Remarks at the roundtable “Ukrainian Orthodoxy and the Question of Autocephaly: Religious and Political Dimensions of the Conflict between Constantinople and Moscow,” Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada, Oct. 11.
In the so-called “Havana declaration” (or Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia) we find quite a strange passage (among some others…): “It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.” A lot of experts tried to figure out what they meant, since there is no common canonical ground between Catholics and Orthodox, especially concerning those issues that are crucial to the Ukrainian case. This passage becomes more uncertain within today's context, when we hear that all stakeholders of the process are appealing to the Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church. I think it’s quite evident that this passage was a product of Church diplomacy (like many others) and, as is usual in such cases, each side then has enough space for their own interpretations. One response to this passage from those Ukrainian Orthodox who are striving to achieve autocephaly was quite interesting and logical: we want autocephaly for our Church because this is our right due to the canonical tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
It is quite evident that the ecumenical dialog between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches has different vectors or even consists of two or more dialogs. I don’t want to go into the history of this question, going so far back as the missions of Antonio Possevino to Ivan the Terrible. In my opinion, the present configuration of that dialog is mostly the product of the Cold War era and was modified after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Starting from the period of the Second Vatican Council, an active bilateral dialog between Rome and Moscow coincides with the parallel dialog between Rome and Constantinople, and Rome and the whole Orthodox world. During this whole period, the Moscow Patriarchate successively demonstrated to the Vatican’s diplomats that, without good relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, all other forms of dialog with the Orthodox world would be fruitless. Frankly speaking, within the Roman Curia there were (and still are) such ecumenists who think that the keys to the whole of Orthodoxy are in Moscow.
The state of dialog got worse after the renewal of the structures of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church in Ukraine at the end of the 1980s. The disruption of dialog showed that the successes of post-conciliar communication were guaranteed only by the political situation of the 1960s or 1970s. Ecumenical dialog became a hostage of that postwar European order and the consequences of the situation we are experiencing up until today. If in the nineteenth century the main goal of the dialog between St. Petersburg and Rome was to limit so-called “Polish separatism”, in the second part of the twentieth century the “Ukrainian question” became the crucial one. During the last 28 years, we have always heard from the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate that ecumenical dialog would be fruitless until the Vatican resolve the so-called “Uniate question” in Ukraine. The situation became more complicated because the relations between Greco-Catholics and pro-autocephalous Orthodox in Ukraine during last two decades were quite friendly. In 2012, the UGCC officially recognized the validity of baptism in the UOC KP. (Moscow Patriarchate doesn’t recognize them even as Christians). That recognition provoked a new wave of criticism from the Moscow Patriarchate and — I’m convinced — a bunch of appeals to the Vatican.
As for the high level of relations, Vatican official representatives usually avoid any official meeting with pro-autocephalous leaders in Ukraine. Pope John Paul II did meet with Patriarch Filaret during his visit to Ukraine, but only in Filaret’s capacity as a member of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations. It was a clever trick that made their meeting possible. It is worth mentioning that, after the death of the saintly Pope, Patriarch Filaret served a Panakhyda (a memorial service) — a powerful gesture, since there was opposition within his circle to such a memorial service.
Only a week ago, Ukrainian media spread the news that, during the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin’s meeting with Archbishop Gallaher, a representative of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, the former expressed the Vatican’s respect for pro-autocephalous sentiments within Ukrainian society. The reaction of Archbishop Claudio Guggerotti, the present Nuncio to Ukraine, to this news report was harsh and immediate. It is quite understandable that the processes within the Orthodox world aren’t the competency of the Vatican. But it is also clear that the Vatican finds itself in a very delicate situation. And it is highly likely that this situation will be far more complicated if Constantinople will grant autocephaly to Ukraine, since Moscow officially proclaimed that it would withdraw from all organizations and gatherings where representatives of Constantinople would be present. And they will certainly break all forms of relations with those who will enter into communication with the new autocephalous Church in Ukraine. Such a situation might last for decades. I think that the intensification of the meetings of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeev with different representatives of the Catholic Church, which we saw in the last few weeks, testify that the Moscow Patriarchate wants to prevent the possible involvement of the new Ukrainian autocephalous Church in the ecumenical dialog.
I’m well aware that the new Church might not be well prepared for such dialog, but I think it can improve its capability with the openness and help from the Church of Constantinople and from Catholics. If the seminarians of the Moscow Patriarchate can study in Rome or other Catholic universities around the world, why can’t Ukrainian Orthodox have the same opportunities?
And what about ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox within Ukraine? There are some fears on the side of Greco-Catholics today, mostly because it is not clear on which principles this new autocephalous Church will develop its relations with the state. Will it be a Russian model, or a more civilized one? It is hard to predict also what the mainstream approach to the Greco-Catholic Church on the part of the new Church will be. Will it be again a Russian one, or more unbiased? But again, as in the case of ecumenical dialog on the global level, the emergence of an independent Ukrainian Church, officially recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch, might bolster dialog between Ukrainian Christians of the Eastern tradition. First of all, in a today’s highly complicated situation within Ukrainian Orthodoxy, it is too hard to establish a genuine, official, and long-term dialog between Greco-Catholics and Orthodox, starting with, for example, a common group for the translation of different liturgical texts or some kind of historical commission which would be helpful in healing the memories of the past. If such intra-Ukrainian ecumenical dialog would be fruitful, it could also make a great contribution on the global level. It could put aside the clichéd argument of the Moscow Patriarchate that one of the main obstacles in the Catholic-Orthodox dialog is a very existence of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
Of course, the pressure from the side of the Moscow Patriarchate will be strong enough and one can predict that for some time we might hear a lot of blackmail, we might see a lot of attempts to isolate the Ukrainian Church from all contacts with other Churches, and it is highly likely that we will also see Rome’s position to be reserved and cautious. But I’m convinced that the anticipated autocephaly is a real chance for ecumenism.
Anatolii Babynskyi, a layman of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, Journalist, Doctoral Research Fellow, The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies (MASI), Faculty of Theology of the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto; PhD candidate, Ukrainian Catholic University.