Baptism anniversary is gone but Tomos is still not here: what next?
April heralds of the President caused such a powerful campaign for SLC that many people began to believe Patriarch Bartholomew would arrive on July 28 to bring Tomos.
In April, when Peter Poroshenko, after his visit to Phanar, announced the creation of a Single Local Orthodox Church (SLOC), it was supposed to happen during the jubilee celebrations, dedicated to the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. This announcement was followed by such a powerful movement for the SLC in the Ukrainian state that even quite sober-minded people began to think that, yes, on the day of the Baptism of Rus, Patriarch Bartholomew would come and grant this notorious Tomos. The holiday passed, Tomos has not arrived. What awaits us in the future?
Let us recall with what enthusiasm Mr. Poroshenko said that if we tried hard, then Tomos could be received by the 1030th anniversary of Baptism: "I really hope this decision can be made towards the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Ukraine-Rus." So, everyone did try hard. The Parliament voted to appeal to Constantinople, the schismatic denominations quickly collected signatures of the "episcopate", various pundits and religious experts asserted without a shadow of a doubt that SLC was a settled matter. Even Archimandrite Kirill (Govorun), who used to hold the post of chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, alluding to his confidential but very reliable sources, claimed that Tomos had already been written. Mr. Denisenko openly stated that he does not see anyone except himself in the lead of the SLC. Some other "hierarchs" veiled the same desire. Everyone was waiting for the advent: it is almost there! Wait a bit! Constantinople has already decided everything, there have remained formalities! Sensible statements of the UOC that all this is a "puff" and "you just did not understand Byzantine church diplomats" were not taken seriously. Can it be called otherwise than a “puff”, if the President himself stated: "We were assured that they would give us autocephaly."
Perhaps it was true and, indeed, the Constantinople hierarchs assured Mr. Poroshenko they would give autocephaly. But the Administration of the Ukrainian President completely failed to take into account that the East is a subtle matter. And they completely forgot (or did not read at all) a well-known story of how Khoja Nasreddin promised the padishah to teach a donkey to speak. Nasreddin demanded a donkey, a bag of gold and 20 years of time. The padishah agreed and warned that he would cut off Khoja's head in case of failure. But the latter was not at all afraid: "In 20 years either me, or the padishah, or the donkey will die." This bears similarity to the story with SLC. The Phanariots said they would give a tomos but they did not say when. And a year later, it is quite possible that a completely different person will be sitting in the chair of the President of Ukraine. And it is not known how he (or she) will approach this idea.
Even in a politically stable America, where an appointee of one of the two political parties comes to power every four years, where everything is predictable and understandable, even there the incumbent president becomes a "lame duck" one year before the elections. Neither serious negotiations are conducted nor serious agreements are signed with him. Everybody is waiting for who will become a new president to deal with. Did Petro Poroshenko naively believe that Phanar does not understand all this?
Maybe he did, but most likely he thought that the game was worth the candle. Yes, the risks of falling on his face together with the Tomos are great, but in case of success it could be just the trump card to help Mr. Poroshenko win the election. It’s not so easy for the person who for the first time in history of Ukraine is about to create an autocephalous SLC! It is even cooler than the Holy Prince Vladimir under whose rule the Church in Rus was only a part of the structure of Constantinople. Well, how can one not vote for such a historical person in 2019?! Moreover, there have been no other significant trump cards with the incumbent President: in the economy, social sphere, foreign and domestic policy – everything is very dismal everywhere!
An in case of failure with the SLC there is also a safety net: it is possible to blame the "hand of the Kremlin" for reaching out to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and not allowing freedom-loving supporters of the SLC to secure the long-awaited autocephaly. Then, before his electorate, Mr. Poroshenko appears as a staunch fighter against the mighty "Russian world" and adds some scores to his election race – although not as great as in case of success.
Consequently, the first factor that influences the future of the SLC is the factor of the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019 in Ukraine and Poroshenko’s likely stepping down as the president.
But the SLC project has already gone far beyond the election campaign of Mr. Poroshenko. The President himself, unwittingly, very accurately describes this project not as a religious one but as a purely state one: "The Tomos on autocephaly will bring to an end the assertion of the independence and sovereignty of our state ..." Futhermore, he recognizes it as a matter of great world politics: "Autocephaly is a question <…> of the entire world geopolitics."
"The issue of Ukrainian autocephaly goes far beyond the ecclesiastic plane and becomes an international problem," says the head of the Ukrainian Politics Foundation Konstantin Bondarenko. Most political experts, both supporters and opponents of the SLC agree to this. Petro Poroshenko initiated the project, but is he actually one of the geopolitical leaders who takes part in resolving the issues of "the entire world geopolitics"? The answer is obvious. And if so, it turns out that the incumbent Ukrainian President took and put an SLC map into the hands of the world geopolitical players, which they will play out not only without Mr. Poroshenko, but without taking into account the interests of Ukraine as a whole. Here is "patriotism" of the guarantor of the Constitution.
Let's take a look at the world geopolitical scenario, which determines the fate of the autocephalous Church.
