Who shall replace him?
The forthcoming MP Local Council caused a new wave of discussion regarding the Ukrainian church question. What course shall the new patriarch take? Shall he continue the path taken by His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei, to maintain the unity of the MP, or shall he consent to the gradual “autocephalisation” of the Ukrainian church? In the early 1990s, the Ukrainian church question was aggravated by the schismatical activity of the former Metropolitan Philaret Denisenko. When he lost the election for the post of Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias in 1990, Philaret conceived the notion of becoming the “Patriarch of Kiev”, and concentrated his efforts on separating the Ukrainian flock from the Mother Church, in which activity he received aid from the then-President of the Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk.
It should be clear that, in itself, the idea of autocephaly isn’t illicit. History records examples of Churches that were previously a part of one or another Local Church becoming autocephalous bodies. However, before autocephaly can arrive [for the Ukrainian church], it’s necessary that there should be a unanimous consensus of the episcopate, clergy, and people, but today, there’s no such unanimity. On the contrary, the vast majority of believers are in favour of maintaining unity with the MP in its current canonical borders. It’s appropriate to recall the words of Patriarch Aleksei at the Archpastoral Council of 1992, “In order for us to consider autocephaly, calm is necessary. However, in our time, we see destruction of economic, national, and human relationships, separation and confrontation, which has beaten down our people. To preserve our unity is to heed the voice of God”. Today, these words of our late First Hierarch sound like his last will and testament for us.
Some ask, “Why should we decide the fate of Kiev in Moscow?” His Holiness gave the answer to this in his address of 1992, “We’re all responsible for what happens in the Ukraine”. Today, some say, “The Ukrainian Church itself shall solve the question of the Ukrainian Church”. However, we all bear responsibility for what happens in our Church. ALL OF US… in Russia, in the Ukraine, in Byelorussia, in Moldova, in the near and far abroad… are the members of a single church body. In the words of the Apostle St Paul, And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it (1 Corinthians 12.26).
St Sophia Cathedral, Kiev
There are two proposed solutions for the resolution of the Ukrainian church question, but both are equally dangerous and fraught with unpredictable consequences. The first belongs to the present Ukrainian junta, and can be simply stated as “An independent Ukraine must possess an independent Local Orthodox Church“. All “branches” of Ukrainian Orthodoxy would be united in this body, the canonical UOC/MP, and two schismatical bodies, the so-called “Patriarchate of Kiev” led by Philaret Denisenko and the so-called “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church“. This project is based in political schemes and doesn’t take into account the realities of church life. It isn’t possible, through a simple stroke of the pen, to join into one body a canonical Orthodox Church and uncanonical structures, merging legitimacy and illegitimacy.
Another plan comes from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is actively trying to establish itself in the Ukraine. The EP, in contrast to the Ukrainian régime, is, by no means, interested in establishing an autocephalous Ukrainian Church. However, it aids the Ukrainian leadership in attempting to disrupt church relations between Moscow and Kiev in order to subordinate the Ukrainian Church to itself. To begin with, it proposed that both groups of Ukrainian schismatics, which the EP would legitimatise, after which it would create a dependent exarchate similar to that found in Crete, that is, it wouldn’t even be autonomous (the head of this body would be chosen in Istanbul, not Kiev). This project is never officially adverted to, but its details became known thanks to leaks from the Phanar on the eve of the 1,020th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia. The Ukrainian junta planned to use the celebration to promote this plan, and Patriarch Bartholomew was invited to Kiev for this very purpose. Before the start of the celebrations in Kiev, Metropolitan Kirill found it necessary to exert much effort, in concert with the Holy Synod of the UOC/MP, to foil the realisation of the machinations of the EP.
Patriarch Aleksei Ridiger of Moscow and all the Russias [1929-2008] in Kiev for the 1,020th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia in 2008. Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan (1935- ), the First Hierarch of the UOC/MP is on his right.
His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei went to Kiev over the protests of his doctors, largely, because the situation demanded his personal presence and authority. The resulting events are known to all of us. The Ukrainian junta attempted to inflate the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew, viewing him as the equal of the Pope of Rome, whilst they treated Patriarch Aleksei as a mere bishop from a neighbouring country. However, the faithful greeted the head of the MP with the words, “Aleksei, our Patriarch!” The unity of the Church was preserved and strengthened, but on his return to Moscow, His Holiness found it necessary to rest for a month and undergo further medical treatment.
