domenica 22 agosto 2021

Ucraina
Bartholomew in Kyiv -- an appeal for peaceful coexistence of churches

(Peter Anderson)
  This is now the third day of the visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Kyiv.  He was invited by both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the recently formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) to attend the celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of Ukrainian independence.  The Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) had strenuously objected to the visit on a number of grounds, including the assertions that most of the Orthodox in Ukraine are opposed to the visit and that the visit will only increase religious tensions and attempts to “capture” parishes of the UOC-MP.   Before the visit, the big question is whether the visit will be viewed by most Ukrainians and the world as a positive event or whether the visit will be viewed as a big mistake where the predictions of the UOC-MP prove to be true.  There was also the question of whether the UOC-MP would attempt to “spoil” the Ecumenical Patriarch’s visit by taking certain actions.

On August 16, Archpriest Nikolai Danilevich, who frequently acts as one of the spokespersons of the UOC-MP, stated that attempts by supporters of the UOC-MP to organize events, such as processions, during the visit of Bartholomew do not have the blessing of the hierarchy.   (link)  On the other hand, he specifically endorsed the plans of the organization “Mariane” (“Миряне”), the Ukrainian word for laity, to conduct a “prayer stand” (a prayer service by a group of people to oppose something) on August 21 near the Ukrainian parliament building.  Father Nikolai stated:  “Believers are going to ask Patriarch Bartholomew how the Church of Constantinople intends to remedy what it has done in Ukraine.  I think this action will be useful.  Let the Patriarch of Constantinople think about how to answer them.”  On August 17, an official letter was sent in which Metropolitan Onufry, head of the UOC-MP, specially blessed the activities of “Mariane.”  (link) (see August 17 entry). 

Immediately before the visit, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gave an interview to the Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform. (link) (English)  He praised Metropolitan Epifany, head of the OCU, as “a prudent Primate, who knows how to manage ecclesiastical matters with efficiency and in the spirit of the canonical tradition of Orthodoxy.”   Nikolaos-Georgios Papachristou, who is the Director of the Press and Communication Office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and who is also accompanying the Ecumenical Patriarch on the visit, also gave an interview.  (link)  In his opinion, the visit “is gaining the size of a historic event.”  Father Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s DECR, expressed his concerns about the visit to TASS. (link)  According to Father Nikolai, UOC-MP believers see the invitation by Zelensky to Bartholomew as “as a political demonstration of indifference to their opinion on the part of the current state leadership.”

A number of “well-known figures of science, culture and sports,” who are members of the UOC-MP, wrote a letter asking Bartholomew to postpone his visit and expressed the fear that the visit “could trigger a new wave of raider seizures of churches and beatings of UOC believers.” (link)  On the other hand, another group with some familiar names have posted a petition which expresses joy at the visit of Bartholomew and states that “[t]he hatred generated by individual spokesmen, bishops, priests and laity of the Russian Orthodox Church and its part in Ukraine - the UOC-MP - is a sad and painful fact for all of us.” (link) 

For fear of attempts by UOC-MP to disrupt the visit by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, his exact schedule in Kyiv, except for some public events such as the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, has been kept a secret.  One learns about the events as they unfold.  The Ecumenical Patriarch is taken to various locations in a large van with darken windows.  Because of this, there is little opportunity for public encounter where Bartholomew could be publicly cheered or protested.  With no advanced notice as to the hour that Bartholomew would arrived, he was greeted on arrival at the Kyiv International Airport by Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, Metropolitan Epifany, and others in the early evening of Friday, August 20.  (link)  Later in the evening, the Ecumenical Patriarch met with President Zelensky at the Presidential Mariinskyi Palace.   (link)   The statement released by the President’s office included the following:  “Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted that one of the factors that the aggressor uses against Ukraine as a hybrid weapon is religious…. During the meeting, further steps for closer cooperation between Ukraine and the Ecumenical Patriarchate were also discussed.”

On Saturday morning at 10 a.m., Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was received by Metropolitan Epifany and certain bishops, clergy and laity of the OCU at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral.  A video of the entire doxology service can be viewed at (link).  The text of the Patriarch’s address is at  (link) .  The address by Epifany is found at  (link).  Before the doxology, Bartholomew laid flowers at the near-by "Wall of Memory of the Fallen Defenders of Ukraine" and at the memorial to the victims of the Holodomor.  After the doxology, he held meetings at the residence of Metropolitan Epifany with Epifany himself, with a group of OCU bishops, with Victor Yushchenko (president of Ukraine at the time of Bartholomew’s 2008 visit to Kyiv), and with a delegation from the OCU Vinnytsia-Bar Diocese headed by Metropolitan Simeon.

At approximately 2:40 p.m. Ecumenical Patriarch arrived at the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) building for a meeting with Dmytro Razumkov, the chairman of the Rada.  The Chairman thanked Bartholomew for his support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The Chairman stated:  “ We continue to fight for the return of the temporarily occupied territories of our state.  And religion is one of the bases around which people can unite.”   (link)  A festive dinner for the Ecumenical Patriarch was the hosted by the ambassador of Greece to Ukraine.  The ambassador of Cyprus was also involved.  In the evening, a vesper service at which Bartholomew presided was held in the historical St. Andrew’s Church, which functions as the Stauropegion for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  (link)  Perhaps because the Church remains an active museum owned by the State, attendance was limited to certain invited guests and dignitaries.

