Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine

Anthropological Dimensions, Ecclesiological Foundations and Present Challenges
Fr. Dr. Jaroslaw Buciora

St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Toronto, Canada

Fr. Dr. Jaroslaw Buciora

Fr. Dr. Jaroslaw Buciora


The question of ecclesiology in the life of the Orthodox Church requires new attention among contemporary Orthodox theologians. The accumulation of ecclesial problems within the local Orthodox Churches doesn’t allow the leaders of the Orthodox Church the luxury of postponing or ignoring this very difficult subject. Such issues as the unrecognized local Orthodox Churches in the Balkans, the problem of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in the USA, and the overlapping of jurisdictions in the USA, Canada, and Western Europe – are the strongest evidence of the crisis in the field of ecclesiology. There is a strong belief among Orthodox theologians that the next Ecumenical Council will have to deal with these questions in order to prevent further deterioration of the ecclesial life of the Orthodox Church.

One of these complex contemporary problems within Orthodoxy is the division of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and her autocephaly. For a variety of reasons, the question of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has to be given the highest priority as the escalation of the division deepens the rift in the largest local Orthodox Church in the world.

Any discussion of autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine must include such issues as the history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a Metropolia of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, current politicization of inter-Orthodox relations within the life of the Orthodox Church, and the mechanism by which autocephaly is granted to the particular local Church. One of the fundamental questions, rarely discussed within the Orthodox Church, is the anthropo-ecclesiological dimension of autocephaly in the life of the local Church. Because of the importance of this theme, in this paper particular attention will be paid to the fundamental principles of autocephaly from the anthropological perspective within the ecclesiological framework of theology.

This concentration on the subject of anthropo-ecclesiological elements in the theme of autocephaly will include a variety of anthropological elements that are essential to the discussion. The analysis will lead us to the main ecclesiological foundations of autocephaly as it is understood in the contemporary theological thought of the Orthodox Church, as well as to those anthropological characteristics of autocephaly in the ecclesiological principles of the Orthodox Church that are essential for the proper understanding of autocephaly. The final outcome of this analysis will be applied to the contemporary situation of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

There is a limited number of studies on autocephaly that include the anthropological dimension on autocephaly. Also, account must be taken of the sensitivity of the subject of autocephaly among the local Orthodox Churches, especially in the last two centuries. Nevertheless, the anthropological factor is essential for further theological discussion and analysis. It is hoped that this analysis will contribute to the understanding of this contemporary ecclesiological difficulty.

Anthropological Dimensions

Besides the politics and intrusive ideological imperatives of outside power in the life of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, a more comprehensive analysis brings forward something deeply profound. The subject belongs to Orthodox anthropology, which emphasizes the fundamental principles of human integrity and free will. The gift of free will from God to man gives him the possibility to become fully authentic. In the gift of “free will”, there lies the greatness of the invitation of God, Who calls man to theosis: transformation. From the theological perspective, the importance of the free will of humankind is so crucial that without it the entire anthropology, soteriology, and other fields of Orthodox theology would not exist. If man is not able to exercise his basic principles of freedom in any sphere of Church life, he ceases to be what God intended him to be: a human being that is free to participate in the salvific event of Christ. The lack of free will makes him a machine or a computer, but not necessarily a “crown of God’s creation” who is called to become the “likeness of God”. It must not be forgotten that even sin depends totally on the exercise of human free choice.

Without going into a deeper analysis of the importance of free will, the subject also includes a personal orientation in philosophy, politics, culture, and other factors. Although not all of them are directly related to the field of theology, they are essential elements for the upbringing of an individual. All of them create the mosaic of human nature and as such they are crucial for the development of human personality. They define the integrity of a person in time, space, and environment. Those elements define the existence of a specific person in a specific reality. They have a tremendous importance in the context of a specific collective identity of persons as a nation or an ethnic group. The development of a personal identity of a people, which is being presented through nation, language, culture, philosophy, is a part of our Orthodox mentality. A member of an ecclesial community is born as a member of a particular religion and complex contextual culture, which create his identity. All of these elements are an integral part of the development of the theology of sainthood. The placement of sainthood in the contextual locality incarnates the elements of the contextual life.

Authentication of an ethnic group or a nation presupposes an acknowledgement on the part of the others. There is a need for recognition that the other exists with the same privileges and rights as one’s own. Orthodox anthropology helps the nation to define itself as unique and living a theology in accord with its own cultural and contextual experience. This leads not to a diversity of theology, but rather to a diversity of settings. The diversity of the local Churches that includes the diversity of the anthropological character of humanity never eradicates the oneness of faith, dogma, sacraments. There is a unity of faith, but not a uniformity of the local characteristic of the Church. Surrounded by privileges and obligations, man moves towards God within the context of a local Church.

