top of page

Tomos: A not very successful attempt in the Ukrainian people's struggle for liberation

“Tomos: the latest, and not very successful, attempt in a number of struggles for liberation of the Ukrainian people”

Professor Alexander Kachur

To understand the significance of a historical event, you need to look at it from a certain perspective. It is necessary to distance oneself not only in space (because from the side everything looks a little different than from the whirlpool of events), but also to move away in time. And only from the actual consequences of the event can we understand what really happened because "by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:16).

This applies to Tomos, which is in its third year since receiving it, so we can begin to draw certain conclusions about what exactly happened in the religious life of Ukraine in early 2019. Many Ukrainians in the American diaspora were looking forward to Tomos with high hopes. These are Orthodox people from Ukraine who consider Kyiv to be their spiritual center. For the most part, it is easier for Galicians who founded the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church here (although called the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite and uses the Catholic calendar) and successfully combine love for native Ukraine with service to another's Rome. There was once a Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) in the United States, which in 1995 (yes, in the fourth year of independence) suddenly became the metropolitanate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Thus, three churches appeared with centers in Rome, Istanbul, and even in Moscow, each of which proudly called itself Ukrainian.

Not all Ukrainians in the diaspora wanted to choose between these three options, so some churches in the United States and Canada passed under the omophorion of Patriarch Philaret, whose efforts established the Vicariate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) in 2002. The faithful of this Patriarchate just expected that with the granting of Tomos, historical justice would finally be restored, and all Ukrainians would be able to unite in one Church with the center in Kyiv - in the city of the baptism of their ancestors.

However, in October 2018, the first alarm bells rang. In considering the Ukrainian question, the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople revoked the decision of 1686 to grant the Moscow patriarchs the right to appoint the Metropolitan of Kyiv. That is, it was not about the formation of an independent Ukrainian church, but only about the restoration of the metropolitanate in Kyiv, which existed there from 988 to 1686 under the rule of the Patriarch of Constantinople. An ultimatum was then issued that neither Patriarch Philaret (UOC-KP) nor Metropolitan Macarius (UAOC) should be elected the first hierarchs of this church, because otherwise no Tomos would be granted. In December 2018, under the chairmanship of Metropolitan Emmanuel of Gali, a Synod of Hierarchs of the UOC-KP and UAOC took place in Kyiv where these churches were "liquidated" and from them, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine (OCU) was formed. And only after the "liquidation" of two Ukrainian Orthodox churches, on January 6, 2019, the newly elected Metropolitan Epiphanius was finally presented with the Tomos.

From the text of the Tomos, it turned out that only forty-million Ukrainians are worthy of the Church on the metropolitan level. Not the Patriarchates, like Romania, Serbia, Georgia and Bulgaria, and not even the archdioceses like Greece and Albania, but only the metropolitanates, which the UOC-KP already had 11. That is, the Church of Ukraine was put on par with the churches of Poland or the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where Orthodoxy is in a marginal state. The Church was proclaimed independent, but not quite. The issue of dispute resolution and peacekeeping passed to Constantinople. But the main shock was not the humiliation of the status of the Church, nor even its proposed name of the Holy Church in Ukraine. The permitted activity of the newly restored Church was limited exclusively to the borders of Ukraine, and all Ukrainian parishes outside it were selected and transferred to the possession of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Ukrainians in the diaspora were not simply left to fend for themselves, they were betrayed, once again subordinated to some foreign church.

I will not use emotional epithets in this regard - the Patriarchate of Constantinople did as it always did in Byzantium (for which it eventually paid for everything it had). No one was interested in restoring historical justice or creating a strong Ukrainian church led by authoritative leaders. After good promises to create an autocephalous church for an independent state, the situation that existed four centuries ago, when Ukraine was divided between neighboring empires, was restored. And in order not to do a good deed foolishly, they also decided to rob this newly created church, taking over all its foreign parishes. It is easy to guess where such an idea might have come from. Active participants in the October 2018 Council were Archbishop Daniel of the United States and Bishop Hilarion of Canada, where the UOC-led metropolitans of Constantinople are in clear decline. For example, according to Wikipedia, of the more than 200 parishes in 1995, 115 remained in the UOC-US; in Canada, of the 128,000 faithful in 1989, 32,700 remained.

