Alternative Orthodoxy. Unlearned Lessons

16 july 2019

Political Logic of Ukrainian Autocephaly

Andrei Vidishenko is a Research Fellow at the Kiev Center for Political and Conflict Resolution Studies.

Resume:

This article has been published in a special edition of Russia in Global Affairs, May 2019

 The second half of 2018 and the first months of 2019 were marked by an unprecedented confrontation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Being well aware that the so-called autocephaly and related developments are not a matter of priority for the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians amid an unfolding social policy catastrophe, President Poroshenko and his government were trying to enforce their own political agenda. The division of society was essentially institutionalized at the religious level. As a result, confrontation has intensified, Orthodoxy in Ukraine is having a hard time, and the crisis of inter-Orthodox dialogue is jeopardizing the unity of the entire Orthodox civilization.

 

WHAT HAVE THE INITIATORS OF AUTOCEPHALY ACHIEVED?

On April 19, 2018, the Verkhovna Rada, by a majority of votes, empowered President Poroshenko to ask Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to bestow autocephaly upon the newly founded Orthodox Church of Ukraine. On the following day, the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarch ruled to begin preparations for granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine. The Ecumenical Patriarchate had ignored the position of the Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and appeals and requests from local Orthodox churches that the only possible solution would be a dialogue and a council to be attended by representatives of all local churches. Instead, the Ecumenical Patriarch did as he saw fit. Bilateral negotiations between the heads of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of Constantinople on August 31 did not stop the confrontation between them. On September 1, 2018, Patriarch Bartholomew I said “the Ecumenical Patriarchate assumed the initiative of resolving the problem in accordance with the authority afforded to it by the Sacred Canons and the jurisdictional responsibility over the eparchy of Kiev.”

The schism that broke the full communion between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of Constantinople on October 15, 2018 was the result of Phanariotes’ interference in the “Ukrainian issue” when they sent two exarchs to Kiev (an area of another canonical jurisdiction), rescinded the act of 1686 that ceded the Kievan Metropolis under the control of the Moscow Patriarchate, declared Ukraine their own canonical territory, and restored erstwhile stauropegions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Phanar also unilaterally rehabilitated representatives of the uncanonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church including former Patriarchal Exarch Philaret (Denisenko), anathematized by the Russian Orthodox Church. On December 15, 2018, a so-called  unification council was held in Kiev with the assistance and support of the Ukrainian authorities. On January 6, 2019, the primate of the Church of Constantinople granted the Tomos of autocephaly to the newly-established Church headed by “Metropolitan” Epiphanius (Dumenko).

An interconnection between religion and national-cultural identity has always been present in the territory known as modern Ukraine. It must be remembered that the struggle against the Catholicization of Southern Russia was the driving force of the liberation movement against Rzeczpospolita. Having united Little Russia and Great Russia at the Pereyaslav Council with the “wishing to be under the Eastern Orthodox tsar” motto, Hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky largely reaffirmed the civilizational choice made by St. Prince Vladimir, Equal of the Apostles. It is quite remarkable that the theoretical substantiation of the official pre-revolutionary concept that proclaimed the triune of the pan-Russian tribe was also developed by the Kiev Orthodox clergy (the concept was formalized by archimandrites Zakhary Kopystensky and Innokenty Gizel of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra), and what is particularly interesting is that this happened during their “Constantinopolitan period.” It was the Union of Brest of 1596 that led to the emergence of two political nations on the territory of present-day Ukraine—Orthodox and Catholic Greek—with their subsequent confrontation. The weakening of the former through division has always been vitally important for extending the latter’s expansionist policy beyond Galicia.

It is noteworhty that the first serious confessional conflict in the last few decades, followed by the seizure of churches, broke out immediately after the registration of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in 1989 and the division of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by former Patriarchal Exarch in Ukraine Philaret (Denisenko) in 1992, with the support of Ukraine’s first President Leonid Kravchuk. At that time, a large number of eparchies in Galicia and Western Ukraine in general were taken over by the Greek Catholic Church and uncanonical structures of the Kiev patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church with the assistance of the local authorities (the hierocracy of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church prevented the seizure of churches by dissenters in the early 1990s and remained the largest denomination in Ukraine). In this sense, the division of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by its former head in 1992 and the “restoration” in the 1990s of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, self-proclaimed in 1921, can be regarded as a sort of successful act of subversion against a political nation. So the core role of religion and Orthodoxy in Ukraine cannot be denied. But the existential importance of Kiev as the mother of Russian cities, also called the Jerusalem of the Russian land, for the Russian Orthodox Church hardly needs any clarification.

