Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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INTERNATIONAL WEEKLY № 19 (15.10.2018 – 31.10.2018)

Turbulent decision of the Russian Orthodox Church on the termination of Eucharistic communion with the Church of Constantinople

On October 14, 2018, Patriarch Kirill of the ROC, convened an urgent meeting of the Synod on the arrival of the Exarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Ukraine. As stated on the site of the Moscow Patriarchate, opening the meeting, Kirill said that "on the agenda is one issue associated with the implementation of the decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to send so-called exarchs to Ukraine." At the meeting the state of health of Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv was also discussed – he could not come, but he agreed to the discussion via video conference. Onufriy assured the Synod that both exarchs of the Patriarch of Constantinople had arrived in Ukraine. According to him, one was appointed to hold talks with the party represented by Patriarch Filaret, the other – with the side of Macarius, the head of the Autocephalous church.

 As we know, at the end of last month, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew told the patriarch Kirill, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, at the meeting in Istanbul that he is going to provide autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.The Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate Filaret (Denysenko) is confident that the a single church in the country will be established by the end of this year.[1]

In the end it became known that the Russian Orthodox Church was to break off Eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate because of its decision on autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department of External Church Relations told reporters about this decision at a briefing after the meeting of the Synod. According to Hilarion, in the opinion of the ROC all decisions of Constantinople are illegal and "canonically worthless". "The ROC does not accept these decisions and will not follow them. The church, which entered into dialogue with the schismatics, excluded itself from the sphere of the Orthodox Church. That is why we have to break off relations with Constantinople, because they identified themselves with the split," added Hilarion. 

 This step of the ROC was a response to the decision of the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to grant autocephaly (independence) to the Orthodox Church, which is planned to be established in Ukraine in the near future. In addition, the Patriarchate of Constantinople removed the anathema (excommunication from the Church) from Patriarch Filaret the head of the unrecognized Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate and abolished the document of the 17th century, according to which,- the ROC believes that the territories of present-day Ukraine were transferred to its jurisdiction. Patriarch Kirill’s press secretary  Alexander Volkov said that after taking such a decision, Constantinople had "crossed a red line".[2]

This decision means that the priests of the ROC will not be able to perform common worship with representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the laity will not be able to partake in the churches of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. A statement adopted at the Synod, in particular, states: "the adoption of schismatics and anathematized in another Local Church with all their ordained ‘bishops’ and ‘clerics’, the encroachment on other canonical units, the attempt to renounce their own historical decisions and obligations – all this leads the Patriarchate of Constantinople beyond the canonical field and, to our great sorrow, makes it impossible for us to continue the Eucharistic communion with its hierarchs, clergy and laity." "Now and in the future until the rejection of the Patriarchate of Constantinople of its anti – canonical decisions it is impossible for all the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church to co-serve with the clergy of the Church of Constantinople, and for the laity – participation in the sacraments committed in its churches", – the document stated.[3]

Yevstratii Zorya the Representative of the Kyiv Patriarchate reacted to the decision of the Russian Orthodox Church on the rupture with Constantinople. In his opinion, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church repeats the policy of the Kremlin and follows the path of self-isolation in response to the legitimate decisions of the international community. In his opinion, the situation "sooner or later will be corrected and the ROC will return to communication.". "Now, all who belong to the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine, have a question: whether to go along with the ROC to separation or to remain in unity with the Universal Orthodoxy through the Local Ukrainian Church," Zorya notes.[4]

The holding of the Synod of the ROC in Minsk, which sharply condemned the course of autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, blurs the image of Belarus as a peacemaker country and an independent international actor. For the first time in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), a meeting of the Synod outside Russia was held in Minsk. And they discussed the situation with the status of the Orthodox Church in neighboring Ukraine. Already the venue of the Synod and the agenda show that we are dealing not so much with the event of religious life, but with a great politics, or rather, geopolitics. The fact that geopolitics dominates here, says the fact that the issue of Ukrainian autocephaly was discussed at an emergency meeting of the security Council of Russia. It seems obvious that the process of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church by the Ecumenical Patriarchatehas began as a result of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the West, which began after the Crimea, the isolation, in which Russia found itself, the result of its "rising from its knees".[5]

The decision of the Minsk Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to break off the Eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate actually leads to a split in Orthodoxy. The Russian Orthodox Church, thus, has put itself outside world Orthodoxy. After all, if to speak not in church language, "the termination of eucharistic communication" means the recognition of a split. Therefore, now the ROC is de facto non-canonical, from the point of view of other Orthodox churches, which support communication within the Ecumenical Patriarchate. [6]

Consequently, it can be argued that such a wild reaction by the Russian Orthodox Church was expected because of the events associated with granting the Tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Taking into account the disputes between the two Patriarchates, which have lasted for several months, a further aggravation of the Church war with Russia should be expected. And since Russia is not going to accept the loss of supremacy over the Church in Ukraine, it is currently looking for a way to disrupt the autocephaly using various provocations, including the issue of protecting the Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. 
Despite the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church tried to emphasize the importance of its influence by its own decision, for the ROC termination of the Eucharistic communion with the Church of Constantinople and the refusal to recognize the decision of Constantinople to grant autocephaly to a single local church in Ukraine would mean a dead end, which could lead to self-isolation of Russian Orthodoxy. Thus, Russia, represented by the ROC, will lose a powerful tool of destructive influence on the Ukrainian society and destabilization of the situation in the country, which will contribute to strengthening the unity and national security of Ukraine.