Saturday, October 27, 2018

What's Going on in Ukraine? Part 1: The Historical Background

This is the first in what will be a series of articles, for those of you who may be confused by the complexities involved in the schism over the Ecumenical Patriarch's move to unilaterally establish an autocephalous Church in Ukraine.

Ukraine is not a side story to the history of the Russian Church. The Russian Church began in what is now Ukraine. The Rus' were a Slavic people who were ruled by Vikings, and the result was a Slavic nation with some Nordic elements thrown into the mix. The roots of Christianity go back much further, but the Rus' became a Christian nation in the year 988 after St. Vladimir was first baptized, and then the people were baptized as a group, in the Dnieper River. At that time, the bishops and priests that came to Russia were all Greek, and were under the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Why did Russia become independent of Constantinople? It was not because the Russians were fueled by nationalism, but because Constantinople fell into heresy, and then the Byzantine Empire itself ceased to exist. Surrounded by the Turks, Constantinople appealed for aid from the Latin West. The price of that aid was submission to the Pope, and at the false Council of Florence (1439), the Orthodox delegates, with the exception of St. Mark of Ephesus, were finally bullied into accepting Rome's terms. When Metropolitan Isidore returned to Kiev with the news, both he and the false union were rejected. And so the Russian Church became independent for the simple reason that the Patriarch of Constantinople had become a heretic.

After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, right believing Orthodox bishops were restored to the Church there. The Russian Church remained independent, and in 1588, the four ancient Patriarchs recognized that independence, and raised the Metropolitan of Moscow to the rank of Patriarch, and listed him as fifth in rank, after themselves.

Gramota of the Synod of Constantinople on the founding of the Moscow Patriarchate, May 8, 1590

What complicates this a bit is that this time, Kiev was not under the control of Russia. There had been a series of foreign invasions, and changes of power in the region, and at that time, Ukraine was under Polish rule, and so Constantinople retained its authority over that region. However, Russia was eventually able to reclaim this territory, and ecclesiastical control was ceded by Constantinople to Moscow in 1686. In a Letter sent by Patriarch Dionysius to the Tsar, he agreed to the submission of all the Metropolitans of Kiev to Patriarch of Moscow, saying: “From henceforth and forever more they shall recognize as most senior and first in rank the current Patriarch of Moscow as having received the office of bishop from him...”

The claim that Constantinople retained control over Kiev, and that this was just a temporary "loan" is complete nonsense. In legal theory, there is a concept called "the course of performance." In short, if there is a contract between two entities, and later on, one party claims the other party is not abiding by the contract, one of the ways a judge determines the meaning of a contract is to look at how that agreement has worked out in practice since it went into effect. Prior to the 20th century, the EP never made any mention of having any continuing claim on Kiev or Ukraine. So for nearly three centuries, no one ever seemed to be aware of this notion. Only when opportunities for poaching territory from the Russian Church after the Bolshevik Revolution does this claim first emerge.

We will discuss the more recent history in subsequent articles, but for a detailed series of articles on the history of the Ukrainian Church, see the following by Mother Cornelia (Rees):
An Overview of Orthodoxy in Ukraine: Part 1
An Overview of Orthodoxy in Ukraine: Part 2
An Overview of Orthodoxy in Ukraine: Part 3
The following video also provides a good summary of what is at issue:

What's Going on in Ukraine? Part 2: The Canonical Issues

See also:

Experts on the Constantinople Patriarchate's Scandalous Decisions

Orthodox Encyclopedia Center Publishing Historical Documents on Return of Kiev Metropolis to the Russian Church

An article on the details of the letters of 1686

Statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Concerning the Uncanonical Intervention of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the Canonical Territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, September 14, 2018

Statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Regarding the Encroachment of the Patriarch of Constantinople on the Canonical Territory of the Russian Church, October 15th, 2018

Sermon: The Schism over Ukraine