Thursday, January 24, 2019
The Controversy over the Orthodox Church in Ukraine
The debate over the government of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine continues.
A report (below) — out today in Moscow, Russia — says that the imminent enthronement of the new head of the autocephalous Orthodox Church, Yepifaniy Dumenko, 39 — something supported by Ukraine’s secular government, but contested by the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Moscow as uncanonical according to Orthodox law and tradition — will not be attended by representatives from all of the other Orthodox Churches in the world, but only by the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey).
Thus, it seems that the disagreement (chiefly between Moscow, Kiev and Constantinople, but involving Orthodox leaders everywhere) over how to govern the Orthodox Christians in Ukraine is still very profound.
Of course, it has been our work at our Urbi et Orbi Foundation for almost 20 years now to try to “build bridges” between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in view of eventual closer relations and possible full reunion (concerts, pilgrimages, book translations, common projects seeking to “incarnate” the hope that what unites us is greater than what divides us).
In this context, these latest, divisive events, setting one part of the Orthodox world against another, have seemed to signal the failure of our efforts — as if all that we have struggled to achieve has been, in some way, without fruit, without any visible, enduring success.
But, as someone has told us, the darkest hour comes just before the dawn, and perhaps in the long effort for closer relations between separated Christians, the work to continue to “build bridges” is all the more important now, in this moment of deep tension.
So, we will try to carry on. And we provide this report on the attendance plans of the various Orthodox Churches, and the long background report on the history of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine by Peter Anderson, as part of an effort to educate and inform, in view of “building bridges” of understanding.
Anderson’s piece is quite long, but quite clear and comprehensive and so, we think, useful in offering insight into how this whole controversy began.
Peter Anderson is an old and dear friend. He is a Roman Catholic observer of the Orthodox world who lives in Seattle, Washington (USA). He is a retired lawyer, and now spends his time studying Orthodox affairs. He is arguably one of the finest, and fairest, such observers in the world today. His article, which we publish below, also appears in print form in the January issue of Inside the Vatican magazine (to receive a copy of this interesting issue, or to become a regular subscriber, call 1-800-789-9494.)
(1) Article from Moscow about attendance of ceremony in Kiev
24 January 2019, 17:05
No Orthodox Churches except Constantinople to attend enthronement of head of new church of Ukraine — Moscow Patriarchate
Moscow, January 24, Interfax — None of the world’s Orthodox Churches except for Constantinople will send a delegation to the enthronement of Yepifaniy Dumenko, the head of Ukraine’s new church, the Moscow Patriarchate said.
“None of the world’s local Orthodox Churches has recognized the church recently created by Ukrainian politicians and Phanar or congratulated its head. No one is going to send representatives to the ‘enthronement’ of its so-called head on February 3,” Archpriest Nikolay Balashov, the deputy head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations, said at a meeting in Moscow on Thursday.
Many Orthodox Churches of the world through their Synods and hierarchs have expressed “deep concern about the current invasion of politics” into church life, and such interference has also been condemned by the Vatican, he said.
The situation of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine will be the central issue at meetings between Patriarch Kirill and the leaders of local Churches to be held as part of the celebrations in Moscow of the 10th anniversary of the Local Assembly and the election of Patriarch Kirill.
Among the guests of the events will be the head of the Antioch and Serbian Orthodox Churches, the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, the Orthodox Church in America, and high-ranking representatives of other local Churches.
“The celebrations will be an opportunity to discuss issues arising not only in Ukraine, but in the global Orthodox family,” he said.
(2) The comprehensive background piece by Peter Anderson (below)
Left, Peter Anderson, a retired attorney from Seattle, Washington, author of this comprehensive piece on the historical background of the decision of Constantinople to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine . Anderson was a personal friend of the late Alexi II (1929-2008), Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Russia, and Anderson has spent a lifetime following events in the Orthodox world. He writes a regular column for Inside the Vatican magazine. (To subscribe to ITV, call 1-800-789-9494)
Ukraine — Special Report
The Ukraine-Russia Crisis Tests the Authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch
By Peter Anderson
Inside the Vatican, January 2019
On December 15, 2018, a “unifying council” of bishops was held in the historic 11th century Saint-Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine.
