Only the Exarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and President Poroshenko are aware of all the obstacles the unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy has faced.

Poroshenko and the clergy
Courtesy of president.org.ua

On January 6, Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and All Ukraine will serve a divine liturgy with Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul celebrating the Holy Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ; after the ceremony the tomos on autocephaly will be granted to him. Within the months passed since April 20, 2018, when the Ukrainian authorities asked for creating an autocephalous Ukrainian local Orthodox church, the Ecumenical Patriarch seemingly accomplished the task that the Moscow Patriarchate had been unable to complete for 26 years: the schism in Ukraine is healed, its hierarchy is reinstated, it will receive autocephaly and be recognized by the local churches!

Meanwhile it turns out that the Ukrainians know almost nothing about the details and the results of the clergy and laity assembly (Κληρικολαική συνέλευσις) on December 15 – the so-called “unifying council” (Σομπόρ). Patriarch Bartholomew is not that much aware of it either.

Let’s try to mark the blank spaces and restore the course of events with all that we have discovered.

Ukrainian president Poroshenko did his best to fulfill the commitments given to the Ecumenical Patriarch but didn’t really succeed in it. As the president admitted later, the council could have been undermined for at least five times. The beginning was delayed for three hours and according to the council participants, there were great tensions.

Patriarch Bartholomew’s mandatory condition for holding the council was the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate hierarchs. There should have been no fewer of them than those of the formerly unrecognized UOC KP and UAOC, and all these bishops must have been diocesan, not vicar.

Thus, Poroshenko promised that from 10 to 25 UOC MP bishops would be present at the council. Metropolitan Agapit of Mohyliv-Podilsk claimed that the Ukrainian security service took metropolitans to Kyiv and by all means tried to convince them to join the council. But no one of those who was counted on didn’t agree.

As the result, the Ukrainian episcopate was represented at the council by just two (!) men. Of 90 UOC MP bishops only one diocesan bishop participated – metropolitan Simeon Shostatsky; and one vicar bishop – metropolitan Alexander Drabinko.

Metropolitan Simeon is said to have come with some credential letters of the UOC MP hierarchs (their number is unknown). However, since these hierarchs were absent, the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate decreed not to count their votes contrary to the Ukrainian president’s request.

As expected, most participants represented the “Kyivan Patriarchate” (UOC KP). According to the list provided to us, among the council members were:

  • The two notorious UOC KP metropolitans from Russia: the exarch of all Russia, metropolitan Josaph Shibaev (in 1991 his years-long homosexual relations with hieromonk Seraphim Baranchikov were revealed; Shibaev was disfrocked by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1997) and metropolitan Adrian Staryna of Bogorodsk (in 1991 accused of sexual abuse of altar boys, was banned from priesthood by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia for “grievous crimes unacceptable at church”, and removed from the post of the head of the UOC KP Dnipropetrovsk diocese;
  • Metropolitan Michel Laroche of Paris – was ordained by Evloghios Hessler and Greek Old Calendarists; in his works accused the Ecumenical Patriarch of papism. He is married, has a transgender secretary, a former Catholic priest now known as “hegumene Alexandra Carrasco”.
  • Daniel Bilak – officially a layman representing the Chernihiv diocese of the UOC KP but actually a CIA agent. Born in the US, he has never lived in Chernihiv oblast, but he is well known by Patriarch Bartholomew. He has visited the Phanar for a number of times attempting to achieve the recognition for the UOC KP.

There were also present UAOC hierarchs whose “ordinations” originate from two men: former bishop Ioann Bodnarchuk and former Moscow Patriarchate deacon Vikenty Chekalin. It means that according to the church canons they weren’t ordained at all. They were expected to be reordained but Constantinople admitted them with their current “ordinations”.

Unfortunately, Poroshenko also did his best to influence the exarchs and keep Patriarch Bartholomew in the dark about the real developments.

Metropolitan Clement Kush (former UOC KP) told journalists that metropolitan Emmanuel of France and exarchs wanted to leave Ukraine but president Poroshenko ordered to close the airport of Kyiv under the pretext of bad weather.

Later, on December 15, metropolitan Emmanuel misinformed the Patriarch by concealing the conflicts before the council and thus obtained his blessing to start it. For this, as sources claim, he received a generous gift of $1 million from Kyiv.

