On December 15, 2018, in Kiev, before a several thousand-strong crowd among whom stood a great number of specially transported state employees from various regions of the country as well as members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic (Uniate) church, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko introduced the head of the new religious structure, which had received the name, “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”. It is interesting that alongside the head of the country and “Metropolitan” Epiphany, on the stage stood only the parliament speaker Andrei Paruby. Neither Metropolitan Emmanuel nor the Constantinople exarchs, who prepared and conducted the council, were present. This looked very strange, because Patriarch Bartholomew’s emissaries’ deep involvement in the preceding events would have presupposed their direct participation in the presentation to the masses of the newly elected head of the OCU.
The final photo recording the first emotion of those present at the council after the announcement of the election results shows that the face of Metropolitan Emmanuel did not express any particular joy. The publications in Ukrainian media to follow during the next few days, which described the peripeteia that happened in that event, explained the reason for such an extremely restrained reaction from the Phanar representatives.
This included information that the Greeks had placed their bets on Metropolitan Simeon of Vinnitsa and Bar’s victory, which would have allowed them to place a canonical bishop at the head of the new structure. This could have increased the chances that a number of fence-sitting bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) could go over to the OCU, and might have eased Constantinople’s burden to provide recognition for the new organization on the level of world Orthodoxy.
As certain publications confirmed, in order to make this plan succeed there were closed consultations held with the influential Volhynian “metropolitan” of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate” Mikhail, during which the necessity was discussed of supporting his candidacy at the elections for the head of the OCU, in order to split the unanimity of the “Kiev Patriarchate” episcopate and remove the possibility of a final victory for Philarets’ protégé, “Metropolitan” Epiphany, from the agenda.
Besides this, the Phanariotes supposed that they would be able to confirm by council decision without any particular problems their own version of the OCU bylaws, in which points were prescribed that would make the OCU seriously dependent upon Constantinople, and the proposed autocephaly no more than a decoration.
However it didn’t go as the guests from Turkey supposed it would.
That scenario began to fall apart at the seams even on the eve of the council.
First, even by applying administrative pressures, the Ukrainian authorities were unable to provide a presence in the Kiev St. Sophia Cathedral of a group of bishops from the UOC sufficient to, albeit with a stretch, call the council a “unification”.
This not only significantly lowered Simeon’s chances of being elected, it also destroyed the foundation of a no less important process. The Greeks urgently needed at least ten bishops of the UOC who would vote for self-dissolution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In this way the Phanar counted on receiving an additional weighty trump card on which it could base its future attacks against the UOC with the aim of liquidating it as a separate, active Church.
Secondly, alarming signals were coming from the camp of the so-called “UOC Kiev Patriarchate”. The exarchs were informed of the uncompromising position of Philaret, who was ready to disrupt the council if it didn’t go according to his own plans.
As the events to come would show, this was no idle rumor.
The council was supposed to begin at 10:00 a.m. However it in fact began only after 1:00 p.m.
The reason for the delay, as the media reports, was Philaret’s demands on Poroshenko and the Constantinople emissaries to provide for the refusal of “Metropolitan” Mikhail of the “UOC KP” of his candidacy at the elections for the head of the OCU. If he didn’t, the indispensible leader of the “Kiev Patriarch” threatened not to sign the document of his religious organization’s self-liquidation, which would automatically mean a derailment of everything that had been planned for the action in St. Sophia.
After lengthy consultations with direct participation by the head of state, they were able to regulate the situation. Mikhail was forced to agree to Philaret’s demands, and the latter gave his “green light” to the “UOC KP’s” self-liquidation.
Incidentally, this was only the first stage in the conflict within the “upper echelons” of Philaret’s structure. It became clear at the council that many of his participants were ready to vote for Mikhail, and that he would easily outrun Epiphany.
Philaret again struck a threatening pose and demanded that his Volhynian colleague sign a written refusal of his candidacy to position number one of the OCU. At this Mikhail’s nerves snapped. He began openly contradicting Philaret, proclaiming that such an approach is not fair or democratic. His position found active support from the delegates sitting in the hall.
