The Istanbul Church in Ukraine: What the Text of Tomos Really Means

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


On January 6th in Istanbul the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew handed Tomos of Autocephaly – a document that was written by the theologians of Fener and is issued on parchment made by the iconographer of Athos – to representatives of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian translation of the text of Tomos appeared immediately after the ceremony of its solemn signing by Patriarch Bartholomew in the presence of an extensive delegation from Ukraine on January 5th. A little later it was publicly announced by the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, who made Tomos one of the main points of his electoral program.

However, proceeding from the text of this document, it turned out that Ukraine didn’t receive a new independent church at all, and the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy will only deepen.

It is characteristic that in the text of Tomos one more name is mentioned besides the name “Orthodox Church in Ukraine”“The Holiest Church in Ukraine” (this is the name that the Ecumenical Patriarchate urges other orthodox churches to use when referring to the OCU). Or – HCU. The Internet immediately started deciphering it as the “Istanbul Church of Ukraine”.

“Strana” analysed what Tomos actually means.

1. Subordination to the Ecumenical Patriarchate

The document defines the new church as the “spiritual daughter” of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which by its status will be a Metropolitanate headed by the Metropolitan of Kiev and all of Ukraine (by the way, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry, still has exactly the same status as before and isn’t going to reject it). The text of Tomos contains an appeal to all the world’s Orthodox churches (there are 14) to recognise the Ukrainian “sister”, which will take 15th place in the diptych of the Orthodox churches of the world.

The jurisdiction of the newly created church will only apply to the territory of Ukraine, it won’t be able to open foreign parishes. All parishes of the diaspora will be definitively fixed in subordination of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

According to this provision, the rights of the new Orthodox church are much narrower than those of a number of other churches. Thus, the Constantinople, Antioch, Moscow, Georgian, Serbian, Romanian, and Bulgarian Patriarchates have parishes and dioceses outside of the territory of their main jurisdiction. This means that these patriarchates nurture compatriots who want to remain faithful to the traditions of the church while living abroad.

Subordination to Bartholomew directly awaits five other bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) who were earlier sent by the head of the Kiev Patriarchate Filaret to foreign parishes.

Constantinople will also become final instance for all disputes within this church. Moreover, in plain text it is written that these provisions can be understood as follows: if a conflict arises between the hierarches of the church and its leader Epifany, they will be able to solve the problem by turning to Bartholomew, having bypassed the head of the new church Epifany.

It is interesting that the right of Constantinople to make peremptory decisions is justified by its status as the “center of Orthodoxy”, and also by referring to the incorrect points of the canons of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. Instead of the 17th point of canons, which deals with the judicial authority of the Constantinople throne, in Tomos the rights of Bartholomew are justified by referring to the ban on marriage imposed on monks.

READ:  "My Son Is a Traitor, the Country Must Punish Him"

And although it is clear that such an annoying slip of the pen incidentally crept into the document, it all the same raises doubts about the dubious level of preparation concerning this historical document.

Meanwhile, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration Rostislav Pavlenko declared on his Facebook page that despite the aforementioned facts, the new church is considered to be independent.

“The OCU, by its status, is equal to the Russian Orthodox Church,” wrote Pavlenko. “When the OCU will become stronger, when those who now remain in the Moscow Patriarchate will join it, it will then be possible to talk about obtaining the recognised status of a Patriarchate. The position of Tomos – that the title of the Primate can’t be changed without Fener’s consent – is, in fact, the right path to this. The church will become stronger, it will gain recognition, it will gain authority – it will be easier to hold negotiations about Patriarchate status. Until then, a Metropolitanate is no worse and is equal among equals”.

At the same time, hierarches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (even those who previously had a positive attitude towards autocephaly) stated that such “autocephaly” as the one that the OCU obtained is definitely not needed by them. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed], in its current status, has much more independence than the new church under the supervision of Istanbul.

2. Millions to Istanbul

The new Orthodox church will not only be legally and canonically dependent on Constantinople. Fener will receive quite specific material benefits from the creation of this church.

Firstly, the text mentions the direct subordination of certain temples and monasteries to Constantinople. “The rights of the Ecumenical throne to the Exarchate in Ukraine and holy stauropegic monasteries remains and can’t be reduced,” it is said in the document.

“Strana” has already repeatedly wrote that within the framework of the agreement between Poroshenko and the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, signed on November 3rd, at least 12 temples and monasteries will be transferred to Fener. They will be given the status of stauropegic monasteries, i.e., direct subordination to Istanbul. The text of this agreement, which was triumphantly signed, was never published publicly.

“Both foreign parishes, and stauropegic monasteries become directly subordinated to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and diocesan contributions will be paid directly from there”

considers the priest Oleg Tochinsky

Poroshenko’s Administration refuted the expansion of Fener’s influence over Ukraine through the creation of stauropegic monasteries.

“The Exarchate is a representation, a mission, in fact – it is an ’embassy’ that is located in St. Andrew’s church. This is what is meant. Nothing else is stipulated. There are no secret or certain agreements on ‘stauropegion’ (besides for the mentioned St. Andrew’s church)”

stated the deputy head of the Presidential Administration Rostislav Pavlenko

In addition, in the text of Tomos it is directly said that the new Church structure will receive myrrh for sacrament from Constantinople.

“… the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, through its First canonical Locum Tenens of the Kiev Throne, is obliged to participate in Orthodox meetings concerning important canonical, dogmatic, and other issues that accumulate from time to time, according to a holy custom since the time of the Fathers. The first established one is obliged to send the necessary appropriate Ordination Certificate to the Ecumenical Patriarch and other Primates, and he himself has the right to receive from them, starting their secular trip from the Mother See Church of Constantinople, according to customs, receiving Chrism from it, for the manifestation of spiritual unity with it”

it is said in Tomos

Chrism in Christianity is an especially prepared and consecrated mix of aromatic oils and resins used in church sacraments for the purpose of anointing the human body.

READ:  Retreat From Izyum: Testimony of an FSB Officer

In order to purchase this oil, representatives of the new church will have to go to Istanbul. At the same time, up to now in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) Chrism was made in Ukraine from Athonite oils. Its consecration was done by Patriarch Filaret personally once per year on Holy Thursday before Easter, and then was distributed in the diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate).

“Quite recently the Kiev Patriarchate substantiated independent Chrism-making as an integral sign of autocephaly. Now, apparently, he has changed his opinion, which testifies to inconsistency and unscrupulousness”

considers the prior of the Ioninsky monastery of the [canonical – ed] Ukrainian Orthodox Church (a parishioner of who was Petro Poroshenko until recently) Iona Cherepanov.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] received Chrism from Moscow, but it was free of charge. In an interview Metropolitan Sofrony of Cherkassy (who was considered to be one of the apologists for the creation of the united local church in Ukraine, but after the publication of the text of the charter of the OCU he refused to switch to it) recognised that Chrism is received free of charge from Moscow at the rate of a liter or two per year, depending on the number of church sacraments carried out. According to him, the reception of Chrism in Istanbul will happen on a paid basis, and it will also entail the incurrence of expenses for the travel of priests to collect the Chrism.

“The arrival of the OCU in Ukraine and the sale of Chrism will bring an enormous amount of money to Fener. I think we’re talking about tens of millions of dollars in profits for Fener every year”

said the political scientist Ruslan Bortnik, who has been engaged in the church issues for a long time, to “Strana”

At the same time, in a recent interview Epifany claimed that the practice of receiving this oil from Constantinople is commonplace for many local churches.

“I.e., the fact that we will receive Chrism from the Ecumenical Patriarch is a bullet point that was registered in other autocephalous local orthodox churches that received Tomos from the Ecumenical Patriarchate”

he said in an interview with the “Pryamoy” TV channel.

