„Game of Patriarchal Thrones“ in Ukrainian Orthodoxy
On May 24, at the initiative of the Primate of the „Orthodox Church of Ukraine“ („OCU“) Epifaniy, „prompted by“ the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, the Holy Synod of the so-called „OCU“ was held, at which its participants discussed the situation in the Church after receiving autocephaly and the latest public statements and actions of the Honorary Patriarch of „OCU“ Filaret. According to the results of the Synod, its members did not allow, but only temporarily froze the split within the „OCU“, which was caused by the fundamentally different personal strategies of Bartholomew and Filaret.
The recognition of „OCU“, which was formed by a union of the schismatic UOC-KP and UAOC, was the first step towards the implementation of the long-term strategy of Patriarch Bartholomew, whose aim was to strengthen the position of the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate and to establish its own power over the other Local Churches.
The next step, according to Phanar’s plan, was that the Tomos granted by Bartholomew to Ukraine, was recognised by the other Local Churches. In accordance with the said Tomos, the „OCU“ was to abandon its overseas parishes and recognise the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate as its head, „like other patriarchs and primates“. The final step was to be – the consolidation of new rules of the game in World Orthodoxy, in which the Local Churches would recognise the unconditional primacy of the Phanar, limit their activities to national borders and gradually abandon foreign parishes and even entire metropolises (which is especially important for the Russian and Serbian Orthodox Churches) , in favour of Constantinople. As a result, Bartholomew would be transformed from the „Primus inter pares“ („first among equals”) into the de facto head of the Orthodox Church and thus acquire power comparable to that of the pope.
Judging by the latest public statements made by Filaret, he understood the strategy of the Patriarch of Constantinople very well, and was going to implement the former’s plans and ambitions for his own purposes. At the first stage, for the sake of obtaining autocephaly and returning to canonical status, Filaret refused an official post in the so-called „Orthodox Church of Ukraine“ („OCU“) and entered into a de facto conspiracy with the former President of Ukraine Poroshenko and the future Primate of the „OCU“ Epifaniy, according to which Epifaniy should only nominally (exclusively for the outside Orthodox world) administer the „OCU“, and where Poroshenko would guarantee the transition to the „new“ church, a significant number of parishes and churches belonging to the UOC-MP.
At the second stage, after full or partial recognition of the „OCU“ by the other Local Churches, Filaret was going to announce the revision of the conditions of the Tomos of Autocephaly as well as the Statute of the „OCU“ and the re-establishment of the Ukrainian „Kyivan Patriarchate“ under his leadership. Filaret’s reckoning was based on the fact that if the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate and other Local Churches recognise the „OCU“ they would then be very unwilling to publicly lose face by withdrawing their recognition. Furthermore, the newly re-elected President Poroshenko was to continue supporting the new church structure which was created with his personal participation, with all available power and administrative resources that he could muster.
After this, Filaret, at the head of the newly canonical and considerably larger Church, would then be able to proceed directly and achieve his innermost goal – the creation of a powerful new „centre of power“ in World Orthodoxy, commensurate in its influence and power with the Constantinople Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Guided by not only egoistic (strengthening personal power, unwarranted revenge against the Phanar and Moscow), but also by higher (strengthening the authority of the Ukrainian Church, disrupting the implementation of Bartholomew’s plans to reduce the role and influence of Local Churches) motives.
Thus, the goals of both Bartholomew and Filaret coincided during the first and second steps of their personal strategies but completely diverged at the final stage. However, the easily predictable conflict between the Patriarchs started much earlier. This false start was caused, first and foremost, by Poroshenko’s defeat in the Ukrainian Presidential elections, which forced Filaret to seek new allies within the state power structure. And, secondly, the loss of influence over the „OCU Primate“ Epifaniy by Filaret, „thanks to“ the Patriarch of Constantinople, who practically removed Filaret from the leadership position of the „OCU“.
As a result, Filaret earlier than planned, made volatile public statements in which he practically “showed all his cards”. The honorary patriarch of the so-called „OCU“, acknowledged the existence of a preliminary conspiracy between the Ukrainian authorities and Church hierarchs in order to obtain the Tomos, accused Poroshenko and Epifaniy of violating the agreements reached, and went on to declare himself the Patriarch of the current UOC-KP and proclaimed the need to revise the terms of the Tomos and the Charter of the „OCU“, and thereby retain for the Ukrainian church “three points that in the absence of which would take away the right of autocephality for our Church”: the title of Patriarch, foreign parishes and the right to boil myrrh.
In addition, Filaret accused Epifaniy of complete dependence upon Bartholomew and his Exarches, by accepting „a Tomos of separation and subordination to the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate instead of a Tomos of Unification in its place“, and supporting the Phanar in the „struggle for the destruction of the Kyiv Patriarchate as such“, which is part of the Big Game for the establishment of new rules for World Orthodoxy.
The main negative consequence of the “revelations” of Filaret was the actual split within the „OCU“, which places under a question mark, Bartholomew’s ostensibly commendable goal of uniting Ukrainian Orthodox faithful and the legitimacy of the Tomos itself which was granted by the Phanar.
However, these “revelations”, at the same time, played an important positive role, by forewarning a much more difficult situation that world Orthodoxy would have been immersed in as a result of this „Game of Patriarchal Thrones“. After all, if Bartholomew and Filaret didn’t prematurely “clash“ with each other, and had instead remained allies until the end of the second stage of their strategies, and had received recognition from at least a few Local Churches, the corresponding Primates and Synods would then have had to choose one of three extremely negative and destructive alternatives for World Orthodoxy: to withdraw their recognition and admit to making a mistake, would result in publicly losing face; or to “stand their ground” and support the Patriarch of Constantinople in his strategy where he would strengthen the power of the Phanar and reduce the role and influence of the Local Churches; or, thirdly, support the unrepentant Filaret in his struggle with Bartholomew for the restoration and strengthening of the position of the Ukrainian „Kyivan Patriarchate“ in its bid to secure its place among the largest Local Churches.