Why are Patriarchs meeting?
Patriarchs Bartholomew and Kirill are to meet on August 31 in Istanbul. What is behind this meeting? And how will it affect the religious situation in Ukraine?
Comments on this topic are very diverse. But the majority boils down to the fact that, firstly, Ukraine and Ukrainian autocephaly will be the main topic of the meeting, if not the only, and secondly – the Tomos will appear, no matter what. And regarding the latter thesis, some suggest that Patriarch Kirill is making the last desperate attempt to prevent the Tomos, while others argue that the Moscow Patriarchate has already put up with the Tomos, and on August 31 in Istanbul, it will be discussed how to save Patriarch Kirill's face.
Mr Denisenko habitually calls new dates for granting the Tomos (in the latest version – this is the beginning of September), some MPs, who position themselves as church patriots, put forward fantastic versions that Constantinople will supposedly grant the Tomos to the "Ukrainian church," and Moscow – to the UOC. And only the Ukrainian Orthodox Church quietly says that the meeting of the Primates of the two Local Orthodox Churches "will improve the entire climate of inter-Orthodox relations" (Protopriest Nikolai Danilevich, deputy head of the UOC DECR). This opinion is sidelined, as usual, but eventually, it will turn out to be right. Again, as usual.
The theme of Ukraine is most likely to be dominant, but not in the context of the Tomos, but in the context of overcoming the Ukrainian schism. And the topic of overcoming the Ukrainian schism can be discussed only in the context of overcoming schisms in the entire Orthodox world, both already existing and institutionalized and only looming. And the most important and unpleasant for Phanar is a brewing schism in the Patriarchate of Constantinople itself. The UOJ has already written that there is a very influential group in the Archdiocese of America, openly declaring the need for secession from Constantinople. Therefore, as they say, "slapping off the shoulder" and granting the Tomos to an abstract Single Local Church in Ukraine, Phanar very much risks "cutting off" the most important (at least financially) part of itself. And the hierarchs of Constantinople will try to avoid this by all means. Moreover, the fact that recently Patriarch Bartholomew has failed to remove Archbishop Demetrios (Trakatellis) from the post of Archbishop of the Archdiocese of America, forces the Phanariots to be extremely cautious while granting any kind of autocephaly.
Why will Patriarchs Bartholomew and Kirill discuss not the Tomos but the schism in Ukraine? Simply because in Ukraine there is no subject to whom this Tomos could be granted by both the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Moscow. The recent passage of Mr Denisenko is very amusing: "So we must hold the Unifying Council. Who we? Those bishops who appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch. At the Council of Bishops, this episcopate must elect the single primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church."
Why will Patriarchs Bartholomew and Kirill discuss not the Tomos but the schism in Ukraine? Simply because in Ukraine there is no subject to whom this Tomos could be granted.
This is a nonsense one can hardly think of! The schismatic "episcopate" has no canonical, juridical, or organizational relation to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Primate of the UOC is His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry. How could the dissenters "hold the Unifying Council" and re-elect him?
The Tomos on autocephaly is granted to a canonically recognized church structure. The only such in Ukraine is the UOC, which does not ask for the Tomos. Moreover, on June 25, the episcopate of the UOC practically as a whole adopted an eloquent statement:
"The existing canonical status of our Church is now sufficient to enable it to fulfill its mission fruitfully among its people. Attempts to change this status will only lead to a restriction of the rights and freedoms that our Church is endowed with, having the rights of broad autonomy. In addition, these attempts will not cure but deepen the schism in both Ukrainian Orthodoxy and in Ukrainian society. This also concerns the possible creation of a parallel ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Ukraine. The bishops unanimously confirmed their desire to observe the episcopal oath given at the ordination to keep the faithfulness of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church."
This statement is a signal, including to Patriarch Bartholomew: the UOC views the notorious Tomos, which is planned to be granted to an even non-existent religious structure, as a blow to the canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine. Need I say that other Local Churches will consider the same?
Who should the Tomos be given? Schismatics? Granting the Tomos to the schismatics is madness!
First, it does not cure the schism itself.
Secondly, it will provoke further schisms in different Local Churches. This will lead to a whole line of schismatic organizations demanding a tomos from Phanar. And there will be no more arguments to refuse them.
Thirdly, the bestowal of the Tomos by Constantinople without the consent of that Local Church, from which the "Tomos hunters" broke away, will mean a breakup between them.
Does Constantinople need all this? The question is rhetorical.
Patriarch Bartholomew has no reason to grant the Tomos in early September, as Mr Denisenko wishes. The latter is not at all the subject of any negotiations on the Tomos. Patriarch Bartholomew talks on this issue with Petro Poroshenko. But the current president of Ukraine is facing the elections in less than a year. And the forecasts for him are very unfavourable. Also in Phanar, the question of the Tomos is lobbied by certain political circles in the United States. But in America, there are also mid-term elections to the Congress and the Senate, after which the political significance of these circles can change.
