Ukrainain Orthodoxy on the eve of Pan-Orthodox Council. Part III

7 July 2016, 13:11 | Religious studies | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

OLEXANDR (Drabynko)

Metropolitan of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyy and Vyshneve,
Vicar of the Kyiv Metropolis

Canonical autocephaly as a path to unity of ukrainian orthodoxy

Christ warned his disciples of the temptation of earthly power. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mk. 10, 42-44). Can we say that our church life is arranged in line with this noble principle of brotherly love? Our Christian faith and the Orthodox ecclesiology postulate that the ecclesial unity is not identical with the administrative unity, but rests on the unity of faith, prayer and the sacraments. The history evidences: the Local Churches that were historically associated with earthly empires were uninterested in the canonical establishment of local churches under their jurisdictions, and therefore usually granted autocephaly to churches only under the pressure of historic circumstances. No exception is the Moscow Patriarchate, which has incorporated the Orthodox Church in Ukraine since 1686.

Here, in ancient Kyiv, a celebration of the Baptism of Rus was held. Numerous missionaries and saints who came out of the Kyiv-Caves Monastery also involved into the light of Christ's Gospel teachings the peoples who lived on the territory of modern Russia. So, does the ancient Kyivan Church, which is today one of the largest churches of the Orthodox world, have the canonical right to independent or autocephalous existence? Let us consider ecclesiological prerequisites for the establishment of a new autocephalous Church:

  • potential of independent existence of a part of the Church without mediation of the authorities of another Church;
  • distinctness of the future local church territory, its (partial or complete) political independence;
  • the language and cultural identity of the people living in the area;
  • striving to autocephaly of the majority of bishops, clergymen and religious people.

As can be seen, the situation in Ukraine meets most of the above criteria.

  • The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church meets all the necessary conditions for the autocephalous being. It includes 53 dioceses, 83 hierarchs and more than 10,000 clergymen, a complete system of religious education (consisting of 17 religious schools, including the Kyiv Theological Academy and eight seminaries), 207 monasteries, including three Lavras, about five thousands of monks and nuns and about 12,000 congregations;
  • Ukraine is an independent state, whose sovereignty is globally recognized;
  • Ukrainian nation has its own language and distinct culture which distinguishes it from other nations.

The last criterion, the striving to autocephalous being by the majority of hierarchs, clergymen and faithful deserves a special mention. Once such a striving was demonstrated by the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on November 1-3, and diocesan meetings within the framework of this Council in different regions of Ukraine.

Later, being aware of the unwillingness of the Russian Church Plenitude to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, many of those who then advocated the new and improved canonical status of the Church, sealed their lips with silence or even changed their attitude. The modern Ukrainian Orthodox Church has both supporters and opponents of the local church status. However, as the trend of recent years has clearly shown, the number of church autocephaly supporters among the faithful and clergy is steadily increasing.

Will we ever achieve a complete unanimity among the faithful, clergy and episcopate on the issue of autocephaly? Unfortunately, this prospect is now questionable. Among our faithful there are those who wish to preserve the canonical subordination to the Moscow patriarch. However, it is our profound conviction that under no circumstances such our brothers shall be forced to transfer even into the legitimate autocephalous Church. This is our principled position: jurisdictional choice should be made freely and not under pressure of external circumstances. It is important that both supporters of autocephalous status and those who decide to remain a part of the Russian Church were free to visit church and live according to their beliefs.

There is also a very important task to communities that will be a part of the Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and to those who will remain a part of the Russian Church, to keep the peace among themselves and Eucharistic communion.

According to opinion polls, the number of supporters of autocephaly in Ukraine is growing steadily. Thus, according to the survey carried out by the Sociological Service of the Razumkov Centre[1], for the last 6 years the number of supporters of the UOC-KP increased by 10%. If in 2010, 15% considered themselves to be supporters of this church community, while in March 2016 they were 25%. The same trend was observed among those respondents who identify themselves as adherents of Orthodox faith. While 38% of respondents identified themselves as the UOC-KP members, only 23%considerend themselves adherents of the UOC (i.e. 15% less).[2]

Other data of this survey attest the desire of society to see the Ukrainian Church a fully canonically independent church[3]:

