Marco Levytsky, NP-UN National Affairs Editor.
On September 7, 2018 the Chief Secretariat of the Holy and Sacred of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church made a momentous announcement. It reads as follows:
“Within the framework of the preparations for the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has appointed as its Exarchs in Kiev His Excellency Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon from the United States, and His Grace Bishop Ilarion of Edmonton from Canada, both of whom are serving the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful in their respective countries under the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
This was greeted with great joy by Ukrainian faithful around the world.
Heading the 177 comments that were on the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Facebook Page as of September 9 were “Thank God for this decision. Thank you to the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” by Torontonian Olena Wawryshyn and “God Bless! About time’, by another Torontonian, Andrey Genyk-Berezowsky.
“I pray to God and I hope for God’s grace that one more factor in the unity of the country will be the Autocephalous Orthodox Ukrainian Church, the Tomos, which we are looking forward to receive from the Ecumenical Patriarch,” said Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko in a television interview on September 8.
“I have made and make a huge effort. Half a year ago, nobody believed that we would come so close to the Tomos in such a short time. Ukraine returns to its Mother Church – the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople,” he continued.
“We do not transform any of the churches into the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church. We create, and more precisely restore the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church 300 years after, because this is one of the main attributes of an independent state,” Poroshenko added, noting that it fully corresponds to the Orthodox canons.
Poroshenko is totally correct when it comes to the matter of restoration. It was in the waters of the Dnipro River that St. Volodymyr the Great baptized the citizens of Kyiv in 988. It is the Kyivan Church which is the Mother Church of all Ukrainians. And it is the Kyivan Church which was originally recognized by Constantinople as the Orthodox Church of Kyiv and all Rus’.
But in 1453 Constantinople fell under the rule of the Ottoman Turks and, in 1686 the Ottomans, acting on the behalf of the regent of Russia, Sophia Alekseyevna, pressured the Patriarch of Constantinople into transferring the Orthodox Church of Kyiv and all Rus’ from the jurisdiction of Constantinople to the Patriarch of Moscow, established a century prior to that. The legality of this step is questioned to this day along with the fact that the transfer was accompanied by graft and bribery, which in church affairs amounts to an ecclesiastical crime.
Therefore, the decision to grant autocephaly to the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church serves, first of all, to correct this historical injustice.
It also breaks another historical chain tying Ukraine to the Russian Empire.
The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has historically served the interests of Russian imperialism. It did so under the tsars. During the Soviet period the church became an agency of the KGB.
“Gleb Yakunin, a critic of the Moscow Patriarchate who was one of those who briefly gained access to the KGB archive documents in the early 1990s, argued that the Moscow Patriarchate was ‘practically a subsidiary, a sister company of the KGB,” reads a Wikipedia entry. “Critics charge that the archives showed the extent of active participation of the top ROC hierarchs in the KGB efforts overseas. George Trofimoff, the highest-ranking US military officer ever indicted for, and convicted of, espionage by the United States and sentenced to life imprisonment on September 27, 2001, had been ‘recruited into the service of the KGB’ by Igor Susemihl (a.k.a. Zuzemihl), a bishop in the Russian Orthodox Church,” it continues.
Under the current leader Patriarch Kirill, the ROC has become subservient to Russian dictator and former KGB colonel, Vladimir Putin. Patriarch Kirill endorsed Putin’s election in 2012, stating Putin’s terms were like “a miracle of God” and has backed Putin’s aggression against Ukraine.
The reaction of the ROC to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s announcement has been venomous. Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s External Relations Department, said on September 8 that if the patriarch of Kyiv was recognized, “we will have no choice but to sever relations with Constantinople.”
Hilarion also accused Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople of acting in a “despicable and treacherous way.”
But it is quite apparent that the pressure tactics of Moscow will have no effect on the Ecumenical Patriarch’s decision to grant the Tomos and for this we have to thank God. The Kyiv Patriarchate fully deserves autocephaly and the canonical recognition that comes along with it. As President Poroshenko noted: “If we pray and fight, Ukraine will get the Tomos and Autocephalous Orthodox Church earlier than anyone may expect…we will not ask the permission of Putin or Kirill, how to pray, what churches to visit, where to move and how to live”.