How close is Ukraine to autocephaly for its Orthodox Church?
Lobby without cassock. Vadym Novinsky`s visits to Constantinople prevent granting autocephaly to Kyiv
Just half a year ago, most Ukrainians didn’t know what tomos is and how the word is spelled. Now, the situation is the opposite. The fight for tomos, a document granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, has grown into a nationwide campaign. Supportive public discourse and Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts provide serious reinforcement to the clergy’s campaign for the document. Soon enough, Ukraine is likely to receive its independent Orthodox Church recognized in the world.
The word autocephaly is a combination of the Greek words for own and head, that stands for independence or self-governance. The family of Orthodox Churches is comprised of authocephalous churches with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople standing “first among equals”. Herein lies its difference from the Roman Catholic Church with its clear vertical hierarchy. No specific legal norms or established procedure regulate the foundation of autocephalous churches. As a result, the issue constantly fuels arguments.
However, there is a universally recognized list of factors for a church to be established as autocephalous. It includes the existence of an independent state where that Church acts, the Orthodox clerical structure and the respective will of the secular authorities and the people.
In old times, patriarchates were founded by the holy apostles preaching the Word of God. According to theologists, the emergence of new autocaphalous Orthodox churches is based on Apostle Rule No34, among others, stating “the Bishops of every nation should know the first among them and recognize him as the leader.”
Kyiv Rus leaned towards the independence of its church body and rituals since the first centuries following the adoption of Christianity. Under Prince Yaroslav the Wise in 1051 it elected Ilarion, a man of Kyiv Rus rather than Greek origin, as head of its metropolitan cathedra. This was a clear demonstration of independence by the Kyiv Church.
Kyiv Metropole’s purely nominal subordination to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople up until 1686 secured its independent development. The Cossacks became the foundation and the basis for its development. According to many researchers, Kyiv Metropole was virtually autocephalous in its status at the time. This provided the ground for Kyiv Metropolitan Petro Mohyla to create the project of constitutional transformation of the Kyiv Metropole into a patriarchate.
Problems began when the Ukrainian Church was illegally subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate as a result of the loss of statehood by Ukraine and the integration of its lands with the Tsardom of Russia. Given the traditional control of State over Church in Muscovy, this signaled full subordination of all religious life in Ukraine, leading to the unification and elimination of any national differences. In such circumstances, the issue of autocephaly for Ukrainian Church would come up with every wave of Ukrainian national liberation struggle. It did so in 1917-1920, and it has been on the agenda since Ukraine declared its independence in 1991.
Ukrainian presidents and autocephaly
Every Ukrainian president was tested by the autocephaly issue. Leonid Kravchuk, the first president of the independent Ukraine, was generally supportive of independence for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. But his cautious and indecisive nature and reliance on pro-Russian advisors led him to a number of mistakes. The major one was to allow the Kharkiv Assembly in 1992. Under instructions from Moscow and the supervision of its special services, the Assembly elected Metropolitan Volodymyr Sabodan to replace Metropolitan Filaret Denysenko as head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in violation of the Church canons and charter. Some experts blame Yevhen Marchuk, then-chief of the Security Bureau of Ukraine, for this. Regardless of who allowed this event to take place, the Assembly marked the starting point of the current split in Ukraine’s Orthodoxy.
“If that split had not happened, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church would have been one and we could have pressured Moscow into granting us autocephaly,” Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate, has said more than once ever since. He is probably right: back in 1991, Filaret convened the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Assembly in Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, a major Orthodox shrine now occupied by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate. The Assembly authorized an address to Alexis II, then-Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus, requesting autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The address was signed by virtually all bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, including Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), the current head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate. “Representing all of Ukraine’s bishops, clergy, parishioners, monasteries and religious educational facilities, the participants of the Assembly have unanimously decided to request Your Holiness and the Bishopry of the Rus Orthodox Church to grant canonical independence, i.e. autocephaly, to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to support the recognition of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by all national Churches as an equal sister-Church in the family of Orthodox Churches, and to encourage eastern patriarchs and the heads of other national churches to support the establishment of the Kyiv Patriarchate,” the address said. A romantic hope of that time was that Moscow would agree to the independence of Ukraine’s Church after it had grudgingly accepted the independence of Ukraine. It never did.
