Constantinople delegation snubs Ukrainian Church’s celebrations, instead meets with Poroshenko, says autocephaly is the goal

Kiev, July 31, 2018

The entire Orthodox world has been involved lately in the question of the possibility of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP) unilaterally granting a tomos of autocephaly to a Ukrainian Church, that would be made up of the two Ukrainian schismatic bodies, as representatives of the EP and of the Russian Orthodox Church have been meeting with the primates of the fraternal Orthodox Churches to discuss the matter.

While the stance of the Russian Orthodox Church, the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church under His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, and the stance of all Local Autocephalous Churches around the world is quite clear on the matter, the stance of the EP itself is rather more murky, though a clear picture is perhaps slowly emerging, especially after the meeting between EP representatives and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko over the weekend.

When Poroshenko formally appealed to the EP in April to grant a tomos of autocephaly for a new Ukrainian Church, the Constantinople Synod announced that it would send representatives to the other Orthodox Churches to discuss the matter.

In a meeting with representatives of the canonical Ukrainian Church in Constantinople in late June, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew assured them that there was no possibility of legitimizing the Ukrainian schismatics and that, while he takes an interest in the issue as the primate of the EP, from which Kievan Rus’ received holy Orthodoxy, he had no plan or desire to intervene and interfere in the matter.

Pat. Bartholomew has consistently stated as such to hierarchs of the canonical Ukrainian Church, while at the same time telling Ukrainian politicians and representatives of the Ukrainian schismatics that he will help create a new, unified Church in Ukraine. For the canonical Church, the path to such union is clear—there will be union when those who left the Church repent of their schism and return, and it is not clear why outside intervention is needed.

Meanwhile, in an interview with, His Eminence Metropolitan Elpidophoros of Bursa of the EP offered further insight into the talks initiated by the EP. Rather than an opportunity to meet in a fraternal atmosphere and learn the attitude of the Local Churches to the question of Ukrainian autocephaly, Met. Elpidophoros reveals that the EP believes the Russian Church has launched a media campaign of slander against it, and thus the talks are, in fact, a platform for EP representatives to tell their version of the story:

This is why the Patriarchate has decided to appoint a delegation of bishops from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. They will visit the Orthodox Churches around the world and will inform them about the real facts, the real intentions, and the real way in which the question of Ukraine is handled, in order to dispel this misleading information and [this] distorted news spread by the Russian Church.

However, in the same interview, Met. Elpidophoros clearly states that granting autocephaly is not the end goal for the EP: “The criterion and purpose of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not autocephaly in itself. This is not a goal in itself.”

However, in a meeting of three EP hierarchs—His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and His Grace Bishop Ilarion of Edmonton—with President Poroshenko on Friday, a letter of Pat. Bartholomew was read, stating that the “ultimate goal” is “granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church,” as reported by the site of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA:

Recognizing the high responsibility of the First Holy See Church of Constantinople, which never ceased and did not reconcile to illegal and non-canonical situations that shocked the natural functioning of the Orthodox Church, during these crucial times, it took the initiative to restore the unity of the Orthodox believers of Ukraine with the ultimate goal of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian church.

Met. Emmanuel also made the contentious assertion that Ukraine has actually always been the canonical territory of the Ecumenical Patriarchate: “This is a historic moment for Ukraine, because it opened the procedure for granting the autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. Kyiv has always been under the protection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We have all the historical documents that prove it. The Mother Church has never stopped taking care, as stated in the address of His All Holiness, and the care of the Mother Church is noticeable.”

Pat. Bartholomew himself had earlier stated this same historical revisionism in his July 1 homily in Constantinople. “Let us not forget that Constantinople never ceded the territory of Ukraine to anyone by means of some ecclesiastical Act, but only granted to the Patriarch of Moscow the right of ordination or transfer of the Metropolitan of Kiev on the condition that the Metropolitan of Kiev should be elected by a Clergy-Laity Congress and commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch,” he said.

