After autocephaly | Ukrainian weekly

Ukrainian Orthodox autocephaly may soon be a reality. According to Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, the tomos (decree) of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has already been written (Relihiina Pravda, May 26). The consequences would be profound.

On April 17, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. . Naturally, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) opposed this. On April 19, the Ukrainian parliament voted in favor of the president’s initiative.

An autocephalous Orthodox Church is “self-directed”. In other words, its chief hierarch does not report to any higher earthly authority – although he recognizes the spiritual authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The autocephalous Church itself, and not an external body, elects its head. He can be patriarch, metropolitan or archbishop.

It is customary in the Orthodox world for a nation-state to have its own autocephalous Church. This follows the principle that the ecclesiastical order follows the civic and political order (Council of Chalcedon (451), canon 17; Council in Trullo or Quinisext (692), canon 38). So, for example, after the Serbs freed themselves from Ottoman rule in the 19th century, Constantinople recognized the autocephaly of their Church in 1879. Thus, a Ukrainian state should have an autocephalous Orthodox Church.

Historically, it is the Ecumenical Patriarch who grants autocephaly. Thus the Bulgarian Church first gained autocephaly in the tenth century and the Serbian Church in the thirteenth. But some Churches have simply declared themselves autocephalous or have begun to act as such. In these cases, autocephaly could be officially recognized later. Thus, the Muscovite Church became de facto autocephalous in 1448, but was not recognized as such until 1589. The Georgian Church declared its autocephaly in 1917, but it was not until 1990 that Constantinople recognized it.

Because autocephaly is a matter for both Church and State (the sharp separation between the two is basically a Western concept), the initiative sometimes falls to secular power. In the modern era, this could be the government of a nation-state newly liberated from an empire. Thus Romania, formed in 1859 from Moldavia and Wallachia formerly under Ottoman rule, passed a law on autocephaly in 1872. The Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic promulgated a law on autocephaly in January 1919 Former Georgian seminarian Joseph Stalin led the Russian Orthodox Church. to grant independence to the Georgian Church in 1943.

Sometimes a Church attempts to grant autocephaly to one of its constituent parts. So in 1970, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church claimed to grant autocephaly to its North American metropolis, known (somewhat misleadingly) as the Russian Greek-Catholic Orthodox Church in America.

Autocephaly can also be canceled. In July 1811, the Russian government, having annexed Georgia a decade earlier, rescinded the autocephaly of its Orthodox Church, which dated back to at least 1010, and ethnic Russians ruled it for a century after 1817 ( as was the case with the metropolis of Kyiv for more than 150 years).

Does the Moscow Patriarchate have the exclusive right, as it claims, to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church? She bases her claim on the fact that in 1685 the Patriarchate of Constantinople transferred the Metropolis of kyiv to the jurisdiction of Moscow. However, the validity of this transfer has been disputed. Moreover, when in 1924 the Ecumenical Patriarch issued a tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Poland, which then included the Ukrainians of Western Volhynia, he declared the transfer of 1685 non-canonical. Also, the Kyivan church is older than the Moscow church. For a “daughter Church”, granting autocephaly to its “mother” would be abnormal.

Assuming, then, that it is the Ecumenical Patriarchate that has the right to grant autocephaly, which Ukrainian Church should receive it? Since the UOC-KP and the UAOC both supported the president’s call, they are the ones who would become autocephalous. It goes without saying that they should first unite. But Archimandrite Cyril disagrees. (“Why Ukraine Needs a Free and Recognized Orthodox Church,” Euromaidan Press, May 18). According to him, autocephaly should not lead to a single Church, but to a “pluralistic Orthodoxy”, with various Orthodox Churches in communion with each other.

But is it a question of granting autocephaly, or simply of recognizing it? The UOC-KP and UAOC already act as de facto autocephalous churches, and the latter has “autocephalous” in its name. It would therefore seem more correct to speak of recognition. And since these Churches are not considered “canonical” in the Orthodox world, it might be better to first recognize their legitimacy and then their autocephaly.

Can the Ecumenical Patriarch do it himself? His synod should agree. Some opponents, such as the Moscow Patriarchate, argue that a new autocephaly requires the consent of all Orthodox Churches in the world, as it changes the structure of world Orthodoxy.

Moscow has reason to worry about Ukrainian autocephaly. It is estimated at the very least that this would deprive him of 30 to 40% of his religious network. The effect on world Orthodoxy would also be considerable. Certainly, the Russian Church would still be the largest, with 100 million Orthodox believers in Russia and millions beyond. But a united Ukrainian Orthodox Church, comprising 26 to 30 million faithful, would become the second, supplanting the 18 million Romanians.

Ukrainian autocephaly could also affect ecumenism, perhaps even causing a reorientation of the Vatican Ostpolitik from a Russian-centric view to a more multipolar view of Orthodoxy. And together with other independent Orthodox Churches, an autocephalous Ukrainian Church could, as Patriarch Filaret said, contribute to a renewal of European Christianity.

Finally, if we imagine that the community of Ukrainian Orthodox Churches of Archimandrite Cyril includes those “Orthodox in communion with Rome” otherwise known as Ukrainian Greek Catholics, each Church being free to seek links with Constantinople, Rome or both – the ecumenical implications are staggering. .

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