It's here, it's now. Ukraine has finally got its hands on the Tomos of Autocephaly, the document granting independence to the newly-formed and united Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
This follows months of meetings and negotiations the driving force of which was Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, as well as hundreds of years of the only canonical Ukrainian Orthodox church being under Russian leadership.
The head of the newly-formed Church, Metropolitan Epiphanius I who was elected on December 15, along with Poroshenko, received Tomos on January 6 from the hands of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. The two Ukrainians are now the rightful owners of the copy, which from January 7 onward will be stored and displayed at the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv.
To discuss these news and their impact, we are joined by the Loyola Marymount University Professor Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun.
What does this mean historically for the country, for the Orthodox Church overall?
It as to do, primarily, with the structure of the eastern churches. Unlike, the structure of the Catholic church, which is highly centralized, and which has a kind of pyramidal structure with the Pope at the top of the Church, the eastern churches are divided into local churches. They constitute a kind of commonwealth of independent churches. It is quite similar to the British Commonwealth, if you want, with independent states constituting a communion of states, which collaborate with one another. In a similar sense, the Orthodox churches are independent churches, independent units. They are connected with one another. And what happened today – a new church was born, an independent church and it is the church of Ukraine. What happened in particular today is that the "birth certificate" for this church has been issued by the Ecumenical Patriarch. In our language, we call this"birth certificate" the Tomos, which is a Greek word meaning just a document. It's a document that certifies, confirms, that this church is legal, canonical, it does exist and it should be received and recognized by other churches.
There is no doubt that people are looking at this in terms of what's happening in eastern Europe, what's happening between Russia and Ukraine, in terms of the conflict, in terms of the existence of different churches, and they want to understand what kind of impact it has had.
Yes, you are right. This happening, this event, is an answer, is a response to the challenge, to the issue of Russian aggression against Ukraine. And even though the process of the fight, the struggle, of the Ukrainian Church for its independence has been going on since the beginning of the 20th century essentially, when the Ukrainian republic was established in 1917, it was greatly accelerated by Russian aggression in 2014 because, unfortunately, the Kremlin instrumentalized the Orthodox Church for its own purposes – political, geopolitical and military purposes. The response of the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian society to this instrumentalization by the Kremlin was to enforce and to strengthen the struggle for the independence of the Church. And I wouldn't say that this is an achievement of the Ukrainian state, it would be wrong, it would be a misrepresentation of the events. The Ukrainian state just facilitated or helped the Ukrainian believers, Ukrainian society, to achieve this goal. Therefore, I would put it in terms of... In theological terms, we have this word "synergy" – cooperation between the body of the church, the people, the faithful and the Ukrainian state, who work together towards getting independence for the Ukrainian Church. For the Ukrainian state, it was obviously a response to Russian aggression. For the Church, it was a way to heal the split, the division, what we call the schism within the Orthodox Church. And it was a nice combination of two goals that contributed to this common goal.
You say "healing the division," however, in political terms, its temporary, we are talking about something more universal, like the church, religion, however, these days, people are asking would it enforce more splits, because, of course, we still have the issue with the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. And, for instance, there are concerns that they would be in the greater position, like enforce which is pressured to be something which is not fully legitimate, that could be a stronger position and there could be some religious conflicts which there haven't really been in Ukraine, despite what has been happening here for the last 25 years.
Yes, you are right. Certainly, there is a potentiality, a potential for further splits within Ukrainian society and among Ukrainian believers as a result of this step, but it is still just a potential. It's very much up to the churches, to the Ukrainian churches, to be conscious and to be aware of their task and to be really willing to cooperate with one another. Therefore, on the one hand, a great split as been overcome, has been healed. The schism that existed within Ukrainian Orthodoxy, when two of the churches, the so-called Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous, which were not recognized by other churches, they have joined together and they've established a new church, together with the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate. And that schism has been overcome. Now, instead of three churches, we have two churches. This reduction in number of churches is already good. So have a reduction of three churches to two churches and now, those two churches have to find a new modus vivendi with one another, a peaceful one, a way of coexistence which would encourage them to respect one another, which is not an easy task because, already, the church of the Moscow Patriarchate has declare that it will not recognize the newly established church. Now it is important for the newly established church not to triumph, not to feel this triumph or victory over the other part, but to extend their helping hand to adopt a language, and to adopt an attitude to the church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which would be welcoming, which would be an offer of peace and peaceful coexistence – that is important. So it depends on both parts nowadays whether they will coexist peacefully or in confrontation. Of course, Moscow continues to steer conflict and discord between the churches in Ukraine, and therefore, I think the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian churches should be mature enough, aware enough of their mission of overcoming the splits.