The council consisted of approximately 40 bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP), approximately a dozen bishops of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), and just two bishops from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP).
The UOC-MP, which is the largest Orthodox church in Ukraine with approximately 12,500 parishes and 90 bishops, boycotted the council except for two metropolitans who defied their church and attended.
The UOC-KP and the UAOC were both considered by the Orthodox world to be “schismatic churches” as they had broken off from the Moscow Patriarchate because they insisted that the Orthodox Church in Ukraine should be completely independent of Moscow.
On the other hand, the UOC-MP, which contends that the Moscow Patriarchate has granted it a considerable amount of autonomy as a practical matter, has refused to sever its relationship with Moscow.
Neither the UOC-KP nor the UAOC has been recognized by the rest of the Orthodox world as being canonical.
In contrast, all have recognized as canonical the UOC-MP, which as a result enjoys a full Eucharist relationship with all of the world’s 14 Local Orthodox Churches.
At the December 15 council in Kyiv, the bishops dissolved both the UOC-KP and the UAOC.
They created a new “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU), which is intended to encompass all of the Orthodox believers in Ukraine.
The UOC-KP had previously been headed by “Patriarch” Filaret (Denisenko), and the UOAC had been headed by Metropolitan Makary (Maletych).
At the council, both of these bishops stepped down from their positions as primates of their respective churches.
Instead, a new primate was elected to head the just-established OCU. The new head is 39-year-old Metropolitan Epifany, a bishop of the former UOC-KP.
It was also announced at the council that the new head, Metropolitan Epifany, would travel to Istanbul and on January 6, 2019, celebrate the Divine Liturgy with Ecumenical Patriarchate Bartholomew and receive from the Ecumenical Patriarch a very important formal written document, called a tomos, which would grant autocephaly to the new OCU.
Autocephaly would mean that the OCU would be a completely independent Local Orthodox Church.
It would elect its own primate, without the approval of any higher Church authority.
It would join the exclusive “club,” now consisting of the following 14 autocephalous “Local Orthodox Churches”: Constantinople (usually referred to as the Ecumenical Patriarchate), Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, and Czech Lands and Slovakia.
The “unifying council” was really the creation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, headed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
It occurred only because the Ecumenical Patriarchate had decided that it would grant autocephaly to the church of Ukraine.
The council to form such a church was convened by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who sent letters of invitation to all of the bishops of the UOC-KP, UAOC, and UOC-MP.
The presiding bishop at the council was Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, one of the most important prelates of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Much of the organizing work was done by two “exarchs” of the Ecumenical Patriarchate — a bishop from the Ukrainian church in the United States and a bishop from the Ukrainian church in Canada.
Because the UOC-KP and the UOAC were unable to agree upon the terms of a constitutional charter which would govern the operations of the new church, a draft charter was created by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The critical question now presented to the Orthodox world is whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate really has the authority to do all of this.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate obviously believes that it has.
However, will the other Local Orthodox Churches agree?
Certainly, Moscow does not.
For example, Metropolitan Hilarion, who is responsible for relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the other Local Orthodox Churches, recently stated: “There is no other authority over a Local Orthodox Church other than the authority of God himself, the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
According to the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ecumenical Patriarch is attempting to make himself a pope over all of the Orthodox churches, a form of ecclesiology which is completely foreign to true Orthodoxy.
The Moscow Patriarchate, which is by far the largest of the Local Orthodox Churches, bristles at the thought that the Ecumenical Patriarchate can have any authority over it or over any of the other Local Orthodox Churches.
This article describes and discusses the specific decisions made by the Ecumenical Patriarchate with respect to Ukraine. These decisions were announced at the Phanar (the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul) on October 11, 2018, following a session of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate. The article will also explore some of the justifications used by the Ecumenical Patriarchate for its decisions.
The Decisions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on October 11, 2018
On October 11, 2018, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople issued an announcement1 summarizing the results of its session which had concluded that day.
The terms of the announcement, which related to Ukraine, sent shock waves throughout the Orthodox world.
