By Paul Goble
Because Universal Patriarch Batholemew did not issue a tomos of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church this week as some in Ukraine had expected, many in Russia are claiming that the patriarch has backed away from doing so, at least in part because of the opposition of the Moscow Patriarchate.
But in fact, as Igor Yakovenko points out in today’s Yezhednevny zhurnal, Bartholemew rejected the pretensions of the Russian church that it has a right to participate in the decision and signaled that he is quite ready to give a positive answer to requests from the Ukrainian church and the Ukrainian government (ej.ru/?a=note&id=32881).
“To the extent that Russia, which is responsible for the current problematic situation in Ukraine, is not capable of resolving the problem,” Bartholemew said, “the Universal Patriarhate has taken on itself the initiative for resolving the issue in conformity with the authorities given to it by the holy canons and its jurisdictional responsibility over the eparchate of Kyiv.”
Constantinople’s position, as defined by Bartholemew, is “100 percent anti-Moscow and correspondingly 100 percent pro-Ukrainian,” Yakovenko says. There are no half tones in the patriarchate’s declaration. And in a remarkable passage that must not be ignored, the Universal Patriarch directly attacked what Moscow has been doing in Ukraine.
“The non-canonical interference of Moscow in the affairs of Kyiv and the willingness to tolerate this by the Universal Patriarchate in the past does not justify any church violations,” Bartholemew said.
The Moscow Patriarchate remains totally opposed to autocephaly for Ukraine’s Orthodox, but it is now on the defensive, as its increasingly hysterical reaction to the developments in Constantinople suggest, reactions that have included threats of military force by the Kremlin against Ukraine if autocephaly happens.
“One can understand the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church and their Kremlin masters. Autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will essentially change the situation throughout all of Eastern Europe,” Yakovenko says. And it will mean that the ROC MP will lose its status as the largest Orthodox church in the world.
After Kyiv gains autocephaly – and that is now almost certain to happen – “the share of Orthodox living on the canonical territory of the ROC MP will be reduced to 40 percent of the total number of followers of this religion in the world.” That will reduce the church’s influence and increase the influence of Constantinople. And Moscow religious and secular knows that.
The person responsible for the decline of Russian Orthodoxy is Vladimir Putin, of course, Yakovenko says. His aggressive policies have alienated the former Soviet republics from Moscow and thus opened the way for those countries ever more frequently to achieve their goals in the religious as well as the political spheres.