Friday, August 31, 2018, #2

Day #7: Ukraine

Two important things took place today with regard to Russia and Ukraine.

(1) Bartholomew-Kirill meeting in Istanbul on autocephaly for Ukraine.

Kirill, along with the Russian government, opposes the idea; Bartholomew has said that he is willing to listen to the arguments of those in Ukraine and elsewhere who support the idea.) (report below)

(2) Assassination in Donetsk of the leader of the rebel movement in eastern Ukraine, Alexander Zakharchenko.

Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the movement of those in eastern Ukraine who are opposed to the post-2014 Kiev government, a movement is supported by the Russian government, was executed today in the bombing of a cafe where he was sitting. The Russian government has accused the Ukrainian government of carrying out the assassination. The assassination threatens a further destabilization of the tense situation in eastern Ukraine. (report below)

The fact that these two events — one a peaceful meeting, one a brutal execution — occurred on the same day underscores the fcat that the situation in Ukraine, and between Ukraine and Russia, is fraught with difficulties and the possibility (and actuality) of violence.

If the path of dialogue, discussion and mutual agreement does not lead to any fruitful conclusion, the situation could move in the opposite direction, toward confrontation, armed conflict and the shedding of blood.

It is to be hoped that a negotiation process toward a muttually acceptable peace may prevail.

(1) Meeting in Istanbul

The meeting today between Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Russia and Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew to discuss the possibility of “autocephaly” for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine was held in the Phanar in Isrtnabul, and seems to have been a productive exchange of views. (Note: there were others present, evidently for the entire meeting, especially Metropolitan Emmanuel of France and Metropolitan Bartholomew of Smyrna; so this was more of a round-table discussion, apparently, than a one-on-one between Kirill and Bartholomew.)

There is no hint in the press releases or interviews following the event of any grave tensions or disagreements.

But did the meeting really go well?

We do not yet know.

And most of all, there is not a single word about Ukrainian autocephaly in the post-meeting press releases — not a word.

So that suggests that — based on the fact that, according to reports leading up to the meeting, this was the chief subject of the meeting — something important may very well been said, but that what was said was so delicate that it was thought best not to include the matter at all in the first wrap-up accounts of the meeting.

We will have to wait now for further reports to learn more.

Here below is the official Russian Church report on what heppened.

The title of the report begins with the word “fraternal” (“brotherly), so clearly the Russians wish to emphasize that Kirill and Bartholomew got on well together.


Fraternal meeting of Primates of Church of Constantinople and Russian Orthodox Church (link)

On August 31, 2018, His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, arrived in Istanbul.

The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church visited the Patriarchate of Constantinople, where, accompanied by Metropolitans Emmanuel of France and Bartholomew of Smyrna, as well as Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations (DECR) and Arch-priest Nikolay Balashov, DECR vice-chairman, he venerated the shrines of the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Protomartyr George.

After that, a fraternal meeting took place at the building of the Patriarchate between His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.

It began with the introduction to Patriarch Kirill of all the members of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople who assembled in the Patriarchate’s Throne Hall. After that the two Primates exchanged greetings.

Greeting His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew said:

“We are glad to receive today in the Ecumenical Patriarchate His Beatitude and Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia with his fellow travelers. Whenever we meet it is a joy for both of us because we have an opportunity to discuss matters of mutual concern.

“We believe in the power of dialogue. If political leaders use dialogue to solve the problems of their countries, the more so we, religious leaders, should use the way of dialogue for solving problems. The more so that dialogue is a way shown us by God Himself.

“We are glad that today’s visit of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill coincides with a meeting of the Holy Synod. So, the Holy Synod members are present here in full force. As you know, our Holy Synod meets monthly and the meeting continues for three days. And from tomorrow to Monday evening, there will be a Bishops’ Synaxis of our Church, which will be attended by all the diocesan archpastors of our Patriarchate.

The latest such Synaxis took place in 2015. The work was very successful, fruitful, and we decided then to gather together for such a meeting every three years. Tomorrow we will celebrate the beginning of a new church year with the participation of the Patriarch and all the hierarchs.

