Asking for What We Don’t Want

Sunday, October 27 (OS., October 14), 2019: 19th Sunday after Pentecost; Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787); Martyrs Nazarius, Gervase, Protase, and Celsus of Milan (1st c.); Hieromartyr Silvanus of Gaza (311); Ven. Parasceva (Petka) of Epibatima, Thrace, whose relics are in Iasi, Romania (11th c.). St. Mykola Sviatosha, prince of Chernihiv and wonderworker of the Kyiv Caves (1143).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9/Hebrews 13:7-16

Gospel: Luke 8:5-15/John 17:1-13

St Augustine in his Letter to Proba observes that when we pray, we ask for what we don’t want. He means by this that when I ask God for mercy or forgiveness, or as we hear in the second Gospel this morning, joy, what I’m asking for is what I understand by mercy, forgiveness, or joy. 

In asking, then, I ask for my will to be done not God’s. I ask for something I don’t want because I ask for something I don’t understand. 

St Paul alludes to this when he tells the Corinthians that the mysteries of heaven are “not lawful for a man to utter.” This isn’t because God forbids us to speak of His “grace and love for mankind” (see Titus 3:4). It is rather that no matter how eloquent the speakers, human words fall far short of reality.

So much of the frustration I experience in the spiritual life comes from my tendency to confuse my understanding of God with God Himself. Again, I ask for what I don’t want because I don’t understand that for which I ask. And when God gives me that for which I ask rather than that I imagined I wanted, I’m disappointed and am tempted to become embittered ask Him for answering my prayer!

The reading for Hebrews is helpful here. We are told to remember those “who have spoken the word of God” to us. We remember and reflect on the lives of the martyrs, the fathers, and the saints because like us they asked for what they didn’t want.

But unlike us, unlike me, they received with joy and thanksgiving that which they were given but didn’t want because it outstripped their understanding.

The lesson of those who have gone before us is this: YesI ask for that which I don’t want because I don’t understand that for which I ask. But if I ask with humility, if I ask aware of my own limitations, my own lack of understanding of God’s will, I can receive with joy what God would give me.

I must, in other words, learn to stand before God with open hands and an open heart. This is what it means to be, as we heard in the first Gospel, to be that “good ground” that “yielded a crop a hundredfold.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Everything we do as Orthodox Christians has only one goal. To help us hear the word of God with a noble and good heart” so that we can “keep it and bear fruit with patience.”

Today God stands ready to give us what we don’t want. But what we don’t want is immeasurably better than that for which we ask.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Ukrainian Autocephaly and Responsibility Toward the Faithful


Excerpts from the intervention of His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias, Chairman of the Synodal Committee for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations During the Extraordinary Session of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece

(12th October 2019)

Your Beatitude Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Brothers in Christ,

The Synodal Committee for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations, which I am honored to chair, explicitly followed the mandate of the Standing Holy Synod of the Church of Greece. In this light, I would like to summarize the prevailing perspectives during the Committee’s discussions, drawing your attention to the following five points:

1. The Ukrainian Orthodox people

As His Beatitude pointed out in his opening address, we are concerned with the Orthodox people of an independent state, which Ukraine constitutes today. We are dealing with millions of Orthodox faithful, who have historically suffered from policies of either Poland or Russia. Therefore, our focused discussions on the validity of Ordinations and the stance of Bishops must take into account the existence of millions of believers for whom we are responsible.

As the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece underlined, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the declaration of independence of Ukraine, the latter requested that its local Church be granted the status of autocephaly, in accordance with the pattern of the other Autocephalous Churches. This original request was a genuine one. The fact that it was co-signed even by the current Metropolitan Onufriy is a strong indication that it was a comprehensive request, in the sense of reflecting the desire of the entire people and the hierarchy, so that they would achieve independence from subservience to the Russian hierarchy. Unfortunately, this general request was not answered adequately and the issue remained pending. Nevertheless, we are dealing with an independent Ukrainian state, a people with a particular identity, to which the Orthodox faith has also contributed.

2. The role of the Russian Orthodox Church

I think that it is also appropriate to explore the role of the Russian Orthodox Church. And I insist on the term ‘Russian Orthodox Church’, inasmuch as experience has unfortunately demonstrated that our brothers give priority to the adjective ‘Russian’ over the adjective ‘Orthodox’. Regretfully, this is a reality that has been already observed since the fall of Constantinople. In fact, while the Russian Orthodox Church had every opportunity to resolve the issue by taking steps towards autocephaly, or at least by proposing a solution that would be acceptable to the Ukrainian people, it sadly failed to do so. Despite a long-lasting dialogue of nearly thirty years on the matter, the Russian Orthodox Church did not want to provide any solution. Meanwhile, the Ecumenical Patriarchate had also contributed to this dialogue in an effort to show its support. However, after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, all of these efforts collapsed. Today, no one believes that the Russian Orthodox Church could provide any solution that would prove satisfactory to the Ukrainian people. Such a view clearly belongs to the past. No solution will ever emerge from that side.