The “prayer stand” organized by “Miriane” was originally scheduled to begin in Constitution Square at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.  The Square is an elongated strip of pavement (approximate 250 meters long and 25 meters wide) running in front of the Rada building and the adjoining presidential palace.  The time of 9 a.m. was selected because of the organization’s belief that Bartholomew would be meet with the chairman of the Rada at that time.  The organization subsequently moved the hour of the prayer stand to 11 a.m.   As a reason, the organization stated that the Bartholomew’s meeting with the President would occur at 11 a.m. and the meeting with the chairman of the Rada at 2 p.m.  As it turned out, the meeting with the President actually occurred the prior evening and the meeting with chairman about 3 p.m.  The prayer stand in fact began about noon and ended shortly before 3 p.m.  I do not know whether “Miriane” simply had incorrect information or whether the times of the meetings were changed to avoid the time of the prayer stand.

Many video, photos, and descriptions of the prayer stand can be seen at (link)  (Union of Orthodox Journalists) and (link) (Information Center of the UOC-MP).  A good video can be seen at  (link) (4 minutes).  Although there were many strong speeches, the prayer stand was totally peaceful.  It was not simply a gathering of laity.  Many clergy of the UOC-MP were there, and the principal speaker was Archbishop Nikolai, vicar of the Kyiv Metropolis of the UOC-MP.  The organizers stated that the number attending the prayer stand was more than 10,000 – the same figure that Mirane had predicted several days earlier would be there.  In viewing numerous photos of the event, I saw many open space, even near the speaker’s stand, between the participants, and the entire square was not full.  This makes me wonder whether the figure of 10,000 is somewhat overstated.   It is reported that police estimated the number at 1,500. 

One of the speakers was Vasily Makarovsky, the head of Miriane.  In reading a “tomos of the laity,” he stated among other things:  "We call you to repentance for the encroachment on the leadership in the Church, which belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ alone, for the desire to unite with the Catholics, for the recognition of Ukrainian schismatics, for the seizure of our churches, for the beating of believers, for the enmity and hatred that you brought on our land.”  (link)

Today, Sunday, August 22, was the major religious event of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s visit.  The Divine Liturgy was held outside the historic St. Sophia Cathedral, but within the walled area of the grounds of the Cathedral.  There were strict security procedures to enter the grounds of the Cathedral.  The entire Liturgy was televised live and can now been seen at (link)  (over 3 hours).  The full text of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s address at the Liturgy can be read at (link).  At the end, the Ecumenical Patriarch’s remarks were directed at the UOC-MP.  The following is an English translation provided by the Union of Orthodox Journalists:

We invite in this sacred time and call wholeheartedly the brothers in Christ, the hierarchs in this country, their clergy and believers, who do not have church communion with us, to reconsider their position and to foster peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding between people and Orthodox Christians here, sharing love for identity, for the sake of reconciliation and the establishment of tolerance we all need.  As a mother church, we are always ready to listen to problems, dispel doubts, soothe anxiety, heal injuries of all our children with the grace of God, but within the framework of a consecrated church tradition.  We firmly believe that the mercy of our Savior Jesus Christ will forever extend generously over all of us, and we will rejoice in the tangible fruits of the Holy Spirit.

(link) To the best of my knowledge, this is the first occasion that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has suggested the “peaceful coexistence” between the UOC-MP and the OCU.  In my opinion, this is an incredibly important development.  Could this be opening the door to some form of religious peace in Ukraine?  Could the visit by Bartholomew to Kyiv signal a breakthrough in relations as occurred during his visit to Kyiv in 2008?

The last visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine was for the celebration of the 1,020th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus in July 2008.  At this time also, the Moscow Patriarchate had opposed Bartholomew’s visit.  The Moscow Patriarchate had feared that Bartholomew might use his visit as an occasion to recognize the schismatic churches in Ukraine.  The Moscow Patriarchate had only invited a “patriarchal delegation” from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, apparently implicitly excluding the Ecumenical Patriarch himself, to attend the celebration, but the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate responded on July 2 that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew himself would be the leader of the delegation.  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had also received an invitation from Ukrainian President Yushchenko to attend.   It was reported that on July 20, Patriarch Alexy of Moscow wrote a letter to all of the primates of the Local Orthodox Church requesting them not to come personally to Ukraine, but only to send a delegation.  The letter purportedly asked the primates “to avoid your personal participation in the celebrations so that your presence cannot be interpreted as a show of support for possible anti-canonical acts.”  (Article, dated August 1, 2008, by George Gilson in the Athens News)  In spite of this, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew came to Kyiv and so did the primates of the Churches of Greece and Albania.

The fears of the Moscow Patriarchate did not materialize.  In fact, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Patriarch Alexy celebrated the Divine Liturgy together and held a personal meeting afterwards.  They discussed the need to resolve their problems through dialogue.  It was a dramatic reconciliation.  In October, Patriarch Alexy traveled to Istanbul, against his doctors’ advice, to attend a meeting of the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches and to sign a common document addressing certain world issues and endorsing consultations leading to the holding of the Holy and Great Council.  On December 7, Patriarch Alexy died suddenly at the age of 79.  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presided at part of the funeral services in Moscow.  In retrospect, it is clear that the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to Kyiv in 2008 was a turning point and a very positive event in relations between Moscow and Constantinople.

Perhaps I am being far too optimistic in assessing the remarks made by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew today.  However, I hope and pray that I am not.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA