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.

Statement of the Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops Beyond the Borders of Ukraine

Source: (UOC-USA)

To the Venerable Clergy, Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox  Church in Diaspora:


We write to you all having been informed about recent events in Ukraine surrounding the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  If you have not yet heard or read anything about these events, which are filling the social websites and media in and beyond Ukraine, we hereby inform you that the President of Ukraine met in a day-long audience with His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, on Bright Monday – 9 April 2018.  The result of this meeting was the beginning of the Patriarchate’s long-awaited consideration of Autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Upon his return to Ukraine, President Poroshenko immediately began the process of rallying the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine and the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament).  All the hierarchs of two of the three jurisdictions and the vast majority of the Rada responded to the President’s emotional appeal to support the process of asking His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew and the Holy Synod of Constantinople to move forward with the process of granting a Tomos of Autocephaly to the Church in Ukraine, which has for 1030 years been the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, since 988 when our nation was baptized and confirmed into the Holy Orthodox Faith.

Not even under 332 years of non-canonical and often tortuous subjugation to a foreign Orthodox patriarchate could the faithful of Ukraine be convinced that they did not belong to the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  This is simple history, as documented by generations of Patriarchs and Synods of Constantinople, which never abandoned its canonical rights and privileges in Ukraine.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate, through releases on its own website and through the media has confirmed that the process of considering the Autocephalous status of the Church of Ukraine has begun, which will continue through the next meeting of the Holy Synod to be held in May.

President Poroshenko in all his public appearances and statements about these current events has been incredibly enthusiastic about the possibility of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine being granted even by the 1030thanniversary in July 2018 of the Baptism of Ukraine into the Orthodox Faith in 988 by Equal-to-the-Apostles, Great Prince Volodymyr.

The Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops Beyond the Borders of Ukraine has written a strong letter of support for the actions being taken by His All-Holiness and the Holy Synod of Constantinople regarding the possible granting of a Tomos of Autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church.  We have assured His All-Holiness of the unceasing prayers of not only the hierarchs, but also the millions of Ukrainian Orthodox clergy and faithful in and beyond the borders of Ukraine, for him personally during this process.

We invite our faithful to join us in this prayer: 

Prayer for the Unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

O Lord our God, You can see, as the invisible and visible enemies divided the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and with it all Ukrainian people. Help us to promote the unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy into a single Church, putting the cornerstone of apostolic rule that orders us to know that every nation, and among them the Ukrainian people, must have its first hierarch.

O Lord, inspire our separated brethren, so that they will unite around the Throne of Kyiv into a single Church and that Christian love would prevail among all of us, because You said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”.

Look upon us, Lord the Lover of all mankind, and do not punish us for our iniquities, voluntary and involuntary, committed in knowledge and in ignorance. Let us have a true love amongst us, forgive us our trespasses and do not remember our transgressions.

Great Merciful Master, protect and preserve Ukraine from those who encroach on its independence and wants to divide it, as you have always protect the Christian countries. Let a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church be a strong spiritual foundation for the indivisible Ukraine and the unity of our people, let it enemies be scattered and let peace, harmony and unity prevail in us.

O Lord, You said: “For without me you can do nothing.” Hear, o God, prayer of your faithful and bless the begun matter of the unity of the Orthodox in a single Church of Ukraine to lead to a successful conclusion. To His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, the Ukrainian Orthodox Hierarchs, the President, the Verkhovna Rada, and all those who work for this, send wisdom and inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, and in the good cause of the recognition of the Ukrainian Church to bring everyone to close conclusion. For Yours it is to have mercy on and save us, our God and we glorify You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

With Archpastoral Blessings,

+YURIJ, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

+ANTONY, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora

+JEREMIAH, Archbishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Eparchies of Brasil and South America

+DANIEL, Archbishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Western Europe

+ILARION, Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

+ANDRIY, Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

Remembering the Victims of Genocidal Famine in Ukraine of 1932-1933

Source (UOC): The 2017 Annual National Holodomor Commemoration took place on the eve of the 85th anniversary of this human tragedy at St. Patrick Cathedral, New York City on 18 November 2017 with 2,000 people participating. The day began in Ukrainian Village on the lower southeast Manhattan as about 1500 people stepped off in an awareness march from 7thStreet and Third Avenue and walked about 3.5 miles to 51st Street and Fifth Avenue to St. Patrick Cathedral.

The procession up Third Avenue was 2-3 blocks long and there were an abundance of placards describing what the march was all about and young Ukrainian students walking along the sidewalks passing out pamphlets explaining to those who observed the march that the Holodomor Ukas an act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation and her people. It was perpetrated by Josef Stalin and his henchmen in the fall of 1932 and the spring of 1933 and murdered seven to ten million innocent people – solely because Stalin though he was losing his grip on Ukraine and he needed to bring the nation back into line with the Soviet mindset. This march takes place on every fifth anniversary of the Holodomor and was led this year by His Eminence Metropolitan Antony of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church and His Grace Bishop Paul of the Stamford Eparchy of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

The climax of the march was the Memorial Service conducted in St. Patrick Cathedral with the participation of the above mentioned hierarchs together with Metropolitan Stephan and retired Bishop Losten of the Ukrainian Catholic Church as well as His Eminence Archbishop Daniel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and clergy from both churches.

