17 May 2018
One of the main topics broadly discussed among the public is the statement by the President of Ukraine on the possible granting of the Tomos of Autocephaly to the Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Petro Poroshenko said this with such confidence and self-assurance that many people took his words as virtually a hard fact, which, of course, is far from the case. It is typical of Petro Poroshenko to “run ahead of the cart” and resort to wishful thinking. Let us remember how he announced, five or six times, the granting of a visa-free regime to Ukraine, named some exact dates, asked to write down the date – and eventually, the event itself was invariably postponed. Or his statements about granting Ukraine this or that status in the European Union or NATO – these promises did not come true at all. As well as his pre-electoral promises to end the ATO in a matter of hours. It seems that the situation with the promised Tomos of Autocephaly is of the same kind.

While making his statement, Petro Poroshenko was not at all thinking about the reunification of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy. He was rather interested in two points. First, he was interested in ways to elevate his shaken political ratings. And in this matter, his initiatives regarding the creation of a Local Church are manifestly speculative. Secondly, in such a way Poroshenko diverts attention from numerous corruption topics involving representatives of the President’s inner circle. The public needs to be given a new spotlight topic for discussion, so as not to talk only about corruption in the highest echelons of power in Ukraine.
The topic of the Local Church is surely a win-win theme in terms of banal PR efforts. The country’s leadership, which has lost the support of the people, is trying to flirt with the jingoistic patriotic electorate and is attempting to appear in the role of patriots, a kind of fighters who are taking another decisive step away from Moscow, now in religious domain.

In his time, Dr. Samuel Johnson said that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. It is no coincidence that for the political bankrupts the topic about the Local Church, seasoned with patriotic sauce, became the last argument and the last hope for improving the situation with their catastrophic ratings.
However, there are things that are very dangerous for politicians to play with. For example, these include matters of language, history, and national memory. They also include matters of faith and religion. Even the Third Universal of the Central Rada in November 1917 separated the Church from the State (by that time, the Church was separated from the State only in the USA and France). This principle was invariably reflected in all constitutional acts of Ukraine, including the effective Constitution of Ukraine.

The interference of the State with affairs of the Church has always been condemned, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,’ Jesus said. However, secular authorities at all times tried to subjugate the Church or create their own parallel church hierarchy that would be subordinate to the monarch. The examples of Henry VIII in England, the Bourbons in France or Peter I in Russia are indicative. At the same time, during the course of the twentieth century, only communist regimes, the fascist regime of Mussolini in Italy, the Nazi regime of Hitler in Germany, the Duvalier regime in Haiti, Kemal Ataturk’s ruling in Turkey, and several African regimes interfered with church affairs. You can agree that is a dubious neighbourhood for the Ukrainian leadership. It is clear that from the point of view of Petro Poroshenko Caesaropapism (de jure head of state or de facto head of the Church) is a way to strengthen his positions in the national-patriotic camp, to become a “friend” for those who constantly swear him hard or criticise him when out of earshot, and refuse the right to be called a Ukrainian patriot, and a Ukrainian in general. Poroshenko is ready to do anything to please this part of the population, not realizing that these voters are lost for him forever, no matter what he does. That is, Poroshenko’s statement is not a product of the processes taking place in the Ecumenical and Ukrainian Orthodoxy. It is not a product of the processes developing in the Ukrainian society. It is a product of psychological and political issues or diffidence.

These issues are skilfully fuelled by “strategic partners” of Ukraine from abroad, who promise their mediating role in resolving questions with the Ecumenical Patriarch. When the acting Minister of Health of Ukraine Ulyana Suprun allegedly “accidentally” met Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Istanbul airport, she said that the Patriarch complained to her about the pressure that was being put on him. Suprun thought that this was pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church. Although there is pressure indeed – but from a completely different side. And by and large, this is political pressure in order to make Patriarch Bartholomew issue Tomos of Autocephaly with the recognition of the Local Church in Ukraine.

To date, the only consequence of the appeal of the Verkhovna Rada and the President is the decision of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate that this appeal will be accepted and considered, as well as that it will be discussed with all the Orthodox Churches of the world.

