Tomos at a standstill: the outcome of the UOC visit to Phanar

The UOC delegation led by the permanent member of the Holy Synod of the UOC, Metropolitan Agafangel of Odessa and Izmail

The delegation of the UOC had a meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew. July will be smooth.

On Saturday, June 23, a delegation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church held talks with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and other Greek hierarchs. The negotiations ended up with neither signed documents nor a joint statement, or even a short briefing for the journalists by the people who led the two sides of the talks. All that analysts can be content with is a brief interview with Metropolitan Emmanuel of France and Metropolitan Anthony of Borispol and Brovary. But from their words, as well as other circumstances of the visit, certain conclusions can be drawn.

The very first and main conclusion is that Constantinople amid all Ukrainian denominations calling themselves Orthodox sees only the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a party to negotiations. This follows from the very fact of the meeting of the UOC delegation with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. No one even from the most zealous supporters of Tomos on autocephaly can fancy Patriarch Bartholomew receiving at his residence representatives of the schismatic UOC-KP or the UAOC. Of course, Phanar received Peter Poroshenko, Vladimir Groysman, and Andrey Parubiy, but only as secular leaders of the state of Ukraine. As for religious figures, only representatives of the UOC are welcome there.

This fact amply indicates one thing, which is rejected in today's Ukraine. Namely: political and public figures, proactive representatives of various faiths, and (mainly) the media created a picture according to which religious people in Ukraine are divided into two categories: the advocates of Tomos on autocephaly and its opponents. The corresponding tone of all speeches, statements, publications, and reports positions supporters of Tomos as patriots, peacekeepers and unifiers, whereas opponents are indiscriminately put down to the fifth column of Moscow.

Meanwhile, such a division is basically erroneous. And this was proved by the visit of the delegation of the UOC to Phanar and the very fact of the negotiations. Yes, people who call themselves Orthodox in Ukraine fall into two categories: the Church and the schismatics. The criterion of this division is their belonging to the Church of Christ. Hierarchs, clergy and believers of the UOC belong to it and, therefore, are welcome at Phanar where they hold joint worship services and share Sacraments. All the rest, mostly members of the UOC-KP and UAOC do not unfortunately belong to the Church and are deprived of all these.

The UOC delegation included permanent members of the Holy Synod: Metropolitan Agafangel of Odessa and Izmail, Metropolitan Hilarion of Donetsk and Mariupol, Metropolitan Theodore of Kamenets-Podolsky and Gorodok, and Metropolitan Anthony of Borispol and Brovary. At this point one cannot but notice the following. Firstly, the status of permanent members of the Synod reveals the high level of the delegation, and secondly, these hierarchies represent different geographical parts of Ukraine: the center, the south, the west and the east. Thus, a clear signal was sent to the Patriarchate of Constantinople: you will speak with people who represent the entire UOC and who have the greatest influence in one of its governing bodies.

According to the information message on the official website of the UOC: "Members of the Holy Synod arrived in Constantinople in order to obtain reliable information from Patriarch Bartholomew regarding the initiatives on the probable granting of Tomos on autocephaly, as well as for the purpose of reporting the position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on this issue." Were these goals achieved? The second one is undoubtedly yes! Patriarch Bartholomew was thoroughly informed about the position of the UOC in the issue of the Single Local Church (SLC). But what about the first and main goal? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to analyze those meager words that were spoken by the members of both sides of the talks after the end of the conversation.

According to the press service of the UOC, the Metropolitan Emmanuel of France said, "Today, under the leadership of His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, we were happy to meet, cooperate and talk with the delegation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Patriarchy at Phanar.

It was a very useful and constructive conversation, during which we exchanged thoughts regarding the Ukrainian church issue everyone is so worried about. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has never ceased and continues to be interested in the solution of the ecclesiastic problem that exists in Ukraine for the sake of establishment of peace, reconciliation and cooperation of all groups in the state for its benefit.

We are convinced that all together we can cooperate and make a joint contribution to the benefit of Ukraine and the solution of this issue. Today's conversation was a blessed moment for us, and we believe that via such talks and a constant dialogue we will achieve a common goal for the benefit of the entire Orthodox Church."

Absolutely nothing arises from the above words pronounced by the Constantinople hierarch. "Together we can cooperate for the common benefit." These words can be told by anyone and to anyone. Note that the Constantinople hierarch did not even say what is often voiced in such cases, something like "the issue will be resolved on the basis of canonical rules." Though, the latter can also be further interpreted as one chooses.

One can draw a twofold conclusion from the aforesaid. The words of the Metropolitan Emmanuel of France is a classic example of Byzantine diplomacy and they can mean both that Phanar has not yet made up its mind on the issue and that this decision already exists, but it cannot yet be announced. The second option is most likely. Constantinople understands that under the prevailing conditions it cannot grant Tomos on autocephaly for the simple reason it has no one to give it to. There is no such canonically recognized and structurally organized church structure to be in a position to request it. However, political forces (I mean not only Ukrainian ones) soliciting the arrival of Tomos are so powerful that Constantinople simply cannot now voice its refusal to grant autocephaly to the SLC. It must show that it honestly tried to solve this problem and undertook all possible diplomatic efforts for this end, but intractability of other Local Churches and other circumstances stood in the way.

