The Backstage Game behind Filaret Denysenko’s Letter

Kiev Pechersk Lavra Church

Kiev Pechersk Lavra Church

Tamar Lomidze – OCP News Service- Independent Article – 7/2/18

On November 30, 2017, the whole Orthodox World was shocked by media reports about a letter from the unrecognized Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) Patriarch Filaret (Denisenko) to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) Bishops’ Council. This former Metropolitan of Kyiv left ROC after he lost the election as its Primate. In the document of November 16, 2017, he claimed his will “to end the divisions and dissensions among Orthodox Christians, to restore communion in the Eucharist and in prayer, as befits the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”. “For the sake of achieving the God-commanded peace between Orthodox Christians and reconciliation between nations.” Patriarch Filaret called the Council to “nullify” the anathema imposed on him in 1997.

Having considered the appeal, the ROC hierarchy did not ignore the words of caring for the Orthodox Christian Church’s goodwill. Council members immediately established a special commission to negotiate with UOC-KP to restore the canonical order in Ukraine and address the related technical issues.

However, once Moscow started to implement preliminary agreements and as media got suspicious about possible confidential talks behind, the UOC-KP suddenly reversed its course. Instead of making another step towards the dialogue, they took two steps back. At the pressconference on December 2, Filaret (Denisenko) announced that his appeal to the ROC Primate’s Council had been misunderstood. The UOC-KP’s Primate stated that in his letter he had not intended to deliver apologies for anything or seek any formal unity with the ROC. He said the letter was dispatched to provide Moscow an opportunity to correct its mistake and lift “unjust” prohibitions that prevent the ROC from recognizing autocephaly to which the UOC-KP is “rightfully” entitled.  In its turn, the Synod of the Kyivan Patriarchate decreed to “agree to negotiate with the ROC,” but did not establish any corresponding commission for the same.

It is amazing why on Earth Russians believed that Patriarch Filaret repented for his schism! I mean Filaret himself had repeatedlydeclared that he wouldn’t submit himself under any other patriarch – neither of Moscow nor under Constantinople. Moreover, while dealing with Constantinople, UOC-KP leadership has already shown its inability to fulfill agreements and to maintain confidentiality. Now Moscow has learned it the hard way.

Supporters of Filaret have been covertly seeking assistance at the Phanar for decades, calling it their Mother-Church. In 2016, Ukrainian authorities adopted and submitted appeals to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and waited for a response (or at least a hint of it) for almost half a year. When all these efforts failed, they took an instant U-turn. Ukrainians accuse the Ecumenical Patriarchate of “spiritual wandering“, «Byzantine art of “palaver“», intriguery and Greek chauvinism. In contrast to the Fan riots, the ROC not only received delegates of the UOC-KP, but also welcomed them all with honours. Representatives of the Kyivan Patriarchate were accommodated in the 5-star hotel Metropol, had a peaceful conversation, and were presented with valuable books.

Besides, the ROC Bishops’ Council in Moscow demonstrated its openness and readiness to talk by establishing a commission to negotiate with Patriarch Filaret in response to his letter. According to the comments from the UOC-KP’s clergy, the whole process took about a month from the first unofficial meeting in the creation of the commission by ROC. Nevertheless, the matter remained stalemated due to Kyivan Patriarch’s backtrack. Why did Patriarch Filaret write such an ambiguous letter?

The question of UOC-KP’s motives are indeed complicated. One could suggest, that there are some prelates and leaders in UOC-KP who strive for the improvement of relations with the canonical Orthodox Christian Churches. However, attempts to bring Filaret to the negotiation table were blocked by those interested in alienating the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP, self-ruling entity under the jurisdiction of Moscow Patriarchate). This provoked tensions between different groups within UOC-KP who fights for influence and opportunities to enthrone their own candidates to the Kyivan See. If this is true, then UOC-KP is likely to split further.

The Patriarch Filaret’s appeal to Moscow might be also be driven by the intention to make Fanar jealous and thus prompt the Ecumenical Patriarachate to take more specific actions. However,  we should remember that according to the statements of the UOC-KP’s hierarchy, their Church is de facto autocephalous and they do not care if this status is formally recognized by other Patriarchates. Thus we can assume that it is Ukrainian politicians who might be eager to simulate the start of the negotiations with Moscow. Yet, it is unlikely that their inelaboate maneuvers will meet its goal. Patriarch Bartholomew is well aware of the complexity of the situation in Ukraine and takes into account all possible risks.

Moreover, his wisdom and deep situational vision are proved by the unofficial discussion of the appeal of the Ukrainian parliamentarians to the Ecumenical Patriarch on the sidelines of the Holy and Great Council in Crete. As the majority of hierarchs in attendance expected back in June 2016, His All-Holiness obviously distanced himself from Ukrainian issue.

However, one cannot rule out that the real mission and the raison d’etre of the Kyivan Patriarchate is to maintain the present instability which weakens the UOC-MP and gives benefits for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics. The Uniates are interested in promoting other Orthodox Christian denominations in Ukraine. For example, most of the Ukrainian parliamentarians who initiated the letter to the Patriarch Bartholomew are Uniate Greek Catholics. Some clerics of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church beleives that gathering all Ukrainian Orthodox believers under the omophorion of the Ecumenical Patriarch is a first step to bring them under the authority of the Pope. Besides, the situation between Patriarchates of Moscow and Conastantinople is one more trouble-issue in the context of the Russian–Turkish relations. This is exactly the objective of the Washington’s foreign policy in the region. The White House is by the way one of the crucial partners of the present Ukrainian Administration.

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.