While Orthodoxy in Dialogue continues to support the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as an ecclesological, pastoral, and political necessity, Ms. Lomidze’s brief report underscores the conundrum that it presents for the Church of Georgia and the other autocephalous Churches.
We have argued previously that the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the 21st century—almost six centuries after the fall of Constantinople and twelve centuries after the last Ecumenical Council—must be formulated through ecclesial consensus and not by autocratic decree from the Phanar. (See, for instance, our Editorial: Orthodox Popery Comes to America? or Time for a Greek Orthodox Revolt in America?.)
Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II of All Georgia
The Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church is about to convene in the next few days. A group of hierarchs allegedly led by Metropolitan Daniel of Chiatura and Sachkhere is up to discuss the recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which was established in Kyiv in December 2018 and received autocephalous status from the Ecumenical Patriarch on January 5-6, 2019.
Constantinople is especially interested in the OCU’s recognition. If recognized, Metropolitan Epiphanius and his organization can augment the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s power in the Orthodox world, weaken the Moscow Patriarchate’s influence, and allow the Patriarch of Constantinople to make decisions on extremely important matters for Orthodoxy by his sole authority.
Local Churches are in doubt: despite pressure, none of them has recognized the OCU yet. How could autocephaly have been granted to the Ukrainian Church if it still lacks unity, and some parishes seize the churches of other parishes? Why was autocephaly granted solely by Patriarch Bartholomew, without any discussion with the other local Churches? Why there was so much haste with the Tomos, and why did it happen shortly before the electoral campaign of Ukraine’s former president, Petro Poroshenko? Could Ukrainian autocephaly cause a schism in the Orthodox world? These and other questions were addressed to Constantinople delegations by local Churches before and after the OCU was established.
Some local Churches have opposed Patriarch Bartholomew’s policy—including the Patriarchate of Antioch, which once granted autocephaly to the Georgian Orthodox Church, and the Patriarchate of Serbia, which claimed that the OCU hierarchy does not have canonical succession. Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus and Archbishop Anastasios of Albania asked Patriarch Bartholomew to convene the Synaxis of Primates, but he firmly refused.
The OCU’s future is uncertain. The relations between the groups which formed it are unstable. Even now there is a conflict between Filaret Denysenko, the honorary patriarch of the OCU, and its formal head, Metropolitan Epiphanius. This conflict undermines the OCU’s unity and could lead to its breakup in the near future.
If the Georgian Orthodox Church recognizes the OCU, it won’t be able to deal independently with its own issues. Abkhazians have already asked to be allowed to join the Ecumenical Patriarchate and receive the status of autonomy. Metropolitan Emmanuel of France once hinted to the Catholicos-Patriarch at the fact that the Abkhazian plea can get a positive answer if the Georgian Church doesn’t support Constantinople. But now Constantinople claims to have the right to grant autocephaly anywhere around the world. If we recognize the OCU, we will let the Greeks into the canonical territory of the Georgian Church.
During the previous meeting of Constantinople hierarchs with Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II in Tbilisi, one of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s representatives, Metropolitan Amphilochios of Adrianopolis, is said to have begun his speech with the words: “There is an opinion that the Orthodox Church is led by Jesus Christ. But in fact the Church is led by the Ecumenical Patriarch.” The Catholicos-Patriarch seems to disagree with this statement. Those Orthodox hierarchs who are famous for their spiritual experience and the purity of their edifying life also disagree—for example, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, who restored his Church after communist repressions, and who is already considered to be a saint by many Greeks.
The Orthodox Church has never followed the suit of the Roman Catholic Church. But those of spiritual clarity understand that the Orthodox Church is facing a new, large-scale threat, and the Ukrainian issue is only a part of it.
See the extensive Ukraine section in our Archives by Author.
Tamar Lomidze is a journalist and member of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Her articles in English have appeared at Orthodoxy Cognate Page Media Network. She resides in Tbilisi.