PARSIPPANY, N.J. – Honorary Patriarch Filaret (former head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate) has ignited tensions with the primate of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), Metropolitan Epifaniy. The tensions have fueled speculation about the unity of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church and the impact they could have on the Tomos of autocephaly signed in 2018 by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
The rift’s first major signs were seen on May 14 when Patriarch Filaret invited bishops to St. Volodymyr Patriarchal Cathedral in Kyiv to honor holy martyr Makariy, but only when the event was made public did Patriarch Filaret send an invitation to Metropolitan Epifaniy. Only four out of 60 invited bishops attended.
The event was a major misstep in protocol, observers had noted, and showed disrespect by Patriarch Filaret toward Metropolitan Epifaniy. However, Patriarch Filaret claims that Metropolitan Epifaniy has been disrespectful of his recommendations.
In March, Metropolitan Epifaniy explained the relationship of the OCU and Patriarch Filaret: “…We are in a special situation, because we united three branches of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. And His Holiness Patriarch Filaret built the Kyiv Patriarchate for more than a quarter of a century, and thanks to his work, we succeeded. Moscow has especially emphasized that Patriarch Filaret worked throughout his life for the sake of the koukoulion [i.e. to become Patriarch], that he did not become the Moscow patriarch, became patriarch of Kyiv, and would never give up power. We see the opposite, that the patriarch refused, went to the Unification Council. But nobody brought him to the patriarch’s seat. Some want to completely eliminate him, [as if]Patriarch Filaret did not exist at all, but that’s wrong. He remains diocesan bishop, and he will continue to work towards the building of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. There is a leader, but he [Filaret] remains honorary patriarch. He will continue to have his diocese – the city of Kyiv, but will not generally manage the whole Church.”
However, according to Patriarch Filaret, the Unification Council concluded: “The primate is responsible for the external representation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), and the patriarch is responsible for the internal church life in Ukraine, but in cooperation with the primate. The primate shall do nothing in the Church without the consent of the patriarch. The patriarch chairs the meetings of the Holy Synod and the OCU meetings for the sake of preserving unity, its growth and affirmation.” Patriarch Filaret considers this agreement not fulfilled. (UNIAN.info, May 15, 2019)
Metropolitan Epifaniy responded on May 16 that he is ready to listen to the advice of Patriarch Filaret, but would not fulfill the patriarch’s ultimatums.
“In general, I never ignored his opinions, I often spoke with him and I continue to communicate. But it’s necessary to understand the format of communication. It’s necessary to understand the difference between advice and ultimatums. When talking with Honorary Patriarch Filaret, I repeatedly insisted on this – I am ready to listen to his advice. Because he really has a lot of experience in leading the Church for more than half a century. But I am not ready to fulfill certain ultimatums because I am a primate who has been lawfully elected at the Unification Council,” Metropolitan Epifaniy said in an interview with BBC News Ukraine.
He added that Patriarch Filaret personally has no right to change decisions taken collectively by the Unification Council.
“Therefore, I listened, I talked, but all this time, to a certain extent, I, as the head of the Church, was even humiliated due to pressure and demands incompatible with the charter and the Tomos,” Metropolitan Epifaniy explained.
At the same time, Metropolitan Epifaniy promised he would do everything possible for the sake of peace and unity. He also commented on Patriarch Filaret’s requirement to hand over under his control the church’s internal affairs and deal with foreign affairs only, as was Patriarch Filaret’s understanding of the decision of the Unification Council.
“I was elected by a majority vote at the Unification Council and accepted this as a manifestation of God’s will, therefore, as a primate, I must adhere to the canonical order, statutes, and norms of the Tomos. I do not have the right to violate them by satisfying the desires of any bishop of our Church. This does not depend on me. As a primate, I have no right to personally change what decisions taken collectively,” Metropolitan Epifaniy said.
He also assured there was no split in the OCU, despite the recent harsh statements.
Reporters asked about the possibility of Patriarch Filaret’s excommunication, to which Metropolitan Epifaniy said: “I wouldn’t comment on issues that bring certain dissonance and impose a split. Why should we say ‘rest’ or ‘excommunication’? This is groundless and destructive.”
“We seek unity, and we seek to have peace reigning over our church,” Metropolitan Epifaniy said. Commenting on the patriarch’s claim that Metropolitan Epifaniy seem to suit Russia as head of the OCU as there is no criticism coming from Moscow toward him, Metropolitan Epifaniy said “it is not about me.”
“What’s Moscow’s objective? It’s having us lose the Tomos [of autocephaly],” he continued. “Because losing the Tomos means losing canonical recognition. It’s this canonical recognition which once was the argument of the Russian Orthodox Church that restrained Orthodox believers from shifting toward the Kyiv Patriarchate.”
He stressed, “Moscow will never be okay with any of the OCU primates because they are not okay with the very fact that the canonically recognized Church exists in Ukraine.”
“There have been a lot of statements over the past days, but there is no split in the OCU. We respect honorable Patriarch Filaret, who did much to make the Ukrainian Church autocephalous,” Metropolitan Epifaniy added.
As UNIAN reported on April 27, Patriarch Filaret had said he was not satisfied with the OCU’s status as a metropolia and sought a patriarchate.
Earlier, Patriarch Filaret refused to recognize the UOC-KP as “liquidated” as a result of the creation of the OCU. At the same time, the Ministry of Culture indicates that the UOC-KP was dissolved on December 15, 2018, during the Unification Council.
— compiled by Matthew Dubas.