Last Friday, August 31, 2018, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia flew to Istanbul to meet with His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Everyone who is interested in the problem of Ukrainian Orthodoxy was waiting with baited breath for the outcome of the meeting. Will Constantinople go ahead and fulfill President Petro Poroshenko’s request that an autocephalous Church be granted in the Ukraine, making that country separate from Russia not only in body but also in soul? Or will Patriarch Kirill come and dash all his hopes? That day, there was very little information in the official press releases to satisfy everyone’s curiosity.
His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow at the Phanar
On Friday morning, August 31, 2018, following his communicated desire, His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, accompanied by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the Reverend Protopriest Nikolai Balashov and the Reverend Presbyter Anatoly Churyakov, interpreter, arrived at the Phanar in order to deliberate with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on matters of inter-Orthodox concern.
Patriarch Kirill was greeted at the airport by His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima and the Very Reverend Grand Archimandrite Vissarion, Archivist of the Patriarchate.
His Beatitude proceeded to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, where he was greeted by Their Eminences Metropolitans Emmanuel of France and Bartholomew of Smyrna, as well as the members of the Patriarchal Court, led by the Very Reverend Grand Chancellor Andreas. After paying his respects at the Venerable Patriarchal Church, he was received by His All-Holiness in the Chamber of the Throne, in the presence of members of the Holy and Sacred Synod and other Hierarchs, who had traveled to the Phanar to participate in the Synaxis of the Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Throne on the feast of Indiction.
His All-Holiness warmly welcomed His Beatitude to the courts of the Mother Church, recalling their spiritual fathers, Elder Metropolitan Meliton of Chalcedon and Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad of blessed memory, and all those who have worked for bilateral relations between the two Churches, as well as inter-Orthodox relations in general. He emphasized the importance of dialogue as a God-given means towards overcoming emerging challenges. His Beatitude responded by expressing the deep emotion and vivid recollections of past visits to the Queen of Cities and his collaboration with His All-Holiness.
The two Primates then held a lengthy private discussion in the Patriarchal Office together with Their Eminences Metropolitans Emmanuel of France and Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations.
At the conclusion of their two-and-a-half hour conversation, His Beatitude departed for Moscow.
The end. No mention of the Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill is given the title of “His Beatitude”, in our language generally ascribed to the head of an autocephalous Church.
And from the Moscow Patriarchate:
Fraternal meeting of Primates of Church of Constantinople and Russian Orthodox Church
According to His Holiness, for the two years that have passed since the previous meeting of the two Primates, “much has happened in the life of our Churches, and the whole situation in the world has greatly changed.”
Having described the dialogue that took place between them as “a talk between two brothers”, Patriarch Kirill stated that they discussed “all the problems on the agenda”.
“I hope we will continue working together so that the world may become better”, he added.
“Without coordination with His Holiness, I would not like to let you into details, although there was nothing secret”, Patriarch Kirill specified, “it was a very correct talk—a talk between the Primates of two Churches who are aware of their responsibility for the state of Universal Orthodoxy and for the state of human souls in the places and countries under our responsibility.”
Speaking about a continuation of pan-Orthodox dialogue, His Holiness emphasized that “problems keep emerging, challenging Churches from the pastoral point of view. The world is changing very rapidly, and no Church can make decisions that would run contrary to the position of another Orthodox Church.
“Therefore, we are simply programmed for interaction and cooperation, and since the world is rapidly changing, this cooperation, too, should be dynamic enough,” His Holiness concluded.
Among the persons who accompanied His Holiness during his trip were Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the department for external church relations (DECR), Archpriest Nikolay Balashov, DECR vice-chairman, Rev. Nikola head of the Patriarchal Press Service, and Rev. Anatoly Churyakov, DECR staff member.
Again, no mention of the Ukraine—only an oblique statement that Patriarch Kirill would not be disclosing the details to the reporters, but that there was nothing secret.
