CONFERENCE ADDRESSED TO THE CEC AT CYPRUS
ON THE PROTECTION OF THE RELIGIOUS PATRIMONY
(8-10, 11, 2017)
The stalemate of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict:
If the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople would open a pan-orthodox representation at Kiev?
To begin with, I would like to extend my warmest thanks for their invitation and hospitality to the organizers, to the European Conferences of Churches and to the Orthodox Church of Cyprus who have prepared this consultative meeting centered on “The Places of Worship and of Religious Patrimony in Europe and the Near-East; Their Statute and Protection under National and International Law”.
I have been asked to shed a bit of light on the growing conflict within the Orthodox world concerning the places of worship in Ukraine, notably on the subject of the laws presently under discussion in the Rada which could accelerate the changes of jurisdictional membership of ecclesial communities.
Please allow me to be not content with presenting just the actual conflictive legislative situation during this talk, but also, since the ultimate goal of this consultation is to find roads of peace, to propose a solution to the conflict, a solution which is doubtlessly original but, nonetheless, very serious in my opinion, and that involves the opening of an office of the patriarchate of Constantinople at Kiev. I will argue my proposition in three steps before concluding with a fourth argument in favor of such a solution.
I am going to risk getting away from the traditional and repetitive speeches, pessimist or conventional, on the ecclesial anarchy which would be congenital in the Orthodox world and avoid formulating a guiding proposition to resolve the apparently inextricable Russian-Ukrainian conflict. For above and beyond the present inter-ecclesial conflict concerning the possession of places of worship, we find a real war which has already resulted in 10,000 deaths, hundreds of thousands wounded and more than a million and a half displaced persons just in Ukraine. Many observers believe that if there wasn’t a pluri-secular ecclesial conflict between Moscow and Constantinople, there would not be a juridical war about the places of worship nor even a military war between Russia and Ukraine.
I am aware that my proposition will be criticized, that it will be quickly classified as utopian or even as dangerous but I also know that this is what has happened in the past to many original ideas which, all the same, were realized. So I ask your help by giving all your attention to this proposition of peace and may those who will criticize it propose better ideas that will really enable putting an end to the actual crisis of Orthodox ecclesial governance.
1) The Russian-Ukrainian conflict of ecclesial jurisdictions
The two laws being discussed at the Rada of Kiev since 2016 concern a new procedure of accreditation in Ukraine of religious leaders who depend on a Church situated in an antagonist country (n. 4511) and the modalities of the changing of jurisdictions for religious communities (n. 4128). The patriarchate of Moscow considers that these laws discriminate against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which depends on its jurisdiction. It insists that the properties of religious communities depend on the decision of the archbishop and that the members of these religious communities cannot be the ones who decide the question of an eventual change of jurisdiction.
In May 2017, the Ukrainian authorities replied, backing up their explanation with statistics, that, first of all, they do not discriminate against any Church when these send the documentation of a request for their communities to be registered and when this documentation has been filled out in good and due form. Secondly, they affirm that, according to the law in vigor in Ukraine, the Churches do not have juridical personality and this is why only religious communities (parishes, monasteries etc…) can make decisions and own property. Ukrainian law, in conformity with the European Court of Human Rights, has always defended this principle.
Law n. 4128, supported in particular by the Ukrainian government but also by such well-known orthodox personalities as the deacon of the Russian Church, Andrei Kurayev and the Ukrainian archimandrite Cyrille Hovorun, specifies that the members of a community are those who protect the parish from decisions that could be made by transitory tourists. The Ukrainian authorities go on to explain that likewise, in accordance with law 4511 and with the consent of the OSCE (Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe) and given the state of war with Russia, they want to have the means to be able to stop the activities of ecclesiastical leaders who could be found to have links with terrorist organizations. Moreover, the Ukrainian authorities reproach the Russian Duma for having adopted, in June 2016, new laws that went against liberty of conscience and which impeded the missionary work of the Churches without any protestation on the part of Patriarch Kirill.
