Archbishop Job (Getcha) of Telmessos: “Ukraine is the canonical territory of the Church of Constantinople”
By tradition, at the end of July, the Ukrainian Orthodox believers of all jurisdictions celebrate the Baptism of Rus. The Ukrainian state, represented by its leaderships and members of other local Orthodox Churches, willingly participates in these celebrations. This year’s celebrations were attended by Archbishop Job (Getcha) of Telmessos, representative of the Patriarch of Constantinople, who came at the invitation of the President of Ukraine and kindly agreed to give an interview for RISU. He gave direct answers to direct questions: what will happen to the Churches which did not participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council, what is the destiny of eschatological marginal currents, why the issue of autocephaly was blocked, and if the Orthodox Ukrainians may hope for autocephaly.
— Your Eminence, what is your impression of the Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete? Has it achieved everything planned? Are the organization and results satisfying?
— In principle, the Council was successful in the sense that all the documents prepared and agreed upon in the course of preparation of the Pan-Orthodox Council were adopted. Of course, with a few amendments, but these amendments are minimal, and the documents have not changed in essence. Therefore, we believe that the Council was a success. Of course, it is a pity that four Churches refused to participate. They refused at the last moment, while they were involved in its preparation, they signed documents that had been prepared, they even took part in organizational meetings a month before the Council. And the Russian Orthodox Church was present even a week before the Council at the meeting of the Committee to prepare its message to the Council. They decided not to participate in the Council right at the last moment.
— Was it unexpected?
— We did not expect, of course. Unfortunately, the Churches made this decision, and now they are responsible for this decision. But the Council was held as planned.
— The absence of these four Churches has given grounds for the ROC to declare that it does not recognize the Pan-Orthodox status of the Council. But as we know from history, even at the Ecumenical Councils all the then existing Churches and bishops were not represented. To what extent is position of the Russian Orthodox Church justified?
— In the ecclesial history, at most councils representatives of many Churches were absent. Here the process of reception of the council is also of importance. While many Ecumenical Councils failed to gather representatives of all Churches, all the Churches received their decisions, which gave the ecumenical status to these Councils.
— Thus, participation and reception are parallel concepts, not necessarily related to each other?
— Right. But from history we know there were the Churches that refused to participate in some councils. And since they refused to participate in the councils, they remained outside the Church. Well, for example, the Armenian Church rejected the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in the V century, because it thought that the problem of Monophysitism is an internal problem of the Church of Constantinople and it was not relevant for it. There were also political issues associated with this stance. But now the Armenian Church is not in the communion with universal Orthodoxy. It is one of the non-Chalcedonian Churches that for centuries has remained beyond the universal Church.
— So, such a refusal can have any and all possible historical consequences.
— It depends on reception of the council. The Council is over, and the Churches, which refused to participate in it, are now responsible for their future.
— Recently, the Moscow Patriarchate spokesmen have made several statements that the Russian Church has all the instruments and mechanisms to convene a “true” Pan-Orthodox Council. How these statements reflect the realities?
— Well, it is not for the first time that the Moscow Patriarchate wants to act this way. Similar attempts were made in 1948, when they tried to hold such a Pan-Orthodox meeting in Moscow, in Soviet times. And we know that they did not succeed, and not just because some Churches refused to participate. It must be borne in mind that the Russian Orthodox Church has no canonical grounds to convene such a Council.
— The Russian Orthodox Church actively promoted the political doctrine “Moscow the Third Rome,” where the Church plays the role of the “gatherer of Russian lands.” How does the Ecumenical Patriarchate respond to it?
— The myth of “Moscow the Third Rome” rests on the opinions expressed by Philotheus, a Russian monk who lived in the XV-XVI centuries. This is an absolute myth, because in the history of the Church and in the canonical sense there is no first, second, third or fourth Rome. There was the old Rome, which was the center of the Roman Empire, the center of European civilization, and there was the new Rome — the new capital of the Roman Empire. There is no first or second Rome but there are the old and the new ones. There will be no third, fourth and fifth Romes either.
And this is not only the history of the Church, not only the history of the empire – it is a history of human civilization. The Churches of Rome and Constantinople today contain the legacy of these two Churches. They are the heirs of their political, ecclesial, human history, and they enjoy canonical grounds and privileges related thereto.
— In the Orthodox world and in the ROC it is very pronounced, the currents are gaining ground that adopt a very aggressive eschatological stance regarding the eighth, ninth and subsequent Ecumenical Councils, and respectively, a very critical attitude, putting it mildly, to the organizer of the Council on Crete, the Ecumenical Patriarch. Do these eschatological currents with political overtones pose a threat to the unity of the Ecumenical Orthodoxy? Generally, is the conflict along the line of “fundamentalism – ecumenism” is a serious challenge for Orthodoxy?
