Tomos and Synaxis: what did Patriarch Bartholomew say?

Petro Poroshenko said that the Ecumenical Patriarchate approved a decision on the right of Constantinople to give states the right to create a local church

The recent Bishops' Council (Synaxis) of the Church of Constantinople gave the President of Ukraine and other Tomos adherents a reason for the next loud statements.

In particular, Petro Poroshenko said that the Ecumenical Patriarchate approved a decision on the right of Constantinople to give states the right to create a local church!

However, this is not the case, and Petro Poroshenko might have been misled. Such a governing body of the Patriarchate of Constantinople as Synaxis does not take any decisions at all. His role in governance is certainly great, but such is the specificity of the Patriarchate of Constantinople that the official decisions are not taken by Synaxis but by the Synod. And even more so, in the speech of Patriarch Bartholomew, there was no decision on granting "to all states the right to create a local church" as the Ukrainian President fancied.

Patriarch Bartholomew’s speech is just Patriarch Bartholomew’s speech. Not more, but no less either. The full speech is published in English on the website of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States, which is under the jurisdiction of Constantinople.

A screenshot of the site of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA

The speech raises many questions and bewilderment (unless, of course, Orthodox Ukrainians in the United States have confused anything).

First, it is a distortion of historical facts.

Patriarch Bartholomew: "Already from the early 14thcentury, when the see of the Kievan Metropolis was moved without the canonical permission of the Mother Church to Moscow, there have been tireless efforts on the part of our Kievan brothers for independence from ecclesiastical control by the Moscow center."

In fact, the first Metropolitan of Kiev who moved the Kiev See was the Greek Maxim. In 1299 he determined the city of Vladimir as the seat of the Holy See in Rus. St. Peter, a native of Galicia (now they would say – a Ukrainian) moved the See to Moscow. Constantinople fully recognized this transfer, as the Greek Theognostus became St. Peter's successor. He chose Moscow as his primary seat. Then the Phanariots themselves divided the single Russian Metropolis into two, then united again. Even the Greeks themselves cannot say which of these decisions was canonical, and which is not, and why.

Those "Kievan brothers" who didn’t abandon "tireless efforts ….for independence from ecclesiastical control by the Moscow center" were, in reality, Galicia-Volyn princes who, in their rivalry with another center of Russian statehood, Vladimir-Suzdal, and then Moscow principality, asked Phanar for a separate metropolitan. And it is inappropriate to talk about the "Moscow center" of those times (XIV-XVI centuries), since the ecclesiastical center for both Moscow and Kiev was Constantinople at that time. After the transfer of the Kiev Metropolis to the Russian Church in 1686, which already had the status of the Local Church headed by the Patriarch, there were no attempts from "Kievan brothers" to gain "independence from ecclesiastical control by the Moscow center " until 1921, when on the wave of the revolution of 1917 the UAOC arose. But neither the UAOC, nor the UOC-KP, which appeared in 1992, are considered by Constantinople as "Kievan brothers", at least the official documents adopted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople say so.

Secondly, it is the juggling with the wording of historical documents. This manipulative technique is very well known to historians. It is as follows: the very formulations of historical documents are examined not in the context of the era when they existed but are considered in the light of our current concepts and meanings. At the same time, the meaning is distorted completely, and there is an opportunity to proudly say: "Look, it is written so!" This is what happens with the document (Tomos) on the transfer of the Kiev Metropolis to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Patriarch Bartholomew: "In the year 1686, our predecessor, the late Patriarch Dionysios IV, following great political pressure from the harrowing circumstances and for peace in the local Church, was obliged to issue a letter granting Moscow the license to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev on the inviolable condition that every Metropolitan of Kiev would commemorate the name of the Ecumenical Patriarch as his ecclesiastical superior and authority, but also to demonstrate the canonical jurisdiction of Constantinople over this Metropolis."