Rostislav Pavlenko also doesn’t see anything problematic with receiving Chrism from Istanbul. “It is a purely symbolical thing that is present in the majority of Tomos. It doesn’t entail any practical restrictions,” he said on his Facebook page concerning his position vis-a-vis Tomos.

3. It was ordered to pray for Kirill

The text of Tomos significantly narrows the rights of the head of the new church Epifany. Besides the fact that he won’t be able to appoint bishops abroad and engage in making Chrism, he is also still obliged to participate in pan-Orthodox meetings in Fener. “The OCU is ‘obliged’ to take part in the pan-Orthodox meetings – i.e., sobors, for example. It turns out that if it refuses, it will violate the conditions of Tomos! This means that this ‘church’ has no right to refuse to participate in a sobor for one reason or another, which in fact gives Constantinople power over it,” noted Iona Cherepanov.

READ:  Why Russian Missiles Are Now Flying Above Ukraine

But there is one more interesting thing about Tomos that obliges Epifany, when carrying out church services, to commemorate all Primates of Orthodox churches.

“… every Most Blessed Metropolitan of Kiev and All of Ukraine must commemorate the ancient tradition of the Holy Fathers of our Ecumenical Patriarch and other Primates of Local Orthodox Churches, in a diptych series, according to canonical orders…”

it is said in the text of Tomos

This means that Epifany must mention in church services all the leaders of all orthodox churches in the world, including the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill. In December Epifany himself recognised that he didn’t commemorate the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, during church services because “we are at war. And therefore the Ukrainian people don’t accept that the newly elected head commemorates the name of the Russian Patriarch”.

At the same time, the commemoration of Primates of local orthodox churches in strict compliance with their place in the diptych (the list of local churches) is one of the key signs of church ties between them. Moreover, despite the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church cut eucharistical ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in October, the Ecumenical Patriarch continues to commemorate Patriarch Kirill in his church services along with the names of all leaders of the Orthodox churches of the world.

It should be noted that Petro Poroshenko has repeatedly said that Ukraine needs the OCU, amongst other reasons, because after Tomos is granted, they will no longer pray for the health of the Patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia Kirill any more in temples.

4. Poroshenko immortalised himself in Tomos

A separate role in Tomos was assigned to the president of Ukraine. At the end of the document the name of the president is mentioned, and it is noted that Tomos was granted not only to Epifany, but also to Petro Poroshenko.

“… Our Holy Christ’s Great Church blesses and proclaims the Orthodox Church in Ukraine as Autocephalous… Being a reasoned decision joyfully announced to you from the respected Center of Orthodoxy, approved by the sobor, for permanent preservation, we issue Patriarchal and Synodal Tomos, written and signed in the Code of our Christ’s Great Constantinople Church, handed over in an exact and identical copy to the Most Blessed Primate of the Holy Church of Ukraine kyrie Epifany, and his Excellency Mr Petro Poroshenko, president of the country, for eternal testimony and permanent representation,” it is said in the text.

Thus, nothing has changed in between the draft of the charter of the new church published earlier and the provision of Tomos, besides the appearance of Petro Poroshenko in the document.

“In fact, Poroshenko didn’t bargain for the independence of the new church, he bargained for his surname being in the text of Tomos. All important questions concerning the new church – canonical, personnel, financial – will happen in coordination with Constantinople, the Metropolitanate will have very limited rights in such a form. Ukraine definitively abandons diaspora, and it will be impossible to appoint bishops abroad – this is a loss of both money and influence,” said the political scientist Ruslan Bortnik to “Strana”. “Any disputable questions must be reported to Bartholomew. The real dogmatic power in the new church will belong to the Constantinople Patriarchate. We, as a country, lost the chance to create an actual independent local church many years ago”.

Copyright © 2022. All Rights Reserved.