Thursday, April 19, 2018
The Leader of Ukraine and the Churches in Ukraine

Reuters earlier today published an important story having to do with Russia and Ukraine.

It was headlined “Ukraine moves to split Church from Russia as elections approach.”

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, reportedly, intended to speak by telephone today to Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, to ask Bartholomew — though only “the first among equals,” nevertheless the highest authority in world Orthodoxy — to support the granting of “autocephaly,” or self-rule, to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has up until now been a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church under the Patriarchate of Moscow.

The freedom of the Church

The story is important, first, because of its implications for Christian faith and doctrine, because the granting of autocephaly is an internal Church matter which should not be decided by non-Church authorities (like secular governments) in order not to infringe upon the Church’s freedom.

It is also important for geopolitical reasons, because the granting of autocephaly would evidently distance Ukraine’s Orthodox believers, and so Ukraine in general, further from Russia, a development that would likely weaken Russia.

Russia’s attitude

In this light, the Russian government is not likely to look with favor on the proposal, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted today by Russian state media as saying: “Of course, actions aimed at splitting up the churches are unlikely to be supported and unlikely to be welcomed.”

Likewise, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church itself, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, in an interview today, argued that the Orthodox Church in Moscow and Kiev “is one Church, born in the baptism in the Dnieper River in Kiev [in 988 A.D.]” and that neither “the Constantinople Patriarchate” nor “any other Church” can “unilaterally proclaim the autocephaly of this or that Church.”

Hilarion, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, added: “Therefore, we believe that this initiative, despite all current information noise, will have the same fate as the initiatives adopted in the previous years, and we are again reminding that the Ukrainian church problem can only be resolved using canonical methods.”

Hilarion closed his interview (full text below) by emphasizing that the present situation in Kiev, in canonical terms, is one of schism, in which one group has broken off from Moscow, while another group has remained faithful to Moscow.

“That church schism has accelerated over the past more than a quarter of a century thanks to the support of the secular authorities, but it still remains a schism,” Hilarion said, adding that schisms have never been legitimized in the history of the Church.

He concluded: “There have been precedents when hierarchs, clergymen, laymen, groups, and associations returned from division through repentance, and that’s the only way the Orthodox Church can offer.”

So, from Hilarion’s perspective, this matter cannot be solved by Parliamentary votes, or even by a decision of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, but only by canonical Church procedures, and by the overcoming of divisions.

The difficulty now is that these Church matters have evidently become of considerable importance for political leaders, starting with Poroshenko, but including Putin, and then many others.

So the greatest need now may very well be for calm and wisdom… and for prayers that the Church’s leaders, and members, may find the way to assure the greatest freedom for the Church from political powers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

May the Holy Spirit guide all those involved in a very difficult and delicate eccesial and political situation.

Here is today’s Reuters story:

Ukraine moves to split Church from Russia as elections approach

By Natalia Zinets, April 19, 2018

KIEV (Reuters) — Ukraine’s Orthodox church could become independent of Moscow under the terms of a presidential initiative lawmakers approved on Thursday, a move that President Petro Poroshenko said would make it harder for Russia to meddle in Ukrainian affairs.
Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders have sought step by step to move the former Soviet republic out of Russia’s orbit, after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and a Moscow-backed insurgency broke out in eastern Ukraine.

The Moscow Patriarchate is part of the Russian Orthodox Church and has a sizeable following in Ukraine. Kiev considers it a tool for the Kremlin to wield influence.

Poroshenko met Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, in Istanbul last week, to seek support for giving autocephalous status — effectively, making it independent — to the Ukrainian church.

“Unity is our main weapon in the fight against the Russian aggressor,” Poroshenko told parliament. “This question goes far beyond the ecclesiastical. It is about our finally acquiring independence from Moscow.”

Poroshenko compared having an autocephalous church to Kiev’s aspirations to join the European Union and NATO, “because the Kremlin regards the Russian church as one of the key tools of influence over Ukraine.”

Asked about the issue on his daily conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Russian state media as saying:
“Of course, actions aimed at splitting up the churches are unlikely to be supported and unlikely to be welcomed.”

A spokesman at Patriarch Bartholomew’s office declined comment.

Poroshenko has previously suggested he has the Patriarch’s support for an independent church but could not divulge many details about their meeting.