Taking into account not only the virulent reactions of the patriarchate of Moscow but also the reserves of representatives of the Roman Catholic Church who were afraid of losing a good part of their places of worship if the faithful had a voice equivalent to that of their hierarchical authorities and, finally, the risk of seeing the Ukrainian state enter into the decision-making process of the Churches (in fact, since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the Patriarch of Moscow has not been authorized to enter the Ukraine) these laws have not been submitted to the vote of the deputies.
For his part, bishop Evstrati Zoria, the spokesperson of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (patriarchate of Kiev) proposed some compromises. He suggests, on the one hand, merging a third legal project which asks for a precise clarification defining the membership of parishes to their original jurisdiction with the project of law 4511. He requests that it be specified that the state should not name any ecclesiastical personality, but only dispose of the possibility of accepting or refusing the nomination of such and such a bishop (just as the Pope has the right to refuse such and such an ambassador). In addition, the patriarchate of Kiev is proposing to the other Churches that the request by parishioners to change jurisdiction be dependent on a certain threshold before becoming valid (for example two- thirds) and that the parishioners who are in the minority enjoy the possibility of celebrating elsewhere or in the same building as an alternative.
These two laws will probably be rewritten and submitted to the vote of the deputies during the months to come. On September 7 2017, President Porochenko notified the Rada that he would not sign law 4511 in its actual form. He already disposes, in fact, of all the legal means for preventing hybrid attempts, already identified, unfortunately, by several observers, of collusion between certain representatives of the patriarchate of Moscow and the Russian terrorist forces installed in Donetsk, notably the Orthodox Army of Donbas which is led by a Russian, Mikhail Verin.
2) The persistent conflict between the Churches of Moscow and Constantinople and a possible solution
As everyone knows, however, the real conflict is being played out between the patriarchate of Moscow and the patriarchate of Constantinople, not only concerning the status and control of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church but, above all, concerning the control of the Orthodox Church as a whole. Everyone knows that the Church of Kiev considers the Moscow Church as its daughter on the historical level and not as its mother. The patriarchate of Moscow, on the other hand considers itself the unique heir of the Church of Kiev and has tried to impose its domination over Ukrainian Orthodoxy ever since the latter chose to recognize the Council of Florence in 1439.
A lot has been written about the fact that if the Church of Moscow loses its jurisdiction over Ukraine, not only would it lose a great number of its parishes and ecclesiastical structures but, above all, this would mean the end of its grandiose project of becoming the “Third Rome”, the beacon not only for Orthodoxy but for the whole Church of Christ. Conscious of the decisive importance of this religious factor in the Russian-Ukrainian project, President Petro Porochenko, himself an Orthodox, in September 2017, pronounced himself in favor of a recognition of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by Constantinople.
In the month of September 2017, the Ukrainian deputy Victor Yelensky pointed out that the Patriarch of Constantinople had not replied to the June 2016 request of the Rada nor to that of President Porochenko to recognize the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Kiev for fear that the Church of Moscow would lose the essential part of its communities and react by severing all ties with Constantinople.
In order to get out of the conflict and, above all, to avoid provoking other wars, it would be useful to study a project of opening by the Ecumenical Patriarcate a Pan-Orthodox office in Kiev. This would not only facilitate a reconciliation among Christians in Ukraine but would also be more perfectly faithful to its mission of Pan-Orthodox supervision which it inherited after the rupture between the Eastern Christian world and the Western Christian world after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It could then offer to the more than thousand year old local Ukrainian Church an autocephalic organization, capable of electing its own primate while positioning itself in a privileged space for presiding over and administering to the communion of Orthodox Churches. And finally, it would put into practice, on the territory of the mother Churches, the principle of inter-jurisdictional episcopal assemblies which already function in the countries of what is known as the “diaspora”, ie three-quarters of the planet, and which was formally adopted at the Council of Kolymbari in June of 2016.
Originally the concept of the episcopal see was not static. It moved around in function of the historical circumstances. It would be useful to recover its original dynamic connotation. Its meaning is not to give a satisfied repose out of history but to receive the divine wisdom.
