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Is there a chance for a single Orthodox Church in the future of Ukraine?

02.03.2010, 14:54
Is there a chance for a single Orthodox Church in the future of Ukraine? - фото 1
If to characterize the situation of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, then it can be expressed with the help of the phrase: “Today everything is possible.” This expression also needs to be explained.

Yurii Chornomorets


If to characterize the situation of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, then it can be expressed with the help of the phrase: “Today everything is possible.” This expression also needs to be explained.

There are prospects in the negotiations due to the policy of “unification of Orthodoxy” of the Constantinople Patriarchate.

For a long time negotiations led to nothing and only distracted the parties from other potential partners. If the UOC talked with the UAOC, then this only meant that the UAOC is being distracted from negotiations with Constantinople. Or if the UOC-KP held negotiations with the UAOC, then that meant that the UAOC was being distracted from Moscow. And everything developed like this. To a great extent it was evident that in truth no one wanted to unite with anyone else.

Today the situation has changed and the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate realized this already at the beginning of 2005. And the understanding that the possibilities for unification today exist and that they grow with each day and with each step has only grown. And today we live in a situation of certain instability.

This goes about the fact that in reality for a long time no one wanted to unite, but there were also no objective possibilities for unification. At least people didn’t see them. Today people see that these possibilities of unification already exist. The understanding of this, that these possibilities exist, is a result of a more creative approach to the possible models of unification. And the fact that today proof exists that these possibilities are being used is also a result of certain circumstances.

We know that Ukrainian Orthodox churches, which separated from Moscow, for a long time asked for autocephaly from Constantinople. In his part, President Kuchma appealed to Moscow with a similar request. During the lengthy negotiations between Constantinople and Moscow. This was tied in with the fact that Constantinople has a certain historical tradition: it was the mother church for the Kyivan Metropolitanate from 988 to 1686. A few times—in the 90s, and in the new millennium—it emphasized it is the mother church in a special way for Kyiv. It also reminded Moscow that it is also its mother church.

In accordance with the teachings of Constantinople there are old, confirmed by the Ecumenical Councils, autocephalous statuses, which arose from the apostolic tradition, and there are new ones that don’t have an apostolic heritage and which statuses can in fact be reconsidered. Of course, in reality, no one will examine these statuses, because they have their own mother churches.

In documents of Constantinople there are references to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, old patriarchates of the East, and other new patriarchates. The Ecumenical Patriarchate draws its attention especially on the 3rd and 4th canons of Council of Sardica, which state that the bishop, whose affairs are reviewed by the church court, has the right to appeal. In the case of Filaret there was a church court of the Moscow Patriarchate at the Hierarchal Council, and the right to appeal of Filaret should have the highest instance. In the past there were also such cases. Until the Great Schism such appeals were received in Rome. They could be received in Constantinople as the New Rome.

Filaret already in 1992 submitted an appeal, thus at any moment the affair can be reviewed. This is the second interesting canonical aspect, because there interpretations of the events, that we are used to, that Filaret himself opposed the council of his bishops and broke away. And there is an interpretation, which Svyatoslav is used to, that 15 bishops broke away from Filaret and, according to such a version, they are schismatics.

Even if to go further than to choose between these interpretations, the reasons in any case for the appeal remain, and thus Constantinople maintains, though it may be formal, nevertheless, its right to review these appeals.

The game between the Constantinople Patriarchate and Moscow for a long time stood still because each insisted in their rights. Back in 2002 when there were negotiations the affair came to a dead-end because each insisted in its own rights. It became understood that there exists some systematic mistake, and that a wider view of the situation is needed. It became possible thanks to the new policy of Constantinople. Of what does it consist? The new policy of the position of Constantinople in the world and in Europe has been pursued since 2000. Starting in 2000, occasionally, and later annually, Constantinople began to hold councils of the Heads of the Orthodox Churches.

In Orthodoxy all sorts of problems exist. They insist that they are very conciliar, but Ecumenical Councils haven’t been held for already more than 1200 years. And wherever is that conciliarism? The notion arose that it is necessary to gather these “conciliarists,” that are their own manifestations of conciliarism. Heads gathering to discuss coordinated questions, in particular, there was a question about the conflict in the Jerusalem Patriarchate, when the Jerusalem Patriarchate gave an appeal.

According to the canonical right of Constantinople, the Constantinople Patriarchate was able to independently review this appeal and pass an appropriate resolution, so there was a just synod, and not a patriarch, and that is necessary to elect a new patriarch. But the Constantinople Patriarchate called together all the heads, who jointly reviewed the matter.

