The outcome of Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit

Patriarch Bartholomew at the VIP tribune during the Independence Day festivities. Photo: OCU

Why did the head of Phanar come to Ukraine, who benefited most from the visit, and how will the situation in the church sphere develop further?

A bit of spoiler. The most important result of Phanar head's visit can be seen on the illustrative photo for the article. Patriarch Bartholomew is featured there on the platform for VIP guests during the celebrations of the Independence Day of Ukraine. He is sitting next to the head of the National Security and Defense Council Danilov, Speaker of the Parliament Razumkov, distinguished foreign guests – the presidents of Latvia and Estonia, and looks quite happy. Given how the head of Phanar planned and spent his time in Ukraine, it can be stated it had nothing to do with the teaching of the people of God in the Christian faith, pastoral sermon, peacemaking, etc. The main purpose of his trip to our country was the strengthening of his positions among the political and secular elite. Has this goal been achieved? Let's talk about everything in order.

The head of Phanar flew to Kyiv under cover of night and flew away under cover of night. Someone will see in this a kind of dark symbolism, someone will not see it, and everyone will be right in their own way. The visit of "his divine all-holiness" is over, and it is time to take stock.

Implications for Phanar

Patriarch Bartholomew was received at the highest level: the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament. They pronounced a lot of beautiful words, but everything was limited to words only. We believe it expedient to pay attention not only to what happened during the visit, but also to what did not happen.

First, there was no transfer of any stavropegic sites to Phanar as anticipated. Recall that more than two years ago, when many believed that the OCU project would be successful, the then Speaker of Parliament Andriy Parubiy announced the possibility of transferring about 20 of the most ancient monasteries to Phanar, including the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the Assumption Brotherhood in Lviv, the Mezhyhirya Transfiguration Monastery, the Kyiv Epiphany Brotherhood, the Maniava Monastery and others. Now there is not even any mention about it. Probably, the position of the Ukrainian authorities on this issue boils down to "say thank you for the St. Andrew's church."

Secondly, the President of Ukraine did not present any state award to Patriarch Bartholomew. There were words of gratitude for "unconditional personal support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity of Ukraine and its independence" for "constant prayers for peace in our country", there were even words that the visit is taking place "in the year of the 30th anniversary of your election as Ecumenical Patriarch" (quotes from the President's website), but at the same time no reward or even a gift. In diplomatic language, this is certainly not a slap in the face, but something close to that. We will reiterate that according to all the rules of international diplomatic etiquette, V. Zelensky was simply obliged to reward Patriarch Bartholomew, but he did not do it. And this is not an oversight of the protocol service or obliviousness. Literally a day after Independence Day, V. Zelensky presented high state awards to all presidents and prime ministers who came to the Crimean Platform event. Non-rewarding Patriarch Bartholomew was a sign that was sent and received. However, the troubles for the head of Phanar did not end there.

According to all the rules of international diplomatic etiquette, V. Zelensky was simply obliged to award Patriarch Bartholomew, but he did not do it.

Thirdly, Patriarch Bartholomew was not invited to the traditional event "Blessing of Ukraine", which is annually held on the territory of St. Sophia of Kyiv on Independence Day. Again, according to the rules of diplomatic etiquette, he HAD to be invited. Patriarch Bartholomew arrived in Ukraine at the invitation of the President, this event was religious, Sergey (Epifanios) Dumenko was present there, the arrival of the head of Phanar was called a landmark event for the country. All arguments are for inviting "his divine all-holiness", but he was left in the hotel (allocated apartments). But the most unpleasant thing for the head of Phanar is not even the fact of not being invited, but the fact that it was done at the request of the UOC. The Chancellor of the UOC, Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich) of Boryspil and Brovary, said, “This was the position and requirement of our Church, which I spoke about earlier in my previous comments, viz. that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will not participate in the event in St. Sophia Cathedral if Patriarch Bartholomew is there." This requirement is the only reason for Patriarch Bartholomew not to attend the above event. And he understood it perfectly. Although spokesman of the OCU Ivan (Eustratiy Zoria) tried to convince everyone that the event was organized not by the Office of the President, but by the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (and the AUCCRO was not going to invite Patriarch Bartholomew to the event), these arguments are at least funny.

Fourthly, there was no mention of either Constantinople or even the OCU in the speech of the President on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Independence. In the era of Poroshenko, such disregard would have been unimaginable. If we remember Poroshenko’s speeches, the OCU was always referred to as the pillar of statehood. It also turned out that this year P. Poroshenko was not mentioned among the presidents of Ukraine alongside V. Yanukovych.

