Staunton, June 10 – The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, two of the three largest Orthodox denominations in Ukraine (the other is the UOC subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate), have agreed to hold a meeting later this month to discuss unification.
That move, agreed upon at a meeting in Kyiv on Monday, puts the two on the road to unification and toward the formation of a single autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine, something that the Moscow Patriarchate will do everything in its power to prevent because the emergence of such a church would cost it most of its bishoprics and parishioners there.
Such an independent national church, subordinate only to the Universal Patriarchate in Constantinople which sent delegates to the Monday meeting and appears to be actively supporting the Ukrainian move, would not only attract many bishops and the faithful of the ROC-MP but would also boost Ukrainian national identity separate from Russia.
But in addition, it would have serious consequences in Russia itself: Because more than half of the Moscow Patriarchate’s parishes are in Ukraine and because many of the newly created bishops there are Moscow Patriarch Kirill’s base, such a move represents a devastating blow to the Moscow church and its leader, reducing the ROC-MP to the third largest Orthodox church in the world and undercutting Kirill’s power and influence.
Consequently, it is entirely reasonable to assume that Kirill and Moscow will do everything they can to block this development, including the use of FSB-orchestrated provocations, blackmail, bribes, and other forms of official pressure both within Ukraine itself and in the Orthodox world more generally.
These truly tectonic shifts follow from what may have struck many as a modest announcement by the press service of the Kyiv Patriarchate press service. It reported on the meeting, including attendees from both churches, the Ukrainian church in the US, and the Universal Patriarchate to which the meeting formally expressed its gratitude and asked that it be represented in all unity meetings (cerkva.info/en/publications/articles/6958-rishennia.html).
The press service said the meeting had resolved that the leaderships of the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate and the UAOC should by June 1 decide on a date for the convening of a Unity Council “for the final union” of the two churches – this meeting proposed September 14 as an opportune date -- and even specified how each church was to be represented at that meeting.