10 mistakes of Patriarch Bartholomew
What the Phanar’s head did not take into account, making a deal with Petro Poroshenko and recognizing the Ukrainian schismatics.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople, through the efforts of its hierarchs and theologians, is openly trying to impose on the entire Orthodox world the concept of "the first without equal". This ideology claims that the Phanar allegedly expresses the very essence of Orthodoxy, that the Church of Christ itself cannot exist without it.
True, for the present there are no statements about the sinlessness of the Patriarch of Constantinople or the patriarchate as a whole, but this logically follows from the aforementioned concept of "the first without equals".
“The Patriarch of Constantinople is not sinless but always right since he is the Patriarch of Constantinople,” sounds the idea of the benefits the Phanar’s head enjoys.
This is exactly what the Athos monasteries that enter into communion with Ukrainian schismatics from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine say. They do not understand or pretend that they don’t want to go deeply into the essence of the decisions made by the Phanar but simply show obedience to their patriarch.
True, the apostle Paul said: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1, 8). But this is a separate topic for discussion. Here, let’s analyze the actions and decisions of the Phanar and Patriarch Bartholomew and think about whether a person who claims to be the wisest and rightest in the Orthodox world can act this way.
The epic with the Tomos and the OCU began on Bright Week on Monday, April 9, 2018, with the visit of the then President Petro Poroshenko to Istanbul and negotiations with Patriarch Bartholomew.
The press service of the President reported on the outcome of the negotiations very shortly. There was only one line about the creation of the autocephalous Church in Ukraine: “The President of Ukraine also noted the importance of introducing the Single Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which the Ukrainian people is striving for.” But despite this, as it turned out later, it was then that Patriarch Bartholomew made a principled decision – to play the Ukrainian card. And here he made the first mistake.
Patriarch Bartholomew made an essentially lose-lose bet in his game – firstly, on politics, and secondly, on the politician who had discredited himself for four years of rule and had very little chance of being re-elected for a second term.
In almost all areas of international relations, countries prefer not to conduct serious negotiations and not to sign agreements with state leaders in the last year of their authority. Such a leader is called the “lame duck" because of the doubtful implementation of the agreements with him.
Patriarch Bartholomew had to just wait for the results of the presidential election in Ukraine and only then take concrete steps. But he preferred to neglect this elementary rule of international relations and risk one of his main assets – respect among the Local Orthodox Churches. He took a risk and lost.
The consequence of Poroshenko’s visit to Phanar was that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted an appeal to the Patriarchate of Constantinople with a request for autocephaly. The appeal was signed by the then President, MPs and "hierarchs" of the schismatic UOC-KP and UAOC. The media published fake news stories as if ten bishops of the UOC put their signatures, but only two hierarchs later confirmed this.
In response, on April 22, the Phanar announced about starting the procedure for granting autocephaly to the Church in Ukraine.
A screenshot of the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s website
A message on the website of the Patriarchate of Constantinople said that its Synod, "having received from some church and political figures who represent many millions of Orthodox Ukrainians a request for autocephaly, decided to stay in close contact with other sister Orthodox Churches with a view to informing and coordinating them”. Indeed, the Phanar’s representatives began to go around the Local Churches. And then the Patriarchate of Constantinople made another mistake.
There was no agreement on the issue of Ukrainian autocephaly. As the Phanariots themselves later stated, they were not at all interested in the opinion of the Local Churches on the Ukrainian issue, they simply informed them of the decision already taken. Who might like it?
The Patriarchate of Constantinople hasn’t had the authority to grant autocephaly in Ukraine. Even in the eyes of the Phanar’s supporters, this authority seems questionable because whatever one may say, the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church has more relations with the Russian Church rather than the Church of Constantinople. And even the schismatic UOC-KP and UAOC, which claimed for autocephaly, did not break away from it but from the ROC.
Patriarch Bartholomew made an essentially lose-lose bet in his game – firstly, on politics, and secondly, on the politician who had discredited himself for four years of rule and had very little chance of being re-elected.
Under these conditions, when the correctness of Constantinople’s actions was unobvious, it should have coordinated its actions with the Local Churches, not just informed them. The Phanar turned out to act in a very non-diplomatic way, to say the least.