In fact, a ground for the transfer of the Kiev Metropolis was not the letter of Patriarch Dionysios but the Tomos adopted at a meeting of the Synod of the Constantinople Church. It really granted Moscow the right to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev. In those days, it also meant the transfer of the Kiev Metropolis from one jurisdiction to another. And this was said in the letters of Patriarch Dionysios, which he wrote separately to the Moscow sovereigns, Patriarch Joachim, Hetman Samoilovich, and all faithful children of the Kiev Metropolis. In them, the Patriarch informed that he conceded the Kiev Metropolis to the Moscow Patriarch. This is also evidenced by the whole subsequent history of the Kiev Metropolis. Its bishops went to the councils and Synod meetings not to Constantinople, but to Moscow. This is evidenced by the follow-up correspondence of the Patriarchs of Constantinople with the Patriarchs of Moscow, in which the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church over the Kiev Metropolis is directly and indirectly recognized.

The document in which Phanar doubts the lawful transfer of the Kiev Metropolis appeared only in 1924. This is a document on granting autocephaly to the Polish Church. Almost 250 prior to this, Phanar hadn’t questioned the legitimacy of this act.

Thirdly, Patriarch Bartholomew represents the matter in such a way that the governance of the Kiev Metropolis from Moscow proved its inefficiency.

Patriarch Bartholomew: "No matter how much some wish to embellish the situation in Ukraine, history proves them wrong and presents indisputable arguments demonstrating that the origin of difficulties and reactions in Ukraine are neither a recent phenomenon nor something created by the Ecumenical Patriarchate."

In fact, the state of the Kiev Metropolis in 1686 was simply awful. The decline of all spheres of ecclesiastical life was determined by the constant internecine war between the Ukrainian hetmans, continuing military actions in the triangle Poland-Turkey-Russia, constant oppression of the Orthodox by the authorities of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita) and constant struggle with the Union. The history of the Kiev Metropolis, which today has grown into the autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, was complex, and sometimes even tragic, but now it is simply thriving compared to 1686: 12800 parishes, about 200 monasteries, 20 religious educational institutions, etc. That is, simply put, Constantinople gave Moscow a ruined church structure, and now is trying to take back the numerous and developed autonomous Church and says that Moscow has badly governed it?!

Fourthly, Patriarch Bartholomew declares the victims as criminals and vice versa. He, contrary to the canons and common sense, puts the blame for the schism in Ukraine not on Mr Denisenko and other schismatics, but on ... the Moscow Patriarchate.

Patriarch Bartholomew: "Thus, since Russia, as the one responsible for the current painful situation in Ukraine, is unable to solve the problem, the Ecumenical Patriarchate assumed the initiative of resolving the problem in accordance with the authority afforded to it by the Sacred Canons and the jurisdictional responsibility over the Eparchy of Kiev…"

In fact, it is those who fell in schism, as well as Kiev authorities, which have been supporting this division, are the "the one responsible for the current painful situation in Ukraine". In the case of Mr Denisenko, it was a schism in the classical form: none (!) of the ruling bishop, none (!) of the monasteries and spiritual institutions followed the former Metropolitan of Kiev. The displacement of Mr Denisenko from the throne of the Primate of the UOC and ban in the priesthood occurred not in Moscow or by the decision of the Russian bishops. It happened in Kharkov at the Council of the Ukrainian Episcopate. The Moscow Hierarchical Council only approved the decision already taken.

Patriarch Bartholomew reproaches Russia (!) for being "unable to solve the problem" but such a reproach would only be true if schismatics repented and expressed a desire to return to the fold of the Church, and Moscow would not accept them. But this is not in sight. Both the Moscow Patriarchate and the UOC have repeatedly said at various levels, that the doors for reunification with the Church are open, and the only thing that is required is repentance in the sin of schism. The Church has not come up with another way of "solving the problem" in its entire two-thousand-year history.

Fifthly, and this is the most surprising and incomprehensible thing: Patriarch Bartholomew, neither in his speech at the Synaxis nor in other speeches and interviews, nowhere mentions the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as such, as if it did not exist at all!

If an outside observer, who is unaware of the church situation in Ukraine, listened to the Patriarch, he would have come to an unambiguous conclusion: in Ukraine, there is a certain "Ukrainian church", which for some reason is uncanonical and whose independence the Moscow Patriarchate does not want to recognize in any way. Patriarch Bartholomew has never mentioned the name of the Primate of the UOC, Metropolitan Onuphry; neither has he ever recalled the existence in Ukraine of the canonical and recognized by all Local Churches episcopate. Moreover, he did not mention that this episcopate unanimously supported the preservation of the present autonomous status of the UOC. Speaking about the sufferings of the "pious Ukrainian people" and mentioning "Kievan brothers", who are trying to get out of ecclesiastical control by the "Moscow center", Patriarch Bartholomew somehow did not remember the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church! Are they not the people of Ukraine?! Or their sufferings do not count?!

