Βy George Michalopulos

The war in the Ukraine grinds on.  Recently, the Russians staged strategic retreats from two cities in the Kharkov oblast:  Izium and Krupiansk and five Ukrainian brigades were able to overtake them.  In the Kherson region however, the much-anticipated Ukainian counteroffensive failed miserably.  For this reason, some observers are calling the Ukrainian victory in Kharkov “a tactical success but a strategic blunder.”  The reason for doing so is that they have overextended their lines and have walked into a Russian trap.  In any event, the situation (as they say) is “fluid.”

What is being lost in all this fog of war are the cultural –specifically religious–implications of this war.  For Orthodox Christians this boils down to the status of Orthodoxy in the Ukraine.

As is known, some four years ago, Patriarch Bartholomew unilaterally (and illegally) revoked the tomos of transfer of 1686 for the Ukraine, literally stealing it from the Patriarchate of Moscow.  He did this in order to create an “autocephalous” Church for the Ukraine.  Both of these actions were viewed with horror throughout the Orthodox world.  So far, only three, Greek-dominated Churches (Athens, Alexandria and Cyprus) have acceded to this canonical atrocity and only in a half-hearted, extracanonical fashion.

This is ancient history at this point.  In fact, a very good case could be made that the present hostillities were set in motion by Bartholomew’ egregious actions.  That said, the creation of this new “church” does not look that bright. The reasons are not all that complex:  firstly, because Bartholomew was never able to dislodge Metropolitan Onuphriy of Kiev from his post.

This means that Bartholomew’s stooge, “Metropolitan” Epiphany Dumenko has never received the acclamation necessary to have any legitimacy.  In addition, the backstories of many of the clerics and hierarchs that are in this “church” are highly questionable (if not outright scandalous).  Such shenanigans do not set well with pious laymen.

Secondly, Philaret Denisenko, the previous Metropolitan of Kiev (Onuphriy’s predecessor), has not gone away.  Denisenko, as is well-known, was defrocked because of his scandalous personal life by the Russian Orthodox Church.  He has repeatedly petitioned both Moscow and Constantinople for a hearing but has been consistently  refused.  Unfortunately, in his desire to “heal the schism” in the Ukraine, Bartholomew came up with a hare-brained scheme in order to placate Denisenko:  specifically that he would be given the dignity of “Patriarch-Emeritus of Kiev.”

Clearly, this was ridiculous on its face.  Not merely because there is no such designation as “Patriarch-Emeritus,” but in doing so, there are now three Metropolitans of Kiev:  Onuphriy, Epiphany and Philaret. Only Onuphriy is legitimate and acclaimed as such by all other Orthodox Churches (including Athens).

Finally –and most regrettably–this creates an intolerable situation for Onuphriy and the legitimate Ukrainian Church.  As is known, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a fully-autonomous eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Its primate, sits on the Russian Holy Synod but in every other sense, he is –and leads–a completely autonomous Church.  In fact, he alone, among all other autonomous primates is styled with the honorific of “His Beatitude.”  This title is ordinarily only possessed by the primates of some of the other autocephalous Churches, some of whom are actually patriarchs (e.g. Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem).

The fact that Onuphriy is a permanent member of the Russian Orthodox Church is (under the present circumstances) uncomfortable, given the fact that the Russian Federation has invaded his homeland.  Because of this, there has been open rebellion and even physical violence against Ukrainian priests in his eparchy who have mentioned the name of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in the various litanies of the Church.  Onuphriy for his part, continues to commemorate Kirill when he liturgizes –but only as an equal:  when he does so, he commemorates the primates of all other autocephalous Churches in the world.  This is a prerogative for only the heads of autocephalous Churches (and not autonomous primates).

In doing so, Onuphriy is setting in motion a process by which the Ukraine will be autocephalous in fact.  This of course will require a council, the last thing that Constantinople wants.  (That said, it must not be forgotten that it enjoys more autonomy than every other autonomous Church, including the supposedly autocephalous sect created for that country by Bartholomew.)

Bartholomew will not be able to do so for this reason as well as another troublesome one. Simply put, the convocation of such a council will call into question his illegal actions in the first place.  It will also leave his putative metropolitan (Dumenko) twisting in the wind.  Nor, given the laughingstock that was the so-called Great and Holy Council of Crete, it’s obvious that the last thing Constantinople wants is a universal council, one which they cannot control.

In the end, the inability to come to terms with this will only cause more chaos in the Ukraine.

3 COMMENTS

  1. The sad fact is that Bartholomew will be remembered as one of the worst schism creators in Church history.

    If the Churches of Greece, Cyprus and Alexandria were wise they would completely reverse their haphazard decision to recognize the Bartholomite sect in Ukraine. The majority of people even within these Churches do not accept the decision.

    The fact that they are ostracized from the majority of the Orthodox World should scare them and the odds of any other local Church recognizing the Ukrainian schismatics is very, very low. 4 years on and no non-Greek Churches have recognized them.

    They should see which way the winds are blowing and know that attaching themselves to the sinking ship of Bartholomew and the West is a fools errand. The Greeks should have known better.

    • Petros, the people that belong the the schismatic OCU really could care less who in World Orthodoxy recognizes them. Seriously, they only care about their staunch Ukrainian nationalism, and that’s about it. They just hate Holy Orthodox Russia, and everything that it stands for. And, that’s not going to change.

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