Church traditions and church law foresee several aspects associated with granting of autocephaly. Autocephaly is granted by the Mother Church (which the Russian Orthodox Church has been defined for believers in Ukraine since 1686) after a respective appeal and its consideration in a canonical manner. The Ecumenical Patriarch is not endowed with such a right: being the Head of the Orthodox Church, he is not an analogue of the Pope, who by his own will can manage or dispose of the Catholic Church and make decisions binding for the entire Church. The Ecumenical Patriarch is primus inter pares, i.e., the first among equals. Moreover, in Orthodoxy, the consensus of all the primates of the Orthodox Churches plays a very important role.

If political pressure on the Phanar takes effect, the Ecumenical Patriarch will face a very difficult task.

Firstly, de facto, it will be necessary to declare invalid Tomos of Patriarch Dionysius IV, according to which Ukrainian Orthodoxy came under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow.

Secondly, the Local Council of Constantinople in 1872 condemned such a phenomenon as phyletism (ethnophyletism), which means attempts to create local churches on an ethnopolitical basis. Exactly what we are dealing with now.

The late Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church Pavel (Stojcevic), an undoubted religious authority for everyone (including Ukrainian schismatics), wrote in 2002, ‘We, brothers, as the Church, do not act from positions of national exclusiveness and have no national or territorial claims against you. We respect the national self-determination and identity of the Macedonian people and every nation in the Republic of Macedonia. Ethnophyletism, that is, the subordination of the Church to national-political ideologies and programs, has long been rightly condemned as heresy. Ethnophyletism is born precisely from the weakened recognition of the conciliarity of the Church, thus being the basis for splits and schisms.’

Thirdly, the creation of a parallel hierarchical system in Ukraine is a path to bloody conflicts, to seizure of churches and attacks on representatives of the clergy. Ukraine already experienced something similar in the early 90s, at the initial stage of the split. We have been observing similar situation for the last four years.
Yet, Tomos will give the schismatics a certain semblance of legitimacy (which in itself raises a question among representatives of world Orthodoxy). And no matter how many times Petro Poroshenko says that the state will be tolerant to those who want to preserve canonical unity with the Russian Orthodox Church, the statements by “patriarch” Filaret (Denysenko) and other schismatics from the self-proclaimed Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate that Pochayiv and Kyiv Lavras will be immediately expropriated – are a wake-up call. After all, this will only aggravate the already difficult situation in Ukraine, where the confrontation between different parts of society is more than obvious. Especially considering two pending draft laws in the Verkhovna Rada, where attempts are constantly made to move them forward. One of them completely subordinates the approval of Church Charters, and the hierarchy in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) to secular authority. The second one creates conditions for the seizure and change in jurisdiction of temples and churches by groups that can call themselves “parishioners”.

The same recent resolution of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate specifically says about the responsibility of the Phanar for the preservation of Pan-Orthodox Unity. It is obvious that even an imaginary or indirect legalization of schismatics in Ukraine will have dire consequences for the unity of world Orthodoxy, and His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew understands this very well.

Fourthly, Tomos of Autocephaly of the Ukrainian Local Church, if issued, will become a precedent for many Orthodox churches. There is a similar problem in many churches – there are groups trying to obtain autocephaly bypassing canon law. It is no coincidence that in January 2016, in Chambesy, Switzerland, the meeting of the Heads of the Orthodox Churches (on the eve of the Council of Crete) decided that questions of autocephaly would be adopted only by consensus of the Orthodox Churches of the world. This rule was supposed to find its confirmation at the 2016 Pan-Orthodox Council, but the Council itself never became Pan-Orthodox, and the issue was not finalized. The decisions made in Chambesy, although they are preliminary in nature, have not been cancelled by anyone. Tomos, however, can open the “Pandora’s box” in the Orthodox world and turn into a disaster – as happened back in 1054 during the split of Christianity into two Churches.

Fifthly, if this reckless gamble (let us call things as they are) is realized and the schismatics receive at least indirect recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarch, there will be no talk of any reunification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy in the foreseeable future. This decision will simply reinforce the final division of Ukraine into parts. Behind the external simplicity of solutions (What is wrong with that? Let us proclaim a Local Church – and everything is settled!), there are enormous challenges and risks that could turn into calamities of a scale far from regional one. Moreover, this decision will not be recognized by most of the Orthodox Churches, which will make Ukraine an “apple of discord” in the eyes of believers in the Orthodox world, and may bring additional tension to relations between the Churches.

