Andrew Sorokowski's column

Five Objections to a Patriarchate – and Five Responses

14.06.2018, 08:38
… in view of the prospect of an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox patriarchate … recognition of a UGCC patriarchate may be timely.

… in view of the prospect of an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox patriarchate … recognition of a UGCC patriarchate may be timely.   

In an article in Patriyarkhat (No. 2, 2018, pp. 5-10), the head of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC), Major Archbishop Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) lists five objections to the recognition of the UGCC as a patriarchal church. These objections were outlined in a 2004 letter by his predecessor, Lubomyr (Husar). Sviatoslav, whom many refer to as “Patriarch,” declines to respond to them in detail. Instead, he summarizes them in two arguments commonly heard from Ukrainian Orthodox hierarchs in the context of current discussions about a single local Ukrainian church, and responds to them with an ecclesiological explanation (id., pp. 8-9). He also notes that Lubomyr likewise chose not to reply to the five objections at length. It may be useful to look at them more closely.

The first objection is that a UGCC patriarchate would weaken the Church’s communion with the pope as successor to St. Peter and thus with the Catholic Church as a whole.

It is true that a patriarchal church is practically autocephalous, whereas a major-archepiscopal church is merely autonomous. The synod of a patriarchal church elects its patriarch without his seeking papal confirmation (CCEO canon 75, cf. canon 153 sec. 2). But communion with the pope as head of the universal Church should not be a matter of dependence and subordination. It therefore cannot be diminished by his elevation from major archbishop to patriarch. A newly elected patriarch requests communion with the pope (canon 76, sec. 2). In other words, it is not automatic. Yet this makes it stronger. For it is precisely because a hierarch’s allegiance to the See of St. Peter is voluntary that it can be absolute. The example of the patriarchal Eastern Catholic Churches bears this out.

The second objection is that a patriarchate would mean the creation of a nationalistic Church.

This objection seems to stem from the fact that the patriarchal movement was at times colored by national feeling and drew support from nationalists. But it is equally true that the UGCC resisted the pull of nationalist ideology; indeed, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky criticized it, offering Christian patriotism as an alternative to what was an essentially pagan ideology. There is no reason to think that a patriarchal UGCC would be any more prone to nationalist ideology than it is now.

Of course, if by “nationalistic Church” one means a patriotic Church that supports its land and people in the face of foreign invasion, one can hardly condemn that. Perhaps that is the root of Moscow’s objection.

The third objection to a UGCC patriarchate is that it would hinder the union of Christians in Ukraine.

The assumption is that the Kyivan Orthodox Patriarchate would invoke the principle of “one patriarchate in one country,” or that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate would echo Moscow’s objections. However, those Orthodox who are inclined to seek the union of Churches are most likely to see a UGCC patriarchate as one that would accommodate them as well, possibly by forming a joint Orthodox-Catholic patriarchate. Indeed, the UGCC Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky was apparently prepared to accept a such a joint patriarchate headed by a Ukrainian Orthodox hierarch. Moreover, the essentially autocephalous status of a UGCC patriarchate would make it much more palatable, indeed attractive, to Orthodox wary of Roman control.

The fourth objection is that the creation of a UGCC patriarchate would offend the Moscow Patriarchate, which considers Ukraine its canonical territory.

One can ask whether “canonical territory” is a viable concept in a global and religiously pluralistic age. One can also ask how a Church that maintains Orthodox hierarchs in places like traditionally Catholic Vienna and traditionally Protestant Tallinn and Koenigsberg (now Kaliningrad) can complain of Catholic infringements of its canonical territory. But aside from that, the claim that Ukraine is part of the Moscow Patriarchate’s canonical territory is based on the dubious transfer of the Metropolitanate of Kyiv to Muscovite jurisdiction in 1685-86 – a transfer which the Ecumenical Patriarchate found in 1924 to have been uncanonical. Moreover, since Orthodox ecclesiology follows the contemporary political order (see Council of Chalcedon canon 17, Council in Trullo canon 38), the Russian Church’s canonical territory stops at the Russo-Ukrainian border.

One suspects, however, that Moscow’s chief objection to a Greek-Catholic patriarchate in Ukraine is that it would impede the Russian Church’s political role as a vector of Russian influence over that country. Such considerations have no place in church affairs.   

The fifth objection is that a UGCC patriarchate would preserve uniatism, which has been condemned as an inappropriate means to the achievement of Christian unity.

Indeed, uniatism was condemned by the Balamand Declaration, a report by the Joint International Commission on Theological Dialogue of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, in 1993. The Declaration stated that everyone has freedom of conscience; while the Eastern Catholic Churches have a right to exist, uniatism as a method of union is no longer acceptable. That is, neither individuals nor churches may be compelled to join with the Catholic Church, and any unification of the Eastern and Western Churches must be the voluntary joining of equal partners.

But why would a UGCC patriarchate wish to preserve uniatism? UGCC leaders such as Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky and Patriarch Josyf Slipyj opposed uniatism, which involves all kinds of subordination to Latin-rite authorities as well as undue influence of the Latin on the Byzantine rite. And if the UGCC, as an Eastern Church, has a right to exist, why should it not have a right to exist in the traditional Eastern form of a patriarchate? In fact, it was the denial of patriarchal status that was one of the features of uniatism. If uniatism is objectionable as a means to union because it treats the Orthodox as a second-rate church or not as a church at all, then patriarchal status for Orthodox who have entered into union with Rome would be a major step toward overcoming it.

Andrew Sorokowski

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