A new practice arises when the Constantinople Patriarch advances not alone, but together with other heads. The Constantinople Patriarch does not formally give up his canonical rights but in reality waives these canonical rights for the benefit of its special small Universal Council, the Council of Heads.

A completely new reality appears where the Ukrainian Orthodox can appeal. Earlier they could only appeal to Moscow and Constantinople, and now they can appeal to all of the heads. And the Ukrainian Orthodox are using this possibility. For example, His Holiness Metropolitan Volodymyr in 2008 in a written address appealed to each of the Orthodox heads with the request to review the Ukrainian question.

The Rights of Constantinople and Moscow and the Necessity of a Pan-Orthodox Consensus 

(and the right of Kyiv to strive for an autocephalous status)

If the Constantinople Patriarchate gave tomos about autocephaly, as the representatives of the Kyivan Patriarchate dream about, or autonomy, which the Autocephalous Church led by Metropolitan Mefodiy dreams about, then this could happen for two reasons. The first reason is that Constantinople feels that Ukraine is its canonical territory and wants this territory back. Logically, as far is it is its territory, it can do whatever it wants on it.

But there exists a second reason: the Constantinople Patriarch grants autocephaly all over the world. It does not accept the theory of Moscow that separate churches, for example, the Russian Church, can grant its canonical territory autocephaly.  Let’s say, there is territory of an entirely different patriarchate, for example Kamchatka, or Japan. A question arises: can the Moscow Patriarchate, for example, grant autocephaly to the Japanese Church? According to the logics of Constantinople, no, it can’t, even though it is its territory. Thus all autocephalous statuses and autonomies are granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Ecumenical Council, which no longer gathers.

This is an interesting logic. We are used to the “Moscow” logic: “this is our territory; this is the mother church… We will grant to whomever we want, and so on.” But according to the “Constantinople” logic, there exists only one instance that manages the whole world, as far as the Ecumenical Council does not assemble. It is understood that in the modern world any sort of decision cannot be made independently, that this is unjustified, thus in this sense a question would appear: “what kind of Orthodox are you, if you can’t assemble an Ecumenical Council?”

On the other hand, there are way too many arguments, political quarrels, that stand in the way of such a council. It is the Pan-Orthodox Council, as its special small Ecumenical Council, which is actively developing. And an entirely new form appeared, when, for example, the Ukrainian question is submitted under the review of 15 heads, and the possibility arises for a new form of signing a tomos about autocephaly. A tomos about autocephaly is signed in such a way that, for example, on the left the Ecumenical Patriarch places is signature, on the right the Moscow Patriarch, and other heads place their signatures in the middle. This would mean that the whole Orthodox Church, all heads make a consensual decision about Ukraine, and that it is accepted. It is important that in the ideal there was such a form.

We know that in Ukraine there exist many different views of autocephaly. Some Orthodox believers spread views that even if autocephaly from the Moscow Patriarchate is canonical, it nonetheless cannot be accepted…

If a decision about autocephaly is accepted not by one side, but by all the world’s Orthodox, then we may have the following feeling, “you know that we wont accept in because we want to be in one spiritual scope with Russia and Belarus,” which places people in the situation of the Greek Old Calendarists or the Old Believers. People will fall out from the canonical order of the Orthodox Church.

This new possibility inspires idealists who believe that this course would be the most Orthodox course of all.

Such a scheme, which foresees consensus from all the Orthodox Churches written in the latest agreements that were reached in December 2009 in Switzerland at a consultation on the process of announcing autocephaly and autonomy. According to the procedure, tomos must be signed by the Patriarch of Constantinople, but has to be a written consensus of the mother church and all the national churches. Thus, according to Moscow logic, to start the process of announcing Ukrainian autocephaly there needs to be an agreement from the Moscow Patriarchate as the mother church. According to the logic of Constantinople, it is still unknown who is the proper mother church of Ukraine. More likely, nevertheless, it is Constantinople. But in all cases, agreement is needed from all the national churches, and of course, that includes the Moscow Patriarchate.