And of course, such behaviour of the Phanariots could not but cause rejection in the Local Churches. It is possible that Constantinople might really want to coordinate its actions, and not just inform everyone, but that would have taken a lot of time. But the Phanar was short of time because it acted within the agenda of Poroshenko, who needed autocephaly for the 2019 presidential election.
After the beginning of the “procedure for granting autocephaly” by Constantinople, on June 23, 2018, a delegation of the UOC headed by the UOC Chancellor, Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich), visited Phanar in order to find out the intentions of the Phanariots and warn them of possible irreparable mistakes.
Following the meeting, Bishop Anthony said: “Several times it was said about the impossibility of legalizing the schism, the question should be raised about treatment. Figuratively speaking, sometimes medicines do not help, and now we are in search of something that will help unite our brothers, who have been behind the church fence for a long time, and we see that the desire of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Church from which we received baptism, is to help in this matter. His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew said that he did not want to intervene in the situation, but he as a responsible person and the first among equal hierarchs of the entire Orthodox world also wanted to help resolve a very difficult issue, and we see that such openness stems from seeking a decision based on our canonical rules, and not as some high-ranking officials say in our media that the issue has allegedly been resolved.”
In other words, Patriarch Bartholomew assured the delegation of the UOC that he would not act to the detriment of the UOC and interfere in Ukrainian affairs but behaved in exactly the opposite way.
This deception became even more obvious during the visit to Phanar of Patriarch Kirill on August 31, 2018.
Here are brief statements that reporters heard from Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) accompanying him:
- The atmosphere was very good.
- I hope that we will continue to work together to make the world a better place.
- We are simply programmed for interaction and cooperation.
- There was nothing at the meeting that would produce any kind of explosion in consciousness.
- The talk was very correct, a conversation between the two heads of the Churches, who are aware of the responsibility for the state of Ecumenical Orthodoxy.
- A very fruitful exchange of views.
- From beginning to end, the talk was very sincere and very fraternal, we left Constantinople with a very bright feeling.
As Metropolitan Hilarion later admitted, Patriarch Bartholomew assured them of the impossibility of what the Phanar subsequently did and thus made the next mistake.
Patriarch Bartholomew deceived both the Ukrainian hierarchs and Patriarch Kirill. Any lie helps solve the current problem but discredits the liar. The Phanar demonstrated slyness and disingenuity, and these qualities are hardly included in the list of Christian virtues and are unlikely to be inherent in someone who claims to be the “first without equals”.
In May 2018, an event the importance of which the Greek Church and near-church media preferred to downplay happened in the United States. At a graduation ceremony for the students of the Greek College and the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, Efstathios Valiotis, a big businessman and one of the main sponsors of the American Archdiocese, in his speech after receiving the title of Honorary Doctor, publicly spoke about the idea that is in the air in the USA – the separation of the Archdiocese from the Patriarchate of Constantinople .
He said to the Phanar: “We cannot be controlled by a small group of people who are in Turkey, who have no flock and purpose, without work and with a different agenda. What will happen in the event of the Greek-Turkish conflict, who will help our Church?”
The Patriarchate of Constantinople hasn’t had the authority to grant autocephaly in Ukraine. Even in the eyes of the Phanar’s supporters, this authority seems questionable.
Valiotis proposed two options for resolving the issue: either the full autocephaly of the American Archdiocese or the transfer of the Constantinople Throne from Phanar to the United States. None of the hierarchs and laity present at the ceremony expressed any objections.
In this context, the Phanar's bestowal of autocephaly in Ukraine is a catalyst for autocephalous sentiments not only in other Local Churches but also in the Patriarchate of Constantinople itself. Time will tell whether the American Archdiocese will implement the scenario of separation or not, but by granting autocephaly in Ukraine, Patriarch Bartholomew gave a very good trump card to the overseas supporters of the separation. And this is his big mistake.
The next mistake of Patriarch Bartholomew is not just evident but defiantly clear intervention of the US State Department in granting autocephaly in Ukraine.
Representative of the State Department, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Wess Mitchell, former US Ambassador to Ukraine, and now Ambassador to Greece Jeffrey Payette, former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and other American officials, without hiding anything, conducted direct negotiations on the creation of the OCU in Istanbul, Kiev, on Mount Athos, and with the Local Orthodox Churches.