Fifthly, with the exception of the service in the courtyard of St. Sophia Cathedral, no events were organized for Patriarch Bartholomew with the participation of ordinary people. Albeit, one event was organized by the Public Union "Miriane", when more than 10 thousand people gathered to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew near the Verkhovna Rada, but he refused to participate in it.

On top of that, we can add to the list the poor course and prospects of the OCU project, on which such great hopes were pinned initially. There is no longer any talk that bishops of the UOC will run to the OCU, since it is already clear that it is not possible to transfer voluntarily both UOC clergymen and parishes to the OCU, while the organization itself is haunted by a series of scandals. There is a new Filaret split with the re-establishment of the UOC-KP; a showdown between two Kharkiv "hierarchs" of the OCU with the reciprocal seizure of parishes; a recent homosexual scandal with "Metropolitan" Alexander Drabinko and other "funny incidents". All this is known to Patriarch Bartholomew, as well as the fact that the OCU decided not to hold a full-fledged cross procession this year on the Day of the Baptism of Rus, so as not to be disgraced by its small number against the backdrop of the 350,000-strong Great Cross Procession of the UOC.

Thus, the results of the visit for Patriarch Bartholomew himself are not particularly mirthful, which was reflected on his face during short farewell negotiations with D. Shmygal.

Patriarch Bartholomew and Prime Minister D. Shmygal. Photo: kmu.gov.ua 

Implications for the Ukrainian government

It is also relevant to speculate on what Patriarch Bartholomew did not do for Ukraine. The main thing is that he failed to ensure the recognition of the OCU by the Local Orthodox Churches. It can be assumed that during the negotiations before the creation of the OCU, Phanar assured P. Poroshenko it would be able to ensure such recognition, while the Ukrainian authorities probably assured Phanar they would be able to drive most of the episcopate, clergy and parishes of the UOC into the OCU. None of this worked and is unlikely to work down the road. The Greek, Alexandrian and Cypriot Churches, which recognized the OCU after harsh diplomatic treatment by officials of the American State Department, faced and are still facing serious opposition to such recognition by some of their fellow hierarchs. Who else wants their Church to be split? No one.

Also, Patriarch Bartholomew failed to convince the Orthodox world that he is "the first without equals". If this succeeded, the head of Phanar would acquire serious political weight and would be like the Pope in the eyes of the Ukrainian authorities, through whom serious political issues can be resolved. Hence, the real significance of the head of Phanar is rather low and his support does not give any specific dividends. The Ukrainian authorities learnt that the hard way.

In the first year of his presidency, V. Zelensky took a more or less neutral position in relation to the religious confessions of Ukraine. In addition, he clearly saw how interference in church affairs did not add but rather reduced P. Poroshenko's chances of winning the presidential elections in 2019. But then suddenly in 2020, V. Zelensky begins to clone the policy of his predecessor and actively interact with Phanar. The only reasoning for such a dramatic change is his desire to please the new Democratic Administration in the United States, which enjoys long and very strong ties with Phanar. Moreover, Biden even has friendly relations with Bartholomew. The Ukrainian authorities apparently expected the US Administration to somehow reward their efforts in support of Patriarch Bartholomew, but were “betrayed” instead. At this point we can recall the constant postponement by the Americans of V. Zelensky's visit to the United States and the last-minute lowering of the level of their representation on the Crimean Platform. But the most important thing is that the US Administration has exponentially, behind the back of Ukraine, resolved all issues related to the Nord Stream-2 pipeline with Germany. The Ukrainian authorities are seriously thinking whether the wishes of the US should be fulfilled “just like that” and to the detriment of Ukraine, to make matters worse. Otherwise, there would be no statements of friendship with China, the main official enemy of the United States, and the dismissal of the head of Naftogaz A. Kobolev.

Also, the Ukrainian authorities were once again convinced that the UOC can gather huge masses of people for its events, while the OCU has huge problems in this regard. Without administrative resources or the support of nationalist organizations, the OCU cannot independently gather any significant number of people. All this is a clear signal to the authorities about who the Ukrainians really support.

The Ukrainian authorities were once again convinced that the UOC can gather huge masses of people for its events, while the OCU has huge problems in this regard.

In addition, the authorities, of course, noted that the UOC had become noticeably more active in the public sphere. This includes the 350-thousandth Cross Procession on July 27, 2021, the prayer standing at the Verkhovna Rada on August 21, 2021, and the creation of the Miriane Public Union, which managed to open branches throughout Ukraine in a short time, as well as vigorous defense in the courts of the rights of UOC communities, from whom temples were forcibly taken away or who were illegally re-registered in favor of the OCU. In terms of electoral support, it is much more beneficial to leave the UOC alone than to step up the persecution against the biggest denomination in Ukraine.

