Signposts are wonderful things. How could we travel without them? Imagine the Interstate system without signs. Chaos. Yet how many people today refuse to see, let alone read, the multiplicity of signs that they pass daily? Could this be the reason our lives are so chaotic?
It is also true that along with signposts, our daily trek is also cluttered with billboards that distract us from our intended destination. It’s almost to the point that we have forgotten that we have a destination. Which would explain the aimless wanderings of so many today. It’s hard to concentrate when we are constantly distracted by so many messages. Especially when so many of them appear to be legitimate signposts that can be believed on their face. But signs that actually have no real truth behind them. How do we tell the difference between today’s signposts and those expanding numbers of billboards?
First we have to recognize that there is a basic difference between them. How simple, right? Well, if that’s the case, what explains our apparent inability? Is it our own stupidity? Our own cupidity? Or is it the sophistication of those who design and produce these alternate messages that divert us from our intended route? Why can’t the answer be ‘all of the above’? That’s the right answer for most multiple-choice questions today. I never believe ‘one-size fits all’ theories. Except when it comes to this question: do we all have the same intended destination? Intended? By whom? By our Maker, of course.
Now if you’re an evolutionary believer, you can quit reading right now, because you believe we’re all potentially different species. After all, who knows what evolutionary trees we descended from over these aeons past? And please, don’t make me laugh at the supposed ability of reconciling evolution with creation. Be a man, and admit that whichever way you believe on this question, it’s one or the other. As Einstein once said, ‘God does not play dice‘. Sure, he was referring to quantum mechanics as a theory, but what is the difference, really?
If you have preserved anything of a mystical element in your belief in you and your fellow man’s reason for existence, you may be interested in pursuing this piece because I’m going to tell you about an upcoming signpost that you should be looking for. A signpost that will tell you something of importance. One that will confirm a lot of things I’ve said. Or else, if it never comes, will confirm that I’m an idiot.
What is this coming signpost? Something like this: ‘All Unia Traffic Must Exit‘. It means this: the Patriarch has won. At least, won this round. And it’s a real knock out. Not some TKO. (anyone remember what RKO Pictures was named for?). If this happens, will the Patriarch’s opponent wake up in time to fight another round? Or will he just lay there, as Kyrill claims the Big Belt outright? Or will his manager just throw in the towel before the clock runs out?
Now, who are the Uniates, and why do they have to exit this roadway of life? Who would decree this order? And finally, where does this exit lead to? Let’s do the history first. And in the holy-day spirit of mercy and cheer, I will be short. I promise.
Think of a simple Venn Diagram where the two circles overlap. The Uniates lie in the area of the overlap. The two circles are the West and the East. Both religiously and secularly. In this particular instance, we are concerned with the religious element of these colliding spheres. The secular ramifications follow closely behind.
The geographic bounds of the overlap are, roughly, from eastern Poland to western Ukraine. What a coincidence! That’s the exact same area of the longest continuing and greatest geopolitical tension between East and West. And for how many decades? Or is it centuries?
This area is the ecclesial battlefield that is occupied by those Slavs who have held to their eastern religious rites, while committing western religious wrongs. At least, wrongs in the eyes of their Eastern Orthodox neighbors. That is to say, these are the Greek Catholics. Greeks liturgically, in communion with Rome.
Geopolitically, the issue before us. A long-standing issue, by any measure. And right at the center of today’s tension between the political East versus West. Ukraine.
Where exactly is Ukraine? Depends on who you ask and when you measure it. Is it before Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 (after almost 200 years of undisputed possession)? Is it Ukraine before WWI, when Poland owned much of it (and Russia owned Poland)? Or after WWII, when Ukraine got bigger and Poland moved West (and Germany got smaller)? Ukraine is and always has been at the center of all Slavic fights. The fight continues unto today.
These are political fights. And what is the surest way of sparking a political (and military) fight? Religion. And nothing is nastier than a family-religious fight. That’s what this was, and still is. This fight goes all the way back to Photius and the schism he started in 860 or so. The first Protestants.
They weren’t heretics, like the Aryans or the Nestorians. These were schismatics. Same dogma, same sacraments, same priesthood. Different leadership. The root of all struggle. Who shall lead, and who shall follow. Photius and all his Greek Orthodox followers said the same thing another ‘great leader’ said. Non serviam.
You can say what you want about this schism from any angle you chose, but let me ask you this simple question, Pilgrim. Is the world better off for it? Did it lead to the defeat Islam? Did it free the Holy Land? Did it lead to the wars of The Reformation and its aftermath? Did it aid and abet the French Revolution? Certainly so. Did it lead to WWI, and thereafter to WWII? You get the point. I hope.
Leadership counts. And multi-leadership fails. That is to say, there can only be one head on one body. Otherwise you’re attending the freak-show at the circus. And the results are entirely predictable.
My prediction is that the struggle to be the sole head for the one body will continue until one side wins. The question in my mind is not ‘Who are the contestants?’, but rather ‘What are the tactics?’. Ceterus paribus, this will tell us who will win.
Let’s look at how the East is winning in the religious war that is behind the political/military war that has been raging, on and off, in Eastern Europe (read Ukraine) for 500 years.
Here’s the short story. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the 500-pound gorilla in Eastern Europe after the Reformation (and for a while before, in fact). It was big, populous, wealthy and militarily strong. And Catholic.