The Moscow Patriarchate sees itself as the only legitimate Orthodox church in Ukraine. It vies for influence with the Kiev Patriarchate, a branch of the Orthodox Church that broke away from Moscow in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union, and other Orthodox and Catholic denominations.

The Kiev Patriarchate’s leader has been sharply critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and in 2014 called him possessed by Satan.

Putin in turn has cultivated strong ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, adopting more conservative policies and prompting critics to suggest the line separating state and church has become blurred.

Thursday’s parliamentary motion was opposed by the Opposition Bloc, the heir to the party once headed by the pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovich. The party called the move a gambit by Poroshenko ahead of elections next year.

“We believe that the presidential campaign began today,” its leader, Yuriy Boyko, said. “The bad news is that the presidential campaign begins with the most sensitive topic for society – the issue of religion. The state has no right to interfere in religious matters.”

Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Big

Here is a Russian Interfax report on the story.

19 April 2018, 14:20

Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s autocephaly is geopolitical issue – Poroshenko (link)

Kiev, April 19, Interfax — The autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is a geopolitical issue, considering that Russia uses the Church as leverage, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko said in his address to the Verkhovnaya Rada [Ukraine’s Parliament] on Thursday.

“This is far from being a mere church affair! This is about our final independence from Moscow. It is not just religion, it is geopolitics. It is national security and our defense in the hybrid war, because the Kremlin sees the Russian Orthodox Church as a key instrument of influence on Ukraine,” Poroshenko said.

“To me, the establishment of an independent local Church is as important as the visa-free travel system and the Agreement of Association with the European Union we have already achieved, as well as our struggle for a place in the European Union and NATO, which has yet to be won,” Poroshenko said.

“We will not be detached observers of another country’s interference in our church affairs and attempts at using the feelings of certain Ukrainian Orthodox believers to its ends,” he said.

Poroshenko called for applying the ancient canonical principle and “supplementing the civil and territorial division with a division in church affairs. The debate on autocephaly started after the country became independent. Similar processes took place in Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, and even Russia over various periods of time. As an independent country, Ukraine has the right established by the traditions of the Orthodox world and simply must constitutionalize this church and ensure its recognition by the international Orthodox community,” he said.

The president cited opinion polls indicating that an increasing number of Orthodox believers in Ukraine wanted to have a single autocephalous Church, which is customary in the Orthodox world and a majority of Orthodox countries, “to have a Eucharistic and devout connection to other local Churches, but to be administratively independent from foreign church jurisdictions.”

“We have found a formula in which all Orthodox jurisdictions of Ukraine could participate in the local Church’s constitutionalization. This is a priority of all genuine advocates of strengthening Ukrainian unity. This unity is our major weapon against the Russian aggressor. I will be firm. And I will oppose everyone who tries to hinder the national interests of Ukraine and our cooperation with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople,” he said.

Poroshenko said he had had several meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. “Through all these years [of my presidency], I have been in an invisible dialogue with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Members of my team have been frequenting Phanar. Fighting for the Ukrainian Church is important, honorable, responsible work,” Poroshenko said.

The Easter meeting he had with the Ecumenical Patriarch on April 9 “was far from being the first, but turned out to be among the most inspiring and productive.”

“We spoke for several hours, and I realized that it was time to break the long period of diplomatic silence with fast, concrete steps,” he said.

Here is the interview with Metropolitan Hilarion, published today by Interfax, the Russian news agency.

19 April 2018, 14:41

Metropolitan Hilarion on situation in Ukraine: secular administration cannot initiate creation of autocephalous Church (updated)

Moscow, April 19, Interfax — The Russian Orthodox Church believes that the new initiative of the Ukrainian authorities to create an autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine is destined to fail, like the previous attempts.

“We are one Church, which was born in the Kiev, Dnieper baptistery, and, of course, the Constantinople Patriarchate or any other Church cannot unilaterally proclaim the autocephaly of this or that Church,” Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, told Interfax-Religion on Thursday.

“Therefore, we believe that this initiative, despite all current information noise, will have the same fate as the initiatives adopted in the previous years, and we are again reminding that the Ukrainian church problem can only be resolved using canonical methods,” he said.

