The probable receipt of autocephaly for the Ukrainian church may become another "visa-free regime" for Petro Poroshenko - an unquestionable historical success. It can also be personal gain, which is absolutely necessary for Poroshenko amid current unstable election positions. The president himself points out that there is currently no reason to believe that a tomos (decree) is already in our pocket. In spite of this, the initiators of autocephaly have already heard a lot of positive signals, in particular a statement by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew that Constantinople has never recognized Moscow's authority over the Ukrainian church. But neither Constantinople nor Kyiv is willing to talk about the exact date for getting the tomos.
Rostyslav Pavlenko is in charge of ecclesiastic matters in the Presidential Administration. He spoke with Glavcom about the process of recognition of the Ukrainian church and Moscow's opposition to these efforts.
Q: Let's go back to the background. When did an idea to turn to Bartholomew emerge? Why did efforts in this area unexpectedly intensify this spring?
A: President Poroshenko has been dealing with this issue since the start of his term. An appeal on the provision of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was sent to Patriarch Bartholomew almost in the first months of the president's presidency. Different possibilities and scenarios for this were considered.
At the same time, important events occurred in the history of the Orthodox world. The Pan-Orthodox was held in Crete in 2016, and the Ecumenical Patriarch had high hopes for it. The Russian church did not attend, and it does not intend to recognize the council and its decisions. This greatly aggravated relations between Orthodox churches. Moscow actually challenged global Orthodoxy, demonstrating the possibility of violating agreements, calling into question the authority of other churches, and above all the Ecumenical Patriarch. This does not contribute to the authority of the Moscow church and serves as a warning to others - the willingness to take into account the position and interests of Moscow does not guarantee that it will take into account your position.
Amid these events and in the development of talks between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the President of Ukraine, agreement on the canonical and legitimate path of the provision of autocephaly was reached at a meeting between the Ecumenical Patriarch and President Poroshenko on April 9.
Traditionally, such a path involves an appeal of the secular and ecclesiastical authorities and the passage of a certain procedure, which has its stages. One of them is now underway - informing other churches. The Ecumenical Patriarch demonstrates to other churches that he has nothing to conceal - a delegation of the Patriarchate explains the logic and grounds for the provision of autocephaly to the Orthodox church in Ukraine. As soon as other churches are informed, the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will consider a report of the commission, and the issue of granting the tomos will be discussed on the basis of the report.
Q: That is, most of the process was concealed from the public. And the process became public only this spring.
A: I would rather call it a working process. It was necessary for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be fully aware of the religious situation in Ukraine. Russia is making considerable efforts to spread myths. About an alleged threat of a religious war although the only war that is taking place in Ukraine is Russian aggression. About a "split in Orthodoxy" although Russia's behavior provokes it. About "support for the Moscow church by the majority of believers" although there is sociological data of all services that show a different picture. About "harassment of the canonical church in Ukraine" although, apart from fake propaganda, Moscow did not succeed in providing any evidence.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is checking the facts very carefully and meticulously, therefore Moscow's efforts do not have the effect that the Kremlin hopes for. But they continue to spread their myths among other churches, launching frank lies and dirt in the media.
The answer to this effort is to spread the truth. Moreover, it is impossible to hide something in information society. Sociological data, the present situation with the attitude towards churches, the behavior of priests and hierarchs of various churches, their attitude to critical issues – to the war, Russian aggression, to veterans, and to believers - all this is available in open sources.
All this forms the Ecumenical Patriarchate's understanding of how to move to granting autocephaly. One representative of this church said at the talks: "I do not understand how Ukrainian hierarchs may be against the creation of a Ukrainian church."
By the way, one must note a very important thing, because often the same terms can have a different meaning. Both the Ecumenical Patriarch and representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate are talking about the creation of a unified church that would unite all Orthodox believers in Ukraine, but different ways are seen. The Ecumenical Patriarchate advocates the creation of a unified church that would bring together all those who wish. Representatives of the Kyiv and Moscow Patriarchates and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church addressed the Patriarch with a corresponding request. They all will unite into a single local church and thus the split will be eliminated. The Moscow Patriarchate, in turn, insists on "soothsay and return" to its bosom. But the UOC-MP is in fact an integral part of the Russian Orthodox Church, with all that follows from this - remembrance of Patriarch Kirill, the settlement of fundamental issues in Moscow, and the like.
A: Nobody counted for a blitzkrieg, because these processes have their own logic and canonical meaning. The question was brought to the public when public steps were needed – an appeal to Patriarch Bartholomew from the secular and ecclesiastical authorities. Agree, it's hard to hide the president's appeal, supported by parliament, as well as an appeal of bishops, including representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate.
But, of course, people hope for the best, and when there was progress in the question that has been discussed in recent history for more than 20 years, expectations and hopes emerged. However, it is now necessary to be extremely calm and balanced. As the president says, it's time to pray, fight and work.
The process of obtaining autocephaly moves in its logic - we are not the first to pass it. In due time, incidentally, Moscow also received autocephaly from the hands of Constantinople. Now a very specific stage, connected with the Ecumenical Patriarchate informing other local churches, is coming to an end.
Statements that are made by Patriarch Bartholomew and the hierarchs of his church that Ukraine is a canonical territory of Constantinople, not Moscow, that it is necessary to promote the unification of Ukrainian Orthodox believers and return all of them to all-Orthodox communication, that the issue of autocephaly is discussed show that things are moving. Only the end will not be seen immediately tomorrow.
