Ukraine Church Controversy: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The recent controversy over the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has been the subject of a lot of confusion, especially online. The following questions and answers attempt to clear up confusion in a non-partisan way that does not take sides in the dispute.

Updates will be added whenever new information comes to light, so check back periodically.


Who are the players in the current dispute and what is being disputed?

The primary parties in the dispute are the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate, MP), led by Patriarch Kyrill, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (EP), led by Patriarch Bartholomew.

Directly affected is the autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), led by Metropolitan Onoufriy, who governs the only universally-acknowledged, canonical Orthodox presence in Ukraine.

The EP has brought at least two deposed schismatic clergy into its own communion and declared its future intention to grant a tomos (official church document) of autocephaly (full self-government) to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — though without stating to whom exactly the tomos would be granted. Both these actions were explicitly rejected by Moscow (including the UOC-MP) and were the occasion of a break in communion between the MP and EP.

The Ukrainian government has come out strongly in favor of the EP’s actions and has in the past forcibly transferred parishes from the UOC-MP to schismatic factions. Because of the strong current of nationalism in Ukraine and because of the recent unrest in eastern Ukraine, it is feared that violence may erupt in the midst of the controversy, something that the EP warned against in its statement accepting the deposed clergy.

Who are the Orthodox factions in Ukraine?

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) has broad autonomy, is universally recognized within the Orthodox Church, and is led by Metropolitan Onoufriy. Until just recently, the EP explicitly recognized the UOC-MP as the exclusive canonical jurisdiction in Ukraine. The UOC-MP has the greatest number of parishes and monasteries.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyivan (Kievan) Patriarchate (UOC-KP, KP) is led by Filaret Denysenko (who is styled “Patriarch of Kyiv” by his group) and came into being in 1992 when it went into schism from the UOC-MP. The KP has the second largest number of parishes in Ukraine. It also has parishes outside Ukraine, including led by clergy who have broken from canonical Orthodox jurisdictions.

The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) is led by Makariy Maletych (styled “Metropolitan of Kyiv” by his group) and has its origins in a 1921 split from the UOC-MP but was essentially reconstituted in both 1944 and 1990. The UAOC has the fewest parishes. In 1995, the parishes of the UAOC that existed outside Ukraine were received into the EP, and the EP at the time assured the MP that its new Ukrainian diaspora flock would not aid the autocephalist schismatics and that there would be no communion with them.

Between the UOC-MP and the KP, it is often disputed which has the greatest number of parishioners. The UAOC is far behind.

What is the historical background and the EP’s basis for its actions in Ukraine?

Historically, the Kyivan Metropolis was founded by the EP in the 10th century. The metropolis transferred twice — first to Vladimir in 1299 ( de jure, but moved de facto in 1240 when Kyiv was sacked by the Mongols), then to Moscow in 1325 (after transferring several times between Vilnius and Halych) — evolving into the Moscow Patriarchate, with a separate Metropolis of Kyiv refounded in 1458.

The Metropolitan of Moscow became Patriarch of Moscow in 1589 and his church was granted autocephaly.

In 1686, the EP transferred responsibility for ordaining the Metropolitan of Kyiv to the Patriarch of Moscow, an action not disputed nor repudiated by the EP until the current controversy.

The EP argues that it never fully gave jurisdiction over the Kyiv metropolis to Moscow but only temporarily gave the MP the right to ordain its metropolitan, an action that it revoked in 2018.

The MP argues that, because the EP made no claims over Ukraine for over 300 years, because of the close connection between the Kyiv metropolis and its successor in Moscow, and because the 1686 document gives no expiration for the action, Ukraine has been an integral part of the MP ever since. Thus, the MP is invoking ancient, universal Orthodox canons about bishops intruding into canonical territory that does not belong to them, saying that the EP is interfering where it has no authority.

Further, until just recently, the EP generally recognized the UOC-MP as the only canonical jurisdiction in Ukraine, thus indicating by its current actions that it has changed its view. One exception to this is a comment in its 1924 tomos of autocephaly to the Polish church that the incorporation of Kyiv into Moscow “in no way occurred according to the binding canonical regulations.” But until 2018, no attempts were made to change the arrangement that had persisted for centuries.

In addition, the EP makes the argument that autocephaly may be granted only by the EP, a reversal from the last several decades in which the EP argued that a grant of autocephaly requires pan-Orthodox unanimity.

See also: The Ecumenical Throne and the Church of Ukraine (EP position paper)

What action did the EP take regarding Filaret Denysenko and Makariy Maletych?

On Oct. 11, 2018, their status as clergy was declared restored by the EP, an action which has not been recognized by any other Orthodox Church. The EP decided:

To accept and review the petitions of appeal of Filaret Denisenko, Makariy Maletych and their followers, who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarch of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy from all of the Autocephalous Churches. Thus, the above-mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church.

What is the current status of Filaret and Makariy?

Both were formerly clergy of the UOC-MP (Filaret as Metropolitan of Kyiv and Makariy as a priest) who were subsequently deposed from clerical orders and returned to the rank of monk by the MP after they went into schism from the MP. Both were later declared Patriarch and Metropolitan (respectively) in their groups. Their deposition in the 1990s was explicitly recognized by the EP at the time.

The EP has not recognized Filaret as the Patriarch of Kyiv but only as a former metropolitan, and it has not clarified whether it considers Makariy to be a priest or a bishop (as he later became in the UAOC), nor has it made a statement about the many other clergy serving in the KP and UAOC.

