Russian news media puzzle over actions of Constantinople


by Andrei Melnikov

Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 3 December 2018


From the Synod of the Constantinople church, which occurred from Tuesday to Thursday, sensations were expected—and a sensation was gotten. But completely unlike what was expected. Everybody was prepared to hear from the bishops meeting in Istanbul a decision regarding the unification council of the future autocephalous Ukrainian church. Not just the announcement of a "green light" to the autocephalists in Kiev but also an exact date of the conducting of the council. At least a communiqué to the effect that the conference of representatives of the three Ukrainian jurisdictions will begin before the end of the year.


Disagreements also have been sustained with regard to whether the Synod confirmed a charter of the future Ukrainian church. The documents have still not been published and only rumors about them are circulating. Experts are inclined to think that Constantinople confirmed some fundamental act and the full text of a charter may be confirmed by the Ukrainian council itself and not be imposed upon it from above.


That the council will be held in December the public nevertheless heard, but from the president of Ukraine. It has already become a tradition that the concrete decisions adopted at conferences of hierarchs of the patriarchate of Constantinople are reported not by them themelves but by Petro Poroshenko. "I can say that it (the council—NG) will be in the middle of December and maybe in the first half of December. Participants in the council will select a primate of an independent autocephalous local Orthodox—and most important—Ukrainian church," Poroshenko reported "secretly" on his official website.


At the same time the president added several flowery phrases that traditionally accompany just about each of his statements about the process of autocephaly. Poroshenko said that "just as the army is the guarantor of our independence, the guarantor of spiritual independence is an autocephalous Orthodox church." And on Saturday in a video broadcast he assured that "the Moscow patriarchate will no longer spread its fingers like a fan and also brand who among us is canonical and who among us is without grace."


Possibly the evasive information policy of Constantinople is connected with the fact that it is still difficult to persuade representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UPTsMP) to participate in the unification process. Poroshenko on Saturday awarded the order of Yaroslav the Wise to two hierarchs of the UPTsMP, Metropolitan Sofrony and Metropolitan Anatoly. It is suggested that this will strengthen their resolve to cooperate with the autocephalists.


As the news media and church sources themselves report, the authorities are acting on the UPTsMP not only with a carrot but also a stick. Allegedly several bishops have been summoned to the S.B.U. for conversations and searches were conducted in the house of the vicar abbot of the Kiev caves lavra, Metropolitan Pavel. The metropolitan assures that he has not been in this house for several years. The evidence that Lebed made public could adorn a story in the style of Gogol, but it absolutely does not clarify the situation about the metropolitan's finances: "And when we had a serious operation (someone used germ warfare on me) in 2014, this house was burglarized. Five icons were stolen and a box of vodka was taken, which had been there."


But let's return to the Synod in Istanbul, which was not without clear events. On Tuesday Constantinople withdrew a tomos (order) from 1999 regarding the creation of its exarchate within the archdiocese of Russian Orthodox parishes in western Europe. This jurisdiction of White émigrés transferred under the omophorion of Constantinople in 1931, and in the course of the 20thcentury its status within the ecumenical patriarchate changed several times. Now it is proposed that the Russian parishes be directly subordinate to the heads of eparchies of the Constantinople church and not to its own leader, Archbishop Ioann.


However the Russian exarchate refused to submit to the Synod in Istanbul. On Friday the council of the archdiocese issued a communiqué in which the order of the Synod was called a surprise. Russian parishes declared their insistence on maintaining loyalty and submission to Archbishop Ioann. The document speaks of the intent to maintain its Russian identity. A pastoral conference is scheduled for 15 December, during which the clergy of the dissolved exarchate will give their own response to Constantinople.


"While being rooted in western European society, the archdiocese has acquired some elements of western culture. The first is adherence to democratic values, based on human rights and also collegial discussion prior to making any decision," the document of the archdiocese says. Observers see in these lines a decisive reluctance to move to the side of the RPTs, to which, perhaps, Constantinople is gradually pushing Russian believers of western Europe. (tr. by PDS, posted 3 December 2018)

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