On December 15 – a date that will go down in the history of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people – the spiritual divorce between Russia and Ukraine came one step closer to being finalized and another nail sealed the coffin of Russian influence on the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
On that day, the Unification Synod at St. Sofia Cathedral in Kyiv elected 39-year-old Metropolitan Epifaniy (born Serhiy Dumenko) of Pereyaslav and Bila Tserkva of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate as metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Metropolitan Epifaniy’s public messages since his election have underscored the need to encourage unity during the trying times that Ukraine has been enduring since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.
That unity has been reflected in the greetings the new primate has received from Patriarch Sviatoslav, major-archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church; Bishop Bronislav Bernatsky, head of the Conference of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Ukraine; leaders of the Protestant Churches in Ukraine; as well as the Muslim community in Ukraine.
Beyond Ukraine, Metropolitan Epifaniy has been acknowledged and congratulated by the Vatican, and a letter of congratulations and invitation to concelebrate divine liturgy on January 6 in Istanbul came from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. A letter of greetings was sent from the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A.
Ukrainian World Congress President Paul Grod, in his statement said: “We congratulate all Orthodox Ukrainians with this truly historic moment. Only on the foundation of unification, in Ukraine and throughout the world, will Ukrainians become ever stronger in defending their faith, the interests of their nation, their free, independent and democratic state.”
The U.S. government, through various government officials, issued statements of congratulations on the election of Metropolitan Epifaniy and supported the defense of the right to religious freedom in Ukraine. President Andriy Futey of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America also held a congratulatory meeting with Metropolitan Epifaniy.
Canada’s Foreign Policy (@CanadaFP) Twitter account offered congratulatory greetings to Metropolitan Epifaniy and called the establishment of the new united Church a “historic moment for religious freedom and Ukraine.”
Alexandra Chyczij, national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, stated: “The establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is cause for all Ukrainians, no matter their faith or confession, to rejoice. For millions of Ukrainians, the establishment of the Church and its recognition by world Orthodoxy, has been awaited for many decades. We sincerely congratulate all Ukrainians on this historic event.”
Metropolitan Epifaniy is scheduled to receive the Tomos of autocephaly – the official document recognizing the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine – from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul on January 6 (The feast of Theophany according to the Gregorian calendar).
In an interview with Radio Liberty, Metropolitan Epifaniy explained that the new Church will be the spiritual foundation and pillar of the Ukrainian state in these difficult times and explained how it would continue to work with the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate who did not join the united Church. “When a Tomos is granted, this will be evidence that we are in fact an independent autocephalous Church. Then we will begin to work, communicate, invite, show love and mutual respect. On this basis, I think, they will gradually understand that there is no other way out than to be part of this united Ukrainian Church and jointly build our future,” Metropolitan Epifaniy said, adding, the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate “are inside the fold of the Russian Orthodox Church, having Ukrainian registration.”
Left out of all of the celebrations, by directives of Russian Patriarch Kirill, is the Russian Orthodox Church-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (now registered as the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine), which has viewed these events as a canonical catastrophe to the point that the ROC has severed ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The ROC has also appealed to the Vatican, the Anglican Church and other spiritual leaders in a desperate attempt at rallying solidarity to its Russian World (“Russki Mir”) hegemonic world view, while calling the Ukrainians schismatics.
A major concern among Ukrainians is that Moscow (both the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate) – while pointing the finger of blame at Ukrainians for sparking “spiritual unrest” – has sought to provoke violence as a pretext for protecting “Russian-speakers,” as was purported by President Vladimir Putin as justification for his military adventurism in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. This is a ploy for keeping Russian tentacles firmly entrenched in Ukraine’s historic church property in Ukraine.
We pray that God may grant many years to the newly established Orthodox Church of Ukraine and its new primate, Metropolitan Epifaniy. Axios!