However, that same day, the Synaxis of Hierarchs of The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople commenced. The Ecumenical Patriarch’s opening remarks were not posted on the website of the EP, but they were posted on the website of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
Very many of our readers may not be familiar with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. That would not be surprising since they are almost entirely Ukrainian, and serve in the Ukrainian language. Anyone who has the fortitude to delve into this subject more thoroughly can find that Church’s history here. It was a church organization that had its beginnings in a Ukrainian nationalist awakening in the early twentieth century, and found its self-realization fully only in the Ukrainian diaspora, where it was joined by a large number of Greek Catholic (Uniate) Ukrainians who desired to break away from the Catholic Church. For many years it was non-canonical, until it was received into the Ecumenical Patriarchate by Archbishop Athenogoras (later Patriarch of Constantinople) head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
So, here is what the Ecumenical Patriarch had to say in his opening address at the Synaxis of Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (for the full text posted on the UOC of the USA, see here):
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is, for Orthodoxy, a leaven “which leavens the whole lump” (cf. Gal. 5.9) of the Church and of history... As time unfolds, we become conscious of the fact that something magnificent is taking place, something that can only be reckoned a divine gift since our very existence is grafted onto the culture of the Mother Church, while all things are transformed and conceived as strange; the heavens are opened, new life emerges, and our existence welcomes the good change of the right hand of the Almighty.
This is why the Mother Church assumes a leadership role in disseminating sacred scholarship and theological learning….
No matter how much some wish to embellish the situation in Ukraine, history proves them wrong and presents indisputable arguments demonstrating that the origin of difficulties and reactions in Ukraine are neither a recent phenomenon nor something created by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Already from the early 14th century, when the see of the Kievan Metropolis was moved without the canonical permission of the Mother Church to Moscow, there have been tireless efforts on the part of our Kievan brothers for independence from ecclesiastical control by the Moscow center. Indeed, the obstinacy of the Patriarchate of Moscow was instrumental in occasionally creating repeated mergers and restorations of ecclesiastical eparchies, uncanonical elections of Bishops as well as schisms, which still afflict the pious Ukrainian people.
However, beyond all this, a study of the matter in the light of the sacred canons does not justify any intervention whatsoever by the Church of Russia. The Tome proclaiming Moscow as a Patriarchate does not include the region of today’s Metropolis of Kiev in the jurisdiction of Moscow. Moreover, after the well-known manner of proclamation of Moscow as a Patriarchate by Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah II (Tranos), the canonical dependence of Kiev to the Mother Church of Constantinople remained constant and uninterrupted. In the year 1686, our predecessor, the late Patriarch Dionysios IV, following great political pressure from the harrowing circumstances and for peace in the local Church, was obliged to issue a letter granting Moscow the license to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev on the inviolable condition that every Metropolitan of Kiev would commemorate the name of the Ecumenical Patriarch as his ecclesiastical superior and authority, but also to demonstrate the canonical jurisdiction of Constantinople over this Metropolis.
As far as we know, no other act changing the canonical state of Kiev or revision of the condition to commemorate Constantinople has ever occurred; nor of course has there been any such change on the part of the Mother Church ceding Kiev completely to Russia. The uncanonical interventions of Moscow from time to time in the affairs of Kiev and the toleration on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in previous years do not validate any ecclesiastical violation. Instead, the terms of the 6th Canon of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea are precisely valid in this case, as the commentator Aristinos observes: “Each patriarch should be satisfied with his own privileges and not snatch the privileges of another eparchy, which does not lie within or under the authority of his jurisdiction. For this is the conceit of worldly power.” (Rallis-Potlis, Constitution of the Holy and Sacred Canons, Volume 2, p. 131) In this spirit, the Mother Church did not concede its canonical rights over Ukraine, but incorporated a special reference in the Patriarchal and Synodal Tome “about the granting of the status of autocephaly to the Church of Poland” (1924), noting that “the original detachment from our Throne of the Metropolis of Kiev and its dependent Orthodox Churches of Lithuania and Poland, along with their attachment to the Holy Church of Moscow did not at all occur in accordance with the conventional canonical regulations; nor were the agreed statements about complete ecclesiastical self-sufficiency of the Metropolitan of Kiev, bearing the title of Exarch of the Ecumenical Throne, respected . . .”
