2005-08-05 16:17:00

Comment on the move of the residence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church leader to Kiev by the Communication Service Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations

The press secretariat of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church issued on June 24, 2005, a press release presenting arguments for moving the residence of the head of this Church to Kiev. In this connection, the Communication Service of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations has issued the following comment.

The DECR Communication Service sees as unfounded the case for moving the residence of the head of this Church to Kiev as well as the historical documents and canonical arguments presented in support of this idea. Objections are raised in particular by the following provisions of the document:

'The Ukrainian Orthodox Church depended on the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in communion with the Roman Hierarch, are two completely separate and different Churches, though having the same origin: These two Churches are located in the same territory geographically but not canonically, since there is no canonical communion between them. Therefore, there are no ecclesiological or canonical obstacles to these hierarchies existing side by side'.

The statement of the UGCC press service that the location of the Greek Catholic Metropolitan see in Kiev is compatible with that of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Metropolitan see - 'since there are no ecclesiological or canonical obstacles to these hierarchies existing side by side' - contradicts the decrees of Vatican II of the Roman Catholic Church.

This Council's Decree on Ecumenism emphasizes that the Eastern Churches are called Churches in the true and full sense of this word, as 'these Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments and above all, by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are linked with us in closest intimacy (('Unitatis redintegratio', Ch. 3, I, 15).

After Vatican II the term 'sister Church' has begun to be used with regard of the Orthodox Church. In Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Letter 'Ut unum sint', this stand is expressed quite clearly: 'Following the Second Vatican Council, and in the light of earlier tradition, it has again become usual to refer to the particular or local Churches gathered around their Bishop as "Sister Churches". In addition, the lifting of the mutual excommunications, by eliminating a painful canonical and psychological obstacle, was a very significant step on the way towards full communion' ("Ut unum sint", Par. 56).

These decisions of both the Council and the primate of the Roman Catholic Church mean that in her relations with Orthodox Churches she has shifted from the principles of inter-confessional competition to those of fraternal cooperation among the Churches who recognize one another as such. Naturally, this also presupposes the recognition of canonical territories as different areas of pastoral responsibility.

Therefore, recognizing 'the same origin' of the Orthodox and the Greek Catholics in Ukraine, but rejecting the need to observe the principle of canonical territory because of absence of 'canonical communion', the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church leadership not only rejects decrees of Vatican II, which is given the status of Ecumenical Council in the Roman Catholic Church, but also refuses to observe the established ethics of Orthodox-Catholic relations, which does not presuppose the establishment of any parallel hierarchic structures.

'The Greek Catholics, just as many Orthodox people in Ukraine, do not believe that the privilege of the Kievan Church as the cradle of Byzantine Christianity has been passed on to Moscow'.

Kiev was not the cradle of Byzantine Christianity. As is known, it embraced baptism from Byzantium and thus became the cradle of Russian Christianity in the broadest sense of the word. One can agree or disagree that the privilege of the Kievan episcopal see was passed on to Moscow, but the historical fact remains that Metropolitans of Kiev began regular visits to the north-eastern parts of Russia since the mid-13th century till they finally settled down first in Vladimir and later in Moscow, while preserving their title for a long time.

In fact, in 1596 the Metropolitan of Kiev, together with the bishops of his Church, decided to reaffirm and reconfirm his unity with the Patriarch of Rome, successor of St. Peter, and concluded the Unia of Brest'.

Metropolitan of Kiev could not either reaffirm or reconfirm his unity with the See of Rome because he, after the notorious events of the mid-11th century, together with the entire Orthodox Church, stopped communion with him and was not in unity with him. The act of Unia meant the establishment of communion between the Bishop of Kiev and the Bishop of Rome but at the expense of breaking communion with the Bishop of Constantinople, whose jurisdiction he enjoyed at that time, and through the latter, with the plenitude of Universal Orthodoxy. Therefore, the Metropolitan of Kiev violated at least twice the norms of canon law by willfully leaving his lawful First Hierarch and coming into communion with the hierarch with whom neither Patriarch of Constantinople nor all other Orthodox hierarchs had communion. This action of the Metropolitan of Kiev should be seen just as a schism, an unlawful secession from his First Hierarch, and he himself as one who lost the dignity of the First Hierarch of Kiev.

It should also be mentioned that the Metropolitan of Kiev broke communion with the Orthodox plenitude and entered into communion with Rome without any support from his own flock which remained faithful to Orthodoxy and refused to follow their bishop. In fact, he moved over to the Unia without his Church. Therefore, from the perspective of the Church within the Polish-Lithuanian State, the Metropolitan of Kiev and those hierarchs who joined the Unia together with him ceased to represent their flock.

It is due to these reasons that the Orthodox people began to struggle for having new hierarchs installed in place of those who joined the Unia. As a result of this struggle, Patriarch Theophanes of Jerusalem installed a new metropolitan to the Kiev See in 1620 and restored the Orthodox hierarchy within the Polish-Lithuanian State. From the point of view of the Orthodox people in Rzecz Pospolita the See of Kiev was vacant from 1596 6o 1620 and the Uniate metropolitans who occupied it were actually usurpers. If it had been otherwise, the Orthodox people would not have sought to restore church hierarchy with the support of Orthodox aristocracy and Cossacks.

The Uniate hierarchy also did not see in themselves something parallel to the Orthodox hierarchy or 'one of the four parts of the primordial Church of Kiev', as the UGCC press service insists now in its statement. After the 1596 Uniate Council the Orthodox Church was put outside the legal field, finding herself outlawed. From the point of view of the Polish-Lithuanian State and the Uniate hierarchy, she ceased to exist as a legal entity.

Deprived of all legal rights, the Orthodox Church was also made subject of real persecution locally. As many documents of that time including legal complains testify, Orthodox churches and monasteries were taken away or devastated, shrine were defiled, Orthodox priests were persecuted, deprived of their property and forced to obey Uniate bishops, Orthodox people were robbed and killed; they were not allowed to pursue any trade, to act as witnesses at court, to contract Orthodox marriage - all by the actions of the authorities encouraged by Uniate hierarchs or with their connivance.

In the light of the above-mentioned, the UGCC's arguments for moving the residence of its head to Kiev are unfounded both historically and canonically. In the context of Orthodox-Catholic relations, this action may have very negative consequences, especially if it is accompanied with the UGCC's growing activity among the Orthodox Ukrainians.


August 5, 2005