No one can deny the fact that the Orthodox Catholic Church finds herself in a state of divisive crisis due to the Ukrainian Ecclesiastical Question which was created by the arbitrary and anti-canonical Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople’s granting “autocephaly” to schismatic elements of the Ukrainian Church without the knowledge of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, which is the mother Church of the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Eparchy in Ukraine. In recent years, the Ukrainian Issue has been at the center of the contemporary Orthodox problematic with endless discussions, arguments and counter-arguments from both sides, something that is causing fissures in the unity of the pan-Orthodox Church.
For days and months, I hesitated as to whether I should remain immersed in my silence or whether I should express my anguished opinions on this very hot topic in writing.
The voice of my archpriestly conscience resounded urgently within me: you must overcome your hesitations. You must emerge from your fatalistic sloth and complacency. You must be more actively engaged– and with your pen– on this issue because, according to the Latin dictum, verba volant scripta manent (1). That is, words fly, writings remain. In the end, consciousness of a responsibility and obligation to the unity of the Orthodox Church did not permit me to remain a deftly neutral, colorless, indifferent, drowsy comfortable bishop. Continuing, then, out of fear that God might charge us also with responsibility for our culpable silence on such a dramatic issue which threatens to divine Ecumenical Orthodoxy, I began timidly, conscious of an urgent obligation, to research and write about this complex issue beginning in November, 2019. Over the course of my research, various cares (pastoral work, administration, financial management, cultural, charitable, social and other activities) sometimes prevented me from continuing the present study and at other times they even threatened to put a stop to my continuing and completing it.
Amidst these difficulties, upheavals and vacillations, there suddenly came the great ordeal of the corona virus epidemic, which was accompanied by a painful forced isolation, which reached the limits of the tragic. Nevertheless, this isolation, this loneliness freed me from the world and the cares of life and gave me the opportunity to reexamine my present undertaking more deeply and to start to write, with humble consciousness of my limitations, the work that follows. In the particularly suffocating hours of compulsory isolation, due to the tough existential test of the corona virus pandemic, I was given the opportunity to lay aside “all the cares of life” and without the panicked fear of death that hovers in the atmosphere and to throw myself with heavenly passion into researching and writing this small treatise.
The almost three months of compulsory isolation were the most spiritually fruitful and productive months for me. Indeed, in such situations “you rightly remember … the old sayings ‘there is no evil unmixed with good’ and how ‘from the bitter emerges the sweet'” (2).
This simple and humble work has no other ambition but to give, without subterfuge or ulterior motives, the Orthodox faithful, who live in the “fear” and “shadow” a schism that would be catastrophic for Orthodoxy, the necessary elements which make up the Ukrainian Ecclesiastical Question in order to form a full and correct opinion according to the sacred canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church and, thus, to be led to a proportionate attitude. I believe that every believer, every spiritual, religious person is obliged to know the truth of the matter if he wishes to evaluate it correctly. Otherwise, he will have a hazy, blurred, distorted image of the problem which biased dissenters, not objective people, will take care to present to him.
The basic problematic that will occupy us in this research is whether “autocephaly” was rightly or wrongfully granted to Ukraine. This study seeks, without subterfuge or ulterior motives, to provide the necessary elements that make up the Ukrainian Question. It does not seek to beautify or dramatize, but rather to present the truth impersonally. That is, without prejudices, sympathies or antipathies. I write, following the divine Apostle, “as of sincerity … as from God in the sight of God” (3).
In our humble endeavor adequately to develop the topic, we will proceed on the basis of the Sacred Canons of the Ecumenical Councils, the Local Councils of Ecumenical standing, the canons of the God-bearing Fathers, and the relevant bibliography and subject matter. When the need arises, we will also cite the word of God which is enshrined int he Holy Scriptures (the Old and New Testaments).