Constantinople seems to be negotiating and deciding the fate of the UOC as some soulless thing that cannot have either its own opinion or its own interests.


Or, in general, this is about the schismatics rather than the UOC. It is easy to come this conclusion if you compare the officially expressed position of the UOC on the Tomos issue with the persistently declared intentions of Phanar to grant this Tomos. And if you consider that in the speech before the Constantinople hierarchs Patriarch Bartholomew mentioned not Metropolitan Onuphry, but "patriarch" Philaret, the picture is as follows:

A screenshot of the site of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA with the speech of Patriarch Bartholomew

Constantinople implements the scheme proposed by Mr Poroshenko: to grant the Tomos to a certain Single Local Church (SLC) composed of the UOC KP, the UAOC and those bishops of the UOC who wish to join them.

For the UOC, this will be a terrible blow, considering all the bellicose statements directed at it by both schismatics and national radicals. Time will tell whether Phanar cares or not. But that's not the point right now. What matters is that the above-mentioned scheme can be implemented only in two stages and in no other way, even if that is the desire of Mr. Poroshenko and the schismatics. The first stage: the creation of the SLC under the jurisdiction of Phanar, and the second: granting it the Tomos on autocephaly.

And here Constantinople has to solve several very difficult tasks.

First: to take schismatics under its jurisdiction. To prevent this from appearing as schism-legitimization, they will need some kind of "repentant" letter or at least an application for acceptance under the omophorion of the Ecumenical Patriarch. However, it's unclear how to do it if the schismatics do not want to repent or go under someone else's omophorion.

Second: to re-ordain "bishops" and other "clergy". Those few "bishops" of the UOC KP and the UAOC, who were ordained in the Russian Orthodox Church, can be accepted in the existing dignity, but those "ordained" in the state of excommunication from the Church will have to be re-ordained. Constantinople already has such an experience: when in 1995 the non-canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States was admitted to the Constantinople Church, its "bishops" went to Phanar for canonical ordination.

How to do this in case of the SLC is again unclear. After all, for the "episcopate" of the UOC KP and the UAOC to go to Istanbul to re-ordain means to admit that before that they have been impostors in holy clothes and that all of their "sacred actions" have been invalid.

Third: eparchies and posts should be rearranged. After all, the "bishops" of the UOC KP and the UAOC and those bishops of the UOC who would like to join them, if any, will apply for the same eparchy. This question is rather technical and can be regulated, but, given the excessive "ambition" of the schismatic "bishops", there may be difficulties.

When such an SLC under the omophorion of Constantinople is created and when a subject which can granted the Tomos on autocephaly consequently appears, then the Tomos itself may appear. It is for this purpose that all passages in the speech of Patriarch Bartholomew about the illegality of the transfer of the Kiev Metropolis and about Moscow's inability to solve the problem of the Ukrainian schism are aimed at. In the framework of Synaxis, which, we repeat, is not empowered to take any decisions, the words of the Patriarch are the preparation of public opinion for decisions that may be adopted at a meeting of the Synod in October.

It is difficult to foresee what these decisions will be, but there are reasons to believe that they will concern the issue of healing the Ukrainian schism, and not autocephaly. Perhaps the formula for such healing was agreed upon by Patriarchs Bartholomew and Kirill during the visit of the latter to Istanbul on August 31. This can be assumed from the words of Metropolitan Hilarion, who took part in the negotiations: "The talk that has taken place today may lead to some decisions of the Synods of the Constantinople and Russian Orthodox Churches." It is possible that these "some decisions" may not be what Tomos adherents expect.

In any case, we, the faithful children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in this disturbing and difficult situation should put all hope in God's Providence and listen to and do what our Primate, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, a wise and prayerful Archpastor, who by the grace of God was given to us, sinners, as our leader, will tell us.

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