The problems that we currently witness in Ukraine have been in the making for almost one century. Many have spoken from all sides on theological and canonical aspects and far better than I can even aspire to. The problem is complex and I pray to God it is solved with repentance and no schism, for these two things, repentance and schisms, cannot coexist. I want to bring another perspective to the table, more prosaic but in my estimation central not only to the problem of Ukraine but to a whole set of issues whose accumulation have brought us here.
What one leaves unattended tends to deteriorate. This law is so universal that it applies from human relationships to physical laws. Any system, of itself, will eventually deteriorate. Entropy is the mark of death in the cosmos. The Church is no exception. Even though Christ promised the gates of hell would not prevail over His Body, it does not prevent entropy from acting in some way or another; it does not destroy the Church, but it disconnects individuals, communities and even entire regions from the Church. And Pan-Orthodox unit was unattended.
Yes, I know of all the pre-synodal conferences, the patriarchal synaxises. My contention here is precisely that these events not only are not sufficient, they are not even the bare minimum. The Church is the theoanthropic Body of the Christ and because of this formal cause, everything that pertains to being human also applies to the Church. The aspect of humanity that is important here is how the human being cultivates not merely a sense of community, but an actual community. Because even though in a sense a Russian Orthodox in a small village in Siberia is spiritually united to the hipster millennial Texan Orthodox, in a very human way they do not form one community. And that is not true of Americans and Russians only. It is true of Greeks and Slovaks, Romanians and Syrians and sometimes even inside the same country, a reality sadly palpable in the diaspora. The Brazilian philosopher Olavo de Carvalho says regarding nations that identity is the memory of great deeds accomplished together as one people: "What is love for motherland, when authentic and not just a convention, if not the memory of an epopee (an epic poem) lived in common?" asked the philosopher.
Phyletism has risen - as did its rich cousin, cosmopolitanism - for the fact that countries offer this epopee lived in common - and cosmopolitanism offers an epopee of rising above the narrowness of nations and cultures, thus just creating another kind of identity, not so much over common history, but analogous experiences. But it does not mean that the "memory of great deeds accomplished together" is itself a bad thing. Quite the contrary, I contend that no community of human beings, from the friendship of two people to entire civilizations, can exist if in that relationship there is no such memory of great deeds accomplished together. If the two friends do not have their own little saga, they will not truly be friends yet. And if they forget they had it, or if it loses its meaning to one of them, they will cease to be friends.
The Orthodox Church has denied herself, and her faithful, this powerful community building reality. In so many forms and ways. First it is not enough that great deeds were accomplished together to form a community. There must be the memory of the great deeds and of the facts that they were accomplished together. Whilst for individuals memory requires only reflection and maybe annotations, for communities, specially large ones like the Church today, it requires broader tools: it requires a common language, common literature, common institutions. And here lies the temptation to build these common institutions putting them above the properly sacramental ones like other churches. That was the solution found by Rome, putting the Church of Rome as the unifying institution of all the local churches. Papal developments are more of a particular instance of this error than the core of the error. Protestantism on the other hand formed its identity on the second of the pillars just mentioned: common literature, Sola Scriptura, while allowing institutions to multiply to the point where not only "church" has become synonym with "institution" but it is scorned for this very reason.