The atmosphere became more and more heated. No one wanted to give in. Finally Mikhail and his supporters left the Little Sophia hall in protest. Philaret in turn threatened that if the ambitions of his Volhynian fosterling do not cool down, he himself will command his own supporting “bishops” to leave the cathedral.
The blackmail worked. Poroshenko and Paruby had an emotional talk with Mikhail, after which the latter finally gave in and ceased his struggle for the position of leadership in the OCU. After this the voice of the episcopate of the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church”, the UOC KP, and the Greek participants of the council could no longer hinder the victory of Philaret’ protégé. Epiphany, as expected, outran Simeon and became the triumphant final elected leader of the present delegation.
As a result of this development, Philaret scored two important victories. The first was over the “Greek party”, who thirsted to remove the leader of the “UOC KP” from front stage and take the newly organized structure under its complete control. The second was over the plans of Petro Poroshenko to place someone closer to him in the head of the OCU’s chair—someone who would heed the desires of the guarantor of the Constitution no less than, and even more eagerly than directives coming from ecclesiastical Istanbul.
However these were not Philaret’s final victories. After the election of the head of the OCU, an extremely harsh debate broke out regarding the new organization’s bylaws. The passions reached unprecedented heights of intensity and fury.
In part, reproaches were flung at the Phanar representatives about how it is not good to give the OCU the low status of a metropolia. However, the Greeks “showed their teeth” too sweet. The emissaries from Constantinople stated that there has never been a Patriarchate in Ukraine, and if there is something bothering them about this then Constantinople is also ready to rise up and leave the council before it ends.
No less tense was the fight over the section on the format of the OCU Synod’s work. The Phanar representatives insisted that the Synod not have permanent members and that it be formed on the basis of rotation. Their opponents asserted the opposite view, pointing out that without the presence of permanent members on the Synod, the head of the OCU will find it difficult to conduct his politics and have an influence on the work of one of the most important mechanisms of rule in the given structure.
In the final analysis a “hybrid” option won out. For a certain transition period there will be three permanent members on the Synod. This means Philaret, head of the “UAOC” Makary, and the loser of the final battle for position number one in the OCU, Metropolitan Simeon.
Incidentally, for the Greeks, this was only the “blossom”. The “berry” was the decision to leave Philaret with the title “honorary patriarch”, which automatically fixed him in the OCU with the position of “kingmaker” and created good possibilities for “butting” against the Phanar for control over the new religious organization.
Taking all of this into consideration, there is probably no need to be surprised at Metropolitan Emanuel’s stony face and why no one from the “Greek party” was present at Epiphany’s presentation before the crowd gathered on St. Sophia Square.
The Phanar’s bad hangover
Only a few days had passed after the council when the information space began shocking everyone with scandalous and absolutely unexpected announcements and publications made by participants of the above event.
letter was posted from Patriarch Bartholomew in which the latter announces that he hereby receives the former vicar bishop of the UOC under his omophorion. It was dated December 14, 2018—the day before the council in Kiev. A number of experts consider that the former head of the Vynnista diocese of the UOC, Simeon, received a similar letter.
If that is so, then not even one bishop of the UOC participated in the council, because by the time it was conducted both Metr. Alexander and Metr. Simeon were already representatives of the Constantinople Patriarchate. And this means that now, not even by the most absurd stretch can what took place in the Ukrainian capital on December 15 be called a “unification” council of “three Churches”. In fact what took place was no more than the melding together of two groups recognized by the Orthodox world as schismatic—the “UOC KP” and “UAOC”—into one whole, under the direct control of Constantinople.
Moreover the Volhynian “metropolitan’s” overwrought state led him to say a number of things permeated with a spirit of the Borgia epoch, coming very close to being direct threats against Epiphany.
“There could be new elections even tomorrow. There could be several reasons for this—the death of the primate, or his stepping down from that position. Just because he’s young there is no guarantee that he won’t remain without a post for a long time,” weightily emphasized Mikhail.
Thirdly, Epiphany himself made his own mark. At first, as the Ukrainian service of Radio Liberty reported, he allows for the possibility of the UOC eventually switching to the “new calendar”.1 Then, on air on ICTV television, Epiphany did not dismiss the scenarios of the OCU combining with Greek Catholics. In his words, they first need to unite Ukrainian Orthodoxy, and then we’ll see. However, as the head of the UOC noted, there is a mood within his structure for a deepening cooperation with the UGCC. And this cooperation will begin in the sphere of education.