In any case, it is true that the occasional deliberate efforts of the Church of Russia to resolve this matter failed. Thus, since Russia, as the one responsible for the current painful situation in Ukraine, is unable to solve the problem, the Ecumenical Patriarchate assumed the initiative of resolving the problem in accordance with the authority afforded to it by the Sacred Canons and the jurisdictional responsibility over the eparchy of Kiev, receiving a request to this end by the honorable Ukrainian Government, as well as recurring requests by “Patriarch” Philaret of Kiev appealing for our adjudication of his case.
At our instruction, the right reverend Bishop and professor Makarios of Christoupolis studied the question of Ukraine for many days, and the fruit of his extensive research into this complicated matter was a document of over ninety pages, which His Grace offered to the Mother Church. We thank and congratulate him. And since he already has a firm grasp of the issue, we have asked him to address this Venerable Body on the ecclesiastical perspective of the timely issue of Ukraine, and we are certain that all of us will have much to benefit from listening to him…
We imagine that all of the Hierarchs serving within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Throne know very well that the 4th Ecumenical Council, among other decisions, honored the exceptional privilege of “the right to appeal” (ekkliton) of the Throne of Constantinople with the decrees of its 9th and 17th Canons. Numerous instances of the exercise of this right to appeal by Hierarchs and clergy of other jurisdictions have been recorded through the centuries in the historical journey of the Mother Church. Worthy of mention here is the determination of the canonist Miodrag Petrovic, that “the Archbishop of Constantinople alone has the privilege to judge and adjudicate conflicts of bishops, clergy and metropolitans of other patriarchs.” (Nomocanon on the 14 Titles and the Byzantine Commentators, p. 206)
The right reverend Bishop Kyrillos of Abydos, Professor at the National and Capodistrian University of Athens, a devout scholar of the written and spoken word, will address the unique privilege of the Church of Constantinople to receive the appeal of Hierarchs and clergy seeking refuge from all local Orthodox Churches in his presentation, entitled “The Privilege of Eccliton (Right to Appeal): Historical, Canonical and Theological Perspectives.” We gladly await his analysis of this subject…
At times, we confront trials and temptations precisely because some people falsely believe that they can love the Orthodox Church, but not the Ecumenical Patriarchate, forgetting that it incarnates the authentic ecclesiastical ethos of Orthodoxy. “In the beginning was the Word . . . in him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1.1,4) The beginning of the Orthodox Church is the Ecumenical Patriarchate; “in this is life, and the life is the light of the Churches.” The late Metropolitan Kyrillos of Gortyna and Arcadia, a beloved Hierarch of the Mother Church and personal friend, was right to underline that “Orthodoxy cannot exist without the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
During the first millennium, our blessed forefathers confronted the temptation of heresy. The great temptation of the second millennium, which was also bequeathed to the millennium we have now entered, is the status of jurisdictions. The source of this problem is ethnophyletism, the propensity to expansionism and the disregard of the boundaries defined by the Patriarchal and Synodal Tomes. The Ecumenical Patriarchate bears the responsibility of setting matters in ecclesiastical and canonical order because it alone has the canonical privilege as well as the prayer and blessing of the Church and the Ecumenical Councils to carry out this supreme and exceptional duty as a nurturing Mother and birth-giver of Churches. If the Ecumenical Patriarchate denies its responsibility and removes itself from the inter-Orthodox scene, then the local Churches will proceed “as sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9.36), expending their energy in ecclesiastical initiatives that conflate the humility of faith and the arrogance of power...
This certainly sounds very different from the “fraternal meeting” of that same day between Ecumenical Patriarch and the Patriarch of Moscow. It is no wonder that it was not posted on the EP’s official site. Now we really don’t know what’s going on, but let’s look at a few points in the address in an attempt to interpret what is going on in the mind of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew.