Over the past twenty-seven years, present-day Ukraine has failed to establish a civic identity that would consolidate the whole state. The more flawed the civic component is, the more important the interpretation of cultural identity becomes for nation building. This is why the struggle of the ardent minority for the right to interpret cultural identity plays an essential, if not key, role in the Ukrainian political process. The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s interference and the situation around the establishment of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church” are important elements of a new attempt to monopolize the cultural space of one of the two “political nations” for the purpose of correcting people’s self-conscience in the mold of “conscientious Ukrainians” who unconditionally prefer the Maidan political rhetoric. This strategy also includes attempts to organize a long-term “siege” of the traditional Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Their success would get the canonical Orthodox Church replaced with a religious institution that is more loyal to the post-Maidan construct of the nation.

Part of the Western elites view the struggle with the Russian Orthodox Church as an important element of the collective West’s confrontation with Russia. Real lobbyists of autocephaly are interested solely in the political component of a Church that would regularly send anti-Russian impulses not by suppressing the sense of “pro-Russianness” but by stifling the feeling of “Russianness” in the self-perception of the predominantly Orthodox population of Ukraine. A canonical recognition of these processes is of no importance to their initiators. This is why Bolshevik-like methods of quashing dissent, the use of force through radical paramilitary groups, and total control of mass media by the presidential administration are welcomed.

 

WHAT IS THE REASON FOR THE UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES’ PRESSURE?

The president of Ukraine is justifying his interference (in violation of Article 35 of the Ukrainian Constitution) in inter-confessional relations by the need to “create a truly Ukrainian Church,” and explaining the persecution of the largest confession in the country by national security concerns. Today issues of inter-confessional relations in Ukraine are subject to systemic political usurpation by the state. The ideologists of Ukraine’s “emancipation” from Russia and the interested part of the Ukrainian oligarchs stop at nothing. Their purpose is to turn religious organizations into an instrument for creating a new identity based on the rejection of historical kinship of the East Slavic Orthodox mega-ethnos which formed during the establishment and development of Russian statehood in the 9th-10th centuries, with Kiev as its center. At a time when state institutions in Ukraine are steadily degrading, pro-totalitarian practices are coming back to life, and society is living through an unprecedented identity crisis, in the run-up to the election, the head of state, with the support rating nearing the statistical margin of error, decided to challenge one of the core elements of his nation’s identity—the canonical Orthodox Church.  

What is particularly sad is that this farce has coincided with the centenary of the persecution of the Orthodox Church and the martyrly death of Metropolitan Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky) of Kiev and Galicia. While almost a century ago it was the Cheka and the OGPU that had been tasked with creating a new quasi-church, now it is the structures controlled by Pyotr Poroshenko. The Justice Ministry has cancelled the decision to hand over the Pochaev Lavra of the Dormition to the Russian Orthodox Church and returned it to the Krements-Pochaev Reserve. A politically-motivated inventory of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra’s property has been conducted, and the house of Metropolitan Pavel of Vyshgorod and Chernobyl, the vicar of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, has been searched in gross violation of Ukraine’s Code of Criminal Procedure. The Holy Dormition Lavra in Svyatogorsk was in a zone of martial law the whole of December 2018 due to a decision adopted by the ruling regime. Shortly before a new “Church” was created, the Verkhovna Rada, on December 20, 2018, adopted a law which obligated the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) to change its name in a way that would clearly identify its connection with the Russian Orthodox Church. The document gave the canonical Church four months to change the name and amend its charter. Clearly, the authorities and representatives of uncanonical structures had promised Phanariotes to do their job by hook or by crook and transfer the overwhelming majority of UOC communities into the “autocephalous” camp.

For the most radical part of Poroshenko’s electorate, the struggle against canonical Orthodoxy goes hand in hand with the overpowering desire to integrate into Euro-Atlantic structures. The president’s deep involvement in inter-confessional relations was no more than a part of political spin machinery amid the political meltdown in Ukraine. The authorities are trying to make up for the “lack of Europeanness” in their foreign and social agendas by correcting cultural processes for the sake of the more zealous Western Ukrainian minority. Given the important culture-conveying role of the church, the Ukrainian authorities have undertaken to merge the regime with uncanonical Orthodox structures, the so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which are used from time to time as political organizations acting behind a religious façade. 