These visits and talks simply could not go unnoticed. As a result, it became clear: firstly, the OCU project is not religious but political; secondly, it is created in the interests of the United States; and thirdly, the Phanar is not an independent decision-maker but is controlled by the US State Department. The rhetorical question is: Can the “first without equals” be ruled by American officials, whose religion is by no means Orthodox?
Ignoring the requests of the UOC delegation, on September 7, 2018, Patriarch Bartholomew sent his exarchs to Ukraine – Archbishop Daniel of Pamphylia (USA) and Bishop Hilarion of Edmonton (Canada) – and thus made another mistake.
Patriarch Bartholomew sent exarchs to the canonical territory of the UOC without consent from His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and thereby closed the possibility of negotiations with the UOC. The Phanar made it clear that in the case of Ukrainian autocephaly it would rely on schismatics but not on the canonical Church. And this is not just a mistake, but a big mistake.
The Phanar initially declared that all its actions in Ukraine were aimed at uniting Orthodox faiths. And even before the Tomos, before the decision to return to its structure the Kiev Metropolis of 1686, Constantinople showed everyone that it would deal with schismatics and there was no talk of any unification with the UOC. This is evidenced not only by sending the exarchs without agreeing with His Beatitude Onuphry but also by the personalities of the exarchs themselves.
If the Phanariots were a little smarter, they would send some noble Greek elders to Ukraine who would have some authority for the bishops of the UOC if not to persuade the canonical Church to participate in the undertaking with autocephaly, then at least try to win over more canonical bishops.
But instead, Patriarch Bartholomew sent two young emigrants from Western Ukraine, coming from the UAOC’s American structures, who are as hostile to the UOC and as tolerant of schismatics as possible.
For the bishops of the UOC who, perhaps, were considering joining the OCU project, the personalities of these exarchs served as a clear signal: obey Patriarch Bartholomew – and you will be led by such figures.
On October 11, the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople made a final decision on the Ukrainian issue. And it was just a huge mistake. This decision consisted of five points:
1. Grant autocephaly to the Church in Ukraine (which at that time did not exist at all).
2. Restore the stauropegia of Constantinople in Ukraine, i.e. take the main monasteries and temples in their direct submission.
3. Accept into communication the schismatics from the UOC-KP and UAOC without repentance.
4. Return the Kiev Metropolis of 1686 to the structure of the Constantinople Patriarchate.
5. Urge everyone to avoid violence.
The Phanar did not even bother to somehow substantiate its decisions, to indicate the grounds for such actions.
The decision to accept the schismatics into communication and recognize their “sacraments”, including “ordinations” after 26 years of consecutive denial of such a possibility, which is evidenced by numerous documents, looks especially cynical.
But the stupidest thing is the return of the Kiev Metropolis. The point is not only that the Russian Church allegedly violated something, and not even that the Phanar believes that it didn’t grant anything to anyone, but that the Kiev Metropolis in the form in which it was 300 years ago does not exist today. To reverse history is unlikely to be within the competence of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
By the decision of October 11, 2018, Constantinople made a laughing stock of itself and showed that not only the Gospel words about the need to repent of sins, not only the testimonies of the Holy Fathers about the impossibility of communion with schismatics but its own documents, both modern and old ones, mean nothing to it.
Can the “first without equals” say one thing today and another thing tomorrow?
After the absurd decisions of the Synod of Constantinople on 11.10.2018, Patriarch Bartholomew signed a cooperation agreement with the President of Ukraine, which was immediately classified. And this immediately led to doubt the honesty of the intentions of both the Phanar and the Ukrainian side.
Three months later, the document was declassified. The main point was that the Phanar gave autocephaly in exchange for stauropegia. The text reads as follows: “Ukraine should facilitate <...> the acquisition, in accordance with the laws of Ukraine, by the mission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukraine, namely the ‘Stauropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukraine’ Mission, of buildings and premises, other property necessary for the functioning of the ‘Stauropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukraine’ Mission” (Article 3 of the Agreement).