“On September 1, our Church year begins; this date as the day of prayer for God’s creation was established by my predecessor Patriarch Demetrios of the blessed memory, and on this day we lift up special prayers for the environment. As you know, as part of this ecological initiative, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has held very important and serious symposia and conferences; the latest such symposium was held this June in the Attica region. We plan to hold a similar conference next June here, in Constantinople.”

In his speech in response, the Primate of the Russian Church noted”

“Your Holiness, I am delighted to have this opportunity to meet with you and members of the Synod.

“Whenever I come to this place, I recall very important moments of our common history.

“In each epoch, our Churches encountered various challenges and problems, which stemmed, in the first place, precisely from the surrounding world, but we, by God’s grace, always found a common language, a common understanding of what should be done to preserve the unity of the Church and meet challenges of time.

“I think there is a difference between a dialogue held by politicians and a dialogue held by us.

“In a dialogue held by politicians, each asserts the interests of his own country, whereas a dialogue held within the Orthodox Church has a different nature.

“We represent the interests of our own Churches, of course, but we always bear in mind our common welfare, the unity of the Holy Church and her ability to carry out her mission in the modern world.

“The dialogue between Local Churches takes place within one body – the Body of one Holy Apostolic Church, which places responsibility and commitments on us but at the same time gives us strength and inspiration.

“That is why – despite the fact that there were all kinds of discussions in this building, sometimes rather difficult – I have very bright memories of this place because we have never done anything that could harm universal Orthodoxy, one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Indeed, as Primates of Local Churches are responsible for the whole Church, for the whole Body of Christ.

“I would like to thank personally you for the atmosphere you create here. I cherish warm memories of all our meetings beginning from 1977. I hope that the next generation of hierarchs will draw an example, among other things, from the history of our relations.

“We really used to go through enormous difficulties but always managed to reach necessary goals.

“Of course, it happened because, along with our infirm powers, present in this dialogue, in this enormous work, was the grace of God. We believe that now too the Lord will be with us.

“I would like once again to wholeheartedly greet you, Your Holiness, and beloved archpastors – members of the Synod.”

Then, in a private confidential talk, the Patriarch exchanged opinions on a wide range of issues concerning the consolidation of inter-Orthodox unity and development of common Christian witness in the modern world.

Participating in the talk were Metropolitan Emmanuel of France and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk.

On the same day, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill returned to his homeland.

At the airport, he was seen off by Russia’s Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador to Turkey A. Yerkhov and Russia Consul General in Istanbul A. Podjelyshev, as well as representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Before his departure, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church answered questions from journalists.

According to His Holiness, for the two years that have passed since the previous meeting of the two Primates, “much has happened in the life of our Churches, and the whole situation in the world has greatly changed.”

Having described the dialogue that took place between them as “a talk between two brothers,” Patriarch Kirill stated that they discussed “all the problems on the agenda.”

“I hope we will continue working together so that the world may become better,” he added.

“Without coordination with His Holiness, I would not like to let you into details, although there was nothing secret,” Patriarch Kirill specified, “it was a very correct talk – a talk between the Primates of two Churches who are aware of their responsibility for the state of Universal Orthodoxy and for the state of human souls in the places and countries under our responsibility.”

Speaking about a continuation of pan-Orthodox dialogue, His Holiness emphasized that “problems keep emerging, challenging Churches from the pastoral point of view. The world is changing very rapidly, and no Church can make decisions that would run contrary to the position of another Orthodox Church.”

“Therefore, we are simply programmed for interaction and cooperation, and since the world is rapidly changing, this cooperation, too, should be dynamic enough,” His Holiness concluded.

Among the persons who accompanied His Holiness during his trip were Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the department for external church relations (DECR), Arch-priest Nikolay Balashov, DECR vice-chairman, Rev. Nikolay Volkov, head of the Patriarchal Press Service, and Rev. Anatoly Churyakov, DECR staff member.