For the authorities who see the church as a political instrument, it is also a way to disorient disloyal citizens and undermine one of the fundamental elements of their cultural identity, and a means of legitimizing the regime that came to power unconstitutionally in 2014. The more the opponents of canonical Orthodoxy became aware of their impunity in confrontation with its advocates, the greater was their desire to marginalize the UOC socially and politically. This attitude towards the historical church of their own people was initially shared by a considerable part of pro-Maidan political forces. Naturally, a conflict with canonical Orthodoxy will push the state towards further disintegration because the UOC headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine is the dominating confession in all parts of the country, with the exception of three Galician regions, and the only institution which continues to attend to believers across Ukraine within its borders of 1991. The authorities have chosen to disregard the peacemaking potential of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine which has been gripped by a bloody conflict for the fifth consecutive year. Long-term consequences are not so important if the inter-confessional confrontation can guarantee the resolution of several tasks, such as keeping up the desirable intensity of conflict in society, demoralizing political opponents, and distracting the electorate from domestic and foreign policy failures.

The irony is that the confrontation with the largest traditional confession not only discredits the ruling class in the eyes of at least half of the country’s population but also paves the way for final deinstitutionalization of Ukraine’s statehood.

In a bid to solidify its influence, the Patriarchate of Constantinople took under its wing the uncanonical Greek Catholic Church in Canada in 1990 and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States in 1995, but until recently Phanariotes’ expansionism never touched Ukraine. The inviolability of the UOC’s jurisdiction was borne out by the failure of Victor Yushchenko’s autocephaly initiative in 2008, which was the first major attempt by the “orange” regime to bring Phanariotes into “the Ukrainian church issue” ahead of the celebrations in Kiev marking the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’. Patriarch Bartholomew I had to explain publicly that the president’s initiative could not be implemented due to the Orthodox Church canons because the Phanar at that time recognized the canonical jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan).

Despite pressure on the UOC from the ruling regime and its undisguised lobbying for the interests of schismatic structures after the events of 2014, the Phanar until 2018 demonstrated full loyalty to Ukraine’s primate, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry who became the head of the UOC on August 17, 2014. In June 2016, the very same coalition in the Verkhovna Rada, whose appeal would lead to Constantinople’s massive attack on the “uncanonical act of 1686” two years later, responded to Pyotr Poroshenko’s initiative and asked Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to void this act and grant autocephaly to Ukraine (the state!). Reverend Alexander Karloutsos of the American Archdiocese publicly said then that the Patriarchate of Constantinople would leave this issue to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, emphasizing the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarch recognized Patriarch Kirill as the only spiritual leader of all Russia, which naturally meant all Ukraine as well.

At the same time, experts note that if some observer were listening to Patriarch Bartholomew I’s public statements today, he would definitely think that there was some “Ukrainian Church” in Ukraine which until recently was uncanonical for some reason, that the Moscow Patriarchate had refused to recognize its independence, and that the Phanar had simply solved this problem. Clearly, Patriarch Bartholomew I’s position is supported by the overwhelming majority of the country’s Orthodox believers. So the situation is presented in such a way as if there were no canonical head of the UOC, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, or the canonical UOC episcopacy recognized by all local churches, or tens of millions of its parishioners.

 

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DECLARED “AUTOCEPHALY”
FOR UNIVERSAL ORTHODOXY?

From the point of view of canon law, the Orthodox Church is an organic unity of all the local Orthodox Churches which are in full communion with each other and have a common church hierarchy that dates back to Christ and the apostles. The administrative organization of the church is irrelevant. Decentralization of the Orthodoxy management system stimulated the formation of local churches which are bound together by doctrinal and liturgical uniformity. Churches may have either autocephalous or autonomous status.

