Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 17.10.2018
After a long, patient wait of 332 years, the reunification of the Orthodox church in Ukraine is proceeding rapidly in Kyiv and in Istanbul. Believers and unbelievers alike are uplifted in Ukraine, at the prospect of seeing a local, self-governing, unified, and national church emerging in a matter of weeks or months. This is not merely a religious renaissance for Ukrainians, but a momentous and final step in Ukraine’s path to Europe and to the West. Autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is liberation from colonial oppression by Muscovy.
On October 11, the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced that autocephaly will be granted to the Church of Ukraine. The priests and monks and hierophants and bishops and archbishops in Ukraine will chose the head of their own Church, to be the Metropolitan of Kyiv. This is the way things have been in Kyiv and its surrounding lands since the Baptism of Rus’ in the year 988. There was a break in autocephaly that began 332 years ago, but the announcement by the Ecumenical Patriarchate revoked the Synodal letter of 1686 that illegally passed the Metropolitan of Kyiv to the control of Moscow. The ‘capital’ of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is returning to where it belongs.
Another of the announcements by the Synod was that the Ecumenical Patriarch (who is now Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople), will establish a Stavropegion in Kyiv. A Stavropegion is an institution such as a monastery which falls under the direct authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and not to an intermediate hierarch. Picking up on this announcement, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, is proposing to transfer a famous church in Kyiv to permanent use by the Ecumenical Patriarch.
President Poroshenko’s representative in the Verkhovna Rada, Iryna Lutsenko, said on October 16 that a bill will be introduced in Ukraine’s parliament to to transfer St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv to be a Stavropegial institution. St. Andrew’s Church is a prominent landmark in Kyiv, sitting on the top of a hill overlooking the lower town called Podil. Churches have been on this hill since the time of Kyivan Rus’. Legend says the Apostle Andrew erected a cross on this site in the 1st century A.D. and prophesied that a great city would spring up on the banks of the Dnipro river. The current church was constructed in 1767 and is a stunning example of Baroque architecture.
Choosing St. Andrew’s Church to be transferred to permanent use by the Ecumenical Patriarch has added poignancy because only 100 metres away are the ruins of the Church of the Tithes. This church was the first stone church in Kyiv, built immediately after the Baptism of Rus’ by Volodymyr the Great. It was completely destroyed by Mongol invader-occupiers in 1240. A church rebuilt in the 19th century was completely destroyed by Soviet Russian invader-occupiers in 1928. If it still existed, the Church of the Tithes would belong to the Metropolitan of Kyiv, in communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church following the rite of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Just as it was a millennium ago.
Russo-centric commentators about autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church focus what it means to the Russian Orthodox Church and to the Russian Federation. But all of that has very little to do with the meaning of autocephaly for Ukrainians. With the restoration of the Metropolitan of Kyiv and the unification of the church in Ukraine under that head, the centre of gravity of the Orthodox Christian world is shifting to Kyiv and to Constantinople. Moscow is isolated, because the Russian Orthodox Church has withdrawn from communion with world-wide Eastern Orthodoxy and because the Russian Federation is an international pariah for invading and waging war against Ukraine.
The thoughts and feelings of Ukrainians are inspired by the zenith of Ukraine’s power, the time of Volodymyr the Great and the Baptism of Rus’. Kyiv and Constantinople were the metropoles of the civilized West. Muscovy did not yet exist and therefore had not begun to usurp the name and legacy of Rus’. The Ukrainian perspective on a tomos of autocephaly being received in 2018 is that it is as momentous as when their ancestors went down to the banks of the River Dnipro in 988. That’s where they left their life as pagans behind and became congregants in a new religion under their own prince and under their own bishops. Autocephaly is the lifeblood of free and independent Ukraine.