On 31 May, 2019, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew received a delegation from the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine at the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. The Ecumenical Patriarch stressed that “the recent granting of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine had nothing to do with politics and geopolitics” but “was before all a pastoral concern for justice, for spiritual justice.” It was granted “based upon the centuries-old tradition of the Church, inspired by the Gospel, respectful of the holy canons and free of any political and diplomatic pressure.” He reminded that “the granting of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine followed the same process whereby ecclesiastical independence was granted to all of the newly created Churches.” His All-Holiness also explicitly underlined that “as for Filaret, he was restored to his episcopal dignity as former Metropolitan of Kiev. The so-called ‘Patriarchate of Kiev’ does not exist and never existed.”
Here is the full message that His All-Holiness delivered:
Distinguished Journalists of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is our great pleasure and honor to welcome you today at the Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As you all know, our Mother Church of Constantinople has always expressed a deep concern regarding the religious situation of the Ukrainian people. Thus, the recent granting of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine had nothing to do with politics and geopolitics. It was before all a pastoral concern for justice, for spiritual justice. For decades, if not centuries, Ukraine was not able to enjoy complete freedom from external influences, especially from the Russian State. The recent division of the body of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine into three separate entities was a deep wound for the communion of the entire Orthodox Christian world. There is no freedom in division, because freedom is identical to unity.
We are sure that the granting of Autocephaly will ultimately help with the question of unity. Until recently, most of the Ukrainian people were outside of the Orthodox Church. This reality, the existence of two schismatic groups, was a real agony. Recall the words of St. Paul: “if one member suffers, all suffer together.” (I Corinthians 12:26)
In order to address the schism and promote unity among the Orthodox in Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the Mother Church of the Ukrainian People, gladly responded to the numerous petitions of Presidents, civil authorities, and the faithful of the country, with the decision to finally grant the much-desired Autocephaly. And let us not forget that similar requests for “complete canonical independence,” namely the Autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, had already been addressed by the Bishops of Ukraine to the late Patriarch of Moscow, Alexis II, in November of 1991.
However, the proper ecclesiological response offered by the Ecumenical Patriarchate was and always is based upon the centuries-old tradition of the Church, inspired by the Gospel, respectful of the holy canons and free of any political and diplomatic pressure. Indeed, this must be made clear in light of accusations and misinformation circulating on the Internet and used against the legitimacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
By the act of Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysios IV in 1686, only the permission to ordain the legally elected Metropolitan of Kiev was granted to the Patriarch of Moscow, with the provision that the Metropolitan would commemorate first the canonical name of the Ecumenical Patriarch, followed by the name of the Patriarch of Moscow. The uncanonical annexation of the Metropolis of Kiev by the Patriarchate of Moscow is also clearly mentioned in the Tomos of Autocephaly of the Church of Poland (1924). The Ecumenical Patriarchate, 238 years later, did not cease reminding people of the abnormal occupation of the Metropolis of Kiev by the Russian Church. It is obvious, therefore, that there is no intervention by the Ecumenical Patriarchate into foreign territory, as Ukraine remains under its own jurisdiction.
The issue in Ukraine was timely. That is, the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not suddenly decide to intervene. There was a schism that needed to be resolved. It was our responsibility to find a solution according to the tradition of the Church. All Tomoi of Autocephaly granted to newly-created Autocephalous Churches, such as Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Poland, Albania, and the Czech Lands and Slovakia, have been granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate without consultation or discussion at the Pan-Orthodox level. The granting of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine followed the same process whereby ecclesiastical independence was granted to all of the newly-created Churches.
As we have maintained, there are no more schismatics in Ukraine because they have been restored to communion with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, faithful to the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, used this right to restore the grace of unity based on Saint Paul’s expression: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” (Galatians 3:26) As for Filaret, he was restored to his episcopal dignity as former Metropolitan of Kiev. The so-called “Patriarchate of Kiev” does not exist and never existed. We also profess, now that Autocephaly has been granted, that it is the responsibility of the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, His Eminence Metropolitan Epiphanios, to lead this historic church, strengthening the unity of the Ukrainian people, inspiring Christian values based on the Gospel, and making the gift of freedom a means to spread the Good News of the New Testament.
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
The granting of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine should be seen globally, beyond personalities, beyond national interests, as a spiritual remedy to a spiritual wound. Today, the whole Orthodox people of Ukraine are in good canonical standing, the precondition for unity and sharing of the common Cup. Now, if some do not accept this, they must ask themselves who precisely is breaking unity.
Once again, we welcome you to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the historic city of Constantinople, today Istanbul, praying our risen Lord will continue to bless you and the very pious Orthodox people of Ukraine for the glory of His Holy name.