The author of these lines had a chance to visit the headquarters of Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople – the Patriarch of Orthodox Church in Istanbul twice. The residence of the Patriarch is located in the Fener district, which became home to many of the Phanariots of Greek origin after the Ottomans had captured the city.
In fact, the Patriarch’s headquarters consist of a small but really beautiful Saint George Cathedral and a little yard adjacent to it. Everyone who has ever been here cannot but conclude that the Ecumenical Patriarchate lives quite modestly and, if compared with other religious centers of the world, even quite poorly. Let me give you some sense of the scale: any church of Moscow Patriarchate in Uzhhorod, which is the smallest regional center in Ukraine, is way bigger than the residence of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Which, as a matter of fact, does not mean that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no influence. The thing is that this influence is symbolic. But it is a well-known fact that symbols have a crucial meaning in religion. Therefore, granting tomos to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will be simply a symbol but still an incredibly significant one, the essence of which will be so hard to explain to the Ukrainian believers that it will take several decades to make a move. For it is not the Ecumenical Patriarchate but believers who make a fundamental decision about their religious affiliation. Simply put, tomos will not be the final victory for Ukraine, but it will be the means of spreading the ideas of the future victory – the creating of the united local Orthodox Church – to the believers.
After all, tomos itself will not be able to radically change the religious situation in Ukraine. The Moscow Patriarchate has been and will remain the most numerous church in our country. We can regard parishioners of this patriarchate as “vatniks” [Russian jingoists and supporters of Putin’s politics and the war in the Eastern Ukraine – edit.], speak about the threats which this de facto foreign-for-Ukraine church carries for our country, but it will remain completely legal. All parishes, churches, monasteries, laurels, which today are controlled by Onufriy and its Kremlin chief Kirill, will remain in the ownership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew cannot change or influence the situation. It is only up to the believers.
We will have to work hard to convince the believers of Moscow Patriarchate that the way of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to the autocephaly is right, to agitate them to join and unite under a single local Church. The most important step in the first phase of this process will be the unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. If the process of merging these churches into a single local church will happen without quarrels, intrigues, mutual mistrust and struggle for power, if this process will have the spirit of blessed and joyful unity and not some dirty competition for the post of the Patriarch and influence on the parishes, then this step can serve as a strong incentive for parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate to join the newly-established Church.
The second phase (after the merger of UOC and UAOC) will be the longest and the most difficult. Because it will face the interference of the global politics, Russian propaganda and the crazy resistance of the highest clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate. The final decision on the transition to the jurisdiction of the single local Church will be made by specific parishes, active parishioners and priests. The unification will start from the bottom: at the level of villages and small communities. It will depend not on the patriarchs and bishops, but on the goodwill of the believers.
Somewhere (in Western Ukraine), the process of voluntary transition of the Moscow Patriarchate to the local Ukrainian Church will happen more quickly and more actively, while on the other territories of Ukraine the process can take decades. It is clear that the pressure will not hasten the deal, because it will only worsen the existing contradictions and will turn different sides of society against each other. Only the good will to unite is able to build a truly powerful local Church.
So tomos is a joyous event of extraordinary historical significance, but the results of the unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox believers in the local Church will not happen overnight but in a generation at the earliest.