Indeed, not only did the Russian Orthodox Church fail to present any solution, but its attitude during the preparatory process for the Holy and Great Council of 2016 was moreover completely negative. As we all know, autocephaly was among the questions discussed during this preparatory process. Thus, in the 1980s, the Ecumenical Patriarchate even appeared to consent to a relativization of its own privileges. Accordingly, adhering to a strict process, the Ecumenical Patriarchate requested pan-Orthodox consensus for the granting of autocephaly.

During the pre-conciliar meetings leading up to the Holy and Great Council of Crete, we were asked to address the question of signatures consenting to autocephaly. There was no further discussion on the text itself, which had already been agreed upon. This was without a doubt precisely the point that demonstrated the contention of the Russian Orthodox Church and its obsession with refusing the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s proposal. The proposed process followed the precedent of granting autocephaly to the Church of Greece and adopted the terms ‘determines’ and ‘codetermines’, signifying that the decision is ‘determined’ by the Ecumenical Patriarch and ‘codetermined’ by the rest of the Primates.

We attempted to explain to the Russian Orthodox representatives that once the Ecumenical Patriarch had signed the decision, it could not be questioned. On the contrary, Autocephaly would already have been granted. Nevertheless, the term ‘codetermine’ still implies a powerful action because it indicates participation in the actual decision. Nevertheless, the persistent contentiousness of the Russian delegation was inconceivable. Allow me to share with you that I personally reminded the senior representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, ‘The Ukrainian issue is at hand. Do you not see this? Can you not comprehend what will happen?’ In response, he invoked his Patriarch’s insistence that he should not retreat from his position on this matter. I am not quite sure whether his claim was legitimate after all. Today, it might even be questioned.

The Russian opposition arises in the context of the international theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. In this regard, it emanates from the unwillingness on the part of the Russian side to accept any concept of primacy in the Eastern Church. This is the heart of the problem. For it seems that the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church believe that, if the Ecumenical Patriarch had signed [the Tomos of] Autocephaly in the proposed manner[1] during the process of granting autocephaly, then they would somehow accept that ‘there is a Primate’. This remains a problematic point for the Russian Orthodox Church.

As a result, the question of granting autocephaly was not discussed at the Holy and Great Council of 2016. Had it been discussed there, there would have been no issue today. Not only was it not included in the agenda, but the Russian Orthodox Church also chose not to participate in the Council, invoking the absence of the Patriarchate of Antioch. We believe that it could in reality have also played a part in Antioch’s participation in the Council. If the Russian Orthodox Church had participated in the Council, we firmly believe that it would have been able to ensure and record in the proceedings the pledge of the Ecumenical Patriarch not to proceed with granting autocephaly without its consent.

3. The Ecumenical Patriarchate and its obligation

The Ecumenical Patriarchate considers that it was obligated to take action. With very few exceptions, everybody recognizes that it had and still has the right to grant autocephaly, a privilege that the Holy and Great Council certainly did not deny. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is concerned about the ecclesial and spiritual life of the faithful that I mentioned. For that reason, it provided a solution to a problem that could not otherwise possibly be solved. It acted in a particular way, because this is precisely the ministry of the Patriarchate, its task within Orthodoxy.

Granting autocephaly is a prerogative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which in the case of Ukraine does not negate the ecclesial entity headed by Metropolitan Onufriy and the Russian Orthodox presence in Ukraine. The status of these does not change; they are neither excommunicated nor led to schism. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has not broken communion with them. On the contrary, it is they who have broken communion with it. The Ecumenical Patriarch continues to commemorate Patriarch Kirill according to the diptychs. Thus, he continues for his part to be in communion with Onufriy, while at the same time offering the possibility of ecclesial communion to the Ukrainians belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. No one can dispute this prerogative of the Ecumenical Patriarch.

4. The Church of Greece and its unity

Let us turn now to our own Church of Greece. Herein lies the most vital point, Your Beatitude. I agree with you when you cite Article 3 of the Greek Constitution [which concerns relations between Church and State] that we safeguard and do not wish to change.

