Category Archives: Eastern Europe and the Balkans

The Ukrainian Church: A Multigenerational Divorce

by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Denysenko

In the last few days, a number of announcements appeared about the Ukrainian Church controversy. After President Poroshenko announced that the unification council will take place at St. Sophia Cathedral on December 15, a spurious text that appeared to be some version of the statute for the Church drafted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP) circulated on the Internet, copies of the letters of invitation to participate in the council were posted on social media by multiple bishops, and a copy of the letter from Patriarch Bartholomew to Metropolitan Onufry dated October 12 also appeared. Those who are interested in this issue, especially Orthodox clergy and laity throughout the world, watched spellbound as the news appeared and then reacted. In other words, the responses are no different than quick analyses ordinary people post on political news flashes. On the theme of the Ukrainian Church issue, a handful of responses have become clichés. Observers favor either the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) or the EP in the canonical clash; people call for the Ukrainian schismatics to return to the canonical church; critics denounce Russian aggression and the complicity of the MP in the war in Eastern Ukraine; and people offer the now stereotypical “thoughts and prayers.”

Observers strain Google’s capacity to lead us to the truth by searching for quick, neat profiles on all of the leaders and land on any number of web sites claiming to possess the absolute truth. We might find what we want to find: another layer of incriminating evidence exposing the faults of Metropolitan Filaret, a photo of a grotesque icon demeaning Russia (or Ukraine), a headline announcing the seizure of a church, and through it all, we select the sources that support a viewpoint we have chosen to adopt.

Amidst all of this, the most important fact of all is lost, and it is the fact that we all need to confront as soon as possible: the Ukrainian Church crisis is a messy, nasty divorce, and the stories that assign blame to the parties involved have been handed down from one generation to the next. Continue reading

In Ukraine, Is Constantinople Rushing in “Where Angels Fear to Tread”?

by Nicolai N. Petro  |  ру́сский

On the eve of national elections in 2019, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has set
himself the ambitious task of dismantling the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, an
autonomous and self-administered part of the Russian Orthodox Church, and creating a new,
single national church out of the many Christian denominations in his country. His controversial
initiative has re-opened old confessional wounds in Ukraine and threatens to divide the Christian
world.

It is no secret that the cardinal sin of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the eyes of the
government, has been its refusal to support the war in Eastern Ukraine. Its head, Metropolitan
Onufry, calls it a “fratricidal conflict” and a “civil war.” To critics who complain of his lack of
patriotism, Onufry replies: “If I serve God and fulfill his commandments, then I am in fact a true
patriot. But if a person disdains the word of God, then no matter how much he may beat his
breast, he is no patriot . . . Our church is and has always been patriotic. Its patriotism consists in
calling upon people to live with God.”

With the establishment of a new national Orthodox church around the self-proclaimed Kyivan
Patriarchate, however, Ukraine will have a de facto state church. Continue Reading…

Give Us This Day Our Daily Portion of Nationalism… Reflections on the Issue of the Autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine

by Davor Džalto

I tried to stay away from publicly expressing my thoughts on the current church/autocephaly crisis in Ukraine, for many reasons. First of all, there are much more competent people who know the situation better than I do. Second, the issue of autocephaly of the church in Ukraine has, by now, escalated so dramatically that one feels compelled to side either with the “pro-Russian” block or with the “pro-Ukrainian/pro-Constantinople” one. The “camps” seem to be so fortified, and the discussion so heated, that it seems difficult to formulate and express one’s opinion without taking a clear-cut “pro” or “contra” position.

In the end, however, I decided to write a short piece about the issue because I received about a dozen requests from various people to comment on the situation, and to give my view on the issues at stake.

Let me say at the beginning that I do not share the mainstream views when it comes to the issue of autocephaly in Ukraine. I will try to explain why. Continue Reading…

Can History Solve the Conflict about Ukrainian Autocephaly?

by Thomas Bremer and Sophia Senyk

The conversion of Kievan Rus’

In early September 2018, the gathering conflict between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow around the status of Orthodoxy in Ukraine escalated. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, in response to a request by the Ukrainian president and the parliament, announced the preparation of a tomos which would grant autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in the country and named two bishops as exarchs. In reaction, the Russian Orthodox Church interrupted communion among priests and hierarchs and announced further measures if Constantinople proceeded with its intentions. On October 11, the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate confirmed its decision to grant autocephaly, and restored communion with the self-proclaimed patriarch Filaret (Denysenko) as well as with the other Ukrainian bishops who were in schism until now. The Moscow Patriarchate announced counter-measures to be taken by its Synod which will meet October 15.

The core issue is canonical territory. Moscow regards Ukraine as its canonical territory and claims that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the only canonical Church in the country, belongs to it. Constantinople, in turn, regards itself as the mother Church of Orthodoxy in Ukraine and expresses concern for unity in the country. Who is right? Continue Reading…