Conflicting reports about patriarchal get together on Ukraine


About the results of the meeting of the ecumenical patriarch and head of RPTs, none of the participants is talking

by Pavel Korobov, Yanina Sokolovskaia

Kommersant, 1 September 2018


The results of the meeting on Friday, 31 August, of Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus Kirill with the primate of the Constantinople patriarchate, Bartholomew, became the object of numerous versions and rumors, although the participants themselves refused to comment on them. In Ukraine there is the conviction that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew told the head of the RPTs about a decision to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian church. The Moscow patriarchate calls this information conjecture.


The meeting of the primates of the RPTs and the ecumenical patriarchate occurred in Istanbul. The conversation lasted more than two hours and occurred behind closed doors. Patriarch Kirill characterized the completed dialogue only as a "conversation between two brothers." He added that "all problems that are on the agenda" were discussed. At the same time, the head of the RPTs did not want to comment on outcomes, declaring that "without conferring with His Holiness, I would not want to share details, although there was nothing secret, nothing that would explode a bomb in one's mind."


However, just as soon as the patriarch left Turkey, there appeared in Ukrainian news media more detailed information. "During the meeting in Istanbul, the Constantinople patriarch told the head of the RPTs that he intends to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian church," the publication "Rakurs" declared specifically, citing the press secretary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, Archbishop Evstraty. He said that after the meeting of the patriarchs, Metropolitan of Gaul Immanuel declared that "Patriarch Kirill was told about the decision regarding overcoming the division of the church in Ukraine and the grant of autocephaly, which has already been executed."


"We expect an announcement about autocephaly on 3 to 6 September," a source in the administration of the Ukrainian president told Kommersant. "The Ukrainian Orthodox Church soon will cease being a part of the RPTs and will attain the necessary independence. As far as we know, this has evoked indignation in the RPTs. But it is this that the Ukrainian president has insisted upon."


Metropolitan of Volokolamsk Ilarion, who participated in the Istanbul meeting, in the evening called attention to the reports of "several news media, especially in Ukraine, which are already beginning to publish some information about the meeting." At the same time he said that the RPTs will comment on the contents of the meeting only after official persons of the Constantinople patriarchate do so.


"There are two such persons—Patriarch Bartholomew and Metropolitan Immanuel--who were present in the meeting," he stated. "And if somebody else comments on this, then that is conjecture and someone who wants to take what is wished for as reality." He advised giving attention to a "statement by Metropolitan Immanuel, which appeared in Greek news media, to the effect that the Constantinople patriarchate will not try to heal the existing schism by means of the creation of another schism."


We recall that on 19 April 2018,the Supreme Soviet supported the initiative of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko about an appeal to the Constantinople patriarch requesting recognition of the independence of the UPTs from the Moscow patriarchate. "The creation of an autocephalous church is a process that cannot be initiated by secular authority, because, as is known, the church in modern states is separate from the state and the state should not manipulate the church," Metropolitan of Volokolamsk declared at the time. He said that "schism in Ukraine arose because the former Metropolitan of Kiev Filaret Denisenko decided to resolve his own personal problem with the help of a church schism."


There now are in Ukraine three Orthodox churches. The UPTs of the Moscow Patriarchate, led by Metropolitan Onufrey, is recognized in the Orthodox world as the church in Ukraine. The UPTs of the Kiev Patriarchate, led by Patriarch Filaret, split from the RPTs in 1992 and Moscow calls it schismatic and the RPTs issued an anathema upon its primate back in 1997. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Church was created in 1917 and its head is Metropolitan Makary.


In June, a delegation of the UPTs of the Moscow Patriarchate visited the Constantinople patriarch. As Metropolitan Onufrey reported, "the Constantinople patriarchate denied information that the canonical mechanism for overcoming the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy has already supposedly been agreed to finally and the text of a tomos concerning the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church has been composed." He said: "It has not been confirmed that the unilateral granting of autocephaly should occur in the near future or at any definite time." And back in July a delegation of the Constantinople patriarchate was in Moscow, which conducted conversations with representatives of the RPTs on the issue of the state of affairs in Ukraine. The parties did not want to describe the details of the negotiating process and reported only that the meeting had been useful.


