Speech of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW I to the Ukrainian Nation(July 26, 2008).
|Blessed Children of the Church, Christ-loving people of Ukraine,|
The initiative of the civic, political, religious and spiritual leaders of the great people of Ukraine to organize the official festivities of the one thousand and twenty year anniversary since the Grand Duke’s (Velikiy Knjaz) Volodymyr resolute decision to accept the Christian faith from the Ecumenical Patriarchate as the official religion for the people of the Duchy of Kiev and, by extension, for all autonomous Russian Duchies, is not only an obligation to the pious people of Ukraine, but also significant for its future promises in an age of rapid and crucial changes worldwide.
This initiative is an obligation insofar as all great nations ought to guard most zealously their historic memory, especially of those events that have sealed indelibly the proper spiritual identity of their national consciousness and determined, more or less, their perennial contribution to the community of nations. It is also and particularly significant today, for the depth of the great people’s history constitutes an inexhaustible resource of strength and radiation to those near and afar.
1.It is a common and indisputable assertion that the choice of faith was, under different perspectives, a decisive factor for the historic destinies of all nations of the world, on the one hand because it informed their peculiar characteristics of their intellectual identity, and on the other hand because it determined, more or less, the content of their national consciousness. These festive events constitute a clear expression of the gratitude of the pious people of Ukraine towards the Grand Duke for his personal care and wise decision in choosing a religion for his people, as it is described in the extensive narration of Kievite monk Nestor (XI century).
It is obvious that the decision of the Grand Duke of Kiev to choose for his people the Christian faith and to ask for the baptism from the Ecumenical Patriarchate was the ripe fruit of an evaluation in wisdom and discernment of all the main and side consequences of that decision that covered not only personal sensibilities but also his vision for the happiness of his people. Thus, he chose Christianity and indeed the Christianity of the Byzantine tradition because, on the one hand, the political, economical and spiritual relationships of the Kievan-Rus with Constantinople have had a long and official history already since the time of the Ecumenical Patriarch Photius, the Kievites’ beloved Patriarch, and on the other, because by doing so he was connecting his people with the most advanced civilization of that time.
In this sense, the Duke of Kiev, through the baptism of the Kievites by the numerous missionaries of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, grounded not only the indissolvable spiritual bonds of the pious Ukrainian nation with the Mother Church—such bonds were further developed through the Byzantine evangelization of the other autonomous Russian Duchies—but also the new prospects of their relation to the rest of the Christian world, as witnesses now to the Byzantine spiritual inheritance and to the Orthodox tradition. Kiev became the administrative center for the dissemination of the Byzantine cultural heritage to all autonomous Russian Duchies, while the Grand Duke of Kiev became the supporter of that mystagogy.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate spared no pains and sacrifices in this century-long process of evangelization. At stake was not only the wider dissemination but also the correct utilization of Byzantine spiritual heritage, which permeated all the aspects of public, ecclesial and intellectual life of the autonomous Duchies and enriched by the sanctified Orthodox tradition the liturgical character of the national consciousness of the people, on the basis of the spiritual signification of the Baptism, by which all the secular divisions are transcended in the union of the ecclesial body. On the basis of that criterion, the Orthodox tradition gave shape to, on the one hand, the peculiar spiritual relationship between the Church and nationality, and, on the other hand, the conventional relationship between Church and State—for both, the “scattering” of the nations in the Old Testament as well as their “gathering” through the baptism in the New Testament have determined the national consciousness of the Orthodox people.
Thus, the Orthodox tradition remains faithful to the mission of the Church to preach “to all nations,” without however subordinating her mission to those national aspirations that are alien to her character. For this reason, she brought the spiritual relationship to nationality under the absolute and canonical criterion of territoriality of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions as well as under the conventional arrangement of her relation to the State. In this sense, the Great Synod of Constantinople (1872) condemned every arbitrary ethnophyletic or nationalistic claim as ecclesiological heresy, insofar as such a claim would disregard the territorial character of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions or the conventional authority of the State in arranging the relationships between the Church and itself. Disregarding those two criteria is not only against the Orthodox tradition but introduces a dangerous confusion in the very liturgical structure of the Church.
It is therefore self-evident that the Orthodox Church cannot tolerate any violation or change of that relationship to the State or the Nation. For this reason she always retorted to any conventional arrangement with the criteria of her own law, even as she accepted, out of pastoral considerations, the principle that “it is customary for the ecclesial things to change together with the political entities.” However, the recent legal culture of the state ideology doubted or even rejected the statutory role of the Church in the structure or in the function of the modern state. It didn’t succeed, however, in attacking the traditional, spiritual relation of the Church to nationality which remained unscathed and certified the impressive historical endurance of the Church’s relationship to the society, even under the most adverse circumstances.
The source of this spiritual relationship of the Church with the body of the faithful (corpus fidelium) is the baptismal font, in which man’s spiritual rebirth is effected and the ecclesial body is wrought within the framework of the national or civic body. Thus, the Church is fully aware that the body of her members constitutes a community of faithful, as the State is fully aware that it constitutes a community of citizens. Nevertheless, there is a specific distinction in the constitution and the operation of these two communities: for the State is born by its citizens, while the Church gives birth to her members in a new spiritual relation that is distinguishable but does not abolish the legal relations among the citizens. The maternal relationship of the Church to her members, a relationship that is continuously nourished by the ecclesial body’s sacramental experience, explains the historical endurance of that relationship with nationality but does not allow any doubt of the State’s established role to determine the statutory framework of perfect co-operation between Church and State for the benefit of both faithful and citizens, especially in the case of irregular or unsettled ecclesial divisions.
