No decision was taken on the spur of the moment. The issue regarding the independence of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church from Moscow had been on the agenda of the Churches for the past three decades at least. The Patriarchate of Constantinople has tried to resolve the issue through dialogue, but Moscow repeatedly refused to participate in bilateral and multilateral talks. This, in essence, is the “line of defence” of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, or rather, the reasons that led Patriarch Bartholomew to embrace the request of “autocephaly” coming from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne, illustrated them to SIR.
Why has the Patriarchate of Constantinople decided to go ahead with the granting of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church, putting at risk the unity of the Orthodox churches, with a schism that will have very serious consequences over time?
It is very misleading to present the granting of autocephaly to the Church in Ukraine as something sudden or recent. The matter has been proposed, discussed, and appealed for over three decades, during which time literally millions of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine have been unfairly and unjustly cut off from communion and shut off from communication with all of the other Orthodox Churches. Why is Moscow questioning Constantinople now instead of questioning its own divisive actions in Ukraine for so long?
This was a schism created for no other reason than an abuse of power resulting in millions of Orthodox believers paying the price for such politics. It was then that politics came into play, not now. It is unethical – especially for religious leaders – to seek to play both sides of the game, using theology and politics at whim and for convenience.
The Patriarchate of Moscow said that the current schismatic situation is not an irreversible process. But the condition is for the Patriarchate of Constantinople to backtrack on the decision. Are you ready to re-discuss the question, thereby effectuating a process of long-lasting dialogue?
For at least twenty years now, the Ecumenical Patriarch has repeatedly requested, encouraged, and personally mediated a process of dialogue for the sake of resolving this unfortunate problem, but
the Patriarchate of Moscow has systematically avoided, rejected and suspended all efforts toward bilateral or multilateral conversations.
It is difficult to understand how a Church that has persistently suspended and interrupted conversations to resolve the ecclesiastical problem in Ukraine – the same Church that deliberately boycotted the only pan-Orthodox council in a thousand years, where such matters should have been raised and resolved – is now recommending dialogue and discussion.
Many wonder how it is possible that a question that is more political than theological could lead to a division among the Churches. How does the Patriarchate of Constantinople respond to this claim?
I find it somewhat ironic – albeit, in reality it is rather tragic – that Moscow’s Patriarchate holds the Ukrainian problem to be a political problem. Perhaps that is how it is perceived through the lens of a “Russian worldview.” But the exclusive motivation and sole intention of the Ecumenical Patriarch is to resolve an ecclesiastical problem, which the Church of Russia created and exacerbated arguably for political reasons.
There are very few national Orthodox Churches that can claim full independence from politics.
On the other hand, while critics deride and denigrate the Ecumenical Patriarchate as lacking freedom, the reality is that the Ecumenical Patriarch enjoys far greater freedom than, for example, the Church of Russia. In the case of Constantinople, there is no history of complicit conduct with communist leaders and there has never been national support for military campaigns by political leaders.
The Patriarchate of Moscow thinks that Constantinople has now lost the role of being first in honour in inter-Orthodox relations, because half of all the Orthodox Christians in the world are not in communion with it. What do you think? How does the future look today?
Moscow has long resisted and routinely obstructed the leadership of Constantinople on the basis of power and numbers. But it would be absurd for Moscow to question this leadership on the basis of church history and church canons. I sometimes wonder how Moscow can even dare to blame Constantinople for monopoly! Moscow should remember that, like many – if not most – of the Orthodox Churches elevated after the first millennium to the status of “autocephaly,”
Moscow should remember that, like many – if not most – of the Orthodox Churches elevated after the first millennium to the status of “autocephaly,” Russia received its own independence by the very same Constantinople and by-and-large through the very same process as Ukraine has today rightfully requested its own.Again, as the saying goes, you cannot have your cake and eat it, too. You cannot accept Constantinople’s right to grant autocephaly to some Churches but then question Constantinople’s actions as “papal” when it does the same for others.
If Christians are divided, how can we hope that the world will be united and in peace. Patriarch Bartholomew, as his predecessors, is a man of unity. How is he living this situation? What are your hopes now?
The Ecumenical Patriarch has been patient for many decades on the question of Ukraine,
hoping and praying that the Church of Russia would assume appropriate initiatives to resolve the problems there instead of indiscriminately hurling the epithet of “schismatic” on millions of innocent Orthodox Christians there.
We should remember that the first action declaring schism in Ukraine was sparked off by Russia years ago. By the same token, the first action declaring excommunication against Constantinople was taken by Russia just recently. The Ecumenical Patriarch has not retaliated against Russia’s decision to cut communion with millions of Orthodox Christians in Europe and Britain, Australia and Asia, North and South America, and even Mount Athos!