—DECR Communication Service

In order to offer some further context — for those who might be interested — here is an interview with Metropolitan Hilarion on the question of Ukrainian autocephaly from earlier this summer. Hilarion gives the Russian view, but the interviewer, citing Bartholomew in some of his questions, gives a glimpse into Bartholomew’s view.

June 16, 2018

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk: Legitimization of the schism in Ukraine will cut up the whole body of world Orthodoxy

For already two months a lively discussion has not been subsiding around the prospects for creating in Ukraine the so-called ‘One Local Church’ – a project initiated by the president of that country, Petr Poroshenko, who has been strongly supported by nationalist politicians and schismatics. Various aspects of the developments are commented by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations, in his interview with the Interfax-Religion web portal.

– Ukrainian autocephaly is still one of the most discussed issues. On June 1, the Synod of the Church of Constantinople completed its regular session. It was expected to consider the granting of autocephaly to Ukraine. Nevertheless, no decisions on this issue have been published. How would you explain that?

Hilarion: The status of autocephaly implies the independence of a Church in its self-governance. According to the commonly accepted norms of canon law, it is granting to an already existing canonical Church, not to a country or a state. In Ukraine there is only one local Church recognized by world Orthodoxy, which is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church headed by Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All Ukraine. It has not asked anybody for autocephaly since it is independent in its governance as it is.

The support of the canonical episcopate by the church people is evident from the photos of annual processions with the cross on the Baptism of Russia Day, as dozens, hundreds of thousands of people led by their bishops take to the streets. And this after four years of extremely aggressive information campaign held in Ukraine against the canonical Church.

It is very strange that the destiny of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is sought to be determined not on the basis of the opinion of its faithful, who make up a majority of the Orthodox believers in the country, but on the wishes of a minority – those who have left the Church or never belonged to it.

– On his Name Day, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, during the liturgy in the presence of a representative of the Russian Church, said that ‘when one of our brothers is characterized as a schismatic or heretic and, the more so, a whole multi-million people are outside the canonical Church, then we are called to an immediate spiritual awakening and apostolic vigil… The Mother Church fulfils her apostolic duty when she explores the ways of salvation of our Ukrainian and Macedonian brothers. Our duty and our responsibility are to bring all nations to the Truth and church canonicity’. How would you comment this statement?

Hilarion: I will not touch upon the Macedonian issue but will comment on what is said about the people of Ukraine. It is astonishing to hear from a church desk that in Ukraine a whole multi-million people are outside the church truth and canonicity and need therefore an urgent interference from outside. And what about the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with her more than 12 thousand parishes, over 200 monasteries, millions of the faithful in all parts of Ukraine – the Church headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry? In 2016, at the Synaxis of Primates of Local Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew publicly welcomed Metropolitan Onufry calling him ‘the only canonical hierarch of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, certainly, with all the rest holy bishops subordinate to him’.

It is not the Ukrainian people but the Ukrainian schismatics who are outside the communion with the Church. But the schism is a political project developed in the 1990s. A possibility for overcoming the schism has always been there and it remains. Just in December 2017, the former Metropolitan Philaret of Kiev wrote a letter to Patriarch Kirill and all the episcopate of the Russian Church, calling to reconciliation. But already the day after someone pulled him up and he disavowed all that he said in his letter. Someone in Ukraine clearly finds it disadvantageous to effect a church reconciliation in the canonical way but rather needs to legitimize the schism.

– Recently, an archimandrite stated on the Ukrainian 5 TV Channel that a Tomos on the UOC autocephaly has already been written in Constantinople and that it has been drafted by some ‘canonist of genius’, a University of Athens professor who writes ‘absolutely perfect’ texts. Is that so?

Hilarion: We know nothing about such a Tomos. A Tomos is an official church document. It is granted to a canonically recognized Local Orthodox Church that has its own canonical hierarchy and its own Primate, and it is given in answer to its petition.