Common sense dictates not to make a principled decision on the Tomos before these events. There have also been reports that the Tomos is being lobbied by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, which itself has recently returned from the schism and is now part of the Constantinople Patriarchate. But their efforts to promote the bestowal of the Tomos would rather have the opposite effect. After all, in the case of the Single Local Church in Ukraine, logic suggests that the UOC in the United States will have to withdraw from the Constantinople Patriarchate and join the Ukrainian SLC. Does Constantinople need this?
The conclusion from all this is that the issue of Tomos will not of topical interest at the negotiations of Patriarchs Bartholomew and Kirill. But efforts to find some formula for healing schism, both in Ukraine and in other countries, which would suit everyone, is really relevant. It is possible that in this regard Patriarch Kirill will bring some fresh ideas to Phanar. And it is possible that these ideas may very much please Patriarch Bartholomew. The fact is that with any schism, there is a situation where the one who broke away and the one who is broken off, are in conflict with each other. Often this conflict is overgrown with a whole lump of mutual accusations, and sometimes even insults, which does not allow them to resolve this conflict themselves. And here Constantinople can play a positive role. Of course, this will not be the role of the supreme arbiter, but some kind of mediation mechanism is quite possible.
At the talks of the Patriarchs Bartholomew and Kirill, not the question of Tomos will be relevant, but the search for a formula for healing schism in both Ukraine and other countries, which would suit everyone.
And there is one more point, which says that Ukraine will not be the only topic of Phanar talks. If the Patriarchs discussed exclusively the Ukrainian question, it would be logical for the Primate of the UOC, Metropolitan Onufry, to participate in these negotiations. But this has not yet been announced. Hence, the subjects of the talks will be much broader.
What other questions could be "of mutual interest" for the two Primates?
First, it is a question of the really shaken unity between the Local Orthodox Churches. And this unity was shaken not because of Ukraine, but because of the Crete Council. Both the Council itself and the documents adopted at it are disputed not only by those Local Churches that did not participate in the Council but also by the part of the episcopacy and clergy of those Churches that took part in the Council and signed its documents. Attempts of Patriarch Bartholomew to impose this Council as "ecumenical" on everyone, and its decisions as universally binding are not only resisted but also give ground to accuse Constantinople itself of the desire to rule over the Orthodox World. The question of attitude to the Crete Council for Phanar is much more important than the Tomos. Perhaps, Phanar's ambiguous statements on the Ukrainian SLC issue are attempts to somehow influence the position of the ROC in this matter.
Secondly, Patriarch Bartholomew is very concerned about the relationship between Phanar and the Turkish authorities. They are quite complicated. And if earlier the patron and intercessor for the Patriarchate of Constantinople with the secular authorities of Turkey was the United States, now it cannot fully fulfil this role due to the conflict between the two countries. Just a few days ago, in addition to mutual accusations and threats, freezing supplies of modern American fighter planes to Turkey and other troubles, personal sanctions against top Turkish officials, Justice Minister Abdulammit Gul and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu were added. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu expressed his dissatisfaction with the decision and said that the US will not achieve its result with its actions. That is, Turkey is not going to give up, and this means a new round of tension. Therefore, in the future, the US not only will not be able to patronize Phanar, as it was before, but also become a "toxic partner" for the latter, cooperation with which will discredit the Patriarchate of Constantinople in front of the Turkish authorities.
Thus, the place of the patron and the intercessor for Phanar becomes vacant, and in the future, logically, Russia is fully capable of taking it. The good relations of Constantinople with the ROC are one of the necessary conditions for this. And here we can recall that during the time of the Ottoman Empire, the restoration of which Turkish President Erdogan dreams about, there was an official agreement between the Porte and Russia, according to which Russia had the right to protect the Orthodox in the territory of Turkey. So we have the historical experience here.
Thirdly, the Patriarchs can try to outline ways to solve the difficult situation in Estonia, where there are two parallel Orthodox jurisdictions of the Constantinople and Moscow Patriarchates. At one time it became a compromise solution and somewhat smoothed out the church conflict in this country. But time has shown that such a situation is not normal and harms Orthodoxy as a whole. The issues of the Middle East settlement, the relationship of the two Churches with the Vatican, etc. can also be of "mutual interest" for the two Primates.
According to diplomatic traditions, meetings of the first persons, as a rule, are not organized in order to finally quarrel. For this, it is enough to negotiate between secondary persons or make statements in absentia. The first persons meet to consolidate and, perhaps, to formalize in the form of a document those agreements that have already been reached in negotiations between delegations of a lower level. The fact that the Patriarchs agreed to meet says that there are common positions on the issues under discussion between them. And most likely they were agreed during the negotiations of the delegation of Constantinople in Moscow on July 9th.
So we are looking forward to the meeting of the Patriarchs and we hope that it will bring a possible alternative of healing the Ukrainian schism, as well as the disappointment to all those who wish to inflate the conflict between Constantinople and the Russian Orthodox Church.