What can the SLC story end up with?
An idea of uniting with the Vatican of part of the Orthodox who are not averse to this may be the main goal of the overall combination with the SLC.
The plot with the establishment of ”Single Local Orthodox” (SLC) in Ukraine continues to develop. In what direction – it is difficult to say for now. It is even more difficult to foresee the after-effects of a possible decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. But if some time ago the possibility of a split in the world Orthodoxy because of the SLC was simply uttered, today Patriarch Bartholomew is openly urged to go towards such a split, only for the sake of Tomos on SLC. These calls and some other circumstances make one ponder over a question: is this split a true goal of this whole undertaking with the SLC? How possible is this option and what will it mean for the historical fate of the Church of Christ on earth? Let's try to make it out.
Any person who lives a church life or a layman, who has not lost altogether his common sense, is bewildered by everything going on around the SLC.
First, how can the Patriarchate of Constantinople bestow autocephaly to those who are not at all a member of the Church of Christ? Schismatics cannot receive autocephaly while they are in schism. They are not going to return to the Church from the schism, so what can we talk about? On the other hand, the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which alone can raise the issue of its autocephalous status in the family of the Local Orthodox Churches, does not bring up this issue. Thus, in Ukraine there is simply no subject whom there can be given the Tomos on SLC. After all, it cannot be Poroshenko alone, isn’t it?
Secondly, in a situation where there are no clear rules for granting autocephaly in Orthodoxy and it is not known who has the authority in this procedure it is possible to conduct various deliberations about the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the role of the Mother Church in this process. To talk about the one who plays first fiddle in this matter and whom this autocephaly actually originates from. But it is impossible that the Mother Church, that is, the Local Church incorporating the structure that claims an autocephalous status, be completely booted from the process of granting Tomos. However, the Russian Orthodox Church is completely excluded from this process.
Given the above arguments, we can safely conclude that the creation of the SLC in the way conceived by Petro Poroshenko is absolutely unfeasible. This is absurdity and lawlessness, which can be seen with a naked eye. And Patriarch Bartholomew should have honestly and frankly told this to the Ukrainian President during the notorious talks in Istanbul, on April 9th, after which everything went astray. This is the point where odd things begin to unfold…
P. Poroshenko returns from Istanbul in full confidence that the SLC issue at the Phanar level has been resolved definitively and irrevocably. He writes an official letter addressed to Patriarch Bartholomew and backs it up with the decision of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. It is also signed by schismatics from the UOC-KP and the UAOC. Poroshenko in his Administration in front of the cameras shakes the sheets with these schismatic signatures which might be understood as “look, here is a Single Orthodox Church!” We have a puzzle: where are the signatures of the bishops of the canonical UOC, the only one that is recognized by Constantinople? Then comes another weird thing. The deputy head of the Department for External Church Relations, Protopriest Nikolai Danilevich, states that no one addressed the UOC leadership regarding the proposal to support the petition to Patriarch Bartholomew. It turns out that the UOC has nothing to do with it! Yet, not at all embarrassed by the lack of signatures of the UOC episcopate under the letter on the SLC, P. Poroshenko sends it to the Phanar by the charter flight, and something very unusual happens again. The absence of signatures of the bishops of the UOC does not confuse Patriarch Bartholomew! He proceeds with the matter, instead of returning it for the consent by the UOC to the SLC. Moreover, the Synod of the Church of Constantinople resolves to begin consultations with other Local Churches on the issue of granting autocephaly.
The absurdity of the situation is clear to everyone. Yes, one could close their eyes to the fact that secular authorities are trying to achieve autocephaly, bluntly interfering in the affairs of the Church and flagrantly violating the Constitution. Yes, one could ignore the protests of the Moscow Patriarchate. But one cannot talk about autocephaly if the only canonical Church in Ukraine – the UOC – does not support this idea to date. But Constantinople does not only ignore it, but really consults with the leadership of other Local Orthodox Churches. This leadership reacts to this absurdity in different ways. Serbian Patriarch Irinej openly declares that "he who helps the Ukrainian schismatics is the enemy of the Orthodox world," while the Polish hierarchs say that everything must be resolved in accordance with the canons of the Church (with which ones – each Church interprets it in its own way). The Greek said they would consider this issue at the Bishops' Council in October. What do they mean by October if the SLC is going to be proclaimed in July on the occasion of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus? Anyway, the Greek got away with it.
