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Ukraine’s parliament appeals to Bartholomew: a historic step

Viktor YELENSKY: “I expect the Ecumenical Patriarch to be able to bring into play the procedure of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church”
22 June, 2016 - 18:03

“Hurrah! 245 votes for! On June 16 the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” MP Serhii Vysotsky commented on Facebook on the resolution the parliament passed that Thursday.

This parliamentary decision is a historic step that increases chances for the establishment of a local Ukrainian church. The Day has already published a front-page article on this subject – “Patriarch Bartholomew: a Chance to Make History” (No. 38, June 14, 2016).

In spite of stiff resistance from the Russian Orthodox Church, which is doing its utmost to prevent the emergence of a united and independent church in Ukraine and is undermining the right of the Constantinople Patriarchate to be the leader of the Orthodox world, Ukrainian Orthodoxy and Patriarch Bartholomew have a certain goal to achieve. But this requires a strenuous effort on the part of Ukrainian Orthodoxy to unite and strengthen the positions of the Ukrainian church and on the part of the Constantinople Patriarchate to restore historical justice and show real clout in its relations with the Russian church.

Of course, there is no unity in relations between the Ukrainian Orthodox churches, but parliament’s decision to appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch is a very strong and right step. But this should be followed by a great deal of spiritual, cultural, and educational work. The Verkhovna Rada is thereby requesting the Ecumenical Patriarch:

♦ to pronounce as invalid the 1686 Act, for it was adopted with a breach of the Orthodox Church’s holy canons [by this act, Moscow withdrew the Kyiv Patriarchate from the jurisdiction of Constantinople. – Author];

♦ to take an active part in overcoming the consequences of the church rift by convening, under the aegis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, an all-Ukrainian unifying council which would settle all disputes and unify Ukrainian Orthodoxy;

♦ for the benefit of the Orthodox church in Ukraine and for the sake of the Ukrainian people’s integrity, to issue an edict on granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, on the basis of which the latter could occupy a proper place in the family of local Orthodox churches.

On his part, Patriarch Bartholomew has also displayed decisiveness. Although the Antiochian, Bulgarian, Georgian, and, what is more, Russian (the largest) churches refused to take part in the Pan-Orthodox Council (on June 16-27 in Crete), the Ecumenical Patriarch said on the eve that this historic meeting of church leaders – the first of this kind in more than a thousand years – would take place in any case. Incidentally, the Serbs, who at first refused to take part in the Council, changed their mind at the last minute, deciding that the Serbian Orthodox Church will be represented in Crete.

The participants in the Council, which has been prepared for almost half a century, are to discuss six topics: relations between the Orthodox Church and the rest of the Christian world, the fast, the marriage, the church mission in today’s world, patronage over Orthodoxy in diaspora, and the ways of proclaiming the autonomy of Orthodox Churches. The Council is also expected to issue a message.

Viktor YELENSKY, Member of Parliament, religion researcher, coauthor of the abovementioned parliamentary resolution, comments on the importance of the Ukrainian parliament’s appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch and on whether Patriarch Bartholomew will decide to raise the “Ukrainian question” at the Pan-Orthodox Council:

“This is the first time the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is formally requesting the Ecumenical Patriarch, the world’s No.1 Orthodox hierarch, to grant full independence to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. This appeal received solid support in parliament, with only the Opposition Bloc voting unanimously against. I think this address is absolutely on time because, whatever is being discussed today, it boils down, one way or another, to Ukraine and to attempts to wreck the Pan-Orthodox Council, where the ‘Ukrainian question’ is playing a very important role.

“I expect the Ecumenical Patriarch to be able to bring into play the procedure of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Obviously, this will be a complicated and perhaps long procedure, but it must be started in a constructive key. I hope Patriarch Bartholomew will finally take this step, although he is bound to face relentless pressure. In all probability, there will be an all-out effort to thwart these aspirations. Even when we were only drawing up this address, certain circles put up fierce resistance. In particular, this caused a very nervous and harsh reaction from the Moscow Patriarchate. This means that the Moscow patriarchy is still walking on a beaten path. They think that the Russian leadership can and must interfere into religious matters, but they deny this right to the Ukrainian authorities, including parliament.

“As for autocephaly, it is not only about the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate, although the parliamentary appeal mentions the Kyiv Patriarchate’s efforts to make the Orthodox Church in Ukraine independent. We also know that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, also has some very wide circles that favor independence of this church, and it is very difficult to explain to its clergy that it is immoral to perform today a funeral service for a soldier killed in a battle with the Russian aggression and to extol the Moscow Patriarchate the next day in a liturgy. There may be different mechanisms and formats of recognizing autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and let us leave this to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s discretion. The main thing is that this process should begin and all the interested parties should take part in it.

“Naturally, we are not clapping our hands because the Russian Orthodox Church is not participating in the Pan-Orthodox Council, although the absence of four churches signals a serious problem for Orthodoxy – some very important issues, which needed to be discussed at a council, have remained out of canonical sight for 50 or even more years. Essentially, all we have to do is show the unity of Orthodoxy, but some Orthodox churches have proved unable to do so.”

By Ivan KAPSAMUN, The Day