1. The Ecumenical Patriarchate sees what is going on as a sort of new breath of the Spirit that confirms its position as the Mother Church of all Orthodox Churches, and renews their very existence. Located as they are in a once great Byzantine city that has been for many centuries part of Moslem Turkey, the Greek Orthodox population having been humiliated, and the EP not being entirely in charge even of the population of present-day Greece, one can see how it would long for renewal and territorial rights. Furthermore it sees itself as the leaven and guardian of the Orthodox ethos due to its preponderance of scholarly bishops. Apparently the Orthodox theological academies of other Local Churches are still in the foundling stage and cannot be trusted to come to reliable conclusions about Church canons.
2. The dire situation in Ukrainian Orthodoxy with its two schismatic groups, the seizure of and arson against Moscow Patriarchate Churches, and the total confusion in the West about the situation as a whole is no fault of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In fact, the Moscow Patriarchate is to blame for all of this. It, after all, has not managed to solve the problem. But how could the MP have solved the problem? Should it have just let Philaret take over and have an autocephalous Church in Ukraine? What does the opinion of all the other bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church matter (who voted against autocephaly at the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kharkov in 1992, and also voted that Metropolitan Philaret Denysenko be defrocked)? Philaret wants it, the Ukrainian government wants it, so why not just disregard the rest of the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church? The Moscow Patriarchate obviously did not wield its power in the right direction. A mixed message comes out here, which makes things even harder to understand.
Of course the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church would not have joined this missed chance for a new Autocephalous Church, but no matter. Wait, what is the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church? You can read more about that here (but only if you have a strong nervous system and do not suffer from stress-induced migraines, in which case stop here and go no further), but we will explain briefly that in 1920, there was an assembly of Ukrainian Orthodox clergy and laity in Kiev that declared the establishment of an independent Church in Ukraine. The only problem was that no other Ukrainian hierarchs were willing to participate in this venture, and so this assembly came up with a creative solution. In 1921 a group of clergy and laymen together “consecrated” Archpriest Vasyl Lypkivskyj as a bishop, enthroning him as Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine. Since none of these clergy were bishops, and a bishop can only be consecrated by two or more other bishops, this new organization was not recognized by any other canonical Orthodox Church. He consequently “consecrated” other bishops for Ukraine and dioceses of the UAOC formed in Canada and the United States by Ukrainian nationalists and converts from Ukrainian Catholicism. And that is how the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA came into being. There is also, by the way, a Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada (about whom you can read more here) that resulted from this congregation.
As I said, the UOAC would probably not have joined this autocephalous Church because they supposedly already had an autocephalous Church—but unlike its daughter churches in the USA and Canada, it is not under the Constantinople Patriarchate (I warned you that it will make your head spin). Now, why didn't the Moscow Patriarch grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church now headed by Metropolitan Onuphry? Well, perhaps because they didn't ask for it. And to whom does the Patriarch of Constantinople want to grant autocephaly? He makes no mention of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church headed by Metropolitan Onuphry. This Church, the majority, canonical Church, doesn't exist for him?
3. The Moscow Patriarchate is expansionist. We are to understand this to mean that Constantinople now considers Ukraine to always have been their canonical territory, and it is the Moscow Patriarchate who moved in, and not the EP. You really have to struggle with your own common sense and knowledge of both history and reality on the ground in order to placidly nod your head at this (unless of course you are in the Kiev Patriarchate or the UOAC). “As far as we know, no other act changing the canonical state of Kiev or revision of the condition to commemorate Constantinople has ever occurred; nor of course has there been any such change on the part of the Mother Church ceding Kiev completely to Russia.” This is as far as they know. After five hundred years of Church history in Russia and Ukraine, the Constantinople Church is now checking back to see if in fact they ever really did entrust the Ukrainians to Moscow for the long term, during a time of intense pressure involving outright persecution by the Polish government on the Ukrainians to accept the Brest Union that subjected them to the Pope of Rome. And even if they did, it wasn’t fair, because of course what could they have done? Constantinople was under the Turkish Yoke. Now the Turkish Yoke is over, and so let’s set things straight again. From Istanbul.