If this analysis is applied to the current situation in Ukraine, it is evident that the people of Ukraine also are exercising their basic anthropological privileges for self-determination. It is hard to accept the idea that nationalism is the main component of unrest in the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. While the excessive or extreme form of nationalism known as phyletism (from Greek phylos as race or tribe) was condemned by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1872, the Orthodox Church values the aspect of nationhood and loyalty to its own people. The variety of registered faiths and Christian denominations in Ukraine demonstrates the ability of people of Ukraine to accept others to coexist and to live in peace. The capability to live according to the fundamental principles of Orthodox theology shows that the Ukrainian nation is worthy of its call for acceptance. The recognition of the others is so fundamental and intrinsic for Ukrainians that it is codified by Ukrainian legislation as “Freedom of Consciousness and Religious Organizations”. This legislation allows free choice of religion for every citizen of Ukraine. This is an indication of greatness of the Ukrainian nation: to love their native land but at the same time to be always generous, open to acceptance, humble and kenotic. The acceptance of others, according to Orthodox theology, is necessary for an authentic Christian faith that requires unconditional love. The love for God expands the parameters towards the love for the other. The recognition and respect of people’s freedom of conscience becomes an integral part of faith of the nation. From this perspective, Ukrainians live according to an authentic anthropological vision of man.

The self-determination of the people of Ukraine for their existence as a nation, according to the above anthropological elements, follows the theological formula of the Orthodox Church. Nationality is a God-given reality that ought to be respected. People of Ukraine exercise their rights that are fundamental for Orthodox anthropology. Orthodox anthropological teaching allows for Ukrainians to pray to God in their own language, using their own traditions and culture.

If the elements of culture, language, and tradition are essential elements of human anthropology and they are crucial for the development of human free will, they are also characteristic of Orthodox theology. The unity of the Church is characterized by the variety of national identities, mentalities, languages, and cultures. They are the expressions of a unique and particular articulation for the celebration of the Glory of God that is characteristic of the local Eucharistic community. It is exactly this unique way of worship of God that gave Ukraine a “choir of saints” that we venerate in our daily prayers. The uniqueness of this local worship of God is necessary in order to cultivate the local living saints who would provide spiritual guidance and unity for the local people. In this particular context, there is no theology that is not culturally conditioned. According to contemporary Orthodox thought, ecclesiology is always bound up with the locality and particular local identity. The Church is incarnated into various cultures in order to anticipate the Kingdom of God. For contemporary theological thought, these preserved spiritual traditions are defined as necessary cultural vessels of divine wisdom. Orthodox theology is not only a result of the religious experience of a unique relationship with God, but it is also a product of a cultural matrix of Orthodoxy that investigates local problems and looks for solutions. Another example that can be used is Orthodox Church music which is based on the particular context of the locality of a composer. In general, the mosaic of saints of the local Church of Ukraine demonstrates the “genius ability” of people to use them and their contextual life experience to develop their specific call to become an image and likeness of God.

The briefly presented elements of Orthodox anthropology have a profound implication on the context of the ecclesiology: teaching of the nature of the Church. If all of the elements presented above are essential for the Christian anthropology, they must also be characteristic of Orthodox ecclesiology. It is important to recognize that in Orthodox theology, Church is never associated with indifference or excessive detachments that are integral parts of the horror of the modern world. Therefore, anthropology is never separated or discussed separately from the other fields of theology, especially from ecclesiology. They are always intertwined and constantly dependent on each other. As a consequence, using a liturgical illustration, the Body of Christ that is contained in the Eucharistic chalice is embraced by the elements of human facets of life. It is the people of the particular local Church of a particular land that shape and give a particular character to the chalice without altering the Body of Christ. The Eucharistic chalice unifies people of the same faith. The chalice becomes the peoples’ authentic gift to God in order for the Body of Christ to be given to the members of the local Church. As such, the local Church is the foundation for the further discussion of the subject of autocephaly.

The incarnation of the authenticity of the local Church is the Ignatian vision of the local Church, where the bishop brings the Eucharistic offering to God on behalf of all people. In the presence of a bishop celebrating the Eucharist, people manifest their readiness to enter into a relationship with God. The bishop, who is the head of the local Church, authenticates in his Eucharistic action the personal aspirations of all local people. All the characteristic elements of local anthropology are personified and transformed in the Eucharistic context in and of the local Church. The Holy Eucharist is always inclusive since the human aspect is never obliterated or forgotten. The Eucharist not only unifies diversity but also sanctifies otherness. In another way, if the Eucharist celebrated in its local Church excludes in one way or another those of different race, nationality, philosophy, ideology, sex, age, profession, it is a false Eucharist and it is definitely a false unity. The Church which in the celebration of the Eucharist discriminates between races, ideologies, social classes, ethnic identities etc., fails to present the Kingdom of God and violates the eschatological nature of its existence. In effect, the authentic Church doesn’t have any geographical, ideological or temporal limitations. As a result, man also cannot be limited to the time and space of our age. The fullness of life that is achieved in the Holy Trinity never departs from this fundamental ecclesiological principle. The conciliar aspect of the Orthodox Church always includes in itself all the nations and their authenticity.

