In the Orthodox world, everyone is waiting with hope or concern for the of the Unification Council meeting to be held this coming Saturday in Kyiv. Every day, more information, sometimes contradictory, add to the already confused and ever more complex situation.
Last Monday was a good example.
In the morning, Filaret, the head of the Kyiv Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church, (UOC-KP), was interviewed by the Ukrainian TV channel TSN, as he was leaving the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv. He declared that the two main issues now opposing the UOC-KP and the Ecumenical Patriarchate are the latter’s insistence that priests and lay people participate in the council, besides the bishops, and that the votes be taken by secret ballot. On their part, the UOC-KP wants only the bishops to have the right to vote, and not by secret ballot. With regard to these two points, Filaret indicated that there would be no concession on his part. He said, “The Kyiv Patriarchate is the largest Church. And it’s up to us to decide if we will accept or not what we are asked to do. If it’s good for us, we’ll accept it. If it is not beneficial for us, whether for the State or for the Church, we will simply not vote, we will reject the proposal.”
However, later in the same day, Archbishop Yevstratiy (Zorya) of Chernihiv and Nizhyn (UOC-KP), made a much more conciliatory “official” commentary, published on Archbishop Yevstratiy’s official website. Archbishop Yevstratiy is the head of the information department and secretary of the UOC-KP Holy Synod:
1) The Kyiv Patriarchate is preparing for the council and intends to participate.
2) With the blessing of His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, bishops, clergy, monks, and the laity will participate in the works of the Council.
3) The Kyiv Patriarchate proposals concerning the procedure of the council and of the election of the primate, do not imply that ultimately, there will be no agreement on a common vision. As members of the council, we obviously have the right to make our own proposals, to defend them, and to support them.
It seems that the UOC-KP agrees with the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, that priests, monks and lay people can participate in the council.
Some clarifications and reminders can be useful to better understand the situation.
We know that the letter sent by the ecumenical patriarch to the Ukrainian bishops specified that each of them should go to the council accompanied by a priest, and a monk or a layman, and that all three had the right to vote.
Later on, on December 6, the UOC-KP Holy Synod passed a resolution specifying that only Ukrainian bishops should be allowed to vote, and that the results would be determined by an “open” ballot.
Last Sunday, Andreas Loudaros, chief editor of the Greek website Orthodoxia.info, criticized Filaret for having insisted that only bishops be allowed to vote, to ensure that Filaret’s positions be taken into account during the elections.
Assuming that the majority of the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP) will not come to the council, it is clear that the forty or so bishops of the UOC-KP will constitute the majority of the bishops present at the council. It is therefore conceivable that a strategy be put in place, so that Filaret may obtain an agreement at the December 13 UOC-KP bishops’ council, namely, that all the bishops will vote for a candidate chosen to be the Primate.
If the vote at the Unification Council is not secret, it is unlikely that one of these UOC-KP bishops could publicly vote for another candidate. If the voters at the Unification Council also include priests, monks, and laymen, and if the votes are taken by secret ballot, it will be much more difficult for Filaret to control who voted for whom.
Many observers believe that the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not want the Unification Council to be dominated by the UOC-KP, and that they are rather in favor of the election of a Primate not being a UOC-KP bishop.
The other local Orthodox Churches would no doubt be more willing to recognize and join a Primate who was not a member of a schismatic Church.
There is another problem, that of the recognition of episcopal ordinations. For example, Archbishop Yevstratiy, who is only 41, and whom Filaret seems to favor, received his priestly and episcopal ordination in the UOC-KP. The validity of his ordination therefore depends on the recognition of episcopal ordinations made by Filaret.
Some local Orthodox Churches, such as the Serbia Patriarchate, who dispute Filaret’s by Constantinople, could say that Yevstratiy is not really a bishop. There would be fewer problems if the primate were a bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP), or one of the two exarchs, or even an outside candidate, or a monk who is not yet a bishop. If an archimandrite were elected Primate, he would probably receive his episcopal ordination from the Ecumenical Patriarchate bishops after his election, which would avoid possible disputes.
Earlier this week, an interview with Metropolitan Makariy, head of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), was published. He said that about 15 UAOC bishops will attend the Unification Council. These bishops will meet on the eve of the council, on December 14th. That day, they will also have to submit the names of priests, monks, and lay people who will participate in the Unification Council. He does not expect anyone from the UAOC to be chosen as the Primate. Generally speaking, it seems Metropolitan Makariy agrees with the measures taken by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.