A slightly different approach to the Ukrainian issue

Lately there have been many things written about the Ukrainian autocephaly, most of them by the Russian Church, which seemed to have mobilized its entire communication system in order to persuade the Orthodox world that it has the right. But, unfortunately, this attempt –which I would like to believe is not purposely and unwilling – promotes historical falsehood and uses false information – which reveal a state of panic and a “deceitful” reaction, as stated in the 33th canon of the Holy Apostles.

To be honest, a certain reaction of the Russians was expected, so I would like to believe that every well-intended person, whether Orthodox or not, who is familiar with the latest events, would show a complete understanding and tolerate the “Russian ecclesiastic diplomacy”, as it is called, but personally this is a terminology I am not comfortable with, because in the Orthodox Church there should be truth present, not diplomacy. And if the truth is on your side, there is nothing to be afraid of! But if it’s not, there is a saying “the kettle is boiling” and even if it’s after 300 years, you still cannot avoid the huge overflow.

The first question to ask regarding the Ukrainian issue is: With what right and based on which canons today does Russia justifies its ecclesiastic and jurisdictional right on the Metropolis of Kiev?

The jurisdiction of every autocephalous Church (except for the Old Patriarchies and the Church of Cyprus, the boundaries of which were determined by the Ecumenical Councils) has been defined and written in the Tomos given to it by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. So, if we look into the Chrysobull that the Moscow Patriarchy received from Constantinople in 1590, we would see that the Kiev Metropolis is not included in its jurisdiction. The mentioning of a 1030 years long connection between Moscow and Kiev is an argument which probably originated from “the Russian ecclesiastic diplomacy”, but is not a real fact – which can very easily become evident if we refer to the authentic sources.

Still, some of the modern researchers might say: “Let us set aside the personal statements of the Bishops, the clergy, the professors and the theologians. We have authentic documents. And really, with the progress of the Ukrainian issue, we were all compelled to search for these “documents” in order to see what information is available there, regarding the historical progress of the Kiev Metropolis, mostly after the uncanonical separation of Moscow from the Mother Church in 1448 and its later return in the canonical order with the recognition as a Patriarchy by Jeremy of Constantinople.

The basic archival material which is available are the letters of the Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysius IV to the emperors John and Peter and to the Moscow Patriarch Joachim, of 1686.

These letters are constantly been referred to by the Russian side – and we can conclude this very easily with a single search on the internet – as the only written testimony of the incorporation of the Kiev Metropolis into the Moscow Patriarchy, in spite of the fact that these letters indicate clearly the permission given to the Moscow Patriarch by the Ecumenical Patriarchate only to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev. The text clearly states that a permission is given to “our beloved and most respected brother in the Holy Spirit and a concelebrant of our humbleness (the Moscow Patriarch) to have the right to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev, according to the ecclesiastic regulations”.

But even if we accept the interpretation on the Russian part, for the incorporation, these texts reveal a certain rule which is a huge obstacle to any kind of claim for alleged territorial and administrative transfer of the Kiev Metropoly to the Russian Church: “there is just one thing that should be preserved: each Metropolitan of Kiev should primary mention the honorable name of each All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch, when he serves the Divine Liturgical Mysterious service”.

In the Orthodox Church there can be no assigning of territorial jurisdiction which is not accompanied by the mentioning of the Bishop of the diocese, which the specified geographic area is assigned to. This is a basic ecclesiastic and canonical rule, of which there has been no exception during the 2000 years-long existence of the Orthodox Church. In other words, the mentioning of the Bishop is a testimony of his ecclesiastic boundaries and his jurisdiction. The places where the Russian Patriarch is mentioned are an integral part of the Russian ecclesiastic territory, while as where the Roman one is mention, we are in the jurisdiction of the Roman Patriarchy, the mentioning of the Ecumenical Head defines the canonical territory of the Constantinople Church etc.

Thus, the transfer of a certain territory to some other ecclesiastic entity is certified with the mentioning of the Bishop, not with the belief and interpretations that everyone can have.

If the Ecumenical Patriarchate had assigned the territorial administration of the Kiev Metropolis to Moscow– as we are led to believe by some Russian brothers of ours – then the texts would have allowed for each Metropolitan of Kiev to mention the Moscow, not the Ecumenical Patriarch. But this is not the case. On the contrary, a compulsory rule is set to mention the Ecumenical Patriarch, which testifies that there had been no transfer of the Kiev Metropolis to Moscow, regardless of the interpretations of certain individuals today.

In this context we can conclude that, not only there has been no interference of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Ukraine, but quite the opposite – one should investigate the ecclesiastic and canonical reasons as to why the Metropolitan of Kiev doesn’t mention today his canonical Head, the Ecumenical Patriarch. Is there some other patriarchal letter or a decision of the Synod with which the Ecumenical Patriarch had renounced his right on the Kiev Metropolis, thus allowing the Metropolitan to mention the Russian Head during the Eucharist?

In any case the things are not that one-sided as some are trying to present them. The Ecumenical Patriarchate and Patriarch Bartholomew, regardless of the personal verbal attacks, with expressions which are in no way appropriate for individuals of the Church, are not at all illiterate when it comes to the Holy Canons and ecclesiastic history. To the very least it’s naive for some to believe that all the others understand the canonical laws, ecclesiology, history and the rest, better than the Constantinople Church.

Also I would like to appeal that all of us who are involved in ecclesiastic matters, should stick to the ecclesiastic argumentation, especially in such historically critical moments. Threats, slanders, indecent characterization of persons, mostly Bishops and Patriarchs, or even undermining the centuries old institutions, are not helping, cannot inspire progress and in any case don’t lead to a solution. The Divine peace should always prevail, even in our differences. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is sufficiently experienced, well familiar with the Canons, and has demonstrated in many occasions that it can deal properly with the issues of the Orthodox Church. No doubt this specific case, the Ukrainian issue will demonstrate that truth once again. All it takes is just a lot of prayer and a little bit of patience.