The Sunday Show on Autocephaly for Ukrainian Church and Russia's Future in PACE
14 October, 2018

This week on the Sunday Show, we discuss the latest from Istanbul, where a meeting of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the highest authority in the Orthodox Church, confirmed the long-awaited news that Ukraine will receive autocephaly. Now that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is one step closer to independence, we look at what this means for Ukraine with professor at Loyola Marymount University Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun.

We also discuss Russia’s future in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council Europe (PACE), which voted to postpone talks on the country’s reinstatement this week. Russia was stripped of its PACE voting rights in 2014, following the illegal annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the war in Donbas, but has long since lobbied for the sanctions against it to be removed. We sit down with Hromadske journalist Volodymyr Yermolenko to find out what’s next for Russia.

READ MORE: Is Ukrainian Religious Society Diverse or Divided?

Nataliya Gumenyuk (NG): Internationally, there are a lot of people who don't understand what this church thing is. Autocephaly is definitely a very complex term, the independence of the Ukrainian church from the Russian church is probably something more comprehensible. But let's get an understanding for our people. What does mean? How big is this?

Volodymyr Yermolenko (VY): Well, I think it's very big because if we take into account how much the Russian Orthodox Church is connected with politics, and how much the Russian Orthodox Church is trying to be a soft power in Ukraine, but also in the post-Soviet world. We've seen, for example, how the Russian Orthodox Church was supporting pro-Russia politicians, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church links to Moscow Patriarchate how it was even supporting the separatism, and I think this is the most important thing -- that Ukrainian Orthodox believers are going away from it.

NG: But the way you put it, it seems purely political, however, Istanbul,  the Orthodox Church in Constantinople, says it's something different. And I think it's also probably historically not because of what's exactly going on, it just the window of opportunity. It's about something which has been going on for centuries, not decades. Why do you think it matters for the region? If we're thinking not just within the span of the recent Russian-Ukrainian war.

VY: We can think of it as kind of a comeback to the initial situation, because it's well known that Orthodox Christianity in Kyiv was much earlier than in Moscow. If we talk about the Moscow Patriarchate, it's a rather late event, it's just the end of the sixteenth century, and it also has political implications because, finally, it was a period when Constantinople was not that strong, when it fell to the Turks and etc. So, why is it so long, because the key date is basically the end of the seventeenth century, during some very interesting events, the Kyiv Orthodox Church was kind of transferred from Constantinople to Moscow and, if you look at these events, some people, some historians say that it was a very dubious event involving a little bit of corruption etc. But the thing is, is that even the conditions of this transfer were not fulfilled by the Moscow Orthodox Church because, under those conditions, during the ceremonies, the Russian Orthodox Church should have mentioned the Patriarchate, the Constantinople Patriarchate. They were not doing that. This is why Constantinople is now saying that, basically, it goes back and takes again the supremacy, I would say, or sovereignty over Ukrainian.

NG: We probably have to explain that Ukraine has three Orthodox churches: the Moscow Patriarchate, Kyiv Patriarchate and there is also the Autocephalous church, which is the smallest. And I even think a lot of Ukrainians don't understand. What I understand from the figures, there are 12 thousand communities in the country belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, and six thousand parishes belong to the Kyiv Patriarchate. It's important to note that there are less parishes in the Kyiv Patriarchate, and there's twice the amount of people in the Moscow Patriarchate than Kyiv, which was considered to be not entirely legitimate for a while. That was the question, and I think it's also important to explain that besides that, this week there was a decision to make the Kyiv Patriarchate legitimate. So the events of the seventeenth century, the annexation of the Kyiv Patriarchate, were declared illegitimate. And the Patriarch Filaret, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, has had his anathema rescinded.

