Istanbul, November 2, 2020
In response to an inquiry from the editors of the Ukrainian outlet Cerkvarium, which was created “to counter Church propaganda from the aggressor country [Russia—O.C.],” Patriarch Bartholomew clarifies that he only “temporarily tolerates” the ministry of the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, who suddenly found themselves mere titular or residing hierarchs by the will of the Patriarchate of Constantinople ever since the creation of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”
They cannot be considered canonical bishops in Ukraine, he writes.
The Patriarch’s letter in English was published by the Union of Orthodox Journalists. It appears in Ukrainian translation on Cerkvarium.
Pat. Bartholomew begins by recalling the events of October 11, 2018, when the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople revoked the Letter of Issuance of 1686 that transferred the Metropolis of Kiev from the jurisdiction of Constantinople to that of the Russian Church.
“This Letter granted, as a form of ‘condescension,’ to the Patriarch of Moscow the right to only ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv, who ought to … commemorate during the Divine Liturgy ‘among the first’ the Ecumenical Patriarch’ … proclaiming and affirming his canonical dependence to the Mother Church of Constantinople” the Patriarch asserts.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople began to make this argument in the summer of 2018, when it became public knowledge that he intended to create a new church on the ecclesiastical territory of the UOC. Patriarch Kirill proposed to Pat. Bartholomew that a deep study of the relevant historical documents be undertaken, but the former declined, saying it would take too long (studies of the history and documents can be read here and here).
In his letter to Cerkvarium, Pat. Bartholomew also notes that on the same day, the Holy Synod resolved to “canonically reinstate” the schismatics Philaret Denisenko, Makary Maletich, and their followers “to communion with the Church,” thus unilaterally lifting the canonical sanctions put in place by a different Local Church. He had previously acknowledged that the case of Denisenko was beyond his purview.
Then, the Patriarch continues, a “Unifying Clergy-Laity Assembly” was held on December 15, to which all Orthodox hierarchs in Ukraine were invited. However, as he notes, only two hierarchs of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church accepted this invitation, though the rest “were expected to” participate as well. This council elected Epiphany Dumenko as the primate of the new structure and adopted the constitutional charter that had been written for the Ukrainians by the Greek hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in November 2019. A tomos of autocephaly was then granted to Dumenko in Istanbul on January 6, 2019, the Patriarch recalls.
Thus, as the Patriarch explains, the UOC, headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, was replaced with the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” by means of the “unification council”: “Since then, the new autocephalous Church of Ukraine is the only canonical Orthodox Church on the territory of the Ukrainian State and His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphanios of Kyiv and all Ukraine ought to be recognized as its canonical Primate.”
In November 2018, the Patriarch warned Met. Onuphry that he would suddenly find himself non-canonical if he did not attend the council that Constantinople was planning to hold on his canonical territory. His Beatitude chose not to respond.
“In accordance with the canonical principle of territoriality, which is inherent in and a permanent given of Orthodox ecclesiology, no other Church can be present within the jurisdiction of the Church of Ukraine,” the Constantinople primate writes in his recent letter.
However, Constantinople, with its long-suffering pastoral heart as the Mother Church, condescends to tolerate these Ukrainian bishops: “Nevertheless, in a spirit of pastoral sensitivity, we temporarily tolerate the existence of the Ukrainian hierarchs under Russia, not as local ruling bishops, but merely as titular or residing hierarchs in Ukraine, according to canon 8 of I Nicea, hoping that, God willing, they will soon unite with the Local Church.”
“For this reason, His Eminence Onuphrios is no more considered as the canonical Metropolitan of Kyiv, but as a hierarch residing in Kyiv, as it has been printed in the Yearbook of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the year 2020,” he declares.