It is worth mentioning another event that did not take place, but which the Ukrainian authorities sought a lot – the visit of Pope Francis to the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Independence. V. Zelensky twice personally asked the pontiff to come, once even with the words that the head of the Vatican "is awaited, first of all, by the people of Ukraine" and that it will be "oxygen that is so necessary." On March 25, 2021, Prime Minister D. Shmygal visited the Vatican and conveyed an invitation from V. Zelensky to the Independence Day. The arrival of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in Ukraine at the same time would be declared a huge "victory" of the Ukrainian government, but this did not happen. Moreover, both the pope and "his divine all-holiness" received an excellent chance to promote the idea of an early unification of the Vatican with Phanar, which both of them have repeatedly stated. The former head of the Department of Religious Affairs A. Yurash confirmed it directly in May 2021: “This would give a very powerful impetus to interreligious ecumenical ties ...” But the pope chose not to take this chance.

Implications for OCU

The visit of Patriarch Bartholomew benefited most of all the head of the OCU, Sergei Dumenko. The Patriarch of Constantinople gave a clear signal that Phanar relies on the current head of the OCU and does not consider the option of replacing him with someone else. Sergei was called "an effective leader who is trustworthy for Phanar", and during the service in the St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, Patriarch Bartholomew said that in many decades the descendants would glorify the name and example of Sergei Dumenko. Of course, if we recall the case when the "theologian" Dumenko confused the Gospel words with a proverb, these statements sound comical, but what is done cannot be undone.

The visit of Patriarch Bartholomew benefited most of all the head of the OCU, Sergei Dumenko. The Patriarch of Constantinople gave a clear signal that Phanar relies on the current head of the OCU and does not consider the option of replacing him with someone else.

The head of the OCU can also write down as his personal asset that the authorities did not invite Filaret to any festivities. This is also a clear signal, especially considering that Denisenko was presented with the highest award “Hero of Ukraine”.

The main sponsor of the OCU and "beer king" Andrei Matsola may also rejoice – he received the title of Archon of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from the hands of Patriarch Bartholomew. The Order of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (the second name is the Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew) was registered in 1966 in the United States. It was created within the American Archdiocese of the Patriarchate of Constantinople as a public non-profit organization. In 1991, the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople established a separate order for archons living outside America – the Brotherhood of Offikions (Archons) "Blessed Virgin". Each year, the Patriarch of Constantinople assigns the title of Archon to about 20 individuals who have donated "... their time, talent and finances ..." (from the requirements for candidates) to advance the interests of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It is unlikely that A. Matsola would have received the title for "his time" or "talent", so only "finances" is left, which contradicts the assertion that Phanar granted the Tomos of "autocephaly" to the OCU free of charge.

Another result of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Independence was the announcement by V. Zelensky on the establishment of a new holiday: the Day of Statehood to be celebrated on the day of the Baptism of Rus, July 28. It means the OCU will be able to openly use the administrative resource to organize its own cross procession. Of course, it will hardly be possible to bring 350 thousand officials or teachers to this event, but still it may somehow compete with the Great Cross Procession of the UOC.

Former Metropolitan Alexander Drabinko had another egg on his face. On August 22, 2021, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, during a joint service on the territory of St. Sophia of Kyiv with Epiphany Dumenko, put on two panagias and a cross made in the UOC in 2010 with a limited copy for the 75th anniversary of the late Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan). Metropolitan Vladimir personally presented these things at the celebration of his anniversary; therefore, he could not give them to Patriarch Bartholomew, who came to Ukraine two years earlier. The likelihood that they were handed over to the head of Phanar on behalf of Metropolitan Vladimir through third parties is extremely small. Only one thing remains – a present from Alexander Drabinko, who has already been caught stealing the Peresopnytsia Gospel, panagias, crosiers, vestments and other things of the late Metropolitan Vladimir. In addition, it was A. Drabinko who drew attention on his Facebook to the fact that Patriarch Bartholomew put on the panagia and the cross of His Beatitude Vladimir.

Implications for the whole of Orthodoxy

The visit to Ukraine in the eyes of the Orthodox world confirmed and approved the Phanar-imposed agenda. It consists of three points: recognition of the supremacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople, recognition of the OCU, union with Catholics. All these three elements were clearly manifested during the visit and everyone was made to understand that these elements do not exist separately from each other; they are all components, as they say now, of one case. It is impossible to recognize the OCU rejecting the supremacy of Phanar, and by recognizing the OCU, it is impossible to dissociate oneself from the union with the Catholics.

