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Sunday, 12 August 2018

Arjakovsky: The recognition of the Church of Kiev by Constantinople will be a wise decision


Professor Antoine Arjakovsky, Orthodox historian and author of “From Saint Petersburg to Moscow: Anatomy of the Russian Soul” (Salvator, 2018),  writing for La Croix (7.8.2018) explains what is at stake with the possibly imminent acknowledgement of  autocephaly for the Church of the Patriarchate of Kiev.


The Orthodox Christian Church, ever since she ceased to acknowledge the primate of the Church of Rome, considers the Patriarch of Constantinople as the “first among equals” of the fourteen Churches which recognise each other as Orthodox.

This primacy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, termed “Ecumenical” since at least the 5th century A.D., has been challenged by the Church of Muscovy from the 15th century onwards, when the Imperial City was subjugated by Turkish invaders. At the end of the 16th century, the Patriarch of Constantinople was forced by the Ottoman Turks to bring himself to recognise the Moscow Church’s status of autocephaly, that is to say, its power to elect its own primate without seeking Constantinople’s authorisation. Thus the Church of Moscow came to bear the honour of the fifth place among the Churches of the East.

But the Ecumenical Patriarch refused to accept that the jurisdictional authority of the Patriarchate of Moscow extended to include Ukraine. Indeed the Church of Kiev, which received baptism in 988 as a result of the missionary effort of the Byzantine Church, was still recognised, even after the conquest of eastern Ukraine by the Czars at the end of the 17th century, as coming under the de jure authority of the Church of Constantinople.

This is the basis on which the Patriarch of Constantinople granted the status of autocephaly to the Polish Orthodox Church in 1924. Now this Church contained within itself numerous Orthodox parishes that are situated in what is now western Ukraine. In 1994, following the same logic, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople integrated the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States and Canada, which had self-proclaimed its autocephaly in the era of Soviet persecution, into his own jurisdiction. 


The Tomos of Autocephaly Likely to be Granted Soon

In the present day, Patriarch Bartholomew, whose headquarters are in Istanbul but who is still called “of Constantinople” for the sake of the historical legitimacy of his see, has gone one step further. In all likelihood, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is going to grant the Tomos of Autocephaly to the Church of the Patriarchate of Kiev.

This Church, led since 1992 by Patriarch Philaret (Denysenko), has not so far been recognised by any Orthodox Church in the world, because Moscow is categorically opposed to it. Indeed , ever since 1688 the Patriarchate of Moscow has had a Ukrainian Orthodox Church of its own creation subject to its direct jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, since Ukrainian independence in 1991, the great majority of Ukrainian Orthodox have chosen to follow this self-proclaimed Church (with a good 15 million faithful, as opposed to the 10 million belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church coming under Moscow, even though the latter counts a larger number of registered parishes), so as both to extricate themselves from the control of Moscow and to worship in the Ukrainian language (and not in Old Slavonic, the liturgical language used by the Patriarchate of Moscow in Russia and Ukraine).


Re-establishing Historical Truth

There are three main reasons why Patriarch Bartholomew’s decision is wise. First, contrary to the myth propagated in Russia, the Byzantine Patriarch is re-establishing the historical truth in recalling that the Church of Moscow, which only dates from 1588, is the daughter of the see of Kiev and not the other way round.

The political consequences to this are well understood. Clearly, if Moscow received its baptism subsequently to the conversion of Prince Volodymyr a Chersonesus in Crimea in 988, it was mediated by the Church of Kiev. The annexation of Crimea by Russia, against which Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has made no protest, effectively amounts to the suppression of the Church of Kiev’s identity, which is something that the Patriarch of Constantinople cannot accept.

Secondly, Patriarch Bartholomew is granting recognition to the maturity of the Orthodox Church of Kiev that it has been awaiting for at least a century. Despite the marginalisation that it has been subjected to, this Church has maintained a highly dynamic ecclesial life. In particular it is in constant dialogue with Ukraine’s Catholic and Protestant Churches. Meanwhile, the Patriarchate of Moscow in Ukraine, to judge by the Pochaiv monastery in Volhynia, is renowned for its highly intransigent attitude towards “western heretics”.

Finally, Constantinople, after the snub of the Russian Church’s no-show at the Pan-Orthodox Council at Kolymbari in Crete in 2016, is reasserting its leadership vis-à-vis Moscow, reminding it that throughout history and to the present day it has always been Constantinople that granted the status of autocephaly to local Churches (for example the Church of Serbia, or that of Romania).


Breach of Communion between Moscow and Constantinople Probable

It seems obvious, in the light of declarations from the Russian Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), but also from the strenuous efforts of the Kremlin on this front (leading to the recent expulsion of two Russian diplomats by Greece and a meeting between President Putin and Patriarch Kirill on 11th July right in the middle of the football World Cup), that Constantinople’s decision is going to provoke a breach of communion between Moscow and Constantinople.

It is also going mean that each Orthodox Church (and the Catholic, Protestant and Anglican Churches too) will have to choose sides. There is every chance that Constantinople’s decision could be received favourably by the majority.  It is also certain that in Ukraine it will lead to many of the Orthodox faithful, who were once hesitant to belong to a non-canonical Church, turning to the Patriarchate of Kiev.

Doubtless, too, President Poroshenko, who is heavily invested in all this, and who carries with him the support of the great majority of deputies in the Rada, will benefit from a big popularity boost. But this schism, a further injury in relations between Russia and the rest of the world, will need to be treated. For this to happen, it will be necessary to move beyond a narrowly political and confessional logic to a vision that is ecumenical and oriented towards the common good.
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