But following the results of the negotiations between representatives of the Hellas and Constantinople Churches, the agency "Romphea" on May 16 issued interesting information it received from its sources that the Phanariots claimed they are determined "to go all the way in the matter of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church." That is, this autocephaly is to be granted despite everything.
The natural question arises: what causes Phanar contrary to the church canons, contrary to the opinion of the UOC, contrary to the opinion of many (if not all Local Churches) and, most importantly, contrary to basic common sense, persistently move forward the idea of the EOC? The most probable assumption: Patriarch Bartholomew has certain obligations before Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, with whom he had negotiations on April 9, and before special representative of the US State Department for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, with whom he had negotiations on Phanar on April 14. What caused these obligations – material gain, blackmail or threats – we do not know. We know only that historically, the Ecumenical Patriarchate does nothing without something. And in the case of granting Tomos on the SLC he does not receive any tangible benefit for himself. What is it then? Phanar could have vested interest if it was about the return of the Orthodox eparchies in Ukraine to the Constantinople Patriarchate, as it was before 1688. But nothing is said about this. Only about an independent autocephalous SLC.
The obligations of Patriarch Bartholomew may presumably consist in the fact that he will do everything possible to ensure the successful implementation of the SLC project. And he really does his best being perfectly aware of the absurdity of what is happening and unfeasibility to create the SLC in the way he is imposed. As a result, he can spread his hands and honestly say that he did everything in his power to pursue with the SLC, but not everything depends on him. And it will be true, and it will be in the best traditions of Byzantine diplomacy. But there is another option, less likely, but which also should not be discounted. This is an option when Phanar goes to the end and issues Tomos on the SLC by the decision of its Synod. In this case, the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be forced to somehow answer some very difficult questions.
First, whom does he grant autocephaly to? To the Church, which would unite all Ukrainian denominations calling themselves Orthodox? In fact, it is not so. The UOC did not ask for autocephaly. There remain schismatics, the UOC-KP and the UAOC each of them going separately. Or Constantinople will proclaim some kind of virtual SLC, without a Primate, without clergy and without people, which in the future will be filled by those who wish to join it. But this is complete insanity!
Secondly, what about the so-called "ordinations" of the so-called "clergy" of the UOC-KP and the UAOC? How to deal with the anathema imposed on Mr. Denisenko and which is recognized by the entire Orthodox world? Perhaps, they can all be invited to Istanbul to be “re-ordained” quietly not attracting attention? But then they will all have to admit that for more than a quarter of a century since the canonical punishments were imposed on them, they have acted not as priests of God, but as impostors. They are unlikely to agree to this.
But all this is not to be compared with the prospect of a split in the whole of World Orthodoxy.
From the very beginning of the pedaling the topic of the SLC, there were fears that this issue could cause a split not only between the Church of Constantinople and the Russian Church, but throughout the Orthodox World. Later it was found out that the proponents of the SLC are not afraid of such a prospect! Moreover, there were people who openly called upon Patriarch Bartholomew to commit such a split. Spokesman of the UOC-KP, Mr. Yevstratii Zorya, said that the schism in Orthodoxy had already allegedly taken place in terms of the participation or non-participation of the Local Churches in the Cretan Council of 2016 (the statement is absolutely false and groundless) and called upon the Local Churches not to "cling to a ghostly unity". The determination, with which Constantinople acts to create the SLC, makes us assume: what if the possibility of such a split is consciously ventured by the hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In this case, the question arises: what is the criterion for this split-to-be? With a high degree of probability, in a single Orthodoxy there will be two poles of attraction: the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Russian Orthodox Church. But the criteria of separation will not be limited to more numerous likes for either Patriarch Bartholomew or Kirill. Criteria will be much more serious. And here it will be necessary to recognize that in the words of the UOC-KP Spokesman, Mr. Zoria, there is really a rational grain: the criterion will be an attitude towards the Cretan Council.