— These currents are marginal, despite the number of supporters. They do not represent the position of the Church.
— But the Russian Church does not counter them, it rather benefits from them.
— These currents are very dangerous and perverse. Therefore the Church as such cannot accept these marginal viewpoints. These viewpoints are not revealing the truth of the Christian faith and Christian mission.
You see, someone likes to apply the principle of numbers, and believes that the more followers there are, the more powerful or more righteous they will become. If we go back to the history of the Church, in the IV century Arians were so numerous and powerful, even such great figures of the Church as St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Basil the Great worried whether the Church would survive. But despite the number of Arianism adherents, the Church never accepted such a standpoint, since the Arian doctrine was marginal and did not correspond to the truth of the Christian faith and Christian doctrine.
Later, in times of struggle with monotheletism in the VII century, Saint Maximus the Confessor was almost the sole adherent of the Orthodox faith. Almost everyone, most people were adherents of monotheletism. But finally monotheletism was condemned by the Council and it was St. Maximus the Confessor, who, being alone with his standpoint, finally won. Therefore one should not rest any concept, theory or plan on marginal views or numbers. You need not worry about that.
— So, historically, it is the truth that will win and not the number or aggressiveness of marginalized people…
— Let me get back to the question of autocephaly. The question of autocephaly proclamation was removed from the agenda at the Pan-Orthodox Council as conflict-provoking and the one for which there is no Pan-Orthodox consensus. Why does this issue evoke so much controversy? After all, autocephaly is a natural way of church governance.
— In the course of preparation of the Pan-Orthodox Council, the issue of autocephaly and its proclamation was raised and discussed. There are texts of the documents that were drawn up. I will tell about the whole process to understand at what point everything stopped. The study began with the allegation that the Ecumenical Patriarchate was considered the only Patriarchate in the Orthodox world, which had the right to grant autocephaly both for historical and canonical reasons. In the history all new autocephalous churches which appeared starting from the XVI century, beginning with the rise of the Russian Orthodox Church until now – are the former territories of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to which it granted autocephaly. And for canonical reasons the Ecumenical Patriarchate holds the first place in the Orthodox world.
While discussing the issue of autocephaly at the Pan-Orthodox level in a spirit of consensus it was stated: “No! Constantinople alone cannot grant the autocephalous status. It should be added that for granting autocephaly there should be consent and request of that Church, a part of which wants to become autocephalous.” Here an actual example shall be provided, if Ukraine wants to obtain autocephaly, then Constantinople alone cannot establish it, a request of the Russian Orthodox Church is required, as Ukraine is currently in the bosom of this Church.
Then, in the framework of preparation for the Pan-Orthodox Council, the Patriarchate of Constantinople displayed willingness to compromise, and agreed that autocephaly can be granted by Constantinople only with the consent and upon request of the Church, to which this part belongs.
Furthermore, we reached the issue of preparation of the Tomos – a document that proclaims the church autocephaly, and which contains all points that a new Church should comply with, all the requirements that it must perform. Again, it was stated that this Tomos should be signed only by the Patriarch of Constantinople. As part of the discussions it was stated: “No! It should be signed by all heads, all heads of the local churches. They have to be in agreement, they should mutually recognize this new church.” Again, the Constantinople Patriarchate made a compromise and said, “OK. The Tomos will be signed by all heads of the local Churches.”
— And every signature involves talks…
— Yes, it does.
Thus, Constantinople settled for a compromise. We reached the issue of signing the Tomos. From history we know that Tomoses were signed by the Patriarch of Constantinople, who, after putting his signature, writes the word “proclaim”. Thereofore, the Ecumenical Patriarch as the first hierarch, the one presiding at the Synod proclaims autocephaly. Following this, the members of the Synod of the Church of Constantinople affixed their signatures without a word. It is the head who proclaims, others just put their signatures confirming it is an official valid document. Constantinople wanted to adapt the practice and said, “The Patriarch of Constantinople signs the Tomos putting the word “proclaim” and other Primates, as previously the Synod members did, just affix their signatures in the manner established by Orthodox diptychs.” Again, there was discussion, and again a new requirement was made: “No! Other patriarchs also should add the word after his signature.” And Constantinople again agreed to a compromise. It said, “Well, then let us do it like this: the Ecumenical Patriarch signs and puts the word “proclaim” and the other patriarchs sign it and put the wording “collegially proclaim” according to the principle of liturgical worship.” After all, when the Divine Liturgy is performed, it is always the first hierarch who celebrates, whom we deem to be presiding over the service, while others co-celebrate.
— Quite logical.
