Much has happened in the time that has elapsed since Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople granted autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in 2018-19. The world continues to struggle through the pandemic. Natural disasters are destroying lives at home and abroad. Pictures of Afghans trying to flee the Taliban stun our consciences. Europe’s longest ruling dictator continues to brutalize citizens of Belarus.
When COVID brought the world to its knees in 2020, I thought that it would create a much-needed ceasefire in the longstanding informational war among Orthodox Ukrainians. Surely, the most hardened participants in confessional polemical warfare would cool off.
I was wrong. Anger continues to percolate among some Orthodox inside and outside of Ukraine. Opponents of the decision to grant autocephaly to the OCU were incensed by Patriarch Bartholomew’s acceptance of President Zelensky’s invitation to visit Ukraine on the occasion of the thirtieth year of national independence.
Among the patriarch’s opponents, clergy and laity came together to demand that he take responsibility for his actions in Ukraine and meet with them. The group is named “Myriane” (laity). They held a prayer vigil on August 21, the day of Bartholomew’s meetings with President Zelensky and the Ukrainian Parliament.
“The actions of Constantinople in Ukraine are not in accordance with the tradition of the Church. We are on the side of order and canon,” . . . He also added that “Many are going to say that we [the Serbian Orthodox Church] are on the Russian side. But we are on the side of orders and canons.”
Such all-too-common statements ignore the fact “that concerning. . .the manner of establishing the autocephaly of any part of the Church, none of the sacred canons provides direction or inkling.” Statements such as those of the Patriarch beg the questions “Which canons? Whose order?”
During a conference on the crisis in Orthodoxy caused by the establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, several participants used the concept of a “frozen conflict” to describe the “stable unresolved conflict” (Georgij Kovalenko). Given that the term is commonly used for several deadlocked conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union with crucial participation of Russia, it seems plausible to link the conflict around the Ukrainian church to this concept. Yet, at least in two regards, the description of the conflict in Orthodoxy as a “frozen conflict” fails. First, the conflict is not frozen. The conflict between the churches is quite hot, with both sides using all possible means to establish their superiority and blame the other for recent tensions. Moreover, the armed conflict in Ukraine continues and people are dying on the frontline almost every day—a fact we all must not forget. Second, the church usually refuses to be judged with political concepts, claiming that the way the church deals with conflict should transcend the worldly manner.
Nevertheless, the fact that theologians try to frame the conflict within the political concept of a “frozen conflict” points to the helplessness to find ways to make sense of this painful situation. Therefore, it is worth taking a closer look at the concept to find out how experts construct perspectives for such deadlocked conflicts. I would like to focus on three noteworthy aspects. Continue reading →
The creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) has inspired a number of hypotheses on who initiated the event. Past president Petro Poroshenko, Patriarch Filaret, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew are usually identified as the architects of Ukrainian autocephaly. There is also a chorus of voices that attributes the creation of the OCU to the American government. Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, recently claimed that the OCU is an American creation, and that the USA desires to create a schism in global Orthodoxy. Lavrov made his claim immediately after Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s trip to the United States.
Hilarion was scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on October 22. Coincidentally, Metropolitan Epifaniy (Dumenko), the primate of the OCU, was set to meet Pompeo the next morning. Hilarion’s meeting with Pompeo was cancelled after the secretary assigned a deputy to represent him at the meeting (Hilarion declined). Pompeo’s meeting with Epifaniy took place as planned, and Pompeo expressed America’s support for the new church.
Is this enough evidence to verify that the US government created the OCU? If not, what do these meetings and statements mean, and what are their implications for American ambitions in Ukraine and Russia? Continue reading →