Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 06.01.2019
An archbishop signed a piece of paper on Saturday. The course of history of two nations – the Ukrainian people and the Russian people – turns on the event.
The Archbishop of Constantinople is Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. From his seat in Istanbul he is the “first among equals” of the patriarchs and metropolitans and hierarchs of the Orthodox Church. The piece of paper Bartholomew signed was a tomos, a document granting canonical authority to a national church to choose its own head and govern its own affairs. The Ecumenical Patriarch signed a tomos of autocephaly on January 5th which he will give on January 6th to the self-chosen head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
The signing ceremony was national news in Ukraine. The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, was there with his family. The Chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Andriy Parubiy, was there. Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko was there. The newly-elected head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Epifaniy, was there. Million of Ukrainians were there virtually and in spirit as the momentous occasion of autocephaly for the church in Ukraine unfolds.
A Synod was held to unify the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and elect Epifany as primate on 15 December 2018. In less than a month since, more than 40 parishes abandoned the Moscow Patriarchate under Kirill to join the Kyiv Patriarchate under Epifany. This was stated by Andriy Parubiy, the Head of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, after the ceremony in Istanbul.
Orthodox churches in Ukraine are switching their allegiance in only one direction: from Moscow to Kyiv. Since the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine in 2014 the Moscow Patriarchate has been steadily losing Orthodox adherents in Ukraine. Whole parishes are leaving Moscow’s embrace, now that there is a canonical, unified, and pro-Ukrainian Orthodox church in Ukraine to go to. Vinnytsia region has the largest number of parishes moving to the Kyiv Patriarchate under Epifaniy, who is now the Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The first parish on the Left Bank of the Dnipro to join the restored Kyiv Patriarchate came from Zaporizhia region.
Ukrainians take the long view about the Orthodox church. Their perspective reaches back to the first millennium, anno Domini, to the twilight years of the Scythians in Ukraine and the rise of Kyivan Rus’. This was the epoch in which Christianity was brought to the territory on both sides of the Dnipro River (which the Greeks, following the Scythians, called the Borysthenes, meaning “wide land”).
It is fitting that the first church in Kyiv to be returned to the direct control of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is St. Andrew’s Church. Legend has it that the Apostle Andrew came to the Dnipro River at what is now Kyiv to preach the Gospel, and set a cross on the hill where St. Andrew’s Church now lies. Ukrainians claim a legacy of Christian faith from St. Andrew to the present day – there were no “Dark Ages” in Ukraine, as there were in western Europe.
A church recognizing the authority of a Metropolitan in Kyiv and an Archbishop in Constantinople has existed for well over a millennium: for 1,031 years at least and arguably for 1,159 years. In 1686, taking advantage of the ruin of Ukraine, Muscovy received temporary approval from the Patriarch of Constantinople to take a role in the management of the Kyiv Metropolitanate. Hierarchs in Kyiv and in Constantinople (Istanbul) have always argued that no long-term authority was granted to the Moscow Patriarchate over Ukraine. Late in 2018, the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate ruled that the letter granted to the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686 was uncanonical. Muscovy never had legitimate authority over the church in Ukraine.
The restoration of autocephaly was three centuries in the making. A united, canonical, independent, and self-governing Orthodox Ukraine was realized in 2018-19 because Muscovy invaded Ukraine in 2014 and remains at war with the Ukrainian people. The push away from all things Russian and the pull towards all things Ukrainian has become pervasive since the Putin regime brought naked imperialist aggression back into the heart of Europe. Repulsion from the Moscow church and attraction to the Kyiv church is not only about religion: it is about the public life of all Ukrainians, believers and non-believers alike.
Sunday, January 6 will see the the granting of legitimate authority to an united, independent Orthodox church in Ukraine to its a self-chosen head. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will give a tomos of autocephaly to Epifaniy, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine. The handing over of the letter will be overseen by President Poroshenko, representing the Ukrainian people – no matter if they are Orthodox or Catholic or Protestant or Muslim or Jew or Buddhist or Atheist. A new day has come for Ukraine, a time for joy and celebration. A great victory has been won. The uplifting emotions of liberation, of being freed from slavery, are widespread in Ukraine. Rarely can we recognize historic events as they are happening. The granting of the tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is an historic event.