According to earlier reports, Ukraine’s Verkhovnaya Rada backed Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko’s address to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the creation of an autocephalous local Orthodox Church.

The Russian Orthodox Church heard about the talks between Poroshenko and Patriarch Bartholomew and the “rich gifts” that were brought to Fanar, the district of Istanbul, where the patriarch’s residence is located, Metropolitan Hilarion said. “We all know that, and we also know many other things, which I would not like to say now,” he said.

“For many years, we have heard a very firm position from the Constantinople patriarch, who has always said that he recognized His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry as the only head of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. And the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church has no intention of severing relations with the Russian Orthodox Church,” he said.

“The creation of an autocephalic Church is a process that cannot be initiated by a secular administration” because “the church in today’s states is separate from the state, and the state should not manipulate the church, including in election campaigns or for some other political purposes,” he said.

The notion of creating of a unified local Church in Ukraine separate from the Russian Orthodox Church is based on the idea that an independent state should have an independent church, Metropolitan Hilarion said. According to this principle, for example, the Church of Alexandria should be divided into more than 50 parts, because it “embraces the whole of Africa,” the Antioch and Jerusalem Churches should be divided into several parts, and so on, the metropolitan said.

“Only enemies of the Church stand to gain from such plans and such ideas,” he said.

Division in Ukraine was caused by the fact that former Kiev Metropolitan Filaret Denisenko, who failed to become the patriarch of Moscow, decided to resolve his personal problem by means of schism, he said.

“That church schism has accelerated over the past more than a quarter of a century thanks to the support of the secular authorities, but it still remains a schism,” Metropolitan Hilarion said, adding that schisms have never been legitimized in the history of the Church.

“There have been precedents when hierarchs, clergymen, laymen, groups, and associations returned from division through repentance, and that’s the only way the Orthodox Church can offer,” the hierarch said.

And here is another Interfax story on the matter.

19 April 2018, 12:43

Poroshenko to phone Patriarch Bartholomew to discuss autocephaly of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (link)

Kiev, April 19, Interfax — Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko has said he intends to call Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on Thursday to discuss a request for a tomos on the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

“The Ukrainian Autocephalous Church is one of the institutional foundations of our statehood. Allow me to communicate this spirit in the phone conversation with the ecumenical patriarch which is about to take place, and we will show the position of the parliament, the position of the president, the position of the people, and the position of Ukrainian hierarchs today,” Poroshenko said in the Verkhovnaya Rada on Thursday after deputies backed the president’s request to Patriarch Bartholomew to issue a tomos on the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

And here are two background articles, written by someone who argues that there is an historical basis for the call for Ukrainian autocephaly: Professor Nicholas Denysenko, Associate Professor of Theological Studies and Director of the Huffington Ecumenical Institute at Loyola Marymount University. Both articles are posted on the website of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University. The professor’s arguments and conclusions are his own.


by Nicholas Denysenko

As the Orthodox Churches continue preparations for the Great and Holy Council, which will take place June 16-27, 2016, in Crete, one of the primary unresolved problems is the schism of the Church in Ukraine. While the council itself did not formally address the Ukrainian matter, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow stated that the council will not consider the possibility of granting Ukraine autocephaly, a position he said is supported “unequivocally” by Patriarch Bartholomew (, 1/27/2016).

Readers who have followed the Ukrainian issue in the press are probably familiar with the post-Soviet narrative on the schism in Ukraine. In April of 1992, Metropolitan Filaret (Denysenko) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church formally requested autocephaly from the Moscow Patriarchate. The Moscow Patriarchate denied the petition, as four of the thirty-two Ukrainian bishops did not support it.

The Moscow Patriarchate asked Metropolitan Filaret to resign, and he agreed; but he rescinded his resignation when he returned to Kyiv from Moscow, stating that he made the promise under duress.

Following a May 1992 Kharkiv council which elected Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan) as the new primate of the Church in Ukraine, Metropolitan Filaret joined the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in its council of June 25-26, 1992.

At this time, the church changed its name to Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyivan Patriarchate.

This brief sequence of events is the point of reference for the contentious Ukrainian issue, as the Moscow Patriarchate views the Kyivan Patriarchate as uncanonical and illegitimate.

The problem with this narrative is that those who analyze the history through the lens of the post-Soviet period ignore a much longer sequence of events which contributed to the 1992 split.