4. The canons state that only the Ecumenical Patriarch has the right to grant autocephaly. Anyone in the OCA (Orthodox Church of America) knows that. The OCA is still not recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople as an autocephalous Church, because that autocephaly was granted by the Moscow Patriarchate, from whence it came, and which they called their “Mother Church”. Now this is a conundrum, which brings us back to point 2. The Moscow Patriarchate should have solved the problem in Ukraine, presumably by granting autocephaly to the Church in Ukraine, but they completely flubbed it. Only, the Patriarchate of Constantinople is claiming that only it has the canonical right to grant autocephaly, so Moscow couldn’t have granted it anyway? It gets more and more confusing.
5. Because the Ecumenical Councils were held in Byzantium, the “beginning of the Church is the Ecumenical Patriarchate.” Jerusalem, where the Holy Spirit came down in tongues of fire to the disciples on Pentecost—a feast that is often called the “birthday of the Church”—or Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26), were not the beginning of the Church.
6. Those who are opposed to the EP’s activities (oblique reference to the Council of Crete, which the Moscow Patriarchate and some other Local Churches did not attend) do not love the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Anyone who does not love the Ecumenical Patriarchate, does not love the Orthodox Church. Ergo: The Moscow Patriarchate and those other Local Churches that did not attend the Council of Crete do not love the Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian nationalists love the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and therefore they love the Orthodox Church. So why not grant them autocephaly?
7. The biggest problem of the millenium is jurisdictions. Only the Ecumenical Patriarch can decide whose jurisdiction is who's, and anything else is ethnophyletism. Thus, only the Ecumenical Patriarchate can satisify the demands of Ukrainian nationalists for a Ukrainian nationalist Church, which would by definition exclude all non-Ukrainians, and include all Ukrainians whether they want it or not. This is the only solution to the problem of ethnophyletism and the pride of the power-hungry.
Any reaction from the Moscow Patriarchate about these and other statements has been rather reserved. Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, who is the main spokesman for the Moscow Patriarch on the issue, stated to reporters from Rossiya-24 television channel:
In this particular case, we should certainly understand that the incumbent Ukrainian authorities have half a year before the next elections, there have been no real successes, the economic situation is grave, the political situation is extremely unstable, the people’s discontent is growing, and they need some loud success to elevate their ratings. And so they decided to bring to an end the project that the schismatics started quarter a century ago and didn’t succeed. [He is referring to the events surrounding the Council of Kharkov, at which Philaret Denysenko was defrocked by the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and his declaration of himself as the “Patriarch” of the “Kyiv Patriarchate”, supported by the new Ukrainian government after its break from the Soviet Union.—OC]. Political authorities often meddle in ecclesiastical affairs, which often harms the Church.
If, God forbid, the things develop this way, of which some are dreaming [...], that is, if a tomos is granted and autocephaly is declared, this means most of the church people won’t accept this autocephaly—perhaps a bunch of schismatics would accept it, which would legitimate a schism. This would deal a serious blow to Orthodoxy in Ukraine. In fact, this would produce another schism, and what is most important, this would split the entire body of global Orthodoxy.
In other Russian media, Metropolitan Hilarion assessed the Ukrainian press’s rejoicing over the tomos, which was not granted as they expected on the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’, but will “certainly be coming this month”, as “wishful thinking”.
What is the “body of global Orthodoxy” that Metr. Hilarion says would be split? We have to read the statements made by heads of Local Churches to really understand the full impact:
Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem: “The unity of the Church is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and we are called to preserve and strengthen it. The destruction of this unity is a serious crime.”
“We condemn in the most categorical terms those who are committing actions directed against the parishes of the canonical Orthodox Church in the Ukraine. Not in vain do the holy fathers remind us that the violation of the Church’s unity is the gravest sin.
