06/13/2019, 11.32
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The Greek Orthodox Church stops short on Ukrainian autocephaly. Filaret promises battle

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Archbishop Hyeronimus II of Greece and Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kiev gathered together in Constantinople to pray for the feast of St. Bartholomew. "Prudence" in the recognition of autocephaly. Patriarch Filaret accuses Epiphanius of "selling out authority to Constantinople".

Moscow (AsiaNews) - On 11 June last, in Istanbul, the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Hyeronimus II (Liapis), and the Metropolitan of Kiev Epiphany (Dumenko) participated together in the prayer of Vespers on the feast for the name day of the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew (Archontonis). This meeting suggested a favorable Greek orientation on the issue of Ukrainian autocephaly, but sources from the archbishopric of Athens denied this impression.

Hyeronimus had arrived at the Phanar residence last Monday 10 June, to participate in the celebrations of Patriarch Bartholomew, along with other Greek prelates. The following day the representatives of the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church, with Metropolitan Epiphanius, who took a seat next to the Archbishop of Athens, presented themselves at the monastery of the "living spring".

At the end of the liturgical prayer, Epiphanius gave a gift to Hyeronimus of Panagia, the medal of the Virgin that the bishops wear around their neck, in memory of his enthronement. The gesture was photographed by media, and interpreted as a sign of mutual recognition. In the evening, the Archbishop of Athens returned home with the Greek delegation, without taking part in the celebrations, motivating his departure with having pressing commitments the following day.  

Sources from the Archbishopric of Athens insist that "in no case can this meeting be considered a recognition of the Ukrainian autocephaly by the Greek Church. The Archbishop had gone to congratulate Bartholomew on the day of his name day [which for the Orthodox has even more value than the birthday - ed], as head of our mother church, and did not expect to meet Epiphanius. We are very cautious about the issue of autocephaly; we decided not to talk about it at the ordinary meeting of the Synod, referring it to the general assembly of the Synod of Bishops," declared an ecclesiastic from Athens to the Russian agency RIA Novosti. There is no mention of the Archbishop's trip to Istanbul on the website of the Greek Church.

Despite the pressures of the ecumenical patriarchate, so far no autocephalous Orthodox Church has recognized the Tomos granted from Constantinople to Kiev. In an interview of these days with the Ukrainian agency LB.ua, Epiphanius of Kiev says he is convinced that the Greek Synod will recognize the Ukrainian autocephaly, revealing that he had recently ordained a priest of Greek ethnicity from an seminary belonging to the Greek Church.

Moreover, the problems for Epiphanius are within his own fold rather than from the foreign Churches. The elderly "patriarch emeritus" Filaret (Denisenko) has been openly challenging his ex-collaborator, Epiphanius for weeks, accusing him of having excluded him from the government of the Church of Kiev, and of having yielded in fact to Constantinople, submitting to the point of rendering the received autocephaly to them, and ultimately playing to Moscow by demonstrating the weakness of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Filaret intends to convene the "Local Council" of the Kiev Patriarchate on 20 June, which was dissolved on 15 December with the accession to the autocephaly proposed by Constantinople. The elder bishop announced the convocation on June 11, during the Ukrainian Intelligent Forum gathered under the slogan "For the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, for the Patriarchate of Kiev".

If he fails to limit the activism of his old sponsor, Epiphanius may even find himself having to return the Tomos to Constantinople, especially if Filaret manages to bring a significant number of bishops to his side. This time politics will not intrude: the new president Volodymyr Zelensky, while showing willingness to support the local Church, has no intention of intervening in person, unlike his predecessor Petro Poroshenko.

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