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The Phanar worries about Ukrainian Church’s future

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is concerned about the Orthodox world not recognising the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, but refrains from intervening.

October 31, 2019 - Svitlana Goyko - Articles and Commentary

Church of St. George, Istanbul. Photo: fusion-of-horizons (cc) flickr.com

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 recognising the OCU. This process is stuck. This is evident from the celebrations of the enthronement anniversary of Metropolitan Onufry, primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), which took place with numerous guests from other local churches. Inspite of the fact that Onufry is considered to be the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s regular titular bishop after the Phanar denunciated its Act of 1686 on October 11, 2018, hierarchs from ten Local Orthodox Churches came to Ukraine and took part in festive events to honor him as the UOC-MP Primate.

It’s also important that the events marking the Christianisation 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 only gathered somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 people. This is even less than the 65,000 people that the sole UOC-Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) attracted the previous year.

The lack of support the OCU is getting could be due to the fact that unification of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), UOC-KP and two UOC-MP bishops into a single structure did not actually lead to unity. The patriarch emeritus Filaret Denysenko left because he is unsatisfied with the provisions of the tomos of autocephaly (decree of canonical independence) given to the OCU and Metropolitan Epiphanius Dumenko’s refusal to arrange a Local Council to adjust the OCU Charter and attempts to keep Filaret from ruling the church. Patricularly, Fileret said that his status as patriarch emeritus didn’t restrict his right to rule the OCU on pair with Epiphanius, and that a Local Council should be convoked to override the ban for the OCU to have any parishes or dioceses abroad. This ban was set in the original OCU Charter designed by the Greeks, and also in the tomos of autocephaly bestowed to the OCU by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In Filaret’s opinion, such provisions limit the OCU’s autocephaly and diminish its patriarchal ambitions.

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 has negatively affected reputation of the OCU as a whole. Along with the evident disunity and allegations of the church’s dependence on Constantinople, public and judicial disputes over property, realty and assets have begun. This does not only undermine the reputation of the newly established entity, but it also distracts hierarchs from addressing the pressing matters of building and developing the church.

Moreover, Filaret’s split has the ability to cause a chain reaction because the OCU still is not solid. Though Macarius Maletich, the primate of the disbanded UAOC, transferred the accounts and property of his religious center to private entities, he is not satisfied with his current position. Before the OCU emerged, Macarius was a primate of a small but independent structure and could communicate directly with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. To establish the OCU, he had to sacrifice not only his influence but also the UAOC cathedral church in Kyiv – the ancient church of St. Andrew.

It is said that the Ministry of Culture is considering the possibility of transferring Kyiv’s historic church of the Saviour at Berestove to Metropolitan Macarius to replace the cathedral he was deprived of, but this has not been decided. This could prove problematic because the temple belongs to the complex of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra buildings which are used by the UOC-MP. Moreover, the church of the Saviour at Berestove is featured 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, could use his supporters, influence, and the UAOC’s resources take his place as head of the OCU or replace him. Metropolitan Epiphanius is hog-tied to agreements with Ukrainian politicians and has not earned credibility after his departure from Filaret’s “nest.” Until October of 2018, hardly anyone noticed him in the shadow of Filaret except his clergy and believers of the UOC-KP in the diaspora who considered it appropriate to cooperate with “schismatics” before their recognition by Constantinople. The young primate speaks well and says refined phrases in the spirit of openness, patriotism and optimism. But is he able to bring reality in line with his assurances? To embody them in the life of the church? Or, at least to make his followers believe that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is developing as it should? Metropolitan Macarius is inferior to his primate in educational background. But he compensates for this with his life and church experience, closeness to the faithful and status as the former First Hierarch of the UAOC (the formal ancestor of the UOC-KP). Metropolitan Epiphanius must be well aware of Macarius’ ambitions. Perhaps that is why the 30th anniversary of the revival of the UAOC was celebrated in Lviv, which has recently become the most beloved city of his Beatitude.

As in the cases of Epiphanius and Filaret, Metropolitan Macarius also has his own vision of the OCU development. He advocates for 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.” In order to achieve this, he says, 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 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-Khmelnitsky and Vyshneve. It would seem that as former members of the UOC-MP, they could be the best negotiators and describe what attracts them to 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. This depreciates the possibility 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.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is well aware that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine must undergo serious changes to survive. But, will Constantinople intervene? If so, how? Or would the Phanar prefer to leave the internal issues, with all their complex church politics, to Metropolitan Epiphanius while making an “upholder” of Athos monasteries and concelebration with the OCU clergy? So far, the second option seems to be the most likely, but no one knows what is going to happen next.

Svitlana Goyko is a freelance journalist and blogger from Kharkiv, Ukraine. She has worked for a Ukrainian bank as a chief officer of the customer service department. She used to belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyivan Patriarchate and joined the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in January 2019.

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