VY: That's the most important thing. Let me explain that the existence of the Autocephalous Church, which exists now, it's also very important because it shows how long the efforts were to get this autocephaly, because we can count from the first attempts for Ukrainian independence, from the early twentieth century. So it's also important. Now, why is there this confusion between patriarchates? I think it's important to explain to the audience -- Kyiv Patriarchate, indeed, is a self-proclaimed patriarchate, and it was considered illegal, indeed, not only in the eyes of Moscow, but from other Orthodox churches. Therefore, it could be said that it's a real patriarchate. What's now going on is that the Constantinople Patriarch lifts the anathema from Filaret and Macarius, the representatives of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Autocephalous Church, they become legal, and on the basis of the fact they become legal, so they are not schismatics, they can form a new Autocephalous Church. That's the most important.

NG: Obviously, for an international audience, what's next? What does this week's decision mean? What should still happen? Because there is still no independence for the Ukrainian church, it's just three churches which still have to be united.

Cyril Hovorun (CH): It was a preliminary decision by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to restore its metropolitanate, which existed before the seventeenth century, and to recognize the faith of the so-called schismatics, they are recognized as members of the church. I believe that the most important part in this [inaudible] who were regarded as part of the schismatic groups, they are full members of the church, so the most important issue of the Ukrainian church has been solved. But not every issue has been solved. And, while the faithful have been recognized as members of the church, the existent ecclesial groups, like the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church, have not been recognized. They are supposed to actually abolish themselves, to declare themselves kind of non-existent, and to join, to establish a new church. In this regard, the new church will be not a sum of the existing churches, it will be a sum of existent people, of the existing bishops, the clergy and their faithful. They are going to establish a new church. This church will be probably founded in the upcoming months -- maybe November, maybe December -- and this church will be given autocephaly, the tomos from the Ecumenical Patriarchate will officially recognize the church as a full member of the rest of the Orthodox Church.

NG: Can you give us more detail, because, really, that makes a lot of people confused. So there's still the process when the clergy and also the communities, the parishes, should decide which church they would like to belong to, and then they should gather together and elect a new Patriarch. You said it would take a couple of months, but really, how long should this process last? And who should initiate these changes? Is it the local communities? Can you describe in detail  what it means for the people in the country?

CH: First of all, we don't know exactly when this will happen. It may happen rather sooner than later, hopefully. It will be an initiative of the bishops. All the bishops will come from all three churches in Ukraine: the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate, the bishops of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the bishops of the Authocephalous Church. So they will come together on their own initiative, it will be their own initiative, they will not be invited to join this council, and they will found a new church. This church will constitute an alternative. It will be a second, or maybe the first church, in Ukraine next to  the Moscow Patriarchate, meaning that the Moscow Patriarchate will continue existing in Ukraine. And for all communities in Ukraine, for all Orthodox people in Ukraine, there will be two options to choose between either to join the new church -- the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church -- or to stay, remain in the Moscow Church. The choice will be kind of sacrosanct, and if people choose to stay, say, in the Moscow Patriarchate, their choice should be protected by the state. They should not be forced to join another church. However, if they want to join the Autocephalous church, they will be able to do so. They didn't have such an option so far. The options that they had so far was either to stay in the only canonical church under the Moscow Patriarchate, or to join one of the unrecognized churches. So the choices [for] people in Ukraine now are much better -- either, as I said, to stay in the Moscow Patriarchate, or to become a member of the new Autocephalous church in Ukraine. So that will be the next step after they have established their own church.

NG: And Cyril, now we are coming to the Russian Orthodox Church. There was a very, I would even use the word angry reaction. There was some criticism of Istanbul, of Patriarch Bartholomew, and also to the fact that he sent his people to Kyiv. There are official quotes from the Russian church threatening some kind of religious divide. What do we know? At least from the church position, can you describe these relations? Because the Moscow church still comes under the Constantinople Patriarchate, they are lower in the hierarchy. What can we expect? And could you also give us the geopolitical context because there are churches, would it mean that they have something to say, like the church in Serbia, or Greece, or any other Orthodox churches?

