In the context of speculations about a “holy alliance” between the Roman Catholic Church and the Moscow Patriarchate around common ethical concerns and in reaction to secularizing tendencies in Europe, journalists FrançoisXavier Maigre and Nicolas Senèze have attempted to summarize current challenges for the Orthodox Church worldwide in the French Catholic daily La Croix (Feb. 7).
The Russian Church has been enjoying a renewal, but the situation remains fragile, since regular church attenders make only a very low percentage of the Russian population. The challenge for Moscow is how the opening toward the West will develop. Similarly, in Serbia, the opening toward the West is more concretely presented as European integration—the election of the new patriarch, Irinej, being considered as a positive sign. The process might be linked to significant gestures of reconciliation between Catholics and Muslims in the Balkans. In Ukraine, the key issue is the reunification of the Church, divided into three jurisdictions since the 1990s.
Divisions are also present in the Holy Land: the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is one, but resentment of Arabic faithful toward the mainly Greek hierarchy is running deep. For the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the improvement of its relations with the Turkish state, and especially the reopening of its theological school in Halki (closed by the Turkish authorities since 1971), is vital. The Patriarchate of Antioch finds itself confronted with current trends within the Muslim world: it wants to build a relationship with Muslim neighbors on the basis of a shared Arabic identity and to avoid the development of Christian ghettoes.
The Patriarchate of Alexandria has become a strongly missionary-minded church in sub-Saharan Africa, beyond the original nucleus of some 300,000 faithful in Egypt (not to be confused with the much larger Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria), meaning that its evangelistic work across Africa should continue and grow. Finally, in Western Europe (as well as North America), the organization of the Orthodox Church as a local church, and not as an addition of several expatriate communities, is the major challenge, but such trends are far from being systematically encouraged by mother churches that also rely on the diaspora (including financially) and are sometimes equally concerned about preserving the respective national identities involved.