In the context of the study undertaken by the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the granting of the ecclesiastical status of autocephaly to Ukraine, various opinions have been formulated—even by representatives of official institutions—expressing misgiving about the canonical prerogative of the Church of Constantinople to proceed with such an act. The principal argument proposed in this regard is that Ukraine “constitutes the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Moscow” and that, consequently, such an act on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate would comprise an “intervention” into a foreign ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
Therefore, it has been deemed necessary for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to remind everyone of the historical and canonical truth with regard to the relationship of the Church of Constantinople to the Church of Ukraine as derived from the surviving formal documents, which unfortunately are either disregarded or else deliberately obscured for apparent reasons.
At its formal session on April 20, 2018, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople voted to proceed with taking the necessary steps for granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine. This decision was made after extensive study and discussion based on the responsibilities and rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as enumerated by the sacred canons, and the historical reality that in 1589 when the Church of Russia received its status as a patriarchate from the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Metropolis of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, was not included but remained under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. Additionally, within the Patriarchal and Synodal “Praxis” (act) of 1686 there is further affirmation that the Ukraine remained under the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Fully conscious of the ecclesiastical, political and geopolitical dimensions of granting autocephaly to Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarchate commissioned a delegation – comprising Their Eminences John Metropolitan Geron of Pergamon, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, and Metropolitan Bartholomew of Smyrna - to visit its sister Orthodox Autocephalous Churches throughout the world from May through July 2018, in order to inform them and explain its decision. Moreover, within the framework of preparing to issue the Tomos (official document granting autocephaly), the Ecumenical Patriarchate appointed two Exarchs to the Ukraine – His Excellency Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon (from the United States) and His Grace Bishop Ilarion of Edmonton (from Canada) - in order to deliberate with congregations and communities, as well as all parties and individuals involved in the granting of the Tomos. These two hierarchs of the Ecumenical Throne serve the large Ukrainian Orthodox community in North America, which is under the omophorion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, attesting to the abiding ties that bind Kiev and Constantinople.
In its ecclesial responsibility and regard for healing divisions and strengthening unity among the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is sometimes obliged to adopt difficult resolutions. In its historical role and right to hear appeals from Churches isolated for diverse reasons from the rest of the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is occasionally compelled to assume painful initiatives. Finally, in its traditional consideration and maternal concern not to neglect even a single lost sheep (as in Christ’s parable in Luke 15.1-7), the Ecumenical Patriarchate is from time-to-time required to reach out in reconciliation and forgiveness.
The historical reasons in support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s involvement in seeking a canonical resolution to the ecclesiastical anomaly in Ukraine have been analyzed and elaborated in a number of places, notably in numerous articles found on the following websites and links:
- The Documents Speak (Greek and English) https://www.goarch.org/-/the-ecumenical-throne-and-the-church-of-ukraine
- www.archons.org; and https://www.archons.org/news/archon
- The Interview by Archbishop Job of Telemessos: https://panorthodoxcemes.blogspot.com/2018/09/archbishop-job-getcha-of-telmessos.html
- Metropolitan Maximos of Sardes: The Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church
- Archbishop Job of Telmessos: "Ukraine Has Always Been the Canonical Territory of the Ecumenical Patriarchate"
- Metropolitan Emmanuel: "...Through Dialogue Faith Becomes an Agent of Faith..."