His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk responded at the time that there is no documentary evidence for such a claim:

We have recently done a lot of work in the archives and have found all the available documentation of these events—900 pages of documents in both Greek and Russian. They absolutely clearly show that the Metropolitanate of Kiev was included in the composition of the Moscow Patriarchate by decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and that a temporary nature to this decision is nowhere stipulated; no timeframe was set.

That Ukraine belongs to Constantinople is sure to come as a surprise to the Ukrainian Church itself, which recently stated that it is perfectly capable of carrying out its evangelical mission as an autonomous body within the Moscow Patriarchate, and to the Russian Church, which has been the spiritual home of the Ukrainian Church since 1685.

The canonical Ukrainian episcopate reaffirmed this stance in its epistle for the 1,030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’. Moreover, less than 1/3 of Ukrainians express any interest in getting an autocephalous Church. Unfortunately, the small band of nationalist-radical-schismatics speaks louder.

These claims are an about-face from pledging not to interfere in another Church’s jurisdiction. If Ukraine canonically belongs to the EP, then to grant a tomos, or to solve the problem in any other way, would not be “intervening” or “interfering,” but would be the normal exercise of its canonical rights.

It is also noteworthy that although the EP representative hierarchs were in Ukraine at the time of the Ukrainian Church’s celebration of the 1,030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’, and although they had been specifically invited by Met. Onuphry, they did not attend any of the celebrations, opting instead to meet with President Poroshenko, who actively supports the schismatic bodies in Ukraine.

The EP hierarchs’ absence is a snub, given that the Ukrainian Church was awaiting the arrival of their brothers in Christ at the celebrations. As Archpriest Nikolai Danilevich, the Deputy Chairman of the Ukrianian Church's Department for External Church Relations, wrote on his personal Facebook page, a confirmation of attendance was received from 12 Local Churches, including the EP. However, RIA-Novosti confirms, with reference to the Ukrainian Church itself, that the three EP hierarchs “simply ignored the joint fraternal prayers of the family of Local Churches.”

They did, however, participate in the official celebrations of the state, which explicitly supports the Ukrainian schismatics and their dream of autocephaly, driven by nationalist hatred of Russia.

This is no surprise, given that the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA openly support Ukrainian schismatics over and against the canonical Church, despite the fact that they are in communion with the canonical Church.

The hierarchs of the Ukrainian Church in the USA have long had friendly relations with the anathematized “Patriarch” Philaret of the so-called “Kievan Patriarchate”. They received him in 2016 at their St. Sophia’s Seminary in South Bound Brook, New Jersey, discussing “the issue of the recognition of the Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarchate… in the course of the warm and amicable conversation.”

The same two Ukrainian hierarchs visited the KP in Ukraine in 2015 as well, without the blessing of the local canonical hierarchs. The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church subsequently called on the Ecumenical Patriarchate not to allow his hierarchs to interfere in Ukrainian Church matters and to make hierarchical visits without the blessing of the relevant ruling hierarchs.

On June 2, 2018, the Ukrainian Church in the USA served a panikhida and held a memorial luncheon for “Patriarch” Mystyslav (Skrypnyk), whom they identify as “the first Patriarch of the reborn Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” despite that he was never the patriarch of any canonical Church, instead being enthroned on November 6, 1991 as “patriarch” of the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.”

The Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops Beyond the Borders of Ukraine recently released a statement expressing full support for for Poroshenko’s encroachment into ecclesiastical affairs, reflecting the anti-Russian attitude that drives Ukrainian politicians and radicals to persecute the Orthodox Church of Christ. They also then floated the anti-historical idea that Ukraine has always been a canonical part of the EP.

However, despite the EP bishops’ disappointing behavior and announcement over the weekend, the Ukrainian Church is responding calmly and patiently. “There was nothing unusual, extraordinary, or such that we have not heard from Patriarch Bartholomew before,” Fr. Nikolai Danilevich has commented. It looks for now that they “have agreed to negotiate, to save face. That’s how it looks for now. Everything is calm,” he added.

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