It is also a negation of Orthodox anthropology not to allow people to approach the Holy Eucharist in their authentic contextual character. National, cultural, and other characters of the people of the local Church enrich the experience of faith. We can never forget that a member of a local Church is born as a member of a particular people, culture, or nation, which creates his identity. The Eucharistic synaxis is a mode of being that incarnates this historic and cultural character. While the Holy Eucharist sanctifies and embraces an anthropological and contextual character of people of a local Church, their Christian and ethnic identities are always internally authenticated. According to contemporary Orthodox thought, because the local Church always includes cultural, linguistic, social, national, and other identities of the specific place, each local Church is unique. Even more powerfully, A.M. Buchariew has emphatically stated that in the local context, culture is also an indication of the presence of the Holy Spirit. In this cultural expression we are transported to the realm of the Divine presence. Negation of culture or rejection of the cultural creativity of people equals the limitation of the liturgy of mind and heart. According to Paul Evdokimov, the culture of a nation, taken in a context of spiritual life, becomes a doxology. As man is created in the image and likeness of God, culture is the icon of the Heavenly Kingdom. In the elaborations of other Orthodox theologians, the cultures of humanity have to be understood as building blocks of the Heavenly Kingdom. If the identity of a people is unique and authenticated by the particular way of life, the participation in the Body of Christ completes it and sanctifies it in an incarnational reality. Orthodoxy sees in a particular culture a source of redemptive revelation of God. It must be stated that from the Orthodox perspective, personal development is a constant process and this can be preserved and continued only by a constant spiritual effort. Without entering the eschatological sphere, the cultural reality of a local context has a tremendous implication on the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church.

Тhe contemporary discussion on the ecclesial situation in Ukraine should be directed towards the basic elements of Christian anthropology. If people do not exercise their freedom in their journey towards union with God, they become enslaved in a trap of something that does not belong to them. Instead of allowing them to discover themselves in their own authentic way and recognize their call towards sainthood in their particular contextual, cultural, linguistic, traditional, and national identity environment, the attempt is made to create an artificial life form that can’t reach its final destiny. The ideological entrapment of the Ukrainian nation in the “Concept of the Russian World” that does not develop its particular local relationship with God creates a generation of slaves that cannot identify itself, create, or develop its own unique way of glorifying God. The cultural, ideological, linguistic, or any other enslavement of the nation is truly un-Christian and, as a result, the authentic Christian anthropology is severely disabled. The only term that describes this state of life is an existential ghetto of humanoids. One of the recent examples is the ideology of Communism, where otherness was severely deformed. It is no wonder that Wolfgang von Goethe, the German philosopher, would talk in this kind of environment about the death of God. In the existential ghetto of sub-anthropology there is no incarnation of God, as there is no one to be saved. There is no need for the Church, as there is no recognition for the need of healing from the consequences of fallen humanity. The main aspect of salvation of the Christian theology is the liberation of humanity from the trap of continual death and enslavement of sin. For Orthodox theology, salvation is always all-embracing of all aspects of human life. If man does not respond to the salvific call of Christ in his contextual environment, his response is not authentic. As a result, an authentic Orthodox theology calls for the celebration of anthropological characteristics of man without any traps of human ideology or category of thinking.

Ecclesiological Foundations of Autocephaly

Every autocephaly identifies a subject of a particular context: culture, language, tradition, that are essential for fostering faith and belief in a particular local Church context. A local Church must embrace all those elements of anthropology in order to be truly local. There exists a diversity in unity among local Churches. Аll the rights, customs, and traditions are to be protected from violation or transgression by Canon 8 of the 3rd Ecumenical Council, Canon 39 of the Council of Trullo, and Canon 1 of St. Basil the Great. All of the elements are embraced by autocephaly as an intrinsic component of a particular nation of the local Church. As a result, the creativity of free will of every member of the Church is integral for their authenticity. In Orthodox theological thought the elements of anthropology are being identified by autocephaly in order to present the contextual reality for transformation and sanctification. The creativity of the free will of a people of a local Church is never suppressed or eradicated as this would equal the destruction of the personal character of every individual. In Orthodox theological thought, people cannot be forced to believe. Faith has to be founded on the liberty of choice. In the context of autocephaly, the diversity of creativity of all the members of the Church is being identified in order to bring the totality of life of the people to God.

From another perspective, autocephaly is not a destiny or a final goal of the local Church, but a life-giving possibility that allows people to express their longing for God according to specific conditions. The same can be said about a culture that should never serve as a goal in itself, but as a tool for achieving union with God. Autocephaly cannot serve as a tool for nationalistic superiority or territorial hegemony. Also, autocephaly should never be seen as a political ideology that protects the goals and aspirations of the elite. Moreover autocephaly should never be seen as static and not-expandable. This is one of the reasons why autocephaly could be given to a particular local Church, or temporarily withdrawn, as in the case of the Orthodox Church in Georgia, Church of Trnovo, Church of Ohryd, and Church of Iberia. The creation of a new autocephalous Church never changes the boundaries of a local Church, which in Orthodox theology is continually episcopocentric. In Eucharistic ecclesiology, autocephaly will always be external since the authenticity of the existence of a Church is found in the Eucharistic context. For Orthodox theological thought, a local Church -that is, an eparchy with a bishop as a guarantor of the unity -has been understood ecclesiologically as “autocephalous” from the days of the Early Church. This condition is strongly defined by St. Cyprian who wrote,

“The Catholic Church is one, inseparable and indivisible, and for this cause must be united into a whole through the mutual spiritual bond of the bishops.”

