Letter of UOC-KP and UAOC to Phanar 2008: was there any repentance?

Have members of the OCU repented of the sin of schism? Photo: UOJ

The representatives of the OCU stated that in 2008 Patriarch Bartholomew received a letter of repentance from the schismatics. We figure out whether this is really so.

At the end of March this year, the representative of the OCU "Metropolitan" Alexander (Drabinko) and a supporter of this structure, Archimandrite Kirill (Govorun) of the ROC (!), almost simultaneously published a letter from the "hierarchs" of the UOC-KP and the UAOC, written back in 2008 to Patriarch Bartholomew. Some theses from this text allowed Drabinko and Govorun to assert that Ukrainian schismatics brought repentance, and, as a result, were quite legally accepted in 2018 into Eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The statement is quite weighty. Did Filaret and Co. really bring repentance to the Church? Did it serve the basis for their acceptance in communion with the Phanar? We address these issues in the article.

What is the letter about?

The first page of the letter of the "hierarchs" of the UAOC to Patriarch Bartholomew, 2008. Photo: Drabinko’s Facebook page

First of all, we note that this document has been published only now, there has been no mention of it before, so there is no certainty about its authenticity. Nevertheless, we would like to believe that both Drabinko and Govorun would not risk the remnants of their reputation by throwing a fake, therefore we will analyze the letter as a valid historical document. Here are the most interesting, in our opinion, features of the letter.

  • The date on the document is not indicated, however, the text mentions the upcoming visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Kyiv on the Day of the Christianization of Rus’, therefore it can be assumed that it was written shortly before the arrival of the head of the Phanar in 2008.
  • The letter mentions active correspondence between Patriarch Bartholomew and President Viktor Yushchenko and indicates that the Patriarch took "an active part in resolving the problems of church division in Ukraine" 10 years before the creation of the OCU.
  • The “hierarchs” declare that “the tragic division that has struck the Orthodox community of Ukraine today is caused by a number of factors, the main one of which, in our opinion, is not the sinful lust for power of individual hierarchs, disrespect for the canonical order of the Church, ethnophyletism or other shortcomings of church consciousness, but objective historical changes in the post-Soviet space”.
  • The “hierarchs” grieve that “we are still outside the visible communion with world Orthodoxy, and sincerely strive to join those spiritual treasures that are given by the grace-filled “change of mind” (Metanoia), which occurs in the Sacrament of repentance. The lack of church communion torments our hearts".
  • The "hierarchs" call "new socio-political conditions that have formed in our country" the reason for the change in the status of their structures and future autocephaly. 
  • The "hierarchs" ask the head of the Phanar to accept them "into communion with the Ecumenical Throne on the terms of the Metropolis with the rights of broad autonomy".
  • The “hierarchs” ask the head of the Phanar to consider the defrocking of Filaret by the Russian Church unauthorized and reinstate all “bishops” and “priests” in the “existing dignity”.
  • The “hierarchs” believe that the decision to join the Phanar “is fully justified from the ecclesiological point of view since it would provide us and many other Orthodox Christians with a real opportunity today to receive salvific unity with ecumenic Orthodoxy, would correspond to the principle of oikonomia ...”.
  • The “hierarchs” assure the Phanar that “after your mercy and the High Hierarch's omophorion cover our infirmities, the Primate and the Council of Bishops of our Church will take a principled position of deep faithfulness to the Ecumenical Throne, guaranteeing strict observance of the sacred canons and full coordination of all our actions with the highest ecclesiastical authority – the Ecumenical Patriarchate".
  • The “hierarchs” assure Phanar that their structure “will avoid contact with non-canonical church groups in Ukraine and on the territory of other countries”.
  • The “hierarchs” guarantee the Phanar that “after the establishment of full communion with the Mother Church ... we will build our relations with all the canonical Orthodox bishops that carry out their ministry on the territory of Ukraine on the basis of deep respect for their church service”. And also that the new structure "will not become a serious and long-term basis for the deterioration of relations between the Ecumenical and Moscow Patriarchates".

Did the “hierarchs” of the UOC-KP and the UAOC have any repentance?

Already the first paragraph of the document says that the schism in Ukraine is not a consequence of “historical changes” rather than pride or ambition. And its main reason called is "not the sinful lust for power of individual hierarchs, not disrespect for the canonical structure of the Church, ethnophyletism or other shortcomings of church consciousness but objective historical changes in the post-Soviet space".

