A “Uniate-Schismatic” Conspiracy?

6 January 2017, 22:35 | Andrew Sorokowski's column | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Andrew Sorokowski

Without autocephaly, unity is forced and false; without a commitment to unity, autocephaly is mere institutional egotism…. [T]he Moscow Patriarchate … honorsneither real unity nor genuine autocephaly.

At a celebration of his 70th birthday His Holiness, Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, delivered an address in which, among other subjects, he discussed the situation of Orthodoxy in Ukraine (press release, Moscow Patriarchate, 21 November 2016, quoted in SEIA bulletin #254, 30 November 2016). In doing so, he levelleda number of criticisms at the Ukrainians.

The patriarch complained that Ukrainian politicians were interfering in church affairs, citing the parliament’s appeal to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for Ukrainian Orthodox autocephaly. The majority ofthe signatories, Kirill pointed out, were “Uniates or schismatics” – or to put it in polite terms, Greco-Catholics or members of one of the two independent Ukrainian Orthodox churches. Here, it must be admitted that the Patriarch had a point: for the national legislature to appeal to theEcumenical Patriarch in an ecclesiastical matter appears to violate the constitutional separation of church and state and can be seen as political interference in religion.

The patriarch’s characterization of the situation in Ukraine, however, was curious. He stated that “Today the Ukrainian Church is being drawn into a great conflict dividing society and she is forced to become hostage to this conflict.” What great conflict is this? Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea and its war against Ukraine have united Ukrainian society as never before. The only “great conflict” is with the patriarch’s own country, which is at war with Ukraine. There is, in truth, a conflict within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate -- between those who support their country and those who confuse ecclesiastical subordination to Moscow with political loyalty to the Kremlin. One can agree that this conflict should be resolved.

Patriarch Kirill complains further of the “aggressive and offensive attacks on our Church” by the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church. Since he provides no concrete examples, however, his words cannot be taken seriously. He does allege, however, that “Simultaneously, the proselytizing activities upon the ancient Orthodox lands of eastern Ukraine have gathered strength.”Here again, one would need concrete examples of proselytization. The UGCC has established exarchates for its faithful who are scattered over central and eastern Ukraine. This is not proselytization: the Russian Orthodox Church has eparchies (not mere exarchates) in such traditionally non-Orthodox lands as Argentina, Austria, Belgium, and Hungary, and Kirill himself served as administrator of the Hungarian Orthodox deanery from 1989 to 1996.

According to Patriarch Kirill, “It is no coincidence that the Greek Catholics are actively building churches and conducting missionary work in places where historically they had no flock.” In other words, they are impinging on Orthodox “historic territory.” Yet in the same speech, Kirill speaks of “the coming together of the interests of the Ukrainian Uniates and schismatics.” Could it be that the Ukrainian Orthodox “schismatics” are colluding in Catholic aggression against their own faith? It doesn’t compute.

And what precisely is the objection to Greco-Catholic churches and missions where “historically they had no flock”? Let us ignore, for the moment, the fact that when the Kievan Metropolitanate accepted the Union of Brest in 1596, its entire territory and its entire flock – nearly all of Ukraine – came into communion with Rome. Even if this had not happened, and if one could say that the Greco-Catholic church had no historical presence in the territories where it is now establishing exarchates, why would this prevent it from doing so now? After all, the Russian Orthodox Church, as noted above, has eparchies and exarchates in lands where it “historically had no flock.” In 1988, Kirill himself became Archbishop of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad is nothing other than old East Prussian Königsberg – the city of Immanuel Kant, a Protestant stronghold if ever there was one, with no substantial Orthodox population until modern times. If a Russian Orthodox archbishop can claim jurisdiction over an historically Protestant city, surely he cannot object when Greco-Catholics appoint bishops or exarchs for lands and peoples with an Orthodox past.

The patriarch concludes that “All of this testifies to the fact that the problem of the Unia, generated by the pseudo-Councils of Florence and Brest, remains a bleeding wound on the body of Christendom.” The Unia is, of course, the movement of Orthodox Christians to unite with the Western Church. The church council that gathered first in Ferrara in 1438, moving to Florence in 1439, included Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople as well as Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaiologos; eighteen metropolitans including Isidore of Kyiv;representatives of the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem; and prominent laymen including the theologians George Scholarius and George GemistosPlethon. Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople and all but one Eastern bishop (Mark of Ephesus) signed an agreement with Pope Eugene IV on 5 July 1439. On 12 December 1452 Isidore of Kyiv proclaimed the union at Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia. True, this union was repudiated by the clergy and people of Byzantium, as well as by the three above-mentioned patriarchates and the Muscovite Church. But to labelFlorence a “pseudo-council” requires canonical evidence and argumentation.