As such, autocephaly is an authentic gathering of the bishops of the particular locality where all the elements of the local anthropological character are safeguarded and authenticated as the intrinsic elements of the life of the Church. The autocephaly of the local Church is the manifestation of the Body of Christ that is celebrated in the context of the locality of the particular nation. The unifying link is not the superiority of the nationality, but a transforming reality of the celebration of the Eucharist with all of the characteristic contextual anthropological elements. An autocephaly safeguards the local contextual condition in order for the local Church to continue its eschatological essence. There is one very characteristic element that is crucial to remember. As autocephaly safeguards the contextual character of the Church, it is always initiated from within the living Eucharistic local Church. Although autocephaly doesn’t change the internal character of the Church, the initiation of the process belongs to the core life of the Church. Autocephaly can’t be imposed by another local Church, as it would violate the boundaries of the locality of the particular Church. The process in itself is an ecclesial local movement of life towards the progression of its external life within the context of the anthropological life of the faithful. Autocephaly, as a process, acknowledges constantly the changing human reality in order to adjust externally and to authenticate the living unchanging reality of the eschaton.

Autocephaly always follows the boundaries of the state. A classic example could be the title of the Patriarch of Moscow from 1588 as “Patriarch of Moscow and of all Russia, and Extremely Northern Territories” that followed the title of Tsar Theodore who carried the name “Tsar of Moscow and of all Russia, and of the Extremely Northern Territories”. A strict localisation of the title of the patriarch of Moscow from 1588 has tremendous significance on the present discussion of the Mother Church for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The title strictly defines the borders of the local Church of Russia according to the canons of the Orthodox Church. This practice is confirmed by the 17th Canon of the Council of Chalcedon which clarifies it by saying, “Let the order of things ecclesiastical follow the civil and public models.” Autocephaly brings togetherness to the members of the local Church, who share the same anthropological elements of free will and who are united by the unity of faith. At the point of establishing autocephaly of the local Church, the Orthodox Church in the World recognizes the specific identity and the need for people of the region and nation to collectively, as One Body of Christ, glorify God the Trinity. The emphasis on the necessity of granting autocephaly to a particular local Church was fundamental for the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Poland where the political changes required an establishment of an independent Church. There is tremendous sensitivity of Orthodoxy to the local anthropological characteristic of a particular local Church. In effect, the 34th Apostolic Canon asserts it by saying: “…bishop of every nation”. In this specific Canon, bishop is related to the nation, which always corresponds with its own identity and local characteristics. Therefore, it is a manifestation of the Church in the locality of the particular bishop of a particular nation. Autocephaly is always external to the internal life of the Church. In effect, it is always given and recognized, while the internal permanent ecclesial life of the local Church -proclamation of the Orthodox faith, sacramental life, recognition of the Orthodox Church law and decrees — authenticates it in its life.

As we approach the subject of autocephaly, at the present time there is no approved formula or procedure to establish a local autocephalous Church. Although there are some characteristic features concerning the recognition of an independent status, such as a hindrance to regular Church life, the will of the majority of the faithful, clergy, and bishops, a sufficient number of bishops and eparchies (at least four), the coexistence of an independent state, and a canonical ecclesiastical source…, the mechanism of granting autocephaly needs to be agreed upon. There is also a need for a certain historical and geographical cohesion of the eparchies. The past does not provide an incontrovertible model for autocephaly for our time. Also very characteristic, there is no sacred canon that would provide a direction or inkling as to the manner of establishing autocephaly. The case of the Orthodox Church in Cyprus, because of its wide interpretation, needs to be discussed in a separate analysis.

A very characteristic definition of autocephaly is given by Metropolitan Pimen who, in his response to Patriarch Athenagoras, wrote:

“… Such a Church, in the first place must have a sufficient number of bishops so that she independently consecrates her own bishops (though as we know, there are exceptions to this condition). Such a Church must have a sufficient number of priests so that the witness and the service of the Church can be adequately performed. She must also have a sufficient flock, so that her material needs can be supplied. Usual factors in autocephaly are also partially found in the distinctiveness of people and in coordination with civil authorities. … At the same time, an indispensable factor, as is also asserted in Your Holiness Letter, is the expressed opinion of the Christian fullness, e.g. the bishops, clergy, and laity, who must feel that independence is necessary for successful developments of their Church.”

The statement presented by Metropolitan Pimen represents a widely recognized Orthodox approach towards the subject of autocephaly. In addition to the statement of Metropolitan Pimen, there are some other ecclesiological characteristics. Any establishment of the autocephaly of the local Church has to be coordinated and agreed among all of the autocephalous Churches as this is the only conciliar way of recognizing unity in the same Body of Christ. The approval of autocephaly of a particular local Orthodox Church is a consequence of a process that was initiated on a solid ecclesiological and political foundation. It is very interesting to note that according to some contemporary Orthodox theologians, including Metropolitan Pimen in 1971, there has to be a majority, not necessarily a consensus, of the local Church membership: laity and clergy looking for autocephaly. Without a doubt, there is a recognition that consensus in some cases would be impossible to achieve. This could have a tremendous implication on the process of autocephaly of any other local Church.

