The late February fraternal gathering of six local Orthodox churches in Amman was instructive and at the same time disheartening. Instructive because the gathering exposed truths in global Orthodoxy; disheartening because it was a sad showcasing of Orthodoxy to the world (for the presumably relatively few outsiders who are still paying attention to us).
The first hard truth it highlighted is the lack of deference local churches have towards the Moscow Patriarchate. It exposed Moscow’s lack of spiritual maturity (phronema) to play a pan-Orthodox role that is divorced from its national self-interest.
The death of Patriarch Alexei II marked the end of the “cold era” contacts between Moscow and Constantinople and started a new epoch in inter-Orthodox relations. Kirill’s first foreign visit since his January 2009 election as Patriarch of Moscow was to Constantinople and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Unity and ecumenism were priorities for Patriarch Kirill, and the 2009 visit and his address prove it. He even attempted to put pressure on the Turkish government to reopen the Orthodox Theological School of Halki. But this was then. Now, the relations between Moscow and Constantinople have drastically changed over Ukraine.
In preparation for the independence celebrations, on April 10, 2018, the Ukrainian President Petro Porošenko made a request to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew to create a new Ukrainian Orthodox Church and grant autocephaly to end the abnormity of three Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine. There are three Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine: 1) the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church), 2) the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (established in 1992, headed by Filaret Denisenko) and 3) the Ukrainian autocephalous Orthodox Church (with the smallest number of faithful and parishes). Out of the three Orthodox jurisdictions, only the first is considered canonical, while the remaining two jurisdictions are considered “schismatic” and unrecognized by the Orthodox sister churches. Read More…
The historical path of the Church in Ukraine is controverted and complex: both Moscow and Constantinople claim Ukraine as their canonical territory. As a result, one of the largest Orthodox Churches in the world has experienced schism for over twenty-five years.
In April 2018 the Government of Ukraine officially requested a Tomos of Autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This news brought joy to some, and caused anxiety for others.
The Appeal refers to a “schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy,” implicitly recognizing that the Orthodox Church in Ukraine extends beyond the borders of the canonically recognized Moscow Patriarchate jurisdiction, which is useful. Other statements, however, portray the struggle for Church unity somewhat disingenuously. Continue Reading…
His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko
Last week, news circulated that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is expected to issue a Tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. This news appeared on the heels of a meeting that took place between Patriarch Bartholomew, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his delegation after Pascha on April 9, 2018. The discussions between the presidential delegation and President Poroshenko were reportedly lengthy, and Poroshenko formally requested the issuing of a Tomos that would be presented publicly on the occasion of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus’ in late July. The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, voted to voice its support for the appeal for the Tomos, and the synods of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) issued letters voicing their support for the Tomos. The press office of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) claims that the actions of the President and parliament violate Ukrainian law, since offices of the state are interfering in Church affairs, and the UOC-MP is also arguing that all of the Orthodox Churches must agree to autocephaly, and that autocephaly is no longer only a prerogative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The mechanism for granting autocephaly is a canonical issue that was on the agenda of the Holy and Great Council in Crete of 2016, but which was not taken up by the Churches that participated in the Council. Furthermore, there is no clarity on the recipients of the Tomos: to whom will the Ecumenical Patriarch grant the Tomos, where would the inaugural Liturgy celebrating the Tomos be celebrated, which bishops would concelebrate with the Ecumenical Patriarch, and whose names and sees would be entered into the diptychs of global Orthodoxy?
In the remainder of this essay, I will reflect on what is at stake for the major players in Ukraine and for the rest of global Orthodoxy. Continue Reading…