  • 24.4% of respondents agreed with the statement that “Orthodox Ukraine should unite around the UOC KP” (for comparison, in 2010 the same idea was backed by 16.7%, i.e. support for this idea has increased by 7.7% since that time);
  • 23.6% of respondents believed that “the Orthodox Church of Ukraine should unite as one church, which will strive for independence” ( in 2010 the idea was supported by 13.8% of respondents, the support of the idea increased by 9.8% of respondents);

 Only 10.1% of respondents agree with the statement that “the Ukrainian Orthodox Church should remain an integral part of the Russian Orthodox Church.” Comparing this with the data of 2010, we can see that the support of such a pro-Russian vector, so to say, of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by society fell more than twice, from 22.3% to 10.1% of respondents.

Given the nature of historical circumstances, most autocephaly supporters are now members of the self-proclaimed Kyiv Patriarchate. Trading on that, some church leaders say that “the choice is made.” There is the non-canonical Kyiv Patriarchate and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church for supporters of autocephaly and the canonical Orthodox Church should always remain part of the Moscow Patriarchate. Although, someone might find this position logical, it is not in line with the Gospel and pastoral point of view.

Belonging to the canonical Church, unfortunately, cannot guarantee automatic salvation. Neither the will enable to move closer the Pharisees’ contempt with which we sometimes treat our brothers, separated from the Orthodox Church, declaring them “acquisition” of the enemy of human race.

Instead, forgiving our brothers and their weaknesses, worrying about their conversion, we fulfill the commandment of the Good Shepherd, who “came to seek and save the lost” and ready to leave the ninety-nine sheep to find the one that has strayed (Matt. 18, 11 -13).

“Autocephaly is not a means of unification of the Church and is the result of consolidation,” argue and claim some members of our Church. However, in terms of armed aggression against Ukraine, lasting for two consecutive years, this position has lost its constructiveness. The politicization of the Church mind, the involvement of church leaders to hybrid war against Ukraine and other painful recent events clearly proved that the real scenario of consolidation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which would be an alternative to the autocephalous one simply does not exist. Overcoming division and its consequences in Ukraine today is only possible through the autocephalous status of the Ukrainian Church.

How to attain unity and the local church status?

Only the canonical autocephaly recognized by the entire Orthodox world can become the foundation of unification for the children of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. “Historical experience shows that all disputes that arise in the Church should be overcome through dialogue,” the reposed Metropolitan Volodymyr believed. “This also applies to the problem of church splits. We must sit at the negotiating table and find ways of reconciliation with God's help.” Now is the time to implement this guideline of the departed Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and resume negotiations with the representatives of unrecognized religious communities on specific ways to recover ecclesial unity.

But how to achieve unity and the status of a local church recognized in the Orthodox world? Restoration of church unity today requires of us, hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to change our position on several important issues of ecclesial life as follow:

  • reject the false concept of ecclesial unity as the administrative unity, which is wrong from a theological perspective, and a politicized pseudo-theological idea of autocephaly as a “split” or “legalization” thereof;
  • According to Spiritual Testament of Metropolitan Volodymyr and the Decree of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of 24 February 2014 (Journal No.10) resume dialogue with representatives of the UOC-KP and UAOC;
  • Appeal to Heads of Local Orthodox Churches to help unite Ukrainian Orthodoxy by granting autocephalous status to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its inclusion in the diptych of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Russian experts often say that the church division in Ukraine and search for ways to overcome it is an “internal affair” of the Russian Orthodox Church. But using expressions such as “interference in internal affairs” in respect of the relations between the two local churches, it is important to refrain from political analogies. As Metropolitan Volodymyr rightly put it, the fact that our autocephalies became an analogue of state frontiers and even demarcation lines (which are known to emerge as a result of armed conflict and the subsequent truce) testifies to the cultural and psychological schism of the Orthodox world.[4] Local Churches are not an analogue of sovereign national states. Universal Orthodoxy is not a federation of national churches. Global Orthodoxy is the one Universal Church. The church unity is an organic unity, i.e. the unity in the Body of Christ, where “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is praised, every part rejoices with it.”(1 Cor. 12, 26).

