Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief.
Глянь оком щирим, о Божий Сину,
На нашу землю на Україну,
Зійшли їй з неба дар превеликий,
Щоб Тя славила во вічні віки
For over a century, Ukrainians have closed off Ostap Nyzhankivsky’s well-known carol “Vo Vyflyemi” (In Bethlehem) with this poignant plea for the Son of God to cast his sincere eye upon our land, Ukraine and to send down from heaven an extraordinary gift, which will bring Him glory for eternal ages.
Well this year, that prayer has been answered.
On December 13, Archbishop Yevstratiy, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate said the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will hand over a Tomos – a decree granting independence, or autocephaly – to the future head of the local Orthodox Church in Ukraine on January 6 – Christmas Eve on the Julian Calendar, which is followed by the faithful in Ukraine.
And on December 15, an historic council agreed on the creation of an independent Orthodox church for Ukraine and elected a new head – Metropolitan Epifaniy – a 39-year-old bishop from the Kyiv Patriarchate.
“God heard our appeals and gave us this anticipated unity,” Epifaniy told a crowd of thousands who had gathered outside historic St. Sophia Cathedral to hear the news. He stressed that the new church’s doors would be open to all, and encouraged Ukrainians to rally behind it.
“It happened,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told that same crowd.
“This day will go down in history as the sacred day of the creation of the autocephalous local Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The day we finally receive our independence from Russia.”
Poroshenko said Ukrainians finally had their own Orthodox church.
“What is this church? This is a church without [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. What is this church? This church is without [Russian Orthodox Patriarch] Kirill. What is this church? This is a church without prayers for the Russian authorities and Russian troops, because they kill Ukrainians. But this is a church with God and Ukraine!”
“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.
But while this announcement comes right at the heart of Christmas celebrations in Ukraine, it is also essentially tied in with Easter. Because it is not a birth, but a resurrection.
It was not on the banks of the Oka or Moskva Rivers, but on the banks of the Dnipro that St. Volodymyr the Great baptized the citizens of Kyiv in 988 A.D. And it was from the Mother Church in Kyiv that other branches – including the Muscovite Church – spread out. 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 a Tomos to the Kyivan Church not only corrects an historic injustice, but also breaks the chains that fetter Kyiv to Moscow and creates new hope for the people of Ukraine.
In an act of brazen audacity, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on December 14, sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Thomas Greminger, the secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis, and other spiritual leaders, urging them to help protect ROC believers in Ukraine.
“The interference by the leaders of the secular Ukrainian state in church affairs has recently assumed the shape of undue pressure being exerted on the bishops and priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which can be defined as the start of all-out persecution,” Patriarch Kirill was quoted as saying in the statement, ignoring, of course the long history of what is popularly know as the KGB Church in repressing minorities.
Rivers of ink have been spilled and will continue to be spilled in exploring the political ramifications of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. But now is not the time for this.
Now is the time to rejoice.
To rejoice, that the long-standing Ukrainian Christmas prayer has been answered.
The Son of God has indeed cast his sincere eye upon our land, Ukraine and has sent down from heaven an extraordinary gift – a gift that will bring Him glory for eternal ages.
Христос Раждається! Christ is Born!
Славім Його! Let us glorify Him.