Most Reverend Brethren,
The Standing Holy Synod of our Church intensively dealt with the issue of Autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine. The conclusion of all these thoughts, views and debates was its referral to the relevant Synodical Committees of our Church, i.e. (a) the Committee on Doctrinal and Nomocanonical Matters and (b) the Committee on Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations, so that these latter may jointly submit the due suggestions to the Holy Synod (see Press Release of the Standing Holy Synod dated March 7, 2019).
Indeed, for this purpose, all the relevant correspondence and documents received were forwarded to the two aforementioned Committees so that they may be taken into account in the consideration of the issue.
Reference was made to the Ukrainian issue in other sessions of the Standing Holy Synod as well, in the course of this year :
(a) on April 2, on the occasion of a visit of a delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Holy Archbishopric of Athens and the subsequent debriefing about it to the Members of the Holy Synod;
(b) on May 22 and 23, on the occasion of an Epistle from the Most Reverend Metropolitan Onufriy, by which the Church of Greece was invited to participate in the celebration of his name day; and
(c) on June 27 and August 27, when relevant letters from the Most Reverend Metropolitan Serapheim of Kythira were read out.
In the meantime, on August 13, the Chief Secretariat of our Synod received the Joint Findings of the two Synodical Committees aforementioned (i.e. the Committee on Doctrinal and Nomocanonical Matters and the Committee on Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations) and the Introductory Note entitled “The issue of canonical jurisdiction in the Holy Metropolitanate of Kiev”, which were read out during the session of the Standing Holy Synod of August 28, also in the presence of the two Most Reverend Chairmen of the two Committees above, Metropolitan Damaskinos of Didymoteichon, Orestias and Souflion and Metropolitan Ignatios of Demetrias and Almyros, respectively.
In that session of August 28 the Ukrainian question was debated for three hours and the two holy brothers of Didymoteichon and Demetrias, having considered the issue in detail in concert with the other members of the Synodical Committees they preside over, answered all the issues raised by the Holy Members of the Synod, each one of whom also expressed his personal position on the matter, in the course of the session.
The conclusion of the findings of the two Committees, which are available to any brother wishing to study them, consisted of the following core positions, from a nomocanonical point of view:
(a) never did the Ecumenical Patriarchate surrender its jurisdiction over the Metropolitanate of Kiev to the Patriarchate of Moscow. By means of an Act of 1686 and by way of stewardship it granted to the Patriarch of Moscow permission only of the right to ordinate and enthrone the person who may be elected Metropolitan of Kiev at each time by an assembly of clergy and laity, and who should first commemorate the name of the Ecumenical Patriarch (Carthagen Canon 120 [Greek numbering]);
(b) the Ecumenical Patriarchate wields the prerogative of the “petition of appeal” also on the part of Bishops of another ecclesiastical province, should the appellant Bishop submit a relevant request (see the cases of Filaret, Makariy) (Canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod);
(c) the Ecumenical Patriarch had and always has not only the inalienable canonical right duly to see to the support of Orthodox Churches experiencing adversity or affliction but also the binding canonical obligation in good time to take all the necessary initiatives to prevent, avert or address the dangerous threats or challenges to their ecclesiastical bodies. Besides, the entire history of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, namely whether in times of happiness or in times of hardship, de facto bears witness to its always disinterested or even self-sacrificial offer to all Orthodox Churches in adversity;
(d) the Ecumenical Patriarchate and only it has the canonical prerogative of proclaiming autocephaly of local Orthodox Churches (see that of Georgia in 1990, of the Czech Republic in 1998, of Poland in 1924, of Albania in 1937, of Greece in 1850, of Serbia in 1878, of Romania in 1885, of Bulgaria in 1945 etc.).
Unfortunately, because of the fact that the Patriarchate of Moscow was absent from the proceedings of the 2016 Synod of Crete, it was not possible to debate the issue of granting autocephaly and thus the opportunity for it jointly to pronounce itself on granting it was lost;
(e) pursuant to Article 3 of the Greek Constitution currently in force, “the Orthodox Church of Greece, acknowledging our Lord Jesus Christ as its head, is inseparably united in doctrine with the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople and with every other Church of Christ of the same doctrine, observing unwaveringly, as they do, the holy apostolic and synodal canons and sacred traditions. It is autocephalous and is administered by the Holy Synod of serving Bishops and the Permanent Holy Synod originating thereof and assembled as specified by the Statutory Charter of the Church in compliance with the provisions of the Patriarchal Tome of June 29, 1850 and the Synodal Act of September 4, 1928.”