Archbishop Theodosius of Sebastia of the Jerusalem Patriarchate: “The Orthodox Churches of the world, including Jerusalem, only recognize the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, that it is headed by Metropolitan Onuphry; he is a member of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. We support all efforts to end the schism in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—the Church is a place of love, unity, and peace, and not hatred and schism.”
“The schism in Ukraine is very unfortunate, and I hope that the Patriarch of Constantinople and the other heads of the Orthodox Churches of the world will coordinate with the Russian Orthodox Church to advance initiatives for ending this unhealthy, unacceptable, and unjustified situation.”
Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and All Africa: “Let us pray to God, Who does all for our good, that He would instruct us all for a solution to these problems. If the schismatic Denisenko [the self-proclaimed “patriarch” of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate”—O.C.] wants to return to the bosom of the Church, then he must turn to where he left from. That which has fallen away must return to where it fell from. God is merciful to those who repent, and the Church forgives and receives in its motherly embrace all who repent.”
Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East: “The Antiochian Church stands together with the Russian Church, speaking against the Church schism in Ukraine.”
Patriarch Ilya of Georgia: “His Beatitude disagrees with the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate concerning Ukraine, as he recognizes only the legitimate Church headed by Metropolitan Onuphry.”
Patriarch Irenej of Serbia: Referring to the Ukraine, the patriarch of Serbia characterizes as “very perilous or even catastrophic, probably as fatal for the unity of Holy Orthodoxy”, the act “of exonerating and of restoring schismatics to the rank of bishops, especially the arch-schismatic ones, such as ‘patriarch’ Filaret Denysenko of Kyiv, and of bringing schismatics back into liturgical and canonical communion, without their repentance and their return to the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church from which they detached themselves. And all without the consent of the Moscow Patriarchate and without coordination with him.”
Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church: “[T]he Assembly expresses full solidarity, in co-suffering brotherly love, with the martyred sister Church in Ukraine, exposed to the harshest persecution by the current regime in Kiev.”
Holy Synod of the Polish Orthodox Church: “We express the clear position of the Polish Orthodox Church, namely that the ecclesiastical life of the canonical Orthodox Church should be based on the principles of dogma and the holy canons of the Orthodox Church. Violation of this principle leads to chaos in the life of the Church.
“There are certain schismatic groups in Ukraine which must first repent and return to the canonical Church. Only then can we discuss the issue of providing autocephaly.
“We must not be led by the political climate in questions of dogma and the canons.”
Met. Rostislav of Czech Lands and Slovakia: “A schism, caused by man’s egotism, can be healed only through repentance and returning to the Church,” the primate noted. “The new autocephaly must be the result of a consensus.”
Patriarch Neofit of Bulgaria: “I have always had a very good relationship with His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry [head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—MP.—O.C.]. We know that he loves the Ukrainian people and humbly labors for the good of Ukraine and all Orthodox Christians. We will be praying that the Lord grant him health and strength to successfully bear the obedience he was given by the Lord, and which he bears with dignity.”
And from another source: “His Holiness said that the relevant issues had been repeatedly discussed at sessions of the Holy Synod of the BOC and he had repeatedly stated his position on the matter.
“General Secretary of the Holy Synod Bishop Gerasim of Melnik stressed that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is well acquainted with the Ukrainian situation and its complexity, but it is necessary to strictly observe the ecclesiastical canons, which the Orthodox Church has been following for many centuries.”
Metr. Gabriel of Lovech, Bulgarian Orthodox Church: “There is no grace of God in schism. And without the grace of God there can be no Church. People must return to the canonical Church, where there is the grace of God and where man can be saved. Schism is a very harmful and pernicious phenomenon.
“The basis of any split is pride. This is the only way—there can be no other, in my opinion.”
Metropolitan George of Kitros, Katerini, and Platamon (Church of Greece): “The Greek Orthodox Church and all other Orthodox Churches of the world recognize only one canonical Church of Ukraine—the Ukrainian Orthodox Church headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry.”
