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Ukrainian orthodoxy on the eve of Pan-Orthodox Council

01.07.2016, 17:22
Ukrainian orthodoxy on the eve of Pan-Orthodox Council - фото 1
On June 16-27, 2016, the island of Crete is to host an epoch-making event – the Pan-Orthodox Council with the participation of heads and representatives of all local Orthodox Churches. Practical work of the preconciliar preparation has been conducted since the early 60s. Great hopes have been rested and are still rested upon the Council.

Ukrainian Church issue and Constantinople

Oleksandr (DRABYNKO)The Pan-Orthodox Council is over. As reported, it has not considered the Ukrainian issue. Neither has it addressed another issue which is important for Ukraine. In particular, it is referred to procedure of proclaiming autocephaly (it was not brought to the Council’s consideration, as the Churches of Constantinople and Moscow could not reach consensual solution in this regard). However, the fact that the Ukrainian Church issue has not been discussed at the Council does not mean that Constantinople agrees that healing church division in Ukraine is the exclusive prerogative of the canonical Russian Orthodox Church. It is widely believed by the Ukrainian expert community that following the Council in Crete, Constantinople can get back to the church crisis in Ukraine, acting as initiator of reconciliation and the recovery of church unity. But what particular model of canonic regulation can Phanar offer? The answer is partly contained in the historical plane, i.e. in the analysis of prior Ukraine-related initiatives of Constantinople.

The Orthodox people from around the world hoped that the Pan-Orthodox Council would not only demonstrate the unity of Modern Orthodoxy, but also address a number of vital issues.

Metropolitan Volodymyr of the blessed memory also took active participation in the preconciliar preparation and elaborated one of the important themes of the time, which was planned to bring to the notice of the Great and Holy Council: “The contribution of local Orthodox Churches in the triumph of Christian ideals of peace, freedom, brotherhood and love between the nations and the abolition of racial discrimination.”[1]

“First, the future agenda of the Council,” Metropolitan Volodymyr wrote, “envisioned consideration of about a hundred topics. Later it narrowed considerably and is designed to date to address the main, so to say, technical issues of contemporary Orthodoxy: determining jurisdictions of church communities in the Diaspora, procedures for recognition of autocephaly and autonomy, rules of mutual canonical recognition of Orthodox Churches (diptych), the issues of calendar, fasting and marriage, participation of the Orthodox Church in the ecumenical movement (where it is vital for us today to determine in the conciliar manner both the purpose and acceptable limits of ecumenical contacts). But whatever the specific agenda of the future Council might be[2], it should focus on the main task of overcoming the centuries-long isolation of the local Churches. The Pan-Orthodox Council should open a new “universal” chapter in the history of Orthodoxy. Again, as twelve centuries ago, the Local Churches should not only convene, but also open to each other their thoughts and hopes.”[3].

Ukrainians also cherished a lot of expectations regarding this Council. Millions of them in our country and around the world hoped that the Pan-Orthodox Council would help solve one of the thorniest issues of contemporary Orthodoxy: healing church division in Ukraine, where about six thousand Orthodox communities (or one-third of all those who profess the Orthodox faith) found themselves outside the canonical Orthodoxy.

Convention of the Pan-Orthodox Council was made possible due to the two different and somewhat alternative centers of gravity of the modern Orthodox world: Constantinople and Moscow. The interests of the two Orthodox centers differ today. The attitude of the Russian and Constantinople Churches towards the Ukrainian Church problem differs as well. Therefore, in order to enable the conduct of the Pan-Orthodox council in these circumstances, it was decided that only the documents that had previously won the unanimous support of all the local Churches should be brought to the notice of the Council.

The agenda of the Pan-Orthodox Council has already been announced. Unfortunately, the Ukrainain issue will not be considered. Yet another important issue for Ukraine will not be considered either. In particular, it is the procedure for proclaiming autocephaly (to which the Constantinople and Moscow Churches have also failed to find a consensual solution).

Withdrawal of the Ukrainian issue from the agenda of the Pan-Orthodox Council is a significant diplomatic achievement of the forces that are not interested in the becoming of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church. However, the fact that the Ukrainian Church issue has been factored out of the Council’s framework does not mean that Constantinople and other Local Churches believe that healing the church division in Ukraine is the exclusive prerogative of the canonical Russian Orthodox Church. It is widely believed in the Ukrainian expert community that upon completion of the Council in Crete, Constantinople can get back to the church crisis in Ukraine, acting as initiator of reconciliation and the restoration of ecclesial unity.

