Phanar Worries About Ukrainian Church’s Future But Refrains From Intervening

Svitlana Goyko – Independent Article- OCP News Service – 4/10/19

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE or OCP Media Network. 

Not so long ago Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis of France, who was one of the main actors in preparing and holding the Unification Council of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) last year, along with Archbishop Job Getcha of Telmessos told the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Synod details about the current situation in the newly established entity and problems it’s facing. The condition and prospects of the Phanar’s favorite creation leave much to be desired.

The metropolitan is concerned about the Orthodox world not recognizing the OCU. This process is stuck – and this is evident after the celebrations of the enthronement anniversary of Metropolitan Onufry, primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), which took place with numerous guests from other local churches.

It’s also important that the events marking the Christianization of Kyivan Rus’ showed that the UOC-MP has much larger support than the OCU: about 300,000 participated in the UOC-MP religious procession while the OCU gathered just from 10,000 to 20,000 people – less than the sole UOC-Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) could previous year (65,000).

It can be explained by the fact that the unification of the UOC-KP, UAOC and two UOC-MP bishops into a single structure didn’t lead to their unity. The patriarch emeritus Filaret Denysenko broke off because he is unsatisfied with the provisions of the Tomos of autocephaly, Metropolitan Epiphanius Dumenko’s refusal to arrange a Local Council to adjust the OCU Charter and attempts to keep Filaret from ruling the church.

Although most of the OCU bishops are happy to be free from the yoke of their long-lasting and rather authoritarian primate, the conflict between the church’s heads negatively affected its positions. Along with damage to reputation because of the evident disunity in the newly consolidated church and allegations of the church’s “dependence” on Constantinople, there began public and judicial disputes over property, realty, and assets. All of these does not only undermine the reputation of the newly established entity but also distract hierarchs from solving the pressing matters of building and developing the church.

Moreover, Filaret’s split can cause a chain reaction as the OCU still isn’t solid. Though Macarius Maletich, the primate of the disbanded UAOC, transferred the accounts and property of his religious center to private entities, he isn’t satisfied with his current position. To establish the OCU, he had to sacrifice not only his influence (before, he was a primate of a small but independent structure and could communicate directly with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and now he is just one of the OCU metropolitans though possessing the status of the Synod’s permanent member for the transitional period) but also the UAOC cathedral church in Kyiv – the ancient church of St. Andrew.

It’s said that the Ministry of culture is considering a possibility of transferring Kyiv’s historic church of the Saviour at Berestove to Metropolitan Macarius to replace the cathedral he was deprived of, but it’s all still up in the air: the temple not only belongs to the complex of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra buildings which are used by the UOC-MP but also figured in the list of buildings promised by Poroshenko to the Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Kyiv. If Metropolitan Epiphanius does not help the former Primate of the UAOC to resolve this situation, Metropolitan Macarius, due to his supporters, influence, and UAOC’s resources, could take his place as head of the OCU or, for example, replace him with Metropolitan Mikhail (Zinkevych) of Lutsk and Volyn, a figure acceptable to most bishops and clergy of the united church.

Metropolitan Epiphanius is hog-tied to agreements with Ukrainian politicians and has not earned credibility after his “departure” from Filaret’s “nest.” Until October 2018, hardly anyone noticed him in the shadow of Filaret except the clergy of his Rivne Metropolis, believers of the UOC-KP in the Diaspora and individuals abroad who considered it appropriate to cooperate with “schismatics” before their recognition by Constantinople. The young primate speaks well, says phrases that are “sterile correct” from the point of view of the audience in keeping with the spirit of openness, patriotism, and optimism. But is he able to bring reality into line with his assurances, to embody them in the life of the church, or at least to make his faithful believe that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is developing as it should? Although Metropolitan Macarius is inferior to his primate in the educational background. But he leaves him behind in his life and church experience, closeness to the faithful, as well as in his status as the former First Hierarch of the UAOC – the formal ancestor of the UOC-KP. And Metropolitan Epiphanius cannot but understand this. Perhaps that is why the 30th anniversary of the revival of the UAOC was celebrated in Lviv, which has seemed to become recently the most beloved city of his Beatitude, with such a high number of top-ranking and respected guests?

As in the cases of Epiphanius and Filaret, Metropolitan Macarius also has his own vision of the OCU development – he advocates a more active and open dialogue with the clergy of the UOC-MP. “The OCU should not lure (UOC-MP faithful), but should work, meet with the clergy, and everything will be fine,” he says and notes that to achieve this, pride should be abandoned. At the same time, in his opinion, many bishops and clergymen of the UOC-MP are confused by Filaret Denisenko’s legal possibility to retake control over the Orthodox Church of Ukraine since he still remains an honorary patriarch and a permanent member of its Synod.

Indeed, only two UOC-MP bishops took part in the attempt to unite the Ukrainian Orthodoxy – Metropolitan Simeon Shostatsky of Vinnytsia and Bar and Metropolitan Olexander Drabynko of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyi and Vyshneve. It would seem that as former members of the UOC-MP recognized by local churches, they could be the best negotiators, and like no one else they could describe what attracts them in the OCU. However, Metropolitan Simeon faces legal issues with real estate and property, which are disputed by his former community of the UOC-MP, and Metropolitan Olexander is a discredited figure in the Orthodox world because of his alcoholism, homosexuality and scandalous criminal proceedings he was involved in. This depreciates all the possibilities of their participation in the negotiation process with the local Orthodox churches. For example, on January 19, 2019, Metropolitan Olexander was planned to be included in Petro Poroshenko’s delegation to Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem with their concelebration arranged, but the Patriarchate of Jerusalem opposed it because of the above-mentioned issues.

Therefore, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is well aware that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine must undergo serious changes to survive. Would Constantinople intervene? If so, how would it do that? Or would the Phanar prefer to leave the internal issues, with all their complex church and political ups and downs, to Metropolitan Epiphanius under the pretext of the daughter church’s independence while making an “upholder” of Athos monasteries and concelebration of the OCU clergy with the bishops of the local churches? Or would it soon pass its creation to the UGCC Major Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk? So far, in the short term, the second option seems to be the most likely, but no one knows what is going to happen next.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE or OCP Media Network. 

Svitlana Goyko