In addition, from the historical and canonical perspective, the Church of Constantinople is the Mother Church of the Kyiv Metropolis. For seven centuries the Orthodox Church of Ukraine had been part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. As for the accession of the Kyiv Metropolis to the Moscow Patriarchate (1686), it is important to remember, according to the canonical assessment of the Greek side, that it was carried out in violation of the sacred canons. In particular, as stated in the Tomos of recognition of the Orthodox Church in Poland autocephalous (1924), “the first separation from our See of the Kyivan Metropolia and the Orthodox Metropolia of Lithuania and Poland, dependent upon it, as well as their incorporation within the Holy Moscovite Church was accomplished contrary to canon law and as also all that which was agreed upon regarding the full church autonomy of the Kyivan Metropolitan, who at the time had the title Exarch of the Ecumenical See).”[5]

In October 2008, His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr addressed to Patriarch Bartholomew and Heads of Local Orthodox Churches with a request to develop a common position on ways to overcome religious divisions in Ukraine. “Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” goes the Appeal, “currently fulfills its salvific mission in complicated historical circumstances. At the same time it is she who has the necessary potential to unite the divided Ukrainian Orthodoxy and consolidate Ukrainian society. In carrying out this mission the Ukrainian Orthodox Church needs a unified position of all local Orthodox Churches regarding the ways to overcome religious divisions in Ukraine. We hope that being enlightened by the Holy Spirit the conciliar mind of the Universal Church will indicate the way to recovery of the God-commanded church unity.”[6]

Times and circumstances have changed. Although, the need for review of the Ukrainian issue on Pan-Orthodox level only has become more urgent. Maintaining a spiritual relationship with the Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, we are striving to hold the Russian Orthodox Church in proper respect. However, caring for the welfare of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, we cannot turn a blind eye on some historical and canonical points that demonstrate the need for consideration of the Ukrainian church issue at Pan-Orthodox level.

First, the movement for autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church had continued in one form or another throughout the twentieth century. As for the attempt to heal Ukrainian split on the part of the hierarchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate as a whole, such efforts have taken place for over a quarter century and, unfortunately, are still inconclusive.

 In addition, the Russian Orthodox Church is not perceived in Ukraine today as a canonical referee which is impartial in its judgments and actions. Credibility on the part of religious communities that declared themselves autocephalous is minimal, and proposed models of healing division, unfortunately, have not been accepted and are not accepted by the other side.

Secondly, the top management of the Russian Orthodox Church today does not enjoy such a degree of freedom that would allow granting autocephalous status to the Local Ukrainian Church independently, without consent of the Russian state authorities. After all, the idea of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was categorically opposed by the Russian state, which, according to former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, considers the “gathering” of the ‘Russian World’ as a common cause of the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church.”[7]

Finally, thirdly, granting of autocephaly by the Russian Orthodox Church to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, unfortunately, will not lead to recognition of this autocephaly by the Orthodox plenitude, as, in the view of Ancient East Patriarchates and other Local Churches, granting autocephaly is an exclusive prerogative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

As history testifies, the autocephalous status granted by the Moscow Patriarchate to the Czech Church (1951) and the Orthodox Church in America (1970) did not result in their recognition by all the Local Churches. The Orthodox Church in America was granted autocephaly on April 10, 1970 by decision of His Holiness Alexy I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and members of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. However, this Moscow-granted autocephalous status of the Orthodox Church in America was not recognized by Constantinople and the majority of Local Orthodox Churches[8]

Equally dramatic is the history of establishment of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and Slovakia. For the first time full independence of this church was proclaimed in 1951 by the Charter of Patriarch Alexy I (Symansky). This charter of the Moscow Patriarchate, unfortunately, did not ensure recognition of the autocephalous status of the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia by Constantinople and other local churches. Therefore, in 1998, at the request of the Czech and Slovak hierarchs Patriarch Bartholomew issued a new Tomos granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. A situation occurred where the Orthodox Church in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in fact was regulated by two canonical documents of full canonical independence: the Charter of Patriarch Alexis I (1951) and the Synodical Tomos of Patriarch Bartholomew (1998). This, in turn, resulted in misunderstandings and even conflicts.[9] The history of opposition between the two Tomoses issued by Moscow and Constantinople in the life of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Republic and Slovakia ended in January 2016, when the Church hierarchs recognized the current “exceptionally Patriarchal and Synodical Tomos issued in 1998 by the Ecumenical Patriarchate” and pledged to amend the church Statute.