The movement for autocephaly in the Church of Ukraine began in 1917 during the revolution. As the Russian Church began a process of charting its post-Tsarist course, the Church in Ukraine also contemplated its future.

Would the Church be autonomous or autocephalous? Would it restore ecclesiological principles prevalent prior to its annexation to the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686?

For Ukraine, the question was naturally impacted by the history of Church-state relations. Ukraine was no longer a part of the Russian empire. The oaths of fidelity its bishops had sworn to the Tsar were no longer valid. A new course was necessitated by the political and ecclesial changes of the times.

The bishops in Ukraine were holdovers from the synodal, Tsarist era, and were conservative, but they permitted the creation of an All-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Council, which recommended an All-Ukrainian council to determine the course of the Church in Ukraine.

Patriarch Tikhon blessed this council’s convocation, and it occurred in a few fragmented sessions in 1918, interrupted by the chaos of civil war and competing governments.

Despite evidence showing a Ukrainian majority favoring autocephaly, the council voted for autonomy and also rejected the use of vernacular Ukrainian in the liturgy.

Historians agree that the largest mass of Ukrainians favoring autocephaly were removed as delegates from the council to swing the pendulum against autocephaly.

In 1921, a smaller group of Ukrainians—the holdovers from the 1918 council—held their own council and rejected the legality of the 1918 council, which they claimed was manipulated by bishops who continued to serve the Tsar despite the fall of the monarchy.

This 1921 Church acted on its own in the absence of assistance from within the Orthodox world, and was stigmatized by its decision to consecrate bishops without participating bishops, which infected the Ukrainian autocephalous movement with the reputation of canonical illegitimacy up until this day.

The 1921 Church grew rapidly in the Soviet period until the regime began persecuting it in 1924 and liquidated it in 1930.

Given its illegitimacy, one would think that the movement would die. But the movement for autocephaly revived rather rapidly, first in Poland and then Ukraine, during World War II. The autocephalous movement was cultivated by the diaspora Ukrainian community and returned to Ukraine in 1989, when the Soviet government legalized the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

The third rebirth of this Church also witnessed to rapid growth, and its course changed in 1992 when it received Metropolitan Filaret and split into two groups, one a smaller autocephalous cohort, and the other, the Kyivan Patriarchate.

Some familiarity with the intricacies and details of this movement is needed to understand the schism in Ukraine.

Two things should be immediately clear: the movement for autocephaly is not attributable to Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko) of the Kyivan Patriarchate, nor was it born in 1992.

The autocephalist movement is nearly one-hundred years old and has withstood Soviet liquidation and the blood of World War II.

Readers should also know that autocephalist protagonists have appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for assistance since 1921 and have done so frequently and consistently up until this day. There is ample evidence to suggest that the Ecumenical Throne has heard their appeal and wants to complete their integration into global Orthodoxy. One area of deficiency requires more comprehensive explanation: the history and identity of the pro-autocephaly cohort.

Where should one begin? I suggest that the movement for Ukrainian autocephaly is quite similar to the movement for Church renewal in Russia. Both movements peaked in the early Soviet period, but development was stifled by revolution, World War II, and persecution by Stalin and Krushchev in particular. The continued existence of a critical mass of autocephalist Ukrainians attests to its resilience: organic growth has resumed in the post-Soviet period, and the time has arrived for global Orthodoxy to meet its people and learn its history.


by Nicholas Denysenko

In my previous post, I introduced the Ukrainian problem and its significance for the forthcoming Great and Holy Council to be held in Crete in June 2016. Having argued that the movement for autocephaly in Ukraine originated nearly one-hundred years ago and is beginning to mature only in this post-soviet period, a formidable obstacle to Ukrainian autocephaly can be addressed: the problem of phyletism.

Phyletism is a modern phenomenon whereby the organization of Church life occurs on basis of ethnic or national identity. Phyletism violates the universalist spirit of the Gospel because it identifies the Church as a space exclusively reserved for one ethnic people, a type of elitism that tends to breed hatred for other peoples. In 1872, the local synod of Constantinople condemned phyletism, with reference to a controversy which emerged within the Bulgarian Church, as leading Bulgarians sought to hold jurisdiction over all persons of Bulgarian ethnic origin.