It has become clear: firstly, the OCU project is not religious but political; secondly, it is created in the interests of the United States; and thirdly, the Phanar is not an independent decision-maker but is controlled by the US State Department.
The then Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Andrei Parubiy said what “properties” were discussed: “The Ecumenical Patriarchate at different times, according to historians, had up to 20 different stauropegia (a church or monastery exempt from the jurisdiction of the local bishop and directly subject to the highest authority of the territorial church, the patriarch or Synod – Ed.) on its canonical territory of Ukraine-Rus'. The most famous among them are the Dormition Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, the Lviv Dormition Brotherhood, the Mezhigorye Transfiguration Monastery, the Kiev Epiphany Brotherhood, the Maniava Monastery, etc. St. Andrew’s Church remains the property of the state, I emphasize this, we are restoring historical justice and returning the stauropegion of the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Kiev.”
The stupidity of the contract is that it cannot be executed in principle – it contradicts the Constitution and laws of Ukraine. And even if Poroshenko agreed to give a damn about the Constitution, he simply did not have time to do this before the presidential election. And he had very little chance to win the election.
Besides, Patriarch Bartholomew showed by the agreement that he was not selfless at all and granted the Tomos not for the sake of the “church peace” but for the sake of very concrete material property.
The next tactical mistake of Patriarch Bartholomew is that he allowed de facto dual power in the OCU. At the so-called “Unification Council” in Kiev on December 15, 2018, it was decided that the OCU would have two primates: the external – “Metropolitan” Epiphany Dumenko – and the internal - “Honorary Patriarch” Filaret Denisenko. Thus, a time bomb was laid under the OCU, which exploded as soon as Poroshenko lost the presidential election.
Almost immediately after the announcement of the election results, the carefully concealed enmity of the two heads of the OCU began to come out. The demarche of the “Honorary Patriarch”, his demonstrative withdrawal from the OCU and the accusation of Patriarch Bartholomew that instead of creating an autocephalous Church in Ukraine he created the Phanar-controlled OCU once again proved the adventurism of the whole OCO project and the unscrupulousness of its participants.
On August 8, the newly elected President Vladimir Zelensky met with Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul as part of a two-day visit by the Ukrainian leader to Turkey. According to the “Strana.ua” website, the formal initiator of the meeting was the Ukrainian side. However, the US State Department was the real customer of the event, which was very important to demonstrate the continuity of religious policy under the new Ukrainian authorities.
The meeting was held in a calm but fruitless manner. To follow it up, Zelensky said that “they talked about everything”: the Donbass, the Crimea, the situation in Ukraine, etc. The only topic that the Ukrainian President did not mention was the OCU. Didn’t they discuss it? Or did Zelensky prefer not to mention it within the discussion?
But Patriarch Bartholomew’s mistake is not this. It is not clear why the information about the supposed signing of a joint statement by the patriarch and the President was circulated at the meeting. They even specified the topic of this statement – ecology, which in itself sounds strange. With the tragedy that the Phanar provoked in Ukraine, it no longer cares about anything other than ecology?
However, here Patriarch Bartholomew managed to make a mistake. He began to insist that the text of the statement should actually confirm the obligations that Poroshenko assumed before the Phanar.
“Strana.ua” quotes its source in church circles: “The Greeks agreed with Kiev a document of a purely environmental nature, and then made a number of important additions there. Among them are the consent of Vladimir Zelensky to ensure the continuity of Petro Poroshenko’s policy in the religious sphere, the recognition of the key role of the Tomos in the development of the church sphere of Ukraine, the recognition by the President of the OCU as the only canonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”
Naturally, Zelensky refused to sign this and said once again that he would not interfere in church affairs. Why did Patriarch Bartholomew expose himself as such a short-sighted and inept politician? Why was it necessary to impose on Zelensky a deliberately unacceptable for him document? They could have left insignificant phrases about ecology – and there would have been at least something.
Probably, upon closer examination, a larger number of mistakes can be counted, but the above is enough to understand that “the etat of Orthodoxy” can in no way look like the Patriarchate of Constantinople in connection with Ukrainian affairs. The only thing that the Phanar has achieved over the past year is discrediting itself in the eyes of the Orthodox world. Well, in this Patriarch Bartholomew turned out to be really "the first without equals."