— And again the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate disagreed — with the word "collegially proclaim.” They wanted every patriarch to put his signature with the word “proclaim”. And here the Ecumenical Patriarchate disagreed. Not because of its dignity or for some political reason. Just because it is illogical and wrong. Only one person can proclaim and others, who are with him, can only collegially proclaim. Everyone cannot proclaim separately. And since that time this issue has been blocked. And since the time when these meetings were held in 2009, if I am not mistaken, it has remained blocked.
In other words, the issue of autocephaly was considered, a compromise text was elaborated, but due to the issue of putting signatures under the Tomos, everything was blocked. So it was decided not to include this issue in the agenda. For Constantinople it means that the issue of autocephaly now regains the status quo it had at the beginning of its consideration (i.e. the compromises that were agreed on are considered not reached – Tetiana Derkach), as no conclusion was made for all the ratified compromise versions.
— The first autocephalous Churches are termed ancient, then there was the second wave – the new autocephalous Churches, starting with the ROC, emerged, and they were somewhat qualitatively different. In your opinion, is the need for the recent wave of autocephaly a natural process or an evidence of specific problems within Orthodoxy? Is universal Orthodoxy ready to the rise of the third, latest wave of autocephaly?
— What is the difference between the first wave and the second wave? In fact, the second wave began in the XVI century with the granting of autocephaly to the Russian Orthodox Church. What is the difference between the first wave and the second wave, why is their status different? The difference is that the ancient centers, which included Rome (but the issue of Rome is a different question at the moment) – the Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Cyprus – are the Churches that had been approved at the Ecumenical Councils. As we know, it is the principle of the Church, and even fundamentalists agree and repeat that the Orthodox Church must comply with the Ecumenical Councils. We cannot consider ourselves Orthodox, if we abandon some Ecumenical Council resolutions. They are binding for the Orthodox Church.
These Churches have been confirmed by the Ecumenical Councils, while others, the new wave of autocephaly, have been not confirmed by the Ecumenical Councils. We cannot say that their autocephaly is something different, but their status has not been confirmed by the Ecumenical Councils.
— Were they granted autocephaly out of oikonomia, or for political reasons?
— The new wave of autocephaly always arose in response to political circumstances — the establishment of a new state or a new empire. Autocephaly was granted to the Church taking into account the situation of the state to solve an administrative problem. So this second wave of autocephaly continues nowadays — most of autocephalous Churches were proclaimed in the late nineteenth and in twentieth century.
— The second wave of autocephaly separated from Constantinople, but there is a third wave, when the Churches do not separate from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but from its affiliated Churches. This is the problem both of the Serbian Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. But Constantinople it has already overcome it.
— Constantinople has always believed that the territory of Ukraine is the canonical territory of the Church of Constantinople. I should be kept in mind that it was on the basis of the Kyiv Metropolis that the Polish Church was granted autocephaly in 1924. The Polish state appealed to Constantinople ...
— Was it the government that appealed?
— Right, this is how it happened. In the 20-ies, the Polish state became independent. And the government said, ‘We do not mind that Orthodox Christians live in Poland and practice their faith and have their own church. But we do not want the state to Poland to have a church that would be a column of an alien state, and even more – of an antagonistic state.” Therefore the Polish state appealed to Constantinople in 1924 so that Constantinople granted the autocephalous status to the Polish Church. It was the request of the state for a solution of the political problem.
— So, the church problem can be a political problem as well…
— Right. For Poland it was no issue of Orthodox faith, Orthodox doctrine of Orthodox worship – this is religious issue and not of the state. But the Polish state faced a political challenge: it did not want the Orthodox Church in Poland to serve the interests of others states. And for this reason it appealed to Constantinople to be granted autocephaly and resolve political problems.
On what grounds did Constantinople give Tomos in 1924 to the Polish Orthodox Church? Constantinople considered the Polish Church as former part of the Kyiv Metropolis. As we know, under Metropolitan Cyprian Tsamblak’s tenure the Kyiv Metropolis was located within the Polish-Lithuanian state, i.e. its borders extended to the territory of Poland and contemporary Lithuania. The same situation was at the times of Petro Mohyla, who was Metropolitan of Kyiv. The Kyiv Metropolis then was subject to Constantinople. As long as Poland once related to the Kyiv Metropolis that was in direct canonical subordination to Constantinople, Constantinople granted autocephaly to the Polish Church in 1924.
So, as long as Constantinople granted autocephaly to the Polish Church on the basis of the Kyiv Metropolis why today Constantinople alone has no right to grant autocephalous status to the Kyiv Metropolis? If it was possible in 1924 –it is possible today.
— The Ukrainian delegation as part of the Russian Church did not participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council. Another part of Orthodox Ukrainians remained without any representation in universal Orthodoxy. Who is responsible for this pitiful state of relations between the Orthodox Ukrainian, as this state of affairs is abnormal?