In this context we immediately recall the words of the head of the UGCC Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) that he pronounced on April 17, 2018 during a meeting with U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Mary Jovanovich. At that time, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics noted that the unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox within the framework of a new religious structure will be only the first step, after which will come a second—the intensification of its ecumenical dialogue with the UGCC, which is supposed to result in the unification of the “churches of the St. Vladimir Baptism” within a united Local Kievan Church.
Fourthly, the leader of the “Right Sector”2 Dimitry Yarosh has not remained outside of these processes. Calling himself a Greek Catholic, the leader of the “Ukrainian Volunteer Army” called on his Facebook page for a “hunt on Moscow popes [derisive word for priests].” Here is a direct quote from that text:
“The so-called UOC MP is not a church. It is an FSB residency that is an “Iskander” [the name of a Russian missile] in the hands of the satanist Putin, just as it was before in the hands of Stalin, Beria, Zhukov, and other atheists. The hierarchy of the so-called UOC MP, which has not found the national courage, strength and argument to change over to the Ukainian Church, are also not servants of God but agents of the FSB and Putin’s network, and that means they are enemies of Ukraine. A hunt on Moscow popes who faithfully serve Putin and Kirill is a work pleasing to God and our Motherland.”3
It is interesting that this leader sees the future of Ukraine in the “unification of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the recognition of this unification by both Constantinople and the Vatican.” As the People’s Deputy sees it, this will be the next epochal step in the development of nation and state.
Well, and the richest moment in the array of scandals was made by Philaret himself.
On December 16, 2018, in his address in the St. Vladimir Cathedral, he announced that he will be ruling the OCU along with Epiphany. At that he basically placed his protégé in the role of merely “minister of foreign affairs” under his own “presidency”. In the words of Philaret, Epiphany will be representing the OCU in the international arena. Just the same, this will only last until the OCU is recognized as a patriarchate. As soon as that happens, the power of the “patriarch” will also extend over new religious structure’s sphere of external relations.
Philaret’s words produced the effect of a bomb explosion. As it turns out, they thought they chose Epiphany as the head of the OCU, but in fact they chose Philaret.
Incidentally, on December 17 he waltzed into the services at the St. Vladimir Cathedral wearing his patriarchal kukol [white, rounded hat/hood with a cross on top] as if nothing had happened.
This was the “warning shot” at the head of all the Phanar’s ambitions. He showed Patriarch Bartholomew his place, and his true regard for Constantinople’s claims on its “Ukrainian inheritance”.
Conclusions and predictions
1) The events that took place have demonstrated that Constantinople’s plan to represent its meddling in Ukrainian Church affairs as a unifying element of Ukrainian Orthodoxy fell through with a deafening crash. De facto, with the Phanar’s application there came about a mere legalization of a schismatic structure. As a result of this simplistic rebranding, the “UAOC” and the “UOC KP” are now called the “OCU”. Furthermore, the head of the new structure has to be considered not Epiphany but Philaret, who reserves the right to rule the new structure, giving his favorite no more than external church relations.
2) Mikhail, the main competitor of Epiphany at the elections, has not reconciled himself with his humiliation and is prepared to continue the battle. This means that both Philaret and the nominal head of the OCU may now run up against backstage sabotage and opposition to their authority from the Volhynian “metropolitan” and his supporters. After Philaret’s death, Epiphany will be in dire straights. That is if he is unable by that time to significantly strengthen his personal position and authority in the ranks of the OCU “episcopate”.
3) It is entirely probable that in his struggle with Philaret and Epiphany, Mikhail can rely on cadres from the “UAOC”. Everyone knows about the complicated relationship between Makary and Philaret, as well as about the latter’s desire to dissolve once and for all the “UAOC” into the structure under his control. If the irreplaceable leader of the recently sunk into oblivion “UOC KP” sets about his work in a format of “breaking” the opposition “over his knee”, Mikhail will certainly gain new allies.
4) The first official commentaries demonstrate an, albeit cautious, but nevertheless readiness by Epiphany for a marked transformation within the OCU. Here we are talking about the possibility of introducing the “new calendar”, as well as a serious deepening of cooperation with Greek Catholics, the strategic result of which may be the combining of the OCU and the UGCC into one whole structure.