Still, Ukrainians have had their canonic national Church since 1992. Many sociological surveys show that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate takes that place. It has the highest number of Orthodox parishioners. In its March 23-28, 2018 poll, the Razumkov Center found that 28.7% of those polled across Ukraine said they belonged to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, and 12.8% said they went to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate. The number of Kyiv Patriarchate sympathizers has been growing for years.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate is fully independent from any foreign centers, has its own structure, an elected Patriarch – the first one was Mstyslav Skrypnyk, followed by Volodymyr Romaniuk and Filaret Denysenko – bishops, clergy, monasteries and higher theological institutions. It follows decisions by Synods, as well as archbishop and national assemblies. This is a canonical Church since it does not violate any canons or rules, and abides by the Bible, the Holy Tradition and dogmas. The only difference is the use of the Ukrainian language in its services which the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate does not welcome.
So what exactly is the tomos of autocephaly about and why are we campaigning to get it? It will help unite Ukrainian Orthodoxy and make it part of the family of Orthodox Churches, allowing it to communicate and serve alongside all Orthodox communities of the world.
Leonid Kuchma took the president’s office in Ukraine with a clear orientation at supporting Russia. He saw the support of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate as its partner in the sphere of religion. This led to a tragedy when participants of the burial procession for Patriarch Volodymyr Romaniuk were violently attacked and beaten at the St. Sofia Square in Kyiv in 1995. That provocation against the burial ceremony for the second Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, a well-known prisoner of conscience of the soviet regime, caused much resentment in Ukraine and beyond, uniting many of Ukraine’s intelligentsia around Kyiv Patriarchate and eventually forcing those in power to shed their bias against it. When Leonid Kuchma approached his second term as president, he began to understand the role of the autocephalous Church in the nation’s statehood. He even began to speak about the importance of establishing the unified national Ukrainian Orthodox Church in public statements.
According to different accounts, he changed his mind during a visit to the Holy Land for the celebration of the 2000th anniversary of birth of Jesus Christ. Heads of traditionally Orthodox states stood next to the leaders of their Churches at the ceremony. Volodymyr, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, had to stand next to Alexis II, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus, not next to Kuchma. This solitude at the celebration made Kuchma realize how deprived an Orthodox nation is without its autocephalous Church and how flawed the project of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate” was.
The dialogue about autocephaly with Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew was first activated under the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko when the Patriarch came for a pompous visit to Kyiv as representative of Mother Church to celebrate the 1020th anniversary of Christianity in Kyiv Rus. The issue of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was not solved then as the talks were chaotic and inconsistent. Kyiv placed its bets on the show, expecting the Patriarchate in Constantinople to write the autocephaly tomos inspired by visiting Kyiv and seeing rainbows over the ancient St. Sofia Cathedral, accompanied by the honorary guard.
When those in power realized that the Ecumenical Patriarch was not ready for such historic impromptu, they began to discuss the “Crete option” whereby the Kyiv Church would receive a semi-autonomous status within the Constantinople Patriarchate. The bishops, the clergy and the parishioners of the Ukrainian Church were not happy with this: they did not reject subordination to Moscow to replace it with administrative subordination to Istanbul.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities wanted to present at least some results of the talks with the Ecumenical Patriarch to society. Therefore, Viktor Baloha, then-Chief of the Presidential Secretariat, pressured Patriarch Filaret into rejecting the idea of complete independence for the Church. Filaret never ceded to requests or threats. Subsequently, this contributed to the reinforcement of the Kyiv Patriarchate structure.