Q: Many people decided after Bartholomew's statement, optimistic for Ukraine and unpleasant for Moscow, that the tomos is already in our pocket. What are the deadlines for receiving it? When will all these procedural issues be completed?
A: Given that we should expect the completion of all procedures, so that there was no question whether this was done canonically or non-canonically. The issue concerns the next few months.
Q: So, as Patriarch Filaret recently stated, this may happen this year?
A: Yes, it may.
Q: You are secular people, and you probably have certain restrictions on contact with religious leaders. Which area of work is covered by officials?
A: The law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations establishes that policy in the field of these relations is expressed in assistance in the legitimate interests of churches and religious organizations, including through assistance in contacts with world religious centers and other churches. This is not only our right, but also our duty. This is a matter of national security. Of course, the church should be separated from the state, but, as the president says, it should also be separated from a foreign state. After all, there are many concrete examples when, unfortunately, the church was used by Russia as a tool of hybrid warfare. Therefore, even in the logic of reflection of aggression, the state cannot remain aloof.
Q: The main argument of the Moscow church in Ukraine is that the UOC-KP is not a canonical church. Was it taken into account by Constantinople when it accepted the appeal? Did the signatures of several priests of the UOC-MP play their role?
A: The Ecumenical Patriarchate proceeds from the fact that there are tens of millions of people who do not see their stay within the Russian Orthodox Church or the UOC-MP, which is part of the Russian Orthodox Church. But these people cannot reject Orthodox communication, attachment to world Orthodoxy. If this path lies through the creation of a new church, then it should be walked.
The Ecumenical Patriarch has several unique prerogatives as the top primate among Orthodox churches. The most important thing for us is that he and the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognize the autocephaly of other churches. This is challenged by Moscow, but it has a minority here. Again, it itself received autocephaly, having been recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but for some reason it wants to block this way for us.
The second prerogative is that the Ecumenical Patriarch is the highest appellate instance among Orthodox churches. When an anathema was imposed upon Patriarch Filaret, he filed an appeal, which could be considered by the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. And it can answer all the questions about canonicity.
It's not for the state to assess the canonicity of a particular church. But let's remember one interesting detail. The communiqué of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued in April this year, when the beginning of procedures for the provision of autocephaly was actually declared, stated that an appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch on autocephaly was filed by "ecclesiastical authorities," rather than some "split groups." So, no matter how Moscow has presented it, there is no "rejection" of either the Kyiv Patriarchate or the UAOC in Constantinople. There are well-defined canonical procedures that must be passed, and Orthodox believers of Ukraine will receive their own church, not dependent on anyone, which will unite most of them.
Q: The president has repeatedly met with Head of the UOC MP Onufriy. How is this dialogue? What is Onufriy's position?
A: The official position of the UOC-MP is outlined in their statements. I do not exclude that it will change under the influence of circumstances or news from Fener.
Q: But you perfectly see what the Moscow Patriarchate and its supporters are doing in contrast to your efforts. The UOC-KP even objected to Russia's interference in church affairs in Ukraine in order to prevent the recognition of autocephaly.
A: Any actions that will mean a violation of the law or lead to violence and, God forbid, bloodshed will be stopped, no matter from which side they come.
Speaking about information measures, the state clarifies its position both for citizens and for other churches. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, other local churches have rather broad information about what is actually happening in Ukraine. And it's not obvious that those things that the opponents of autocephaly rely on will work.
Intimidation, pressure on hierarchs and priests, the spread of lies (in the media or through the diocese and the parish), the collection of some letters - all this convinces only the initiators of these actions. We saw how the campaign to collect signatures against autocephaly failed as many priests or even bishops from the Moscow Patriarchate refused to take part in this.
But the main opposition to lies is to say the truth and explain what's really going on, what powers are owned by Constantinople, and how they are used, at what stage the process is, and the attitude of other churches is. By the way, contrary to the forecasts and statements of the opponents of autocephaly, there is no rejection from other churches. Rather, there is a desire to wait for the official decision of Fener, its implementation in Ukraine, and then build a relationship with a new church, by the way, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world.
Q: Is there any alternatives to receiving the tomos, which would satisfy the Ukrainian side?
A: The question here is only whether the church can be independent from the center in the aggressor country or not. Autocephaly is the path to absolutely sure and convincing independence.
Q: The potential receipt of the tomos is seen as a powerful PR campaign for the president before the elections. Did the Presidential Administration calculate how many percent of popularity rating this would give Poroshenko?
A: We have been dealing with the issue of assistance to the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine practically from the very first days of the presidency of Petro Poroshenko, which is why it is not an electoral project. For the president and his team this is a matter of restoring historical justice, a matter of guaranteeing the rights of tens of millions of Orthodox believers who do not want to associate themselves with the Moscow church, and want a full-fledged communication with global Orthodoxy. This is also a matter of national security, because the church question is used by the Russian aggressor in "hybrid warfare." This is a very serious motivation.
PS: On July 30, President Petro Poroshenko dismissed Pavlenko as deputy director of the Presidential Administration and appointed him director of the National Institute for Strategic Studies.
Photo: Mykhailo Markiv, Mykhailo Palinchak / Ukrinform