I believe we can learn with the mistakes of the past. First by admitting that, although the Orthodox Church remains the One undivided Body of Christ, it has been attacked by phyletism and cosmopolitanism (the equally unreasonable opposite reaction to phyletism) because, by loosing a common language, common literature and common institutions, it relied either on national or international institutions to organize itself in the world. The several local churches literally depend either on international organizations or on national state and non-state institutions to be able to organize themselves in worldly affairs. There is a World Council of Churches that several churches participate, or the American National Council of Churches, but where is a global Pan-Orthodox Forum where lay people, men and women, priests, deacons, bishops and even patriarchs can discuss the affairs of the Church? How can the key persons of the Church *not* be influenced by external forces if there is no internal stronger equivalent? And this is not a matter of being sold out or not. It is a matter of concrete circumstance: he who owns the means of actions decides what actions shall be taken. The institutional church has consistently relied on the means of actions of non-Church persons and institutions. At most, they have their own means for internal affairs, but we are talking about the global arena here. We simply do not have our own inter-orthodox means of action. I am not talking about any need for something like a standing council or synod, but the need for *several* different Pan-Orthodox institutions. One for example, could be a standing forum of Pan-Orthodox dialogue. Not a committee, not a pre-conciliar anything. Something like the WCC, but internal to the Orthodox Church to discuss, identify and propose solutions to misunderstandings and problems. Also Our theologians, priests and bishops teach in secular, Catholic, Protestant even Muslim universities with reasonable harmony, or teach in the several national seminaries and universities, but is there one Pan-Orthodox University in the world? A place of research and studies with academics and scholars formed in their respective countries and who come together bringing their view to form a common mind on things Orthodox and where all the issues would be openly and academically debated? And why have only one? Why not several Pan-Orthodox universities and seminaries each one with their own vocation and charisma? Can we really blame anyone if they get passionate when problems like Ukraine arise, if venues like these, which are the proper sources and educators of civilized productive debates do not even exist?
And what to say of the fact that the Orthodox literature of one Orthodox country is as foreign to another Orthodox country as any heterodox or even non-Christian literature? Have you noticed how the great Orthodox writers of each country are classified as "Greek writers", "Russian writers", despite the fact that in them their faith is the driving aesthetic force and they would better be classified as "Orthodox writers" and their nationalities is just a local spin on that? With the transformation of English from a local language to become the global second language, we have a unique opportunity of, for the first time since Greek stopped being the sole second language of the Mediterranean, to build common literature and the memory of great deeds accomplished together.
The greatest intellectual sin of the movers and shakers of the Orthodox world is that there is not a massive effort through different institutions to translate into English the colossal amount of documents from the late first millennium and the whole of the second millennium. And I am not talking only about "great works". I am talking about *everything*: canons, homilies, writings of saints, even the ones who are not "popular", letters, treaties, debates, everything. There should be also efforts from several historians to write histories of the Orthodox Church precisely from this perspective of "great deeds accomplished together". Even under the Ottoman, the churches under the Turkocracy communicated among themselves and with the Slavic churches. Unfortunately, for most people, that is the history of the Greeks under the Ottomans, the history of the Serbs under the Ottomans, the Russians, the Ukrainians under Constantinople and then under the Russians. What is the surprise that none of these people, even when recognizing spiritual union, cannot come to an agreement if those are their histories, with no memory of many other great deeds they accomplished together as the One Orthodox Church?
The Austrian author Hugo von Hofmannsthal stated two ideas that are very relevant. The first is that "nothing becomes reality in the political life of a nation that was not present in its literature as spirit". It is the political life of the Orthodox polis that is hurt and threatening sorrowful consequences. The very real and concrete theoanthropic unity of the Church, which does not rely on any single person, community or text, cannot be commonly imagined because there is no common literature, no common language and no common institutions. It means that even when lay people or even hierarchs meet, they are coming from very different memories, concerns and understandings, which lead to situations such as the one we currently witness, not to mention the different opinions on ecumenism and many other "hot topics". The second idea from Von Hofmannsthal is that "depth must be hidden on the surface". We have profound depths, but they must come to the surface. The absolute omission with the Fathers of the Church of the second millennium (from every Orthodox nation), the sepulchral silence about the Pan-Orthodox (ecumenical) councils after the Seventh, the non-existence of Pan-Orthodox Universities and seminaries, nay, of Pan-Orthodox departments of History, the lack of motivation to translate everything to English and make English the diplomatic and academic language of the Orthodox Church, these are in my opinion the root causes not of the problems of the Orthodox Church, but for the considerable delay in solving many of them, in a time when communications are almost instantaneous, when convening a council with less than 1,000 bishops from all over the world seems an impossible task although there are events and congresses with many times that amount of participants happening every day somewhere in the world. We do not have councils not because of this or that church, we do not have a common voice in the world because of any lack of a central authority be it second or third Rome, but simply because we did not bother to construct the pillars of a community: common institutions, common literature, common language, the memory of great deeds achieved together.
