(Kiev) Orthodoxy does not rest in Ukraine. At the same time there is a new movement in the country, which forms a transitional zone between the Latin and Greek churches. The Metropolitan of the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Grand Bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, unified with Rome, are said to have discussed the possibility of unification. Under what sign?
Historically, Ukraine belongs to the catchment area of the Eastern Church and was originally under the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Because of the territorial principle of orthodoxy, this fact is still relevant today in the field of jurisdiction.
The Ukrainians united with Rome
But the west of the country was influenced by Poland and Lithuania for a long time and was therefore influenced by the Catholic Church. On the basis of the reunification of the Eastern and Western Churches at the Council of Florence in 1439, part of Ukrainian orthodoxy established unity with Rome in the sixteenth century. The reason was the unauthorized elevation of Moscow as a "Third Rome" to patriarchy, after Constantinople had been conquered by the Muslims with its historic patriarchal seat.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church united with Rome is the strongest religious community in the three westernmost regions of Ukraine, Lviv, Tarnopol and Ivano-Frankivsk (Stanislau), which belonged until 1918, as part of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, to Austria. They also celebrate like the Orthodox in the Byzantine rite.
The vast majority of today's Ukraine is Orthodox, but is divided into several, divided churches. The fault lines run along the question of statehood and the relationship with Moscow.
When the capital of the Byzantine Empire was overrun by the Ottomans in 1453, Moscow replaced Constantinople in the Russian area, which led to a split in Ukraine and gave rise to the Union of Ukrainian Orthodox in Poland-Lithuania with Rome.
About 10% of Ukrainians belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church today. They live mainly in the extreme southwest of the country. The number of Roman Catholics is very low at less than one percent. All Catholics together make up about 10.5 percent of Ukrainians, as of April 2018.
Ukrainian independence movement and orthodoxy
In the course of the first independence of Ukraine in 1919 and the second independence in 1991, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate were created autocephalous, that is to say, Orthodox churches independent of Moscow, but yet not recognized by the Moscow Patriarchate.
After long conflicts, the two autocephalous churches of Ukraine in 2018 joined the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Ukrainian Orthodox Church), which was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople on January 6, 2019 as a canonical national church. For the recognition by Constantinople was waived on the Kiev Patriarch already established in 1991.
Religion in Ukraine (by region). In the Carpathian Mountains the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the largest religious community.
On 15 December 2018 Bishop Epiphanius was elected Metropolitan in the Kiev Sophia Cathedral to the first head of the new, autocephalous national church.
The Moscow-faithful part of Ukrainian Orthodoxy is affiliated to the autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The three Orthodox churches that existed from 1991 to 2018 competed for recognition as a legitimate national church. It was mainly about the ownership of the church buildings. The Ukrainian government supported the formation of an autocephalous national church in order to strengthen state independence and reduce Moscow's political and religious influence. With the 2018 merger of the two independent, Ukrainian Orthodox churches, this goal was realized against the protest of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Two-thirds of Ukrainians profess to be orthodox Christians. However, the ongoing conflict between Moscow and Kiev means that some of the Orthodox do not want to attribute themselves to one or the other of the two churches. The different numbers of church affiliation of Orthodox Ukrainians can therefore vary considerably. The latest figures come from the Razumkov Center in cooperation with the All-Ukrainian Church Council of April 2018. Today, 47 percent of Ukrainians belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox National Church, which is particularly strong in Northwest and Central Ukraine. About 14 percent of the Ukrainians, who concentrate mainly in the east of the country and in the Crimea, profess the Russian Orthodox Church.
Patriarch Filaret dissatisfied with his role
Since its canonical recognition by Constantinople, the autocephalous national church has been headed by a metropolitan, although the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate from 1991-2018 was headed by a patriarch. Most of the time, from 1995-2018, Filaret was its head.
Filaret, now 90 years old, is Honorary Patriarch of the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church. For several weeks, however, he has been in conflict with his successor and former secretary, Metropolitan Epiphanius. Filaret recently even threatened to annul Epiphanius's allegiance and establish an independent patriarchy. The elderly patriarch is considered to be the central figure of ecclesiastical independence of Ukraine. Recently, he was honored as the "Hero of Ukraine" with the highest honor in the country.
In 1990, Filaret was considered a potential candidate for the Moscow Patriarchate. But this did not happen. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, he sided with the Ukrainian independence movement and separated from the Moscow Patriarchate. With this step, he laid the foundation for Ukrainian autocephaly.
The main reason for the rupture now is that Epiphanius, according to Filaret, does not sufficiently seek to be close. The honorary patriarch is worried about the future of Ukrainian autocephaly since in the presidential elections on April 21 the previous "protector of the church", Petro Poroshenko, was voted out. As the new President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Selenskyj will be sworn in within a few days, and so far he has not distinguished himself either by his closeness to the National Church or his proximity to religion.
Selenskyj met with Metropolitan Epiphanius after his election victory, without making concrete promises to the head of the National Church. Epiphanius nevertheless announced the support of the future head of state.
Filaret also demands, as a patriarch, to be mentioned in all liturgies, which is the case in only part of the churches, while Epiphanius is mentioned everywhere. Filaret's letterhead continues to bear the inscription "Patriarchate of Kiev". He is convinced that the legal status persists as a patriarch. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople had forced him to retreat in 2018 in return for the recognition of autocephaly, otherwise he would be church leader today and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church would have patriarchal status. Moscow is the only patriarchate of orthodoxy that could elbow between the historic patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch. Filaret wants to extend this claim to Kiev, because today's capital of Ukraine was originally the "mother of all Rus".
Association of Orthodox and Uniate?
Epiphanius has not yet commented on the criticism of Filaret. For other statements of the Metropolitan provide for discussion. In a statement for Espresso.TV he spoke of the "permissibility" of a possible union with the united with Rome Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is led by Major Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk. There is very good agreement between Metropolitan Epiphanius and Grand Archbishop Svyatoslav.
Metropolitan Epiphanius (left) with Archbishop Svyatoslav of the Greek-Catholic Uniate.
The Metropolitan told Espresso.TV, "We are implementing many important projects with the Greek Catholics and are participating in numerous events". The two church leaders are said to have already talked about a possible union of the two churches. Epiphanius said:
"At a meeting with his Beatitude Svyatoslav, we talked about deepening our cooperation. In it we unfold a dialogue and do not know where it will take us. Theoretically, it is possible to get to the Union.”
Epiphanius is convinced that all Orthodox Ukrainians are destined to unite, meaning both the Orthodox Ukrainians of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Greek Catholic Ukrainians.
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Trans: Tancred email@example.com