This op-ed appeared on June 17 at the Kyiv Post.
On June 14 and again on June 16, UNIAN reported on the latest episode in nonagenarian Filaret Denysenko’s campaign to destroy the canonical unity of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in the very first months of her infancy as an autocephalous Church. He purports to re-establish the so-called “Kyiv Patriarchate” at a “Council” on June 20—with himself, of course, as its head.
In Orthodoxy we have a name for such persons and their actions: schismatic.
Denysenko plays straight into the hands of Moscow and its bankrolled toadies around the Orthodox world who characterize the OCU as little more than a joke and Patriarch Bartholomew as the real schismatic, deserving removal from his position as Patriarch of Constantinople.
This turn of events was entirely predictable—and avoidable. In The patriarch has no clothes on January 26 and Time to depose the “patriarch” on May 14, I laid out the unfortunate ramifications of the OCU’s foolishness in allowing Denysenko to retain the title of Patriarch of Kyiv. Legally, the “Kyiv Patriarchate” ceased to exist in Ukrainian law on December 15 of last year, the date of the OCU’s Unification Council and the election of Metropolitan Epiphanius as the new Primate.
Canonically, the “Kyiv Patriarchate” never existed.
The actions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on October 11 of last year to restore the hierarchy, bishops, and laity of both the “Kyiv Patriarchate” and the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” to communion, and on January 5-6 of this year to grant autocephaly to the newly unified Ukrainian Church, legitimized neither the past existence of a “Patriarchate” in Ukraine nor Denysenko’s past or present patriarchal fantasies. The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s announcement in October stated unambiguously that these two bodies and their respective hierarchy, clergy, and laity had been in schism.
Two weeks ago, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople clarified yet again the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s position in remarks to the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine:
As we have maintained, there are no more schismatics in Ukraine because they have been restored to communion with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church…. As for Filaret, he was restored to his episcopal dignity as former Metropolitan of Kyiv. The so-called “Patriarchate of Kyiv” does not exist and never existed. …[I]t is the responsibility of the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphanius, to lead this historic Church….
My Orthodox friends and colleagues who support the project of Ukraine’s political and ecclesiastical independence from Moscow are willing to give Denysenko a pass for his schism of 1992. Even if it meant being out of communion with the Orthodox Church for an indeterminate length of time, by any metric the Ukrainian Church had little choice but to separate from the Moscow Patriarchate, given that the latter has served as the Kremlin’s stooge from early Soviet times to the present Putin era. The Ecumenical Patriarchate seems to have understood this when it restored both of Ukraine’s schismatic churches to communion—without exacting any kind of “penance” from them—and granted autocephaly to the newly unified Church. The fact that the Ukrainian Church submitted herself to Constantinople for resolution of her status constituted repentance enough for this long-suffering people.
(For a scholarly account of the Ukrainian Church’s tortuous path to autocephaly see The Orthodox Church in Ukraine: A Century of Separation by Nicholas Denysenko—who assures me that he’s no relation to Filaret!)
At the same time, the Ukrainian Church’s supporters around the Orthodox world have grown frustrated beyond endurance by Denysenko’s obstinate refusal to see his work as complete and graciously to exit the stage to spend his final days in prayer and quiet. In an ironic twist worthy of a Greek tragedy he is proving to be his own undoing. Rather than secure his legacy as the shepherd who led his flock to this important turning point in its life, he will be remembered in future history books as the senile egomaniac who set out to destroy the fruits of his own labours.
That the Holy Synod of the OCU has threatened participants in the upcoming “Council” with canonical discipline shows some spine. Yet more is needed. Denysenko must be suspended immediately from all official functions until he repents of his schismatic activities. If he fails to come to his senses, then he must be permanently deposed from holy orders and evicted—by legal remedies, if necessary—from the church properties that he occupies.
He will have only brought his misfortunes down on his own head.
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Giacomo Sanfilippo is an Orthodox Christian of Ukrainian and Lemko descent on his mother’s side, PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, founding editor of Orthodoxy in Dialogue, and contributor of religious commentary at the Kyiv Post.