"Bartholomew's statement about his faith in the power of dialogue and Patriarch Kirill's statement upon the conclusion of the meeting that 'everything is fine' clearly show progress on the Ukrainian topic," Roman Lunkin, the director of the Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is certain. "The heads of the churches intend to discuss problems arising openly and not to get into a confrontation." In his opinion, "there will not be a tomos about a united Ukrainian church and there possibly will be only the appearance in October at the synod in Constantinople of a vague declaration about the wish for unity of Orthodox Ukraine." (tr. by PDS, posted 1 September 2018)




Denial is a regular informational fake

Website of UPTsMP, 1 September 2018


The comments by Metropolitan of Gaul Immanuel about the results of the meeting of the Constantinople and Moscow patriarchs in Istanbul do not contain words about the adoption of a decision to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Information regarding this distributed in Ukrainian news media is false. This is reported by the synodal Information and Enlightenment Department of the UPTs.


With regard to the mass reproduction of false information, which distorts the words of a representative of the Constantinople patriarchate, Metropolitan of Gaul Immanuel, on the results of the meeting of the Constantinople and Moscow patriarchs in Istanbul on 31 August 2018, the following should be explained. In his statement, Metropolitan Immanuel did not in any way say that the Constantinople patriarchate supposedly made a decision to grant autocephaly to the church in Ukraine. What is said literally is the following: ". . . As you know, schism has continued in Ukraine now for more than 25 years, and the ecumenical patriarchate made a decision to consider all means by which it may be possible to proclaim the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It was this decision that was made in April, and we have already implemented this decision, and the ecumenical patriarchate also told Patriarch Kirill about this during his visit. . . ."


This sentence does not contain the idea that the granting of autocephaly is a settled decision. Instead, Metropolitan Immanuel explained that Patriarch Bartholomew  informed Patriarch Kirill that the Constantinople patriarchate has been conducting since April an investigation of all possible options for granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Constantinople patriarchate not only has declared the necessity of searching ways of granting autocephaly, but also it has "implemented" this decision—that is, it has immediately begun this search. However, whether the Constantinople patriarchate has managed to find since April options for granting autocephaly, and if so, then how it sees them, Metropolitan Immanual has still not stated. Just as it has not been stated by the authoritative hierarch whether the Constantinople patriarchate has as a goal the implementing of the indicated options, if such will theoretically be found.


It should be recalled that on 22 April 2018, there appeared on the website of the Constantinople patriarchate the text of a communiqué on the results of the work of the synod of this church. This reported, in particular, that the synod "has received from church and civil authorities, representing millions of Ukrainian Orthodox Christians, an appeal that requests the granting of autocephaly and it has decided to communicate closely and coordinate with its sister Orthodox churches on this question." That is, the issue is that the April synod of the Constantinople patriarchate did not make any decision about granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian church, but only received a request to this effect from certain structures and it began to investigate it in communication with other local churches.


Several domestic news resources, particularly the Hromadske website, not only have incorrectly interpreted the words of Metropolitan of Gaul Immanuel, but also wittingly or unwittingly published an erroneous version of a translation from an English original of his statement. In particular, instead of the phrase "made a decision to consider all means by which it could be possible to proclaim autocephaly"(the original: took the decision of exploring all the ways in order to issue the autocephaly), the aforementioned website contains the phrase "decided to use all means in order to resolve the question of granting autocephaly." Unfortunately, many news sources, without certifying the reliability of information on the Hromadske website, copied it and disseminated blatant disinformation. Moreover they caused damage to the reputation of a well known hierarch of the present, Metropolitan of Gaul Immanuel, who spoke in the name of the Constantinople patriarchate. Such actions by representatives of the journalistic community, like any deception, create a threat to inter-Orthodox dialogue on the question of overcoming church schism in Ukraine, and the news resources that are disseminating this fake should immediately refute it and apologize to their readers. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 September 2018)



Moscow and Constantinople patriarchs discuss autocephaly of UPTs, 1 September 2018


On 31 August in Istanbul, a meeting of Patriarch of Moscow Kirill and Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew was held. After it, Metropolitan Immanuel, who is responsible for the process of granting a tomos to Ukraine, declared that the question of autocephaly is resolved. Nevertheless, experts note that the manipulations of Ukrainian politicians do not gave a basis for the independence of the Ukrainian church.


