At its session on May 25 at the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra, the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church adopted an address to the bishops, clergy, monastics, and laity regarding the initiative for “providing a tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.”
With the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, this address will be read out in all the churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
To the bishops, clergy, monastics, and laity
concerning the initiative for the “granting of a tomos of autocephaly
to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine”
Your Eminences and Your Graces!
Dear fathers, monks and nuns, brothers and sisters!
Over the past several weeks, our country has been actively discussing the possibility of the unilateral granting of a “tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine” by the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The Ukrainian Orthodox has yet to receive any official reports from the Patriarchate of Constantinople on this issue. Moreover, we know that the Local Orthodox Churches of the world have also not received any official letter from Constantinople that would address this issue.
At the request of the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine addressed them with letters in which he informed them of the current situation in Ukrainian Orthodoxy, and also outlined the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s attitude towards the initiatives for granting a “tomos of autocephaly.” Today it is known that the primates and synods of bishops of the Local Orthodox Churches are expressing a wary and negative attitude to the granting of the aforementioned tomos as a means of overcoming the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. In particular, there is the common opinion among the Local Churches that it is necessary for the schismatic church groups to return to the bosom of the canonical Church, which would allow for the discussion of the question of the status of a united canonical Church.
Such a position from the Local Orthodox Churches of the world coincides with the position of our Church. From the beginning of the schism, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has consistently advocated for the restoration of Church unity. However, our deep conviction is that the path to the restoration of Church unity and to a possible autocephalous status should not lie in the legalization of schism and its replacement of the Church of Christ. In particular, in the resolution of the Jubilee Council of the UOC, which took place at the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra on July 8, 2011, it was noted that, “…the restoration of the unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy should take place in accordance with the canons of the Orthodox Church, without interference from political forces, and through the return of those who have departed to the bosom of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church” (item 11).
The main criteria in adopting all Church decisions is the benefit for the Church, and the method for making such decisions should consist in the conciliar discussion of the important and relevant issues both for the individual Local Orthodox Church and for the entire Orthodox Church. Any individual or unilateral action in the Church is a violation of the principle of conciliarity and threatens the unity of the Church. From the contemporary history of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, it can be concluded that the violation of the principle of conciliarity, the lack of a sense of the pulse of the true internal life of the Church, and also the interference of political and other non-Church forces in the internal affairs of the Church led to the schisms in Ukrainian Orthodoxy.
The discussion on granting an autocephalous status to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has been going on for nearly the past one hundred years. However, that whole time, all the initiatives in that direction have lacked the spirit of conciliarity and observance of Church rules, which led to the unwarranted formation of non-canonical structures: first the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church,” and then the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate.”
Thus, historical experience indicates that the lack of a canonical consciousness and obedience to the Church, the lack of conciliar discussion on important Church questions, the lack of patience and understanding, pride, and also the interference of political factors in Church matters all lead not to Church unity, but only to schism. Therefore, this is a mistaken path, which the Church of Christ must not traverse.
Church history testifies that those efforts at unity that were carried out “from above” were often not accepted by Church people, because they were politically motivated and did not take into consideration the particularities of the internal life of the Church. After such “unions” by the initiative of and with the active participation of state authorities, churches became empty, because the Church people felt the artificiality of such “unions.” Interference in this process by forces foreign to the Church can divide our people even more, and instead of the unity desired by us all, we can acquire even more divisions.
Autocephalous status has a strictly technical Church character, which consists in facilitating the preaching of the Gospel on the territory of a particular state, and cannot be an instrument in the geopolitical struggle. Moreover, autocephalous status is granted to the entire Church within the bounds of a certain territory. In this regard, it is necessary to understand that the emergence of another, parallel jurisdiction in Ukraine could generate new conflicts within our people, which would not only threaten state security, but would also question the possibility of a future unity of the Church in Ukraine. Our people could be divided for a long time, if not forever.
The way out of this situation is seen in the restoration of Church unity in Ukraine, and not in the consolidation of Church divisions by establishing a parallel ecclesiastical jurisdiction. We share the concern of the state authorities of Ukraine about the Church schism in our country. However, we believe that a successful resolution to this problem requires different conditions, in particular, peace and stability in our state. We have always and will continue to support the state in matters of moral and patriotic education, but we oppose the use of the Church in the geopolitical struggle. We affirm our openness and readiness for any constructive cooperation and dialogue with the purpose of achieving Church unity.
Dear hierarchs, fathers, monks and nuns, brothers and sisters,
faithful children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church!
We exhort you all to remember that we are all members of the Church that is the Body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). We are all different, but we belong to one family of Christ—the holy Church. We are all responsible for the unity of the Church, and we must protect and defend this unity. We must not forget that the Church was created not by man, but by God. The cornerstone of the Church’s being is our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. The mission of the Church of Christ is to preach the Gospel of Christ and to effectuate the blessed transfiguration of the world through the Holy Mysteries, teaching people to live according to the commandments of God. That is why the Church of Christ lives according to its own rules, which cannot be changed on account of the changing political situation. The sole path to restoring Church unity lies in the cessation of any external interference in Church matters and in giving the holy Church the chance to independently, with God’s help, heal the wound of the division in Ukrainian Orthodoxy.
Every generation of Orthodox Christians is responsible for preserving the purity of our faith and maintaining the Church’s canonical order. Such responsibility today lies with all of us—archpastors, pastors, monastics, and all the faithful of the Church.
We call all of you, dear hierarchs, fathers, honorable monastics, brothers and sisters, to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3), and to the preservation and cultivation of Church unity. We are members of the Church of Christ and may we ever remain in her bosom.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all (cf. 2 Cor. 13:13)!
On behalf of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,
Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine
Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
May 25, 2018