In The patriarch has no clothes on January 26, I laid out for the readers of the Kyiv Post [and for the readers of Orthodoxy in Dialogue here] the ecclesiastical irregularities of allowing 90-year old egomaniac and former KGB agent Filaret Denysenko to retain the title of “Patriarch” and the silly hat that goes with it in the Russian (not Ukrainian) tradition. To restate the obvious, there has never existed—at any time in the history of the Orthodox Church—a canonically recognized “Kyiv Patriarchate” or “Patriarch of Kyiv.” In granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) on January 5-6, 2019, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople expressly designated the Ukrainian Church by its historical status as a “metropolitanate,” and its primate by the historical title of “Metropolitan of Kyiv.” Denysenko’s patriarchal fantasies remain unrecognized by anyone anywhere in the Orthodox Church outside of his diminishing circle of sycophants.
The OCU has itself to blame for this mess. Not only did they permit Denysenko to retain the title of “Patriarch,” but made him a full member of the Holy Synod and ruling bishop of the Diocese of Kyiv—thus ensuring that he continue to be called not only Patriarch, but Patriarch of Kyiv. In this fanciful capacity he continues to function as senior to Metropolitan Epiphanius, the rightful highest ranking bishop of the OCU. It was Denysenko who first congratulated President-elect Zelensky on behalf of the Ukrainian Church following last month’s runoff election. Indeed Denysenko seems to ignore Metropolitan Epiphanius’ existence entirely.
How does the OCU justify this slap in the face to the person of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who continues to endure fierce opposition around the Orthodox world for his heroic efforts to liberate the Ukrainian Church canonically from her Russian overlords?
Predictably, things have come to a head. On May 10 the Religious Information Service of Ukraine reported (here, here, here, and here) on the escalating conflict between Denysenko and Metropolitan Epiphanius, and the appeals of the clergy and laity of the OCU for Denysenko to stand down from his divisive pretensions and destructive activities. On May 13 Interfax-Ukraine posted a brief report on Denysenko being in open rebellion against the OCU, Metropolitan Epiphanius, and by extension, Patriarch Bartholomew. Earlier today UNIAN reported that Denysenko’s “coup” seems destined to fail from lack of support from the Ukrainian bishops.
In the Orthodox Church no bishop—not even the Patriarch of Constantinople—is above the Holy Synod to which he belongs. The Synod collectively has authority over each of its member bishops, including its Primate, not vice versa. This makes the solution to this dilemma of the OCU Synod’s own making quite simple, but one requiring courage on the part of Metropolitan Epiphanius and the whole body of the episcopate over which he presides as Primate of the Ukrainian Church. Denysenko must be forcibly retired as “former Metropolitan of Kyiv” (his last title in the canonical Church) and assigned to a life of quiet outside of the public eye in a suitable monastery. As the new Metropolitan of Kyiv and Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Epiphanius himself must assume the role of ruling bishop of the Diocese of Kyiv.
If Denysenko refuses to comply, the Holy Synod has one more canonical step that it can take: it can depose (defrock) him from holy orders and reduce him to the status of a simple monk with no priestly or episcopal functions at all. In the most extreme case he can even be removed from the monastic order and made a simple layman.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine has come too far to be sabotaged by a narcissistic nonagenarian who can’t see past his fancy Russian chapeau. The time to act decisively is now. Metropolitan Epiphanius has more support around the world than he probably realizes.
For the good of the Church, for the good of the faithful, for the good of the Ukrainian nation, the time to act is now.
This article appeared earlier today as an op-ed at the Kyiv Post.
See the extensive Ukraine section in our Archives by Author and Giacomo Sanfilippo’s personal archive at the Kyiv Post.
Giacomo Sanfilippo is a PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, founding editor at Orthodoxy in Dialogue, and contributor of religious commentary at the Kyiv Post.