The findings submitted by the two Committees concluded as follows:
“In view of the above, having considered the issue of autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine not only from the canonical but also from the legal point of view, we respectfully suggest that there is nothing hindering the recognition of autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine or the absolute harmonization of the Church of Greece with and anchoring to the Ecumenical Patriarchate”.
Subsequently, as was also stated in the Press Release of August 28, and following extensive debate, the Standing Holy Synod recognized “the canonical right of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to grant autocephaly as well as the prerogative of the Primate of the Church of Greece further to handle the issue of recognition of the Church of Ukraine”.
We all know that, already from the Apostolic times, the administrative organization of the Church aimed at safeguarding the unity of the Church at the local, regional and ecumenical levels and at preventing or averting heretical or schismatic threats to the unity of the body ecclesiastical.
We all know that the administrative organization of the Church has always been indissolubly connected with the Synodic institution in order perennially to ensure Apostolic succession in faith and order. Besides, the Apostles and the bishops who succeeded them are par excellence the bearers of the power of Christ, transmitted to them by Him through His breathing on them, so that they may guarantee not only the certainty of Divine Eucharist within each local Church, but also the unity of all local Churches within a communion of faith and a bond of love.
We all know that the spread of the Gospel of salvation in Christ to “all nations” (Matthew 28,18-20) and “unto the uttermost part of the Earth” (Acts 1,7-8) made it necessary to introduce the canonical institution of Autocephaly by the First Ecumenical Council (325AD) to all the Roman provinces of the Greco-Roman world for the purpose of Synodical scrutiny of the election, ordination and judgment of all the Bishops of each province.
We all know that the provocative arbitrariness both on the part of certain Metropolitans and on the part of certain Eparchial Councils imposed the lifting of the autocephaly of such Metropolitans through their subordination to the higher authority of the Exarchs of Roman administrative units or of the five Patriarchs by means of decisions of Ecumenical Councils.
We all know that all the peoples which received the Christian faith from Byzantine Mission (Georgians, Bulgarians, Serbs, et al.) would immediately thereafter lay claim to ecclesiastical Autocephaly, to be granted to them by the Mother Church, i.e. the Ecumenical Patriarchate, with a view to enhancing their national identity by the same token.
We all know that the promotion of the secularized nation-centered ideology of the new philosophers of Enlightenment following the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century influenced all the newly founded states of the Orthodox peoples liberated from the Ottoman yoke and was expressed through their unconsidered claiming their ecclesiastical Autocephaly as well vis-à-vis the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
We all know that the Ecumenical Patriarchate would always willingly and disinterestedly grant Autocephaly to any Church of an independent state, provided of course that the Church in question fulfilled the indispensable canonical conditions regarding its ability to meet the immediate and imperative pastoral needs within a secularized state and under an overbearing Orthodox state power, whereas it would not grant ecclesiastical Autocephaly to Orthodox peoples which had not yet obtained the status of independent state.
We all know that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was usually and for centuries under the successive overbearing domination either of Poland or of Great Russia, yet it always remained within the canonical ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Mother Church, i.e. the Ecumenical Patriarchate, since it was not possible for sovereign states to challenge the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate without prejudice.
We all know that the Patriarchate of Moscow disapproves, indeed with remarkable acrimony, of the due initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to proclaim Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as an anti-canonical act, as if the latter canonically belonged to the Patriarchate of Moscow.
We all know that the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as an affectionate Mother Church of the Metropolitanate of Kiev and all Ukraine during an entire millennium, not only does not benefit in any manner but relinquishes its canonical ecclesiastical jurisdiction over it, so that the great Church of Ukraine of ca. 40 million Orthodox faithful may justly join the communion of autocephalous Orthodox Churches and freely develop the pastoral ministration of the pious Ukrainian people challenged by distress, independently of any extrinsic intervention.
We all know that the proclamation of ecclesiastical Autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine is particularly beneficial to the Orthodox Church. What is more, it will turn out to be invaluable to the enhancement of the relations between the two sister autocephalous Orthodox Churches of Great Russia and Ukraine.
In this spirit, I suggest the recognition of Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of the independent Republic of Ukraine by our Church.