In other words, we have loved more dialogue with national powers, with international organizations, with the heterodox than dialogue among ourselves. And this has cost us dearly. Despite negations from all sides, everybody knows that secular powers *do* influence hierarchy. This is not even a point of contention. There are professionals in governments trained to do specifically this kind of action. And *every country* does that, some more efficiently than others, but it is a constant. The real question is why the Orthodox Churches, despite centuries of being betrayed by their secular "allies", and being used by them to attack even other Orthodox in other countries, why we still look more for non-Orthodox cooperation and alliances than to our brethren. It is true that many of these organizations provide benefits that even the most rabidly "anti-worldly actions" gain from without suspecting. Moscow had to cooperate with Communism which is possibly the most evil regime of Human history, cornered into the difficult decision of producing martyrs or collaborators. Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople remained under Muslims and still have to deal with Muslim intolerance and lack of sovereignty for Christian nations in that region of the world. They have to go through a cycle much like that of domestic violence where there are periods of "peace" and "beatings" with the Muslim states and cultures around them, oscilating between just being left alone for some time and periods of outright marginalization and even persecution while all the time having to talk about coexistence, tolerance as if Islam could ever consider a status of equality to non-Muslims, that leading to a proximity with the Non-Chalcedonians that although laudable from a humanitarian perspective is disastrous in ecclesiological and dogmatic perspective. Constantinople in particular, seeks alleviation from that situation through its foreign connections; first with the European powers before the War and the US after, spent most of the 20th century trying to show the West it was open-minded, open to dialogue, eager to union one way or another with the heterodox in the name of love, that it could update itself and maybe the whole Church and finally sit at the table of the cool kids, sometimes at the cost of pushing entire groups into schism. Jerusalem happens to be on the very unpleasant situation of not being in a Christian country, with a Jewish government over it and a Palestine radicalized constituency under it that would love to be able to use the Patriarchate against the state of Israel. At the same time the Jewish state is less than impartial oftentimes, having much preference for the judaizing protestants over the Orthodox. Only God knows what complex political pressures the other newer jurisdictions have been through, but I am sure they have had their lot. I believe though that in face of all these problems and temptations we would do well to seek a much higher level of autonomy through the strengthening of Inter-orthodox institutions and relationships, that the Orthodox Church must become a global player that stands on her own legs and can dispense with with elites local and global threatening or giving favors. In short, that we must "love each other" as that sign that Christ promised through which His disciples would be recognized. These many forces can only prey on each of the churches because they insist on looking outside for help instead of uniting for mutual support.
When we have venues for internal dialogue that parallel and even surpass the venues for external dialogues that we participate on our own, we will learn that we *can* love our Orthodox brethren wherever they come from because we will remember how our predecessors achieved and sacrificed great things for us to be together. When each Orthodox can gain more support and leverage from a Pan-Orthodox Forum than from the WCC, when the help of the Orthodox Church as a whole brings more benefits than the help of the Roman Church, or the Anglicans, or of the UN, or the EU, or the US or Moscow, or Environmentalists, or Islam, or whatever local forces each jurisdiction must deal with, when we have an 18 volumes in English "History of the Church" written by Orthodox historians from different Orthodox countries, when we have an 83 volumes series of Orthodox Fathers from the 9th to the 19th century, in English, when we have the homilies, studies and treaties of these same Fathers and Mothers on the New and Old Testaments put together, only then we will be able to start studies that will be able to suggest what Orthodox exegesis proper is. And of course, Pan-Orthodox seminaries, studying the Liturgical traditions of all jurisdictions, Pan-Orthodox Colleges, Pan-Orthodox institutes of translations, Pan-Orthodox monasteries, books and movies showing the common history of the Orthodox with beauty, truth and intensity, then, *and only then* problems like petty political maneuvers during meetings, or issues like Ukraine will become unthinkable again. That is why the 21st century should be the century of Intra-Orthodox Dialogue, like the 20th was the century of Ecumenical Dialogue.