CH: From now, the church of Constantinople considers the Ukrainian issue its internal issue, a matter that is relevant only to the Ecumenical Patriarchate because it has restored by its decision on October 11, it has restored its jurisdiction, its control, over the Ukrainian church. And the Ecumenical Patriarchate thinks that it has every right to manage its own church. The Russian church does not think so. It still believes that this territory of Ukraine belongs to the jurisdiction of Moscow. So there are two different interpretations, they are clashing interpretations and, of course, the Ukrainian people are more interested in siding with the interpretation of Constantinople because this effectively liberates the Ukrainian territory from Russian jurisdiction. So we have two disputing or clashing interpretations of what is going on, what is the status of the Ukrainian church. And, of course, these two interpretations, they have political connotations because, the Russia church obviously will keep Ukraine under its ecclesial control; control means keeping it under its political control. That's why the Russian government has become heavily engaged in the Ukrainian situation, as we know, there was a session of the Security Council of Russia recently, which discussed the Ukrainian ecclesial matters. However, I believe that for Constantinople it much less a political issue, but it is much more a pastoral matter. It really cares about Ukrainian people and what's to [offer] a solution to the Ukrainian schism. This pastoral interest of Constantinople to give a solution to the Ukrainian situation coincides with the political interests of the Ukrainian authorities, like the President Poroshenko -- [who] also [wants] to give a solution to the Ukrainian issue on the ecclesial issue on the one hand, on the other hand, to help his own campaign. I don't see any problem in these two movements coinciding with one another, if they help one another. So far, there is no clash between the political interests of Poroshenko and the pastoral interests of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As regards to the rest of the Orthodox churches --  they are watching, still. Only a few of them have issued [inaudible] which are rather cautious. They don't want to become a part of the fight between Moscow and Constantinople, and I hope they will preserve this rather cautious and neutral stand.

NG: Just to follow up that discussion, I don't think that anyone here really thinks that this issue is not political because of course it’s connected to the war, also Ukraine is coming close to the presidential elections, they will take place next April, and the church is (not?) in the official campaign of the Ukrainian president. So would that be used and politicized? And when it is politicized, of course Ukraine lived without religious divide, it was religious diversity, but it may happen.

VY: There are many questions. I mean, first, we can say how the Russians are reacting to that, and I'm personally shocked with way the Moscow Patriarchate is reacting to the whole situation because they're basically now saying that the Constantinople Patriarchate are schismatics and they should be under anathema. Imagine, for example, Cyril was saying that Ukrainians now have a free choice between two legitimate churches -- between the Moscow Patriarchate and a newly-established Autocephalous church -- but, I suspect that the Moscow Patriarchate will be saying: Look, this Autocephalous Church, accepted by Constantinople, is not legitimate because even Constantinople today is not legitimate. So we can expect, unfortunately, some attempts to divide more and the whole idea, I full agree with Cyril, is to unify Ukrainian churches, to overcome the schism, but, the way how the Russians will use it.

NG: So, what would you say that that's probably not the right moment. I mean, I'm also referring to a lot of people who approach us an say that: Why have you done it this time? Why are you doing it in a time when there is already so much pressure from Russian to divide this country and you it nail it down prior to the elections.

VY: But I think the intention is not to divide. I mean, the intention is to unify because the division was when... because let's be honest, the Kyiv Patriarchate was becoming more and more popular. If you go to the public opinion polls, you see that more and more people are supporting the Kyiv Patriarchate rather than the Moscow Patriarchate but those people feel themselves illegitimate, so I think it's the right moment to do them a legitimate cause. But when we are talking about why Constantinople Patriarchate is doing it, you cannot be autocephalous legitimately without support of the Constantinople. And now we have this momentum for hundred years, for the first time for a hundred years. I think it would be stupid for Poroshenko not to use it.