That is if there was no “sinful lust for power” but only “objective historical reality”, then, strictly speaking, there is nothing to repent of. However, are the assertions about the lack of "lust for power" among the schismatics true? In particular, with Filaret? After all, not so much the external facts as he himself speaks of his ambitions. Thus, Metropolitan Ioanafan (Yeletskikh) of Tulchin and Bratslav recalls that after the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1990 elected Metropolitan Alexy II (Ridiger) as the new Patriarch, Filaret said the following words: “You see, Vladyka, the last Patriarch of the united Russian Church. They made a mistake."

That is, if Filaret became the Patriarch of the ROC, then no UOC-KP would exist. All the years later, Denisenko constantly reaffirmed his ambitions, for example, in 2018 when he said that “he has been a patriarch and he will be,” and will certainly head the OCU.

The supporters of the OCU make a special emphasis on paragraph 3 of the letter of 2008, which speaks of the desire "to join the spiritual treasures that are given by the grace-filled "change of mind" (Metanoia), which occurs in the Sacrament of repentance".

Can this phrase be interpreted as "repentant"? Of course, not.

First, all Christians want to “receive spiritual treasures” given through the Sacrament of repentance. Secondly, to want is not to do. There are many people who would like to go to church but they do not do that, would like to repent but they do not repent, would like to receive communion but do not receive communion. In this regard, I recall a talk between two friends, one of whom says that "he wants to go to Paris again". “Have you been there before?” asks another one. "No. I’ve already wanted to." So Filaret also – in a letter to the head of the Phanar and in a letter to the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2017 – wanted to repent. But he never did that.

That is why the “hierarchs” in paragraph 4 of their letter to the head of the Phanar list the conditions that, in their opinion, should lead to canonical autocephaly. These are "new social and political conditions" and "the desire of the clergy and laity". In other words, "the situation has developed in such a way that the Ukrainian authorities "favour” autocephaly and "we want this too". But, where is here even a hint of repentance or at least some church-canonical reasons? There is a desire to take advantage of the political situation rather than the deep transformation of the soul that the Church requires from a repentant Christian.

Moreover, just below (point 6), the “hierarchs” of the UOC-KP in their letter ask to cancel the defrocking of Filaret, and to accept all the others in their existing dignity. The reason is indicated in paragraph 7 - "oikonomia", indulgence. But, oikonomia, firstly, is applied to the children of the Church, not to anathematized schismatics; secondly, oikonomia still presupposes repentance. In other words, oikonomia is not “accept us as we are, without repentance” but less severity towards a repentant sinner. And in the case of the Ukrainian schismatics, there was no repentance, as we saw. This, by the way, is also indicated by the phrase "when your archbishop's omophorion will cover our infirmities". What "infirmities"? Is the schism an "infirmity"? It is pride, which led to the schism, that must be considered an infirmity, but this is precisely what the Filaretites did not repent of. This means that the words about “infirmities” are just a word phrase, without specific content.

At the same time, the Ukrainian schismatics understood that by entering into communion with the Phanar on anti-canonical terms, they would cause a negative reaction of the Local Orthodox Churches. That is why the members of the UOC-KP and the UAOC asked Patriarch Bartholomew to accept them as the Metropolis of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in whose status it is ready to remain until the Local Churches agree with its existence and until the “Ukrainian Orthodoxy” is united (point 5). All this could have been avoided by repentance because then the Local Churches would have agreed to that, and Ukrainian Orthodoxy would be one. But, the UOC-KP clerics did not want to repent. The letter was written for a completely different reason.

Attempts to legalize the schism of 2008 and 2018: common features

In 2008, Patriarch Bartholomew arrived on a visit in Ukraine. There was an agreement between him and the then President of the country, Viktor Yushchenko, to create an analogue of the current OCU. In fact, the text of the letter of 2008, written by Ukrainian schismatics to the Phanar, was a necessary element of this agreement – with a detailed description of the place of the new “church” in the structure of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The mention of the active correspondence between the head of the Phanar and V. Yushchenko is eloquent evidence that already then Patriarch Bartholomew intended to "take over" the structures of the Ukrainian schismatics. Only then his intentions were even more transparent and were not covered by the loud word "Tomos". And what about Filaret?

The mention of the active correspondence between the head of the Phanar and V. Yushchenko is eloquent evidence that already then Patriarch Bartholomew intended to "take over" the structures of the Ukrainian schismatics.

In 2008, Filaret initially agreed that the UOC-KP would be accepted into communion with the Phanar as a metropolis, agreed to receive myrrh from the hands of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and recognized the unconditional “spiritual leadership” of the Ecumenical Throne. Filaret Denisenko and his "synod" were persuaded to put their signatures to the document, not much different from the one that was signed 10 years later.