Four days later, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, meeting in Minsk, Belarus, on October 15 responded by severing Eucharistic communion with the hierarchy, clergy, and laity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
This meant that it was now impossible for bishops or priests of the Moscow Patriarchate to concelebrate with bishops or priests of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and that it was also impossible for the faithful of the Moscow Patriarchate to receive sacraments administered by members of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate furthermore issued a statement which accused the Patriarchate of Constantinople of adopting “a new false teaching” that would make the Patriarch of Constantinople “the first without equals” (as opposed to “the first among equals”) and that would give him “universal jurisdiction” over all of the Orthodox churches.
What were the actions taken by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople that evoked such a severe reaction from the Moscow Patriarchate?
There were three actions: (1) the revocation of discipline previously imposed on schismatics in Ukraine by the Moscow Patriarchate; (2) the placement of the entire nation of Ukraine under the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; and (3) the assertion of the intention to create an autocephalous Orthodox church for Ukraine.
Revoking Discipline Imposed by the Moscow Patriarchate
In its October session, the Patriarch of Constantinople granted the appeals of the heads of the two schismatic Orthodox churches in Ukraine and removed the discipline imposed on them by the Moscow Patriarchate.
The announcement stated that these two schismatic leaders “have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church.”
The first leader was “Patriarch” Filaret (Denisenko), the primate of the UOC-KP, which claims approximately 6,000 parishes in Ukraine.
The second leader was Metropolitan Makary (Maletych), the primate of the UAOC, which claims approximately 1,000 parishes.
Filaret had once been a leading figure in the Moscow Patriarchate. In 1966 he had become the archbishop and two years later the metropolitan of Kyiv. When Russian Patriarch Pimen died in May 1990, Filaret was chosen as the locum tenens and was one of three candidates in the election for a new patriarch of the entire Russian Orthodox Church.
However, in a surprising result, Metropolitan Alexy of Leningrad was elected instead.
Perhaps as a consolation, Patriarch Alexy in October 1990 enthroned Filaret as “Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Rus-Ukraine,” and substantial independence in self-government was granted to the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
In August 1991 Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union.
Four months later a church council in Kyiv declared that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was autocephalous (completely independent) and asked Filaret to be its primate.
This was followed by a letter, signed by Filaret and the Ukrainian bishops, which requested the consent of the Moscow Patriarchate to autocephaly for Ukraine.
Obviously alarmed by this attempt to leave the Moscow Patriarchate, the Patriarchate acted promptly by organizing a new bishops’ council in Kharkiv on May 27-28, 1992.
This council of 18 Ukrainian bishops elected Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan) as the new Metropolitan of Kyiv and removed and suspended Filaret.
The council formed the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) (UOC-MP), which has remained a part of the Moscow Patriarchate to this day.
Continuing the attack against the autocephaly movement in Ukraine, a bishops’ council of the Moscow Patriarchate on June 11, 1992, removed Filaret from the priesthood, reducing him to the status of a simple monk.
The council also declared that any ordinations that he performed since his suspension on May 27 were invalid.
Thereafter, Filaret was active in organizing another council, held on June 25, 1992, which formed the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP).
The UOC-KP proclaimed its complete independence from Moscow and considered itself to be autocephalous. In 1995, Filaret was elected “patriarch” of the UOC-KP.
In 1997, the bishops’ council of the Moscow Patriarchate took the final step of “anathematizing” Filaret. This meant not only that Filaret himself was excommunicated, but that everyone who had communion in prayer with him were subject to excommunication.
The rest of the Orthodox world agreed with Moscow that the UOC-KP was a schismatic church.
All of the world’s 14 Local Orthodox Churches were in accord that the only true canonical Orthodox church in Ukraine was the UOC-MP.
The UOC-KP also faced a major problem with the validity of its ordinations.
Filaret was the individual who ordained all of the bishops of the new UOC-KP. If Filaret had in fact lost his priesthood and his status as a bishop in June 1992, the ordination of the bishops of the UOC-KP, occurring after that date, would not be valid. This would in turn mean that the ordination of priests by these UOC-KP bishops would not be valid. If the priestly ordinations were not valid, the sacraments by them, such as the Eucharist and confessions, would not be valid.
