The determination to follow the process of “autocephaly” of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, considered to be an irrevocable sign of a process in constant evolution, is coupled by the commitment to ensure that this process will never be a cause of division, nor – as occasionally described in worst-case scenarios – of a “schism.” In a nutshell this is the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople with regard to the extremely delicate “Ukrainian” question, at the centre of the talks at the Phanar between His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, held past August 31. It was outlined to SIR by Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis of France, who took part in the closed-door meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Patriarch Bartholomew. The process of autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a delicate issue in many respects. It is estimated that with this concession almost 30 million people –the total number of Ukrainian Orthodox faithful – and those living in the Diaspora would no longer depend on the Patriarchate of Moscow but on that of Kiev. A token of the inception and of the irrevocable nature of the process is the recent appointment of two Exarchs in Ukraine: Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon (United States) and Bishop Ilarion of Edmonton from Canada.
Your Eminence, could you better explain this appointment and especially the role that the two Exarchs will have in Ukraine?
The recent appointment of two exarchs in Ukraine on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate stresses the determination of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to successfully resolve the divisions among the Ukrainian Orthodox while highlighting a historical progress. Seeking the meaning of history is a never-ending responsibility as it is the responsibility to constantly safeguard the unity of the ecclesial body. The two Exarchs are thus called to pave the way leading to autocephaly. It should be pointed out that in this case the process is as important as the goal. In fact, through this process the various branches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church can be drawn closer together.
Their main mission thus is to facilitate contacts, to build bridges, to promote dialogue and finally, to contribute to the construction of a local independent Church.
You were the only person – along with Metropolitan Hilarion – allowed to participate in the closed-door meeting between Patriarch Bartholomew and Patriarch Kirill. Could you tell us more about the meeting?
First of all it should be said that the meeting between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill took place in a warm, fraternal atmosphere. Patriarca Kirill expressed his special thanks to Patriarch Bartholomew for the friendly atmosphere characterising the meeting. In this respect I want to add that it wasn’t only a question of wanting to make a good impression in public. That warm atmosphere remained the same for the whole duration of the private meeting between the two leaders (more than two hours). It should be said that they hadn’t met since 2016, since the Holy and Great Council of June 2016, which the Russian Church, with other three Churches, unfortunately failed to attend.
The meeting was thus necessary even regardless of the Ukrainian issue.
Patriarch Kirill is the one who asked for a meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew. What does this mean to you?
The arrival of Patriarch Kirill in the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople is a very powerful sign at the service of the unity of the Orthodox world. Orthodoxy is linked to the progress of dialogue. The latter kindles the thrust for unity and communion.
We could see the active work of the Holy Spirit that day.
In fact, the Church is not an institution; the Church is the body of Christ through which unfolds the Holy Spirit’s activity for the salvation of the world.
Media outlets reported Moscow’s Patriarchate proposal on the Ukrainian question to the Patriarchate of Moscow. Do these news items correspond to the truth? In other words, during the meeting, did the involved parties identify a jointly agreed solution?
Unfortunately I can’t share with you what has been said during a private meeting between the two Patriarchs because the content of their conversation is confidential. But as previously mentioned, I confirm that the atmosphere was friendly and warm.
Will there be other meetings? How do you intend to continue resolving the hanging issues once and for all?
Once again, I can’t give a direct answer to this question. However, I can confirm that the Ecumenical Patriarchate – mindful of her responsibility as Mother Church and responding to the requests of the Ukrainian faithful – following an in-depth analysis of the issue, has decided to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to mend the division between Orthodox faithful in the Country. In full awareness of his historical responsibility, Patriarch Bartholomew intends to protect the ecclesial body of the Ukrainian people he is responsible of, since the Metropolitan of Kiev canonically depends on the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, although in 1686 the Patriarchate of Moscow was granted the right to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev. The Ecumenical Patriarchate thus has a twofold responsibility, in the orthodox world, in general, and in Ukraine in particular.
The Catholic Church follows, without interfering, the bilateral dialogue process. How important is it for Church leaders to meet and engage in open dialogue?
The Orthodox Church believes that the Glory of God necessarily encompasses unity, which is lived out in different ways: through liturgical prayer, Eucharistic sharing, commitment to the poor and the most vulnerable, and finally through dialogue.
Dialogue is a fundamental theological realm where the presence of the Logos is manifested.
With dialogue faith becomes an agent of peace. As is written in the Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council, “the oil of faith must be used to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to rekindle new fires of hatred.”