And now, when all the formalities would seem to be settled, and only the absence of signatures to the finalized document separated from the emergence of a new "church", Filaret refused. Later, he explained his words as follows: “What difference does it make to us – to obey Moscow or obey Constantinople? No difference. An independent Church from any of the capitals. We need an independent Church, which would not depend on any church centres but would itself be the centre for its Church. This is what we need. And we are struggling for this, and we will achieve it."

The then head of the UAOC "Metropolitan" Methodius outlined his vision of the 2008 situation and the breakdown of negotiations with the Phanar. According to him, Denisenko "was ready for a compromise version of the temporary canonical structure of the Ukrainian Church", and the only thing that really interested him was "the guarantee of retaining the position of the Primate of the Ukrainian Church".

He stressed that the Phanar put forward as the main condition the consent of the "Ukrainian side" that "the Primate of the Ukrainian Church as part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be elected by the Ecumenical Patriarch out of three candidates proposed by the Ukrainian episcopate".

And it was precisely this condition, says Methodius, that led to the fact that Filaret Denisenko actually disrupted the negotiations in 2008 because he understood that his candidacy would not be approved. What other evidence can be given to prove no repentance? The person refused "to join the spiritual treasures that are given by the grace-filled "change of mind" (Metanoia)” in order to stay in power.

Yushchenko was not such a "far-sighted" politician like Poroshenko and could not foresee Filaret's desire to stay in power. Therefore, he lost. But in 2018, both the Phanariotes and the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko not only took into account past mistakes (in particular, refusing to accept schismatics in the status of a metropolis) but were also able to deceive Denisenko by promising him power in the new structure.

So, according to "Patriarch" Filaret, "Poroshenko told me: you will lead the OCU." Later, Denisenko's thesis that there were certain agreements between him and the President of Ukraine was also confirmed by ex-Metropolitan Alexander Drabinko: “To be honest, in my opinion, he (Filaret) was promised that he would actually lead the church, and Vladyka Epiphany will be the "Queen of England" that will only perform representative functions abroad." According to Drabinko, if these promises had not been made, Filaret would not have gone to the “Unification Council” at all.

Another fact is that the phrases from the letter about grief because of the “lack of church communion” are nothing more than hypocritical phrases. In subsequent years, Filaret repeatedly said that he did not care at all about the canonicity of the UOC-KP. For example, in 2014: “We want not to pay attention to this – canon or non-canon. The issue of recognition is secondary because this Church (UOC-KP – Ed.) can exist without recognition."

Has Filaret repented of the sin of schism?

The confirmation of the fact that the letter of 2008 was not repentant is the further activity of “Patriarch” Filaret Denisenko.

In 1992, Metropolitan Filaret (Denisenko) was stripped of the priesthood for perpetrating a schism in the Russian Orthodox Church and became a simple monk. 5 years later, in 1997, the monk Filaret, who "did not heed the call to repentance addressed to him on behalf of the Mother Church and continued schismatic activity in the inter-conciliar period, ... continued to perform sacrilegious ‘divine services’, including blasphemous false ordinances" on the basis of the 28th Apostolic Canon was anathematized by the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The only condition for the return of Ukrainian schismatics to the Church and reunification with Her was repentance – that is, “change of mind” and aversion to the old sin. St John Chrysostom, discussing the topic of repentance, writes: "Let our repentance not be limited to only words, as it would be absurd if it were only in words and the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ were not built up through deeds." Another saint of our Church, Basil the Great, continues: "For those who repent, it is not enough to distance from sins for salvation, but they also need worthy fruits of repentance."

From these words, it becomes obvious that Filaret (and now - Mikhail) Denisenko was supposed not only to admit that he was guilty of the schism but to completely abandon it. The Phanar understands this, too.

Thus, the author of the brochure in defence of the OCU, monk Nikita of Pantokrator, believes that “the action that indicated the sincerity of his (Filaret Denisenko’s – Ed.) repentance was the decision to dissolve the “Kyiv Patriarchate”, in which he had served for 27 years. If he had not repented, he would not have signed the decision on its dissolution” (p. 6).

First, Filaret agreed to dissolve the UOC-KP and transform it into another structure, of which he was to become the head. Secondly, when he realized that he had been deceived, he again initiated a schism (already in the OCU), restoring the “disbanded” UOC-KP. So, Denisenko's actions are very clear: there was no question of any repentance on his part – neither in 2008 nor in 2018.

Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus comes to this conclusion in his excellent article: “Filaret and Makariy dissolved the schismatic associations that they had created, but they did not return to the church structure from which they had broken off, i.e. to the canonical Ukrainian Church headed by Metropolitan Onuphry. And if there was no such return, then we cannot talk about true repentance, because ... communion with the whole Church is carried out through the Local Church, and the accusatory decision on church crimes of one Local Church is valid in the entire Ecumenical Church (Apostolic Canons 12 and 32, Canon 6 of the Antioch and Canon 9 of the Carthage Local Councils)".