At the same time, asking the parishioners of Ukrainian churches in the United States whether they wanted to come under the leadership of the Patriarch of Constantinople was simply considered unnecessary. It all sounded like a raider's fascination, in the style of the turbulent nineties - a new "watcher" came from nowhere and said that from now on everything around belongs to him. However, if in the East, where the Orthodox churches have historically operated, the attitude towards the flock as a wordless flock is generally traditional, in the country of free people in the United States, the situation is somewhat different. It is not people for power, but rather power for people, and it does not matter what it is secular or ecclesiastical. The decision to belong to a certain church structure (and there are many of them) is made by the church community itself, which may or may not accept the demands of the leadership, especially if its competence in the right to make such demands seems somewhat questionable. Therefore, the parishes of the UOC-KP in the United States took a wait-and-see attitude, not anxious to carry out the order to immediately join the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Patriarch Philaret was the first to realize the deception and began to actively fight against the unjust provisions of the Tomos granted to the OCU. This was especially true of the subordination of churches in the diaspora by Constantinople. As the Secretary of the Vicariate, Archpriest Victor Poliarny immediately resigned from the Vicariate with his decision to transfer from the UOC-KP to the OCU. He was relieved of his duties on February 2, 2021,when Archpriest Bohdan Zhoba of Philadelphia was then appointed the new secretary by Patriarch Philaret. The next day, the suspended secretary made an angry statement, the tone and veracity of which would be envied by any bribe from Bessarabia because he asserted that the newly appointed secretary of the Vicariate:

- destroyed the Ukrainian parish of St. Nicholas in Cooper City (which, however, still stands and even services take place in it, and sometimes even with the participation of the same "destroyer");

- manages the entire Russian parish (St. Nicholas Church in Philadelphia really belonged to the Russian Church Abroad in the United States until 2016, when thanks to the efforts of Archpriest Bohdan Zhoba became the Stavropigian Church of the UOC-KP, which cannot but provoke outrage in open and secret supporters of Moscow);

- persuaded Patriarch Philaret to write a letter to the Moscow Patriarch in November 2017 (here, in general, Cardinal Richelieu would die again, this time from envy because a simple priest is able to lead the Patriarch, and he could not give advice to any queen there);

- may be an instrument of influence of the Russian church (and may not be, but this is just a naive assumption, not a brazen lie, right?);

- his brother is a clergyman of the ROC in New York (it feels like an old Stalinist school - well, really, what right can a person, whose brother serves in a Russian foreign church, have to the post of Secretary of the Vicariate?).

As we can see, all these statements are aggressive lies, a deliberate violation of the ninth commandment, with the obvious purpose of retaining power in the Vicariate by any means.

The reaction of the colo-religious online publications seemed a little suspicious, as they mostly ignored the news of the change of leadership of the Vicariate but reprinted the hysterical statements of its former secretary. However, it soon became clear that it was not just about irritating the clergyman offended by the loss of his position. A month later, an official statement "on the destructive activities of Archpriest Bohdan Zhoba" appeared on the OCU website, declaring him an imposter and an agent of the Kremlin and declaring illegal Patriarch Philaret's activities to preserve the UOC-KP Vicariate in the United States.

On January 6, 2019, Tomos reached resolution "in the spirit of canons, church order, pastoral care, through dialogue."

This statement finally clarified the order and dialogue in question and where such anger in the clergyman’s statements came from. For the past two years, the leadership of the Vicariate of the UOC-KP in the United States and Canada has not been much concerned with protecting the interests of its parishioners from encroachments on their national identity. Instead, it stated that it was henceforth subject exclusively to Metropolitan Epiphanius. This statement is simply complete absurdity because according to Tomos, Metropolitan Epiphanius can have nothing to do with foreign Ukrainian parishes, let alone accept them under his leadership. However, for all these two years, the Secretary of the Vicariate held talks with representatives of the OCU and Constantinople, the results and decisions of which were not publicized, but most likely concerned the terms of the surrender. That is, instead of trying to act solely within its canonical powers and develop its church in Ukraine, the OCU is carrying out the orders of its leadership from Istanbul to destroy the Ukrainian church in the United States. Once again we are witnessing Ukrainian folk entertainment: betrayal, which for centuries has frustrated the aspirations of Ukrainians to civilized life.

And the OCU can hardly be proud of its activities in Ukraine. After inheriting six and a half thousand parishes from the UOC-KP and the UAOC, the Church was replenished by another half a thousand in the first year, and then the process stopped and is unlikely to resume. The expected creation of a single Ukrainian local church did not take place. And Tomos on the restoration of the Kyiv metropolitanate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople under the name of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine may go down in history as another, unsuccessful, attempt in a number of struggles for liberation of the Ukrainian people.

Dr. Alexander Kachur, Professor, University of Pennsylvania, Chairman, Forum for the UOC-Kyivan Patriarchate in the USA