In Istanbul the meeting of the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church (RPTs), Patriarch Kirill, with Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I concluded. The meeting was held in the presence of all members of the synod of the ecumenical patriarchate, whose regular session was held on 29-31 August. The conversations in the format of a tete a tete in the presence of translators began after the conclusion of the general meeting.


According to the head of the RPTs, the dialogue proceeded in confidence because of the changing situation in the world, although the conversation did not bear a character of "mystery with seven seals," but was a conversation "between two brothers."


At a press conference on the results of the meeting, the ecumenical patriarch noted the importance of dialogue between representatives of clergy for the decision of important questions. "We believe in the power of dialogue. At a time when political leaders conduct dialogue in order to resolve problems of their countries, we, religious leaders, should much more use the religious path of dialogue for resolving questions. The more so since dialogue is the path shown by God himself," Bartholomew said.


The head of the RPTs agreed with the ecumenical patriarch. At the same time, there were unequivocal references in his words about the unity of the church. "Dialogue among Orthodox churches happens within a single body. . . . We never have done what could cause harm to ecumenical Orthodoxy, the one, holy, apostolic church. Therefore we bear responsibility for the whole church and we are primates of local churches," Kirill says.


It was words about unity that concluded the conversations in which, according to news media reports, the chief topic was granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UPTs).


Responding to a question from journalists of just how the discussion of this went, the Moscow patriarch declared that he would not want to disclose details without the consent of the ecumenical patriarch. "Although there was nothing secret there. And there was nothing which would produce a bomb in the mind, . . . there was nothing of that. The conversation was very proper," the patriarch said.


The restrained assessment of the conversation on the part of the Moscow patriarch gives a basis to suppose that the meeting did not produce the results expected in the RPTs. Such an opinion was expressed by Bishop Evstraty of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate. "Representatives of the MP were nervous and tense," he wrote on Facebook, adding that Patriarch Kirill, despite expectations, did not stay for a common lunch and went to the airport immediately after the conversation.


"To a journalist's question 'Your Holiness, how was it?' Kirill answered nervously 'Fine, fine,' but clearly without the satisfaction that a negotiator expresses after successful negotiations," the Ukrainian clergyman wrote.


After the RPTs patriarch left, Metropolitan of Gaul Immanuel, who is responsible for the process of granting a tomos to Ukraine, made a statement for journalists: "At the meeting Bartholomew told Kirill that the ecumenical patriarchate intends to use all means for deciding the question of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church."


At the same time, Immanuel's statement gives a basis to suppose that the ecumenical patriarchate may try to resolve this question without regard to the opinion of the RPTs. "The Constantinople church is strong and has possibilities throughout the world. The ecumenical patriarchate, with its long life and experience, is the first church in the Orthodox family. It plays a special role and therefore decisions sometimes proceed from there," Immanuel added.


Political manipulations


The history of the grant to Kiev of autocephaly has now lasted for many years. "This idea gradually developed with the growth of Ukrainian national statehood. It has existed since the time of President Kuchma and acquired special popularity under President Yushchenko," Roman Lunkin, the senior research fellow of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences and president of the Guild of Experts on Religion and Law, told


Progress on this matter began after 2014, when the separation from the Russian Orthodox Church became a part of the political agenda in Ukraine. The Verkhovna Rada appealed to the ecumenical patriarchate in June 2016. The request for granting autocephaly was also supported by the uncanonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UPTsKP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAPTs).


In its appeal, Kiev asked Patriarch Bartholomew to recognize the act of the ecumenical patriarch of 1686 for the association of the Kiev metropolitanate with the Moscow patriarchate to be invalid. As the deputies were sure, it was adopted "in violation of canons."


The intervention of the Verkhovna Rada and the president of Ukraine in internal church affairs gives evidence that the question of granting autocephaly to the UPTs has long ago crossed the boundaries of internal church processes and has become a subject of the political struggle.


Politicians have actively exploited the church topic in their speeches for gaining political points. During the parade on Ukrainian Independence Day, Poroshenko criticized the Russian church, which "sanctifies Putin's hybrid war against Ukraine and which day and night prays for the Russian authorities and for troops who are also Russian."