Accordingly, Moscow protected itself, nevertheless, from a surprise to the likes of what is awakening, and in Ukraine a tomos is being accepted with gratitude. But on the other hand, now the matter in granting autocephaly belongs to competence the world’s Orthodoxy. There is a problem with Ukraine. There are the thoughts of two churches that regard themselves as its mother church. There are the thoughts of the heads and synods of other national churches. Unofficial and official consultations can already be held. And there is no need to think that if the state takes part in these consultations, then this will be interference in internal affairs of the church. This is partnership. The church wants to be present everywhere – in the cities and villages, in hospitals and prisons, in the police and army, schools and universities. And thus, the church cannot not be partners with the state if it does not regard the state as a full-valued partner. And here we do not say: “in an independent state there must be an independent church.” We say: “You want Christian ethics taught in schools? We know that by the Orthodox canons Ukraine should have its own church! And this does not apply to the Catholics or Protestants for they have different canonical orders.” And here open many opportunities for negotiations, for consultations. The Ukrainian state is in fact under pressure from the churches themselves and is lawfully crossing from the American model of full freedom to the European model of cooperation with traditional churches. In each European country traditional churches have privileges, and there is a large number of norms of obligations of these churches to the society. And thus Ukraine, which on January 1, 1919, announced the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church by the law of the Directorate of the UNR, has all the rights to request to fulfillment of the 34 apostolic rules in the case of Ukraine. Not demand something that is not foreseen by the canons of the Orthodox Church, but that which is clearly and unambiguously written. And if earlier there was a sense to hold negotiations with Moscow and Constantinople, then now it is with all the Orthodox Churches. And such negotiations can not be fruitless. Because now is a time of change in the world of Orthodoxy and in the Christian world in general.

If Ukraine’s mother church is Constantinople, then it is necessary to understand one more important thing: Constantinople does not say that it can grant autocephaly only when in Ukraine everyone is in agreement.  This is Moscow’s fantasy that there needs to be agreement by everyone in Ukraine, and only then can the mother church review the question about autocephaly. There is a church with several thousand communities that wants autocephaly, and there is the situation of division, and that is why there is a reason to interfere and resolve. And there are no reasons to dream that everything will be resolved on its own.

Ukrainian churches are civilizing, Moscow rocks the boat, Constantinople can take its chance

In addition, there exist additional possibilities that are tied in with various factors, with the fact that if yesterday people were still not ready for similar acts, then today they are finally ready. This I call factors of destabilization, which earlier were missing. The first factor of destabilization is that the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church today preaches a different ideology in place of the one that was preached, for example, five or ten years ago.

Why in 2000 could the Constantinople Patriarchate not grant autocephaly itself? There were several reasons. One of them was the ideological face of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church. This was Patriarch Dymytrii’s (Yarema) contemplations about the fears of today, and in the contemplations there is Ukraine – a good territory, and an evil force – the masons that seized Rome, Moscow, Constantinople; and thus, negotiations cannot be held with anyone. And later appeared a testimony that there needs to be communication with one of the “masons.” But in principle, the ideological face of this church didn’t look too attractive, and there were great doubts about the adequacy of the church’s consciousness. But they led to some work, and today Metropolitan Mefodiy, and Makarii, and Andrii – hierarchs that lead the powerful eparchies – and other bishops today have direction to improve the feeling and receive a normal church consciousness that is expressed in the works of Afanasyev, Zizioulas. They understand that residing in canonical isolation is bad, and, accordingly, residing in communication with world Orthodoxy is good, even if it may result in losing full autonomy.

In addition, in the 90s in the Autocephalous Church there were thoughts about the possibility of disregarding the canons. Now such a feeling does not exist. It is deemed that it is not worth looking at the church in 1921, but orienting on the Autocephalous Church of 1942, which was canonical. We, from the canonical ideological point of view, are but their successors, and that which was in 1921 is disregarded.

This is the first factor of destabilization, because, for example, Moscow, on the one hand, always had hope that autocephaly will stay “wild,” and thus no one would want it. On the other hand, Moscow itself provoked the UAOC when in 2005 it unofficially proposed negotiations in order to hold negotiations of the UAOC with Filaretites. Moscow said: “Come one, civilize!” And well, they “civilized.”

The other factor of destabilization is very important for Ukraine. This factor of destabilization is in the Moscow Patriarchate. This biggest cause for destabilization today is Patriarch Kirill. This is because the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, beginning in 1992, evolved as the canonical church, which unites various identities – Russophone, Ukrainophone, which unites the West, East, and South. For a long time the head of the UOC Metropolitan Volodymyr stated that the UOC is the national church, and autocephaly is not enough. Later, in the late 90s, he began to say that they are self-governed, practically autocephalous, but that they lack the status of a national church. Later he again began to say that they are the national church, and that autocephaly is not enough. Similar feelings were their own excuses.