In Ukraine, Universal Orthodoxy is represented solely by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry (Berezovsky) of Kiev and All Ukraine. The UOC has broad autonomy and internal self-government within the full scope of the Russian Orthodox Church. Until recently, the legitimacy of this status was unconditionally recognized by all local churches including the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The UOC, therefore, was and is the local church of the people of Ukraine. When it comes to possible autocephaly, it must be said that from the ecclesiological point of view any party interested in the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine needs two things. First, it needs the consent of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is the mother church with regard to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Second, it needs the UOC Synod’s intention to make its church autocephalous. The UOC did not request autocephaly and did not authorize anyone to make such requests. Purely theoretically, autocephaly in Ukraine would mean changing the canonical status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This issue can be discussed, but it must be solved by the Church itself without any interference on the part of the state.

The UOC has been consistently advocating unity with the Moscow Patriarchate as there are no canonical reasons for breaking it. On June 25, 2018, UOC hierarchs met at the Kiev Pechersk Lavra to discuss the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s possible decision to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. They reiterated their desire to preserve the present status and unity with the Russian Orthodox Church. Otherwise, they admonished, the UOC would lose part of its rights which were granted to it by the Moscow Patriarchate in its Tomos of 1990. The top hierarchs unanimously adopted a statement reiterating that the current status was self-sufficient for the UOC to carry out its mission among the people of Ukraine fruitfully and efficiently.

Autocephaly is granted only to canonical structures recognized by other local churches. As of the time of Phanariotes’ meddling in the “Ukrainian issue,” there elementary was no subject to which such autocephaly could have been granted. The Orthodox Church has a horizontal decision-making system, not a vertical one as in the Vatican, with the Pope at the top. If Constantinople makes a decision, it has to be recognized by all local churches. The Patriarchate of Constantinople can grant autocephaly relatively painlessly only to a church which is within its canonical jurisdiction. 

Therefore, the very fact that the Phanar appointed exarchs to Ukraine is a gross violation of canonical law and constitutes direct interference in another jurisdiction. Constantinople also made a unilateral decision to abrogate the fully canonical act of 1686 which restored the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church broken in 1458. In canonical terms, the statute of limitation for such disputes is three decades, while more than 330 years have already passed since then (let alone the fact that the borders of the Kievan Metropolis have changed substantially since the end of the 17th century and barely coincide with the boundaries of the UOC’s jurisdiction, covering only a small part of it). The establishment of stauropegions to be subsequently controlled through the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s exarchs can be regarded as an attempt to create strongholds for Phanariotes, that is, a parallel jurisdiction within another canonical territory, with the aim of seizing a large part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s property.

The self-proclaimed Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Kiev patriarchate have never been part of Universal Orthodoxy and, therefore, have never had canonical status. According to Rule 5 of the Second Ecumenical Council, those excommunicated by one bishop must not be received by another. And yet, the Phanar legalized both of the uncanonical structures. From the canonical point of view, a schism can only be mended through repentance. Punishment can be lifted by a consensus decision of an all-Orthodox Council or the Church which imposed it, in this case, the Russian Orthodox Church. The conclusion is that a canonical structure cannot be created by uncanonical methods. Otherwise, it will automatically become uncanonical. So the Tomos, signed in violation of the Orthodox Church canons, has no canonical force from the ecclesiological point of view.

As a result, the internal division of Orthodoxy in Ukraine has developed into a full-blown schism of the Universal Orthodox Church. What is even sadder is that a violation of the Ukrainian Constitution and glaring ecclesiological lawlessness are presented to society as “unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy.” Owing to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, not only has the schism in Orthodoxy remained in place but it has become deeper. Unification could take place but through the dissenters’ repentance, not through “autocephaly” at the hands of Bartholomew I. As it is, all bridges between confessions have been burnt and relations completely spoiled by ongoing repressions against the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. 

 It was clear from the very beginning that a hypothetical confrontation between the Constantinople and Moscow patriarchates would put an end to the Orthodox Church’s unity. The Tomos issued unilaterally can trigger serious disintegration processes with unpredictable long-term consequences for the Universal Orthodox Church. 

 

WHAT were the MOTIVES FOR THE ECUMENICAL PATRIARCHATE’S ACTIONS?

