What Constantinople said about the Single Local Church

25 April 2018 13:52
Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I

How the President of Ukraine and schismatics got confused about theses of the Сommuniqué of Constantinople Patriarchate regarding autocephaly for the Single Local Church.

On April 22, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko reported that “the Ecumenical Patriarchate had commenced the procedures necessary for granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”

Most media immediately burst with enthusiastic publications, the meaning of which was reduced to the fact that "the ice has been broken" and nobody and nothing will ever stop the process of creating the Single Local Church in Ukraine. By publishing his message on Facebook, Petro Poroshenko relied on the Communique from the Holy Synod of the Church of Constantinople, similarly dated April 22. However, if the President had carefully read the Communiqué, there would have been less delight for sure.

A publication of Petro Poroshenko on his Facebook page

The first absurdity in the message of the President is the statement that autocephaly is going to be bestowed to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).

However, the day before the President's announcement, on April 21, the UOC made a statement, which clearly and unambiguously says, "The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has a canonical relation with the Ecumenical Orthodoxy, did not ask Patriarch Bartholomew to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and did not authorize either the President or the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to do so."

Thus, no one can begin these very "procedures necessary to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church", which the President speaks about.

The next blunder of Petro Poroshenko is that from his report it follows that the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople decided to "begin the procedures necessary to grant autocephaly." In fact, the Synod "decided to stay in close association with other sister Orthodox Churches with the aim of keeping them informed and coordinating [this issue with them]." Agree, this is not the same thing. The Synod of Constantinople decided only to "be in close contact with other sister Orthodox Churches." This is exactly how it can be inferred from the original Greek text, published on the website of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The original text of the Communiqué of the Constantinople Patriarchate on the issue of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Church

Here is the translation from the Greek source text:

"The Holy and Sacred Synod, convened at the regular meeting from Thursday 19th to Friday 20th of April under the chairmanship of His Divine All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, concluded its work, having considered all the issues listed on the agenda. Appropriate decisions were made in this respect.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate, in accordance with the divine and sacred canons, the century-old ecclesiastical order and Holy Tradition, taking care of all the Orthodox Churches existing in the world and [bearing] responsibility for the Pan-Orthodox unity, especially about the Ukrainian Orthodox nation that received the salutary Christian faith and Holy Baptism from Constantinople and being its true Mother Church, thoroughly examined the ecclesiastical situation in Ukraine, as it was done in the previous Synods, and, having received from a part of the church and political actors, who represent many millions of Orthodox Ukrainians, a request for autocephaly, decided in this regard to stay in close contact with other sister Orthodox Churches with the aim of informing them and coordinating [this issue with them]."

We assume that there are no people in the President’s Administration whose command of the Greek language would allow them translate the source text. They did not translate from the original source, but from its English version of translation, which had also been published on the official website of the Constantinople Patriarchate.

The English translation of the Communiqué of the Constantinople Patriarchate on the issue of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Church

The UOC-KP also translated from the English text (not the original), and the UOC-KP Spokesman Yevstratiy Zoria hastened to state that the Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized "hierarchs" of the UOC-KP and the UAOC as "the ecclesiastical authorities that represent millions of Ukrainian Orthodox Christians."

But it arises from the original that the Synod of Constantinople considered the "request for autocephaly" from "part of the church and political actors that represent many millions of Orthodox Ukrainians." The fact that the flock of the UOC-KP counts millions of people is not disputed by anyone, but this does not mean that Patriarch Bartholomew, together with his Synod, recognized the canonicity of this "part of the church ... authorities."

However, such a delusion is forgivable for Evstratiy Zoria. Just like in the desert people see oases in places where they do not exist, so do schismatics who covet the canonical recognition see it where it does not exist at all. People tend to see what they want to see, and do not notice obvious things they do not like.

What did Poroshenko and other supporters of the creation of the SLOC through making political decisions fail to notice in the Communiqué of the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople?

First, this is what the Patriarchate of Constantinople will be guided by when making its decision on the SLOC, namely "the sacred canons, the century-old church order and the Holy Tradition". The UOJ has repeatedly written that in Orthodoxy there are no "sacred canons" that would clearly regulate the procedure for granting autocephaly. The Patriarchate of Constantinople had the intention of adopting the respective canonical rule at the Council of Crete, but this issue was not brought to the agenda.

Those willing can subtract some hints of two options for granting autocephaly in the existing code of canonical rules:

a) Autocephaly is bestowed by the Ecumenical (Constantinople) Patriarchate;

b) Autocephaly is bestowed by the Local Orthodox Church, of which the church structure, which wants to receive autocephaly, is a part of.