The famous French constitutionalist Maurice Hauriou wrote that “law is a sort of pipe that tries to realize order and justice”. This is the reason why an institution like the patriarchate of Constantinople, whose mission since the rejection of the Council of Florence is to permit communion among those who confess the Orthodox Faith, should question itself above juridical normativism and in the very name of the common good.
3) The arguments in favor of a panorthodox representation of the See of Constantinople at Kiev
De jure, the Rus’ of Kiev, after the baptism of Vladimir the Prince of Kiev in 988, found itself in the ecclesial jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Constantinople. The Patriarch of Constantinople sent bishops there until the 15th century and his authority was recognized by the Metropolitan of Kiev, Petro Mohyla until the 17th century. Constantinople never recognized the annexation of the metropolis of Kiev in 1686 by the synod of the Russian Church after the invasion of the lands situated on the right bank of the Dnieper River by the Russian Empire. Moreover, as of 1721, the Church of Moscow, whose status of autocephaly had been snatched from Constantinople in 1588, lost its status as a patriarchate by a decree of Peter the Great. This was brought up again at Kiev in August 2016 by bishop Job of Telmessos, the envoy of Patriarch Bartholomeus to Ukraine. Let us also add that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the immigrants to the United States and Canada was spontaneously placed under the jurisdiction of Constantinople when this became possible after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
By opening a panorthodox representation at Kiev, the Patriarch of Constantinople could obtain, in return, that all the Orthodox bishops be placed under the authority of an assembly of bishops (something Moscow had been incapable of creating after the schism of 1991 between the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches of the patriarchate of Kiev and those of the patriarchate of Moscow). Those who would refuse should then place themselves under the direct jurisdiction of Moscow but they would henceforth be obliged to satisfy the conditions of control imposed by the Ukrainian state on Churches situated in antagonistic countries. The head of this Church would dispose of autonomy in a first instance and then, on the occasion of a new patriarchal election open to the ensemble of the jurisdictions present in Ukraine, would accede to autocephaly.
In doing this, the Turkish Patriarch would be roundly criticized by the Russian Patriarch. This act could lead, as it did in 1996 after the re-establishment of the Estonian Orthodox Church, directed by a Greek Metropolitan, to a rupture of communion between the two Sees of Moscow and Constantinople. But, on the one hand, Patriarch Kirill did not recognize the authority of Patriarch Bartholomeus when he refused to attend the Pan-Orthodox Council of June 2016 in Crete, a move which already places him in a situation of schism, at least on the level of ecclesial governance. On the other hand, Patriarch Kirill, for his part, has not hesitated to create para-ecclesial structures in the Near East and in Turkey itself on canonical territory directly under the Patriarch of Constantinople. Sergei Stepachin, the Russian general of the FSB (Federal Security Service) simply informed the Patriarch of Constantinople, in 2017, of the creation of an antenna of the Imperial Orthodox Society of Palestine in Turkey. This latter works to recuperate or redeem places of worship on canonical territory of the Byzantine patriarchate. In France, we also know that the Orthodox cathedral of Nice, which was under the jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Constantinople, was taken away from it through the courts by the Russian state with the support of the patriarchate of Moscow. The Patriarch of Constantinople does not have much to lose since his authority is already constantly and publically questioned by the Patriarch of Moscow.
On the other hand, the advantage that the ecumenical patriarchate would gain from such a gesture is triple. For one thing, it would regulate 90% of the problem of the division of Orthodoxy within the second largest Orthodox nation in the world. It is well-known that ¾ of the 25 million Ukrainian Orthodox Christians are presently under the jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Kiev. Moreover, it is estimated that the remaining quarter part of the faithful (patriarchate of Moscow and the autocephalous Church) more than 75% would join this new assembly of bishops as is testified already by the transfer of parishes from the patriarchate of Moscow to the patriarchate of Kiev since 2014.
