Istanbul, August 15, 2019
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky paid a much-publicized visit to the Patriarchate of Constantinople on August 8. His predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, had worked closely with Patriarch Bartholomew to create the new nationalist-schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU), but Zelensky ran on a platform of government non-interference in Church business.
As OrthoChristian reported, Zelensky reiterated to Patriarch Bartholomew that the government should not meddle in Church affairs, and for his part, the Patriarch promised not to interfere in the OCU’s affairs, though, the tomos of autocephaly granted the OCU by the Patriarchate specifically stipulates Constantinople’s ongoing influence and role in the OCU.
It was also reported that Zelensky refused to sign an ecological agreement that had been prepared beforehand between the Patriarchate and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though it was unclear why.
However, according to a new report from the Ukrainian outlet Strana.ua, it was Zelensky’s stance of non-interference that would not allow him to sign the agreement.
According to a source in Church circles, the meeting was initiated by officials of the U.S. State Department who wanted to show to the world that there are no problems in relations between Zelensky and the Phanar. This view is held by Ukrainian political analysts as well. The State Department had played a leading and decisive role in the creation of the OCU, and is eager to see its work continued.
Symbolically, it was important for Washington that the parties sign an agreement, thus, a neutral and agreeable topic such as ecology was chosen.
However, the Patriarchate, ever eager to proclaim its selfless acts as the “Mother Church,” made some last minute changes to the final document, leading to the breakdown.
“The Greek negotiated a document of a purely ecological nature with Kiev, but then they introduced a number of important additions. Among them—Vladimir Zelensky’s consent to guarantee the continuity of the policies of Petro Poroshenko in the religious sphere, the recognition of the key role of the tomos in the process of the development of the Church sphere in Ukraine, and the recognition by the President of the OCU as the sole canonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine. But when he received the new text, Zelensky refused to sign it, stressing that the state will not interfere in Church affairs,” the source told Strana.ua.