Foreign policy factors without a doubt prevailed over internal ones in the Phanariotes’ decision to change their strategy. If it had not been for relatively favorable circumstances, no one would have taken the risk of legalizing the schism in Ukraine. In fact, the issue of canonical jurisdiction over the territory of present-day Ukraine was not on the inter-Orthodox agenda. Until the fall of 2018, the canonical illegitimacy of anathematized Philaret had never been questioned by any of the local churches including Constantinople. Likewise, the legitimacy of the canonical local church of the Ukrainian people had never been an issue either for Universal Orthodoxy or the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians, with the exception of the so-called nationalist members of society, most of whom are from Greek Catholic Galicia, but their radical political views have never been supported by more than one-third of people, even after the events of 2013-2014.

Nevertheless, the split in Ukraine’s Orthodox Church became an element of the geopolitical process when three factors coincided: the favorable position assumed by the United States, where most of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s eparchies are located, with regard to Poroshenko’s anti-constitutional initiative; the political willingness of the Turkish Republic’s Directorate of Religious Affairs to “bless” the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s demarche; and most importantly, the full readiness of the Phanar itself to start a confrontation with the Russian Orthodox Church and even go as far as dividing Universal Orthodoxy. Ankara could have played a crucial role in containing Phanariotes at some point, considering Turkey’s semi-autonomous status in the political process and the level of disagreements between the Phanar and the Turkish presidency (presumably a result of the relationship between Patriarch Bartholomew I and Fethullah Gulen).

One can say with a high degree of probability that it was the position of the U.S. Department of State and the American Embassy in Ukraine that had prompted Phanariotes to take a harder stance. It is unlikely that the Ecumenical Patriarchate would have risked interfering in another jurisdiction or ignoring canonical norms so blatantly, especially given the fact that most members of other local Orthodox Churches dislike all sorts of turmoil. Former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, Secretary of State and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, and personally U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch played an important part in this process. It is very telling that Philaret has recently decorated former CIS chief Jack Devine with an order. One could assume that the American Archdiocese, headed by Archbishop Demetrios (Trakatellis), so necessary but so “problematic” for Phanariotes, was a factor that traditionally played a key role in the American pressure on Constantinople. The “autocephaly for Ukraine” process was accompanied in all stages by Washington’s systemic approach, which included regular visits by U.S. government officials to both Ukraine and Turkey as was openly announced by pro-government Ukrainian mass media.

Nevertheless, the very logic of Constantinople’s actions leads one to think that the artificially created “Kiev knot of contradictions” is an important part of a project aimed at launching the process of global Orthodoxy “reformatting” in accordance with the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s vision, which means making it the only center of the Orthodox world by the primus sine paribus formula, that is, “first without equals,” instead of the current “primacy of honor.” Efforts to promote the concept of Panhellenism among the churches of the Greek tradition and Constantinople’s self-identification as an heir of the bygone Byzantine Empire also play a role, including political and theological claims.

This is borne out by the Phanar’s persistent idea of asserting the primacy of Constantinople, the Second Rome, by reorganizing the Orthodox Church, following the Vatican’s example, for the sake of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This strategy seems to include steps to downplay the historical role of the largest Russian Orthodox Church and forcibly reduce its area of operation to that of the “Orthodox Church in the Russian Federation.”

One can already see that the process unfolding around the so-called “Ukrainian autocephaly” as an element of the forced “geopoliticization” of Orthodoxy can catalyze a collapse of the civilizational paradigm and destroy the unity of the Universal Orthodox Church in much the same way it happened during the Great Schism of 1054. Phanariotes’ peremptory approach rules out any constructive dialogue almost entirely. The deep crisis caused by this approach has already warped inter-Orthodox communication and may lead to radical changes in the entire Orthodox Church in a not so distant future. Some churches are trying to engage in “strategic maneuvering,” but Constantinople’s intensified efforts may force sister churches to make a clear choice in the absence of attempts to cure the ailment but especially if the split deepens. The forces interested in deepening the schism between Orthodox Churches will never stop trying to make this process irreversible. So it is highly unlikely that the current confrontation can end bloodlessly by restoring the status quo acceptable to all.

 

WHAT ARE THE RESULTS OF THE FIRST FEW MONTHS?

Things have not been going as planned by the initiators. Efforts to create a united Orthodox Church and acquire canonical autocephaly did not initially succeed. The authorities’ master plan—to influence the canonical Russian Orthodox Church recognized by the full power of Universal Orthodoxy—has failed. A snowballing voluntary transition of UOC parishes under the control of a doubtful structure so much expected by the supporters of autocephaly was impossible in principle from the very beginning. The situation has actually produced the opposite effect to some extent by mobilizing the UOC which is now showing enviable firmness in adhering to its canonical status. In fact, believers have rallied around it, thus proving that this is the only institution in present-day Ukraine which is able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people within a short time. Annual cross processions attended by hundreds of thousands of believers clearly demonstrate the possibilities of the canonical Orthodox Church. 

