TASS reported on September 28 that the plans of the Ecumenical Patriarch to grant complete independence (“autocephaly”) to the schismatic Ukrainian Orthodox Church signal the Ecumenical Patriarch’s own aspirations to power.
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, chief of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations described the situation told the Izvestia daily news on Friday:
“What’s happening in Ukraine now is not a simple territorial dispute between the two Churches, as someone might think,” he said. “That’s something bigger. This is a conscientious and open imposition of powers by Constantinople on others and it’s tantamount to papist claims.”
“We can see quite clearly the Patriarch of Constantinople doesn’t consider other local [national] Churches as subjects in pan-Orthodox relations,” metropolitan Hilarion said. “From his point of view, Phanar [his headquarters in Constantinople / Istanbul] is the only place where all the decisions can be taken.”
According to Met. Hilarion, the Ecumenical Patriarchate not only refuses to discuss the matter of Ukrainian autocephaly with Moscow, but with other local Orthodox Churches as well.
“Even the delegation, which Phanar empowered to hold talks with local Churches on the Ukrainian problem, visited their Primates for telling them about a decision that had already been taken, not for taking counsel with them on Constantinople’s plans,” metropolitan Hilarion said. “The envoys of the Constantinople Patriarchate said it more than once.”
“The Russian Church shouldn’t fear an isolation of some kind,” he said. “If Constantinople continues its non-canonical actions, it will put itself outside the canonical field, outside the canonical understanding of the Church organizations that gives a distinctive mark to the Orthodox Church.”
His Eminence Hilarion recalled that after the Great Schism of the Holy Christian Church in 1064, which divided it into Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, the Patriarch of Constantinople has always occupied the top position in the Diptychs – the table specifying the order of commemoration of Primates of Orthodox Churches.
“This precedence has always been viewed as precedence of honor but not precedence of power and the Patriarch of Constantinople has been viewed as the first among the Primates of autocephalous Churches, who are equal to him,” Metropolitan Hilarion said.
“It was only in the 20th century that the Ecumenical Patriarchs began to lay claims to some particular powers in the in the Eastern Orthodox Church but these ambitions are devoid of theological or canonical grounds,” he said.
At present, Ukraine has only one religious organization that has the canonical status in the world of global Eastern Orthodoxy – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to Moscow Patriarchate, which is led by Metropolitan Onuphrius of Kiev and all Ukraine.
Simultaneously, the country has two more organizations referring themselves as Orthodox Churches – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to the so-called ‘Kiev Patriarchate’ and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church that takes root in a reformist movement of nationalistic Ukrainian clerics of the early 20th century.
The canonical Church has about 12,000 parishes and 200 monasteries in its realm.
Ukrainian authorities have been striving to set up a national Orthodox Church disconnected from Moscow Patriarchate since the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic declared itself independent from the USSR in 1991.
On September 7, 2018, the Ecumenical Patriarchate appointed two exarchs to Ukraine as part of preparations for granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church expressed resolute protest over and profound indignation over the move.
TASS further reports in a related article that Ukraine’s leader, President Petro Poroshenko, claimed on September 22 that the process of obtaining autocephaly was nearing its completion.
While this sort of news may seem inconsequential to Western readers or people not affiliated with the Orthodox Church, it is actually of extremely major importance in the Eastern Orthodox world. Russia has the largest and most powerful jurisdiction within Eastern Orthodox Christianity, but this church is the oldest of all Christian confessions, with one of its locales, Antioch, actually mentioned in the book of Acts. Many people in the Middle Eastern countries can actually trace their family history back to one or another of the very Apostles themselves.
While religion and religiosity in the West is often seen as somewhat detached from “reality”, for the Eastern Orthodox Christian, the Church is of incredible importance. That is why this issue figures so significantly for Ukraine and Russia both, since both countries are historically Orthodox. With the EuroMaidan revolution in 2014, the powers that ascended to primacy in Ukraine have sought to tear it away from its historical roots and bring it into the orbit of Western Europe. Not only is this struggle political in the secular sense, it is so in the ecclesiastical sense, with Rome’s presence in the region as well, in the form of the Greek Catholic, or Uniate churches, that follow the Eastern Orthodox rites but are in allegiance to the Pope, and the two schismatic Orthodox groups that are being used to bolster Ukrainian nationalism rather than to be the representation of Christ’s Church on earth.
This was never made more clear than in a statement by Crimean Tatar journalist Aider Mudzhabayev, as reported on the Soros-affiliated site OpenDemocracy.net:
“I see this as a big step forward. God willing… hmmm, I’m an atheist, but God willing it’ll go that way”.
For many “church passers-by” and atheists like Mudzhabayev, “our” “Ukrainian” church should be recognised and receive a Tomos on autocephaly.
Metropolitan Hilarion pointed out in an interview with Worlds Apart journalist Oksana Boyko, that he expects any “new, independent” Ukrainian church to be not only unrecognized by the rest of the Orthodox world, but that this group would be infiltrated with immoral values pumped in from the West. With statements like the above, it is easy to see why he thinks so.
Petro Poroshenko thinks that this development will “put Ukraine into a strong position in [its] struggle with Russia.”
The earlier possible granting of autocephaly by to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will put Ukraine into a strong position in struggle with Russia, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin said on Friday with an interview with Novoye Vremya radio [Radio NV].
“I think – and this isn’t quite a spiritual utterance on my part but a political one, you could say – that the issuing of Tomos [an edict by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople on granting autocephaly to a Church – TASS] in the nearest months puts us and the Church into a very strong position,” he said when the anchor asked him if it would be easier for Ukraine “to go against Russia” if the Ukrainian Church got autocephaly.
Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko, who appeared in the Verkhovna Rada national parliament on Thursday, said the process of obtaining autocephaly was nearing completion.
In context with this statement is President Poroshenko’s stated promise that the Moscow-based (and only canonically recognized) Orthodox Church in Ukraine would be protected by the Ukrainian authorities. But with statements like this above, it looks more and more like that was just a lie.