Among the conditions for the establishment of an autocephalous local Church, there is one element that is based on the experience of the Orthodox Church in the last two centuries. All of the local Churches that were granted autocephaly, especially in the last two centuries, based their ecclesial autocephaly on the fact that a particular nation managed to achieve its political and territorial independence. The requirement of the existence of an autocephalous local Church begs the existence of the independent state where the unity of the local Church, and especially the unity of the anthropological character discussed earlier, is preserved. The independent state, where the intrinsic character of the Church is not preserved, could not be the foundation of autocephaly. Otherwise, the conditional existence of an independent state would be equal with phyletism condemned by the Orthodox Church. Without any question, the existence of an independent state safeguards the cohesion of the local Church, but it does not change its character. The existence of an independent state unites the local Church, which is always managed by a local bishop. Ideally, the independent state is an expression of the intrinsic value of the anthropological character of the Church. From another perspective, if the independent state is a portrayal of the unity of the anthropological vision of man, it becomes a vehicle for the life of a living autocephalous local Church.


An independent state is a fundamental precondition for an autocephaly of a particular local Church. In addition, according to the official patriarchal acts of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, there are also two basic requirements for ecclesial independence. The first requirement emphasizes the fact that

“Ecclesiastical matters are to be regulated in general in accordance with those of the state”.

The second condition underlines the aspect of declaration of intention to the Mother-Church. The second condition precedes the first one. In the letter of declaration there is full support from the civil authorities. The history of autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Georgia and Poland presents here the best examples. These two requirements are fundamental for the future of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. They are the only path and the only choice the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has to take in order to become fully autocephalous.

The distinctive term used by the Ecumenical Patriarchate that could be contested and widely discussed by some within the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is the term: “Mother-Church”. The term has a detrimental ecclesiological significance as it is the Mother-Church who begins the process of consultation among the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches. The Mother-Church is the one who accepts the declaration of the Daughter-Church and the one who begins the process of recognition among the other autocephalous Churches. It suggests a point of privilege and ecclesiological motherhood of a particular local Church. In addition, the declaration to the Mother-Church emphasizes the historical accuracy and ecclesial lineage. The declaration presents us with an ecclesial bond between the Mother-Church and a particular local Daughter-Church that is never broken by third party, isolation, or political and territorial enslavement. As such, it is always present, always preserved in its original bond, and always generated in the life of the local Church. Ecclesial motherhood is a natural ecclesiastical manifestation that can’t be eradicated, transferred or suppressed. The Mother-Church becomes the source of apostolicity for the local Church and an ecclesiastical Body through whom apostolicity is being transferred. In the Orthodox Church, there is a continuous transmission of apostolicity through the historical and communal reference to the present times. The transfer of apostolicity by the Mother-Church has an eschatological dimension and as such it enters a different kind of ecclesiastical discussion. The Mother-Church continues the mission of Jesus Christ and the Apostles within the local Church and preserves it by being faithful to its content (Eph. 2, 19-20). In Orthodox ecclesiology, it is extremely important to maintain the unbroken continuity stemming directly from the Apostles. The unbroken apostolic continuity verifies the unity in time and space with the entire Orthodox Church.

Apostolicity safeguards the coherence of the continuity of the apostolic faith and ecclesiastical authority. By adherence to apostolicity, the local Church authenticates the ministry and Church’s authority as an uninterrupted ordination and transmission of grace. The unbroken continuity of the apostolic succession verifies most fundamentally the validity of the sacramental life of the local Church. In contemporary theological thought, apostolic succession is closely related to the Eucharistic action of a bishop. The Eucharist is authenticated and verified if the apostolic succession is preserved. One can’t underestimate the significance of this emphasis as in the contemporary Orthodox thought, the Church is often defined as a sacramental entity. The recognition of the sacramental life of the local Church through the unbroken apostolic succession preserves a continuity of the fundamental doctrine, completeness of faith and life. This is an extremely important statement of the Mother-Church on behalf of the local Church. The constant reference to apostolic continuity safeguards the local Church from being transformed into a specific ideology or a social group that uses Church as a medium to achieve its final goal. The emphasis on apostolic succession embraces the local Church as a whole without division. This has to be a strong foundation for dialogue for all of the branches of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

The emphasis on apostolicity also affirms another essential element of ecclesiology. By emphasizing apostolicity, the Mother-Church recognizes and identifies not only the unbroken historic continuity, but also the unchanged faith, the unity of the Church, and the transmission of Holy Tradition. The Mother-Church declares the Daughter-Church to be Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Without these essential elements of Orthodox ecclesiology, there cannot be any discussion of independence of a local Church in general. In the context of the division of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, these characteristics are essential for the dialogue and eventual restoration of the ecclesial unity.

Because of the essential significance of apostolicity in the discussion of Orthodox ecclesiology, the second autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Poland and Czechoslovakia given by the Moscow Patriarchate can’t be recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate as authentic. Apostolicity, once given, cannot be given again, as this is the same transmission. The source of the transmission of apostolic succession cannot be broken as it is continuously generated. The second autocephaly for both of the local Churches distorts the basic principle of ecclesiology that can’t be accepted in any form or shape presented.

