President Petro Poroshenko intends to ask the Archbishop of Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, to approve autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and is urging the Verkhovna Rada to support his initiative. Mr. Poroshenko made a statement to this effect at a meeting with the leaders of VR factions. He informed that he had met with Patriarch Bartholomew and members of the Synod.
“As President, I made the decision to ask His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to issue a decree establishing an independent – or local autocephalous – Church,” he said and called on the Verkhovna Rada for support: “I would appreciate it if the esteemed colleagues did so, because there are things that unite us, because President is a representative of the Ukrainian people, just as Parliament represents the people, and so Parliament should support my appeal as soon as possible.”
Mr. Poroshenko made it clear that Ukraine has never been closer to the creation of an autocephalous local Church: “Three and two years ago, I tried to raise the matter of recognition of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Local Church. Now I can share with you the good news that Ukraine has come as close to the appearance of ALC as never before. Evidence of this is the stand taken by both the Ecumenical Patriarch and members of the Synod. I am in no position to disclose every detail of that meeting, but the absolutely necessary key elements of the process were agreed upon.”
At present, the so-called canonical status belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Bessarabian Metropolitan See of the Romanian Orthodox Church. No such status for the UOC of the Kyiv Patriarchate or the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. This situation causes unrest among the parishioners. There is a political aspect to this religious matter, considering that Russia is using the Moscow Patriarchate’s influence in Ukraine for imperial and political propaganda.
Says religious scholar Liudmyla FYLYPOVYCH: “The president is doing what he must do, urging this society to get united in various spheres, including in the religious domain. However, there is the correct question: Will our churches be able to unite? My answer is a decisive no at the present stage. This unity makes no sense for the truly patriotic Ukrainian churches as they share the same stand in the matter, and they normally coexist. The problem is the Moscow Patriarchate. There is a degree of schism there, with some showing a patriotic stand and others taking orders from Moscow. Those ‘upstairs’ can sign any agreements, but the question remains: How will this affect the mid-level churches, how will their religious communities respond? I once asked Metropolitan Volodymyr Sabodan [head of UOC MP]: ‘What is there to prevent you from uniting with the Kyiv Patriarchate?’ He replied, ‘We could do so today, but what the believers will say?’ I think that our religious communities aren’t prepared for this unity. Mr. Poroshenko has made the right move, but the process will take time.”