As the President of the Hellenic Parliament has rightly pointed out, Article 3 does not merely concern the relationship between State and Church, but it also relates to the unity of our Church with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This is a unity that we cannot call into question or permit to be jeopardized in any way because it involves the unity of the Body of our Church and our hierarchy, especially since a considerable number of our hierarchs in the so-called ‘New Lands’ belong spiritually to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and only administratively to the Church of Greece. We should never become embroiled in a conflict with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the Ukrainian issue because this would lead to our own division, our own problematic relationship with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Why would we ever do that?

5. Geopolitical developments and national matters

Without doubt, the current situation also has geopolitical dimensions. We recognize our own responsibility today. For better or worse, no autocephaly was ever granted with reference to intra-ecclesiastical factors alone. It always had to do with geopolitical developments as well. I am sorry if some do not understand what is happening in our time: where we belong and how responsible we are for the outcome.

What the Russian Orthodox Church will do after the recognition of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Church of Greece is up to the Russian Orthodox Church. In any case, it always operates in a way inappropriate to an ecclesial ethos and is not respectful of the autocephaly and independence of our Church. This will be demonstrated if it decides to break communion with us, which in turn will prove precisely that we must maintain our own unity, support the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and – as you have rightly argued, Your Beatitude – recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. If we maintain unity, we will be able to overcome any omissions and correct any mistakes; whereas if we are divided, we will never be able to contribute to that which all of us desire, namely the oneness and unity of the Orthodox Church.

Thank you.

Hierarchs of the UOC of the USA Welcome Metropolitan Epiphaniy of Kyiv at the Spiritual Center of the Church in South Bound Brook, NJ

(UOCOFUSA) His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphaniy, Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was formally welcomed by the hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA at the Spiritual Center of the Church in South Bound Brook/Somerset, NJ on Monday 21 October, 2019.

Welcoming the Primate of the OCU on the front steps of the historic St. Andrew the-First-Called Apostle Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony called Metropolitan Epiphaniy’s attention to the fact that it the first visit of the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine to the sacred temple of Ukrainians in the United States of America, as St. Andrew’s Church is the first monument to the victims of the Artificially Created Genocidal Famine in Ukraine of 1932-1933.

Upon entering the church and blessing the clergy and faithful in attendance, both metropolitans of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (one in Ukraine and one in the United States of America) exchanged statements of spiritual joy for the opportunity that the Lord presented to the world-wide Ukrainian Orthodox community to reestablish Sacred Bond through the Mother Church of Constantinople.

His Eminence Metropolitan Antony made references to countless hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, Canada, Australia, Western Europe and throughout Diaspora who for the past 100 years of their existence in the Western World, offered unceasing prayers of intercession for the spiritual “freedom” of the Orthodox Church – the people of Ukraine. The sacred bond between the Mother Church of Constantinople and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Diaspora served its spiritual purpose towards the unification process and canonical and sacred recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine by the Holy and Sacred Patriarchate of Constantinople, and most recently by the Church of Greece and soon by other Autocephalous Orthodox Churches throughout the world. Since the reception of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA into the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1995, one of the primary goals of the hierarchs of the Church was the granting of the Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine. The Church in Diaspora remained as a living torch of presence in the Orthodox world, constantly reminding everyone of the historic right to Autocephaly of the people and the Church of Ukraine.

Responding to the words of welcome of Metropolitan Antony, His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphaniy expressed strong sentiments of spiritual joy and for the people of Ukraine and Ukrainians in Diaspora as they now they enjoy the most sacred union through the motherly care of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine thanked both hierarchs of the UOC of the USA for their service in the process of the formal canonical Synodal granting of the Tomos of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Moreover, Metropolitan Epiphaniy turned his attention to His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, the former Exarch of the Ecumenical Throne to Ukraine, and offered gratitude for the work that was accomplished by Vladyka Daniel, while serving in Ukraine and representing His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Assisted by Archbishop Evstratiy of Chernihiv, Metropolitan Epiphaniy presented the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA with the gifts of commemorative silver coins, honoring the historic events of granting of Tomos of Autocephaly. Moreover, an embroidered icon of the Protection of the Birth-Giver of God was presented to the UOC of the USA, commemorating the decision of the Council of Bishops of the UOC of the USA to place the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States of America and Ukraine under the Sacred Protection of the Birth-Giver of God.

Following the visit to St. Andrew Memorial Church, the delegation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was treated to a walking tour of the entire 53 acres of sacred land of the Metropolia of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.

