Thursday, July 24, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Patriarchate has No Future in Ukraine and a Lesser One in Russia and Elsewhere, Orthodox Scholar Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, July 24 – Bishop Grigory Lyurye, a leading specialist on Orthodoxy who is affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, says that the Moscow Patriarchate has no future in Ukraine and that, as a result, has only a restricted one in the Russian Federation and internationally.


            Lyurye, an internationally recognized scholar, in an article on today, says that the Moscow Patriarchate’s demise in Ukraine is now common ground – its clergy and parishioners are leaving it and will continue to do so regardless of the strategy Moscow adopts now (


            But he argues that the Moscow Patriarchate is going to experience its most serious losses less in Ukraine than because of what is happening there. Its standing with the Kremlin is certain to diminish because of its inability to hold Ukraine, and its loss of numbers as a result of Ukraine will reduce its status in the Orthodox world and in the international religious community.


            The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is “constantly losing parishes” and may soon remain only “a church without a following,” at least beyond the southeastern portions of the country, Lyurye says. And that is despite the efforts of that denomination’s leaders to “distance” themselves ever further from Moscow.


            With time, it seems obvious, Moscow’s church in Ukraine will cease to exist and fuse with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate.  Because things have gone so far and because the risks to the Moscow Patriarchate of its continuing are so great, Moscow has now advanced a canonical argument against any change.


            But the problem is that Moscow’s argument is not accepted by anyone beyond the borders of the former Soviet space and not by all even there.  It specifies that the Ukrainian church can go its own way only if Moscow approves, something that no one can think is ever likely to be the case.


            More than that, Moscow’s argument is simply without any foundation.  And “happily for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate,” cannon law is on its side because “de jure Kyiv up to now is subordinate to [the Patriarchate of] Constantinople, and neither in Kyiv nor and this is the main thing in Constantinople has anyone forgotten that.”


            In 1686, Lyurye continues, under pressure from the sultan who wanted to develop relations with Russia, the Constantinople Patriachate was “forced to give up a significant portion of its church power in the Kyiv metropolitanate.”  But its concessions did not include making Kyiv subordinate to Moscow. In any case, Moscow “immediately violated” the accord.


            In canon law, there is no statute of limitations, Bishop Lyurye points out. Consequently as far as the Orthodox world is concerned, the Church has not recognized the seizure by Moscow of the Kyivan metropolitanate as legitimate.  That did not matter a great deal as long as the Russian Empire existed, but it mattered profoundly after its fall.


            In 1924, the Constantinople Patriarchate approved the formation of a Polish Orthodox Church on the basis of its 1686 “concession.”  That arrangement lasted until Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Then, Polish Orthodox leaders were forced to denounce what they had obtained in 1924.


            But Constantinople has acted toward Ukraine on the basis of the 1686 declaration. In 1995-1996, it included within its supervision Ukrainian émigré churches on the basis of its view that it continues to have oversight over the Ukrainian Church. The Moscow Patriarchate was furious, Lyurye says, because it recognized this was a step toward bringing all of Ukrainian Orthodoxy under Constantinople rather than Moscow.


            As far as strategy is concerned, “nothing needs to be prepared for the separation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate from Moscow: everything is already prepared … because there is a completely clear understanding that for Kyiv, Constantinople, not Moscow, is the mother church [and that] Moscow for Kyiv is a daughter church.”


            Consequently, “Constantinople has the right to offer Kyiv autocephaly and is prepared to use this right,” Bishop Lyurye says.  What all involved need to focus on “lies only in the tactical realm.”


            The only serious obstacle to Ukrainian autocephaly lies not with Moscow but with the divisions among Ukrainian Orthodox.  These have become fewer in recent years so that problem is being handled.  Less serious but requiring good tactics is the process by which Moscow Patriarchate clergy and hierarchs will be integrated into a genuinely Ukrainian church.


            The challenge in that regard lies with the fact that “by number of parishes, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate exceeds the number of parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate by a factor of two … but [the latter] has asserted that the picture is just the reverse with regard to the number of believers.”


            In sum, one church has more church buildings, but the other has more people. And that is not far from wrong, Lyurye suggests. The two will come together especially if the Ukrainian state stays out of most of this lest it allow some of the “Moscow” church to present themselves as martyrs.


            The Moscow churchmen are likely to continue to distance themselves from the Moscow Patriarchate whatever the outcome of the upcoming church elections in Kyiv. They will engage in small but meaningful acts of disobedience to Moscow in order to hold their flocks. And they will take part in joint activities with Kyiv Patriarchate leaders.


            This may take some time, but things are moving quickly, and Lyurye concludes that the Moscow Patriarchate has no future in Ukraine, that its stock in the Kremlin is lower than at any time in the past, and that, having lost almost half its parishes with the exit of the Ukrainians, it will rank only third or fourth among the Orthodox Patriarchates in the world and have less say among them and less influence on religious life more generally.


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