Still, that visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Kyiv in 2008 allowed him to publicly state that he considered Ukraine the territory of his Church and that the Constantinople Patriarchate was Mother Church for Ukrainian Orthodox Church, now Moscow Patriarchate. He proved that his Church did not write off the Kyiv Metropole back in 1686 for good.
The notorious ex-president Viktor Yanukovych was a follower of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate and ignored Kyiv Patriarchate. In 2009, the Russian Orthodox Church was headed by Patriarch Kirill (Gundiayev) known for his proactive promotion of a neo-imperial concept of Russki Mir, the Russian World. He demanded the bishops and clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate to act towards integration with Russia and is a harsh critic of Ukraine’s pro-European vector. He took the patriarch seat as a wholehearted supporter and ideologue of Vladimir Putin.
Interestingly, ex-president Yanukovych and his team were working on the tactical project of replacing Volodymyr Sabodan, then-Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, who was weak by then and could no longer meet their needs as an agitator and organizer. Quite unexpectedly, the Metropolitan – already quite ill – resisted their efforts and refused to leave his seat for Antoniy Pokanych, a young metropolitan loyal to those in power. To blackmail and provoke Volodymyr, Oleksandr Drabynko, an archbishop close to him, was kept under de factoillegal police arrest for a year.
The Maidan and the start of the Russia-Ukraine war in 2014 changed the situation. It was the St. Michael’s Church of Kyiv Patriarchate in downtown Kyiv that sheltered the protesting student violently chased by the Berkut riot police. Later, the Church transformed into a makeshift hospital for those injured in the Maidan.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate kept defending Yanukovych, opened its doors for titushky thugs and separatists, while its bishops often spoke in support of aggressors in the Donbas and collaborated with the enemy in Crimea (all these activities persist today). This helped shape the attitude of people in Ukraine about this branch of ROC in Ukraine. This even pushed some clergy and parishioners within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate towards mounting frustration with the official Moscow-approved vector of the Church and its status as an affiliate of the Moscow Patriarchate, a religious organization of the occupant state.
Some respected theologists claim that tomos for the Ukrainian Church has “already been written”. This may be true, but it will hardly be publicly disclosed this summer. It is more likely to appear closer to the end of 2018. The main thing is that Patriarch Bartholomew has more than once demonstrated resistance to Moscow’s intimidation and blackmail in an attempt to counter the tomos, and has shown that he will not give up his leading role in the cause of the Ukrainian Church.
He was recently visited by a group of envoys from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate led by the notorious MP Vadym Novinskiy and priest Mykola Danylevych. The group of clergy known for their openly pro-Russian views was on a mission to persuade the Ecumenical Patriarch to drop the intentions to help Orthodox Ukrainians and leave them under Russia’s religious subordination. According to accounts by eye-witnesses, Novinskiy blackmailed Patriarch Bartholomew by saying that there would be war and bloodshed in Ukraine if it received autocephaly, and asking whether Patriarch was willing to take responsibility for that development. Ilarion Alfeyev, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchy’s Department of External Church Relations, echoed this phrase about war and bloodshed shortly after.
Patriarch Bartholomew received the envoys in a diplomatic manner, listened to them and gifted them with souvenirs. When they returned home, he declared once again that he would not walk away from his intentions while autocephaly for the Ukrainian Church could be a step towards unity, peace and development of Orthodoxy. The statement was made on July 1 in the Hall of the Throne at his residence. “Let us not forget that Constantinople never ceded the territory of Ukraine to anyone by means of some ecclesiastical Act, but only granted to the Patriarch of Moscow the right of ordination or transfer of the Metropolitan of Kyiv on the condition that the Metropolitan of Kyiv should be elected by a Clergy-Laity Congress and commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch. Listen to what is mentioned in this regard in the Tome of autocephaly, which was granted by the Mother Church to the Church of Poland: “For it is written that the original separation from our Throne of the Metropolis of Kyiv and of the two Orthodox Churches of Lithuania and Poland, which depend on it, and their annexation to the Holy Church of Moscow, in no way occurred according to the binding canonical regulations, nor was the agreement respected concerning the full ecclesial independence of the Metropolitan of Kyiv, who bears the title of Exarch of the Ecumenical Throne,” Patriarch Bartholomew said.
