Constantinople Decision on Ukrainian Church Truly has Global Consequences
October 12 – Although the Universal Patriarch in Constantinople has not yet
given the tomos of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Bartholemew’s
decision to reclaim Ukraine as dominion, thus depriving the Moscow Patriarchate
of its claims in Ukraine, and his acceptance of Ukrainian church leaders as his
priests, clearly points in that direction.
many commentators are already pointing out, the consequences of this shift are
truly “global” for Ukraine, for the Russian Federation and the Moscow
Patriarchate, for the Orthodox world, and for ecumenism and international relations
more generally, even though it is certain that Moscow will still try to block
or at least slow the process.
Russian authorities religious and civil have the means to cause enormous
trouble in this transition. They can provoke actions against their own churches
in Ukraine and blame them on the Ukrainians, costing the latter support around
the world. They can invoke such
conflicts to expand military action in Ukraine.
can continue to mobilize those smaller Orthodox patriarchates they have been
able to influence or buy off to speak against the granting of the tomos of autocephaly. And they can seek
to interfere in the Orthodox conclave in Ukraine that Constantinople says is
necessary as a step toward autocephaly for the Ukrainian church.
last is the most likely, and the Moscow Patriarchate is certain to signal its
intention of trying to block this move from the inside as it were when
Patriarch Kirill hosts a meeting of the Holy Synod in Minsk on Monday.But it is almost certain that Moscow can only
delay and not derail the train of autocephaly and thus Ukraine’s separation
from Russia after 300 years.
consequences of such an enormous tectonic shift are so enormous that it is as
yet difficult to say what they will all be and how they will play out in the
coming days, months, years, and decades. But below are some of the most obvious
and important for each of places in which they will be playing out.
For Ukraine, this decision gives new
content to its national independence, separating it from Russia in a
fundamental way, and giving it the largest Orthodox church in the world, thus
making Kyiv a player in international religious life far larger than it has ever
been in the past.More than any decision
on language or the Russian invasion, this makes Ukraine truly Ukrainian.
For Russia, it is an enormous loss not
only to the pretensions of some broader “Russian world” or to the leadership of
the Orthodox world – it is likely to lead to more autocephalies in the former
Soviet space and will certainly reduce Moscow’s influence in all of them – but undermines
whatever chance for the modernization of Russian Orthodoxy there may have been.
Kirill will certainly see his influence at home decline and may even lose his
job to Putin’s reputed favorite, Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Pskov, who
favors a far more isolationist and anti-Catholic policy than Kirill. There may
even be pressure to move the Moscow Patriarchate in the direction of the Old
Believers vis-à-vis the West.
is another reason to believe that Kirill is in trouble: Since becoming
patriarch, he has created dozens of bishoprics in Ukraine in order to install
his supporters there and ensure that he controls the direction of the church
and the election of the next patriarch. With their loss, he will control far
less – and others like Tikhon will exploit that fact.
Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate will no longer be the
largest Orthodox denomination, although it will still at least for a time be
the wealthiest and the most heavily supported by the government. It may try to transform
itself into what some call “an Orthodox Vatican,” but it almost certainly will
For Orthodoxy, this will provoke a
reordering and a split; but despite heavy breathing in Moscow about this, such
splits in the Orthodox world are nothing new. There is no Orthodox pope, and
even the Universal Patriarch is at most “first among equals.”And despite its hopes, Moscow is not going to
displace Constantinople in that regard whatever it does.
number of autocephalous churches will rise, and that will make the Orthodox
world more, not less complicated. The level of cooperation among some of its
churches will likely fall, especially as the Russian church loses some of its
income because of the loss of parishes and bishoprics in Ukraine.
For ecumenism, the grant of autocephaly
to the Ukrainian Orthodoxy will simultaneously both reduce and expand the
possibilities for improving relations among the various Christian churches of
the World. It will reduce them in the short term because Moscow will become
even less a participant than it has been.
it will expand them at least potentially because Ukraine includes within it
both Orthodox and Uniate believers, and the allegiance of the latter to Rome
will open new possibilities for conversations, although it is certain that
Moscow’s agents will try to play the Uniates and Ukrainian Orthodox off against
each other to slow that process.
And for international relations, this
development will also have mixed consequences: a wounded Russia perhaps even
more ready to strike out against others than it has been, a newly confident
Ukraine whose people can claim real progress in nation building separate from
the Russian world, and multiple players around the world who will be watching
to see how this affects them.
the very least, it is a great day for Ukraine, a huge loss for Russia, and an
occasion for all who reject imperialism of any kind to celebrate.