— The Ecumenical Patriarch has repeatedly stated that the Church of Constantinople is the Mother Church for the Ukrainian Church. He has repeatedly emphasized that he is the spiritual father for Ukrainians. So, the Ecumenical Patriarch continually monitors the situation of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and is concerned over it.
Moreover, after the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine appealed to the Patriarchate of Constantinople to establish a canonical autocephalous Church, the request was considered at the last Synod and the Synod decided to bring this issue to the Commission for a serious and thorough study of the issue. So, Constantinople is considering this issue.
— It is widely stated that this solution should result in the unification of all Orthodox branches. But how to unite if one of the branches does not see such a need, if other Orthodox jurisdictions do not exist for it as such? Thus, we have an unpleasant phenomenon of isolation of the canonical branch represented by the episcopate and clergy. They react very painfully to the very appearance in Ukraine of representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
How can we talk about unification, if one jurisdiction lives in its own parallel reality where no one else exists? With this in mind, does the Ecumenical Patriarchate have any mechanisms to solve the Ukrainian issue? At the level of statement of the UOC (MP) hierarchs, the problem of status change allegedly does not exist.
— You have outlined the problem and in this outline you emphasized its complexity. There must be a certain process to solve this problem that we must explore and find. And this is precisely the objective of this Commission. If there was an answer how to solve the problem – it would have been solved long ago.
Constantinople does not need to study the Ukrainian issue in order to decide whether it has the right to grant autocephaly or not, whether the Ukrainian church is the daughter of the Church of Constantinople, or not, whether Ukraine is the canonical territory of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, or not. Constantinople knows it well enough, which it repeatedly emphasized and stated. The issue should be studied in terms of finding a way to solve the problem. This is the objective of the commission. Therefore, at the moment I cannot tell you in which way the problem will be solved. We have not yet found the process to implement, otherwise the issue would have been resolved.
But it should be noted, and this is a canonical principle that one and the same territory can have only one Church. That is, two autocephalous Churches cannot simultaneously operate on the same territory. Proclaiming an autocephalous Church requires unity. Therefore, we should work on this unity.
— Today many Churches face the challenge of separation and unrecognized jurisdictions. Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine believe that even keeping a quiet peaceful dialogue with opponents is non-canonical, it cannot be conducted in any way.
— Can’t we hold a dialogue?
— No, we cannot. The “Kyiv Patriarchate is schismatic, and there is an only way – to return to the fold of the Moscow Patriarchate.” Is this stance in line with the canonical principles and Christian conscience in general?
— I will quote just one example from the Bible. Open the Book of Job in the Old Testament. The first chapter of the Book of Job tells about the dialogue (“dialogue” is the Greek for “conversation”) between God and the devil. In the Book of Job, God has a dialogue with Satan. If such a dialogue is possible — between God and the devil! — Why would the dialogue between Christians and especially between Orthodox Christians be impossible now?
— The Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine is trying to present the situation as the unprecedented persecution in Ukraine of the only recognized jurisdiction. To what extent are the Orthodox Churches objectively informed as to why there are conflicts over church buildings in Ukraine, why the UOC Moscow Patriarchate enjoys a low level of trust, what role the ROC plays in fuelling the conflict in Donbas? To what extent is this information available?
— You mean, how well are the Churches outside of Ukraine informed?
— It should be noted that very different and contradictory information is being spread. This is not anything new: in any matter, i.e. political, if we compare the information submitted by American journalists, it can diverge with the information supplied by Russian journalists. And even in the same country, depending on political preferences of newspapers and journalists the information is highlighted differently in different newspapers.
I would say that the world is really poorly informed about what is going on in Ukraine. For example, I was asked a question by a bishop of the Patriarchate of Constantinople before my trip, whether Russian troops are still in Ukraine. He was under the impression that this issue was resolved after Minsk agreements. This is just one example.
The information is certainly available, and there are various contradictions in this information, but, frankly speaking, they write not much about Ukraine in the media outside Ukraine.
— But how the Ukrainian issue can be solved if there is no full, objective information about the situation and relations between Ukrainians? Is this also the issue for the Commission?
— This is one more reason why the matter was transferred to the Commission for a deeper study.
— The UAOC has also filed an appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch for its recognition as part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Will it be reviewed by the Commission?
— When referring to the Ukrainian issue, we are speaking about the Church globally. This is not only a study of one part or one branch, the question is considered in its entirety. Of course, this matter will be considered too.
— So, is it planned to turn all the centrifugal tendencies in the opposite direction?
— Sure, to consider them jointly.
— And the last question, Your Eminence. Perhaps it may seem funny to you. But in Russian circles it is rumored that you have been appointed as Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukraine. Can you comment on this?
— (Laughing) Never heard about that, first of all. Second, Constantinople could not be doing this either, because the study shall begin from the beginning, not from the end.
— Thank you, Your Eminence!
Kyiv, July 29, 2016