Moscow Patriarch Cyril’s meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople to sort it out over the issue of the future for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church open a new chapter of the growing field of Church diplomacy in the tumultuous Eastern Europe/South-Eastern/Near East region. The “primus inter pares” status of the Oecumentical Patriarch in the Orthodox Church - a Church deeply rooted in the East, but increasingly radiating in an international setting (not to forget Bartholomew’s status as “the Green Patriarch” due to his interest in things environmental in the Nineties) - has never been questioned. Still, the fact is that the post-Communist-era resurgence of religious beliefs in Russia (or, rather, throughout the ex-USSR) made it evident that the flock of Moscow was incomparably stronger; at the same time, the closeness of the Russian Church to Muscovite powers that be becomes ever more evident. Not to forget, of course, the support afforded to the Oecumenical Patriarch by Washington ever since the end of WWII... Church diplomacy becomes closely intertwined with the lay sort.
Back the East, if the potential autonomy of the Ukrainian Church shadows Church relations of Moscow with Constantinople, the same goes for the ecclesiastical future of the Church in Skopje: the “name issue” for FYRoM may be edging towards some kind of solution between Greece and FYRoM, but what of the status of the local Church? To make things a step more complicated , there have been rumours that the long hand of Russia has been active (with moral, organizational but also financial support) in Northern Greece, to foment discord so that the agreement between Greece and FYRoM does not succeed - and local Church authorities have been involved in such behind the scenes moves. Since this side of the story ended in Russian diplomats (with close Church ties, also with Mount Athos monasteries - a different but connected story) being expelled from Greece, with a vigorous tit-for-tat response from Moscow , it is becoming evident that what starts as Church diplomacy in the region may well end with quite evident political after-effects.
Were one to go really deeper in this issue, ramifications will be found in the status of Elder Patriarchates of the Near East, - especially so the Jerusalem one, where Russian Church ambitions go back to Czarist era memories.
But that is too long a trek to take...