You said "should be mature enough," are they mature enough?
Well, I have mixed feelings about that, to be honest. On the one hand, I see willingness and a readiness of many people in the newly established church to live in peace. There were very good messages articulated by the new primate of the church Metropolitan Epiphanius. I also hear some worrying messages of: "We have won over others. Our cause has prevailed over other causes." For instance, I heard this from the former Patriarch Filaret, who use to be the primate of the Kyiv Patriarchate. And those kind of messages are a bit worrying for me. Therefore, I think within the new church, we will hear many voices, both peaceful and more like waging wars and revenge, or whatever. I think we should, we must, avoid these kinds of messages and voices.
We've explained how this process will take place with the parishes, how they will move to the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine, but could you elaborate a bit more on that? What can we expect? How fast will it happen? Because there were very few bishops from the Moscow Patriarchate who have moved to the new Church. There were just a few out of 90.
That's true. Well, to my understanding, to my knowledge, some of the bishops from the Moscow Patriarchate planned to join the new church after the Tomos would be signed, after today, so we will see what will happen with their intention, whether they will want to carry out their intention. Another thing is the communities. Indeed, all the weight of making the decision about their affiliation is given to communities, not so much to the bishops. The communities, the people will decide whether they will want to stay in the Moscow Patriarchate, or whether they want to join the new church. So it will not be a kind of process when huge blocks of the Moscow Patriarchate would join the new church. It will be more like small stones from the Moscow Patriarchate will move to another construction. Therefore, it will be slow, probably, maybe not so much a centralized process. It will depend very much on the laws because, as you know, there is draft law which is still pending in the parliament, which will regulate in a more precise way how the communities could move from one church to another church. So the process of changing their affiliation of the communities will depend very much on that law, on its implementation and the way how the state will enforce order and will protect the choice of the communities, because one thing is when the state encourages and interferes in church matters and maybe forces communities to join the new church, which would be wrong. But the task of the state in this situation is to protect the choice of the communities and of the people, which is not quite obvious whether the state will be able to do that.
This is exactly what we're interested in: to what extent the Ukrainian state is participating in the process. You mentioned previously that there is cooperation, but if we talk about parliament, you can see that it might be a political decision.
It will be a political decision, certainly. But, again, in a secular state, as Ukraine is, because Ukraine is a democratic and a secular state, indeed, according to its constitution, and I believe it is a very good feature of the Ukrainian state. According to the secular status of Ukraine, the state cannot and must not interfere in the decisions of the communities of the churches, where to go, what to do. It's completely up to the communities. And this applies also to this process of changing affiliation. What the state has to do is to protect the decision of the communities so that if the community, say, decides to move, to switch to another jurisdiction, and there are forces that want to make trouble out of that, that want to interfere, beat people or to force people to change their mind, the state must protect the people of the community and must prevent these outbursts of violence. The same applies if a community wants to stay in the church its in, like the Moscow Patriarchate. And, if say, some nationalistic groups want to interfere and to force people to change their affiliation, the state must protect those people and those communities to stick to their decision. So that is the only business the state has to do with all this story. All decisions should be made by the communities, by the people.
There's also the discussion in Ukraine, in civil society, in society, that, of course, it's an important thing for believers, although, in this case, we've seen a lot of people who are not Orthodox believers are celebrating, supporting this decision. Still, it's a strange feeling for some people, we were speaking about the secular state, everything politically is so much about the church. The President has gone to Istanbul, all the political elite go to church, they show that they are participating in that. It creates a bit of a division in society as well. Is this something we just be focusing on in these times when the world look differently at the role of the church in society.
