14:35 Jun. 20, 2016
Ukraine's Church, united and independent, could be discussed at the historical gathering
The Ukrainian version of the article by Nelli Kovalska originally appeared on TSN.ua
June 19 marked the start of the Pan-Orthodox Council, a unique meeting gathering most of the Eastern Orthodox Christianity Churches for the first time in over a thousand years. The preparations for this event began in 1961 with an aim to deal with the problems within the Orthodox Christianity.
However, the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church is also accompanied by a great scandal. Four out of fourteen Churches refused to arrive to the Greek island of Crete, the venue of the gathering. The first one to deny invitation was the Russian Orthodox Church. Now its position looks schismatic.
The representatives of the Orthodox Churches haven't come together for a thousand years. For the last century they have been trying to do that. A hundred years full of controversies and scandals. They were hindered by wars, the Soviet regime, and their own interests. 50 years ago they decided to hold an historical meeting, which was to be the eighth one. For the last two years, hundreds of theologians have been working preparing the documents for the council. But issues of faith lost out to the issues of politics.
In January, fourteen leaders of Orthodox Churches gathered for a meeting in Geneva. They were introducing corrections to the final papers and revising the Council's agenda, which had been developing for years. Russian Patriarch Kirill then said, "The breakaways hide behind the voluntary consent of the believers to move over to the so-called Kyivan Patriarchate."
In this file photo taken on Tuesday, May 25, 2010, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, left, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill tour the Kremlin during a meeting in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo)
At his demand, the question of the autocephalies was removed from the agenda. It seemed a complete fiasco for Ukraine: the Council will not discuss a Ukrainian local church. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of Orthodox believers, agreed to a compromise in order for the Council to take place.
In November 2015, Turkey downed a Russian plane over its territory. Patriarch Kirill vehemently rejected to go to Istanbul, the then planned place of the gathering. His conditions were accepted, and this is the second compromise. The Council will take place on Crete. Not in Constantinople, like it was for centuries.
The Orthodox world encompasses a large territory - from the Balkans to the Kuril, from the Solovetsky Islands in northern Russia to Africa and the Middle East. There are fourteen Orthodox Churches now. The most influential are the Constantinople and Moscow Patriarchates. But in modern world the church is big politics. There are several groups of influence in the Orthodox Christianity. TSN.ua explains them with the assistance of priests, theologians and secular philosophers.
The First Group. Its centre is the Constantinople Patriarchate. Fully supporting it are the Churches of Alexandria, Cyprus, Albania, and the Czech Lands and Slovakia. The latest has recently migrated away from the Moscow influence. These are mostly ancient churches with long history. Today they are democratic and open. They feel comfortable in their borders and do not encroach upon new territories. They are ready for dialogue and changes.
The Second Group. The centre is in Moscow. The experts place the Churches of Bulgaria, Serbia and Poland within this group. It has the largest number of believers: 50 per cent of all the Orthodox Christians live on the post-Soviet territory. These Churches are characterised by harsh, totalitarian style of ruling. They do not want changes, and no dissenting opinions within the group are wanted.
The Third Group. The Antioch Patriarchate with the centre in Syria, the Churches of Georgia, Romania and Greece. They are very different and unpredictable. These Churches can take sides or act independently depending on the circumstances. For example, the Church of Antioch allegedly is influenced by Russia; however, it exists by means of American diaspora. Romania has sent its priests to get education in Europe, and they returned completely pro-European. It helped the Church to move away from the Russian influence.
In this Thursday, June 16, 2016 photo released by Holy and Great Council, Archbishop of Greece Ieronymos speaks in front Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos, right, and Archbishop of Albania Anastasios, left, during their arrival at the airport of Chania in the Greek island of Crete. (AP Photo)
The general number of Christians in the world is two billion: one billion of Catholics, 800 million of Protestants and over 200 million of Orthodox.
The centres of Orthodox Churches are Moscow, Warsaw, Belgrade, Bucharest, Athens, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Damascus, and Tbilisi. A clear figure encircling Ukraine's vast territory, which Russia is desperately afraid to lose.
Several days before the Council, the Churches of Georgia, Antioch and Bulgaria refused to go to Crete. Russian and Serbia demanded to postpone the date and threatened to skip the gathering. This means the Council only emphasises the split between the East and the West. Ukraine will be pulled in different directions, fighting to influence it. And it means the fate of Ukraine's church is being decided right now.
TSN.ua asked Archpriest Heorhiy Kovalenko what Ukraine's absence from the Council means for its Orthodox believers. The Archpriest is the former press secretary of Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Vladimir, Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). He said, "The Council is getting started, 10 out of 14 Orthodox Churches participate. The fact that four Churches did not come to the Council does not cancel it, or its decisions. Moreover, the decisions, which are to be made, will be made by the whole Orthodox community, including the Churches whose leaders did not take part in the Council."
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No Ukrainian Orthodox institution is represented at the Council.
"The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which should be part of the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate, is not present at the Council. Honestly speaking, one can say that [Head of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)] Metropolitan Onufriy and his coterie are more conservative than Patriarch Kirill. Unfortunately, today the Moscow Patriarchate in general considers itself the church of the Soviet Union, or the one dreaming of the revival of the Soviet Union. But this Church has many followers who would like the Church to tell stories from the Gospels or give examples from the Holy Bible, and not to be a pillar of an empire," Archpriest Heorhiy Kovalenko noted.
In this Friday, June 17, 2016 photo released by Holy and Great Council, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, center left, arrives at the Orthodox Academy of the Greek island of Crete. (AP Photo)
It should be said the Ukrainian Parliament has addressed Archbishop Bartholomew to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The official document is yet to arrive to the Council, but it is already vividly discussed on the sidelines.
"The address of the [Ukrainian parliament] Verkhovna Rada is not an intrusion into church's affairs, because it is an address. It is not a decision or law. In addition, the Verkhovna Rada reflects the moods in the society. And we know for a fact the majority of the Ukrainian society wishes for unity of Ukraine's Orthodox Church. The autocephalies in countries close to us - Bulgaria, Serbia, Poland, and even much earlier in Russia - were not decided without state's participation. That is why we can say that according to the tradition, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople takes into account the state authorities' opinion as to the situation," Archpriest Heorhiy Kovalenko explained.
Meanwhile, the representatives of ten out of fourteen Churches are gathered in the town of Kolymbari on Crete. The Churches of Bulgaria, Antioch, Georgia and Russia have refused to participate, although additional invitations were sent shortly before the start. However, the decisions of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church will be legitimate, despite all the attempts of Russia's Church and its satellites.