Orthodox world, all ethnic Russian priests – there are fewer than 100 — and others more numerous allied with Moscow. Bartholemew reportedly is calling them “a nest of Putin agents” (russian7.ru/post/v-rpc-opasayutsya-chto-russkie-monakhi-mog/ and stoletie.ru/rossiya_i_mir/amerikanskaja_metla_392.htm).
The Moscow Patriarchate has already denounced this move, but if Bartholemew does carry it out, such a step will echo broadly among Orthodox Russians more generally because Mount Athos has long been an important pilgrimage site for the Russian faithful. And that will cement permanently the divide between Moscow and Constantinople.
Not surprisingly given the current climate, both the ROC MP and allied Russian commentators have blamed this move on the United States, arguing that the universal patriarch is not an independent religious leader but rather a cat’s paw for American imperialism and its Russophobic attitudes.