Yes, I would certainly distinguish or even differentiate between two currents, or torrents, regarding this Autocephaly movement. The first torrent is purely ecclesial, religious, it's the desire of people, believers, to have their own church. Another torrent is political, and, at this moment, they concur, they come together, but they shouldn't be confused, they are still different torrents. And again, even when we are talking about politics, I distinguish two sub-currents, if you want, within this political stream. First it has to do with civil society, another has to do with the state. They are different in Ukraine, they are clearly cut different in Ukraine, and they should be different. I think, in the wake of Maidan, of the events of Maidan that happened in 2014, this differentiation became very clear. And still, I believe that civil society and the Ukrainian state are not coherent, exactly, with one another. There is a political agenda of civil society regarding the church, and there is political agenda of the Ukrainian state, and particularly of President Poroshenko regarding the new church, and it's quite clear that civil society, however secular it can be – but I should make a footnote that civil society in Ukraine is not secular. We saw it on Maidan, when the people who met there, the civil society met there, they prayed together, they invited the church to be with them and the church was with them. And I believe that this entire cause for independence of the Ukrainian church is a continuation of the agenda of the civil society on Maidan to have a church which would be independent from the Russian political influences, or whatever, but also from the political influences of the Ukrainian state. The political agenda and the political purpose of the President of Ukraine is quite different because, well, it's quite clear that he wants to win the new election, which is understandable, it's OK, he's a politician, he does his job and he does it quite well regarding the church, I don't speak about the other issues. But they are two different political processes, the one instigated and encouraged by civil society, which wants the church to be an important player on the stage of civil changes, but also to be present there. And it's interesting, I would like to emphasize this, that the new regulations in the church, which stem from its new constitution, the statute, which stems also from the Tomos, the document which has been issued on January 6. Those documents contain very clear principles of transparency, of accountability, of democracy, if you want. They are very democratic documents that concur with the demands of the Ukrainian civil society. I compared even the process of building the new church with the principles of transparency, the system of ProZorro, of accountability, of republicanism, which is important for Ukrainian civil society and which has been implemented in the founding documents of the church.
You mentioned in your writings that the new statute is quite democratic and is way better than those from the Soviet traditions of the church. There are some concerns regarding the fact that it wasn't really discussed because there was so much about who could be chosen as the Metropolitan, rather than the essence of the document.
That's true. That happened because the people who were supposed to discuss the new document were bishops and I would say that the bishops from all churches that contributed, that participated in the council, they were not quite aware and they were not really willing to, they didn't even understand the importance of those documents. However, the faithful, the laypeople, were aware and participated very actively in the discussions and so forth. And I believe that, in the new church, the participation of laypeople, not just of hierarchs of bishops will be important, and this will be a new feature of the new church, as a response to the demands of civil society, the token of coherence between the new church and civil society. That is another thing, an important thing, that will make the church part of this process of social transformations in Ukrainian society. The new church, I hope, can be, it has the potential to contribute to the positive transformations in Ukrainian society, under the condition that the laypeople, members of the church, who are also members of civil society in Ukraine, will be given an opportunity, a chance, to participate in it.
The other discussion I'd like to raise is regarding the Russian Orthodox Church today. What has changed for the Russian Orthodox Church? What should we be following? Of course, there was this official announcement that they don't recognize this new church, but a number of their bishops are Ukrainian. We are really curious as to what's happening in the cathedrals there? What is happening during the services? Because so far it's not been really clear, there have just been official statements, still, this is a huge church, so what's changed?
Because it is huge, it is very diverse and many things happen there. First of all, that is the church which has become ultimately centralized and hierarchicized, as it were, and, because the Ukraine church is just the opposite, it's a process. The process of creation of the Ukrainian church is a process of emancipation effectively. The process of the larger involvement of laypeople to the work, to the life of the church, a process of democratization, if you allow to apply this kind of political terms to these ecclesial realities. It points a lot of sympathy among many in Russia and I receive feedback from priests and laypeople and Russia. They say: We are with you. We are really, really happy about what is happening in the case of Ukraine. Of course, they are worried, and I'm personally worried, if this process of emancipation will end up in the process of nation building, encouraging or enforcing nationalist movements and nationalist groups, not really the civil society, the groups that forced civil changes. At the same time, of course, for many people in Russia, who have been affected by this megalomaniac, imperial idea, it is a great loss. It's like another geopolitical catastrophe, similar to the one when the Soviet Union collapsed. They leave this process as their personal tragedy, which, for me, is just a destruction of delusions because this megalomania and imperial ideology, ideas about their church, they are delusional, and those delusions have received a huge blow with the process. They can suffer this as their trauma, and can retaliate, and will probably want to retaliate [against] Ukraine for that, but the healthy way to deal with this trauma is just to overcome it and to understand, realize that the Russian society, the Russian church loses nothing. It's a chance, an opportunity for the Russian church to receive remedy against this imperial ideology, to become a church again, to return to Christian principles, ideas. If the Russian church, if the Russian people, who are members of the Russian church, comply with the idea that Ukraine is gone, it's not there anymore, the Russian imperial idea has suffered a huge blow and they will accept this, this is a way for them to understand that the church is not about empire, the church is about Christ, the church is about love, the church is about compassion, and that is the way to find the way of peace and of healthy thinking.
Can we discuss any kind of domino effect? I talked to a Belarusian journalist recently, who was looking very carefully at what's happening in Ukraine and thinking about whether the Belarusian church will get its Autocephaly, or things like that. So what could this process trigger?