After the talks on April 17 between Petro Poroshenko and Patriarch Bartholomew at Phanar on the issue of Tomos, the first person the Patriarch went to for consultations was Turkish President Recep Erdogan. And there is every reason to believe that it is the word of Erdogan that plays a significant role in the solution of this issue. Different political experts have different opinions about what is more beneficial for the Turkish president. There is an opinion that Erdogan is interested in increasing the role of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in World Orthodoxy and, accordingly, he will support any steps that could aggrandize Phanar. There is certain logic about it but so far for last century the policy of the Turkish authorities was directly opposite. Phanar is oppressed in every possible way: they do not recognize its status of Ecumenical, they close theological schools, they threaten to move it to Athos or to another place outside of Turkey and so on. This policy has never ever changed. In addition, in 2016, Patriarch Bartholomew appeared "at fault" before Erdogan. There is information that Patriarch Bartholomew sympathized with Fehtullah Gülen, an oppositionist, political and public figure, whom the Turkish authorities accused of organizing a coup during the unsuccessful coup d'état. Patriarch Bartholomew's visit to the Turkish president immediately after the talks with Petro Poroshenko is an additional confirmation that the Patriarch is trying in every possible way to prove his loyalty to the Turkish authorities.
As for the Turkish authorities, it’s not profitable to them to be at loggerheads with Russia, which will perceive the bestowal of Tomos by the Phanar to Mr. Poroshenko as a hostile behavior toward itself. Relations with Russia are developing on a growing basis. Turkey is striving to become an influential geopolitical player not only regionally but also world-wide. At the recent BRICS summit (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), the Turkish President, who was there as an observer, expressed Turkey's desire to join this influential global organization. Also, Turkey is on the way to joining the Shanghai Organization for Cooperation (SOC). In both these organizations, Russia plays a major role. The main indicator of how close the countries are to each other is the question of buying weapons. As is known, Turkey not only signed a contract for the delivery of cutting-edge Russian air defense complex S-400, but did not give it up even after the ultimatum put forward by the United States. The American Congress, in response, banned the delivery to Turkey of the fifth generation of F-35 fighters, at which the Turkish Foreign Ministry hinted that it could purchase aircrafts of this generation again from Russia.
On June 29, the Turkish President announced the summit of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France on the Syrian settlement, which is to be held in Istanbul on September 7. In addition, Erdogan said that, in addition to this event, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran should meet in the near future.
In general, Turkish foreign policy is characterized by growing confrontation with the United States and deepening economic, political and military relations with Russia. Does Erdogan need to jeopardize this cooperation because of the SLC ambition? No, no need! However, for the promise to influence Patriarch Bartholomew in the right key for Russia, Erdogan can bargain from Russia more favorable conditions for cooperation. What can I say? We should be “thankful” to Mr. Poroshenko for giving Erdogan such an opportunity!
So, the second factor to influence the future of the SLC is the factor of good relations between Turkey and Russia, which they are not going to spoil because of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Church.
Another big geopolitical factor is the domestic political struggle in the United States. It's no secret that America is the main lobbyist of the Tomos for Petro Poroshenko. But the fact is that the political elites of the United States are now disunited as never before. It would be more correct to say that it is not the US, but certain political forces in the US lobbying the Phanar issue of the SLC. It is very simplistic to say that the American political establishment today is divided into supporters and opponents of American President Donald Trump, who are in both parties – Democrats and Republicans. Yet in recent years, opponents of Trump have been losing their influence. At first, they failed to prevent Trump's victory in the presidential election, although the victory of H. Clinton seemed obvious to everyone. Then Trump could not be shifted in the impeachment order, which many expected in the first year of his presidency. After that, the opponents of Trump could not prevent a personal meeting between the American and Russian leaders. Moreover, two more anticipated meetings have already been announced in Washington and Moscow. The next frontier that the supporters of the incumbent American president should take is the so-called "intermediate elections" in the United States. On November 6, i.е. in the middle of Donald Trump's first presidential term, the lower house of the US Congress – the House of Representatives – will be re-elected, as well as 35 senators out of 100. In addition, 39 state and territory governors are re-elected as well, and in some states other local elections are held. As expected, Trump supporters in this election should strengthen their power in the United States. Thus, the pressure on Patriarch Bartholomew by the US on the issue of SLC will significantly weaken, or at least the Patriarch will have reason to think hard: is it really worth listening to what is required from abroad.
Thus, the third factor that influences the future of the SLC is the factor of weakened American influence on the Phanar.
The fourth factor, which is no longer global, but internal Ukrainian, can be conventionally called "the factor of Filaret". It is no secret that many of the bishops of the Local Orthodox Churches and personally Patriarch Bartholomew are not distracted so much by the UOC-KP and the UAOC as such, but by the very person of Mr. Denisenko, whose anathema was proclaimed in 1997 and recognized by all Local Churches. The Phanar's reluctance to see a person who was excommunicated from the Church in the lead of the SLC was apparently reported to the Administration of the Ukrainian President, since a few weeks ago there were persistent rumors that the Administration was making incredible efforts to persuade the “patriarch” to retire and not to interfere with Petro Poroshenko’s efforts on autocepahly. But he did not agree. In these circumstances, the Patriarchate of Constantinople may well refer to the "factor of Filaret" to explain the delay in granting the Tomos.
As we can see, all the autocephaly scenarios as "a matter of the entire world geopolitics" show that this issue will not be resolved in any way, at least until the elections are held in Ukraine in 2019, until the schismatic head of the UOC-KP retires or performs true, not false penance, until Turkey quarrels with Russia and until Trump and the forces which support him in the United States flop.
However, all of the aforesaid does not have crucial significance. The most important factor about Ukrainian autocephaly is a consolidated position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. During the celebration of the Name Day of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry, the episcopate practically in all its composition called for the preservation of the present canonical status of the UOC.
No less important factor is the unity of the believers within the Church and the support of their Primate. The biggest religious procession that took place on July 27th in Kiev showed that the people fully share the position of their Church leadership on the rejection of interference of politicians in ecclesiastic matters. We can even assume that as the state authorities increase their attacks and pressure on the Church, this will strengthen even more the position of the canonical Church of Ukraine.