Now let us analyze the words of Metropolitan Anthony of Borispol and Brovary.

"The aim of the meeting was to convey objective information on the problems faced by Ukrainian Orthodoxy, as well as to hear from the Patriarch personally about what is being actively discussed in the media, namely, about the alleged desire of His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew to grant Tomos on autocephaly in the near future.

The meeting was long and candid, everyone shared his vision regarding the situation in Ukraine and not only in it, because schisms exist not only within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but also in many Local Orthodox Churches, and we must look for ways that will help cure the schism.

Several times it was said about the impossibility of legalizing the split; instead we need to talk about its remedy. Figuratively speaking, sometimes medicines do not help, and now we are in search of something that will help unite our brothers who have long been behind the church fence, and we see the desire of the Patriarch of Constantinople as a head of the Church, from which we were baptized, assist in this matter.

His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew said that he does not want to interfere in the situation, but he also wants to help, as a responsible person and the first among equal hierarchs of the entire Orthodox world, to solve a very complex issue, and we can see that such openness is built on looking for a solution by means of the canonical rules, but not as our media or some of our high-ranking officials say that issue has been allegedly settled. No one yet knows how the matter can be solved, since it is very complicated, but we must do everything to ensure that our brothers and compatriots who are in schism return to the bosom of the Orthodox Church."

Metropolitan Anthony did not say that the Ukrainian delegation had received assurances from the Patriarch of Constantinople that Tomos would not be issued in circumvention of the UOC. That is, Vladyka Anthony did not resort to wishful thinking and said frankly only about what was true. This means that other words of his also reflect the real state of affairs. From there we can conclude the following.

First, in the negotiations at Phanar, what was called the problem of Ukrainian Orthodoxy was understood as a problem of the existing split, rather than the problem of the lack of autocephaly.

Secondly, this problem was not considered in itself, but in the context of other splits in the Orthodox world. This means that the possible model of overcoming split to be implemented in Ukraine can serve as a mould for overcoming splits in other countries. And if Phanar agrees to what Poroshenko offers him, it will encounter the situation when not only schismatics from other Local Churches will demand the same actions, but in the very structure of the Patriarchate of Constantinople proactive forces will seek independence now from the Phanar itself.

Thirdly, Patriarch Bartholomew and his episcopate are well aware of this threat, hence, they assured the Ukrainian side during the negotiations that there will be no legalization of the split on the part of Constantinople. Instead there will be assistance from "the first among the equal hierarchs of the entire Orthodox world to solve a very complex issue."

But how is the issue of the split resolved? The only way is repentance and return to the bosom of the Church. That is, the schismatics, whatever one may say, must perform penance. But here the question arises: before whom? It's no secret that repentance before the UOC for many that have joined schism is very difficult for political reasons and ideological convictions. It's another matter if one repents before Constantinople. It is much easier and allows them to save their face. One can draw an analogy with the Forgiveness Sunday on the eve of the Lent. Those who have ever experienced it know how easy it is to apologize before someone you have not offended, and how difficult it is to ask for forgiveness those you really have sinned against. Is not this the help of Constantinople, which was discussed at the talks?

It is possible to assume that Constantinople views this option as a kind of compromise that could suit everyone. But to implement such an option, Phanar would have to open its metropolia in Ukraine, parallel to the UOC. For Constantinople, this is very convenient, since he can assure P. Poroshenko and other stakeholders of the SLC project that such metropolia is the first step towards Ukrainian autocephaly, the step being absolutely necessary. But for the UOC it will have simply catastrophic implications, because in this case the authorities and radical nationalists will immediately “fold” all Orthodox faiths into this metropolis. It can be assumed that the unacceptability of this option was discussed during the "long and open-minded meeting" at Phanar.

And fourthly, P. Poroshenko and other stakeholders demand that Patriarch Bartholomew grant Tomos before the date of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, coming up in a little more than a month. But this date was mentioned at the talks only in the context of the participation of the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the services held by the UOC and other solemn events. The UOC website in this connection says the following: "On behalf of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy, the Ukrainian bishops gave an invitation to Patriarch Bartholomew to send his representative to Kiev to celebrate the festive event of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Kiev Rus, in which representatives of all Local Orthodox Churches will traditionally take part." It means the celebrations will be attended by representatives of all (!) Local Churches, and hence Constantinople cannot but send its representatives. By sending them, it cannot simultaneously grant Tomos to the SLC, because the UOC stands against this. Consequently, we can conclude: the probability that P. Poroshenko will receive his SLC by this date is negligible.

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What will happen if the Church of Greece recognizes the OCU?
it will put itself out of Orthodoxy
it will give rise to global recognition of the OCU by Local Churches
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