‘The American Conservative’: The CIA’s man in Constantinople

11:55 02.05.2024 •

Biden with the Constantinople Orthodox leaders.
Photo: ‘The American Conservative’

…Few realize that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is deeply beholden to the United States government, reveals Michael Warren Davis, a contributing editor of ‘The American Conservative’.

This ignorance is surprising, given that many Greek Orthodox leaders are quite proud of the fact. In 1942, Athenagoras Spyrou — the Archbishop of America for the Greek Orthodox Church — wrote to an agent of the Office of Strategic Services. “I have three Bishops, three hundred priests, and a large and far-flung organization,” Athenagoras wrote. “Every one under my order is under yours. You may command them for any service you require. There will be no questions asked and your directions will be executed faithfully.”

In 1947, the OSS was rechristened as the Central Intelligence Agency,  or CIA. One year later, Athenagoras was elected Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodoxy. 

Athenagoras was a strong supporter of American exceptionalism and encouraged Washington’s militarist foreign policy. The U.S. Consul in Istanbul recounted a conversation with Athenagoras in 1951: “As usual, he talked at some length of his belief that the United States must remain in the Near East for several centuries to fulfill the mission which had been given it by God to give freedom, prosperity and happiness to all people.”

The current Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, is cut from the same cloth as Athenagoras. He is very close to Pope Francis; the two share a passion for mass immigration and environmental activism. Also like Athenagoras, Bartholomew shares a close relationship with the U.S. government — a partnership that has proven mutually beneficial.

The Ecumenical Patriarch is the spiritual leader of Orthodoxy. However, he only has direct jurisdiction over a few thousand Orthodox Christians in Turkey. The rest of the Greek Orthodox world are autocephalous, or self-governing. This includes the Church of Greece, the Church of Cyprus, and the American metropolises (or dioceses). Many look to Bartholomew for leadership, but they are not directly under his authority. It is also worth noting that a large majority of Orthodox Christians around the world belong to the Russian Orthodox tradition. These churches do not look to Bartholomew for leadership in any meaningful way. Some, like the Patriarchate of Moscow, are in schism with Constantinople.

Bartholomew is not the “pope” of Orthodoxy — although he would like to be. Over the last few decades, the ecumenical patriarch has also worked to consolidate hard power over the various Greek Orthodox churches. This effort has proven most fruitful in the United States. 

Nevertheless, the United States government officially supports the doctrine of Greek papism. Strengthening the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s position within global Orthodoxy serves two purposes. First, it necessarily subtracts from the influence of Constantinople’s rival, the Moscow Patriarchate. Washington regards Russian Orthodoxy as a tool for Kremlin propaganda and, therefore, a legitimate target for counterintelligence operations. Secondly, the renovationist Ecumenical Patriarchs are willing partners in Washington’s campaign to spread liberal, democratic values across the globe. 

Consider, for example, the schism in the Ukrainian Church. In 1990, the Patriarchate of Moscow granted self-governing status to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC). It was not, however, given full autocephaly. However, a group of Ukrainian nationalists led by then-president Minister Petro Poroshenko organized an “independent” Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). With the support of Western media, these nationalists successfully branded the canonical UOC as the “Russian Church.”

In 2019, the State Department gave $100,000 to the  Orthodox Times, a news site strongly aligned with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The purpose? “To counter entities spreading fake news and misguiding believers in Orthodox communities” — in other words, “Russian disinformation”. 

In 2020, Patriarch Bartholomew  wrote to congratulate  his old friend Biden for defeating Donald Trump in the presidential election. “You can only imagine my great joy and pride for your successful election as the 46th president of your distinguished nation, the United States of America.”

Most Greek Orthodox jurisdictions are not renovationist; neither are they in the pocket of the American government or beholden to liberal, secular donors. In fact, when the Greek parliament voted to ratify same-sex marriage, the Church of Greece called the decision “demonic” and excommunicated several of the “immoral lawmakers” who voted for the bill. 

But whatever our government may claim, it will promote Bartholomew and his successor, Elpidophoros, as “Greek Popes” in order to liberalize Greek Orthodoxy and counter Russian Orthodoxy. This is the policy of the U.S. government. There are State Department personnel (and taxpayer dollars) dedicated to achieving this exact goal. It is discussed — openly; gleefully — in the major institutions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Archdiocese of America. And yet anyone who suggests that this is a gross betrayal of both the American people and the Orthodox faithful is immediately accused of being a “Russian asset.” Go figure...


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