Ukrainian church may not become as free as it hopes


by Alexander Soldatov

Novaia Gazeta, 1-3 December 2018


The truly Byzantine affair regarding the granting by the patriarchate of Constantinople of autocephaly to the Ukrainian church is continuing. The Synod of Constantinople, meeting 27-29 November for the last time in the current year, did not give a precise answer as to when the troubled autocephaly will be proclaimed. "The Greeks are bargaining"—that's how the regular indefiniteness is perceived in Kiev.


In search of a new "model"


However, Rostislav Pavlenko, an advisor of the Ukrainian president who is responsible for the autocephaly project and who personally traveled to the session in Istanbul, is trying to radiate optimism. He says: "everything is going according to plan." As the patriarchate of Constantinople promised in its press release of 19 November, the unification council of the autocephalous church will assemble in Kiev during December and at it the primate of the new church will be elected, who immediately will travel to Constantinople for the tomos concerning autocephaly. By the way, this is an extremely significant correction in the earlier "confirmed" scenario: now there is practically no chance that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew personally will come to deliver the tomos to Kiev.


Regarding the outcome of the latest session of the Synod, not much is known. An extremely laconic press release confirms the readiness of Constantinople to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian church (this phrase has figured consistently in similar press releases since April of the current year), the tomos is mentioned in passing, and, most important, it is reported that the Synod agreed upon the draft of some constitutional charter of the new Ukrainian church. If it is expressed in terms more familiar to us, they are most likely talking about the charter of the church, of which the tomos is an integral part. It is assumed that since Constantinople is working out the charter so carefully, which, the idea is, must be accepted by the Ukrainian bishops themselves at the unification council, it means that it is seeking some "new model" of autocephaly in which the independence of the Ukrainian church will be restricted by its substantial dependence upon Constantinople.


In general, in the contemporary Orthodox world there exists autocephaly of "two types": the ancient type, which arose back in the time of the ecumenical councils of the 4th through 8th centuries and is mentioned in the canons of these councils, and the new national type, which arose in the process of the disintegration of empires (Byzantine, Ottoman, or Russian).The ancient autocephaly comprises the so-called "pentarchy"  ("five rulers"), which St. Theodore of Studite likened to the five sense organs, without which the organism of the church cannot function normally. After the apostasy from Orthodoxy of the Roman church, there remained only four members of the pentarchy—the patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Historically all of these were Greek, though to be sure the Antioch patriarchate gradually came under the control of Orthodox Arabs. All the other currently existing autocephalous churches received their status from Constantinople in the epoch of the late Middle Ages or modern times. They do not possess the same authority of antiquity and the same degree of independence as the patriarchates of the pentarchy. The primates of the modern autocephalous churches were not even given by Constantinople the title of patriarch—they are satisfied with the rank of archbishop or metropolitan. An important symbolic sign of the dependence of these modern autocephalous churches upon Constantinople is the prohibition on brewing myrrh, the sacred, aromatic oil used in anointing of newly baptized persons or in the consecration of church buildings; the churches are required to get it in Istanbul.


Experts suggest that now, after the actual break of the patriarchate of Constantinople from its, in essence, only competitor in the Orthodox world, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the claims of the ecumenical church to leadership among the other churches will increase substantially and the charter of the new Ukrainian church will be used as a declaration of this new status of Constantinople. That is, the degree of Ukrainian autocephaly will be yet more modest than that of the autocephaly of the "second rank," which was established in the 20th century (Romanian, Polish, Albanian, or Czech Lands and Slovakia).


Stavropegiums for the patriarch


The peculiarity of the Ukrainian situation consists also in the fact that Constantinople, in essence, is leading the affair to constituting three parallel Orthodox jurisdictions in the country. Besides the autocephalous church itself, there will remain in Ukraine thousands of parishes of the Moscow patriarchate, which most likely will be renamed the "Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine." The RPTs, as is known, broke canonical communion with the Constantinople patriarchate, but on its part the latter did not want to break communion with the RPTs and therefore it will continue to consider these parishes to be canonical. In addition, according to the agreement signed on 3 November by the Ukrainian president with Patriarch Bartholomew (which, incidentally, has still not been published), the Ukrainian government will act as the guarantor of the restoration of historic "stavropegiums" of Constantinople on the territory of the country.


In its time, in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the authorities of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, which included the greater part of the territory of Ukraine, tried to deprive the Orthodox Church of legal status and force its Orthodox subjects to accept the Unia with the Catholic Church (to which gradually all Orthodox bishops of Ukraine transferred), Constantinople took the most important monasteries and brotherhoods of Ukraine into its direct patriarchal jurisdiction. Such extraterritorial status, when the patriarch removes one community or another from under the authority of a local bishop and subordinates it directly to himself, is called in the Greek tradition a "stavropegium." Now the issue is the restoration of from 7 to 20 stavropegiums of Constantinople in Ukraine, and these are the most tasty morsels of church real estate, from the church of St. Andrew and the caves lavra in Kiev to the Dormition church in Lvov and the Maniava skete in the Carpathians. Knowing the traditional piety of the Ukrainian people, Constantinople is counting on the help of these stavropegiums to substantially increase the income side of its budget.