In our case, it is Metropolitan Onufry who is the only canonical Primate in the territory of Ukraine. He and his episcopate have not requested a Tomos. Who then will be presented with a Tomos written by a ‘canonist of genius’? – the former Metropolitan Philaret Denisenko? But he is deposed and excommunicated, which is recognized by all the Local Orthodox Churches. Patriarch Bartholomew, among others, in his letter of 1992 made this comment on the denunciation of Metropolitan Philaret: ‘Our Holy and Great Church of Christ, recognizing the competence of your Most Holy Russian Church on this issue as fully exclusive, accepts the synodal decision on the aforesaid’.

In the church history, there have never been Tomoses ‘payable to bearer’ – To Whom It May Concern. No conscientious canonist has ever composed such texts, and no Primate has ever signed it.

– But don’t Ukrainian politicians promise to ‘create’ a new ‘One Local Church’ with its own head and hierarchy? It follows that a Tomos might have an addressee…

Hilarion: One city may have only one Orthodox bishop; one local Church may have only one Primate and one hierarchy – this is one of the fundamental principles of the Orthodox canon law. Creation of a ‘parallel’ hierarchy in the territory of an already existing Church would be a gross canonical violation, a large-scale anomaly undermining age-old principles of church administrative governance the world over.

One can make out that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has never existed, strike it out of textbooks on church history, re-write the 1686 Deed on the transfer of the Metropolia of Kiev, shut one’s eyes to the canonicity of universal recognition of the hierarchs, with whom you have shared in prayer, to create a fictitious church administrative structure with empty churches. Some in Ukraine may be delighted at that. In the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, they have already stated bluntly that the creation of ‘A One Local Church’ is the first step towards a ‘return’ of the Ukrainian Orthodox to the Unia.

But I do not think that 12,000 communities, thousands of clergy and monastics, hundreds of monasteries of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will agree with an attempt to determine their fortune behind their backs. It seems to me that those who seek to write them off as history are too hasty.

And again, I believe that the opinion of other Local Churches and their common conciliar authority in this matter is underestimated.

– You are speaking of the opinion of other Local Churches but there have been no common agreements on the granting of autocephaly. Does it mean that Constantinople may have a right to act at its own discretion, as it did before?

Hilarion: There are Inter-Orthodox agreements on the granting of autocephaly, indeed. I am surprised to hear that such were ostensibly absent. The document on ‘Autocephaly and the Ways of Declaring It’ was worked out and approved by the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission at its meeting in November 1993 at the Orthodox Center of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Chambesy. All the Local Churches, including both the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Russia, signed it as far back as 25 years ago.

The document clearly and unambiguously indicates the two principal aspects. First, autocephaly shall be granted to a particular part of a Local Church with the consent of the given kyriarchal Church, that is, the Church to which this church region belongs at present. Secondly, autocephaly shall be granted if there is a pan-Orthodox consensus, in this case, the consensus of the Councils of all the rest autocephalous Churches.

This document was elaborated and finally agreed upon at the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission in December 2009 in Chambesy. In my view, it is a model of reaching a pan-Orthodox consensus: initially, the Local Churches had different points of view on the matter but as a result of free and honest discussions they managed to reach a compromise that suited all the parties and took into account all the positions.

The adopted text was sealed by the signatures of all the participants in the meetings of Orthodox Churches. It only remained to decide on the procedure of signing the Tomos of Autocephaly and the contents of the Tomos, that is, technical matters. But to ignore and refute now the very mechanism of granting autocephaly as worked out by all the Orthodox Churches together means to make null and void the results of their interaction for the last 25 years. This step undermines all our longstanding efforts to consolidate the pan-Orthodox unity and the authority and mission of the Orthodox Church all over the world.

– Some actors of the Ukrainian schism state that inter-Orthodox unity is a phantom since each Church has her own geopolitical interests. Given all today’s contradictions between Orthodox Churches, how real is the pan-Orthodox unity today?

Hilarion: For those who are outside the Church, who are already in a schism from it, church unity means nothing; it is really a phantom for them, an empty sound. They are ready to undermine it further for their sake of their own interests and the interests of a particular political power. But our unity, the unity of the Orthodox Church all over the world is real and undoubtedly so for all her faithful. It is the unity of the love of Christ, the unity of the faith and knowledge in Christ, as it is called by the apostle (Eph. 4:13), and every Orthodox Christian comes to the knowledge within bounds of his or her spiritual life.