In the perspective of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Mother-Church for the Church in Ukraine is always the Church of Constantinople. The Ecumenical Patriarchate never rejected or relinquished the motherhood for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The position taken by the Church of Constantinople is consequential and uncompromised, especially in the period of the last three centuries. As a consequence, the present ecclesial position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is fundamentally unchanged. In a letter to Patriarch Alexis, regarding the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Diaspora, Patriarch Bartholomew wrote:

“First, we must state categorically that we do not recognize the Most Holy Church of Russia as having any authority whatsoever over the Ukrainians in the Diaspora who have come under the omophorion of the Church of Constantinople since they, being abroad, had the right to seek the protected shelter of the Mother Church of Constantinople with which they historically have unbroken bonds and whose rightful jurisdictional authority and obligation it is to bring about their restoration”.

The letter of Patriarch Bartholomew is in conformity with the statement made by Patriarch Athenagoras who in his letter to Patriarch Pimen wrote:

“…And this act of the Russian Orthodox Church was done by exceeding her jurisdictional rights, since after the end of World War II, the territories of Ukraine and Belorussia, which previously belonged to the Church of Poland, were detached from this Church: and the areas included in these detached Churches reaching westward as far as the Baltic Sea, and being from times past outside the boundaries of the patriarchate of Moscow, are under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical

Because the local Church in Ukraine until 1686 was under the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and there is no ecclesiological or canonical justification for the action done by the Moscow Patriarchate, the matters of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine are the matters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The claims of Patriarch Athenagoras were once again reinforced by Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In his statement, Archbishop Vsevolod once again reinforced the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate saying,

“The position of the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, is that her daughter – The Moscow Patriarchate – consists of that territory, which it encompassed to the year 1686. The subjection of the Kyivan Metropolia to the Moscow Patriarchate was concluded by the Patriarch Dionysius without the agreement or ratification of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Great Church of Christ”.

The confirmation of the stand of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the ecclesial “maternity” for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine continues until the present time. In the letter of Patriarch Bartholomew, addressed to the Ukrainian nation regarding the present political situation, he wrote:

“The Holy Mother and Great Church of Christ of Constantinople regards the Ukrainian nation and people as Her precious sons and daughters, born from the baptismal waters that flowed through the banks of the Dnepr River.
From the days of our brilliant predecessor, Saint Photios the Great, the love of the Mother Church for the pious Christians of your lands has never abated”.

In this very short quote, there are several essential aspects that need to be mentioned. The first factor addresses the Mother-Church for the Ukrainian nation the love of whom has never abated. The historical linkage between the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and the Ecumenical Patriarchate is strongly emphasized by reference to the Dnipro River and acceptance of the faithful of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine as sons and daughters. By referring to the source of baptism of Kyivan Rus’ and the Mother-Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate safeguards the foundations for the source and maternity of apostolic succession of the local Church in Ukraine. The historical emphasis on the source of baptism of Kyivan Rus’ in the Church of Constantinople brings to our attention something even more interesting. In the Greeting by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Head of the Patriarchal Delegation during the official Luncheon in Kyiv, the emphasis on the historical importance of baptism of Kyivan Rus’ is even more profound:

“Having only just tasted “the immortal table, in the upper room and with upraised hearts”, behold we are now enjoying the organized events of the historical celebrated sacrament of Baptism in this very place and the entry into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by the Kievan Rus, and subsequently of the other neighbouring nations, Russian, Belarusian and many others…”.

In all of the statements, there is only one reference to all of the members of the One local Orthodox Church in Ukraine. There is no classification or any indication of any division or split within the Body of Christ. Although all of the statements were made in the last twenty years, the emphasis still contains the oneness of the Church. It must be emphasized that the continual acknowledgement of the maternity of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the emphasis on oneness of the Church have a tremendous implication on the future process of dialogue and restoration of unity. The essence of the fullness of the Church that is contained in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic is maintained and manifested. This is the essence of what the Church is all about.

From another perspective, the continual maternal reference of the Ecumenical Patriarchate towards the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has fundamental implications on the identity of the local Church in Ukraine. The Ecumenical Patriarchate acknowledges and respects its unique character. There is no indication of subordination or ecclesiological enslavement of the Church by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is recognized as the local Church of a distinct and independent state. The basic elements of anthropology, elaborated at the very beginning, are essentially affirmed. The statement articulates the concept of Mother-Church based on the fundamental principles of Christian anthropology and Orthodox ecclesiology.