The smaller Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox Church (UAOC) has a complex and confusing history.
It had its origins in a movement for Ukrainian autocephaly that began after the fall of the Tsarist empire in 1917. During the communist era, it existed only in the West.
In 1989 it was reestablished in Ukraine. It chose as its first head, Bishop Ioann (Bodnarchuk), who was thereafter banned from ministry by the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Since 2015 the head of the UAOC has been Metropolitan Makary (Maletych). Although the heads of the UAOC have not been subject to anathemas such as Filaret, substantial problems exist as to the validity of the UAOC’s episcopal ordinations.
The action taken by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in October 2018 was intended to regularize all of these situations.
This action was also a necessary predicate in fulfilling the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s plan to establish a new autocephalous church in Ukraine.
Indeed, it was not possible to hold a council of bishops to establish a new unified Orthodox church in Ukraine unless the participating bishops were in fact canonical bishops.
In regularizing the situations, the Holy Synod used broad and sweeping language in its October announcement.
It first stated that the Holy Synod has accepted and reviewed “the petitions of appeal of Filaret Denisenko, Makariy Maletych and their followers, who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarch of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy from all of the Autocephalous Churches.”
The use of the phrase “and their followers” would include all of the bishops, priests, and faithful of the UOC-KP and UAOC.
With respect to all of these individuals, the announcement states: “Thus, the above-mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church.”
Since the issuance of the announcement, scholars, such as Bishop Kyrillos of Abydos (a theology professor at the University of Athens), have described the canonical and historic basis for the assertion that the Patriarch of Constantinople has the right to receive petitions from bishops and clergy of other autocephalous churches.
One of major arguments of Bishop Kyrillos is that the Council of Sardica in 343 gave the Pope of Rome the right to accept appeals for disputes which arose outside his geographical jurisdiction.
The same privilege was given to the Patriarch of Constantinople by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Bishop Kyrillos then cites many historical instances where this prerogative of the Patriarch of Constantinople was acknowledged or exercised. Not surprisingly, the Moscow Patriarchate strongly argues that no such prerogative exists and that the Ecumenical Patriarch does not have the power to adjudicate matters outside of his own Local Orthodox Church.
Placing Ukraine under the Canonical Jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
According to the October 11, 2018, announcement, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided to “revoke the legal binding of the Synodal Letter of the year 1686.”
This is a very important letter that has long been regarded as transferring canonical jurisdiction over the Kyiv Metropolis from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Moscow Patriarchate.
By revoking this historic letter, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was essentially claiming that all of Ukraine was now under its jurisdiction rather than under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The action would not only bring the two schismatic churches, UOC-KP and UAOC, under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, but it would also bring under its jurisdiction the UOC-MP that has remained loyal to Moscow.
The revocation of the 1686 letter was indeed a bombshell.
For over 300 years, most people have assumed that Ukraine was under the canonical jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Moscow Patriarchate was understandably incensed by this action.
Even Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), a famous author and bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, expressed the view in a recent interview that this was an “unwise” decision on the part of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Metropolitan Kallistos stated that it “is a fact of history that Ukraine has belonged to the Russian Church.” He quoted Aristotle that “even God cannot change the past.”
In understanding the issue presented by Constantinople’s assertion of jurisdiction over Ukraine, a brief historical review is helpful.
Christianity was brought to the medieval state of Rus, with its main city of Kyiv, from Constantinople.
The “Baptism of Rus” is considered to have occurred in 988 with the conversion of Kyivan Prince Vladimir and the baptism of his subjects in the Dnieper River by Greek priests.
At the same time, Prince Vladimir married Anna, the sister of the famous Byzantine Emperor Basil II.
Thereafter Rus remained under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
In 1240, Kyiv was completely destroyed by the invading Mongols and came under the Tatar yoke.
After the destruction of Kyiv, the northern principalities of Rus increased in importance, especially Moscow. In 1380, Prince Dimitri of Moscow defeated the Tatars at the famous battle of Kulikovo.
