Kyiv is Ready for a Trade-Off for the Sake of the United Local Orthodox Church. Does Patriarch Bartholomew Have Such Willingness?

Headquarters of Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul, Turkey

Oleksandr Yudin for New Pathway, Toronto.

Despite the upbeat comments spread by official Kyiv about the prospects for formation of united local Ukrainian Orthodox Church, there are still no solid grounds for confidence in the success of this game.

As is known, on January 16, 2017, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate gave a hearing to the report of a special commission set up to study the possibility of granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine after receiving the appeal of Ukrainian parliamentarians on 06/16/2016. The Holy Synod made a cunning and truly Byzantine decision: not to refuse Kyiv explicitly but not to take any serious steps forward either.

Like, “we are your Mother Church, only we can solve your issue, we pray for you wholeheartedly, and your dream will someday be fulfilled – but on the whole everything depends on you”. At first they show their attention and concern, and then they behave as if they have not heard anything.

Such actions of the Phanariots are not just an example of how the eastern negotiation style differs from the western one, here we see not just the hereditary proclivity to lush and flowery but empty phrases. And this is not even an example of Byzantine art of “palaver”, overselling themselves and winning time for their own political game. This behavior of the Phanariotes bespeaks only their cynical and disparaging attitude toward non-Greeks, including Ukrainians. And this is despite the fact that in the very Turkey the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is considered just as a religious leader of a minority of minorities!

According to one of the negotiators who knows the situation from inside, His All-Holiness was unable to find an opportunity to write back for as long as half a year since July, 2015, when the letter from Kyiv was handed personally to the now Metropolitan Bartholomew (Samaras), the Secretary General of the Holy Synod. And then the most active stage of preparation for the Holy and Great Council in Crete began, the Council during which the Ukrainian question was actually “surrendered”…

All this while, Ukrainian diplomats in Istanbul diligently attended divine services (in some months they had even two audiences with the Patriarch), kept in touch with Archbishop Job (Getcha), inter alia during the Holy and Great Council… And in March, 2016, President Poroshenko himself paid the Patriarch a visit.

In Ukraine itself, to increase the legal awareness of believers and equip them against the Moscow Patriarchate, the main enemy of Ukrainian autocephaly, a “Practical Guide for Believers on Change of Jurisdiction” was prepared. With incredible efforts, the resistance of the Moscow lobby was overcome, and the Verkhovna Rada’s official appeal to Patriarch Bartholomew was prepared in an extremely short time. And still the Ukrainian issue was put off to the Greek calends!

In total, during the first seven months of 2016, Ukrainian officials held at least six meetings with the Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul. Just so many visits were needed to “beg” the Church-Mother only a few meaningless visits in return – by Metropolitan Yuri, Archbishop Job and Metropolitan Nikita. And none of them brought any certainty to Kyiv. Is it so rewarding to expect great progress in the matter of uniting Ukrainian Orthodoxy from the visits of Constantinople hierarchs to Ukraine, when the Patriarchate has an attitude like this? Particularly, if some of their clergy have to be “pulled out” from the events of the Moscow Patriarchate…

However, until recently, Kyiv tried not to succumb to disappointment and continued to seek solutions to the problem with all the creativity inherent in Ukrainians, expressing the utmost willingness to render all necessary assistance to the Synodal Commission of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. To accommodate the Representation of the Mother Church, the State even offered to buy out the building in the historical center of Kyiv, whose cost is estimated at no less than $10 million. With the support of representatives of the Ukrainian scientific community and the diaspora, lawmakers continued their efforts too. According to media reports, as a result of the November visit of the Verkhovna Rada Chairman Andrii Parubii to the Fanar, Patriarch Bartholomew did finally accept the invitation to visit Ukraine. But when will the visit happen?! No one gives an answer to this question. Petro Poroshenko’s letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch of early December, 2016, in which the President of Ukraine once again invited His All-Holiness to the Ukrainian capital and spelled out concrete actions that must be taken to resolve the religious situation in the country, still hasn’t been responded too.

And after all this, a special commission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, headed by Metropolitan John of Pergamon, left the Orthodox Ukrainians in the same position as they were for the last 25 years! Nevertheless, despite the apparent disappointment and doubts about Phanar’s desire to end the long-standing divisions between the Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, Kyiv does not lose heart and is ready to trade-off. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine also joined another round of talks with its Chairman Volodymyr Groysman having met Patriarch Bartholomew on March 15, 2017.

Groysman is known as a very utilitarian person. Will his entry into the game bring some new tactic in dealing with the Phanar? Will the Prime Minister’s team be able to establish more effective relations with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and draw unambiguous decisions and concrete steps from the Byzantines in order to unite Ukrainian Orthodoxy?

It all depends…

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