NG: Some people say that it's 2018, Ukraine is discussing technology, coming to the global world, and all of a sudden, the key thing in the campaign is the church.

VY: Is it strange? Yeah...

NG: I think it might be. It might be for some people because especially if you are usually really concerned about any of kind of play with religion, like is it bringing this historical issue to a fair conclusion?

VY: I can agree with one person [Hromadske asked] who said that there is only one God in Christianity, so I think we should not overestimate all these divides. But I think it also important to say what we were saying from the very beginning that Russia is using its church, the Moscow Patriarchate, as its soft power and influencing hearts and minds of Ukrainians instead of the war, instead of Russian aggression, I think its very important to defend against it.

NG: What are your other concerns? You sound positive, but what are the concerns and what do you think could be done about some of the political forces who could use the whole issue of autocephaly? The Russian Orthodox is still there, they will definitely do something, but it also depends a lot on the reaction.

VY: Firstly, let me begin from what you said that today is Defenders' Day, of soldiers, and I think it's very important for international audiences to remember that the war is going on, that these people are protecting Ukraine, not only Ukraine, and we still [get] news about people dying on the frontline. With regards to your question, I think it's very important really to keep it calm. And I think what the Constantinople Patriarchate was saying in the Synod [that] it's important to avoid clashes. And I think that the Ukrainian government will be very interested now to really avoid these clashes. For example, if we talk about [Pechersk Lavra monastery], which is really under the control of the Moscow Patriarchate, my forecast... I talked to some people who are in this issue, I think the priority should be given to evolution, to the long evolution process because we have so many parishes, for example, even in western Ukraine, which are under the Moscow Patriarchate and they will be gradually moving toward this new Autocephalous church, and I think, for example, the fears that this Autocephalous church will be taking over Lavra, I think they are very overestimated.

NG: How significant is the decision on Russia’s involvement in PACE ? Because I think for the general public, even among our audience, these institutions, what is going on? It doesn't seem that important, especially when a lot of people are disappointed with the efficiency of those institutions.

VY: Let's explain. First: what is the Council of Europe? It's the oldest democratic institution in Europe and it integrates almost all the countries except Belarus. The Parliamentary Assembly is the parliamentary wing of this organization and this institutions imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014 for annexing Crimea and the aggression in Ukraine. And the conditions for lifting these sanctions were very strict. In 2016, PACE was saying that basically the conditions were giving Crimea back to Ukraine and stopping the war in Donbas. Of course Russia is not doing that. So what it was trying to do from 2016 is to come back to this organization without fulfilling its conditions and that was what Ukrainian diplomacy, Ukrainian journalists, activists were so furious about. Now it's kind of a very hypercritical what Russia was trying to do, it's basically to come back how, with a way of reforming PACE so it cannot impose any sanctions on violators, so making this organization a kind of conversation club. And it didn't happen. I think it's very good that it didn't happen because Russia does not feel impunity. But the story is not over. Of course we know that this is a TV series which goes on every year.

NG: What should we be looking out for?

VY: I think it's important to see how Russia will try to play the situation because let's remember that it's not paying to the budget of the Council of Europe although it is a member of the Council of Europe, so it's kind of a conflict. And the payments [from] Russia are basically a very important contribution to the Council of Europe budgets, and therefore, it can create a kind of crisis. Although, I don't believe it's an unavoidable crisis because the sums are not that high, I think it's about 7% of the budget. And now Russia is threatening to withdraw from the Council of Europe and this is something quite bad, I think, for the whole continent, but, again, this is blackmail and when the Council of Europe is facing a situation on whether Russia comes back to one of these institutions with impunity, or it withdraws from it. Well, it should choose. And I think the right choice should be accept Russia's withdrawal, if it decides to do so. But the propaganda is that... Russian propaganda sometimes says that the Council of Europe is wanting to expel Russia from the Council of Europe. I'm sure this is not going to happen. What Russia can do and what it threatens to do is to withdraw itself.