I am confident that in the Orthodox Church of Constantinople and in all the rest Orthodox Churches, the supreme authority, clergy and faithful understand it as well and feel the same. And our common duty today is to exert every effort to safeguard this unity against destruction and to prevent the emergence – under the pretext of healing the schism – of a new, more profound and serious schism that would dissect the entire body of world Orthodoxy.


(2) Assassination in Donetsk (link)

Ukraine separatists say leader killed in cafe bombing

Associated Press


August 31, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — A blast in a war-themed cafe in eastern Ukraine on Friday killed the most prominent leader of the Russia-backed separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces since 2014, rebel officials said.

The death of Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, underlined the dismal prospects for resolving the conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.

Rebel and Russian authorities blamed the Ukrainian government, with some suggesting that the United States had a role, while a top Ukrainian security official said the blast was likely the result of the separatists’ factional infighting or an operation by Russian special forces.

Deputy rebel military commander Eduard Basurin said the explosion in the region’s capital of Donetsk was caused by a bomb planted in the restaurant, which was named “Separ” in honor of the separatists and decorated with camouflage netting hanging from the eaves.

Seriously injured in the blast was Alexander Timofeev, the revenues and taxes minister for the separatists, according to the rebels’ DAN news agency. In September 2017, Timofeev was injured in another bombing in Donetsk, the region’s capital.

The Donetsk People’s Republic, along with a separatist republic in neighboring Luhansk, has fought Ukrainian forces since 2014, the same year Zakharchenko became the DPR’s prime minister. More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict.

Fighting fell off significantly after the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in 2015 signed an accord in Minsk, Belarus, on ending the violence. But most of the agreement’s provisions remain unfulfilled and clashes break out sporadically.

“The assassination of the DPR head makes the Minsk accords devoid of sense,” Russian parliament speaker Alexander Volodin said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded Zakharchenko, who was 42, as “a true people’s leader” and promised Donetsk residents that “Russia always will be with you.”

Denis Pushilin, the speaker of the separatists’ parliament, blamed Ukraine’s forces for the explosion, calling it “the latest aggression from the Ukrainian side,” according to DAN. A statement from the rebel command said “it was conducted by special operations forces of Ukraine under control of U.S. special services.”

“Instead of fulfilling the Minsk accords and finding ways to resolve the internal conflict, the Kiev war party is implementing a terrorist scenario,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said of Zakharchenko’s death. “Having failed to fulfill the promise of peace, apparently they decided to turn to a bloodbath.”

Igor Guskov, chief of staff of the Ukrainian Security Service, rejected allegations of any involvement, saying: “We have reason to believe that the death of Zakharchenko may be the result of an internal criminal conflict among the rebels … but we do not exclude that it was an attempt by Russian special services to remove this odious figure.”

There have been several assassinations or attempted slayings of prominent rebels in recent years. It never was established if pro-Kiev attackers were responsible or if the violence resulted from disputes within the rebel ranks or Moscow’s possible desire to eliminate individuals it found inconvenient.

Among the prominent separatists who have been targeted are former Luhansk leader Igor Plotnitsky, who was severely injured in 2016 when a bomb exploded near his car; Arsen Pavlov, a feared squadron leader known as “Motorola,” who died when the elevator of his apartment building was bombed; and fighter Mikhail Tolstykh, whose office is believed to have been hit by a shoulder-fired rocket.

Russia denies providing troops or equipment to the separatists despite widespread allegations it has done so. Russia is believed to have supplied a mobile Buk missile launcher that a team of international investigators alleges shot down a Malaysian passenger jet while flying over rebel territory in 2014, killing all 209 people aboard.

The rebellion in Donetsk and Luhansk arose soon after pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from power amid mass protests in February 2014. Russian-speakers predominate in the two regions, and separatist sentiment skyrocketed.

Encouraged by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which also came after Yanukovych’s ouster, rebel leaders initially hoped their regions would be absorbed by Russia as well.


Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, contributed.

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