As you can see, an honest analysis of the current situation in the church life of Ukraine and in the Orthodox world as a whole, clearly evidences: there is no possibility to overcome the crisis in Ukraine and the consequences of the split in a canonical procedure without involvement of Universal Orthodoxy, particularly, without the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

I believe and I know, there are many true patriots of their homeland among the hierarchs of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church who are willing to bravely stand up for the canonical right to full canonical independence. I believe and hope, having united in defense of the Church’s canonical rights, the patriotic majority of canonical Orthodox hierarchs in Ukraine can overcome crisis and implement the grand plan of Metropolitan Volodymyr, overcome the effects of the split and unite all the children of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine based on the local autocephalous church that is canonically recognized by Constantinople and Universal Orthodoxy.

Recently, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine registered draft Law 4511 “On the special status of religious organizations whose directing centers  are located in the state recognized as the aggressor country by the Parliament of Ukraine.” In turn, representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said that the draft law “significantly restricts the right to freedom of religion” and “contains signs of discrimination.”.

As a UOC hierarch and citizen of Ukraine I feel insulted and outraged that my church is perceived today as a “religious organization whose directing centers are located in the state recognized as the aggressor country by the Parliament of Ukraine.” As a bishop and a citizen of Ukraine, I am deeply concerned that the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is still divided. As an Orthodox hierarch and citizen of Ukraine I am deeply concerned that our Ukrainian Church that long ago could have become one of the largest Local Orthodox Churches of the world is still not present in the general Church diptych of the Local Churches.

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Lk. 18, 27). Of course, obtaining the autocephalous status is associated with many problems and requires from us, canonical Orthodox hierarchs of Ukraine, a special perseverance and courage. Bu the time to fear has gone. It is time for the balanced and wise, but decisive action. We must at all costs avoid the emergence of a new division. But we have to recognize: no one except us will settle the Ukrainian Church issue for Ukraine and its people. No one but us will bring to the people the church unity. No one except us can change the fate of the Ukrainian Church and to secure that ancient Kyiv Metropolis takes its rightful place of honor among the Local Orthodox Churches of the world.

Ukrainian independence has existed for 25 years. While the real independent status, canonically effective and recognized by universal Orthodoxy was never obtained. The current status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is determined by the Charter of Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia on October 27, 1990, which blessed that “the Ukrainian Orthodox Church henceforth be independent and autonomous in its governance.” However, as we know, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other Local Orthodox Churches consider this Tomos only as an internal document of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Let us recall the communications between Kyiv and Constantinople in July-August 2000. On July 28, the Council of Bishops of the UOC released a message to Patriarch Bartholomew, which called not to interfere in its internal affairs. And on August 2, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew responded to this appeal, making clear that Constantinople, first, did not acknowledge the very right of Ukrainian hierarchs to contact him directly without mediation of the Patriarch of Moscow, and secondly, denied it the right to convene the Council of Bishops on the issue of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, qualifying it as a “meeting” of 35 bishops of Ukraine, stressing that this meeting cannot be regarded as a Council or, in Greek terminology, a Synod.[10] This letter contains yet another unpleasant for us definition of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which at the time included 35 bishops, “a totality of 35 canonical Orthodox bishops in Ukraine.”

Christ the Savior teaches us to build a house on a solid foundation. Taking care of a foundation for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, we have to rally today and obtain through joint effort such a canonical status for our Church that would allow today to actually heal the wound of split. The position of the deceased Metropolitan Volodymyr gives us hope for such solution of Ukrainian Church issue, as he asked universal Orthodoxy to develop through joint effort a model to overcome Ukrainian split. The position of His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, cited in our appeal to the Ukrainian hierarchs, is as follows: “A deplorable division of the Ukrainian people on the territory of Ukrainian state is a problem that has not found its solution neither by the state nor local church leadership for almost nine decades. Thus, the time has come that the settlement of this issue shall be mediated by the entire Church, which, as everyone knows is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, although administratively divided into many local autocephalous Churches.”[11]