However, 18 years earlier, Kyiv had been liberated from the Tatars by Lithuanian Prince Algirdas.
Kyiv became a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and later the Kingdom of Poland.
Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
A few years prior to the fall, the bishops of Moscow elected their own primate, and the Russian Church thereafter began its de facto independence.
It was not until 1589, when Constantinople Patriarch Jeremias II was in Russia seeking funds, that he recognized Russian Metropolitan Job as “Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus.”
In 1648 Cossacks under the leadership of Bohdan Khmelnytsky seized Kyiv from the Poles.
Khmelnytsky later signed a treaty with Russia to obtain military support from Russia against Poland.
In May 1686 a treaty was signed between Russia and Poland that gave Russia eastern Ukraine and Kyiv.
The treaty also provided that Russia would join Poland and certain other nations in a coalition against the Ottoman Empire.
In June 1686 the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople issued a patriarchal and synodal letter which allowed the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain a metropolitan of Kyiv who was to be elected by the clergy and laity of Kyiv.
The letter also required the Metropolitan of Kyiv to commemorate in the Divine Liturgy the Patriarch of Constantinople as “among the first.”
The crucial question now presented in the current dispute is whether this letter, written in Greek, was a permanent transfer of the Metropolis of Kyiv to the Moscow Patriarchate or was it only a temporary measure due to the then existing political and religious situation in Ukraine.
It is not an easy question to answer.
The present position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is that it was only a temporary transfer.
Several days after the October 11 announcement, the Ecumenical Patriarchate posted on its website a paper in English which describes in detail the arguments on which it bases its position.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate argues that a careful examination of all of the terms of the letter, including the meaning of certain Greek words, discloses that it was not a permanent grant of jurisdiction.
It also argues that the Moscow Patriarchate violated the conditions imposed by the letter, because it ordained the Metropolitan of Kyiv without the required election by the clergy and laity of Kyiv and because it subsequently failed to commemorate the Patriarch of Constantinople in the Liturgy as required.
With respect to the delay in challenging the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate over Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarchate contends that this delay was caused by “the difficult historical circumstances that it encountered.”
It also points out that when it granted autocephaly to the Polish Orthodox Church in 1924, the Ecumenical Patriarchate expressly stated that Poland belonged ecclesiastically to the Metropolitan of Kyiv under the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In its actions in October 2018, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not stop with a mere statement that the Synodal Letter of 1686 did not grant permanent jurisdiction over Ukraine to the Moscow Patriarchate.
Perhaps to strengthen further its arguments, the Synod went on to “revoke” the Synodal Letter of 1686 in its entirety.
Thus, the Holy Synod resolved: “To revoke the legal binding of the Synodal Letter of the year 1686, issued for the circumstances of that time, which granted the right through oikonomia [a discretionary deviation from the strict letter of the law] to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv, elected by the Clergy-Laity Assembly of his eparchy, who would commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch as the First hierarch at any celebration, proclaiming and affirming his canonical dependence to the Mother Church of Constantinople.”
The reaction of the Moscow Patriarchate to the action of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in revoking the letter of 1686 is predictable.
Russian Patriarch Kirill has compared it to the United Kingdom revoking its grant of independence to India or to the United States.
He refers to Constantinople’s action as a “caricature of history” which is both a comedy and a tragedy.
The Council of Bishops of the UOC-MP declared that the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s assertion of jurisdiction over Ukraine and over the UOC-MP is void and “is the result of a speculative interpretation of Church history.”
The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s assertion of canonical jurisdiction over Ukraine was an important element in its plan to create an autocephalous church in Ukraine.
If Ukraine was under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the appointment of the two exarchs for Ukraine and the convening of a council of bishops in Ukraine would certainly be proper.
It would also be clearly proper for the Ecumenical Patriarch to review and lift any discipline imposed on Ukrainian bishops and clergy.
Furthermore, the arguments that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the power to grant autocephaly to Ukraine would be further strengthened if the Ecumenical Patriarchate was the “Mother Church” from which the new Ukrainian Church was taken.
Creating an Autocephalous Church in Ukraine
The announcement confirmed that the Ecumenical Patriarchate intended “to grant Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine.”