In writing about the Ukrainian Question, such a heated and complicated problem, I do not aim for anything personal. I am doing it for reasons of conscience and consistency, indeed with total awareness of the potential misunderstandings and dangers that our endeavor entails. It is highly likely that the objective elaboration of this topic will provoke reactions. It is possible that this book will be the object of polemic from chauvinistic nationalists and other distorters of the truth. It is even possible that with the publication of this small work I am provoking the thunderbolts to strike me personally. The arrows of malicious criticism and the devil’s mud might be cast at me. “Enemies and treacherous plotters,” (4) both visible and invisible, may seek our harm.
I am not unaware that one who seeks the truth and has the courage to proclaim it is always, temporarily, hurt. But I am likewise not unaware that “Christian hope always looks beyond Golgotha to the luminous reflections of the glorious Resurrection” (5).
So in this case, if it happens– that is, if opponents muster all audacity and shamelessness to malign me and try to demolish me– then I will be comforted and strengthened by the words of the Apostle Peter: “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you…” (6). Above all, however, I will be comforted by the words of the Lord Himself in His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (7). So bearing these things in mind, I will say with the Psalmist: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (8). I await not the praise of men, but the glory of heaven.
Before concluding the Preface of this present study, we consider it a necessary duty to express publicly our gratitude to our distinguished associates for their selflessness, diligence and labors to make possible the publication of the present work. The work at hand received its definitive content and final form thanks to valuable contributions, suggestions and useful linguistic corrections from the Director of the Ecclesiastical Diakonia of the Sacred Metropolis of Kykkos and Tellyria, Professor Emeritus at the University of Athens and Professor at the University of Nicosia, Nikos Nikolaides, as well as the generous, substantial contribution and invaluable assistance from our excellent associates Voula Papandreou, our personal secretary Kostas Kokkinophtas, Director of the Center of Studies of the Sacred Monastery of Kykkos, and Protopresbyter Paraschevas Papamichael, Director of our Private Office, each of whom offered themselves with commendable eagerness. Their cooperation was very important. I would also like to thank the Center of Sacred Monastery of Kykkos for the special honor of including this small treatise, which does not claim scientific comprehensiveness, in its series of weighty publications. We also express our gratitude to the printing house R.P.M. Lithographica for the correct technical and artistic layout of this book and, in general, for the aesthetic beauty of its impeccable typographical appearance.
In concluding this Preface, I give things and praise from the depths of my soul “to my God through Jesus Christ” (9), who made me worthy to complete the present study which I offer, as the least gift in return, to Him and to the holy Plenitude of His Church.
We hand this publication over to the indulgence and prayers of God-loving readers, with our ardent prayers to the Almighty and Good Lord, that He may grant all sensible apprehension.
September 8, 2020
Feast of the Merciful Most Holy Theotokos of Kykkos
The Metropolitan of Kykkos and Tellyrias, Nikephoros
Translated from: Metropolitan Nikephoros of Kykkos and Tellyrias, Το σύγχρονο Ουκρανικό ζήτημα και η κατά τους θείους και ιερούς κανόνες επίλυσή του (Nicosia, 2020), 11-19.
(1) «Χρησιμοποιούμεναι ξενόγλωσσοι φράσεις (ἐκ τῆς Λατινικῆς καί ἄλλων γλωσσῶν)», Νεώτερον Ἐγκυκλοπαιδικόν Λεξικόν Ἡλίου, vol. 18, (Athens), 1053.
(2) Π. Β. ΠΑΣΧΟΥ, Ὁ διάλογος μέ τή Δύση γιά τό Θεό καί τόν ἄνθρωπο – Ἡ ποιητική θεολογία τοῦ Pavel Nicolaievitch Evdokimov, (Athens, 1995), 9.
(3) II Corinthians 2:17
(4) ΧΡ. Ν. ΠΑΠΟΥΤΣΟΠΟΥΛΟΥ (Ἀρχιμ.), Λόγοι τῆς Χάριτος, (Athens, 1969, 31.
(5) Γ. Β. ΜΕΛΕΤΗ, Διάλογος μέ τόν οὐρανό, (Athens, 1974), 174.
(6) I Peter 4:14
(7) Matthew 5:11
(8) Psalm 23:4
(9) Romans 1:8