In one way or another, Constantinople participates in settlement of the contemporary canonical crisis that has lasted from the beginning of the 90s of past century.

On April 1, 1990, the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, which unites Canadians of Orthodox origin, was accepted under the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate. And in 1993, Head of this Church Metropolitan Wasyly (Fedak) of Winnipeg and Canada visited Ukraine with a survey mission.

On March 12, 1995, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States was accepted under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Both Churches had existed on the basis of the self-proclaimed autocephalous churches prior to their entry into communion with Constantinople. One of them, the Orthodox Church in the US, historically derived from the episcopate of UAOC of the second Polish formation, and was in communion with the autocephalous structures in Ukraine throughout 1990-1995.[4]

On September 14-15, 2000, Kyiv hosted the All-Ukraine Council of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which was attended by the Ecumenical Patriarchate hierarch Metropolitan Constantine (Buggan), who was elected “spiritual guardian” of the UAOC by the decision of this Council.

On June 12-14, 2001, a meeting of the Joint Commission was held in Istanbul, the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, to study ways of achieving unity of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which was attended by representatives of the UOC-KP and UAOC and Metropolitan Constantine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States. Participants of the meeting were received by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and as a result, signed agreements («Συμφωνητικών») about the future association of the UOC-KP and UAOC into one church structure.

On March 24, 2005, during a meeting of the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko, Archbishop Vsevolod (Maidanskyi) of Skopelos, a hierarch  in the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, said that “the position of the Mother Church, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, is that her daughter – the Moscow Patriarchate – consists of that territory, which it encompassed to the year 1686.”[5].

Ukraine was only one step towards the emergence of a parallel jurisdiction of Constantinople, according to experts, in 2008, during the visit to our country Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the occasion of the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus (July 25-27, 2008). Due to contemporary political conditions, as experts believe, representatives of Ukrainian authorities and the UOC-KP failed to agree with Patriarch Bartholomew on the terms of the establishment in Ukraine of the canonical jurisdiction that would be an alternative to the Russian Orthodox Church. The “second canonical” project was not implemented. However, a number of statements made by Patriarch Bartholomew I during the visit are noteworthy. Thus, in his historical speech of July 26, 2008 at the Courtyard of Kyiv's St. Sophia Patriarch Bartholomew, in particular, stated as follows[6]:

1) The Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the First Throne in the Orthodox Church, has been granted by decisions of Ecumenical Councils[7] and by the centuries-old ecclesial praxis, the exceptional responsibility and obligatory mission to care for the protection of the faith as it has been hand-down to us and of the canonical order (taxis);

2) The Patriarchate of Constantinople is the Mother Church of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church;

3) Annexation of the Ukrainian Church to the Russian state was illegal and was effected “at the cost of its own rights… to the development of its relations with the eminent among the daughter Churches” and amounted to “an obvious damage of the canonical rights of the Mother Church”;

4) It is not only the right but also the obligation of the Mother Church “to support, within the framework of the established Orthodox tradition, every edifying and promising proposal that would cure, as fast as possible, the dangerous divisions in the ecclesial body, “lest the evil becomes worse” for the Holy Church of Ukraine and the Church in general”;

5) concurred with the demand of the governments of the newly established states of the Orthodox people in the Balkan peninsula regarding the autocephaly of those Churches that were taken from her canonical jurisdiction, Constantinople historically agreed to these terms and granted autocephaly to local Churches of Greece (1850), Serbia (1831), Bulgaria (1945) and Albania (1937).

As one can see, although Constantinople did not go at creating their own jurisdiction in Ukraine in 2008, in his speech Patriarch Bartholomew clearly determined the canonical authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and determined ecclesiological position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate concerning Ukraine, which justifies the possible involvement of this Church in the settlement of the Ukrainian Church issue. 

