The Greek Orthodox Church has essentially recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which in January was granted autocephaly, or independence, from Moscow by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in a move that angered Russia and caused what some termed the greatest Christian schism since 1054.
On October 12, the Council of Hierarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church convening in Athens adopted a proposal of its primate, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos II, to ratify a previous decision of the Synod of this Church proclaiming “the canonical right of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to grant autocephaly, as well as the privilege of the primate of the Greek Church to further pursue the issue of the recognition of the Church of Ukraine.” According to a report by Ukrainian broadcaster TSN, 80 hierarchs of the Council voted in favor while seven asked to postpone the decision.
The full communique was published by the website romfea.gr and a translation to Ukrainian was provided by the website religionpravda.com.ua.
Ukrainian Metropolitan Epifaniy thanked the Church of Greece and its primate for the decision (the text appears in Ukrainian, Greek and English on the metropolitan’s Facebook page) :
“I am grateful to my Brother in Christ, His Beatitude Ieronymos, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, president of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, and Brother Hierarchs of the Council of Hierarchs, for today determining to support and follow the canonical and historical decisions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, opening the possibility of full interaction between our two local Autocephalous Churches in all spheres.
“The histories of our two ancient nations, Greece and Ukraine, include many shared pages of friendship and cooperation. The establishment of full Eucharistic unity and official relations between the local Churches of Greece and Ukraine is a new page that will forever be bound in our history and in our hearts.
“I hope that in the near future I will have the pleasure of visiting Athens, close to my heart, and personally conveying our feelings of love and respect to His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos, Brother Hierarchs, and the entire Church of Greece.”
The decision of the Council of Hierarchs is predated by numerous meetings of Synod committees of the Greek Orthodox Church that had examined the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch (or Patriarch of Constantinople), the primate who is “first among equals” in the world family of Orthodox Churches, to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
The Moscow Patriarchate, which had until the historical decision made in January been the only canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine, has denied the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s right to such a step, claiming that only it could make decisions on autocephaly of its “daughter Church” and broke off relations with Constantinople. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) immediately followed suit; this step was seen by some commentators as the “largest schism in Christianity” since 1054 when the Church splintered into what became the Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity.
However, the Greek Synod, having studied the matter, decided that the Ecumenical Patriarch was right all along. One of the reasons for such a decision is most probably the fact that the Patriarchate of Constantinople had established the Kyiv Metropolia when the medieval kingdom of Kyivan Rus’ was baptized in 988 and maintains that the Moscow Patriarchate, after splitting off from Constantinople in 1448, had unlawfully engulfed the Kyivan Church in 1696 despite being given merely managerial rights.
In the Orthodox Church, unlike the Catholic Church, the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch is not enough to call the independence of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church a done deal. The move has to be yet approved by the rest of the Orthodox Churches (15 or 16, depending on whether you count the Orthodox Church of America) in an act of conciliarity termed “reception.”
After Constantinople granted the Tomos, or “declaration of independence,” to the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine on January 6, Moscow launched a campaign to thwart this reception by using its geopolitical leverage to coax other Orthodox Churches to defy Constantinople.
According to TSN, such attempts were ongoing even while the Council of Hierarchs was taking place, as activists claiming they were acting with the approval of the UOC-MP handed out leaflets to Council members depicting the supposed horrors that Church autocephaly has brought to Ukraine, most of these being claims of discrimination and religious intolerance against the UOC-MP. Most of these claims are false – as of today, the UOC-MP operates freely and, despite an ongoing process of migration of parishes to the OCU, still holds the majority of parishes in Ukraine – if, arguably, not the majority of believers.
The granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church was an especially painful step for Russia, which is in the sixth year of its undeclared war against Ukraine, the goal of which is to keep the former Soviet country within Moscow’s geopolitical sphere of influence. The UOC-MP is considered a major player in this war, providing ideological leverage to Russia’s ideas of a “Holy Triunite Rus” consisting of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus which, the legend goes, are destined to stay together or else defy divine providence.
The decision of the Greek Orthodox Church, one of the largest Orthodox Churches in the world and which is considered to have state status in Greece, opens the path for further reception of the OCU into the world family of Churches and may spur the migration of more UOC-MP parishes to the newly formed structure, which was formed mostly out of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, two structures which until December 2018 were considered schismatic. The migration process had moved fast in the first months following the Tomos, but has lately slowed down, not least because of the internal crisis of the OCU caused by the schism of its “creator,” Metropolitan Filaret.
Which Churches could be next in line to recognize the Orthodox Church of Ukraine? Experts speak about the Churches of Georgia, Romania and Bulgaria. Meanwhile, the next step for affirming the decision of the Greek Church is to happen on October 19, when Metropolitan Epifaniy will be named among other primates of the Orthodox Churches at a solemn liturgy.
Reprinted with permission. The story above appears at: http://euromaidanpress.com/2019/10/12/greek-orthodox-church-becomes-first-to-affirm-newly-independent-orthodox-church-of-ukraine/.