No Theological Solution for Current Orthodox Situation, Lecturer Says

Professor Thomas Bremer. Photo: Marco Levytsky

NP-UN Western Bureau.

There is no theological solution for the current situation of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, said the guest lecturer at the Bohdan Bociurkiw Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies in Edmonton, February 25.

“Just as history does not show us who is right and who is wrong, so theology and ecclesiology cannot bring us to a positive result; they can rather point negatively to the questions where we are stuck. All one can say in the end are phrases, like that a solution must be found which will include all parties involved, and that there should be not unilateral acts, and above all no violence, etc. All this may be true, but it will not help to solve the conflict. It seems to be that the important point is that Orthodoxy still has to develop mechanisms for many procedures, and we will agree that this is almost impossible in a situation of conflict. One should have addressed it earlier, when there was no conflict. But now it is hardly feasible,” said Professor Thomas Bremer, who has taught Ecumenical Theology and Eastern Churches Studies at the University of Münster (Germany) since 1999, at the event held at St. John’s Cultural Centre.

One of the problems is that both Churches use historic arguments, but there cannot be a solution resulting from such analyses, because most of these documents refer to the 17th century. Several questions arise from this.

“The first of them is: What does it mean when a document, or an agreement, was not kept? There is a very simple answer: It means disobedience. One can easily argue that side A was obliged by the agreement to act in a certain way, and when it did not, it means that it did not fulfill its side of the contract, with all ensuing consequences. But that answer might be too simple. One could name here other cases in history, when realities changed over time, regardless of any existing agreements.

A second question to address is how much weight does a new or changed practice have over centuries? “If we deny that customary law can change legal facts, then we would have to try to bring all ecclesial realities in accordance with the positive law—that would be very close to the position mentioned above, namely the one which regards any deflection from legal prescriptions simply as disobedience. A correction would then be the only logical remedy. However, not only personal and private experience, but also ecclesial life shows that this is impossible. There are always things, mostly of minor character, but sometimes also of higher importance, which function in a church not according to how they should. But they function, and sometimes they acquire even normativity. That means that it is not enough to invoke former agreements when they have been modified by a centuries-long practice.”

The third question is what is the significance of the concrete (ideological etc.) context of a given situation?

“The transition from the one jurisdiction to the other took place in 1686… History has since changed the circumstances in both—or all three—countries several times. It makes a big difference for communication whether one of the two participants is a bishop under the synodal system in 19th century Russia, or someone in the 1920s in Soviet Union, or in the 1970s there, or few years ago in Putin’s Russia.”

Prof. Bremer added that while the conflict remains, an inner-Orthodox one, it also has a dimension which is important for other Churches, especially for the Roman Catholic Churches, he continued.

“It shows that we all have unsolved issues which we do not touch, for different reasons.

“One could even ask further: How in the 21st century can one still uphold the idea of unity? I am not arguing for giving it up, but I think we have to find a way in which to frame it anew. It is obvious that the kind of unity we proclaim has become historically outdated in modernity, and in fact perhaps it never existed.”

January 6 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople — the spiritual head of Orthodoxy — handed over a document establishing the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine‘s (OCU’s) independence, known as a “tomos,” to Metropolitan Epifaniy at a ceremony in Istanbul.

This prompted the Russian Orthodox Church which controls the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC – MP), to split with Constantinople.

Metropolitan Epifaniy was enthroned as metropolitan of the OCU, which is a union of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church of Ukraine, neither of which had been recognized as canonical prior to the tomos, at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv, February 3.

“The date of Epifaniy’s intronization coincided with the 10th anniversary of Kirill’s election as Patriarch of Moscow. The primates of four autocephalous Churches and representatives of five others came to Moscow for that occasion; with the exception of Constantinople, representatives from no other Church came to Epifaniy’s intronization. It is interesting to see who attended neither of the two events: The Orthodox Churches of Jerusalem, Cyprus, Greece, and Albania—i.e. Churches that are strongly under Greek influence. They all seem to be cautious for the moment. No one has interrupted communion with any of the two opponents, and no one has accepted Constantinople’s decision. It seems to me that how the other Churches will react will be of crucial importance for the future of Orthodoxy,” stated Prof. Bremer.

He also noted that there has not been a major shift in allegiance from the UOC – MP to the OCU. To date only a couple of dozen parishes have switched to the new church and the UOC – MP still maintains approximately 12,000 parishes as compared to 6,000 for the OCU. Prof. Bremer however, qualified that the number of parishes does not indicate the number of faithful as parishes can differ considerably in size and there is no data available for the number of faithful itself.