A book entitled The Kyiv Patriarchate — the Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church: A Historical-Canonical Declaration (issued by the publishing department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate [UOC-KP]) was published after the Episcopal Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate was held in April of this year. This is a small but very informative encyclopedia for believers and atheists, and Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians, which highlights the thorny path of Ukrainian Orthodoxy toward the establishment of a Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church fully recognized by Ecumenical Orthodoxy. At the end of the book there is a list of hierarchs of the Kyiv Patriarchate — the Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus’-Ukraine Filaret and 33 bishops, which attests to their accord with the text of the Declaration.
In a succinct and logical manner the Declaration presents the most important ecclesiastical-theological topics, historical events, and canonical rules that in one way or another are connected with the contemporary problems of the efforts of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate to obtain Ecumenical recognition — the status of an autocephalous (self-governed) church. This is a very complicated theological issue that may be traced back to ancient times, those layers of Christian life that do not always blend unambiguously with contemporary life. For separate churches the lack of a clear theological “formula,” the conditions for granting autocephaly to the church that was absorbed by another, remains a painful problem.
In order to underline the complexity of this problem, one can mention that in the late 1st millennium the following formula was consistently recognized: “God resolved that His Church be governed by five patriarchs — those of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.” There “could not be” any other independent Christian churches. Later, when national churches started to form, the problem of granting autocephaly remained canonically unregulated, and it remains the same today. This is the reason why there has not been a single independent church in world Orthodoxy (besides the Eastern patriarchates mentioned above) which gained its independence easily and immediately: either the Mother-Church or other churches do not recognize them.
The Ecumenical Orthodox Council, which has the right to settle this problem, has not been convened for more than a thousand years. Evil tongues say that one of the reasons behind this epochal delay is the unwillingness to broach the problem of new, independent churches. For example, why should the Russian Orthodox Church promote the convening of the next Ecumenical Synod (the last, Seventh Synod, recognized by the Orthodox, took place in 787) where rules for recognizing the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate would be adopted?
The compilers of the book The Kyiv Patriarchate — the Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church have collected and laconically described the very part of the history of Christianity that is linked to the granting (or non-granting) of autocephaly to independent churches. The Mother-Church has always shown reluctance, procrastination, and objections to granting spiritual freedom to one nation or another.
Everyone knows the historical fate of Ukrainian autocephaly. The independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has always rested on Ukraine’s independence and has at all times been a reflection of the country’s political status (or lack of it.) A genuine opportunity emerged in the early 1990s, but as usual, Ukrainians did not take advantage of it — neither Ukrainian politicians (who at the time did not understand what kind of political mine they were placing under the shaky temple of the country’s independence) nor the Ukrainian Orthodox hierarchs, who were “outdone” by the Moscow Church on their own territory.
All this is described in the new book, which will be distributed free of charge according to a decision of the Episcopal Synod of the UOC-KP and translated into Russian and other languages. The book will unquestionably help everyone understand the views of the Kyiv Patriarchate on the main causes behind the division of the Ukrainian Church and this church’s aspirations for recognition. The bishops, clergy, and members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) as well as the government administration will be acquainted with the Declaration. The book will also be sent to the patriarchs of all the Local Orthodox Churches in the world. The book will also be studied in theological educational institutions of the UOC-KP, as it contains much historical information and numerous quotations from the Church Fathers.
What I liked most about the Declaration was its beautiful language and the numerous historical digressions and references to ancient and modern theologians. For example, in the chapter entitled “A Brief Description of the Declaration of Autocephaly of Local Churches” the compiler quotes the 4th and 6th rules of the Ecumenical Synods, which state that the ecclesiastical-administrative order should correspond to the state order. History, however, proves that the preponderant majority of contemporary autocephalous churches have maintained their independence with great difficulty. Even the mighty Muscovite Church did not have official status as a Local Church for a period of 140 years.
The chapter devoted to anathematizing in the ancient Church is fascinating. In Saint Augustine’s time there were two types of excommunication: “therapeutic” and “lethal.” For the sake of ecclesiastical peace the Church frequently softened its laws by preserving the priesthood and even episcopal dignity of heretics and schismatics. St. John Chrysostom (the Golden-Tongued) believed that no one should be subjected to an anathema. He says in his homily On the Impossibility of Cursing neither the Living nor the Dead: “But who are you to assume the right to curse and such a great power?”
After the Declaration was ready for print, full information appeared on the “reunification” of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church abroad. The word “raskol” (schism) which used to characterize the relations between these sister-churches was replaced by the phrase “former separation.” This act of the reconciliation of the two churches, which were enemies for 90 years, cursed each other ex cathedra, did not recognize each other’s consecrations or even baptisms, and then suddenly reconciled with each other, could become a pattern of relations between the Moscow Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — of course, without “re-unification” this time. But this will not happen because Moscow is always eager only to absorb.