Tag Archives: Nicholas Denysenko

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

The Church in Modern Ukraine: Information Literacy and the Narrative

by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Denysenko

“A Tomos of autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate would legitimize the schism in Ukraine. We must support the canonical church.”

“Autocephalists are not ‘church people’. They are nationalists who seek to exploit the Church, and autocephaly will sever communion with the Orthodox Church.”

“The schism in Ukraine began in 1992 when Metropolitan Filaret violated the canons and inaugurated the autocephalous movement.”

“The Americans are the architects of the present project for Ukrainian autocephaly even though the vast majority of Orthodox in Ukraine are opposed to it.”

I constructed these four sentences as a synthesis capturing the most popularly circulated clichés about the history and contemporary situation of the Church in Ukraine. These ideas are not essentially distillations taken from translations published on websites about Orthodoxy, and not necessarily official Church websites, but media services—we do not always know who administers these services—that browse the Web for “Orthonews” and then republish it.

For the general public, the Ukrainian Church issue entered the spotlight with the Euromaidan phenomenon in 2013, which evolved into Russia’s forceful annexation of Crimea and then the catastrophic war in Donbas. Experts such as Antoine Arjakovsky and Cyril Hovorun referred to Church ministry among the people on the Maidan as the beginnings of a new and hopeful ecumenical movement in Ukraine. When St. Michael’s cathedral became a temporary hospital for the wounded, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) was re-introduced to a general audience as the Church to which the monastery and cathedral belong. When Ukraine’s Parliament formally requested that the Holy and Great Council in Crete grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine in 2016, the UOC-KP was no longer merely an outcast Church that happened to open its doors to the wounded during the Maidan.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s (EP) commitment to establishing one canonical autocephalous Church in Ukraine that would include Orthodox outside of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) became obvious in the events that have occurred since President Poroshenko publicly announced the imminence of a canonical Tomos during this past Bright Week. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has declared its determination to complete the implementation of the process of granting autocephaly to the Church in Ukraine following the meeting with Moscow Patriarch Kirill on August 31.

In principle, one would assume that this action of the Ecumenical Patriarchate would be a source of joy and relief to the Orthodox world as it would signal the end to a schism that began in 1921—not in 1992, as is erroneously reported and circulated on a daily basis. My own sampling of support for Ukrainian autocephaly among Anglophone Orthodox indicates disinterest, opposition, and most of all, ignorance about the facts. Continue Reading…

The Promise of Autocephaly in Ukraine: What’s at Stake?

by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Denysenko

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with Ukrainian President

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…

Bishops and Synods: Testing the Spirits

by Rev. Deacon Nicholas Denysenko  |  ελληνικά

In modernity and postmodernity, bishops and synods have taken varying approaches to testing the spirits and ascertaining what is needed for the renewal of pastoral ministry. The task engaged by the participants in the symposium hosted by the St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess on October 6-7, 2017, was to consider how the Church might renew the order of the diaconate. My lecture focused on the work of the Moscow Council of 1917-18, especially the conciliar engagement of a process for restoring the patriarchate. I proposed the council’s restoration of the patriarchate offers a pattern for the contemporary discussion of renewing the diaconate, since these are ministries performed by Church orders. Here are three approaches to ministerial renewal from the Moscow Council that can be applied today to the questions posed to bishops and synods as they deliberate the matter of renewing the diaconate: Continue Reading…