CONSTANTINOPLE – During a moving and historic special ceremony at the Patriarchal Church of St. George in the Phanar Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew signed and presented the Tomos-decree granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
By granting the Tomos the Ecumenical Patriarchate ended centuries-old Russian religious control in Ukraine.
The services in the Phanar district of Constantinople were attended by His Beatitude Epiphanios, the Metropolitan of Kiev and of all Ukraine, the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and his family, hierarchs and clergy, a multitude of Ukrainian state and government officials, and officials and media representatives from all over the world.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his official speech immediately after the reading of the Tomos by Archimandrite Joachim, Chief Secretary of the Holy Synod, declared that “The pious Ukrainian people have awaited this blessed day for seven entire centuries,” adding, “and, behold, the fullness of time has come for them, too, just as it came for so many Orthodox peoples beforehand, to enjoy the sacred gift of emancipation, independence and self-governance, becoming free from every external reliance and intervention, which have not always been nurturing and respectful of their own identity.”
Bartholomew noted that the new autocephalous church takes its place “in the choir of the other fourteen sister Churches that comprise ‘the whole institution’ of our Holy Orthodox Church.”
The Tomos was handed over to the head of the new Ukrainian Church, Metropolitan Epiphanios on Sunday of Epiphany January 6, completing two days of services and ceremonies.
President Poroshenko thanked Patriarch Bartholomew “for the courage to make this historic decision” and said it was “a great day” for Ukrainians. He added that “among the 15 stars of the Orthodox churches of the world a Ukrainian star has appeared,” referring to the updated number of churches that comprise the entire Orthodox Church throughout the World.
“Dear Ukrainians, this is a historic event! This is a great day!” Poroshenko said as he thanked the Patriarch. “Once more, words of great gratitude in the name of the Ukrainian people, in the name of our nation to Your Holiness… It took us a very long time to get here.”
“It is a great honor for me to visit Istanbul, where a long-awaited event will take place tomorrow,” Poroshenko wrote on Facebook, prior to the official handover of the decree.
Poroshenko predicted that the move will open a “new era in Orthodox history.” “We pray for peace and unity,” he added.
Patriarch Bartholomew announced the decision to recognize Ukraine’s request for an autocephalous church in October, 2018. Last month, Ukrainian Orthodox leaders approved the creation of a new, unified church, splitting from the Moscow Patriarchate, and elected Metropolitan Epiphanios to lead it.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has campaigned for the creation of the new church, met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before the ceremony.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Legoida, a Russian Orthodox Church spokesman, denounced the Tomos of Autocephaly as “a document that is the result of irrepressible political and personal ambitions.”
In a statement he said that the Tomos had been “signed in violation of the canons and therefore does not possess any canonical force.” A spokesman for the churches in Ukraine still affiliated with Russia, Vasily Anisimov, said, “We consider these actions to be anti-canonical…This action will not bring anything to Ukraine except trouble, separation and sin,” according to Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti.
Regina Elsner, a research fellow at the Centre for East European and International Studies in Berlin, said recognition of the Ukrainian church’s independence was only the “first step on a long road…We will have to see which Ukrainian bishops will join the new church and which other Orthodox churches will recognize it.”
TNH has learned that Metropolitan Savas of Poland has signaled that he is not going to recognize the Autocephalous Ukrainian Church, as well as Patriarch Ioannis of Antioch who is under the influence of Patriarchate of Moscow. Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece stated that the Synod of the entire hierarchy of Greece will make a decision about the recognition of the new autocephalous church. Sources told The National Herald that Archbishop Ieronymos wants to do it in an official manner.
After the Tomos of Autocephaly ceremony Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the prelate of the new Autocephalous Ukraine Church, Metropolitan Epiphanios of Kiev, concelebrated the services of Theophany and the blessing of the waters at Keratios Bay near the Phanar in Constantinople.
(Note: With information from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Associated Press)