Patriarch Bartholomew’s new Orthodox Papacy has not had the best beginning.
It seemed like such a good plan.
Patriarch Bartholomew would, invoking a newly self-accorded unilateral authority,1 nullify the 300-year-old compact that made Ukraine the canonical territory of Moscow. Claiming the agreement had been “only temporary,” he would assume sovereignty over Ukraine and draw all its churches together into one (carefully circumscribed) “autocephalous” body responsible to him.
Philaret was in. Makary was in. The UGCC’s Sviatoslav was in.2 President Poroshenko was in. The Moscow upstarts were upset, of course, but once the deal was done, what could they do? They would have to obey, if only to save face.3
The other Local Churches were dubious, but they’d come around. They always did. His was the First Throne of Orthodoxy, after all! And he, Bartholomew, was First Without Equal, whose grave, even onerous responsibility it was to keep Orthodoxy in line. 4
Onuphry? He’d have to join up. If not, he’d just lose his churches. Poroshenko’s army and national police would take care of that. Some discomfort at the beginning, but in the end, peace and security. Constantinople would unite a country tragically divided by Moscow’s oppression, and Moscow’s defeat would ensure Poroshenko’s re-election, so the muscle would stay in place.5
Key to the deal was the UGCC. Once the deal was done and all the papers were signed, an ecclesial body would be created that was recognized by both the Phanar and the Vatican. This would bring Rome and Constantinople into formal communion, and Orthodoxy would have to either hop aboard or be left behind.
Bartholomew, close to retirement, would go down in history as the man who established the Patriarchate of Constantinople in its rightful glory, and reunited Christendom.
Such a good, sound plan.
It just didn’t work out that way.
Shaky From the Start
Moscow did not “obey.” On September 7, 2018 Bartholomew appointed two “exarchs” to Ukraine with instructions to set up a Stavropegia (representative body of a First Hierarch). A week later, on September 14, as promised, the Moscow Patriarchate suspended communion with Constantinople and her dependents. Patriarch Bartholomew would not be commemorated. Russian Orthodox clergy would not concelebrate with his clergy, Russian Orthodox faithful would not communicate in his churches, nor would the Russian Church participate in any organization or meeting that had a Constantinopolitan chairman.
The other Local Churches wanted no part of Bartholomew’s invasion. Reactions ranged from shock, to outrage, to outright disbelief. All of them declined their participation, or even their acknowledgment.
Metropolitan Onuphry made it clear, privately to Bartholomew and publicly to the world, that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church did not want, and did not need, autocephaly. They were already fully autonomous, answering to Moscow for nothing, yet enjoying membership—and hence influence—in the synod of Orthodoxy’s largest and most influential Church.
As for the UGCC, it had everything to gain and nothing to lose. The Vatican had coveted Orthodoxy for a thousand years. If Bartholomew could pull this off, UGCC Patriarch Sviatoslav would be a hero. If not, he was still secure as head of the UGCC. His only part was to sit and let events unfold.
Unfold they did.
The “unification council” went forward, despite the absence of the canonical Church. “Patriarch” Philaret presented his secretary, Epiphany Dumenko, as his candidate for “Metropolitan” of the new group. He made it clear that Dumenko’s election was a deal-breaker for the KP’s participation, so Dumenko was elected. The problem was, and remains, that Mr. Dumenko is a layman. He has never been canonically ordained to anything, and Bartholomew did nothing to correct that. No ordination. No consecration. He didn’t even attend the “enthronement” to lay hands on him. So, apart from everything else, the leader of Ukraine’s “autocephalous church” has no Apostolic succession.
The terms of the tomos called for the dissolution of the “Kiev Patriarchate” and the “UAOC,” and their incorporation into the new “Orthodox Church of Ukraine.” Their corporations, however, were not in fact dissolved. The KP and the UAOC continue to be legally—and separately—incorporated.
What if you gave an enthronement and nobody came?
On February 3, 2019, to great fanfare, Epiphany Dumenko was enthroned as “Metropolitan” of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine.” All the Local Churches, despite much arm-twisting, had declined their invitations. Among the missing was Patriarch Bartholomew himself, who sent four representatives.
Also missing were the customary letters of congratulation and declarations of “Axios” to the new hierarch. One letter of congratulation did, however, come—from “Kiev Pride,” the Ukrainian LGBT lobby. In response, Dumenko declared that “unlike Russia,” the new “church” would have a “more tolerant attitude.”
Fire and Sword
There commenced a season of conquest. President Poroshenko, himself a Uniate, unleashed the martial power of the state upon the canonical Ukrainian Church, declaring it to be an “agent of Russia,” despite its fully Ukrainian composition and leadership.
Companies of thugs were deployed in civilian clothes to bring the “recalcitrants” to heel. UOC churches were vandalized. Some were burned. Altars were smashed and Tabernacles violated.
UOC faithful protested, and they and their clergy were brutally attacked by the gangs of thugs. Many were hospitalized. At least two were killed. Priests and bishops were called in for “questioning” by the State Security forces. Through it all, the UOC stood firm.