As the result, former UOC KP primate Filaret Denysenko became nearly the most powerful figure at the council, and the creation of the local Ukrainian church was under his control.

During the second round of voting for the primate, the bishops had to choose between three candidates: metropolitans Epiphanius Dumenko, Mikhail Zinkevich and Simeon Shostatsky. However, blackmailing metropolitan Mikhail of Volyn and threatening to undermine the council, Filaret, with the support of president Poroshenko, forced him to withdraw his candidacy. As there were few representatives of the UOC MP, metropolitan Simeon received few votes. This allowed the former primate of the UOC KP to promote his candidate Epiphanius (he is rumored to be Filaret’s grandson). Thus, the elections were actually “dummy” and were organized according to the soviet pattern which Filaret is well acustomed to – i.e. with one real candidate.

Still a number of questions on how the council took its decisions remain unanswered. It’s unknown whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate delegates voted. The role of president Poroshenko is also unclear – whether he was an “honorary guest” (along with the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Andriy Parubiy, that was his status de jure) or he was the council member de facto taking part in the discussion and having influence on the voters.

Eventually, the Ukrainian autocephaly didn’t take the shape imagined by His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew.

Although the charter officially adopted by the council hasn’t been published yet, according to Epiphanius, Filaret was given the position of the “permanent member of the Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine” and the status of the “honorary patriarch”. In view of Filaret’s authority among the former UOC KP episcopate and control over the OCU budget, he can be named the real head of the new church.

Moreover, Filaret has already said that he will remain the Patriarch of Kyiv and all Ukraine, for “domestic purposes” for now. The elected primate, metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and all Ukraine, will predominantly oversee the OCU foreign relations temporarily delegated to him until the patriarchal status of the Ukrainian church is recognized.

All these is happening despite the fact that because of Filaret’s infamous reputation, Patriarch Bartholomew, responding to his appeal, demanded that he should refuse to participate in the elections. The same condition was announced to president Poroshenko. But as we see, the will of the Ecumenical Patriarch was done nominally.

The same is happening with the transfer of expensive property – Constantinople’s former stauropegions in Ukraine – to the Phanar. None of them has been legally handed over to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, including the St. Andrew’s church where the exarchs held a liturgy on the eve of the council. It is said that the national sanctuary Sophia of Kyiv, part of which the church is, only needs to sign an agreement with the Phanar but it hasn’t been done yet. Moreover, the congregation led by Filaret isn’t up to leaving the lower part of the temple and hold services there.

Of course, the situation with the other 25 historical temples and monasteries requested by Patriarch Bartholomew from president Poroshenko in Ukraine is no better. Kyiv has done nothing to transfer them. As soon as the tomos is granted, Bartholomew will never get all these stauropegions.

Using his protégé Epiphanius, Filaret is going to acquire the Ecumenical Patriarch’s consent to change the OCU charter. In particular, the new revision envisages the OCU’s patriarchal status and authority over its parishes in diasporas. Among those are the Greek parishes in Australia with clergymen defrocked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

As the OCU is headed by Filaret, the UOC MP laity are reluctant to join the new church. Even metropolitan Simeon who participated in the council almost lost his Vinnytsia diocese: after his transfer to the OCU out of his 284 parishes only 20 left, without a single monastery.

These difficulties might have been avoided if Patriarch Bartholomew had come personally. But His All-Holiness is said to be gravely ill and is undergoing medical treatment. This lets his coterie not only mislead Bartholomew concealing possible risks but also simply isolate him from the process initiated with his blessing. Unfortunately, without his wise guidance there have happened things that can lead to unexpected consequences.

The conflict with the Moscow Patriarchate isn’t the most serious problem. But because of patriarch Filaret’s bad reputation, the tomos granted to the OCU hierarchy in its current state will only complicate the recognition of it by other autocephalous churches. This won’t only affect the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s reputation but also will complicate the relations between Orthodox believers in the world.

Moreover, now the Patriarch of Constantinople won’t be able to affect the OCU and its heads. Refusing to grant the tomos at this stage would be a painful step. The Rubicon was crossed and there is almost no way that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew can interfere and remedy the situation. His control over it has been lost for a too long period of time.

Photo courtesy of president.gov.ua

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