By Prof. James Mace, Consultant to The Day
The Day Weekly Digest in English, Kyiv, Ukraine, February 10, 2004
Recently our friends at The Ukraine Report-2004 (http://www.artukraine.com)
passed along a most interesting item taken from Rome's ZENIT News Services.
It seems that Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has urged Pope
John Paul II not to establish a Greek-Catholic patriarchate in Kyiv, warning
him that to do so would risk a break in ecumenical relations.
This occurred in the discussion of a document presented by Cardinal Walter
Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity,
to Aleksiy II, patriarch of Moscow and All Rus'.
Aleksiy II sent the document, which alludes to the eventual recognition of a
patriarchal title for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics, to other Orthodox
patriarchs. Obviously, Patriarch Aleksiy was able to prevail upon the
Ecumenical Patriarch to support him in yet another battle for what he
considers to be Moscow's canonical territory.
Photo by the ArtUkraine.com Information Service
(Click on image to enlarge it)
In the letter dated November 29, Patriarch Bartholomew I rejected Cardinal
Kasper's document, labeling it "erroneous, confused, unacceptable,
provocative," and after a lengthy refutation of the cardinal's
historical-canonical document, warned about the possible negative
consequences of an eventual recognition of a patriarchal title for the
Greek- Catholic Church in Ukraine, which "will cause strong reactions on the
part of all the Orthodox sister Churches and will put a stop to attempts to
continue the theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and Orthodox
Churches," the Italian magazine 30 Giorni reported. In his letter to the
Pope, Bartholomew I said there is a danger "of returning to the climate of
hostility that reigned up to a few decades ago."
"Therefore," the Patriarch wrote, "it is necessary that you assure the
Ukrainian people and all the Orthodox Churches with persuasive force that
you have no intention of initiating the institution of the Greek-Catholic
Patriarchate in Ukraine as Cardinal Kasper's text alludes."
Like all church politics, the issue here might seem a bit incomprehensible
to the layman. It really has to do with fifteenth and sixteenth century
church history, which from the perspective of the twenty-first seems not
always to have been ruled by the highest spiritual values. In 1439 Orthodox
hierarchs, under instructions from the Eastern Emperor who hoped to thereby
secure aid for the struggle of what was left of the Byzantine Empire against
the Ottoman Turks, signed the Union of Florence, agreeing to accept the
primacy of the Pope and settling certain other theological questions in
The aid was not forthcoming, and in 1453 Constantinople fell, placing the
Ecumenical Patriarch under the rule of the Muslim Ottoman sultan, who wanted
to break all ties between the Eastern Church, the center of which was in his
territory, and the Western Church, which was not. Thus the Union of
Florence, never accepted by all, was dutifully rejected at an Orthodox
church synod in 1472 and has been anathema to Orthodox dogma ever since.
Incidentally, this was still quite some time before Constantinople approved
the transfer of the metropolitan's throne of Kyiv to the jurisdiction of
Moscow in exchange for some very rich bribes.
To be fair, these were also not the best of times for Catholicism. The Union
of Florence occurred only two decades after the Catholic Great Schism came
to an end at the Council of Constance to decide between three papal
claimants declaring one, Gregory XII, the legitimate vicar of Christ and
John XXIII, who had called the conference in the first place, an "antipope."
1472 was also only about four years before one Caesare Borgia, hero of
Machiavelli's Prince, was born the illegitimate son of future Pope Alexander
VI, perhaps the worst excuse for a priest in the whole history of
Christianity. Incidentally, in 1453 the Turks were helped in taking
Constantinople by Venice, a Roman Catholic republic with its own patriarch.
Later during the Counterreformation, Rome, in agreement with a number of
Orthodox bishops, decided to renew the Union of Florence with the 1596 Union
of Brest-Litovsk, thus creating the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church, whose
relations with those who remained Orthodox were bitter and often violent.
Accepting Roman dogma but retaining the Eastern rite, its own calendar of
saints, it has for centuries constituted the bedrock of the Ukrainian
identity in Western Ukraine, even when banned by the Soviets. Its estimated
seven million Ukrainian faithful now make it the largest of the five Eastern
rite Uniate Churches under the Pope.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Catholics, first in the diaspora and later in
independent Ukraine, have worked for many years to have their spiritual
leader given the dignity a patriarch. Recognizing the level of development
reached by its Church, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Synod's plenary
assembly, held in Kyiv in July 2002, asked the Holy Father to sanction this
process by granting it the patriarchal title.
After all, if Venice has a Catholic patriarch, why not Kyiv? And the Pope
has the power to recognize on his own initiative the patriarchal rank of a
church. The complex and less than glorious history of this particular issue
is something that men of God might consider putting behind them.
Many Ukrainians have understandable reasons for not wanting to be under
the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Russian Orthodox Church not long ago canonized the last tsar, Nicholas
II, a thorough reactionary of whom it seems the best that can be said is
that he was executed by the Bolsheviks. One can buy icons depicting the
autocrat who encouraged pogroms and ordered a demonstration of workers
led by Father Gapon fired upon, thereby touching off the Revolution of 1905,
from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate).
Who could be next, Nicholas's spiritual guide, Grigory Rasputin? This
church, in turn, has declared Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv
a schismatic, while Constantinople weighs the issue.
The central player here is the Russian Orthodox Church, which seems to
consider that all Ukraine's Christians should be Orthodox, and all Ukraine's
Orthodox under Moscow. It should be noted that this particular church, has
been trading in oil since 1990 and allegedly received a gift of five million
barrels from one Saddam Hussein, who seems to have similarly generous to a
number of other unlikely groups in Russia and elsewhere. This was reported
by RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch on February 3
(www.rferl.org/corruptionwatch), citing the Iraqi daily newspaper Al-Mada of
January 25. The charges are being denied in Russia and investigated in Iraq.
Whatever the outcome of the Iraq investigation, it should also be considered
that in Kyiv last year the local followers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
(Moscow Patriarchate) were involved in a number of illegal property seizures
(occupation by monks and nuns, while police looked on and did nothing),
including the Kyiv premises of the US-Ukraine Foundation, the main sponsor
of The Ukraine Report-2004 and quite a number of other good works.
Hence, in deciding whether to give the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church a
patriarch, one hopes that Pope John-Paul II or his successor will take the
warning mentioned above for precisely what it is worth.
FOR PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC USE ONLY