Filaret has said subsequent to his reception by the EP that he considers himself to be Patriarch of Kyiv, past, present and future. On Oct. 20, the KP synod revised his title to indicate that he is called “Patriarch” in Ukraine but “Metropolitan” in dealing with other churches (also adding a claim to monasteries of the UOC-MP).

Makariy has continued to dress as a bishop.

What was the MP’s response to the EP receiving Filaret and Makariy into communion?

On Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, the MP fully broke communion with the EP, forbidding its clergy from concelebrating church services with EP clergy and its laity from receiving communion or any priestly ministry from EP clergy. The thoroughness of that ruling is unusual in that it included the laity. (Previously, the MP had ceased commemorating the EP and withdrew from any pan-Orthodox organizations including the EP.)

How has the EP responded to the MP’s break in communion?

It has not yet responded, though its Russian-tradition exarchate in Western Europe (an EP jurisdiction dating from 1921, a.k.a. “Rue Daru” from the street address of its HQ) has stated that it remains in full communion with the MP.

Are any other Orthodox churches affected by this break in communion?

No. Only those under the EP (in the US, this includes the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA), Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA (UOCUSA) and American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese (ACROD); in Europe and elsewhere, this includes all Greek and Ukrainian parishes, as well as the Russian Exarchate (“Rue Daru”) which is under the EP) or the MP (in the US, this includes the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and MP parishes, but not the OCA (which is of Russian tradition but understands itself to be autocephalous, having been given that status in 1970 by the MP); elsewhere, this also includes both MP and ROCOR parishes).

No other churches have yet joined the MP in the break in communion with the EP.

How will the break in communion affect churches in the US, western Europe or elsewhere in the diaspora?

Besides the bilateral communion break between EP and MP parishes and clergy, whenever pan-Orthodox events are held, if there are both EP and MP clergy present, then one or both groups will have to sit out on any concelebrations or inter-communion.

It is not yet clear whether EP clergy and laity are barred from receiving sacraments from MP clergy. The ban expressed by the MP was binding only on its own clergy and laity.

When will the EP-led “unification council” to elect a new metropolitan of Kyiv and form its new church body happen?

The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, announced that this council will happen on Dec. 15, 2018. No official announcement of the date has yet been made by the EP, though leaked copies of the EP invitation to attend confirm the Dec. 15 date.

What is the UOC-MP’s response to is announcement??

On Dec. 7, the UOC-MP holy synod adopted a series of resolutions, rejecting whatever the outcome of the Dec. 15 council might be, calling it an “unlawful assembly,” forbidding its clergy from participation in it, reiterating that the EP has no canonical rights in Ukraine, and noting Ukrainian government interference in church life.

What will happen to Metr. Onoufriy (UOC-MP) after the council?

It’s not clear what the Ukrainian government might do to enforce the EP’s views on this, but the EP has stated its view that, after the council, Metr. Onoufriy will not be allowed to hold his current title.

How do the other Orthodox churches view the actions of the EP in Ukraine?

So far, none have endorsed the EP’s actions in Ukraine or regarded Filaret or Makariy as canonical Orthodox clergy.

The following churches or bishops within them have expressed various opinions, some stating the necessity of holding a synaxis (gathering of primates), whether pan-Orthodox or bilateral (EP and MP), in order to solve the problem of the EP’s unilateral move; some have rejected the status of schismatic factions in Ukraine; some have outright opposed the EP’s actions; some have taken no official position as yet:

Synodal Statements:
Antioch (from its holy synod, calling for pan-Orthodox synaxis)
Georgia (from its holy synod, calling for a bilateral synaxis between the EP and MP)
Serbia (from its holy synod, refusing to recognize the rehabilitation of Philaret and Makariy)
Romania (from its holy synod, calling for a bilateral synaxis between the EP and MP)
Poland (from its holy synod, refusing to recognize the rehabilitation of Filaret and Makariy and calling for a pan-Orthodox synaxis)

Primatial Statements:
Alexandria (from its patriarch, jointly with Poland, calling for peace and canonical order)
Antioch & Serbia (joint statement, calling for a return to conciliarity and critical examination of unilateralism)
Jerusalem (from its patriarch in 2017, expressing support for the UOC-MP)
Serbia (from its patriarch, opposing unilateralism and the restoration of the schismatics)
Bulgaria (from its patriarch, stating that his church has no official position yet)
Georgia (from its patriarch, expressing support for the UOC-MP and rejecting the EP actions)
Cyprus (from its archbishop, calling for a pan-Orthodox synaxis and offering to mediate the dispute)
Poland (from its metropolitan and jointly with Alexandria, calling for peace and canonical order)
Albania (from its archbishop, warning of the danger to Orthodox unity posed by both the EP’s and the MP’s actions)
Czech Lands and Slovakia (from its metropolitan, opposing government interference and calling for consensus on autocephaly)
The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) (from its metropolitan, calling for a pan-Orthodox synaxis)

Individual Bishops’ Statements:
Jerusalem (from one of its bishops, calling for a bilateral synaxis between the EP and MP; from another of its bishops, recognizing only the UOC-MP)
Bulgaria (in a statement from 3 bishops)
Greece (from Seraphim of Kythira, rejecting granting schismatics autocephaly; Seraphim of Piraeus, calling on Bartholomew to repent of dealing with schismatics; an attempt was made to get the issue onto the agenda of the October 2018 synod, but it failed)

The MP has also insisted on the need for a pan-Orthodox synaxis, and the UOC-MP synod called for the schismatics to repent and return to the UOC-MP.

The EP has not yet officially responded to the calls for a synaxis.

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