Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 07.01.2019
On Christmas Eve by the Julian calendar, the Archbishop of Constantinople handed over to the Metropolitan of Kyiv a tomos of autocephaly and a bishop’s staff. With that, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was restored to a canonical status that it has enjoyed for over a millennium. The illegal Russian annexation of the church in Ukraine, that had lasted for over 330 years, is at an end.
On Orthodox Christmas, January 7, a service will be held in Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv, where the document will be displayed that grants canonical authority to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine under its self-chosen head, Epifaniy.
The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, was in St. George’s Cathedral in Istanbul to witness history. He sent a joyful tweet on the occasion: “Today the dream of generations of Ukrainians for autocephaly has come true for our church. Today, in the place we were with God, and we felt it and asked Him blessings, mercy, and peace for Ukraine.”
In an interview with the Greek newspaper TaNea, President Poroshenko contrasted his view that autocephaly is a gain for the soul of the Ukrainian nation with Putin’s view that autocephaly is a loss for the imperial power of Russia. “All Moscow's claims concern the authorities and control over the territory, not faith and love,” he said. President Poroshenko pointed out that in Moscow the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is discussed at the Russian Security Council under the chairmanship of Putin.
By making such a big deal of what is a matter of individual belief for people in another country, Putin has set himself up for defeat. “When the Russian President says that the collapse of the USSR became the main geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century for Russia, the independent Ukrainian church would become the second," said President Poroshenko. The Russian Orthodox Church was the last remaining instrument to keep Ukraine in subjection pithing the Russian world." The Kremlin has lost one of its most powerful tools of hybrid aggression against Ukraine. An independent, self-governing, Orthodox Church in Ukraine deprives the Russian Federation of opportunities to wage war against Ukraine beyond the Donbas battlefront to the Home Front of Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion.
Newly-elected on 15 December 2018, the primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is Serhii Dumenko, who chose the religious name Epifaniy. On New Year’s Eve, Metropolitan Epifaniy tweeted (translated from Ukrainian): “May the New Year’s God’s blessings give us hope for the glorious completion of the war in the east of Ukraine, the return of annexed Crimea, and thus – peace in our troubled homeland. Let the Lord bless us! Happy New Year, dear Ukrainians!” Since the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine in 2014, Ukrainians have become more united than ever in the defence of their homeland and their independent state. Metropolitan Epifaniy is stating unequivocally that he is on their side. Not just in name but in spirit, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is for Ukraine.
Metropolitan Epifaniy, President Poroshenko, and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, have been skillful midwives in the birth of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Over and over it has been stated that Ukraine does not have a state church and all Ukrainians enjoy the untrammeled freedom of religion. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Epifaniy said: “We invite all representatives who are now in the bosom of the Russian Orthodox Church to join an independent [Orthodox Church of Ukraine]. If we talk about a strategy [to build relations with parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate], then it must be based on the Gospel principles of love, peace, understanding, and fraternal mutual respect.” Metropolitan Epifaniy continued: “We understand that in the future there will be a Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine and there will be many who want to stay there, and we have nothing against it. All should choose their religious centre voluntarily.”
On 6 January 2019 the church in Constantinople blessed the church in Kyiv. The grant of authority happened much as it did in the year 860 A.D. and in the year 988 A.D.. That is how deeply the ceremony held at St. George’s Cathedral in Istanbul resonated with Ukrainians. The felt experience of well over a millennium informs the sensibility of the Ukrainian people. It goes far beyond the narrow imperialism and tribal aggression of the Russian Federation under Putin.
The grant of a tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is a victory for Ukrainians that echoes back more than a millennium. It is a defeat for Muscovy imperialism that goes back centuries.