The Chairman of the Council of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia Archimandrite Dorothes (Dbar) shared his vision of the Ukrainian church issue, as well as how the Abkhazian church issue will develop if Ukraine gets autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Demis Polandov: Father Dorotheos, we again invite you to our “Guest of the Week” column to discuss church issues. But today we would like to talk to you not about the Abkhazian church issue, but about the Ukrainian one. Of course, we will also touch upon the Abkhazian theme. Today all countries discuss the current situation in Kiev and I am sure that in Abkhazia too, how the Ukrainian state and part of the Orthodox flock are trying to achieve autocephaly, to gain the status of a local church in Ukraine from the Constantinople church. What do you think about it?
Archimandrite Dorotheos: Let me first tell you a brief background so that we can understand why these events are happening now. First of all, people who know the church events of the last thirty years, i.е. after the collapse of the Soviet Union, are well aware that in the early 1990s, Ukraine was one of the first countries which raised the question of creating its own, independent, an autocephalous local Orthodox church. We remember that the leader of this position, the current so-called Patriarch Filaret of Kiev (Denysenko) was deprived of his rank in 1992 and then in 1997 excommunicated or as we say in the church language, anathematized. Since that time, the issue of the autocephalous Ukrainian Church has been constantly raised and discussed. Hierarchs, the leadership of Ukraine and the Ukranian people did everything possible to achieve this goal – the creation of a local church. And exactly ten years ago, in 2008, when there was a jubilee year – 1020 years of baptism of Kievan Rus, – the President (Victor) Yushchenko was invited by the Ecumenical Patriarch, and there were expectations that, possibly, in connection with this anniversary, this issue would be resolved. Ten years ago, in 2008, when there was a jubilee year – 1020 years of baptism of Kievan Rus, the President (Victor) Yushchenko invited the Ecumenical Patriarch to Kiev, there were expectations that in connection with this anniversary, this issue would be resolved.
At that moment I was in Greece, – the Ecumenical Patriarch to the Patriarch Alexy of Moscow the following thing: “Now I am not going to recognize an autocephalous Ukrainian church, but I do ask you to resolve the issue of Orthodox in Ukraine”. Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, including Metropolitan Kirill, who headed the Department for External Church Relations, said “we will do our best to resolve this issue.” But currently there is not just one church structure on the territory of Ukraine – there are already three churches, they are independent of each other, it is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Apostolic Church; i.e. 50-million-Orthodox people are divided among themselves. Ten years have passed, this year the jubilee – 1030 years of baptism of Kievan Rus will be celebrated again and, of course, the Ukrainian authorities, society, people who are interested in solving this issue again have raised this issue.
Demis Polandov: You say that society, the state and the Orthodox flock together take actions. It reminded me of our conversation on the Abkhazian church issue about the necessity of uniting the Orthodox flock with the authorities, which should appeal to the Patriarch of Constantinople. But this was done (in Ukraine) ten years ago, as you said. What has changed since that time from the point of view of the church, why does the patriarch have to change his mind on this issue today?
Archimandrite Dorotheos: The following thing has changed: if you remember our interview, during the Great Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete, I said that the non-participation of the four local churches would not be forgotten. After the end of the Great Pan-Orthodox Council, the secretary of this Council, Archbishop Job (Getcha) (Ukrainian, born in Canada, speaks the Ukrainian language) was sent by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to conduct negotiations with the Ukrainian authorities and representatives of the three Orthodox churches on the territory of Ukraine which I mentioned above. In the course of all these discussions, it was taken a decision to give an autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
As I understand, it does not mean that these leaders of the three institutions on the territory of Ukraine can lead this new independent institute that will unite the entire flock of Ukraine. It is possible that archbishop Job (Getcha) will lead the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Because all the church leaders in Ukraine are odious, especially Filaret (Denysenko). This is a very odious personality, so it is unlikely that someone would bestow autocephaly or recognize him as a patriarch. For a long time, people realized it and everything was delayed because of his position, i.e. when a person is not thinking about the creation of the independent, local, canonical Ukrainian church, but thinking all the time about the seat he will take in this new institution, then there will always be problems. It is one side.
The second side: it seems to me that the Ukrainian Church goes to the finish line. Why? On the one hand, all what I have read shows that the topic is seriously discussed, even a well-known representative of the Ukrainian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate Archimandrite Cyril (Govorun), who studied in Athens, wrote that even the text of ‘Tomos about the granting of autocephaly’ is ready, this tomos was written by a professor of the University of Athens, who had taught me. I do not know if this is a true information, but it’s a very serious author, he does not write some nonsense.
In addition representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – Metropolitan John Zizioulas, Metropolitan Bartholomew (Samaras) and other people are making trips to various local churches, just like Metropolitan Hilarion of the Moscow Patriarchate, who before them or after them visits certain local churches, meets with heads of local Orthodox churches to discuss the Ukrainian question. That is the Ecumenical Patriarchate wants to know the opinion of all of the 14th Orthodox churches on the issue of granting an autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. If the majority say that they agree and the Ecumenical Patriarchate gives an autocephaly to the Ukrainian church, it means this issue will be resolved positively.
Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate have found themselves in a difficult situation, because they want to be supported by the Orthodox community, but they had ignored the Pan Orthodox Council. When they were asked: “Let’s discuss together, let’s take the rules and conditions for the granting of autocephaly together,” but as you remember, representatives of the Russian church did not go, and now they want the Orthodox community to support them. Ten Orthodox churches were presented at the Pan-Orthodox Council, obviously, most of them will support the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and only four local churches were absent there. Therefore, on the one hand, in the case of such a decision, of course, the issue of the Ukrainian Church can be resolved this year. Therefore, on the one hand, the issue of the Ukrainian Church can be resolved this year. If the majority of Orthodox churches consider that it is not necessary now to give an autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church and they do not recognize the autocephaly granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and mainly the Ecumenical Patriarch, can respond to the letter with a request for the granting of autocephaly on behalf of the President of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine the following way: “you know, I considered this should be done, but the vast majority of Orthodox churches and synods of these churches do not support this idea.”
Demis Polandov: Let’s assume that the Ukrainian Church has received autocephaly by Constantinople. And what canonical steps Moscow can take in this case? I have heard about the split – it is discussed in Moscow and ostensibly the Moscow Patriarchate will almost lead the Orthodox conservatives against the Greek liberals.
Archimandrite Dorotheos: It was said by Metropolitan Hillarion, but it was not said by the Patriarch of Moscow. In this case, his (Metropolitan Hilarion) personal position on certain issues was a failure. I will not call the names of the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church, who took a series of steps a year ago to establish contacts with the schismatic churches on the territory of Ukraine, including the so-called Patriarch of Kiev Filaret (Denisenko). Letters of these hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (they are not in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate) were also sent to the Bishops’ Council. If Ukraine gets autocephaly, maybe it is better for the Russian Church to give them autocephaly, thereby making the first step and thus solving the issue in favor of the Russian Church. But unfortunately representatives of the Russian church are not going to do this thing, as it was ten years ago. So now they are already in a rather difficult situation.
Demis Polandov: Father Dorotheos, I would like to speak about the Georgian Church. What do you think, how will representatives of the Georgian Church conduct themselves in the issue of Ukraine and in a possible intra-Orthodox conflict around Ukraine? In the middle of June, the delegation of Constantinople after Metropolitan Hilarion will go to Tbilisi. What way can Constantinople influence the Georgian Church?
Archimandrite Dorotheos: You know, just before the interview, my friends from Greece sent me a link to today’s publication on a Greek website. I have read on this website that the aim of the trip of representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to Georgia was to find allies in the issue of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church and how this issue can influence the Abkhazian church problem. This is a very interesting article and a very good analysis. Even one of those people who have already read the article on my account made such a short note and wrote that “Father Dorotheos is surprised at how well people know the church issue in Abkhazia”. People know the situation because we have been working in this field for seven years, including writing and we speak Greek, so that people understand what the problem is.
The Georgian Orthodox Church is even in a worse situation than the Moscow Patriarchate is. Imagine: on 4 June, just a few days ago, Metropolitan Hilarion visited Tbilisi, he discussed with representatives of the Georgian church the topic whether they would support the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church. Representatives of the Georgian Patriarchate didn’t give a certain answer. In the middle of June, representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will arrive.
If representatives of the Georgian Church don’t support the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the issue of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has a right to solve the Abkhazian church problem. For the last three or four years, in connection with the Pan-Orthodox Council, the topic related to three countries, where there is a church problem, has been constantly raised. The first country is Ukraine, the second one is the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the third country is Abkhazia.
If they recognize the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church, then the Moscow Patriarchate can solve the Abkhazian church issue. I do not know how this situation will be resolved, it is still difficult for me to say, but in any case, the Georgian church will lose Abkhazia as their church territory.
Demis Polandov: Despite the fact that the majority of people supported the Holy Metropolise of Abkhazia and I remember there were collected 70 thousand votes, but there was no appeal from the authorities to the Constantinople patriarch. Do you hope if there is an intra-Orthodox crisis in Abkhazia, the Abkhaz authorities will do something in this direction?
Archimandrite Dorotheos: This question also often arises, now we often read something like: “why the authorities (in this case in Ukraine) interferes with the church life, it is not their task, why do (Peter) Poroshenko and the Verkhovna Rada write a letter? You know, it’s people who do not know what they’re talking about. Please understand, the Ecumenical Patriarch does not live in the territory of the Byzantine Empire, where his personality and his opinion are very important for the Byzantine emperor. He is in the territory of the modern Republic of Turkey, therefore, without the consent of the authorities – the president, the parliament of a country that asks and appeals to him to grant autocephaly, he cannot solve anything, because he will have big problems with the authorities of Turkey.
You are absolutely right, this is really a key question for us and in that Greek article that I remembered, it was also analyzed: it was written that representatives of the Abkhaz delegation in Constantinople had certain conditions – the position of the people, yes, you are write, 70 thousand votes for the independence of their church, the position of the Abkhaz clergy. In this article it is written that it does not matter whether it’s Father Vissarion or Father Dorotheos, or it is the Sukhum-Pitsunda diocese, or this is the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia – both of them, Father Vissarion earlier in 2010, we later in 2011, raised the issue of leaving the Georgian church. In principle, we can find points of contact. You know I have met with Father Vissarion many times for the last two or three months, we are discussing the ways to reconstruct an institution of the Abkhazian church together, which will solve all issues.
But this condition, the position of the authorities, of course, can let us down, because the authorities of Abkhazia will be absolutely dependent. But in this situation there is only one chance for them: if representatives of the Georgian Orthodox Church support the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the creation of the Ukrainian autocephalous church, in this case, when the Moscow Patriarchate will take its steps, undoubtedly, the leaders of Abkhazia will entirely be on the side of a positive resolution of our issue. I have always said that we need patience, the situation around our country is changing: what seemed impossible yesterday, today can be an absolutely resolvable issue.
Source: Ekho Kavkaza