The only hitch is that all these objects have already been in use by the communities of any of the three main Ukrainian churches, the UPTsMP, UPTsKP, or UAPTs. And whereas the withdrawal of the church of St. Andrew in Kiev from the UAPTs went rather painlessly, how it will happen, for example, with the change of status of the Kiev caves lavra of the UPTsMP or the Maniava skete of the UPTsKP, Ukrainian authorities still do not know.


Candidate No. 1


Over time greater clarity has appeared in the "sacramental" question of who will head the new church. From the stories of bishops of the Kiev patriarchate, who have the "controlling package" of votes in the future unification council, it became clear that the 89-year-old Patriarch Filaret will not insist on his reelection. The issue is that his candidacy is not approved by Constantinople, and this is nezrly the chief factor dragging out the process of the granting of autocephaly.


In October, Constantinople removed from Filaret the anathema imposed on him by the RPTs, but it recognized him only as a metropolitan without a see. For the Moscow patriarchate and its supporters in other local churches, Filaret remains a simple monk, expelled from church communion and subject to a curse. In light of the impasse, Filaret supposedly agreed to transfer the primacy to a younger candidate, but he continues to insist on being recognized as the "honorary patriarch" and on the right of presiding at sessions of the autocephalous Synod. In addition, Filaret is seeking the mention of his name in the tomos of autocephaly or, at least, in the preamble to the charter of the new church. He still has not officially declared this, maintaining the intrigue until the council itself.


In the event of Filaret's recusal, the candidate No. 1 becomes the current patriarchal vicar of the UPTsKP, the 39-year-old Metropolitan Epifany. He became a bishop in 2009, but he made a rapid church career, because he enjoys a reputation as one of the most educated people in the Kiev patriarchate (the future metropolitan was a student for two years at the philosophy faculty of the University of Athens and he learned Greek rather well).


Now Epifany heads up the Kiev Orthodox Theological Academy, the synodal administration for ecclesiastical education, and the editorial board of two theological journals, and he has about 50 academic publications.


At the same time it is very difficult to talk about any kind of special "program" of Epifany's as a candidate for primate, in contrast with such independent hierarchs of the UPTsKP as Archbishop Evstraty or Metropolitan Dimitry. He has not distinguished himself in the public church sphere, always remaining in the shadow of more powerful hierarchs, originally of the Metropolitan of Rovno Daniil and then Patriarch Filaret. This is reason to consider Epifany an "alter-ego" of Filaret.


S.B.U. against the UPTsMP


Meanwhile the situation around the UPTsMP is intensifying. Recent days have been marked by two scandals involving the S.B.U.: first a number of pro-Moscow bishops began complaining that they have been summoned to the intelligence service "for conversation," and on 30 November a demonstrative search was conducted in the lavish estate in suburban Kiev of the vicar abbot of the Kiev caves lavra, Metropolitan Pavel.


The metropolitan, whom Ukrainian news media often call "Mercedes Paul" because of his passion for extravagant vehicles and gross violation of traffic laws, has a rather comic reputation in Ukraine.


From time to time he speaks out on Orthodox channels with conspiracy messages that have extremely distant connection with religion. His latest hit was his story about how the U.S.A. created in Ukraine four secret laboratories where they breed killer mosquitoes  from whose bites millions of Ukrainians will die. The S.B.U. suspects Pavel of inflaming inter-religious strife by means of extremely harsh statements against representatives of the two "competing" churches, the UPTsKP and UAPTs.


Against the background of martial law that has been declared in ten oblasts of Ukraine and the radical restriction of the rights for Russians to cross the border, the S.B.U. also has issued a statement to the effect that Moscow has sent into Ukraine intelligence agents in the guise of monks and priests. It is evident that from now on the practice of giving Ukrainian residence permits to foreigners, upon the request of Orthodox societies, that was widely used, will be completely stopped.


Of course, any delay in proclaiming the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church is perceived as a small "Moscow victory." Now that the unification council did not occur on 22 November (it was this date for it that was announced by Verkhovna Rada Speaker Andrei Paruby), the new date is supposed to be 13 December, the feast of the holy apostle Andrew the First-Called. By tradition, inscribed in the Primary Chronicle, he preached on the territory of Rus and predicted the foundation of Kiev. So it was that the most beautiful church building of the city was consecrated to this apostle and it was this church that was turned over as the first stavropegium of the Constantinople patriarchate in Ukraine. The Apostle Andrew also is honored as the founder of the church of Constantinople, that is, as the living symbol of the kinship of Kiev and Constantinople.


But, alas, not much depends on this beautiful symbol. Constantinople has taken into its own hands the resolution of the question of scheduling the date of the council. And the only thing that we know for sure is that this date will be announced in December. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 December 2018)

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