Meanwhile, frequent categorical statements of some top representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate both from Russia and Ukraine signal that they are set to aggravate the situation, including with provocations (which Ukrainian security services have to be ready to counter).
When the leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, which presents itself as “independently administered”, goes to an assembly of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia’s Yekaterinburg and discusses the problem of Ukrainian authocephaly with people who should hardly have anything to do with it, it explains a lot.
The ongoing historical stage of the struggle for the tomos is decisive. The efforts of Poroshenko’s team in this regard leave observers optimistic and make them believe that this campaign will be effective. The assets of Ukraine’s campaign for autocephaly include official requests from the President of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada, the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and some of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate’s clergy to the Ecumenical Patriarch, as well as diplomatic negotiations with the leaders of other Orthodox Churches requesting their support for the tomos.
Listed below are the factors that have activated the campaign for autocephaly in Ukraine:
1. The establishment of Ukraine as an independent state with the European vector of development which the Russian aggression failed to break.
2. The development and strengthening of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate as the Church of the Ukrainian people.
3. Aggressive imperial policies by Russia and Moscow Patriarchate. The latter has been growing more assertive in positioning itself as the main patriarchy and challenging the superiority of the Constantinople Patriarchate.
4. Ukrainian authorities now see autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as part of national security. Therefore, efforts aimed at obtaining it have become far more professional and proactive.
5. The crisis of Orthodoxy which requires a strong Ukrainian Orthodox Church to reinforce the family of Orthodox churches, strengthen the balance and block the Moscow Patriarchate’s ambitions to become an equivalent of the Vatican in the Orthodox Church (a project initiated by Joseph Stalin).
6. The geopolitical situation in the world where European nations, the US and Turkey understand how dangerous the neo-imperial policies of Putin’s Russia are and do not welcome its reinforcement in the religious segment, too.
In this situation, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has the following prospects of receiving the tomos of autocephaly. The document may appear by the end of this year, but the process is more likely to last another year as the Ecumenical Patriarch has decided to go through the whole organic procedure of agreeing this move with other Orthodox Churches. This will actually contribute to the legitimacy of the document. By the way, the process of granting the autocephaly tomos to the Polish Orthodox Church (based on the fact that it had been part of the ancient Kyiv Metropole) lasted three years and was completed in 1924.
How can the cause of autocephaly for Ukraine develop? The decisions declared at the synod of the Moscow Patriarchate in Yekaterinburg signal that this Church will insist on rejecting autocephaly for Ukrainians. This will push the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate farther into isolationism from the interests of the Ukrainian people and state: they will not go for any official negotiations on the issue while playing the Kremlin’s card and claiming that the campaign “breeds violations of the rights of Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate believers by nationalists.” This fundamentalism is likely to further undermine the support for this Church from Ukrainians.
Meanwhile, the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate will gather for an assembly and read out the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Ecumenical Patriarch. An election of the leader of the newly-autonomous Church follow. Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv Patriarchate is the most likely candidate for the seat.
Then the Verkhovna Rada can consider a bill to conduct re-registration of religious communities in Ukraine: the previous registration took place a long time ago, so the current register lists many communities and monasteries that no longer exist. This bill would also regulate the names of confessions: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate would go back to its actual name of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
In 1918, Oleksandr Lototskiy, the Minister of Confessions in charge of religious policy in Pavlo Skoropadskiy’s government, spoke to the bishops of then-pro-Russian Orthodox Church in Kyiv. Autocephaly for the Ukrainian Church “is not only necessary for the Church, but for the nation and the State. This is the highest necessity for our Church, our state and our nation. Those who understand and sincerely embrace the interests of the Ukrainian people, also embrace autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church,” he said.