After a struggle of 330 years, a united Ukrainian Orthodox Church will return to Kyiv. The Ecumenical Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople, Bartholomew I, has made this clear. The authority of the church in Moscow over Ukraine was usurped, and it will now be brought to an end.
On April 23, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey) accepted an appeal for the granting of a “tomos” (an official church document) about the autocephalous of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Ukraine is asking for its own united, Orthodox church with its Metropolis (seat) in Kyiv. Ukraine would be regaining what it had for seven centuries, from 988 when Kyivan Rus’ was first christianized to 1688 when the Russian Orthodox Church usurped the Metropolitan of Kyiv.
Patriarch Bartholomew is making no secret of what the decision of the Holy Synod will be. On July 2, the head of the Eastern Orthodox Churches made his sentiments known when he said “as the Mother Church, it is reasonable to desire the restoration of unity for the divided ecclesiastical body in Ukraine.” Patriarch Bartholomew did not mince words when he said that the control of the Moscow church over Ukraine was illegitimate: “Let us not forget that Constantinople never ceded the territory of Ukraine to anyone by means of some ecclesiastical Act.” By uniting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under a self-governing Kyiv Metropolitan, the parent church in Constantinople is righting a historical wrong. Annexation of the Metropolitan of Kyiv to the church in Moscow “in no way occurred according to the binding canonical regulations, nor was the agreement respected concerning the full ecclesial independence of the Metropolitan of Kyiv,” said Patriarch Bartholomew.
When the Tomas of Autocephaly is granted, two churches will unite into one: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
The Moscow Patriarchate will no longer be able to call itself the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church.” Land and churches and monasteries that were illegitimately held under the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church” name in Ukraine will be returned to the true owners, which will be the unified and autocephalous church that is recognized by Constantinople. Patriarch Filaret, Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, has said that is it “unnatural” for Ukrainian shrines to be managed by a Moscow-controlled church. Kyiv Percherska Lavra – a jewel in the heart of the city of Kyiv – “will be transferred to the Ukrainian local Orthodox Church in due time,” said Patriarch Filaret.
Dethroning the foreign Muscovy church in Ukraine is happening now because Russia is invading Ukraine. The Moscow Patriarchate is generally believed in Ukraine to be not a genuine church at all, but instead an artifact of the Kremlin for social and political control. When it comes to Ukraine, the Moscow church headed by Vladimir Gundyayev is a major weapon of hybrid warfare. Moscow Patriarchate clergy have have been hostile to their Ukrainian parishioners wishing to defend themselves and their country from Russian aggression. The so-called “Ukrainian Orthodox Church” has taken sides against Ukraine and against its own flock. Russian invader-occupiers in Crimea and in the part of Donbas Putin’s army controls are persecuting all religions except Orthodox churches adhering to the Moscow Patriarchate. Muslims, Kyiv Patriarchate adherents, and evangelical Christians have been singled out by the brutal occupation regime and subjected to abuses of international human rights.
A genuine, united Orthodox church with its seat in Kyiv will be an astounding victory for Ukraine. A true Ukrainian Orthodox Church will not be the state church of Ukraine – there will be no such thing, and Ukraine will continue to guarantee the freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. The church will be a national home for believers.
A genuine, united Ukrainian Orthodox church with its seat wrested from Moscow will be a devastating defeat for the Putin regime. Putin and Gundyayev will lose the “hearts and minds” weapons they had over the Ukrainian people, whom they denigrated as the “Malorossiyans”: the “Little Russians.” The Kremlin will lose a weapon of oppression it has wielded for 330 years. As Russia’s bloody war against Ukraine drags on into its fifth year, Putin is about to suffer a major defeat not on the battlefield but in a church synod. The church of the Russian occupation is on the way out. The church of true Orthodox believers returning to Ukraine.