It is impossible to recognize the OCU rejecting the supremacy of the Phanar, and by recognizing the OCU, it is impossible to dissociate oneself from the union with the Catholics.

Patriarch Bartholomew once again concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with persons without holy dignity. The explanation for this in the eyes of the rest of the Local Orthodox Churches is simple: the priesthood of S. Dumenko and other “hierarchs” of the OCU was “blessed” by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, so Local Churches are at odds whether to recognize this decision or not. If they recognize it, they thereby recognize that the head of Phanar has special exclusive powers, or in other words, they recognize him as the head of Orthodoxy. In fact, Patriarch Bartholomew mentioned this during the reception at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, saying that the Local Churches have one path to unity – this is the recognition of the OCU: “Only the recognition of Ukrainian autocephaly by all Orthodox Churches and not any other position ... unity ".

On August 23, 2021, the head of Phanar met with the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations. The meeting took place on the initiative of Patriarch Bartholomew, which means that he was not initially invited there. At this meeting, Patriarch Bartholomew said that the Orthodox and Catholics are striving to restore unity in communion and also presented the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) Sviatoslav Shevchuk with a panagia with his signature. In response, the latter called Constantinople his "mother church" and presented the head of Phanar with a set of patriarchal distinctions: a cross, an enkolpion and a panagia.

All this increased the likelihood that the emerging union between the Phanar and the Vatican will first be “tested out” in Ukraine with the help of the OCU and the UGCC. And if Pope Francis also came to Ukraine, then such a probability would be almost one hundred percent.

In any case, the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Kyiv, his actions and statements have confirmed that the recognition of Phanar supremacy, the recognition of the OCU and the rapprochement with Rome are rolled into one. This means that Local Orthodox Churches should think not only about the issue of recognizing the OCU, but also about the other two issues of this “package”. In our opinion, this greatly reduces the likelihood that the recognition of the OCU by Local Churches will continue.

Implications for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

The UOC has demonstrated to everyone, including itself, its firmness in upholding the purity of Orthodoxy and its solidarity around His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry. It is noteworthy that the “Miriane” Public Union was able to organize a 10,000-strong prayer standing near the Verkhovna Rada on August 21, 2021. It is also indicative that this event was approved by the authorities. The police allowed it to be carried out in full: to set up the stage, loudspeakers, to bring posters and banners on which words, very insulting for "his divine all-holiness", were written in Greek, including anathema. True though, there were cases when the police took away such posters, but they were isolated.

Unfortunately, there was an annoying oversight at the event. Archpriest Viktor Zemlianoy read from the stage a deliberately fake translation of the speech of Patriarch Bartholomew, where he allegedly said that the Russian and even Church Slavonic languages are incomprehensible to Ukrainians, but Modern Greek is understandable to everyone and must be used for worship. In fact, the head of Phanar did not say this, but many bought into the fake. Hopefully, in the future people will double-check such messages. However, the fact that the fake was believed is understandable. Patriarch Bartholomew has done a lot of things no one could previously believe in. This includes the recognition of S. Dumenko's "ordination", the "abolition" of the UOC with Metropolitan Onuphry, the "transfer" of the Kyiv Metropolis to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and much more. No one could have imagined that Phanar would be able to commit such insane and lawless acts, but he did it, alas.

We would venture to suggest the persecution of the UOC will not grow, at least not significantly in the near future. However, such a possibility cannot be completely ruled out. Nor will there be a dramatic turn of power towards the UOC. Despite all the difficulties, the seizure of churches and so on, the UOC is in a very favorable position: the authorities have no influence on it; it was cleared of such controversial (to put it mildly) personalities like former Metropolitan Alexander Drabinko or former Archpriest Georgy Kovalenko; communities of the UOC and the whole Church have become more united; the church consciousness of believers has increased, etc. The fact that the state is putting pressure on the UOC is, of course, bad, but it will be much worse if the authorities of Ukraine (if not the current ones, then the next ones) suddenly begin to show loyalty to the UOC and use it as a pillar of Ukrainian statehood instead of the OCU. Sooner or later, the state would expect something in return for such a "favorable" attitude, as the church history proves it. The temptation of wealth is much stronger spiritually than the temptation of poverty; the temptation of glory is much more terrible than the temptation of oblivion; the temptation of power is much more dangerous than the temptation of persecution. Anyway, the Church must be ready to fight against any temptations.

Therefore, these are the implications of the visit of "his divine all-holiness" to Ukraine in hot pursuit. Only time will tell how much accurate they are.

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