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Dr. Scott Hahn put forward an argument similar to this:

  1. The Bible says that there is one body in Christ apart from ethnic group. (Galatians 3:28)
  2. Eastern Orthodoxy is divided into ethnic groups like the Russian orthodox, Ukrainian orthodox, ect.
  3. Thus, Eastern Orthodoxy is unscriptural and untrue.

How might an Eastern Orthodox go about responding to this?

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  • Does this put the Eastern Catholic Rites in the same boat?
    – Ken Graham
    Apr 15, 2022 at 11:14
  • @KenGraham Id assume not, since they go beyond their own nation/group to be in communion with a pope who traditionally is multicultural.
    – Luke Hill
    Apr 15, 2022 at 11:55
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    Lots of churches are organized on national lines - the Church of England, the United Church of Canada, etc. Why would Eastern Orthodox be different? Apr 15, 2022 at 18:56
  • @DJClayworth I guess I could just say the argument applies to them, but also I think their is a difference between national association and national relation.
    – Luke Hill
    Apr 15, 2022 at 20:06
  • The word you may be interested in researching is "ethnophyletism." Most people throughout history organize by tribe, language, and nation, but the phenomenon in Eastern Europe and the US has to do with a variety of historical circumstances post-fall of the Byzantine/Roman empire in the 15th century. Phyletism was officially condemned as a heresy in 1872 in Orthodoxy, but due to inconsistencies in how some things were handled in the geopolitical affairs of Bulgaria and Greece, things got messy and there are repercussions to the present day.
    – Dan
    May 18, 2022 at 1:25

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Dr. Hahn's thesis can be easily dismissed by the Orthodox by pointing to the many divisions throughout Western Christianity from the split between Catholics and Protestants to the plethora of denominations dominated by particular racial and national groups. Among Protestants, there is a Church of England and a Church of Ireland. In the United States alone there are Chinese Christian Churches, Nigerian Christian Churches, Korean Christian Churches and many others. There are also specific denominations for Blacks, such as the African Methodist Episcopal churches, and churches that split into two branches over race. Both Protestant and Catholic churches in the US often have practically separate Latino congregations.

On the other hand, it is true that Orthodox churches tend to cooperate more closely with the state than Western churches do. However, this is not properly called "Christian nationalism." Rather it is the manifestation of an ancient Orthodox doctrine of political theology known as Symphonia.

The Orthodox doctrine of Symphonia teaches that the church and the state cooperate in the church's mission. It goes back to Emperor Justinian's time, considered a golden age for Orthodoxy. It is the polar opposite of the Western idea, in which one of the functions of the Roman Catholic Church was to act as a bulwark against the political vacillations of the emperors, who all too often promoted heresy through the power of the state. It differs even more from the idea of separation of church and state which emerged after the American Revolution.

In the 20th century, the Greek Orthodox Church at times intervened to protect the independence of Eastern European Orthodox congregations whose religious freedom it saw as threatened by Soviet policy, which was militantly atheistic. Today it is doing something similar with regard to Russian incursions of Ukraine. As early as 2019 it recognized the Ukrainian metropolitan bishop as being independent from Moscow. A Synod in Athens in October of that year officially affirmed:

...the canonical right of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to grant autocephaly [independent Petrine authority], as well as the privilege of the primate of the Greek Church to further pursue the issue of the recognition of the Church of Ukraine.

The Russian Orthodox Church, on the other hand, sees Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a protector of Orthodoxy against western secularism. Under Putin's regime, it formed close ties to the Kremlin and supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has publicly split with the Greek Orthodox patriarch by appealing to the historical unity of the Ukrainian and other national church under the Metropolitan of Moscow:

The Russian Orthodox Church and its first see – the Kiev Metropolia – constituted a whole for centuries, despite various political and historical tribulations which at times shattered the unity of the Russian Church. The Patriarchate of Constantinople, that originally had jurisdiction over the Russian Orthodox Church, consistently defended its unity until the middle of the 15th century, as was later reflected in the title of the Metropolitans of Kiev – “of All Russia.” And even after the Primatial see had been transferred from Kiev to Vladimir and then to Moscow, the Metropolitans of All Russia were stilled called Metropolitans of Kiev.

Both positions are justified under the doctrine of Symphonia. The Greek Orthodox can point to the many cases where Orthodox monks and bishops played a prophetic role by standing up to Imperial authority when it erred. The Russian Church can insist that its policy is not mere nationalism, but strongly rooted in Orthodox principles of working with the state to further the Christian cause.

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