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Ecumenical Patriarchate and Moscow in power struggle about the Church of Ukraine

“The Ecumenical Patriarchate does not threaten and will not be threatened” a statement issued by Metropolitan bishop Emmanuel of France said after the meeting between the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Patriarch of Moscow Kiril in the Patriarchate in  Constantinople on Friday.

Emmanuel said that the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s decision to grant autocephaly [autonomy] to the Church of Ukraine was underlined by Bartholomew.

“We do not wish to create schisms [the breaking off of communion between two churches]. The door is always open for dialogue. We cannot however, constantly postpone the issue,” Emmanuel said.

The Metropolitan bishop said that discussions on the issue will continue to be conducted with all the autocephalous churches of Eastern Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, has for years petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarchate to grant it autocephaly, the status of an independent church.

“The crucial meeting between the Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos and the Patriarch of Moscow appears to have done little to calm the turbulent waters in the relationship between the two churches, due to the bitter battle over many years regarding whether the Orthodox Church of Ukraine will be granted an independent status,” writes

The Moscow Patriarchate has in the past threatened a schism with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is the first-ranking church in Eastern Orthodoxy and the sole authority that can grant a church autocephaly.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople during his meeting with Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) head Kirill informed the latter about the decision to grant the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) autocephaly, the head of the information department of the UOC (Kyiv Patriarchate) Archbishop Yevstratiy (Zorya) said.

Yevstratiy said an official communiqué is expected to be issued later. “Therefore, the statement may not be literal,” he said.

On April 17, 2018, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced his intention to appeal to the Archbishop of Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, to issue a Tomos granting Ukraine’s Orthodox Church autocephaly. He then called on the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, to support his initiative.

On April 19, members of parliament supported the president’s appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch to provide the Tomos on autocephaly.

The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople accepted the appeal of Ukraine’s president and initiated the procedure necessary to grant autocephaly to Ukraine’s Orthodox Church.

On Saturday, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) said that reports about the decision to grant autocephaly to an Ukrainian church allegedly taken by the Ecumenical Patriarchate are false and distort the reality, Russian sputniknews reported.

“Emmanuel’s statement statement no way meant that granting autocephaly was an approved decision,” the UOC-MP said in a statement.

Orthodox churches operating in Ukraine, aside from the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) — a self-governing church within the Moscow Patriarchate — also include those that are not recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC).

“The two dignitaries are also rivals locked in a struggle within the Orthodox world,” notes deutschewelle, underlining a “centuries-old power struggle” between the Ecumenic Patriarchate in Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Moscow.

Kirill claims authority over Orthodox believers in Ukraine. However, Orthodox Christians in that country are currently divided between a semi-autonomous branch loyal to Moscow and Kirill, and the one lead by the unrecognized Ukrainian Patriarch Filaret.

The fighting in east Ukraine aggravated the dispute and prompted Kyiv lawmakers to enter the fray.

To make things more complicated, Ukraine also has a third Orthodox Church, which cropped up in 1920s as a response to Soviet repression.

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  1. George Patsourakos

    The Ukrainian Orthodox Church must be given the right to govern its own Orthodox Church. Its Orthodox Church must not be controlled by Moscow, as it was for decades under Soviet Russia.

  2. Unfortunately this is not a genuine religious matter. Its a question of shifting the US war there into the religious sphere. Pretty sad. The ‘Ukrainian Orthodox’ are breakaway churches in western Ukraine while the majority of Orthodox churches in both east and west Ukraine remain under Moscow as before. Will they now become ‘illegal’?

  3. The True Orthodox Church in Ukraine (UOC-MP) has not petitioned the EP at all, only the schismatic groups have, which have sinned against the unity of the Church. They need to repent. If “autocephaly” is granted to a schismatic group headed by a defrocked “patriarch” then it will only be a travesty. If the EP cares for the unity of the Church then he will not meddle in Ukraine but rather support the canonical Church (UOC-MP) there in its battle against pseudo-orthodox wolves in sheep’s clothing.