5) Very soon we can expect the Ukrainian parliament to pass their “anti-church” projects, in which they will try to change the official name of the UOC4 and make it easier to transfer the UOC’s churches to the OCU. There are several interests standing behind these steps. The first is the transfer to the Phanar of church possessions under their numerous stavropegic establishments (it’s much easier to grab for this purpose the churches of the UOC than of Philaret and co.). The second step is to place additional pressure on the episcopate and clergy of the UOC with the intention of speeding up and broadening the scale of people and churches moving over from the UOC to the OCU (taking over churches requires after all a certain amount of time and resources, and here they are counting on the passing of laws to scare the unstable and make the wavering decide more quickly to change confessions). The third is the change of power distribution within the ecclesiastical milieu in favor of the OCU, so that it would become the largest confession in Ukraine (this would allow in part for the Phanar to claim widespread support for its actions among Orthodox Ukrainians, and strike a painful blow to structures close to the Russian Orthodox Church). The fourth is the solving of purely electoral aims in the style of a “final crushing of the ‘Russian world’ in Ukraine.”
How these laws will be put into practice is shown by the situation with the seizure of the cathedral in Vinnitsa. In the dark of night, Metropolitan Simeon’s close supporters conducted a so-called “parish meeting”, at which it was resolved that they would transfer to the OCU. Then the church guards were replaced with new ones, and the church found itself fast in the hands of the bishop who had been defrocked by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
It would not be difficult to organize similar “parish meetings” all over Ukraine. All that is needed are the desire, resources, and appropriate opportunities. And these will all increase a hundredfold with the passing of applicable legislature.
6) On the eve of receiving the tomos, the final battle will break out for the OCU bylaws (according to information from a number of media, it has not yet been ratified). Having given in on a number of important issues, Philaret will try to outmaneuver the situation with the establishment of the Phanar’s custody over the Ukrainian diaspora. In turn the Greeks will defend to the last their position that the tomos is more important than the bylaws and that no changes can be made to the bylaws without Patriarch Bartholomew’s approval. This will be done with the aim of leveling any threats by Philaret to rewrite the bylaws after receiving the tomos to his total advantage and total disadvantage of the Phanar.
Perhaps Philaret’s appearance in a patriarchal kukol in the St. Vladimir Cathedral was a signal that the “honorary patriarch” may have some aces up his sleeve. It is not a fact that the liquidation of the “UOC KP” at the council was registered in the necessary legal manner. This means that the bylaws of the “Kiev Patriarchate”, registered in the appropriate governmental agencies, are still in effect. And Philaret can always return to them and reanimate the “UOC KP” should the Phanar suddenly try to make sections of the bylaws “indigestible” to Epiphany’s teacher.
7) The final outcome of the struggle for the bylaws show whether or not we can expect the Phanar to use their most powerful weapon after Philaret’s death to “force” the OCU into submission. The name of this weapon is the possibility of recalling the tomos at any moment convenient to the Phanar. After taking similar steps with regard to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Western European Exarchate’s Russian parishes, there are obviously no limits to such actions. Absolutely none.
And it could very possibly turn out that after a certain period of time, the “festival of disobedience” in the OCU and the departure to another world of Constantinople’s most dangerous “church” competitor in Ukraine, the situation could again return to its original point—the restoration of the Kiev Metropolia of the Constantinople Patriarchate.
However, up to that time the Phanar has to preserve itself as a power capable of dictating something and forcing other religious structures to do its bidding. Such a boldfaced and brazen legalization of a schism, striking a blow to the unity of the entire Orthodox World, is an extremely risky step. And this is not at all because Constantinople will have to answer for its lawlessness before other Orthodox Churches. There exists a Judgment that is much more terrible and impartial.
The Lord examineth the righteous man and the ungodly; but he that loveth unrighteousness hateth his own soul. He will rain down snares upon sinners; fire and brimstone and wind of tempest shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous and hath loved righteousness; upon uprightness hath His countenance looked (Ps. 10:5–7).
The author, Taras Melnick, is a Ukrainian journalist and native Kievan.