This raises the question of whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the power unilaterally to grant autocephaly to a Church.
Here again, a brief historical review is helpful.
During the first millennium, five major patriarchates were recognized: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.
The Council of Ephesus in 431 also recognized the Church of Cyprus as autocephalous.
In the second millennium, six churches, which were in the canonical territory of Constantinople, declared their independence and were subsequently recognized after a period of time by Constantinople as autocephalous.
These were Moscow, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and Albania.
Sometimes the time period between the declaration and recognition was long. For example, the church in Bulgaria broke away from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1872, but the Ecumenical Patriarch did not recognize its autocephaly until 1945.
Three other autocephalous churches were previously under the control of the Moscow Patriarchate.
After the end of the First World War and the rebirth of the Polish State, the Orthodox in Poland sought independence from Moscow. Autocephaly was granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1924. The Moscow Patriarchate did not recognize the autocephaly of the Polish Church until 1948.
With respect to the Orthodox Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia, the Moscow Patriarchate granted it autocephaly in 1951. However, the Ecumenical Patriarchate never recognized this action by Moscow as proper. It was not until 1998, when the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued its own tomos of autocephaly to this church, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate considered it to be autocephalous.
With respect to the Georgian Patriarchate, the Moscow Patriarchate recognized its autocephaly in 1943, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not issue a tomos of autocephaly until 1990.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has long contended that the right to grant autocephaly was its prerogative.
However, the Moscow Patriarchate has disputed this and has contended that the “mother church,” from which the new church originated, has the power to grant autocephaly.
Thus, Moscow contends that the Orthodox Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia received its autocephaly when Moscow granted it in 1951 and not when Constantinople issued its tomos in 1998.
In 1970 the Moscow Patriarchate gave autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), based on being its Mother Church. However, Constantinople still has not recognized the autocephaly of the OCA.
The issue of how autocephaly will be granted has been a topic for discussion for many decades in the preparations for a pan-Orthodox Council.
In 1951 and 1952, the idea of convening a pan-Orthodox Council was suggested by Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in letters to the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches. In 1961, the first pan-Orthodox conference was held in Rhodes to discuss such a council.
At a conference held in Chambésy, Switzerland, in 1976, the representatives of the Local Orthodox Churches agreed on a list of 10 topics to be discussed at a future council. One topic was “autocephaly and the manner of its proclamation.”
It was also agreed in 1976 that nothing would be adopted at the future council unless there was a complete consensus among all of the Local Orthodox Churches on the wording of the text. In this way no Local Church would be hesitant to participate in the future council as it would be assured that nothing could be adopted at the council with which it disagreed.
Bartholomew was elected Ecumenical Patriarch in 1991.
The holding of a pan-Orthodox Council became his highest priority.
In order to reach a consensus on various topics, much discussion and a willingness to compromise was often needed.
With respect to the subject of autocephaly, the Ecumenical Patriarchate made substantial concessions in the planning meetings for the Council.
The representatives of all of the churches agreed in 1993 on the following procedure for the granting of autocephaly: (1) the Mother Church would first consider any request for autocephaly; (2) if the Mother Church consented, it would contact the Ecumenical Patriarchate which in turn would contact all of the Local Orthodox Churches to determine whether all of them consented; (3) if the synod of the Mother Church and the synods of all of the other Local Orthodox Churches consented, a tomos of autocephaly would be issued.
The foregoing was not a codification of procedure used in the past to grant autocephaly, but was a completely new creation.
As can be seen, this procedure makes the attainment of autocephaly very difficult.
It guarantees that a part of a Local Orthodox Church cannot break off and obtain autocephaly without the consent of the Church from which it came.
The requirement of the consent of all of the 14 Local Orthodox Churches allows even one Church to veto the request.
Although all of the Local Orthodox Churches agreed on the procedural steps needed to grant autocephaly, there was a deadlock on how the signatures of the primates should be placed on the formal tomos of autocephaly.
Because of this deadlock, the primates at a meeting held at Chambésy in January 2016 decided that the subject of autocephaly should not be on the agenda of the Council because a consensus had not been reached on the entire text to be presented to the Council for approval.