Why does the EP show such an interest in the Ukraine? First of all, it expects the Ukrainian Church to substantially strengthen its own positions. It’s no secret to anyone that the EP has virtually no flock in Turkey, and, in the diaspora, the number of parishes under him are unlikely to exceed 1,000. Meanwhile, in the Ukraine, if one counts only the schismatical parishes, according to various estimates, there are about 4,000. In addition to this, the number of parishes in the canonical UOC/MP is more than 11,000. To obtain a real flock and to increase the number of parishes under his authority by fifteen times, or, at the worst, some five times… that’s a very attractive prospect.
Is this concept of a separate Ukrainian Local Church necessary? What, other than to further tension, and, possibly, bring new divisions, can it bring? In any event, it’s obvious that the major portion of the episcopate, clergy, and flock of the canonical Ukrainian Church shall remain united with its Mother-Church, the MP. No new structure, no matter if it is created by Ukrainian politicians or by the manoeuvring of the Phanar, will be able to unite all of the Orthodox believers in the Ukraine. Rather, it’d only be a new and additional obstacle to unity. The Ukrainian Church itself must decide its own destiny. It doesn’t need outside help to determine its future course. The EP complains about the “delay” in the resolution of the Ukrainian question, it insists on the “fastest” end to the schism. The Ukrainian secular leadership echoes this demand. However, we can’t forget that the Ukrainian régime bears full responsibility for the birth of the schism. Specifically, it supported Philaret when, in contravention of all the canons, he arbitrarily proclaimed autocephaly and it handed over to Philaret’s minions churches and monasteries that, by all rights, belonged to the canonical church.
Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan of Kiev (1935- ), with loyal Cossack guards
Three conditions are necessary for the resolution of the Ukrainian Church question. First, we mustn’t act in haste. So far, the chief schismatic is still active. As long as he’s able to determine the course of his “church”, one can’t expect that he or other schismatics shall return to the bosom of the canonical church. The support of the secular government to the schism delays, and can’t advance, the time of the resolution of the unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Secondly, we need a wise head of the church in Kiev, a man of unquestionable authority, who would be capable of uniting around himself the entire flock. This man exists. He is His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan. Thus far, he’s been steering the ship of the church steadily on the proper course. Thirdly, and, finally, we need a leader in Moscow who, in close collaboration with the leadership of the Ukrainian Church, will continue the efforts of the late Patriarch Aleksei in the strengthening of our Church unity.
The Local Council, which shall be composed of bishops, clergy, monastics, and laity, representing all the different dioceses of the MP, shall vote on their preference for the next patriarch. One thing is obvious. If we wish to maintain the continuity of the present course, the Patriarch must be one of the closest confidants of His Holiness. In this case, the preservation of the unity and integrity of the MP shall remain a top priority of church policy. Some say, “We need a man of prayer as a patriarch, not a diplomat or politician”. Today, the patriarch can’t only be a man of prayer. He must be a warrior, capable of mobilising the army of faith, he must be a strong personality, capable of joining about himself the vigorous circles in the church, he must be a pastor, a man of prayer, a missionary, a diplomat, and a politician. Thus was His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei of Blessed Memory. His successor must be so, as well.
21 December 2008
Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria
Representative of the MP to the European International Institutions
As quoted in Interfax-Religion
This shall reward you with a second or third reading. Indeed, if you were to replace “Ukrainian” with “OCA” in the sections where he speaks of autocephaly, one comes away with interesting conclusions. Remember, the OCA was NOT the product of unanimity amongst the bishops, clergy, and people, it was a hothouse creation of Alexander Schmemann and the squiffy pseudo-academic lot at SVS. Apply the above words to that situation… well; it does make for a stimulating read, no?
As for the forthcoming election, it’s becoming clearer that Kirill’s becoming more desperate. He’s inserting himself into every situation; he’s making himself the hero of every crisis. He should take a care, for such things do tend to backfire. Do bear in mind that he has powerful enemies such as Metropolitan Sergei of Voronezh and Metropolitan Mefody of Kazakhstan. I believe that the Holy Spirit is going to go three for three, and that we’re going to see a real hat trick. That is, expect the unexpected… who expected that Jonas Paffhausen was going to end by wearing a white hat? One can say this… it’s going to be anything other than dull… God’s still in His Heaven, after all.