Let’s remember what a stumbling block was. Why did the Four Local Churches not participate in the Council? Answering this question, it is helpful to recall the events which occurred one thousand years ago, namely, in 1054, when the Roman Church finally broke away from the Church of Christ. Then the stumbling block was two points: dogmatic – the teaching of the Latins about the procession of the Holy Spirit from God the Father and God the Son and administrative (let's call it like that) – the claims of the Pope for the primacy in the Church.
Today the situation is pretty similar. In connection with the Cretan Council, dissatisfaction with Constantinople can be confined to two points: administrative – Fanar's claim to some exclusive rights in the Orthodox World which other Local Churches do not have and dogmatic – the doctrine of the Church, namely, the status of the Vatican as a "sister church" enshrined in the document "Relations between the Orthodox Church and the Rest of the Christian World".
According to many modern theologians, this leads to the following. In the case of recognition of the Council in Crete as All-Orthodox, the doctrine of the separation of One (in the first millennium) Church of Christ into separate equivalent branches (Catholicism and Orthodoxy) will be declared official Orthodox teaching, which, in its turn, leads to the conclusion that these branches should be united.
It is not difficult to foresee that such an association will occur, if not on the basis of acceptance by the Orthodox of all Latin heresies: the primacy of the pope, the filioca, purgatory, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin and others, then on the recognition of all these heresies as permissible. A kind of old union with Rome in a new way. Unwillingness to allow such a development of events was the reason why four most numerous Local Churches refused to go to the Cretan Council.
So, the main criterion of the possible (God forbid, of course) the division of the Orthodox Church in the modern world will be not at all the issue on the attitude to the SLC, but about the attitude towards uniting with the Latins. Given the repeated statements of Patriarch Bartholomew (and all the last Ecumenical Patriarchs), it is not just about desirability, but about the inevitability of the unification of Orthodox believers with Catholics, taking into account his participation in joint divine services with the Pope; his theological education at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome and teaching in the Papal Gregorian University. We can thus assume that he admits the possibility of a break with those Local Churches, which do not share these aspirations.
In this case, the possible development of events may look like this (again: may it not look like this!):
a) Constantinople issues Tomos on the SLC;
b) The Orthodox World is divided into those who are recognize this decision (and, consequently, the Primacy of Constantinople) and the others;
c) Around Fanar gather those who have "broad views" on church dogma, moral principles and so on. Everyone who aspires to unity on the basis of tolerance and universal values;
d) Opponents of this point of view are declared obscurantists and clerics hopelessly stuck in the Middle Ages;
e) "Progressive Orthodox" believers unite with the Latins, which is extolled as the greatest historical achievement. It is serious, isn’t it, to unite what was disunited for a thousand years!
Consequently, Patriarch Bartholomew can enter history not as the one who "committed the schism in Orthodoxy", but as a "unifier of Christianity", even if all of this is accomplished by his successors. Will he dare do this? I want to believe no. Still the idea of uniting with the Vatican of part of the Orthodox who are not averse to this may be the main goal of the overall combination with the SLC.
"The next step (after the creation of the SLC - Ed.) is the ecumenical dialogue between the UGCC and the united Ukrainian Orthodoxy in the direction of restoring the original unity of this church," said the chief Uniate of Ukraine Sviatoslav Shevchuk.
"I, Fedosy, the poor slave of the Holy Trinity, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, born in a pure and faithful faith and brought up in good faith by my faithful father and Christian mother who taught me to follow the good law and the morals of the Orthodox; but not to accept the Latin religion, not to observe their customs, not to attend their meetings, and not to listen to any teaching, and disdain all their customs and mores," said the Venerable Monk Theodosius of Caves (from the Testament of Christian and Latin Faith).
Whom shall we listen to?