2.The Orthodox Church is an orderly community of autocephalous or autonomous Churches, while she is fully aware of herself as the authentic continuation of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. She fulfills her spiritual mission through the convocation of local or major Synods, as the canonic tradition has established it, in order to safeguard and affirm the communion of the local churches with each other and with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the First Throne in the Orthodox Church, has been granted by decisions of Ecumenical Councils (canon 3 of the II Ecumenical Council; canons 9, 17 and 28 of the IV Ecumenical Council; canon 36 of the Quinsext Ecumenical Council) and by the centuries-long ecclesial praxis, the exceptional responsibility and obligatory mission to care for the protection of the faith as it has been hand-down to us and of the canonical order (taxis). And so it has served with the proper prudence and for seventeen centuries that obligation to the local Orthodox churches, always within the framework of the canonical tradition and always through the utilization of the Synodal system, while, at the same time, it assumed an exceptional struggle for the apostolic promulgation of the Orthodox faith to all people in Eastern and Central Europe.
It is, then, important that the Ecumenical Patriarch never claimed the expansion of his canonical authority, though he could, as he never demanded the dissociation of that exceptional authority from the Synodal system, although again he could, for the guarantor of the canonical observance could not himself violate the canonical order without damage to the unity of the Church. On the contrary, the Ecumenical Throne for over a millennium treated as relative even the canonical borders of its own ecclesiastical jurisdiction in order to offer the necessary support for the survival of the troubled Patriarchal Thrones of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, as well as of the autocephalous Archdioceses of Cyprus, Ochrida, Peć and Trnovo.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s service in the Orthodox Church, at the cost of its own rights, is better exemplified by the development of its relations with the eminent among the daughter Churches, namely the Church of Ukraine, which was under the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s canonical jurisdiction for seven centuries, that is, from the baptism of the Grand Duchy of Kiev (988) until her annexation under Peter the Great (1687) to the Russian state. Indeed, the Mother Church, under the known adverse circumstances, deprived herself in order to offer willingly to the Church of Ukraine every ecclesial, spiritual and material support, aiming not only at the fuller utilization of the spiritual heritage of Byzantium but also at the protection of her Orthodox identity from the unbearable political pressures exercised by the heterodox propagators, especially during very difficult times for the pious Ukrainian people.
Thus, after Ukraine’s annexation to Russia and under the pressure of Peter the Great, the Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysios IV judged as necessary for the circumstances of that time the ecclesiastical subordination of the Church of Ukraine to the Patriarchate of Moscow (1687), lest the troubles of the pious Ukrainian people worsen under the Orthodox political leadership—even though the Ukrainian Hierarchy opposed strongly and unanimously that decision, a decision that amounted to an obvious damage of the canonical rights of the Mother Church. In the same spirit, the Mother Church concurred with the demand of the governments of the newly established states of the Orthodox people in the Balkan peninsula regarding the autocephaly of those Churches that were taken from her canonical jurisdiction, namely the Church of Greece (1850), the Church of Serbia (1831), the Church of Bulgaria (1945), and the Church of Albania (1937), for the sake of their national coherence, even though such autocephalies resulted in the dramatic dwindling of her ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
3.Therefore, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the par excellence guarantor of the unity of the Orthodox Churches in the faith and in the canonical order, exercised always its obligations by attuning its sensible spiritual antennas to the needs of the Orthodox people and to the peculiar circumstances of each age, but always within the established framework of the Orthodox tradition. As the Mother Church of all Orthodox people, the Ecumenical Patriarchate never identified itself with one Orthodox nation in particular, but rather supported willingly the historic destinies of all Orthodox nations, even at the cost of its own jurisdictional or other benefits, co-operating always on equal terms with the civic and political leadership of these nations, in accordance with the shinning example set by our Lord, the Apostles and the eminent Fathers of the Church.
In this sense, we wholeheartedly accepted the honoring invitation of His Excellency, the President of Ukraine Mr. Viktor Yushchenko to participate in the festive ceremonies for the one thousand and twenty year anniversary of the baptism of the Ukrainian nation to Christianity by the Mother Church because, on the one hand, the contribution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Christianization of the European peoples (τῶν λαῶν τῆς Εὐρώπης) is celebrated by that multifaceted event, and, on the other hand, because by that event the new, European prospects of the Ukrainian nation are emphasized at a time of great and rapid changes worldwide. The Mother Church rejoices together with the pious Ukrainian people because that baptism remains an inexhaustible source of strength not only supporting its internal spiritual coherence, but also utilizing it fully in the important field of international relationships.
Therefore, it is a common duty of the civic, political, ecclesiastical and in general intellectual leadership of the Ukrainian people to utilize by every appropriate means the God-given gift of the Baptism not only for the immediate cure of various confusions and traumatic events of the historic past, but also for the restoration of the cohesive role that the Orthodox Church played in the consciousness of the Christ-loving Ukrainian nation. If this confusion is prolonged in order to serve ethnophyletic or political ends and purposes foreign to the Church’s spiritual character would abolish the cohesive power of the Baptism and would worsen the already dangerous division of the ecclesial body, a division that wounds not only spiritual unity but also the communal coherence of the Ukrainian people with obvious troublesome consequences for the future of Ukraine.
It is not only the right but also the obligation of the Mother Church to support, within the framework of the established Orthodox tradition, every edifying and promising proposal that would cure, as fast as possible, the dangerous divisions in the ecclesial body, “lest the evil becomes worse” for the Holy Church of Ukraine and the Church in general. The various political and ecclesiastical difficulties that are the outcome of the existing confusion are obvious and known from the long historic past, but it is also known to all that the care for the protection and restoration of the Church’s unity is our common obligation that exceeds whatever political or ecclesiastical purposes, in accordance with the exhortation of the divine Founder of the Church: “so that may all be one” (John 17:21).