In his essay on phyletism, prominent Orthodox theologian Kallistos Ware states that the criterion for church organization is not ethnic, but territorial.

John Zizioulas also sharply critiques the tendency for autocephalous Churches to adopt nationalist agendas, a temptation he views as endangering “the Church’s very survival.”

In modernity, as Orthodox Christians emerged from the ashes of broken empires, they began to reconfigure their ecclesiastical communities in ways that configured to the new political reality of nation-states, predicated on nationalist identity. With nations defined by territorial and spatial boundaries, it was conceivable to transform the ancient models of ecclesial autocephaly within that newly-defined national space. Throughout these processes of national emergence and turbulence, public intellectuals who contributed to the formation of principles and structures holding up the state, emphasized the role of religion as a proverbial glue which unifies people.

In the case of Ukraine, a fledgling nation attempting to emerge from the collapse of the Russian empire in the early twentieth century, some of its leading ideologues iterated principles designed to serve as foundation of the state and the Church.

For Ukraine to emerge as a nation with her own distinct identity, the Ukrainian language would become both legal and privileged in the new state.

Both state and Church ideologues emphasized the importance of promoting vernacular Ukrainian. In fact, it was a series of conflicts concerning the legitimacy of using vernacular Ukrainian for the liturgy which became the fault line dividing progressive intellectuals within the Church from the more conservative Synod in the years 1918-1921. The steadfast commitment to vernacular Ukrainian by the Church progressives resulted in the separation of pro-autocephalists from the autonomous Ukrainian Church.

The question of the veracity of using vernacular Ukrainian in the liturgy functions as a suitable case study for distinguishing phyletism from a legitimate aspiration for autocephaly among Orthodox Ukrainian.

The most sonorous refrain of the autocephalous movement was its desire to restore the Kyivan Metropolia and its traditions.

Ukrainians have consistently asserted that the Kyivan Metropolia enjoyed its own distinct liturgical, cultural, and ecclesiological traditions until its annexation by the Moscow patriarchate in 1685-86.

Following its annexation by the Moscow Patriarchate, the Kyivan Metropolia was Russified, especially during the reigns of Empress Catherine II and Tsar Nicholas I.

When Ukrainians requested autocephaly in 1918 and afterwards, their attempt to establish vernacular Ukrainian as a legitimate liturgical language was a way of inaugurating the recovery of the Kyivan Metropolia.

This effort was not a restoration, especially since the Kyivan Church had always prayed in Church Slavonic, but could be called a recreation (to borrow the term from Hyacinthe Destivelle), an attempt to honor the distinctness of Kyivan identity in the conditions of the twentieth century. The attempt to recreate the Kyivan Metropolia was also to honor what the apologists referred to as de facto autocephaly, if not de jure.

The process of recreating the Kyivan Church entailed some derussification, a task consistently enacted by the Ukrainian autocephaly movement to this day in order to unearth Ukrainian distinctiveness.

The removal of Russian elements from the Church by the autocephalists, combined with the unfortunate polemics exchanged between Ukrainians and Russians through the course of the revolution, the catastrophic famine of 1932-33, World War II, the Cold War, the collapse of the USSR, and the Euromaidan, can lead to the assumption of phyletism.

The truth is that Ukrainians could never wholly eradicate Russian elements from Ukrainian Church life, an impossible task given the history of cultural cross-pollination between the related peoples.

An honest assessment of the Ukrainian case for autocephaly is that it is consistent with the trajectory of global Orthodoxy since the mid-nineteenth century and aspires to recreate the Kyivan Church.

The objective of the contemporary movement is to establish a healthy Orthodox Church of Kyiv.

It is inevitable that some of the leaders of this Church will be patriots, especially in the nascent post-Soviet period of Ukrainian sovereignty.

As Ware notes, patriotism is a positive quality and need not be buried. Global Orthodoxy could assist the recreated Kyivan Church to avoid the danger of phyletism by ensuring that its statute and pastoral initiatives honor the multinational constituency of contemporary Ukraine.

Lastly, an autocephalous Church in Kyiv also has the capacity to counterbalance the recently rehabilitated ideology which has resurfaced in global Orthodoxy: the notion of a dominant global empire supported by its largest organ, the Church.

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