"The question of a tomos concerning autocephaly for the Orthodox church of Ukraine goes far beyond religious boundaries. It is of the same order as the strength of the army, defense of the language, and the struggle for membership in the European Union and NATO," the Ukrainian president said. "It is also one of the strategic sign posts on our historic path. It is a substantial component of our independence."


The RPTs reacted to these statements by Poroshenko rather harshly, calling the Ukrainian president "an arrogant politician who is trying to hold onto power," and the church "unshakeable in comparison with the transience of power."


"The one church has stood, stands, and will stand. It is for the ages. And it is strange for it to hear how in a really desperate attempt to hold onto declining power an arrogant politician, who is not supported by even a tenth of the people, is trying to devise for it, for the church, his own new structure, his own new unheard of "'canons,' and to show it what is natural for it and what isn't," the vice-chairman of the synodal Department for External Church Relations, Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, said.


According to the director of the Sophia Ukrainian Center for Social Research, the Ukrainian political scientist Andrei Ermolaev, political speculation on the religious question in Ukraine is possible because of the high degree of de-ideologization of society.


"Society is seeking new institutions and spheres, which could provide spiritual balance and inspiration. One of these spheres, obviously, is religion, which at the present time is unfortunately being exploited at the expense of its diversity," the political scientist said earlier in conversation with


It is this that explains the fact that religion, willy-nilly, has become a part of politics, the expert is sure.


"Both President Poroshenko and Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovich and the majority of political leaders constantly confuse questions of religion with questions of the church, interchurch relations, and relations of parishioners with church organizations.


As a result, processes of spiritual revival, which are difficult even without this, are constantly exposed to politicized processes of relations among specific churches and determination of their rights to use of buildings, rights to spheres of influence, and to representation in public policy," Ermolaev thinks.


All of this, taken together, leads to the fact that a majority of Ukrainian politicians—and Poroshenko is no exception—exploit inter-church relations.


"Now this question has become an instrument for mobilizing believers for one or another political force and politician," the interlocutor of emphasizes. That is, Poroshenko, in initiating the resolution of the issue of autocephaly, actually is trying to become a new political leader of the religious movement of Ukraine, the expert adds.


No canon


Meanwhile, political maneuvers by Ukrainian authorities for getting autocephaly do not have any force from the point of view of the church, Roman Lunkin notes.


Ukraine is a secular state in which none of the churches—UPTsMP, UPTsKP, UAPTs—in theory depends on decisions of the authorities.


Only the UPTs of the Moscow Patriarchate could be the initiator of autocephaly, as the only Ukrainian church recognized by the Orthodox world, and it has spoken out against the initiative for attaining independence.


There it is noted that the suggestion of the head of the Ukrainian state goes counter to the position of millions of parishioners of the canonical church.


"I, as a man, a priest, can say one thing—this path that they are proposing will bring to us many restrictions. On this path we will be second class people and on this path it will be difficult to preserve the purity of the faith. Therefore it is necessary to protect what we have. And our church has everything that it needs for salvation," the head of the UPTsMP, Metropolitan Onufrey, said regarding the initiative of the Kievan authorities.


Purely theoretically, Lunkin thinks, the question of autocephaly cannot stand at all, since the Constantinople patriarchate has not received a direct appeal from the UPTsMP.


However, benefit from autocephaly can be received not only by the UPTsKP and UAPTs, which thereby would receive the automatic recognition of world Orthodoxy, but also by Constantinople. "The Constantinople patriarchate, certainly, would like to play the primary role in resolving this inter-church conflict in Ukraine and receive the Ukrainian church under its direct influence and dependence," Lunkin explains.


However in Constantinople, despite commitment to the Ukrainian desire to receive a tomos, it is often noted: "Receipt by the Ukrainian church of autocephaly is possible only after overcoming the church schism within Ukraine.


At the same time, Constantinople is in no hurry to propose any suggestions for the unification of Ukrainian churches.


One way or another, "getting autocephaly," about which Ukrainian news media are writing after the meeting of the Moscow and Constantinople patriarchs, is a question that is far from resolved, although it evokes concern, Lunkin notes.


"Immanuel's statement that the Russian delegation was told that the decision has already been made and the process is already begun cannot be viewed other than as a provocation. This statement is interpreted at the expense of the Moscow patriarchate in order to encourage those forces that are fighting and striving for independence from Moscow," the expert concludes. (tr. by PDS, posted 2 September 2018)

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