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Ukrainian autocephaly. What next? The role of Patriarch Bartholomew

03.11.2018, 13:26
From what is being reported from Ukraine there seems certain misunderstandings as to what is to be done next.

This short intervention aims only in clarifying the canonical status in the “Ukrainian Church” at this very moment, following the decisions of October 11 of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which as was officially reported “discussed in particular and at length the ecclesiastical matter of Ukraine, in the presence of His Excellency Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon and His Grace Bishop Hilarion of Edmonton, Patriarchal Exarchs to Ukraine.”

From what is being reported from Ukraine there seems certain misunderstandings as to what is to be done next. It is, therefore, quite necessary to clarify the canonical status of the Church there at this very moment and what process toward the final granting of autocephaly should be followed. I will strictly limit my comments to these, without entering either into the canonical debate, with the different interpretations about the legitimacy of the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, or into the discussion as to what is the best way to restore the relations between the first and the fifth Patriarchates according to the diptychs of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church. In other words, the issue I am reflecting upon is not a Constantinople-Moscow, but a Constantinople-Kyiv one.

First, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has decreed to “proceed” to the granting of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine. Nothing was said as to whom it will be granted, and how this ultimate canonical act will be accomplished; and not of course when this will happen.

Second, by (a) reestablishing “at this moment, the Stavropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Kyiv, one of its many Stavropegia in Ukraine that existed there always”; as well as (b) by revoking “the legal binding of the Synodal Letter of the year 1686 (issued for the circumstances of that time, which granted the right through oikonomia to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv, elected by the Clergy-Laity Assembly of his eparchy, who would commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch as the First hierarch at any celebration, proclaiming and affirming his canonical dependence to the Mother Church of Constantinople)”; the Ecumenical Patriarchate re-instated the Kyivan Metropolia, thus re-affirming that this is situated within its canonical territory. What are in the present-day the boundaries of this Metropolia within the independent state of Ukraine, these will be clearly defined in the Tomos itself, as promised last April and re-affirmed last month. Of course,

Third, by accepting and thoroughly reviewing “in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarch of Constantinople” the ekkliton appeals “of Filaret Denisenko, Makariy Maletych and their followers (who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons), and canonically reinstat(ing them) to their hierarchical or priestly rank,” and restoring their faithful “to communion with the Church,” the Ecumenical throne gave some indications as to who are canonically eligible to be part of this re-instated Metropolia; certainly not who are not eligible, and of course not how this ecclesial entity will be formed. The most reliable scholars assume that this will by no means be formed by a merger of the existing though never canonically restored ecclesiastical entities, namely the “former” Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC KP), and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC).

Some hierarchs, judging from the Patriarchal “appeal to all sides involved that they avoid appropriation of Churches, Monasteries and other properties, as well as every other act of violence and retaliation,” thought so that the peace and love of Christ may prevail,” inferred that indirectly the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Patriarchate of Moscow (UOC MP) should be excluded from the process of the formation of the new united Church, to which they expect the Tomos of autocephaly will be granted. However, this is contrary to the expressed will of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to restore unity and heal the existing divisions.

If these arguments are at all sound, then the initiative to reinstate the Kyiv Metropolia completely relies on Patriarch Bartholomew’s hands. Neither to the existing ecclesiastical entities, nor of course to the state. They can both, of course, facilitate the process; but the unifying assembly – according to the ancient tradition, mentioned in the revoked 1686 Letter, a clergy-laity one – that will elect the new Primate of the Metropolia (still under the omophorion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate), to whom the Tomos will be given, should be presided by an Exarch, or preferably (because of the importance of case) by His All Holiness the Patriarch himself.

By Professor Petros Vassiliadis

University of Thessaloniki