[1] A national study was conducted by the sociological service of the Razumkov Center from 25 to 30 March 2016 with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Ukraine. The study was carried out in all regions of Ukraine, except Crimea and occupied regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. 2,018 respondents aged above 18 were polled. The error margin does not exceed 2.3%

[2] Similar trends were witnessed in the survey conducted last (2015) by sociological group “Rating” (Rating Group Ukraine). Among those who consider themselves Orthodox, a relative majority (38%) consider themselves adherents of the UOC-KP, 20% - of the UOC (MP). According to this sociological group, the most trusted leaders among the leaders of Ukrainian religious denominations are head of the self-proclaimed Kyiv Patriarchate Patriarch Filaret (40%) and head of the Roman Catholic Church Pope Francis (35%)

[3] See: Релігія і Церква в українському суспільстві: соціологічне дослідження. Вказ. Вид. Діаграми на с. 31-32. [Religion and Church in Ukrainian society: case study. Op.cit. Charts on p. 31-32.]

[4] Митрополит Киевский и всея Украины Владимир (Сабодан). Мысли разных лет. Вказ. вид. С. 91.[Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Volodymyr (Sabodan). Thoughts over the years.]

[5] Цит. за: Свитич А.К. Православная Церковь в Польше и ее автокефалия // Православная Церковь на Украине и в Польше в ХХ столетии. 1917-1950 гг. Сб. М.: Крутицкое патриаршее подворье, Общество любителей церковной истории, 1997. С. 132. [Op. cit: Svitich A.K. Orthodox Church in Poland and its autocephaly // Orthodox Church in Ukraine and Poland in the twentieth century. 1917-1950. Collection of works. M .: The Krutitsy patriarchal metochion, Society of Friends Church History, 1997, pp 132] See the text of Patriarchal and Synodical Tomos canonical Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 13, 1924, recognizing the Orthodox Church in Poland autocephalous issued by Metropolitan Barnabas of Kitros. Polish church. On the main principles of management. The overall historical review.// ΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΑ. 1975. January-March

[6] Звернення Блаженнішого Митрополита Київського і всієї України Володимира до Предстоятелів Помісних Православних Церков  // Митрополит Київський і всієї України Володимир (Сабодан).  Доповіді, промови, звернення. Видавничий відділ Української Православної Церкви. Київ, 2011. С. 224-225. [Message of His Beatitude Volodymyr, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine to the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches // Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kyiv and All Ukraine (UOC-MP). Reports, speeches, addresses. Publishing Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Kyiv, 2011. p. 224-225]

[7] Выступление Министра иностранных дел России И. С. Иванова на VІІІ Всемирном Русском Народном Соборе, Сергиев Посад, 3 февраля 2004 года (отдельный оттиск) // Сообщения Министерства иностранных дел Российской Федерации. — 2004. — 04 февраля. — С. 6. [Speech by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov at the VIII World Russian People's Council, Sergiev Posad, February 3, 2004 (reprint) // Communications of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 2004, 4 February, p. 6.]

[8] Apart from the Moscow Patriarchate, which granted this autocephaly, the new status of the Orthodox Church in America was recognized only by the Orthodox Church of Georgia (which at that time was part of the USSR) and the Orthodox Churches, which were located in the countries that were part of the Warsaw Pact, namely Bulgaria, Poland and Czechoslovakia (as it was then known).

[9] It was the case in 2011, where in response to a celebration in Prague by the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia of the 60th anniversary of their church autocephaly, which was granted by Moscow, Constantinople promised to disavow its Tomos of 1998.

[10] Patriarch Bartholomew wrote: “It is with great sorrow and deep pain that we have received and read the text sent by you to our Modesty, contrary to established procedure, according to which the hierarchy of the local Holy Orthodox Churches communicate the church problems through their church leadership, adopted in at the Holy Dormition Lavra of Kyiv at a meeting (but not, of course, Synod or Council) of 35 bishops Ukraine convened on July 28.” See: Response of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to resolution of the meeting of Ukrainian episcopate of the Moscow Patriarchate of July 28, 2000 // Archive of the Kyiv Metropolis.

[11] Op.cit.

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