I am sure that it will take a long time for the Ecumenical Patriarch to weigh it up and make a decision. A reference to the fact that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted an appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch is unlikely to be a serious argument: at the Phanar, they are well aware of the real situation in Ukrainian politics, as well as of the fact that the majority of those who voted are Catholics, Greek Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or unchurched, former communists and Komsomol members, as well as outspoken atheists. A counter-argument can be hundreds of thousands of personal appeals to His All Holiness coming today from ordinary believers representing many churches and parishes in Ukraine.

The problem also lies in the fact that the unlawful initiative launched in the corridors of power has already spilled out into the streets and has become a subject for a wide discussion among people who do not have much understanding of the topic. And this, for sure, is also known to the Phanar.

Already now, some political circles in Ukraine are trying to create an image of the enemy embodied in the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The attacks on the Church have become frequent in nature and are clearly coordinated from one centre. With unfailing regularity, pro-government politicians and all their writing and broadcasting camarilla voice all kinds of disinformation. For example, they spread lies that the priests of the UOC refuse to perform a funeral service for deceased ATO veterans. There are many similar examples. They want to present the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a structure acting in the interests of Russia, and against the interests of Ukraine and our people. The absurdity and stupidity of such accusations is understandable to any man of sound judgement. It would probably be really hard to find those who have done more for the peace and unity of our country than our Ukrainian Orthodox Church. And it is difficult to find a greater patriot of Ukraine than its Primate, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy.

However, evil tongues continue their dirty deed.

And the trouble is that when, with a high degree of probability, all the hopes of those backing the “autocephalous” sedition go dashed against the All-Orthodox unity and church canons, those who appealed to Patriarch Bartholomew can blame our Church for all the “sins”, putting priests and millions of parishioners at threat from right-wing radical groupings and pseudo-patriotic bandit groups. The possible consequences, their bloodiness and scale, are difficult to even estimate. In fact, this could become a prologue to the civil war in Ukraine.

In this jingoistic pre-election frenzy, many people completely forget that it is thanks to the Church that the unity of all Ukrainian lands, even if weak, but is still preserved – including Crimea and Donbass, where Orthodoxy remains under the jurisdiction of the UOC. They forget that it was the Church that played a pivotal role in settling the issue of the first mass exchange of prisoners in December last year. They forget that it is the Church that can play a key role in reconciling the parties and “stitching” together the country afterwards, when peace inevitably returns to our land.

Unfortunately, people who incite the flames of the religious conflict in Ukraine do not see beyond their own pockets and the next elections.

Alas, the authors of the idea to legitimize the split in Ukraine do not see the fact that by their actions they endanger the very existence of our country.

Yes, it is quite possible that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will sooner or later acquire its autocephaly. However, it will gain it only in a legal and legitimate way, without interference from politicians and without pressure from Ukraine’s overseas “partners”.

There is only one way: the repentance of those who went for the split in 1920 and in 1992, the restoring of the Church unity and address of the UOC Local Council to the Head of the kiriarchal (i.e. dominant in relation to the UOC) Russian Orthodox Church concerning the autocephality and local status for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This is the simplest path to autocephaly. And the most realistic one – if someone humbles his pride and realizes that spiritual affairs and the affairs of the Church rise above political intrigues.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the most important thing is that both the unification of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy and the appeal regarding autocephaly should be the result of processes within the Church, within the Ukrainian Orthodoxy, and not a political program of the President for the upcoming elections, not an element of electoral technologies and not a political “fig leaf”, which is meant to hide from the Ukrainians for a while the disaster in the economy and social sphere, the failure of reforms, corruption, lawlessness and chaos or anarchy on the streets of the country.

The attainment of the unity of all Orthodox Christians in Ukraine can and must be accomplished primarily in people’s hearts in the name of the salvation of every soul. And I believe that it will definitely take place in the name of peace and in the name of our country’s future.
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