Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 25.09.2018
“Now it is time for Ukraine to get autocephaly.” Those are the words of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spoken during a church service in Istanbul on Sunday, September 23. Bartholomew is the Bishop of Constantinople, and the “first among equals” in the hierarchy of the Eastern Orthodox church. Autocephaly is literally “having one’s own head” – it means self-rule for a church within its national territory.
The Ukrainian Orthodox church has had its own head in the city of Kyiv for over a millennium, since 988. But the Metropolitan of Kyiv was taken away in the 17th century by a church in Moscow. The Moscow Patriarchate was used as a weapon of imperial policy by the tsars, particularly by Tsarina Catherine.
The Eastern Orthodox churches will hold a synod in October. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said last Sunday that the Ukrainian church will get autocephaly: “This will happen, because that is its right.” Bartholomew has appointed two exarchs to Kyiv: Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon from the United States and Bishop Ilarion of Edmonton from Canada. They will advise Constantinople and guide the Metropolitan of Kyiv to its recovered position.
Among all the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Moscow Patriarchate is alone in opposing autocephaly for the Ukrainian church.
This year, celebrations were held in Kyiv for the 1,030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’. The Moscow Patriarchate wanted the celebration to be held in Moscow, but the head of the church in Constantinople refused, saying that the Baptism of Rus’ belongs to Kyiv. No church or city or nation existed in Moscow in 988. At the celebrations earlier this year, the Archbishop of Telmisiy, Job (Hecha), said that the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian church now is no different than the granting of autocephaly to the Polish church in 1924. “The Ecumenical Patriarch has repeatedly stated that Constantinople is the Mother Church for the Ukrainian Church,” said Archbishop Job, emphasizing that granting a “tomos” of autocephaly is fully within Constaninople’s power.
By going so far as to threaten “bloodshed” when the Ukrainian church returns its Metropolitan to Kyiv, the Moscow Patriarchate is overplaying its hand. Under Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Gundyayev, the Moscow Patriarchate is as much an instrument of Kremlin imperialism as it was under Tsarina Catherine and as it was under Stalin. Constantinople officials are now openly criticizing the “earthly” church in Moscow, ”from Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union to the Putin administration" as being out of step with other Orthodox churches. This is what the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul said on September 21. The Russian Federation is at war with Ukraine, and the Moscow Patriarchate is used as a weapon in that war. “It is inappropriate to adopt a stance based on political criteria rather than spiritual criteria,” said Fener officials.
If the Moscow Patriarchate cuts itself off from its mother church in Kyiv, and if it cuts itself off from communion with other Orthodox churches under the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, then is it really a church at all? Questions are now being raised about if the Moscow church itself ever received a “Tomos” of autocephaly. Russian journalist Alexander Nevzorov said on the radio program “Echo of Moscow” that the Russian Orthodox Church is like a sect. “Since it does not have a tomos, therefore, according to church canons, it is an absolutely illegal organization,” he said. There is abundant evidence of the canonical standing of the Metropolitan of Kyiv, going back a millennium. But evidence of a canonical foundation of the Moscow Patriarchate apparently cannot be found.
Gundyayev is going into hysterics over the coming autocephaly of the Ukrainian church. But the more he does that the weaker his position becomes. Ukrainians already distrust and even hate the Russian Orthodox Church that calls itself the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Moscow Patriarchate priests disgrace their holy office by preaching in support of Putin’s War against the Ukrainian nation. By opposing autocephaly so violently, Gundyayev draws attention to the fact that the Metropolitan of Kyiv was stolen in the 17th century, and that the Moscow Patriarchate has no legitimate claim to authority in Ukraine. Furthermore, the Moscow church may itself be uncanonical.
Constantinople has the power to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian church. It will happen, and a wrong that has persisted for over three centuries will be righted. The more violently the Moscow church opposes the Ukrainian church and the Eastern Orthodox communion, the weaker its standing becomes. From the time of Stalin to today, the Russian Orthodox Church has been an effective Kremlin front organization for the brutal occupation of Ukraine. Gundyayev’s hysterics over the church coming home to Kyiv are destroying the last hold of imperialism that Muscovy had over Ukraine. Good riddance to bad rubbish.