Will Petro Poroshenko manage to legalize church schism?

Petro Poroshenko initiated a petition to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on behalf of the Ukrainian state to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church

The meeting of Patriarchs Kirill and Bartholomew in Constantinople sparked heated discussion. Many rushed to exclaim that the long-awaited Tomos is about to be received.

What really happened and why is this Tomos so important? Let's briefly explain the context.

World (or, as they say in the Church, Universal) Orthodoxy is a community of fifteen patriarch-led Local Churches. These Churches are in eucharistic communion with each other, i.e., for example, Orthodox Greeks can take the sacraments at the Russian, Serbian or Romanian Church.

Hierarchy of Local Churches, frame of the film "The UOC: in Faith and Truth"

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has full self-government; it is administratively independent but at the same time is in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate.

For most Ukrainian nationalists, any, if only purely symbolic, connection with Moscow is a terrible irritant, and this fact caused the emergence in 1992 of the so-called "Kiev Patriarchate", also known as the "Filaret schism". Although it was created as a "national Ukrainian church", in this capacity it was not recognized in the Orthodox world, the adherents of Filaret being still outside of the communion with the Ecumenical Orthodox Church.

Attempts to get recognition from the Orthodox world were undertaken by Filaret followers from the very beginning, yet they were futile. Splits have always been and remained a thorny problem for Orthodoxy, and in the Orthodox consciousness a split is a serious crime against the Church. To legalize any schism with hindsight means to encourage dissenters in other Orthodox Churches, which none of the Patriarchs would like to have.

Some time ago, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, suffering from an extremely low rating, listened to the advice of some of his close associates – first of all to the then deputy head of the administration Rostislav Pavlenko, and decided to play in the church field. He organized a request to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on behalf of the Ukrainian state on granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church – in other words, independence. Actually, "Tomos" is an ecclesiastic document signed by the Patriarch, who would proclaim it.

This issue, however, ran into serious difficulties. Whom exactly to give Tomos? Ukrainian Orthodox Church? There was no such request from the most numerous religious organization. Filaret followers? The situation when one Local Church legalizes the breakaway from the canonical Church would be extremely scandalous – and such a decision would not have been recognized, at least by most Patriarchs. Thus, the goal of the Tomos – to bring Filaret-led “Kiev Patriarchate” into communion with the Universal Orthodoxy – would not be achieved due to the fact it would split the Universal Orthodoxy.

Actually, Poroshenko did not even try to conceal that he did not pursue to benefit the Church, nor was it driven by the desire to save souls or by any religious considerations at all. The whole Tomos-begging campaign was purely political, and why Patriarch Bartholomew would play the role of Poroshenko's political tool is unclear.

Therefore, although the President of Ukraine expected the Tomos to be proclaimed during the festivities on the occasion of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, this did not happen.

State agents heard many warm words – yet not the ones they had anticipated to hear. For Poroshenko, this was a painful failure and he fired the official who had sold him such a bad idea.

The belief that Patriarch Bartholomew would agree to schism in the Orthodox world only to slightly raise Poroshenko's election rating was initially poorly grounded. However, this was emotionally and psychologically invested, and now Poroshenko-friendly resources are passionately assuring that Tomos is virtually in Poroshenko's pocket.

People see the reasons for such expectations in some words of the representative of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France. He said, "One of the main issues discussed at the meeting was the issue of the situation in Ukraine. As you know, the split in this country has existed for more than 25 years, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate has decided to explore all avenues for granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This decision was made in April, and we are already discussing it, which was also reported to Patriarch Kirill during his visit today."

The words "the decision was taken" were snatched from this quote and interpreted in such a way that "it was decided to grant the Tomos on autocephaly", and it went viral namely in this wording. In fact, it was "decided to explore all avenues", which, of course, sounds much better than "your call is very important to us", but it has about the same meaning. Wait for an answer, and there is not the slightest indication of how long it will take or what it will be like.

Everything happens in the whole world, but to encourage the Patriarchate of Constantinople to take such detrimental steps for the Universal Orthodoxy – this is highly unlikely. Why should Patriarch Bartholomew agree to have a clash with at least part of other Orthodox Churches? How would it benefit Constantinople?

Why should Patriarch Bartholomew agree to have a clash with at least part of other Orthodox Churches? How would it benefit Constantinople?

Those who passionately believe in the advent of Tomos, for the most are completely religiously indifferent, sometimes directly claiming to be atheists. But what gains would this Tomos bring to fthe state in case (hardly) if it were given? 

The sausage would fall in price, as the prominent economist and canonist Oleg Tiagnibok thinks? It would be somewhat naive to expect this. One could expect another thing – the authorities would simply step up pressure on the Church, launch a campaign to take away the sanctities from the Church in favor of the newly formed structure, bring about new – and aggravate old – Ukrainian domestic conflicts.

When the authorities take up arms against their own peaceful and loyal citizens who belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, this does not and cannot do any good to the country.

However, the fact that Constantinople wants to legalize the Filaret schism is extremely unlikely. Overcoming the split is bound to happen, yet not at the will of politicians pursuing their short-term selfish goals but according to the will of God. And believing Orthodox Christians of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church should not succumb to the hysteria that swells around this issue in the media but listen to the Primate and the episcopate of their Church. Their authority in the Orthodox world and their prayers are stronger than ambitions of the richest and most influential politicians.
 

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