The decision was finally taken and Moscow’s reaction was extremely harsh. The ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has granted autocephaly (independence) to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, thus separating it from the canonical area of influence of Moscow’s Patriarchate. The decision – announced in the late evening of October 11 by the Patriarchate of Constantinople – was taken by the Holy Synod chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, held October 9 to 11. The Holy Synod debated “extensively” and finally decreed to “renew the decision already made that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceed to the granting of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine.”
The failure of summit meetings. Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill I and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew debated the issue during a meeting in Constantinople past August 31. But evidently they failed to reach a compromise agreement. Bartholomew was determined to proceed with the granting of authocephaly and a few days after the meeting he announced the appointment of two Exarchs in Ukraine, Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon (United States) and Bishop Ilarion of Edmonton, with the purpose – Metropolitan Emmanuel told SIR at the time – “to mend the divide amidst Ukrainian Orthodox faithful.”
The relationship between Constantinople and Moscow has soured in the past month. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, President of the Department for External Relations of Moscow’ Patriarchate, has always said that the Russian Orthodox Church would never have accepted the concession of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church and that if it happened Moscow’s Patriarchate would have interrupted “the communion with Constantinople.” Constantinople responded to the threat of a schism by publishing detailed historical documents. Then came the announcement of the final decree of the Holy Synod stating that the Ecumenical Patriarchate revokes “the legal binding of the Synodal Letter of the year 1686, issued for the circumstances of that time”, which granted “the right to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv.” The “canonical dependence of the Church of Ukraine to the Mother Church of Constantinople,” is thereby proclaimed and affirmed.
It’s an extremely delicate issue, especially in a Country like Ukraine that is already faced with grave tensions and afflicted by a war in the Donbass region that every day brings new casualties. After the winter of Euromaidan in 2013, the annexation of Crimea to Russia and the outbreak of the conflict in Donbass, the Ukrainian and Russian peoples are deeply divided. That’s why in its statement, the Ecumenical Patriarchate
appealed to “all sides involved that they avoid appropriation of Churches, Monasteries and other properties, as well as every other act of violence and retaliation, so that the peace and love of Christ may prevail.”
Moscow lashed out at the decree.
The Constantinople Patriarchate
“made catastrophic decisions for the whole world Orthodoxy,”
said Father Alexander Volkov, spokesman for the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill. “The Patriarchate of Constantinople has already crossed the red line, and we are not to blame for this”, he pointed out. This decision “will be followed by very sad steps the Russian Orthodox Church will have to make in view of severance of the Eucharistic communion and other decisions that will be made.” “The Patriarchate of Constantinople made an unprecedented anti-canonical action, which is an attempt to destroy the foundations of the Orthodox canonical system”, said Vladimir Legoida, chairman of the Synodal department of the Russian Orthodox Church for relations between society and the media.
As expected, the first reactions from Ukraine were completely different. In a message to the national population Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko thanked the Ecumenical Patriarch for declaring “the dreamed and long-awaited ‘yes” to this process. He said the decision “has finally dispelled the imperial illusions and chauvinistic fantasies of Moscow.” “As soon as you see people who will call up to take the Laurel, monastery or temple by force” – Porposhenko concluded – “you should know they are the agents of Moscow. As the goal of the Kremlin is to fuel the religious war in Ukraine. And this is definitely not my plan, not the plan of the Ukrainian people and not the plan of the State of Ukraine.” This warning shows that the question has not been solved and that the process is bound to be difficult, especially because the matter at stake is the peace process in the region.