Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 16.12.2018
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine: that is the official name of the new, united, independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. His Beatitude Epifaniy, Metropolitan of Kyiv and all Ukraine: that is the official title of the new Primate, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The name and the title were announced on December 15 in Kyiv, the day and the place where Ukraine’s Orthodox believers restored their church to its rightful state and threw off the last hold that Muscovy imperialism had in the mind-set of the Ukrainian nation.
A unification council was held in Kyiv on Saturday, December 15 to bring together Orthodox believers in Ukraine from three different churches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine of the Moscow Patriarchate. The purpose of the Synod was to restore the Orthodox Church of Ukraine – to bring it back to the way it was before 1686. That’s when the Orthodox Church of Ukraine last was united, independent, and autocephalous (chosing its own head). 1686 is the year that the Archbishop of Constantinople was coerced into moving the seat of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – the Metropolitan – from Kyiv into the hands of foreigners in Moscow. A great wrong and a national tragedy that has lasted for 332 years has been righted.
The Synod that restored the Orthodox Church of Ukraine elected a Primate. His religious name is Epifaniy (Epiphanius in Greek) and his secular name is Serhiy Dumenko. Epifaniy was until yesterday the Metropolitan of Pereyaslav and Bila Tserkva, a Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate. He is 39 years old, was born in a village in Odesa region, and was educated in theology in Kyiv and in Greece. He has no background in the Moscow Patriarchate which these days is a de facto arm of Kremlin power. Epifaniy speaks modern Greek, and can converse with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, without an interpreter.
During the 2013-14 Revolution of Dignity, Epifaniy was notable among the Kyiv Patriarchate priests giving comfort and protection to the Ukrainian people during their months-long defence against the violence of the Yanukovych regime. Epifaniy had a mentor in Patriarch Filaret, who was the head of the now-merged Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate. In choosing the much younger Epifaniy over 89-year-old Patriarch Filaret, the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine have chosen a man who is untainted by ties to the nightmare years of the Soviet Union criminal occupation regime in Ukraine. He was neither a dissident nor a collaborator, as he was just a child when the Soviet Union collapsed.
The purpose of the Synod in Kyiv on December 15 was unity. Epifaniy is a figure that Orthodox believers in Ukraine can unite around with enthusiasm because he is young, diplomatic, and devout. Even non-religious Ukrainians take great joy in seeing a whole and national Orthodox church restored, with a man from the post-Soviet generation leading it. In a tweet, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gave an all-embracing perspective on an autocephalous Orthodox church: “Today – a common holiday of Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims. In short, for all who value the freedom of Ukraine and its independence. No patriot doubts the importance of having an independent Orthodox church in an independent state.”
With the establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the last effective vestige of Muscovy imperialism in Ukraine withers away. Since the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine is undergoing decommunization, which started by removing the hate propaganda of the names and symbols of the criminal totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has reformed education, revived the Ukrainian language, moved towards integration with the European Union and NATO, and rebuilt the army to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Now Ukraine has restored the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, whose origins go back more than a millennium. The head of this church is a son of free and independent Ukraine. The substance and profundity of what has just happened in Ukraine cannot be overstated.