Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has succeeded in securing the future of his vision and legacy for global Orthodoxy— long after he is gone.
The “holy trinity” of eparchies, or territories, of The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople— the United States, Australia and Great Britain— are in secure, safe hands.
And as a result, he has succeeded— within a short period of time and in a decisive way— to elect new hierarchs in the Archdiocese of America, the Archdiocese or Australia and the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain.
Archbishops Nikitas of Great Britain, Makarios of Australia and Elpidophoros of America are all considered to be extremely loyal to Bartholomew, personally, as well as to institution of the Mother Church— a loyalty that had unraveled in various ways over the years with the previous hierarchs who held these positions which led to the erosion of the relationship between these important eparchies and Constantinople.
Great Britain and its 100+ parishes had not only fallen stagnant under a beloved— but weary Archbishop Gregory, who retired well into his 90th year, but many in the United Kingdom felt a disconnection from Constantinople.
Bartholomew must see the untapped potential that exists in the British Isles with the presence of a Royal Family with strong Greek Orthodox ties, a powerful community of Greek shipping magnates and their families that call London home, not to mention the successful Cypriot business community that has built and sustained the British Church.
During my visit to London for the enthronement of Archbishop Nikitas as the new Archbishop of Great Britain, I spoke to dozens of faithful who felt that the arrival of Nikitas was a new beginning.
I heard about parish communities in the British countryside that had been “forgotten” by the Archdiocese, as well as an untapped and largely ignored audience of tens of thousands of native Greeks who had arrived on the British Isles over the past decades as a result of the financial crisis.
And having followed Nikitas’ career and exemplary work— Bartholomew knows that Nikitas is the perfect choice to reawaken this stagnant Church.
In Australia, Bartholomew was said to have hand-picked his choice to succeed the late Archbishop Stylianos, with whom relations had been strained for years prior to his death to the point the two hadn’t spoken in years.
Second only to the United States in size and influence, Constantinople’s governance and prestige was greatly diminished— and some will argue even non-existent— in Australia’s massive Orthodox landscape.
With hundreds of thriving communities and more than a million faithful, Australia not only remained separated from the Mother Church for decades, but became fragmented itself, with a confusing patchwork of Archdiocese-owned parishes and Greek-community-owned parishes that the late Stylianos tried to bring under one umbrella.
In Archbishop Makarios, Bartholomew has selected a soft-spoken, humble hierarch who shared his immediate love and affection— and ability to unite— with his new flock upon arrival at Sydney Airport when he famously told thousands gathered that he has arrived as a Greek, but will die as an Australian.
Finally, in the United States, with the appointment of a Turkish-born and raised hierarch in the person of Archbishop Elpidophoros, Bartholomew will immediately strengthen his presence over a restless church with prominent members openly speaking of “autocephaly” or independence from Constantinople.
Elpidophoros spent years building the significance and credibility of Halki, a seminary in Turkey that’s been closed for decades, and using it as the poster-child of a much larger campaign of religious freedom for the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey.
This, as well as his tenure representing the Orthodox Church as the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s representative at the World Council of Churches and other similar global bodies, has enabled Elpidophoros’ interaction with heads of state and other global leaders and grooming into a prominent Church leader able to speak more than a half-dozen languages and lead the American Church, commanding respect from mainstream religious, political and civic leaders alike.
Obviously, the three have their work cut out for them in each of their homes— and quite frankly should focus on that first, before pursuing any global agendas on behalf of Bartholomew.
With the backing of three large, wealthy and politically connected national churches, Bartholomew is able to more easily fulfill his global strategy of welcoming and embedding an independent Ukrainian Church into the global Orthodox fold— a church that is far away from Moscow’s influence.
He can continue to promote a more contemporary and west-leaning (as opposed to Russian-leaning) Orthodox Christian Church that embraces ecumenism and seeks closer ties with the Catholic Church.
Allies in the United States, Australia and Great Britain can only embolden Constantinople’s position in world Orthodoxy, which has been attacked and threatened by the Russian Church’s desire for preeminence and desire to become the “Third Rome”, a move which is boldly backed by a powerful Russian state apparatus spearheaded personally by Vladimir Putin himself.
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