At this point, the newly created confession is by 75 percent a rebranded version of the uncanonical “Kiev patriarchate” within the framework of the self-governed part of the Church of Constantinople which has not been recognized by any of the existing local Orthodox Churches, but the Phanar. On February 3, none of the Orthodox hierarchs attended Epiphanius’ “enthronization,” with the exception of representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. However, it was attended by Ukrainian top officials, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Protestant organizations, which is quite telling all by itself. In some mysterious way, even “honorable patriarch” Philaret did not come to witness the enthronization of his “primate.” Several local Orthodox Churches have already said that they will not recognize the hierarchy of the “new Church” and will not co-perform with its “clergy.” Other churches are insisting on a pan-Orthodox dialogue to discuss the Ukrainian issue. These are not some bitter misunderstandings associated with the establishment of a “new Church” but a legitimate result. In fact, a Church cannot be based on a political surrogate.

Clearly, the creation of a new confession has been extremely politicized. It was not transparent, no discussions were held prior to the “unification council,” and even the heads of schismatic structures repeatedly admitted during interviews that they had not been notified. The question of heir in the “Kiev patriarchate” was of strategic importance from the very beginning because Philaret is too notorious and troublesome even for Constantinople with its current position on the Ukrainian issue. Philaret’s ambitions for a long time did not allow Phanariotes to establish communication between the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev patriarchate” and the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.” And yet the actual head of the new structure is not the “newly elected primate,” Epiphanius (Dumenko), but “the patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev patriarchate,” Philaret. The mastermind of the UOC division in 1992, Philaret has been obstinately insisting that he “was, is and will be the patriarch” and will share his power with Epiphanius. “I am the patriarch in Ukraine. There is dual power: there is the patriarch and there is the primate,” he said. Moreover, speaking in his usual manner, “the patriarch” said he was not worried in the slightest by the fact that the new Church had not been recognized by local churches.

On January 30, the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” was officially listed in the state register under a dual name: “Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church of Ukraine).” The official name of the legal entity—“Kiev Metropolis of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church of Ukraine)”—is identical to the current name of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. But in reality little has changed after the triple renaming of the structure in mass media. Initially it was the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev patriarchate” which was then changed to the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church of Ukraine).” Apparently, the authorities will try to camouflage the expansion of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and use the new registered structure for seizing the churches and property of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. 

Given the ill fate that has been accompanying all schisms, I cannot rule out further fragmentation in the future. Despite their ideological flexibility, it will not be easy for the structures of the former “Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev patriarchate” and the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” to co-exist under Constantinople’s wing. External influence will be the main deterrent against further splits/transitions in the future. One can assume that when Philaret is gone, the traditional flexibility towards dogmas demonstrated by the uncanonical “clergy of the Kiev patriarchate,” proselytism, and patriarchal ambitions of the supreme archbishop-cardinal of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Svyatoslav (Shevchuk), may in the long run boost the influence of Greek Catholics. The Phanar is unlikely to show any interest in low-tier conflicts as the Patriarchate of Constantinople is firmly determined to control its brainchild which has very limited rights. In the short term, Phanariotes will continue their stauropegial bargaining with the regime with which they have chosen to cooperate.

Any normalization of relations between the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the newly-created structure is out of the question in the foreseeable future. The situation will be further compounded by a national identity crisis among Ukrainians. If the state oversteps the remaining red lines, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will call for peaceful civil disobedience. Naturally, Constantinople will not be able to downplay the key role of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, but in the absence of necessary support in such a dire situation, the historical church of the people of Ukraine, which has been around as the main confession since Christianization by Prince Vladimir in 988, may have to don the garb of martyrly church for many years to come. On the other hand, I will dare assume that even in the worst-case scenario the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church is unlikely to lose more than five to ten percent of its parishes. This situation will change depending on the circumstances, but if the parties of the political “south-east” restore their representation in the Verkhovna Rada at least partly, the state’s interference in inter-confessional relations will be halted.

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