As for the council of Brest --on 6-9 October 1596 the Orthodox metropolitan of Kyiv and five Ruthenian Orthodox bishops as well as other Orthodox church and lay dignitaries entered into union with the Roman Catholic Church. Dissidents held a competing council. What made the first a “pseudo-council,” and the second a genuine one? Merely Moscow’s opinion?

Speaking of councils, one should mentionthe gathering of March 1946 in L’viv, which the Moscow Patriarch considers a legitimate council. It wasconvoked by a dissident group of Greco-Catholic priests and laymen and organized by the Soviet secret police, who compelled a number of Greco-Catholic priests and laymen to attend and vote to join the Russian church. How was this a true and canonical council, whether Catholic or Orthodox? 

Finally, Patriarch Kirill gets to the essence of his argument about Ukraine: “The coming together of the interests of the Ukrainian Uniates and schismatics in opposing canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine became possible on the grounds of radical nationalistic ideology and the politicization of the religious sphere.”Is there a Uniate-schismatic political conspiracy against the Orthodox Church?

If one looks at the situation in Ukraine in political terms, one can indeed say that the interests of the “Uniates and schismatics” coincide. But not in the way Patriarch Kirill claims. Both the Greco-Catholic Church and the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox churches support their country, and both oppose Russia’s aggression. Both favor freedom of religion, including the right to change one’s religious allegiance. But if one regards the situation in a deeper, spiritual sense, one sees that “Uniates” and autocephalous Orthodox represent two different yet complementary principles. As the term “Uniate” implies, the Greco-Catholics strive for Christian unity. As the term “autocephalous” implies, the Ukrainian Orthodox of the Kievan Patriarchate (as well as the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church) stand for the independence of national churches. Yet church unity and church independence are not irreconcilable principles. Rather, they are complementary. Without autocephaly, unity is forced and false; without a commitment to unity, autocephaly is mere institutional egotism. The UGCC and the Ukrainian autocephalous churches seek a free union of independent churches, not the domination of one over many. Evidently, Patriarch Kirill does not understand this; the Moscow Patriarchate, after all, honorsneither real unity nor genuine autocephaly.

The patriarch alleges that the “Uniates and schismatics” have joined in “opposing canonical Orthodoxy.” If this means anything at all, it means that the Greco-Catholic Church, contrary to ecumenical principles, is working actively against the Orthodox Church. Such a serious accusation requires solid evidence. As for the “schismatics” or autocephalists – they obviously have a different view of Orthodox canons than does the Moscow Patriarchate. But in the Patriarch’s view, these two Ukrainian groups have joined forces on the basis of “radical nationalist ideology”and “politicization” of the religious sphere. This allegation ignores the UGCC’s opposition to radical nationalism since the inter-war period, as well as the essentially pagan nature of such an ideology.As for politicization of the religious sphere – it bears mentioning that Patriarch Kirill, as a member of theRussian presidential council for cooperation with religious organizations since 1995, and as a member of the joint commission for nationalities policy and relations between the state and religious organizations since 2006, is no stranger to politics himself. His opposition to Ukrainians’ efforts to remove their Orthodox churchfrom the control of the Putin regime is hardly apolitical.

Moreover, in view of the history of the Muscovite church, it is strange to hear its patriarch condemningautocephalists asschismatics. In 1448, after rejecting the Florentine Union, the church of Moscow separated itself from the patriarchate of Constantinople, becoming de facto autocephalous. If this was not schism, neither is it schism for the church of Kyiv to separate itself from the patriarchate of Moscow. The Muscovite autocephalists objected to Greek Orthodox attempts at unity with Roman church, which were motivated in large part by a desire for Western aid against the Muslim Turks. The Ukrainian autocephalists object to Russian Orthodox subservience to the imperial goals of the Kremlin.

It is perhaps not strange that the patriarch of Moscow should celebrate his birthday with a tirade against uniates and schismatics. But it might have been better spent contemplating his own church’s treatment of those who seek not isolation and dominance, but unity in freedom.

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