Finally, referring to the recent Ukraine-related initiatives of Constantinople, one should specify the participation of the hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in negotiations between the UOC-KP and UAOC in June 2015. It is known that negotiations were attended by two bishops of Constantinople Patriarchate: Bishop Hilarion (Rudyk) of Edmonton and Western Eparchy in Canada and Bishop Daniel (Zelinsky) of Pamphilon, the ruling bishop of the Western Diocese of the UOC of the USA. It is noteworthy also that these two bishops did not only participate in the negotiation process, but signed the final resolution of the joint meeting of the Committees for dialogue of the UOC-KP and UAOC (June 8, 2015). After all, anyone who understands the church etiquette and specificity of relations between the Phanar and the bishops of the Ukrainian diaspora understands: the signing of the document could not happen spontaneously, without the consent of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

These and other initiatives of Constantinople usually provoked acute negative assessment by the Moscow Patriarchate, which considers Ukraine as an integral part of its canonical territory and is trying to minimize the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s involvement in church life of our country. Being well aware of these trends, Constantinople acts carefully so as to not damage the Pan-Orthodox unity and its authority in the Christian world. That is why many initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are voiced today by Ukrainian bishops of the Orthodox Churches in the United States and Canada, which are in the jurisdiction of Constantinople.

The hierarchs of the Ukrainian diaspora are a handy tool for Constantinople. On the one hand, they are hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who are in canonical obedience to the Patriarch Bartholomew. On the other hand, this is a de facto autonomous ecclesiastical structure which unites the Ukrainian Orthodox Diaspora. Therefore, the in the conflict situation, if Moscow’s discontent reaches a critical level – one can always say that the position on Ukraine expressed in this manner is not the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a whole, but os only is a “private pastoral oinion” of the hierarchs of Ukrainian origin.

Constantinople indeed often demonstrates approaches to Ukrainain issue that are different (and even alternative) to those of the Moscow Patriarchate. But the idea that Constantinople is supposedly an “ecclesiastical department of Washington,” which is voiced from time to time today in fundamentalist ecclesial circles, is ungrounded and based on a distorted sense of reality. Phanar, of course, takes into account the political and geo-political aspects of the Ukrainian Church problem. But Constantinople cannot settle it in a way that violates or ignores the canonical tradition of the Church. Indeed, as Patriarch Bartholomew stated in the already quoted speech: any violation of canonical order by the Ecumenical Patriarch is detrimental to the unity of the Church, since he is the guarantor of the canonical order.

Hierarchs who received training and theological education in theological schools of the Russian Orthodox Church experience difficulties in understanding the hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other ancient patriarchates, whose ecclesiological consciousness had formed under a slightly different local canonical tradition.

However, one should not importunately declare all not fully comprehensible approaches “heretical” or the ones that supposedly indicate “papal” trends in the canonical consciousness of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Another approach is more fruitful – to try to understand the logic of the canonical Constantinople and identify criteria that it uses to assess the Ukrainian situation. It should be noted that there are only three obvious factors that undoubtedly Phanar accounts for, trying at the same time to help the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to restore its unity and not to break the unity of the Orthodox world in general. Thus, seeking an optimal model for overcoming the canonical crisis in Ukraine, Constantinople cannot ignore:

1) The position (or the plural – positions) of the Local Orthodox Churches (including the ROC);

2) The positions of the Orthodox Church community of Ukraine (where Constantinople will not ignore the opinion of the UOC-KP and UAOC, but at the same time in a special way hear the canonical Orthodox episcopate of Ukraine); and finally,

3) The position of the Ukrainian state.

Like any other Local Church, Constantinople is certainly interested in establishing its own church structure and presence across the world. Therefore, it is likely that one of the models of healing division considered by Phanar today is restoration of the canonical status as of 1686, that recovers, in one form or another, the presence of Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukraine.

The logic of Constantinople might be as follows: if a major part of the Orthodox Ukraine wants today to belong to the Moscow Patriarchate, why not revive in Ukraine the Metropolis of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which, in the words of Patriarch Bartholomew, is a “supranational and supra-regional patriarchate” that demonstrates its openness to Ukraine?

As you know, the Fifth Pan-Orthodox Pre-conciliar Conference (Chambesy, October 10-17, 2015) failed to agree on a document, that determines the content of the concept of the autonomous church and regulates the procedure for granting the autonomy. There is a high probability that this document – a document that has been agreed by all the Local Orthodox Churches – will be adopted at Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete. Thus, Constantinople, which has repeatedly made statements that it considered itself the Mother Church for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, can offer Orthodox hierarchs and religious communities in our country the status of the Autonomous Church as part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Another fundamental approach, according to experts, which can also be applied by Constantinople towards Ukraine, is to provide full canonical independence or autocephaly. It is clear that the provision of autocephaly is less in line with the own corporate interests of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, in recent centuries, Constantinople has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to act against its own interests for the common church benefit. In fact, according to His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, “The Mother Church concurred with the demand of the governments of the newly established states of the Orthodox people in the Balkan peninsula regarding the autocephaly of those Churches that were taken from her canonical jurisdiction, namely the Church of Greece (1850), the Church of Serbia (1831), the Church of Bulgaria (1945), and the Church of Albania (1937), for the sake of their national coherence, even though such autocephalies resulted in the dramatic dwindling of her ecclesiastical jurisdiction.”[8].

