Last year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine dramatically expanded long-festering divisions in the Orthodox Christian Church.

In a lecture at the Lincoln Center campus on Monday, Oct. 30, Nadieszda Kizenko, Ph.D., will examine this problem from a historical perspective and consider how Orthodox Christianity can move forward.

“What Russia’s attack on Ukraine did was expose the problems in Orthodoxy that had been simmering for a long time,” said Kizenko, a professor of history and director of the religious studies program at the University at Albany.

Nadieszda Kizenko
Nadieszda Kizenko
Contributed photo

The tensions between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Russian Orthodox Church began in earnest in 2018 when some Ukrainian Orthodox clerics asked for permission to become autocephalous, or independent.

His All Holiness Bartholomew, the archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch, granted the request, but Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, questioned whether he had the authority to approve it. After Kirill backed the Russian government’s invasion in 2022, the two churches became estranged.

In “A Vanishing Point: Unity in Orthodoxy and the Ukraine Crisis,” Kizenko will highlight three structural issues that Orthodox Christianity needs to address: The authority to grant autocephaly; the process that Orthodox Christians rely on to work together, known as conciliarity; and the wisdom of establishing a “state church.”

The Russian Orthodox Church fully embraced the church/state model, while the Ecumenical Patriarchate hasn’t been attached to a single country since the end of World War I, and has therefore been much more international in focus, said Kizenko.

“These are two extremes, and other Orthodox churches fall somewhere in between,” she said.

“But the question for Orthodox Christians is, ‘When we think about the church and the world, is the world a dangerous, secular place that we need to turn our back on and be extremely cautious about? Or do we accept that the world, as it is now, is where God has put us and his church?”

Aristotle Papanikolaou, Ph.D., a professor of theology who along with George E. Demacopoulos, Ph.D., co-founded the Orthodox Christian Studies Center, said that Kizenko’s talk will be of interest to anyone concerned with the rise of religious nationalism.

Far-right movements in Europe have latched onto religion in ways that are reminiscent of the way the Russian government has partnered with the Russian Orthodox Church, and he noted that there are also similar movements afoot in the United States.

“People often try to box things in and say ‘This is a religious issue,’ ‘This is an ethnic issue,’ ‘This is a cultural issue.’ I don’t think they realize how those things are intertwined, and what we’re seeing in post-Communist Russia and Ukraine and the Orthodox world in general is how much religion, ethnicity, culture, and politics are all intertwined with each other,” he said.

“Nadieszda can definitely illuminate that history and help us understand why it’s still the case in the present.”

Register for the event here.


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.