Ukrainian Autocephaly and Local Churches: Unity Above All

Jelena Rakocevic – (Senior Columnist – Eastern orthodox Affairs) OCP News Service – 18/8/2019

It’s been more than six month since the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was created and received autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate but scandals surrounding the Church have not yet subsided. On the one hand, the Ecumenical Patriarch’s authority in the Greek world remains incontestable. No one questions his historical privilege to grant autocephaly. But it must be admitted that his decision to bestow the Tomos to Ukraine was hasty. The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is immature: it’s not ready to be independent, it is suffering from schisms and conflicts among its hierarchs – a quarrel between Epiphanius Dumenko and Filaret Denysenko led to a schism.

Despite the fact that many oppose the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s jurisdiction over Ukraine, the Ukrainian issue holds all-Orthodox significance. Its settlement will positively affect the ties between the faithful as well as and between the Local Churches. Several proposals have been put forward, but the initiative of Archbishop of Cyprus on convening an All-Orthodox summit or Synaxis seems to be most promising.

However, there are several factors impeding the implementation of this initiative. First and the foremost is Patriarch Bartholomew’s reluctance to recognize the conflict (and implement something practical and constructive to resolve the same). Second, it’s constant pressure of Constantinople against other Churches to make them recognize the OCU. The Phanar believes that the first Local Church to do it will be the Church of Greece. However, if the Greeks recognize the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the conflict with Moscow and other Slavic Churches will only deteriorate, and no Synaxis will be possible.

Other Local Churches also understand that the conflict cannot be settled by recognizing the OCU: despite Constantinople’s demands, none of them has recognized OCU. Moreover, some Churches openly refused to recognize the newly created Church in Ukraine. Others condemned Phanar’s policy over Ukraine. The Church won’t repeat the sin of Ham: it covers up the mistake of its Patriarch and Father by keeping silence. It’s impossible, however, to demand more of it now.

In Ukraine, most believers still support the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) . The support was witnessed during the celebrations of 1031st Anniversary of Baptism of Rus. On July 27, from 120 000 to 300 000 people participated in the traditional Procession of the UOC – MP, while the OCU Procession gathered no more than 30 000. This factor should also be noted by Local Churches.

Besides, sympathy is caused by the fate of many UOC- MP parishes which eventually turned to a “hostile” Church after the OCU was established. On August 7, the Greek news website ‘The Viewer’ published a report on the attacks of radical groups on UOC – MP temples. Young people broke into the temples, beat the faithful and restrict them from entering the buildings. This happened with a tacit backing of the state.

The problem of state interference in Church affairs is also quite serious. The Ukrainian Orthodoxy inadvertently became a battlefield between Moscow and Kyiv. The autocephaly granted by Patriarch Bartholomew to the OCU caused heated arguments of politicians and diplomats. The media also reported on the US attempts to apply pressure on the Church of Greece. Obviously, such interference of political powers in religious life are intolerable, they are dangerous for inter church peace in Ukraine, and the disturbances will hit the world Orthodoxy. Obviously, it must be Church that decides how to settle the Ukrainian issue: secular powers can only do harm. This decision should be taken by Orthodox Churches conjunctly, as proposed by Archbishop of Cyprus.

This is what the Church of Greece should remember when deliberating on whether to recognize the OCU or not. The Church which gave birth to the Greek freedom and blessed her can’t become a tool of political powers, a tool of manipulation as it can result in the division of the Orthodox Church into the Slavs and Greeks, and the loss of the role that was played by the Greeks in the Orthodox world. The Church must remain united.

Jelena Rakocevic – OCP News Service