Secondly, that would enable the assembly of bishops to find protection from a state that would accept it (on the executive level as well as on the legislative), which would be ready to give it financial assistance and, above all, more breathing room than the Turkish government allows. Indeed, this government blocks all missionary activity to the point of refusing to return to the patriarchate its school of theology on the island of Halki. It can be added, in addition, that the Orthodox live with the myth that the ecclesial See of Constantinople did not fall in 1453 but only the imperial city, and this in spite of the painful evidence of the closing of the Cathedral of Saint Sophia, the end of the Church’s political privileges and the progressive shrinking of its ecclesial role in the Phanar. This refusal of reality is, above all, a sign of the incapability of Orthodox Christians to accept the role of history and human freedom in the mystery of the divine-humanity.
By having a contact with the Ukrainian Church the patriarch would also be able to advance his project of reformation within Orthodoxy. Let us imagine that the Churches of the Greek tradition have not always attained the level of consciousness of the 1917 Council of the Russian Church since they did not always recognize the decisions and orientations of this Council (elections of the bishops, ecumenical involvement, the translation of liturgical texts, the social commitment of the laity, etc.). This leads to the ridiculous situation where the bishops elected according to the rulings of the Council of Moscow and who are under the jurisdiction of Constantinople (the Russian parishes of the exarchate of France in Western Europe and also within the Orthodox Church in America in the United States) are not recognized by….the patriarchate of Constantinople.
Prophetic gestures are often productive over the long term. In the West, it was after they went to Avignon that the Roman popes really became powerful. Olivier Clement imagined an itinerant See for the Patriarch of Constantinople which would begin with the island of Patmos. Patriarch Athenagoras, when he presided at the opening of the Center of Chambesy, had, for a while, the same vision of organizing its federative mission of preparation for the Pan-Orthodox Council and of ecumenical witness before international institutions (United Nations, World Council of Churches) using Switzerland as its base. But the historical advantage of the Ukrainian Church over Greece and Switzerland is that this Church is its direct daughter, the living fruit of its missionary activity and a place of future reconciliation with the Church of Moscow.
Paradoxically, by leaving Istanbul and accepting to immerse itself into history, by facilitating the reopening of the worship in the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia of Kiev (with, very certainly, the support of the Greek Catholic Ukrainian Church which has never ceased to affirm its belonging to the Byzantine tradition), the patriarchate of Istanbul, which had not been able to prevent the closing of Hagia Sophia of Constantinople by the sultans, would really be able to actualize its role of primate of the whole Orthodox world…By recovering its liberty of action, it could also advance more firmly in its relationships of fraternity with the Protestant Churches and the Catholic Church.
Finally, by putting into place a post-ethnic governance of the Church as was proposed by the Fathers of the Council of Kolymbari, it would make possible not only to progressively put an end to the political-ethnic-religious conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but also to the disputes which tear apart other local Churches. After all, the geo-political dream of Orthodoxy can no longer be the Empire of Constantinople nor the eternal status of dhimmi (the status of non-Moslems in a Moslem state) nor even less a post-modern or neo-Russian version of Byzantine symphony – that unfortunate invention of Eusebius.
The geo-political vision of the Orthodox Church can only be that of an encounter with the Divine Wisdom, which is nothing other than the vision of Saint John the Evangelist in his Book of Revelation.
 A. Arjakovsky, Russia-Ukraine : From War to Peace ?, 2015: http://data.tsn.ua/files/Livre_en_anglais-libre.pdf
A. Arjakovsky, Russie-Ukraine : de la guerre à la paix? Paris, Parole et Silence, 2017; see also : A. Arjakovsky, Russie-Occident; comment sortir du conflit? Paris, Balland, 2017.
 In 2016 as a whole, 38.4% of the Ukrainians declared themselves members of the Orthodox patriarchate of Kiev whereas 17.4% declared that they belonged to the patriarchate of Moscow. But due to the fact of the so9viet history of the Ukraine, there are twice as many parishes registered as belonging to the patriarchate of Moscow (about 10,000) than to the patriarchate of Kiev. https://risu.org.ua/ua/ondex/expert_thought/open_theme/67281/