Ukrainian Challenges for Patriarch Bartholomew


By Jalena Rakocevic for Veterans Today

The plan of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for uniting the Orthodoxy in Ukraine is being successfully implemented. Within less than a year a new church appeared – the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which as Constantinople assumes, must put an end to the long-lasting conflict between the faithful. Elected was its primate – Metropolitan Epiphanius (Dumenko) of Kyiv and all Ukraine who received the Tomos of autocephaly and sent letters to other Local Churches expecting their recognition.

39 -year-old Epiphanius seems to be an ideal candidate: 1) he has never been a member of the Moscow Patriarchate and didn’t initiate the schism; 2) didn’t have a crow to pluck with MP hierarchs and is ready to start the OCU history from scratch; 3) studied at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (he partly spoke in Greek on January 6 at the Church of St. George).

However, it’s not all rosy.

First, the OCU primate-elect depends on the Kyivan Patriarchate’s head Filaret Denysenko) (despite his promise to Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret still hasn’t abolished the UOC-KP legal entity: he maintains control over all of his hierarchs who constitute a majority in the OCU).

Second, Epiphanius is strongly dependent on Petro Poroshenko (during his campaign trail across the country’s regions he has to accompany the president and openly support him; if Poroshenko loses the elections, Epiphanius would face difficulties in building relations with the new leaders).

These are not Epiphanius’ worst problems. He wasn’t ordained canonically – as all the UOC-KP hierarchs of “the second generation” after Filaret was anathematized.

It is notable that during the 2001-2003 negotiations with the Russian Orthodox Church on the Ukrainian issue, many hierarchs ordained in the UOC-KP didn’t really believe that they were bishops. As a source at the Fanar says, when addressing the ROC with penance, they asked to accept them not as “bishops” but in the status they had before the schism (a priest, deacon or layman). Then, the Russians showed quite a number of such letters from the UOC-KP hierarchs.

Several years ago, a Ukrainian bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate who visited Greece claimed that many UOC-KP bishops and priests wearing civil clothes were seen at the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra on Epiphany Day: having sanctified the water in their temples, they secretly came to the Lavra to drink the “real” holy water.

When the two exarchs of the Patriarchate were appointed to Ukraine, both Kyiv and Moscow were sure that these two bishops would secretly reordain all the OCU hierarchs and restore its canonical hierarchy. “Secret reordination” is organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate when an uncanonical diocese needs to be accepted in communion without any humiliation in the eyes of the faithful. Hereby such a procedure was carried out for the hierarchs of the UOC of the USA and Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada who hadn’t been canonically ordained.

However, the Patriarch didn’t restore the canonicity of the OCU’s hierarchy. This happened because of haste and Petro Poroshenko’s pressure as he had to unite the OCU and obtain the tomos before the electoral campaign’s start.

For the first time in Constantinople’s history, there was such a haste that the tomos was bestowed without the Holy Synod members’ signatures – on January 6, Patriarch Bartholomew presented the document signed with just two words: “ratified by B.” (“ἀποφαίνεται Β.”). After that, the famous theologian Archimandrite Cyril (Hovorun) declared the tomos invalid, so several days later it returned to the Phanar to be “finalized” by the Synod.

Maybe the OCU’s hierarchy will be “finalized” the same way? Now, however, its uncanonicity causes confusion in the other Local Churches.

Patriarch Bartholomew’s plan is said to have been different. He insisted on Filaret being barred from the elections of the new church’s Primate. The OCU was to be headed by canonical Metropolitan Simeon of Vinnytsia of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). The Ukrainian president promised several times to the patriarch that from 10 to 25 UOC-MP hierarchs would attend the Sobor in December. He even handed over the list of them, which is rumored to have been seen only by Patriarch Bartholomew. Nevertheless, the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate ignored the Sobor: Simeon received few votes and Filaret’s candidate was elected.

No matter how intensely the former Metropolitan Filaret of Kyiv asked Patriarch Barthlomew to hold a joint divine service on January 6 at the Church of St. George, he refused. But the patriarch held it with Epiphanius, Filaret’s protégé. However, when the patriarch visits Ukraine, he won’t be able to deny a joint service with Filaret since there he is a respected religious leader, Church’s head and “patriarch”, unlike Epiphanius. After a fruitless struggle, even Constantinople had to confirm his status of “patriarch”.

The ambiguity of Filaret’s role, Epiphanius’ weakness and the questionable legitimacy of the OCU’s hierarchy can slow down the process of its recognition by Local Churches. As Archbishop Daniel of Pamphylia said in his interview to Romfea, the Church of Greece would recognize the OCU “within a month or so”. Meanwhile Greek Orthodox Autocephalous Churches are still in doubts:

  • The Archbishop of Cyprus: the Ukrainian people haven’t supported the autocephaly, the unity of the Orthodoxy is more important than autocephaly;
  • Before the service in Jerusalem on January 7, the ordination of all guests who took part in it was studied to bar the OCU representatives;
  • The Church of Alexandria remains silent and neutral.

Some metropolitans of the Church of Greece have commemorated Epiphanius (as Chrysostom of Dabrobosan and Theoklitos of Florina) but there also are many opponents of the OCU (Metropolitans Ambrosius of Kalavryta, Seraphim of Piraeus, Seraphim of Kythira publicly outlined their positions).

The relations between Athens and the Fanar are facing the worst period over the past few years and Patriarch Bartholomew has to be careful in negotiations with Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens if he wants to achieve the OCU recognition. Still, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s behavior in Greece is short-sighted: 1) it constantly threatens to revise the status of the New Lands in northern Greece, 2) the Fanar opened its stauropegia in Athens against the Archbishop’s will, 3) the Patriarchate is attempting to solve the Macedonian Church issue unilaterally. Such attitude is prompting anti-Fanari attitude in the Church of Greece. Many draw an analogy, quite disturbing for Greeks, between the OCU and the uncanonical “Church of Macedonia”, which will probably be recognized by Constantinople soon.

On coming to Athens, the Patriarchate’s representatives are rumored speak to the Archbishop haughtily, like to an inferior. It is no wonder that after Fanar’s stauropegia was opened in Athens, Ieronymos didn’t attend the Council on Crete in 2016 for “personal reasons”.

In spring 2018, Constantinople’s delegation came to Athens to inform the Church of Greece of the Patriarch’s intention to grant the Tomos of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Patriarchate is said to have expected the recognition of its decision but the Church of Greece postponed this issue until the October session of the Synod. In October, the matter wasn’t discussed. At the Holy Synod in January 2019, the discussion was delayed again. However, the recognition of the OCU can be discussed soon at an extraordinary session on the Macedonian issue.

Now a delegation headed by Metropolitan Dimitrios of Prince Islands is to visit Athens. The official reason is to discuss the controversial agreement between the government and the Church of Greece that took 10,000 priests off payroll. Another goal may be to exert pressure on Archbishop Ieronymos over the Ukrainian and Macedonian issues. But, to reach success, Constantinople must treat the Church of Greece as an equal partner, not just as another autonomous church of the Patriarchate.

Written in cooperation with

About the Author:  I graduated from University of Montenegro in 2013 with a Master in International Relations degree. Currently I live in Podgorica, Montenegro and work for the National Tourism Organisation of Montenegro. My writings were published by,, and other digital media.

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