Applying other models of compromise to overcome the church division in Ukraine is not excluded (though unlikely). For example, the implementation of the so-called Greek model, which once the representatives of the UAOC pointed out[9].

What shall Orthodox Ukraine expect in the post-counciliar time? What will be the position of the Russian Orthodox Church and will it be willing (anticipating the canonical initiatives of Constantinople or responding to them) to use the new procedure for declaration of autonomy of the UOC approved by the Ecumenical Patriarchte or grant the UOC the status of the Autonomous Church as a part of the Moscow Patriarchate? At what time and according to which canonical is the Ecumenical Patriarchate capable to offer to overcome existing division?

To answer these questions now, before the Pan-Orthodox council is held in Crete and the new “post-conciliar” reality in universal Orthodoxy becomes clear, is too difficult. Of course, in many ways the future canonical model of overcoming the consequences of the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy depends on the positions of the Moscow and Constantinople Patriarchates. However, the voice of the canonical Orthodox episcopate of Ukraine should not be underestimated. To a large extent the future of Ukrainian Orthodoxy does not depend on external religious centers, such as the position of the Ukrainian episcopate, our cohesion and unity, patriotism and efficiency of our ability to think strategically,ability to forgive and to recognize historical mistakes and, ultimately,courage in protecting canonical rights of the ancient Kyivan Church.

The strategic line of church development, pursued by Metropolitan Volodymyr, was directed primarily at attaining by the UOC of its own subjectiness, so that it was perceived in the Orthodox world as the Church, having an independent position and independently determining its canonical future.

“The ancient Kyivan Church,” Metropolitan Volodymyr reiterated, “deserves the high status of a local church. But to become an equitable autocephalous Church in the family of Local Orthodox Churches, the episcopate of the Church must unite and raise awareness of our canonical needs on the part of universal Orthodoxy.”

Autocephaly, autonomy or the current canonical status of self-governing Orthodox Church as the Church's rights of wide autonomy within the Russian Orthodox Church - in other historical circumstances canonical choice between these possibilities, perhaps, would be a purely technical issue. However, in the circumstances of church division that occurred in Ukraine, this issue, while technical in its nature, acquires a clear ethical and pastoral significance. Indeed, under the conditions existing in our country today, a particular jurisdictional and canonical status of the Ukrainian Church is opening or, conversely, limiting our capability to overcome the church division and its consequences.

[1] Typescript. 19 p. Archive of Metropolitan Volodymyr Memorial Fund.

[2] It should be noted that further the Council agenda was again narrowed. In particular, it excluded the subject of autocephaly and the way of its proclamation.

[3] Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan) of Kyiv and All Ukraine. Thoughts over the years. Metropolitan Volodymyr Memorial Fund. Laurus.  К., 2015. p. 92-93.

[4] It should be noted that while the acceptance of Canadian hierarchy in communion provoked no significant backlash on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate, the entry of the Orthodox Church in the US into the Patriarchate of Constantinople has caused objections of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II. See .: Letter of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia to Patriarch Bartholomew No. 1308 of May 18, 1995.

[5] The original statement signed by Archbishop Vsevolod is kept in the personal archive of professor Oleksandr Sagan.

[6] See  Speech of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW I to the Ukrainian Nation. July 26, 2008. St Sophia square.

[7] Canon 3 of the Second Ecumenical Council, Canons 9, 17 and 28 of the Fourth and Fifth Ecumenical Councils, Canon 36 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council.

[8]  Speech of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW I to the Ukrainian Nation. July 26, 2008. St Sophia square.

[9] Archbishop Ioan (Modzalevskyy) of Uman (UAOC). Compromise a la Greek // Dzerkalo Tyzhnia. October 30, 2009.  Kyivan model might be a prototype for modern Greek model. Interview with Archbishop Ioan (Modzalevskyy) of Uman, Chairman of the Theological Canonical Commission of the UAOC // Religion in Ukraine. 12.11.2009.

Oleksandr (DRABYNKO),

Metropolitan of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyy and Vyshneve,
Vicar of the Kyiv Metropolis