“Broken Promises”: Is Ukrainians’ Criticism of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Fair Enough?

Tamar Lomidze (Easter Orthodox Author and Contributor) – OCP News Service – 27/8/19

In July 2018, Kyiv witnessed the celebrations of the 1030th anniversary of Kievan Rus Christianization. Two of the largest Ukrainian Orthodox confessions – the Ukrainian Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC KP) and the Ukrainian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) –  held separate (traditional) sacred processions on different days. The state-backed UOC KP’s procession was attended by President Petro Poroshenko, and a vast number of government officials and delegates from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Kyiv had assumed that the latter would come with the Tomos of Autocephaly (independence) for the Ukrainian Church which did not  happen. In his long speech, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France did not even hint a  date  for granting the ,Tomos of Autocephaly’.

To Whom does the Ecumenical Patriarch wants to bestow autocephaly?

In April, President Poroshenko met  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at his residence in the Phanar quarter (Istanbul). It was revealed later that  one of the main topics discussed was on the bestowal of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. At the moment, the church situation in Ukraine is complicated. The country faces a fierce conflict between the UOC KP and UOC MP. The UOC of the Kyivan Patriarchate broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1990s, during the emergence of the independent Ukrainian state. However, it is not recognized by any of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Poroshenko is said to be setting up the new Autocephalous Church with this religious organization as its cornerstone. Obviously, the “hostile” UOC MP won’t be included in the ‘Single Local Church’ and will witness even higher pressure, when its property will be seized or desecrated by pro-government radical nationalists.

Nevertheless, for Kyiv and personally for Poroshenko, the ‘autocephaly project’ really matters. During the upcoming (2019) presidential elections in Ukraine, the Tomos (if granted by Constantinople) should become one of the aces up his sleeve in the election race.

Since April, Poroshenko kept claiming that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church would likely become autocephalous on 28th July, when UOC KP celebrated the 1030th anniversary of Kievan Rus Christianization. Many Ukrainians believed their president’s statement, and when the Tomos wasn’t granted, they lashed out at the government, and also at Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

For example, the author of one of critical articles, expressing his indignation, not just accuses Constantinople of undermining the process of ‘autocephaly bestowal’, but suggests that it should be proclaimed unilaterally, without the Phanar’s consent. Moreover, he blames Patriarch Bartholomew for his ties with Roman Catholics and inability to make firm decisions. Besides that, the Ukrainians fear that the Phanar is concerned only with the matters of property. In particular, another critical article even provides a list of churches, buildings and territories which can possibly come into Constantinople’s possession. However, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s representatives will need a place to live and hold divine service. No one really wishes to see confiscation of the properties of Ukrainian Churches and handing the same to the “Greek intruders”.

Of course, not all Ukrainian media outlets criticize the Phanar, but harsh statements like the above-mentioned are not rare either. Ukrainians seem to have been hurt by the broken promise. But what can the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Patriarch Bartholomew be blamed for? They did not promise Ukrainian people that the Tomos would be bestowed on a certain date. Phanar clearly understands that in the current scenario (of conflicts between the faithful in Ukraine), autocephaly can be only granted  after finding a solution for the division. Why don’t some Ukrainians understand this? Don’t they see that they are throwing themselves under the vehicle by criticizing the Mother Church? The whole thing can easily come to naught: watching how groundlessly it is being criticized, the Patriarchate can turn away from Ukraine and never grand ‘autocephaly’ to Ukraine.

Please note that the opinions expressed in the above article are solely the author’s and it do not represent those of Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE or OCP New Service.

OCP News Service