It was also a constitutional monarchy, had a parliament, and was multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. Again, it was fully Catholic. It held the Reformation at bay in its neck of the woods. Quite successfully, even unto today. While I have previously criticized the concept of constitutional kingdom as being an oxymoron, that is true only to the extent that there was not a higher check upon both the King and the People. And that would be The Church. Wherever this was the case (think Austro-Hungary) the kingdom prospered. Whenever this wasn’t the case (think Angland) it led to disaster, with one arm or the other of government (King or Parliament) subjugating the Church to its own ends and to the detriment of the other arm of the state. And the people, of course. Always, the people.
Poland-Lithuania did well for itself, the Church prospered, and the state grew in size. Even to the point of encompassing much of western Ukraine. Sure enough, there were many parts of this empire that held to the Eastern Catholic Rite. But they were still Catholics, in full communion with Rome. This was the cement that kept the empire glued together. Because no part of the empire, whether racial or cultural or religious or political, was effectively above another part. Because they were all beneath the external head of Rome. The head that brought peace to all of its parts.
This, not surprisingly, was quite irritating to the two giants that flanked this empire. Germany and Russia. Over the next two centuries (approximately 1770-1970) they would collide and collude to dismantle this prosperous polity and divide the spoils. That is to say, to loot the Church. Henry did quite well by this tactic. Once again, the Greek Catholics of Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine were in political play. Forget the borders on the map of the day. The real border in this tug of war was the line that showed the locations of the (willing) members of Eastern Catholic Churches versus Eastern Orthodox Churches throughout this no-man’s land of ecclesial strife.
There is the salient point. Which members were willing? Which local congregations had been coerced, by the political rulers of the day, into being members of the larger Catholic or Orthodox world? It is a rarity to find any congregations that were forced to turn towards Rome in their ecclesial loyalties. But it was common practice to force, gently or fiercely, the Eastern Catholics of Ruthenia (a.k.a. Ukraine) to turn to Moscow for their ecclesial allegiance. Stalin was simply the most egregious example. But hardly the only one. When he forced the Ukrainian Catholics into the Russian Orthodox Church, no one was surprised.
As for those who will object to my characterization of the relative benevolence of Rome versus the rule from the East, remember this: the Patriarchy of Moscow didn’t begin until 1589. Why would Eastern Rite members of either the Catholics or Orthodox in Ruthenia (Ukraine) look towards Moscow to safeguard their patrimony? After all, both Poles and Ruthenians (Ukes) alike were the previous victims of Russian ‘brotherly Slavic love’.
Fast-forward to today and scan the horizon for any actual changes in position. There’s only one that I can see. It happened in 1962: Vatican II. That great Religious Woodstock Festival of Peace and Love! That great ecumenical gathering of everyone religious, in any sense of the word. The surrender of Rome to the Wide-World of Olympian Sports opened the door to the sacrifice of Polyxenia. Ruthenia, sacrificed to the shade of Achilles, the Greek. The result of this attempt to appease the gods? The same as the shift from the theme of the The Illiad (open warfare) to the theme of The Odyssey (concealed deceit). The result was the Fall of Troy.
New Troy (Holy Rome) is at risk in her attempts to appease the shade of Achilles the Greek. And we appear only too willing to sacrifice the Ruthenians upon the foot of the burial barrow of Achilles. How can the result be any different?
Since 1962, the drumbeat of ecumenical appeasement has never abated. In fact, it’s intensity only grows with every passing year. Whence the fruit of this appeasement? That’s not to say that there hasn’t been movement. Certainly, there has. But it has been from West to East, and not all of it has been bad. Though not an inch has been given from the East. Not one inch. The major sticking point is the same point the Eastern Orthodox have proclaimed for the past three centuries: the existence of The Uniates. The sign posts are there if you bother to look. It’s going to happen again: the Uniates will be forced to kneel before Moscow, and not Rome. But will Rome be complicit in making this happen again?
Read Point 25 of the joint declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kyrill in Havana last year. These two men of God met in an airport and had a business conference. No prayers led, no Masses said, no time for that stuff. What was their business? They were trading players, Komrade. Just like all team owners do.
Who got traded? You’ll know when you get to that sign that says ‘All Unia Traffic Must Exit‘. Where does that exit lead to? To the Orthodox Farm Team. To ecclesial Siberia. Welcome back to the Gulag, Komrade. No more looking to Rome if you know what’s good for you!
What does all this mean? That there is continued motion and undying emotion. This issue of The Unia will not die. It is forever tied to the geo-political forces (a.k.a. ‘nations’) that have formed themselves around these mystical issues over the past millennium. You can argue, if you like, that religion is simply another expression of political willpower. Or, like me, you can believe the reverse. Regardless of the nature of the impetus to act, we both seem to agree that these two matters, religion vs. politics, are inextricably linked. Even if the one is simply a mask for the other. We’re simply arguing about who is the face and who is the mask.
We won’t solve that puzzle today. What we can do is to realize that when a certain religious signpost appears on the roadside of life, it could have serious political ramifications. That being the case, I’ll repeat myself here and say it once again. When the Uniates are forced off the road to Rome, there’s a big storm coming ahead.
It’s so much easier to talk about tanks and ships and planes. But we need to look at the deeper reasons that put these material things in play. If we’re smart, we’ll pay attention to the religious signs that often presage the political (and then military) actions they trigger. Start looking for those signs that say there might be an even bigger roadblock ahead. When everyone must exit.