08 January 2019

Khanya on Orthodox and Third World politics

Pope Theodoros II of Alexandria visiting Good Hope, South Africa
Image courtesy the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria

Please do read Khanya today, gentle readers.

Steve Hayes, all-around great writer, has outdone himself this time and put forth a tour de force essay, Third-World Africa — again!, laying his finger firmly on the point of a subject that yours truly has generally only succeeded in skirting around. I have attempted to broach this subject in the past, with pieces such as Preaching non-alignment from the pew and Meekness and generosity are the way out, but have never managed the kind of analytical clarity Mr Hayes brings to bear. I mean, of course, Orthodox church politics throwing Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-systems theory into a sharp theological relief.

Mr Hayes holds forth boldly that we have one of the Orthodox Churches, Constantinople, directly aligning itself with NATO and the capitalist First World, along with the erstwhile bodies in the Ukraine that had splintered away as well as the Uniates. (Yes, Uniatism is very much aligned with the First World.) The Russian Orthodox Church, aligning itself with the government of Russia, seems to be attempting to resurrect the order associated with the Second World. Meanwhile, the rest of the Orthodox Churches, including Antioch, Alexandria and Serbia, reflecting (broadly) the politics of the Arab world, the African continent and the Little Entente / Non-Aligned project of Yugoslavia respectively, are taking the line that whatever political victories might be gained in a contest between Moscow and Constantinople, they are not worth the price of schism in the rest of the Church. They hold no truck with the political machinations of the Russian state, but if push comes to shove they will side with the established canonical church bodies over the newer political ones, just as Jamâl ‘Abd an-Nâsr and Salâma Mûsâ reluctantly sided with the Soviets more of the time than they sided with the West.

Even more interestingly, Mr Hayes cuts straight through the rhetorical fog of nationalistic quasi-remembrance. In what seems to me to be a direct reproach to the incessant and asinine triumphalist identifications of Poroshenko to Vladimir the Great (which ring of the equally-inane comparisons by American evangelicals of Trump to Kuruš), Steve Hayes instead makes two far less-flattering comparisons. Drawing upon the Anglican background which we share, he likens Poroshenko to Henry VIII; and drawing upon his own experience as a South African he likens Poroshenko to Kaiser Matanzima, who broke away from the Methodist Church, banned Methodists from the country and established his own national Methodist Church in Transkei. He also places the modern history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the context of Soviet and post-Soviet history, with some rather unsetting parallels in that direction as well.

In the end, Mr Hayes, as he should and as is meet and right, holds with the views the Patriarch of his own Church, His Divine Beatitude Pope Theodoros of Alexandria. He is concerned primarily with the health of the Church in his own country, and is rightly troubled by the brewing threat of a schism between the Orthodox Church’s First and Second Worlds. He notes that these conflicts do not happen in a vacuum, and that the stresses and scandals it will place at the foot of the Church in the less politically-influential places of the Third World will not be insignificant.

Again, having tried to speak on the topic myself, I have little else to add to this excellent piece. Please do take the time to read the entirety of Mr Hayes’s incisive, erudite and (more to the point) wise essay. There is far more to the Orthodox world than Moscow and Constantinople, and we need to be attentive to that wisdom if we are to cure ourselves of the various imperial hangovers.

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