But this position of practically becoming independent was well thought-out. It was thought-out after the Orange Revolution, under new circumstances. The peak of this position was a few reports, in particular the report of Metropolitan Volodymyr in Warsaw where he writes that our church is practically independence, that we are ready for autocephaly.  

The Moscow priests that came to Ukraine on business were shocked when they saw that Ukrainian bishops acted like the patriarch acted toward the bishops.

Thus practical independence was realized. From this point of view appeared an interesting thing – separatists in the UOC-MP turned out to be all the so-called “odesytites” that strive for south-eastern autonomy and consequently are breaking down the church.

When Patriarch Kirill was elected, there were likely optimistic feelings that this is a modern patriarch who understands that that the center must be supported, and not the separatists, that Ukraine cannot be destroyed, that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as an independent entity, but an ally, is better than a divided Ukraine and so on.

But during Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Ukraine everyone saw that the choice was made for the benefit of the scenario of the “Russian World,” “brotherhood of three peoples,” and what can oscillate only between positions of Russophobia and Ukrainophilia. But if you are a Ukrainian or a Ukrainophile, then you already are a “enemy of the people” and belong to a civilization built on hate, and not to the Eastern Orthodox civilization.

Such a choice is due to two factors. The first factor is a political choice. It seems that some political order was put in for the breakdown of Ukraine, and the patriarch likes this political order. It seems that in Russia a political decision was made: if Ukraine cannot be entirely absorbed, then, at least, it can be shared. This is how many understood Patriarch Kirill, and that is why today the political cadre treats Patriarch Kirill with more care than before his visit. No one wants to be the president of Galicia or of Crimea. Everyone wants to be the president of the entire country and don’t want to divide into “Europeans” and those who belong to the “Russian World.”

And, maybe, in the conditions of this destabilization new possibilities will arise for Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Why? Because in the conditions of destabilization it is possible that Constantinople may act anyway. Today it possesses a powerful leverage. Today it says: “If you don’t accept our conditions, then we will act.” Or we can act and say: “If you don’t accept our conditions, then we won’t stop.”

Of course, everyone thinks that Filaret’s anathema is a big hindrance. But his case is no closed, and it is possible he can be acquitted. This is not, of course, mentioned in popular brochures, but the possibility of the acquittal of Filaret is realized by Moscow, and that is why Moscow is scared.

Moscow says: “If you get rid of Filaret, then his successor will also be anathematized, you will again end up in the same situation.” But the Constantinople Patriarchate will be able to acquit this successor with greater ease. Thus, this is not a very big problem.  

In the conditions of complete destabilization it can happen that the tomos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be supported by the heads of other Orthodox churches, and Moscow, for example, will refuse to sign it, convinced it is the mother church. But as a rule, when Moscow stands one against all, then sooner or later it will give in. Currently, almost at all negotiations in the inter-Orthodox dialogue have either a consensus of everyone, or Moscow against all. And if everyone will be for Ukrainian autocephaly, then Moscow will have a difficult time to explain its refusal.

If today’s situation remains, then the UOC-MP can become just as foreign to Ukraine as Petro Symonenko. Once he had the largest fraction in the parliament, but now it is not possible. Today the UOC-MP is the same giant on clay legs. And it is held up by the authority of His Holiness and a few other bishops. And if the UOC-KP and UAOC can become more interesting for the entire population of Ukraine, not only for Ukrainophiles, but also for Russophiles, then the situation can change. For that charismatic cadres are needed. But, the Party of Regions has replaced the Communist party in the hearts of the electorate. And the same can happen in the religious sphere of Ukraine. Empty churches stand in France. The churches of the UOC-MP may also become empty. And the people will either become agnostic or will fill other churches and prayer houses. Today in Kyiv there are more Protestants who gather on the weekends than believers of the UOC-MP. And this is an important signal.    

Why may Moscow agree to autocephaly for Ukraine? For the dream about unity between the Orthodox and Catholics

Why might the Russians agree? Because there exists one more geopolitical project. Why build the “Russian World,” world Orthodoxy, if there doesn’t exist a far-reaching goal? Why is pan-Orthodox unity valuable today for Patriarch Kirill? In the last few years several councils were held, and the Moscow Patriarchate made some concessions to safeguard pan-Orthodox unity. Possibly, for this, in the end, it will make some concessions for Ukraine, for example, will give the Halych Metropolitanate representation in Kyiv. Anything can happen.