The recognition by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the existence of the uniqueness of the local Church in Ukraine and the existence of an independent state creates a foundation for further steps towards autocephaly. This point is critical in the context of the other alternative of maternity that could be seen in the frame of the Moscow Patriarchate. The specific approach of the Moscow Patriarchate towards the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, within the context of the uniqueness of Orthodox anthropology, was elaborated in another analysis. The monopolization of the Russian culture, as it is presented in the Concept of the Russian World, distorts the basic principle of the character of Orthodox anthropology. As such, the distorted anthropology presented by the Moscow Patriarchate and distortion of the fundamental principles of the existence of the local ecclesiology can’t be taken seriously in the present ecclesiological thought of the Orthodox Church. The difference in recognition of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Moscow Patriarchate is remarkable. While the first one sees the Orthodox Church as a distinct ecclesiastical entity a local Church with all of its anthropological and historical characteristics the Moscow Patriarchate looks at the Church through the prism of a specific frame of ideology. The recognition of the local Church in Ukraine by the Ecumenical Patriarchate equals the acknowledgement of anthropological distinctions of the people as a nation. The Ukrainian nation is recognized as a carrier of a specific ecclesial entity that carries all the distinctions of a nation with its state as necessary for the autocephaly. Without a doubt, there is a distinct recognition on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of a living anthropological reality that is incarnated in the specific locality. There is also a recognition of the existence of a specific Eucharistic catholicity in the local Church in Ukraine with its own national, ethnic, and language particularity. The local Church in Ukraine is presented as a cohesive entity that evolved in history into a specific wholeness. Without ignoring historical events, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine stands again in the forefront of being equal with the other recognized autocephalous Churches in the world. Despite centuries of Russification, forced integration into the Moscow Empire, constant persecution and deportation, subjugation to Tsarist Russia, and ethnic cleansing, the nation of Ukraine, with its unique calling, stands again to pray to God in its authentic identity.

The strongly defined linkage of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and abroad presents further possible steps towards ecclesial independence. The autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is strictly conditioned by the Mother-Church: the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is only the Patriarchate of Constantinople that can unify all of the branches of Orthodoxy in Ukraine and begin the process of recognition of autocephaly among all the Autocephalous Churches in the world. All of the branches of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine have to recognize the importance of the ecclesiological nature of autocephaly in order to be authentic to themselves. Any other approach to the question would be a tremendous blow to the process itself. Even if there is a tendency to start the process of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine from the perspective of the Moscow Patriarchate, the outcome would be equal with a complete failure on the side of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. We have to realize that the Patriarchate of Constantinople will never give away the right of Mother-Church for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine as this is not only the right of privilege, but also the internal component of the historical authenticity and maternity. In order for the autocephaly of a particular local Orthodox Church to be recognized as valid, it has to be recognized by the Mother-Church, the process of recognition of the autocephaly also has to be initiated by the Mother-Church, and consequently it has to be ratified by the Council of all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches in the World based on the request of the Mother- Church. It must be realized that any other direction towards recognition of the Mother-Church for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine means an immediate failure on the part of the local level of the grassroots of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, and it would be a stumbling block for the Pan-Orthodox recognition of autocephaly. From the ecclesiological perspective, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is very consequential in its approach to the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. By not recognizing the second autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Poland given by the Moscow Patriarchate, which was a part of the Kyivan Metropolia, the Church of Constantinople recognizes its ecclesiological privilege and obligation to stand in defence of the Daughter-Church of Ukraine.

Autocephaly granted by the Mother-Church Constantinople for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is the only way to avoid the problem made by the Orthodox Church of the United States of America, a situation considered by the Ecumenical Patriarchate as fraught with problems,

“the foremost and most outrageous instance being the totally unmanageable “autocephaly”.

It is the best example of what should not be repeated. Subsequently, we cannot forget about the psychological aspect of Ukrainians towards the Moscow Patriarchate with the subjection of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine under Moscow’s jurisdiction since 1686. Recent political events with the annexation of Crimea by Russian forces escalates the apprehension of Ukrainians towards its northern neighbour.

Present Challenges

One of the most pressing challenges in our approach towards the question of the Mother-Church and autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has to do with the division of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine into four branches. The recognition of the authenticity of the Mother-Church of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is key to the process for unity and eventual autocephaly. Any further discussion on autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is futile if we do not acknowledge the maternity of the Church. As much as we would like to see further progression of the dialogue within the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, this question has to be tackled first before going into deeper dialogue. Neglect or delay of the question equals a lack of a serious approach on the part of the separated parties. There will be definite obstacles presented to recognizing the Mother-Church, but the genuine Orthodox will of the Church will be always concentrated on the essential aspects of the internal life of the Church. Any other ideological, political, historical, or psychological approach to the question will be equal to the present ecclesiastical reality, where division and disunity are recognized as parts of the internal life of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. At the present time, there is only one alternative that is historically correct, ecclesiologically grounded and recognized: the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Mother-Church has to be understood as a fundamental factor of autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a Mother-Church for all of the branches of the Church in Ukraine could be a unifying link to heal the division. It has to be emphasized that there is no other alternative that leads us towards unity and autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The only alternative we have leads us back to the Mother-Church: the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Any other model of unity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and eventual autocephaly of the Church is without merit.

