Orthodoxy in Dialogue has shown unstinting support for the recent grant of autocephaly to the Metropolitanate of Kyiv (Orthodox Church of Ukraine) by the Patriarchate of Constantinople (see the extensive Ukraine section in our Archives)—yet not without serious questions and occasional criticisms for each ecclesiastical bureaucracy and its respective Primate when warranted.
The following astonishing and frankly embarrassing report appeared earlier today on the Panorthodox Synod website with the title Metropolitan Epiphanios of Kyiv and All Ukraine to Receive the 2019 Athenagoras Human Rights Award. We republish it here with editorial interpolations of our own.
Elie Wiesel, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, together with Archon National Commander Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, will present the Athenagoras Human Rights Award to His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphanios of Kyiv and All Ukraine at the New York Hilton Midtown on October 19, 2019. Metropolitan Epiphanios has been a strong advocate for religious freedom and a key defender of the ecclesiastical and canonical prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
So much to unpack in two short sentences.
Archbishop Elpidophoros, “elected” in Istanbul to his current position in America with no regard for the religious freedom of the hierarchy, clergy, and laity of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (nor of the member hierarchs of the multi-jurisdictional Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA, of which he became ex officio president by fiat from Istanbul)—not only without consultation with or the consent of the Greek Archdiocese, but against its express wishes—authored The Ecumenical Patriarch: First without Equals in February 2014. In it he promotes a disturbingly autocratic, outdatedly Roman-style vision of primacy which finds resonance nowhere in modern Orthodox ecclesiology. Any reference to “the ecclesiastical and canonical prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patiarchate” must be read in the context of what appears to be the Phanar’s naked ambition for unquestioned authority in the worldwide Orthodox Church.
The Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America comprise a male-only lay organization of honourees designated by the Ecumenical Patriarch. They appear to function as the Patriarchate’s public relations/damage control arm and, when necessary, attack dogs. As we reported in Orthodoxy in America: Broken Promises and Shattered Dreams?: “In May , Steve Efstathios Valiotis received an honourary doctorate from Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline MA. In his acceptance speech he called for the autocephaly of the American Church—a presumably uncontroversial remark, ecclesiologically and canonically, especially given the stated purpose of the Assembly of Bishops over which Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese presides. The…Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America…issued a swift condemnation of Valiotis’ remarks as an attack against the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
From 2009 to 2018 Metropolitan Epiphanius, virtually unknown outside of Ukraine during this time, was a bishop in the uncanonical Kyiv Patriarchate. He has been a canonical bishop only since October 2018, and the Primate of the autocephalous Church of Ukraine only since January 2019. It is entirely unclear when and how he has distinguished himself with a personal record as “a strong advocate for religious freedom and a key defender of the ecclesiastical and canonical prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros hailed the choice:
His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphanios has been a staunch defender of the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, even as its prerogatives have been challenged and even rejected outright by some, and as it has been placed under tremendous pressure from others. In Ukraine he has already provided the Solomon-like wisdom that was needed to reunify the Church, return to Eucharistic unity, and establish it as an integral member of the group of autocephalous Orthodox Churches worldwide.
Is Metropolitan Epiphanius to be feted for his defense of religious freedom, or “the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?” Has he, in his ten months as a canonical bishop, or his seven months as Primate of the Ukrainian Church, appealed to the secular authorities of Turkey to relax its many restrictions on the Phanar’s religious freedom? Where can we find his record as a “staunch defender?” Surely the Ecumenical Patriarchate cannot be framing the Church’s overwhelming rejection of its actions in Ukraine to date—a completely internal, ecclesiastical matter among autocephalous Churches—as a violation of its “religious freedom!”
Notably, when Archbishop Elpidophoros called on Donald Trump for a photo-op recently, he expressed no concern whatever for the Administration’s flagrant human rights abuses toward everyone everywhere—especially toward defenseless children in cages at the US-Mexico border—but thanked Trump for honouring his enthronement and for “his sincere support to the sacred institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.” At all times the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s number one concern seems to be its own sacred self and the deference shown to its “ecclesiastical and canonical prerogatives.”
As for Metropolitan Epiphanius’ “Solomon-like wisdom that was needed to reunify the Church, return to Eucharistic unity, and establish it as an integral member of the group of autocephalous Orthodox Churches worldwide:” a). the two competing, schismatic Ukrainian groups were readmitted to communion by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in October 2018, when Epiphanius was primate of neither, and after which they continued to exist as separate churches for another two months; b). Epiphanius’ role at the Unification Council of December 2018 consisted of being elected Primate; and c). as inconvenient a truth as this is, the negotiations which culminated in the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church were conducted, not between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and any Ukrainian ecclesiastics (least of all Metropolitan Epiphanius), but between the Patriarchate and then President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko.
In recognizing Metropolitan Epiphanios’ long record of defense of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, National Commander Limberakis noted:
“Long” record? How long is “long?” How has Epiphanius “defended” the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and who has paid any attention to it?
Immediately after the successful completion of the work of the Unifying Synod which was convened in Kyiv in December 2018 and which chose Metropolitan Epiphanios as the Primate of the autocephalous and newly unified Orthodox Church in Ukraine, His Beatitude contacted His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in order to express his respect and to request the good wishes and blessings of the Mother Church so that his primatial ministry would bear good fruit. This epitomized His Beatitude’s understanding of the canonical position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Church, and his deep respect and love for His All-Holiness.
It’s unclear how contacting the Patriarch from whom you expect to receive a tomos of autocephaly stands out as particularly praiseworthy—and how it merits a Human Rights Award!
Metropolitan Epiphanios was elected by bishops from Ukraine’s three divided Orthodox Churches at a unity council on December 15, 2018. Then on January 6 [sic], 2019, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew signed the Tomos of Autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, formally establishing the world’s fifteenth autocephalous Orthodox Church.
Ukraine’s “three divided Orthodox Churches?” Which three? There were almost zero participants at the Unification Council from the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine headed by Metropolitan Onuphrius of Kiev. (Russified spelling of Kyiv deliberate.)
The Athenagoras Human Rights Award was established in 1986 by the National Council of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America. The Award was named after one of the great Church leaders of the 20th Century, the late Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I. The Award is presented every year at the Annual Banquet of the Order to a person or organization that has consistently exemplified by action, purpose and dedication, concern for the basic rights and religious freedom of all people.
Not to belabour the point, but how has Metropolitan Epiphanius “consistently” (for the past ten months? seven months?) “exemplified by action, purpose and dedication, concern for the basic rights and religious freedom of all people?”
Does “all people” include Ukraine’s own LGBTQ citizens? See our Nationalist Extremism the Tragic Bane of Orthodoxy Everywhere for a report on the apparently cozy relationship between perpetrators of anti-LGBTQ violence in Ukraine and Metropolitan Epiphanius.
Previous recipients include His Eminence Demetrios, former Archbishop of America; His Eminence Iakovos, former Archbishop of the Archdiocese of North and South America; former President Jimmy Carter; former President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush; former Vice President Joseph Biden; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; Nobel Laureate and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev; Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel; and Mother Theresa [sic] of Calcutta.