From the viewpoint of an outside observer, it seems surprising that a seemingly small point as the placement of signatures on a document could derail the agreement.
However, this deadlock was due to the continuing efforts by the Moscow Patriarchate to limit the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the efforts by the latter to assert its authority. In the negotiations, it had been agreed that the tomos would be signed by all of the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.
Moscow acknowledged that the Ecumenical Patriarch’s signature should be first in the list of signatures as he was first in honor.
However, with respect to authority, Moscow insisted that the signatures appear in a manner that would indicate that the tomos was issued by all of the primates equally.
On the other hand, Constantinople insisted that the signature of the Ecumenical Patriarch be singled out in the document in a special way, so as to indicate that the Ecumenical Patriarch had the primary role in issuing the tomos.
With the advantage of hindsight, the Moscow Patriarchate may now regret that it pushed so hard on the signature point.
If it had conceded on the signature issue, the draft document would probably have been submitted to and approved by the Crete Council.
Under the terms of that document, Constantinople would have no power to grant autocephaly to the church in Ukraine unless the Moscow Patriarchate and all other Local Orthodox Churches agreed to the grant.
This would have legally restrained the Ecumenical Patriarchate from unilaterally granting autocephaly to Ukraine as is now occurring.
As is well known, the Moscow Patriarchate did not attend the Crete Council.
Six days before the scheduled start of the Council, the Moscow Patriarchate announced that it would be joining Antioch, Georgia, and Bulgaria in not attending the June 2016 council scheduled in Crete but rather insisting that the Council be postponed.
This must have been a crushing blow to the Ecumenical Patriarch, who had worked so hard to make this council a reality.
The churches of Antioch, Georgia, and Bulgaria are relatively small, but the Russian church is huge and includes perhaps half of the Orthodox faithful in the world.
Most observers thought that the Crete Council was now doomed.
However, the Ecumenical Patriarch, with characteristic determination, refused to cancel the Council.
The Council was held with the participation of 10 of the 14 Local Orthodox Churches and successfully completed its agenda.
The Ecumenical Patriarch received high marks in the way that he conducted the Council.
It is likely that the Ecumenical Patriarch believed that Moscow had attempted to sabotage the council which meant so much to him.
After this experience, the Ecumenical Patriarchate most likely considered that any concessions that it had earlier made to reach agreement with the Moscow Patriarchate in the pre-conciliar meetings were off the table.
This would include the concessions made in the negotiations on the draft document relating to the granting of autocephaly.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate therefore returned to its historic position that the granting of autocephaly was its sole prerogative.
Prior to the Crete Council the Ecumenical Patriarch may also have given some assurances to Moscow about not taking unilateral action in Ukraine.
This was done in an effort to establish a relatively peaceful climate between Constantinople and Moscow during the critical months before the Council.
However, after what Constantinople viewed was an effort by Moscow to sabotage the Council, Constantinople evidently no longer feels constrained with respect to Ukraine.
The Broader Issue of Primacy at the Universal Level
As can be seen, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has taken dramatic steps in rehabilitating the bishops, clergy, and faithful of the two schismatic churches, in placing Ukraine under the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and in granting autocephaly to a new Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
As to whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the right to do so, there are substantial arguments being made on both sides of the question.
In a sense, the jury is composed of the other Local Orthodox Churches.
Will the other Local Orthodox Church receive and recognize the new Ukrainian church?
Will their bishops and priests concelebrate the Divine Liturgy with the rehabilitated clergy of the new church?
Will the other Local Orthodox Churches include the new primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in the list of primates commemorated during the Divine Liturgy?
Only time will tell.
As described above, it may take decades for a new church to be recognized by certain Local Orthodox Churches.
The issues presented by the new Ukrainian church also involve an even more important ecclesiastical issue: does the Ecumenical Patriarch possess authority greater than that of the other primates of the Local Orthodox Churches?
More abstractly, this involves the critical question of whether there is primacy at the universal level, such as over the Orthodox Church as a whole.