The recognition of the Mother-Church of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has another fundamental magnitude for the further progression of dialogue. The Mother-Church itself could become a unifying link of all the branches of Orthodoxy in Ukraine. In this context, the recognition of the Mother-Church of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine serves as a foundation for unity in Ukraine. One has to acknowledge the importance of the will to cooperate on the part of all branches of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Personal aspirations and ambitions will need to be put aside if the unity of the Church is at stake. An ecclesial sacrifice for the unity of the Church could be detrimental to its progression. Any stereotype of the past, even in the framework of the contextual and historical autocephaly, would have to be analyzed in the new perspective. The process could be tedious and strenuous as at stake is the life of the Church. However, the kenotic approach towards the question among the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine will prevail, as it is an intrinsic component of the ecclesial life of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

The recognition of the Mother-Church of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine also has tremendous implications on the further development of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. If the process of autocephaly is initiated by the Mother-Church, she would also be responsible for the internal ecclesial life of the Church with all of the practical and canonical implications. The Mother-Church is fully recognizing and validating the authenticity of the fullness of the local Church which equals the validation of all the sacraments. A similar situation was faced with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada before the Eucharistic normalization with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In fact, the Patriarchate of Constantinople would have to resolve all of the canonical and ecclesial problems within the life of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. One very important factor that cannot be ignored must be recognized. All of the difficulties have a canonical or ecclesial character and as such, they could be characterized as canonical abnormalities for re-establishing Eucharistic unity with the Orthodox Church. These components are not intrinsic doctrinal difficulties that tore the Church apart. Even at the point of division of the Church or a schism, because of baptism, we are still speaking about the Church. There is a difference between the division within the limits of the Church and the division between the Church and those who are outside the ecclesial borders of the Church. The differentiation between the canonical and the doctrinal differences has tremendous theological implications, which have to be constantly reiterated and underlined within the context of dialogue. Even the Orthodox canonical tradition classifies those who are outside of the Eucharistic communion with the Orthodox Church into various categories. One must remember that at this point one is dealing with the division of the Church that has a non-doctrinal, but rather politically oriented directive caused by a third party. Because of the character of the disunity within the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, there has to be a recognition among all the branches of the Church for an immediate healing process. As a consequence, there is a question that has to be asked: has the Body of Christ the right to be divided if the cause of the division is not intrinsically ecclesial or doctrinally divisive? The answer is obvious. Because of the complexity and magnitude of the division of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, one can only recognize the enormity of the task before the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which would have to deal with all the immediate canonical questions without ignoring all the political and ideological connotations. It would be a significant undertaking by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. From another perspective, there has to be a will by all the participants for full cooperation and acknowledgement of the immediate questions and following consequences.


As such, autocephaly totally depends on the contextual environment of a particular local Church: a politically independent state, support by the state, national unity, recognition of the authentic Orthodox anthropology, and recognition of the Mother-Church. The main task of autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is the emphasis on the defense of a unique particular anthropology in its fullness that is being recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Further study is necessary in order to make any final conclusions. Any claims made regarding the danger of a division of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, if autocephaly is given, misrepresents and manipulates the essential elements of ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church. In the case of granting autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the local character of the Church is safeguarded, and the episcopocentric ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church is preserved. The Church will still remain the same, as it is in every bishop, where the unity with the Orthodox Church is achieved. Autocephaly would not only allow people of Ukraine to preserve their essential elements of Orthodox ecclesiology and anthropology, but also become an impulse for the further growth of the Church in general. A Church that celebrates and safeguards the essential elements of the Christian local and authentic anthropology becomes an inspiration for the people to strive for perfection and sanctification. According to the above analysis, the only way to safeguard the authenticity of the local anthropology of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is the recognition by the Mother-Church of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The recognition by the Mother-Church is also fundamental for the process and eventual recognition of autocephaly of the local Church in Ukraine. At the present time, the Mother-Church could serve a double purpose. From one perspective, the authenticity of the specific local anthropology would be acknowledged and recognized. From the other perspective, the Mother-Church would heal the rift in the life of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and provides the necessary provisions for autocephaly. Based on these conditions, there is an incredible opportunity for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine to become fully independent, which would safeguard the uniqueness and authenticity of the anthropology of her believers. This step would also bring a source of pride and dignity for the members of the Church in Ukraine who were deprived of this essential anthropological element in the last three centuries. There are certain moments in our life when pride and dignity given us by God in His “image” are the only hope we have. After centuries of ecclesial, national, and political enslavement, people could freely worship God in their own authentic Churches, without fear of being annihilated. Millions of martyrs — fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, innocent children, being shot in their own homes, sent to Siberia for prolonged death, starved to death in artificial famines will be vindicated if the choice at the present time is made in the right direction. It is my hope that there is enough strength in Ukraine to make a decision that will heal the division within the Orthodox Church and bring stability for the nation, which is constantly looking towards the Church for guidance. At the very end, the words of the author of the epistle to Diognetus from the early second century expressed the true reality of who we are in this world:

“…though they are residents at home in their own countries, their behaviour there is more like that of transients; they take their full part as citizens, but they submit to anything and everything as if they were aliens. For them, any foreign country is a motherhood, and any motherhood is a foreign country… Christians inhabit the world, but they are not of the world…and Christians, as they sojourn for a while in the midst of corruptibility here, look for incorruptibility in the heavens”.

These words are especially important at times of crisis, when the authentication of the basic principles of human life brings so much hope.