The first stop was made in the crypt of the Holy Resurrection Mausoleum of St. Andrew Memorial church, where the remains of the first spiritual leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church rest – patriarch and metropolitan Mstyslav (Skrypnyk) of blessed memory. In honoring the memory of the spiritual leader of the Church in Diaspora and later in Ukraine, the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine honored the memory and service of countless hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the Church in Diaspora and Ukraine who throughout centuries prayed for the day of spiritual ‘freedom” and the sacred ability to pray in the tongue of the Holy Fathers and Mothers of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine.

Archbishop Daniel, assisted by the newly elected Vice-president of the Consistory Very Rev. Fr. Victor Wronskyj and Treasurer of the UOC of the USA – Very Rev. Fr. Stephen Hutnick, led the walking tour of the Metropolia Center of the UOC of the USA, while visiting the memorial grave site of the first hierarch of the UOC of the USA – Archbishop Ioan (Theodorovich); the National Ukrainian-American Veterans Monument, the main Cemetery Cross of St. Andrew’s Cemetery, which is dedicated to the numerous heroes of Ukrainian people, who died for the freedom of the ancestral Ukraine; the Ukrainian Insurgent Army memorial.

Having crossed the historic bridge to the administrative side of the Spiritual Center of the Church, Metropolitan Epiphaniy visited St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, which this year marks 47th year of academic presence as the theological school of the UOC of the USA. Meeting the full-time students of the Seminary, His Beatitude bestowed his blessing to all students and wished them spiritual and academic excellence.

Ukrainian Cultural Center and Archives section of the building were the next stop for the delegation from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphaniy paid special attention to the main hall of the Cultural center, where the XXII Sobor of the UOC of the USA took place just a day prior to Metropolitan’s visit. While at the Center, Archbishop Daniel called Metropolitan’s attention to the icon of Christ the Savior (made in a mosaic style of iconography, consisting of the photographs of the youth of the Church, which was presented to His Eminence Metropolitan Antony on the 70th anniversary of his birthday). Moreover, the Prime Hierarch of the Church of Ukraine venerated the icon of the Protection of the Birth-Giver of God – the main Sobor icon of the UOC of the USA (beautifully written by iconographer Cheryl Pituch).

Having toured the site of the entire Cultural Center, which is also a home for St. Andrew School of Religion of Ukrainian language (which consists of over 100 students) and of the dance group Barvinok, Metropolitan Epiphaniy formally entered the main administrative building – the Consistory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.

Touring the administrative offices, Metropolitan Antony presented a tour of the formal portraits of all hiearrchs of the UOC of the USA from the moment of the formal foundation of the Church in 1918. The portraits were painted in Ukraine by Artur Orlenov, an artist whose work Metropolitan Epiphaniy immediately recognized.

Entering the second section of the complex of the Consistory, Metropolitan Epiphaniy visited St. Sophia Seminary Library, which a home for about 60,000 volumes of theological books as well as other literature, covering the history of Ukraine, the United States of America, etc.

The Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine paid special attention to the present exhibit of “Rushnyky” in the location of the temporary exhibit hall of the Ukrainian History and Education Center. Meeting the director of the Center Mrs. Natalia Honcharenko (as well as Dr. Michael Andrec – archivist; Dobrodiyka Oksana Pasakas – collections manger and Yuri Mischenko -curator of the exhibit), Metropolitan Epiphaniy presented the executives of the museum with a personal gift – a traditional “Petrykivka” embroidered towel, which immediately became of a historical value, as it was gifted to the museum by the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

The formal visit concluded with an informal reception in the Consistory building of the UOC of the USA in honor of His Beatitude and the delegation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Meeting with the clergy and the faithful of the Church, Metropolitan Epiphaniy answered their questions and presented himself for numerous photos with the individuals in attendance. In conclusion of the visit, a special presentation was made to Archbishop Evstartiy and Dobrodijka Oksana Pasakas – both of whom celebrated their birthday on that day. Traditional MNOHAYA LITA – GOD, GRANT YOU MANY YEARS was chanted.

Having bid farewell to the members of the community in attendance, Metropolitan Epiphaniy bestowed his archpastoral blessing before heading into the formal meeting with the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in order to reflect and to address common pastoral and ecclesiastical projects and endeavors for the Glory of God and His Holy Church.

In the late hours of afternoon on Monday, October 21, 2019 the delegation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphaniy departed the Spiritual Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA for Washington, DC.Hierarchs of the UOC of the USA Welcome Metropolitan Epiphaniy of Kyiv at the Spiritual Center of the Church in South Bound Brook, NJ

Photos by Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan

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