As regards which version is more substantiated in the church canons, one can argue very long. But it is absolutely unambiguous that in any "sacred canons" it is not written that autocephaly can be granted by someone to the church structure that does not request for its bestowal.

Thus, granting autocephaly to the UOC, which officially stated that "it did not appeal to Patriarch Bartholomew to request for autocephaly", would be a gross violation of the canons. In the canons, even with a very great desire, one cannot find an allusion that such a provision of autocephaly is possible. This is well understood in Constantinople, which was written in the Communiqué.

As for the "century-old ecclesiastic order and Holy Tradition", in other words, historical precedents, they testify that autocephaly was bestowed by the Mother-Church – i.e. the Church which included the Church claiming autocephaly. And then such a bestowal of autocephaly was recognized by other Local Orthodox Churches, not only by the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Here the term "Mother-Church" should be elucidated. It can be used in two planes – historical and juridical. In a historical sense, indeed, the Local Church of Constantinople is a Mother Church for so many Churches that have both autocephalous and autonomous status: Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish, etc. This historical interpretation of the term "Mother-Church" gives Constantinople purely moral and spiritual privileges: special care of unity, purity of dogmata, and so on.

But in terms of granting autocephaly, the term "Mother-Church" is used in the legal sense, i.e. this is the Church which incorporates the church structure seeking autocephaly organizationally. To resolve the issue of autocephaly without this legal "Mother-Church" is impossible in any way. This is what was written in the Communiqué.

Secondly, what basic value will the Constantinople Synod take into consideration when considering Petro Poroshenko's Appeal? This is stated unequivocally: this value is "Pan-Orthodox unity". It is unlikely for Bartholomew to bestow Poroshenko the SLOC at the cost of a split in the Ecumenical Orthodoxy. And the fact that such a split will inevitably happen cannot be doubted. We reiterate that the bestowal of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, contrary to Her own will, would be such a foul and flagrant violation of church canons that the Ecumenical Patriarch risks running into obstruction on the part of all the other Local Churches and causing the Patriarchate of Constantinople to fall off the Universal Orthodoxy. The Communiqué contains the clue that this will not happen, "Ecumenical Patriarchate <...> [bearing] responsibility for the Pan-Orthodox unity."

The Communiqué also says, "taking care of all the Orthodox churches existing in the world... especially about the Ukrainian Orthodox nation that received the salutary Christian faith and Holy Baptism from Constantinople.” The decision on autocephaly in today's Ukrainian realities can mean only one thing: a full-fledged religious war. Patriarch Bartholomew is perfectly aware of that, and so are political experts and various extremist organizations in Ukraine who call to "burn beards to Moscow priests" once autocephaly has been granted.

But the Communiqué says that Phanar has special care for the Ukrainian people, and we must expect that it will not allow such a development of events.

Thirdly, these are the words that the Synod of Constantinople "examined the ecclesiastic situation in Ukraine, as it was done in the previous synodal sessions." It means, this issue is not new for Phanar, it has been discussed more than once, more than one appeal of the Ukrainian President has already been received there, and, therefore, one should not think that today's situation is something out of the ordinary. Think about why else "previous sessions" is used in the Communiqué if not to allude that this time the issue will end up in the same way.

Fourthly (and this is the key point of the Communiqué). The Synod "decided to closely communicate and coordinate with its sister Orthodox Churches concerning this matter". Where Peter Poroshenko saw "the beginning of the procedures necessary to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church" is known to him alone.

But in combination with the words that the Ecumenical Patriarchate "concerns itself with the preservation of Pan-Orthodox unity," this means that Patriarch Bartholomew is not going to satisfy the appeal on autocephaly of the President of Ukraine if at least some "sister Orthodox Churches" are against it. And the fact that this will be the case causes no doubt. Not only will the ROC oppose to it, but also the Churches that have long criticized Patriarch Bartholomew for his ecumenical activities and claims for being exclusive in the Orthodox world. These can be those Churches that did not participate in the Cretan Council, organized by Constantinople, but not only them. We venture to assume that absolutely all the Local Orthodox Churches will not agree to the bestowal of autocephaly to the UOC against the will of the UOC itself.

Arising from the foregoing, the Communiqué of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not read as "the beginning of the procedures for granting autocephaly," but means that the whole political project "will result in a big puff", as Protopriest Nikolai Danilevich, deputy chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the UOC said.

In conclusion, I would like to remind the appeal of the UOC in view of all these developments: "With the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine Onuphry, we call on the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to maintain the unity of the Church, to be calm, not to yield to information provocations, to pray and not to forget that the destiny of our Church is wholly and entirely in the hands of God."

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