Prior to the beginning of the Memorial service, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony addressed several thousand people in attendance stating:

At present, when our native homeland of Ukraine is enduring perhaps its greatest trials since achieving independence, we Ukrainians in the Diaspora and in Ukraine remember the Holodomor of 1932-33, this most sorrowful and tragic event in our Ukrainian history. Together, we prayerfully honor the memory of millions of innocent people who were martyred by hunger in Ukraine.

Today, much scholarly research have been conducted, and many scientific studies have been completed. They confirm unequivocally the fact that the Famine in Ukraine in 1932-33 was deliberately created by a totalitarian regime whose aim was to deliberately destroy the Ukrainian nation. Only a godless and atheistic government would contemplate the extermination by famine of the Ukrainian people – a time-honored and traditionally agricultural people, who also have been bearers of deep spirituality, culture and traditions. The communist regime attempted to mercilessly decimate the entire population by destroying it without concern for children, the young or the elderly. By creating an artificial famine and, thereby, physically destroying the Ukrainian people, the Bolshevik regime aimed to destroy and eradicate the reviled Ukrainian language, culture and the religious identity of the people. Therefore, the communist government was undoubtedly a godless regime which had built a paradise on earth without God. The Holodomor demonstrated that such an authority, in which there is no room for God, will only shed a sea of blood and build a living hell for millions.

The Holodomor is a wound that will always be a painful scar on the body of our nation. The magnitude of this tragedy is immense. We shall reap its “fruit” for centuries to come. For decades, this totalitarian system has been doing everything in its power to cover up and to erase this tragedy from the cultural memory and history of the Ukrainian nation. Without exaggeration, this famine is a tragedy not only for the Ukrainian people, but for all of humanity.

Today, we need to continue to expend great efforts to convey the truth and the real history of this, our national tragedy, to the furthest corners of the world where this truth may not yet have reached, or where it may have been heard in a distorted form. It is no secret that the forces of evil continue, even now, to try to hide, silence or distort the historical truth about the horrors of the Holodomor in Ukraine in the 20th century.

It is within our power and it is our duty to preserve the memory of the death of the millions of our brothers and sisters. Let this sorrowful day when we remember the terrible tragedy of the past century always be one of personal prayer and remembrance for all of the victims of the Holodomor. On this day of remembrance of the victims of the Holodomor, let us each light a candle for our countrymen who were exterminated. With sincere prayers to the Lord, let us entreat Him to give them rest in His Kingdom of Heaven and forgive them their sins. May He give us His blessing to preserve and support our independent Ukraine which the God-loving Ukrainian people currently are defending and protecting at great cost.

The Dumka Ukrainian Choir sang the responses for the memorial service as it has for many years. Immediately preceding the Memorial Service, survivors of the Holodomor – just two of them, from Holy Trinity Cathedral on Broome Street in NYC – Alexander and Nadia Savaryn, approached a table before the altar to place candles and Ukrainian children followed with blades of wheat, candles, wreaths and flowers to place at the table – all in memory of the victims of the Holodomor.

Following the requiem service, representatives from the United States government were offered an opportunity to deliver remarks. Among the speakers was Mrs. Tamara Gallo Olexy, previous president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, which along with the National Holodomor Committee and the Churches organizes the event each year. She introduced Senator Charles Shumer who represents the state of New York in the US Senate. The Senator is a regular participant in this commemoration for at least the last ten years and always makes an emotional and stirring condemnation of the genocide and those responsible for it, but calls not only Ukrainians but people of all ethnic backgrounds to join in remembering the victims and aiding in stopping the acts of genocide that still occur in other countries around the world today.

Ambassador of Ukraine to the USA, His Excellency Valeriy Chaly and Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Nations Volodymyr Yelchenko spoke about the horror of the genocidal Holodomor and made references to the historic event of opening and dedications of the National US National Holodomor Memorial in Washington, DC which took place on November 7, 2015.

Bishop Paul of Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, CT closed the commemoration expressing gratitude to all the hierarchs and clergy, to the speakers, and to all present in the Cathedral and finally to His Excellency Cardinal Dolan who, along with his predecessors for nearly two decades invited the Ukrainian-American community to conduct the commemoration in the Cathedral.

The Dumka Choir, under the direction of maestro Vasyl Hrechynsky chanted solemn responses to a Memorial Panakhyda for the Famine victims. The Memorial event concluded with the singing of “Bozhe Velykyj”.