On December 15, bishops from the Ukrainian Orthodox churches will come together at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv to elect a head for the Ukraine’s new united local Church.
However, as this historic occasion draws closer, the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate is refusing to cooperate, with its head Metropolitan Onufriy rejecting the Ecumenical Patriarch’s invitation to participate.
What’s more, the Ukrainian security service have been carrying out searches on UOC-MP premises around the country, accusing some of its leaders of inciting sectarian strife and religious hatred.
Hromadske spoke to Loyola Marymount University Professor Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun to discuss the latest developments in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and what this means for Autocephaly in Ukraine.
What can we expect from the unification council? What are the significant things that could happen next week?
Indeed, next week, on Saturday, December 15, we expect a council of the new Ukrainian Church to be convened in Kyiv in the Cathedral of St.Sophia, and this council, this event will put a full stop to the long-lasting process, which began at least in April this year, the process of establishing an Autocephalous Church in Ukraine. A series of events preceded this council, therefore the council is really important because it finalizes a long-lasting process. In a few words, it's a gathering of the bishops from all the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches. All those who want to join this enterprise get together to this gathering, which we call a "council," and they will vote for a new Primate of the Church, they will discuss the statute of the new Church, and, as a follow up of this council, the Church of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, will eventually grant the Tomos of Autocephaly to the newly established Church.
What do we need to look for? At what stage are the debates now? I know you've written about this, because besides the whole issue between the Kyiv and Moscow Patriarchates, the impact of the Russian Orthodox Church on what's happening, there are also issues with what the Kyiv Patriarchate is thinking, and as well with what the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople is thinking. Where should we be looking? What has not yet been decided? Are there any surprises?
The scenarios for the newly established Church change all the time. The initial scenario was that the bishops from the three Ukrainian churches would come together on their own initiative and they would establish a new Church. So it was expected that it would be initiative of the bishops themselves. Later on, it turned out that this scenario is not feasible, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided to take initiative to call the council. And, as a matter of fact, this decision was taken at the recent session of the Synod of Church of Constantinople, which actually discussed the statutes of the new Church, suggested they started the discussion for the council in December. And they decided also to convene the council. So now the new scenario says that it is now an initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. And indeed, all the bishops in Ukraine have received an invitation letter from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who invited them to come to St. Sophia to take part in the council, so we expect that most of bishops who received this invitation letter will come, and they will discuss the agenda which was suggested by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
It's also important to mention here that, according to the invitation letter of the Ecumenical Patriarch, there will be the President of Ukraine, so he will attend the council -- not, of course, as a member of the council, but as a, sort of, observer... Also, it said that not every detail of the council has been agreed upon as of yet. There are some issues which are still pending, they are still in discussion... The Patriarchate of Kyiv, one of the participants in the upcoming council recently decided that this will be a council of bishops only, so that they laypeople -- that is to say the representatives of all the strata within the church -- would only be observers, effectively, in the council, while the Ecumenical Patriarchate insisted that they should fully fledged members of the council, and they should have a right to vote. So this is being discussed still. We hope that the decision, eventually, by the Ecumenical Patriarchate will prevail, and the council will really represent the broad constituents within the Ukrainian churches.
Another issue which is being discussed nowadays is what kind of voting process it will be, whether it will be a closed or an open voting form, meaning that the bishops will vote, or the members, if it will also be laypeople and priests, whether they will vote openly so that everyone will see who votes for whom, or whether there will be secret voting. In this case, the voting process will be more fair and will allow the members of the council to express themselves more freely. There is feud between Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Kyiv on this issue because the Patriarchate of Kyiv, it seems, according to its decisions, decided to pursue the open voting, while the Ecumenical Patriarchate wants the voting to be closed to enable the members of the council to vote more freely and fairly.