The issue of whether primacy exists at the universal level is not only at stake in Ukraine, but it has also been a very hotly debated issue since 2006 in the deliberations of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
Probably the most important difference between Catholics and Orthodox is the role of the papacy.
For this reason, the Commission at its plenary in Belgrade in 2006 began its consideration of the topic of conciliarity and authority on the local, regional, and universal levels of the Church.
The discussion of this topic was continued at the next plenary held in Ravenna in 2007. At the beginning of the Ravenna plenary, the delegates of the Moscow Patriarchate left the dialogue in protest because of the presence at the plenary of representatives of a separate Church of Estonia. The new Church of Estonia had been recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in spite of the position of the Moscow Patriarchate that Estonia was within its exclusive canonical territory. The Ravenna plenary nevertheless continued without the participation of Moscow.
At the end of the plenary, the parties were able to reach agreement on a document entitled Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority.
The final document included the following statement: “While the fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West, there are differences of understanding with regard to the manner in which it is to be exercised, and also with regard to its scriptural and theological foundations.”
The acknowledgement of primacy at the universal level by the Orthodox was very encouraging news for the Catholic side as it brought the two sides closer together on the crucial issue of the papacy.
The Moscow Patriarchate, which did not participate in the preparation of the final document, immediately rejected the portion of the Ravenna document relating to universal primacy.
After reaching a compromise with the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the Estonia issue, the Moscow Patriarchate rejoined the Commission’s dialogue at the next plenary held in Cyprus in 2009.
In this and in subsequent plenaries, the Moscow Patriarchate has not changed its adamant position that a primacy of authority does not exist on the universal level.
To emphasize this point even more, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate in 2013 approved a detailed document, prepared by the Synod’s theological commission, which analyzed the issue and concluded that any primacy at the universal level is only a primacy of honor and not of power.
This synodal document is, of course, binding on the delegates of the Moscow Patriarchate participating in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.
Because the Orthodox side of the Joint International Commission has decided that any position that it takes in the dialogue must be supported by a complete consensus of all of the participating Local Orthodox Churches, the Orthodox side of the Commission has been precluded from supporting the concept of universal primacy to the present time.
On September 14, 2018, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate suspended its participation in any commissions chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarchate because of the appointment by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of exarchs in Ukraine earlier in the month.
This means that at least for the time being, Moscow will not be participating in the work of the Joint International Commission, which is co-chaired by a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
What the Commission will accomplish without the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate remains unclear. It is also unclear whether the Commission will revisit the issue of universal primacy in the absence of Moscow.
In conclusion, the Orthodox Church as a whole cannot decide, through a council or other method, whether the Ecumenical Patriarch has powers on the universal level, such as unilaterally granting autocephaly or accepting appeals from persons under the jurisdiction of other Local Orthodox Churches, as long as a complete consensus of all of the Local Orthodox Churches is required for such a decision.
At the present time, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Moscow Patriarchate have such conflicting and strongly held views on these issues that a consensus between the two now appears impossible.
However, the powers of the Ecumenical Patriarch at the universal level may possibly be established by the actual exercise of these powers by him with the acceptance or at least acquiescence of other Local Orthodox Churches in his exercise of these powers.
Therefore, whether or not the Ecumenical Patriarch is successful in the exercise of his powers in Ukraine could be a factor in determining whether the Orthodox Church as a whole will ultimately conclude that the Ecumenical Patriarch has a universal primary which not only involves honor but also power.
The Catholic Church is not a party to this dramatic struggle between the Ecumenical and Moscow Patriarchates in Ukraine.
There may be a temptation for the Catholic Church to hope that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be successful in Ukraine, because an acceptance of the concept of universal primacy by the Orthodox will bring the Catholic and Orthodox Churches closer together on a key theological point which is very important for Christian unity.
However, a policy by the Catholic Church of strict neutrality is probably the best.
Pope Francis has developed a very good personal relationship with both Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Patriarch Kirill.
In recent years, bilateral relations between the Vatican and the Ecumenical Patriarchate and also between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate have been steadily improving and are generally excellent.
Without this spirit of charity by the Vatican toward both Constantinople and Moscow, true progress toward Christian unity with the Orthodox will probably not occur.