Then came the seizures.
Poroshenko deployed his thugs to go from village to village, declaring themselves to be the “local parishioners” of the village church. They would hold an “election,” install themselves as the leadership of the target parish, and declare they wanted “their” parish to join the OCU. The compliant (and doubtless frightened) mayor would enforce the order, and conveniently stationed police would thereupon forcibly remove the legitimate parishioners and clergy, padlocking the building’s doors and registering the parish for the OCU.6
Bartholomew’s plan for “unification and stability” had thrown the country into division and chaos.
On Sunday, March 21, President Poroshenko conceded electoral defeat to Volodymyr Zelensky, an actor who played the role of Ukrainian President on a popular TV sitcom. Expressing their distaste for what had been going on, the Ukrainian people handed the actor-comedian over 70 percent of the vote.
Bartholomew’s muscle was suddenly gone. The raids stopped. A wary Parliament held back on any further anti-UOC legislation. A dazed Ukraine shook its head awake and beheld the carnage and rubble the “unification” orgy had produced, and fell uneasily silent.
A Schismatic Schism and the Man Who Would be Patriarch
Philaret never had any intention of renouncing his “patriarchy.” He and Dumenko agreed that he, Philaret, would be the actual head of the new “church,” and Epiphany would be the equivalent of a foreign minister. Philaret removed his “patriarchal” klobuk on January 5, 2019, the day of the signing of the tomos. It was back on his head on January 6.
Philaret has asserted that he had only agreed to the terms in order to get the tomos. He further asserts that the OCU and the UOC-KP are actually one and the same. Accordingly, even though the “unification” agreement calls for ceding all parishes outside Ukraine directly to Constantinople, Philaret has declined to do so.
Philaret has insisted on real autocephaly for the new group, and Bartholomew has responded that anyone who disagrees with the terms of the tomos cannot consider himself to be “within the bosom of the OCU.”
The official Kiev Patriarchate website represents the KP and the OCU as one entity, with Dumenko as “Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine,” and Philaret as “Patriarch.” Nevertheless, Dumenko appears to have come to enjoy being “His Beatitude the Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine,” and to have thrown his mentor under the church bus.
Philaret has issued a statement to the effect that everything would be fine if Dumenko would simply be obedient to him. Dumenko, however, appears to think things are fine just the way they are. Subsequently there have been reports that Philatret is breaking with Dumenko and reviving his “patriarchate.”7
Makary accused Philaret of being “disobedient to the tomos” not more than two weeks after the signing. He has been keeping a low profile since, keeping his own parishes in order and issuing no statements.
Many observers see the OCU as unstable and imploding, and it’s no wonder. The whole business was a web of lies, intrigue and fantasy from the start: The canonical territory isn’t Bartholomew’s; the autocephaly isn’t really autocephaly; the unity isn’t really unity; the Metropolitan isn’t really a cleric, and the KP and the UAOC didn’t really dissolve—they still legally exist.
As for the players: Poroshenko, the man who would play Charlemagne to Bartholomew’s Leo III, was buried under an electoral landslide. Philaret, the hard-bargaining power broker at the outset, has been betrayed by Mr. Dumenko. Makary is keeping his head down.
Wary of the message sent by the voters, the parliament has ceased all action on Poroshenko’s confiscations, although local attacks continue.8 The courts are in the process of reviewing the mess. President Zelensky has engaged in no polemic, and is occupied with cleaning up the wreckage of the past months. The thugs are mostly gone, presumably back into uniform. Some, however, appear not to have gotten the memo, and sporadic local harassment continues.
And Bartholomew? Serenely he sits on the Ecumenical Throne in the Phanar, having achieved his initial goal. Like Napoleon, who proclaimed that the way to win a war was through “audacity, audacity, audacity,” Bartholomew successfully invaded and established his presence on the canonical territory of a brother patriarch. The “OCU” may not be legitimate and its alliances may be falling apart, but it exists on paper, regardless. It’s a piece of paper into which the UGCC can be included. and that’s all Bartholomew needs.
As for Orthodoxy, the question seems to be not so much whether there will be a schism, but what form it will take. Some of the Local Churches have refused to take sides in the matter, others have indicated there are circumstances under which they would recognize the schismatic group. So, these will probably wind up following Bartholomew into his grotesque alliance with Rome. The great numerical bulk of Orthodoxy, however, will remain faithful.
More and more, the focus is shifting from Ukraine to Istanbul. There is talk of convening a council with or without Bartholomew. If that should happen, a clear definition of Constantinople’s powers—and limitations—can be made. The “OCU” can be definitively declared non-canonical. Orthodoxy will have stood united against its greatest threat in a thousand years. Bartholomew will have nothing to bring to the Roman table, and God’s ancient Church will have dodged the devil’s bullet once again.
Fr. James is Rector of St. Joseph of Arimathea Orthodox Church and House of Prayer (ROCOR Western Rite) in La Porte, Indiana. His opinions are his own.