Speaking technically, judging from the way Autocephaly was granted to the Ukrainian Church, the same premises for granting Autocephaly to the Ukrainian church opened the doors for the church in Belarus to do the same in case they want to do that. So the door is open for them, now it's completely whether they want to use this opening, this door, and become independent. The situation in Belarus is quite different because, first, there is not much of a civil society as it is in Ukraine and, as I said, in Ukraine the very existence of the civil society contributed largely to establishing a new church. Second: there are not many faithful people who would want to have an independent church in Belarus. Probably, the political changes in Belarus will contribute one day to this happening, but so far, I don’t see the preconditions, political and social preconditions for that to happen.
And can you also explain what's happening with other Orthodox churches. You explained at the very beginning that there is the commonwealth, however, there were concerns that the Serbian church probably won't recognize a Ukrainian church because of the influence of the Russian church, and there were no positive signs from the other churches, let's say from Georgia, so what's happening in this landscape in eastern Europe?
It's too early to say what will happen. There are preliminary judgements but they are too speculative, I'm afraid, and I would not make my own judgements at this stage because the motivation for those churches is very complicated. For instance, if you take the churches which are traditionally in the Russian obit, like the Serbian church for instance, or the church of Antioch, it's not given that they will reject Ukrainian Autocephaly. The process has only begun since, actually today, since January 6. Only after January 6, and when the Tomos was granted to the Ukrainian Church, the process of recognition will formally start. It was impossible before the Tomos was granted. The first church that has recognized the new church is the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and of course several churches will follow the Ecumenical Patriarchate almost automatically. Other churches will deliberate, they will discuss it, but again, they will discuss on multiple grounds and premises, like, for instance, the Serbian Church – yes, politically it is affiliated with the Russian church, but, at the same time, it's interesting that the Serbian church itself received its Autocephaly on the same premises that the Ukrainian church has. Therefore, by denying the Ukrainian church, the Serbian, the Polish church will effectively be denying themselves, and not everyone in those churches would agree to do that, therefore, let us wait for the discussions within those churches. It will be a collective discussion in the Synods, the collective gatherings of those churches and they will come up with their decisions. I think that there will be no definite, clear cut objections and negations of the Ukrainian church from any church. There will be some reservations, of course, expressed by those churches, we'll see to what degree those reservations will be severe or just formal, and gradually, I believe, the churches will recognize the new church. It will depend very much on the Ukrainian church itself, how much it will show its openness and integrity, and inclusiveness and so forth, because this will matter. The churches which will want to recognize the new church will see, look at whether the Ukrainian church is just nationalistic, just corroborates this right-wing populism and so forth, or, it is really ideologically neutral, it is beyond politics, not maybe, a bit, but sufficiently beyond politics, and whether it is open enough to minorities within Ukraine, something that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has stressed very consistently that the new church should be very inclusive, should really embrace everyone on Ukrainian soil.
The role of Patriarch Bartholomew. We've been discussing the fact that a lot depended on him and although it is a religious issue, a lot happened because of his political will, let's say, to grant this Autocephaly and it also depends on his relations with the Russian Patriarch. So what would you say?
Yes, certainly. I would say that his role, his decision was the most decisive one, even more important than the role of the Ukrainian president, if you want. And he's chosen a very safe strategy or path towards Ukrainian independence, it has consistently and effectively avoided political motivations and engagements. He tried to demonstrate his political neutrality. The way he has chosen for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to help the Ukrainian church to be established is the way of the canons of the church, the internal regulations of the church. Therefore, he was sometimes fanatically sticking to the canons of the church, to the upset of many. And I believe that was the safe way exactly because this has helped him and will help him to avoid accusations of being politically motivated or to have any sort of interest, material interest. He has been accused of corruption and so forth, which...
He was joking in fact. He was joking about that.
Exactly, because it was a joke. And, exactly to avoid all sorts of accusations, he chose the way of the canons of the church. I should stress that the Moscow Patriarchate has accused the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Ukrainian church of the Moscow Patriarchate has denied the right for the new church to exist on the premises that they are not canonical. And this is wrong, because exactly to rebuke this kind of objection, this kind of refutation, the Ecumenical Patriarchate enforced this canonical aspect of the story and has built the Ukrainian church on the basis of the canons of the church and he has played certainly a very decisive role, he has chosen very ecclesiastically correct ways to deal with this issue and so far he has succeeded.
Thank you for this informative discussion. It seems that even though Tomos has been granted, this is just the start...
Not just that, it's the beginning of the beginning.