Constantinople, December 7, 2018
A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.
This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began.
The hierarch who published the letter on his personal Facebook page was His Eminence Metropolitan Alexander (Drabinko) of Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky and Vishnevoe, a vocal supporter of Constantinople’s plans and the most likely among the canonical hierarchs, if any, to participate in the upcoming “unification council.”
Romfea today as well.
It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.
In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”
The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”
Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.
This recognition was publicly made as recently as the session of the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in Chambésy, Switzerland on January 21-27, 2016, a preparatory meeting for the Council that was held on Crete that summer, where “His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine” was officially recognized as a canonical member of the Russian Orthodox Church’s delegation.
In his keynote address at that meeting, Pat. Bartholomew greeted the participants: “Your Beatitudes and beloved Brothers in the Lord, Primates of the local most holy Orthodox Churches and venerable representatives of brother Primates precluded from participating in this Synaxis, together with Your honorable entourages…”
This previous position of Constantinople is remembered by the other Local Churches as well. In a letter to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in October, His Beatitude Metropolitan Rostislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia recalled this very meeting:
The Orthodox world recognizes the only canonical primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine. This fact was repeatedly mentioned and confirmed by the primate of the Great Church of Christ His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on behalf of all present at the Synaxis of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches that was held in Chambésy (Switzerland) from January 21 to 27, 2016. Therefore, any attempt to legalize the Ukrainian schismatics by the state authorities should be strongly condemned by all the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.
The bulk of the Patriarch's letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.
It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.
Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:
Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.
He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.
The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.
He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.
However, the hierarchy of the Ukrainian Church had already expressed its firm position against union with the Ukrainian schismatics before this letter was written, and again afterwards on November 13, after which state pressure against the canonical Ukrainian Church has greatly increased.
Updated 12/7/2018 at 3:00 PM
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