Staunton, June 6 – To no one’s surprise, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church denounced the declaration of independence by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate as illegal, but it then took an action that will likely have the effect of making that declaration irreversible (patriarchia.ru/db/text/5934527.html).
At a meeting of the Holy Synod, the Moscow Patriarchate unilaterally removed the bishoprics and parishes in southeastern Ukraine from the UOC MP and transferred them to the direct control of the Moscow Patriarchate, an action many Ukrainians are certain to view as both offensive and an implicit recognition of the independence of the rest of the UOC’s independence.
To the extent that Ukraine is within the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, this action by the Holy Synod is entirely legal; but to the extent that Moscow is trying to maintain or more precisely restore its control over the UOC MP, it cannot fail to have the opposite effect because it undercuts UOC MP efforts to present itself as a Ukrainian church.
At the very least, this Moscow action will make it less likely that the Orthodox world in Ukraine will follow the Estonian model and have, all Orthodox canon law to the contrary, and have two autocephalous churches on its territory, the UOC MP and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and more likely that the UOC MP will dissolve and its members join the OCU.
If that happens, the ROC MP will cease to be the largest Orthodox church in the world in terms of bishoprics and parishes, ceding that place to the UOC, and lose all the financial resources and influence that retaining control over Orthodoxy in Ukraine would have given it. (On that outcome, see jamestown.org/program/moscow-patriarchate-in-retreat-everywhere-except-africa/.)