Did the Phanar have the right to accept the "repentance" of Ukrainian schismatics?

Even if we admit for a moment that Filaret repented in 2008, does this mean that the Patriarchate of Constantinople could, with one stroke of the pen, accept him into communion with the Church in 2018? After all, in fact, Filaret was excommunicated not by the Phanar Synod, but by the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, which notified all Local Churches (including the Phanar) about this act, which did not raise any objections then. So, could the Patriarchate of Constantinople, after 20 (!) years, unilaterally reconsider this decision? No, it couldn’t.

Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus said that according to the canonical practice of the Church, “the restoration of schismatics always occurs either through the Local Church, from which they broke off or through the Ecumenical Council (for example, the Melitian Schism was healed at the First Ecumenical Council). Never has one Local Church restored a schismatic grouping that broke away from another ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Something like this would mean “confusion in the church rite” (Canon 2 of the Council of Antioch)”.

He emphasizes that “the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no canonical right to interfere with the jurisdiction of another Local Church (in this case, the Russian Church), and, therefore, has committed a serious canonical crime, namely the invasion, condemned by many sacred canons (2nd can. of the II, 2nd of the III, 39th of the V-VI Ecumenical Councils, 13th and 22nd of the Antioch Council, 3rd of the Council of Sardica, etc.) and the entire Church Tradition”.

That is, Filaret had to repent for making a schism before the Russian Orthodox Church, and not get off with general phrases in a letter to Patriarch Bartholomew. This fact was perfectly understood by Filaret himself.

That is why in November 2017, Filaret writes an appeal to the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the letter, the head of the Kyiv Patriarchate asked for the restoration of Eucharistic and prayerful communion with the UOC and for the abolition of "all decisions, including bans and ex-communication ... for the sake of achieving God-commanded peace between Orthodox Christians of the same faith and reconciliation between nations". The letter ends with the words: "I apologize for everything that I have sinned in word, deed and all my feelings, and just from my heart I sincerely forgive everyone."

However, already on November 30 at a press conference, the head of the UOC-KP Filaret (Denisenko) said that in his letter addressed to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and the episcopate of the Russian Orthodox Church, he did not repent of the schism, and his letter was not repentant. "There has never been any repentance, and there never will be!" He said then. Moreover, he stressed that “the UOC-KP will never return to the Moscow Patriarchate because we have our own independent state. Therefore, there will never be a return."

On the other hand, the main person involved in the present OCU, Sergei (Epiphany) Dumenko, and a significant part of the “hierarchs” of this structure have nothing to do with the 2008 letter at all. For example, neither Dumenko nor Zoria was even "bishops" at that time. In other words, even if we interpret the above-mentioned phrases from the letter as hints of a desire to “repent”, most of those who make up the OCU today did not even formally repent of anything, which means that the Phanar had no right to accept them into communication.

Why do the “hierarchs” of the OCU need repentance?

Why does the text of this document appear on the Web only now?

There are two reasons for this. The first of them is the activation of the Jerusalem Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church in negotiations in the "Amman format".

Indeed, as Metropolitan Anthony, the UOC Chancellor, says, "a meeting at the pan-Orthodox level is a real opportunity to solve the church problem in Ukraine". This initiative, of course, cannot please the Phanar. That is why the publication of the "repentant" letter should demonstrate to the Orthodox world that the Phanariotes allegedly acted according to the canons of the Church.

On the other hand, the Patriarchate of Constantinople understands that the creation of the OCU not only aggravated the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy, not only brought world Orthodoxy to the brink of a global schism but also created a dead-end situation, the way out of which, in the Phanar's understanding, is not yet expected.

The fact is that among all the Local Orthodox Churches, the OCU was recognized only by the satellites of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The overwhelming majority of the Churches did not recognize and will not recognize it of their own free will. But even within those Churches whose heads formally recognized Epiphany, discontent is growing. Here one can recall the strong opposition of the OCU on the part of authoritative Cypriot hierarchs, disagreement with the recognition of the schism on the part of authoritative Greek hierarchs, the unwillingness of the clergy and laity of the Greek and Cypriot Churches to concelebrate and receive communion with those hierarchs who have stained themselves with communion with Ukrainian schismatics. Voices are constantly being heard that the “hierarchy” of the OCU is the laity, unrepentant and self-ordained, and their recognition is a betrayal of the Church.

Therefore, Phanariotes are urgently looking for any tool that could somehow resist the "Amman meeting" and justify their canonical lawlessness. The letter of the "hierarchy" of the UOC-KP dated 2008 is an attempt to create such a tool. And you can be sure that it will not be the last.

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