Saturday, January 5, 2019

Even Moscow Patriarchate Will Recognize Ukrainian Autocephaly, Chernomorets Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 5 – Today, the Universal Patriarch signed the tomos granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The Moscow Patriarchate as was to be expected reacted by denouncing Constantinople and pledging to continue to oppose the independence of the Ukrainian church.

            Yury Chernomorets, a Kyiv philosopher, says that now the real struggle to implement the tomos is only beginning; but he predicts that in the near term, nine of the 14 Orthodox churches around the world will recognize the OCU as the legitimate Orthodox church in Ukraine (

For the time being, he continues, Moscow and one or two others may oppose it; but eventually, Chernomorets says, “all the Orthodox churches” will recognize the OCU “even the Russian Orthodox Church” of the Moscow Patriarchate.  Indeed, there are compelling reasons to think that this will happen sooner rather than later.

As a result of the Universal Patriarch’s actions, “the only canonical church” in Ukraine is the OCU. “By the logic of canon law, hierarchs, priests and lay persons of the ‘Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate’ must join the OCU. And the state must defend the rights” of both those who try to make the shift and those who don’t.

More than 30 former parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine have already joined the OCU, and it is likely, Chernomorets says, that “after the tomos, this process will only accelereate. By law, each parish is a legal person and may change jurisdictions” on its own without reference to anyone else.

As a result, “in the future, the majority of parishes [in Ukraie] will be in the OCU.” Exactly how long this will take, he continues, is “impossible to say;” but it is more likely to resemble “an avalanche” than a slow and meandering river. Bishops and other hierarchs may follow as well.

The Verkhovna Rada will soon adopt a special law spelling out the details of such transitions, and that too should make the process easier, Chernomorets says.

There is another reason to think  the Moscow Patriarchate will move in this direction and soon, one the Kyiv scholar does not mention but that may be even more compelling.  After blasting Constantinople for organizing the unification conclave in Ukraine and declaring Moscow would not deal with Bartholemew again, it backed down on this less than ten days later (

It has good reason to do so: Refusing to deal with Constantinople would have only underscored Moscow’s isolation given how few other churches were prepared to follow its lead. Refusing to recognize the autocephalous OCU would do the same, and it would have another consequence that the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kremlin are certainly thinking about.

Moscow almost certainly will be able to retain its influence in Ukrainian church affairs far more effectively if it is talking with the OCU than if it is not, and talking with that national church will ultimately mean recognizing it, however much the declarations coming out of the Russian capital today suggest otherwise. 

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