Metr. Athanasios of Limassol (Church of Cyprus): “First and foremost, this question should be resolved by the Patriarch of Moscow, in whose jurisdiction the Ukrainian Church is located, then—the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and then all the Orthodox Churches under the chairmanship of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” Met. Anathasios stated.
“But first of all, the first word is for the Mother Church of the Ukrainian Church, which is the Moscow Patriarchate. To it belongs the first word in this process.
“What relationship does the Ecumenical Church have to the Philaret schism in Ukraine? How can it be overcome?
“We desire that our brothers who are in schism would return to the Church under the leadership of Metropolitan Onuphry—it is the sole canonical Church in Ukraine, having communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, and with all canonical Orthodox Churches… We pray for this.”
Statement of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in Support of the Canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church: “With this statement, we express our complete support for His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry, together with his brother-archpastors, clergy, monastics and the faithful flock of the sole canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and with love we bow before their confessor-like struggles. No alteration to the life of the Church can be initiated or imposed upon her by secular authorities. The present attempts to influence the life of the Church from the outside reveal only the fundamentally non-ecclesial motives and goals of those attempting to implement them.”
Does this look global enough? The statements made by these primates and representatives of eleven Local Orthodox Churches are unanimous and unambiguous. With such a cloud of witnesses, we are left breathless when we ponder the possibility that the Ecumenical Patriarch really might go ahead and do what President Petro Poroshenko is asking of him. Besides the obvious fact of everyone’s inherent respect for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we have to wonder why there has not been a stronger reaction to this procedure. We can only offer the following possible reasons (from our own mind, of course):
- No one wants to be accused of not loving the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
- People are afraid of Ukrainian nationalists.
- People feel sorry for Petro Poroshenko.
- People feel sorry for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, like one would for his own father who everyone knows is “on the wane”, but nevertheless still demands obedience, even though his decisions are less than sound. However he is the only one who doesn’t seem to know that, and so no one knows what to do.
- People feel sorry for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, because he is living in nostalgia of past grandeur amidst the harsh reality of modern Turkey.
- People don’t believe that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will really go through with this, and that he is only being polite to the Ukrainian president.
- People don't want to talk openly about the Ecumenical Patriarch's connections with the U.S. government, which is possibly pressuring him to take this fatal step. The forces behind the Maidan revolution would like to see a complete and final separation of Ukrainians from Russians, in both body and soul.
And Philaret Denysenko made no bones about the fact that as soon as his “church” is legitimized, he will take over the two most revered monasteries of Ukraine, the Kiev Caves Lavra and the Pochaev Lavra, whether the monks like it or not. And if the government backs him, he can do it, but it would inevitably cause a great tragedy to unfold as believers struggle to defend their sacred sites.
Moreover the Western press most often gets the whole thing all wrong. The National Catholic Reporter, for example, writes on the Ukraine subject:
Although Bartholomew is the spiritual leader of all Orthodox believers, his own church in Turkey and parts of Greece is small and poor. The Russian church, whose canonical territory covers the whole area of the former Soviet Union, is by far the largest and richest in the Orthodox world.
Moscow has influence on Constantinople... If the Ukrainian church is recognized, Moscow can break away from Constantinople and proclaim itself the new center of Orthodox Christianity.
Why does the Vatican have such a morbid interest in the outcome of this crisis? Because there is a third, shadowy figure that is also rallying against the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church: The Greek Catholic (Uniate) church in Ukraine.
Of course we all know that the Patriarch of Constantinople is not the spiritual leader of the Orthodox believers in the sense that the Pope of Rome is the spiritual leader of Catholic believers. Therefore, any fear of Moscow “breaking away from Constantinople” and proclaiming itself the new center of Orthodox Christianity makes no sense to anyone with a basic understanding of the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church. We can love the Ecumenical Patriarch and respectfully disagree with him at the same time. And this disagreement does not cancel our Orthodoxy, as the statements by heads of Local Orthodox Churches show.
May these respected hierarchs never cease their prayers for all of us, and for the resolution of this crisis without violence to the body of the faithful. And may Church canons be used to bring peace, and not to get revenge against political enemies.