Why might these concessions be made? Because if there are no disputes because of Ukraine and Orthodoxy will be united, if some compromise is found, like the Halych Metropolitanate of the Constantinople Patriarchate, or two metropolitanates, or autocephaly from both church that is friendly with all, and world Orthodoxy advances forward as one front, and all questions regarding diptychs, the special status of the Russian Church will be agreed upon, then the question about uniting with the Catholics will arise.

Of course Catholics will think that the Orthodox joined them, and the Orthodox will think the opposite, that Catholics joined them.

To what is this related? This is related to the fact that the Orthodox are very actively developing ecclesiology. In the beginning Father Heorhii Florovskyi in his articles in 1929, later Father Mykola Afanasyev in his works reworked the so-called eucharistic ecclesiology. This process continues. Today John Zizioulas is engaged in this. Cardinal Walter Kasper, the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is also famous for his works in ecclesiastical ecclesiology of communion.

The idea goes something like this: people who are “different” take part in the Eucharist. The question arises why can’t the Catholics and the Orthodox be these two “different entities” that have a special form of unity and communion? Earlier, before the Second Vatican Council, the Catholics said: “We need administrative unity.” The Orthodox, before the emergence of the ecclesiology of Metropolitan John Zizioulas spoke of the same. Today no one speaks of administrative unity. Read the collection “The Primacy of Peter.” It addresses the question of what place did the servant Peter have in the original church in eucharistic ecclesiology.  

Of course the form of unity will be communion. All will stay as they are. Catholics will stay Catholics, Orthodox will stay Orthodox, and the form of unity will be communion. Even the following ecumenical formula arose that the Eucharist is not the path to unity, but the unity to which we are going. Administrative unity is not needed. The Catholics and Orthodox accepted the Crete Document, the main task of which is to reinterpret the reality of the first millennia in terminology of ecclesiology of communication. Joseph Ratzinger wrote a wonderful article where he substantiates an important thesis: the Orthodox cannot be expected to recognize the authority of the pope any more than it was in the first millennia. Therefore the relations between the pope and the Orthodox patriarchs have to be return to the model of the first millennia. In all cases the pope should not have more authority than he had during the times of a unified church. Less is possible, that is for everyone it is beneficial to be humble, to be more obedient to everyone than earlier.  And now there is an agreement between the Orthodox and Catholics as to how the pope’s authority was in the first millennia. In many instances the Catholics accepted an Orthodox point of view.  This doctrine about the primacy of the pope in the first millennia cannot be automatically transferred to today’s reality. Now it has to be inserted in the context of ecclesiology of communication. And the pope’s place can look more modest than it was in the first millennia. It seems that today that church no longer needs the kind of power once possessed by the Roman Pope that was foreseen in the documents of the First Vatican Council. Today the pope has more authority of his own and there is no need to formalize the authority. Nationalism is no longer a threat to the Catholic Church as it was at the end of the 19th century. The pope can even have less authority than in the first millennia, can rely more upon the effectiveness of the Ecumenical Councils. And that is why there are prospects in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. Today not everyone sees them, and not everyone can assess the advantages of such prospects. But in the 1950s no one believed in the possibility of these changes in the Catholic Church, which came in the last ten years, during the Second Vatican Council. Now new changes are also possible – “Orthodoxization” of Catholicism and “renewing” Orthodoxy. And these sorts of changes can be positive, which make the Catholics even more “Catholic,” even more universal. And the Orthodox will become even more “Orthodox,” that is they will clearly realize their own faith in all its depths and rely on it, rightly praising God.

The new ecclesiology communion corresponds with the changes that occur in the “outside” world. Corporations that are built hierarchically are being ruined. All these so-called unities are being destroyed. The world is becoming a world of communication, a world of different networks, where people unite by horizontal principles. In these conditions, when all post-modern philosophy says that which is different always stays different, to request that it stayed the same, is something to the likeness of the unity in the Soviet army. Thus, it is very outdated. Not even the Soviet army could make everyone Russian. Therefore, it is necessary to step away from the logic where the church is somehow similar to an army, and realize the true nature of the church: communication with the other and communion with God.


Thus, pan-Orthodox unity exists today; it is manifested in the search of a formal consent, and tomorrow it will acquire development of the communication of the Orthodox, where they will be able to look more openly at Ukraine. And prospects in uniting Catholics with Orthodox will open, thanks to which the formal subjugation of Ukraine under Moscow can be sacrificed.