Characteristics and Limitations of Ukrainian Tomos – Part I

Dear Readers:

The big news this weekend in the world of religion (and the Russian civilizational sphere) was the granting of Tomos to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).  As discussed in previous posts on this topic, Tomos is a fancy Greek word which means “cutting off” or “splitting off”.  This happens when a branch of Orthodoxy gets to have its own national or territorial leadership (=Autocephaly, which is another fancy Greek word meaning “Being one’s own head”).  Quoting the Encyclopedia Britannica on the administrative organization of Eastern Orthodoxy:

The Orthodox church is a fellowship of “autocephalous” churches (canonically and administratively independent), with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople holding titular or honorary primacy. The number of autocephalous churches has varied in history. In the early 21st century there were many: the Church of Constantinople (Istanbul), the Church of Alexandria (Africa), the Church of Antioch (with headquarters in Damascus, Syria), and the churches of Jerusalem, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Poland, the Czech and Slovak republics, and America.

The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch

There are also “autonomous” churches (retaining a token canonical dependence upon a mother see) in Crete, Finland, and Japan. The first nine autocephalous churches are headed by “patriarchs,” the others by archbishops or metropolitans. These titles are strictly honorary.

Of the Autocephalies listed, the Ukrainian one just happened two days ago, and I believe the encyclopedia is wrong in saying they get their own Patriarch.  I could be wrong, but it is my impression they only get a Metropolitan.  But anyhow, to help clear up these issues I have this piece by Vladimir Burega, who is a Professor at the Kiev Theological Academy.  What follows is pretty much a straight translation of Burega’s piece without additional commentary.  [If I have clarifications or footnotes, I put them in square brackets and italicize.]

On 5 January 2019 in the city of Stambul [=Istanbul], Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew signed the Tomos which granted Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine [OCU].  Literally seconds after the signing, the Ukrainian translation of the Tomos became available.  Naturally, a detailed analysis of this document has yet to be conducted by theologians and historians, as well as specialists in canon law.  However, it is already possible to point to some features

Professor Vladimir Burega

We begin with the fact that the Tomos, signed by the Fanara [Fanara is a neighborhood in Istanbul where Patriarch Bartholomew lives, so it is used as a shortcut, similar to “The Vatican decreed that…”] on 5 January 2019, continues a definite tradition of publishing such documents.  This tradition formed within the Constantinople Patriarchate in the course of the past (almost two) centuries.  This tradition started in 1850 with the Tomos of the Autocephaly of the Greek Orthodox Church (a church within the borders of the Greek nation).  After that followed Tomi granting Autocephaly to Serbia (1879), Romania (1885), Poland (1924), Albania (1937), Bulgaria (1945), and Czechoslovakia (1998).  In 1990 the Gruzian Orthodox Church was also granted Tomos.  In this way, we can see that Tomos for the Ukraine is not something invented from whole cloth.  Both its content and form follow a defined canon.  In church documents of this level we always see the same ritualistic phrases, and the same very clear, practically unchanging, formulations.  At the same time, each Tomos has its own characteristics, reflecting the specifics of each regional church.  Let us try to figure out what, in the Ukrainian Tomos is typical, and what is, so to say, specific.

The Title, the Primate, the Diptychs

Let us begin with the banal things.  It is accepted, that in the Tomos the name of the new church is always given.  And this name is always (!) connected to the name of the country on whose territory it is created.  For example:  “The Orthodox Church in the Kingdom of Greece”, “The Holy Autocephalic Church of the Serbian Princedom”, “The Orthodox Church of the Romanian Kingdom”, “The Holy Orthodox Church in Poland”, “The Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania”.  These names show, that the territorial principle is always at the foundation of the creation of autocephalic churches.  Every national church is a church that unites Orthodox Christians of a given territory.

The Tomos of 5 January names the newly created church “The Most Holy Church of the Ukraine”.  In the founding document of the newly created church, adopted by Kiev in December, it was called “The Orthodox Church of the Ukraine (OCU).  As far as we can gather, in the course of preparing the Tomos, the Patriarch of Constantinople suggested a different title:  “The Orthodox Church in the Ukraine”.  Such a title, of course, would have even more emphasized the territorial character of the church structure that was created.  But all the same the somewhat corrected formulation was adopted [of instead of in].  Which, by the way, fully fits in with the tradition of naming national churches after the name of the country.

In the Primate family tree, Lemurs were finally granted Autocephaly.

In all Tomi which grant Autocephaly, the title of the Primate of the new church is very clearly given.  To be sure, there were instances where the Synodal form of government was implemented (for example, in the Greek case).  In such cases the Synod itself was the head of the church, as a sort of “collective primate”.  In the case of the OCU, the primate is given the title:  “The Most Blessed Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine”.  Moreover, the Tomos specifically underscores that “no accretions or abbreviations of this title can be permitted without the agreement of the Constantinople Church”.  Such a limitation (condition) has never been seen before in any Tomos.  Its appearance in the Ukrainian Tomos of 5 January was, of course, a reaction by Patriarch Bartholomew to the attempts of the Kiev Patriarchate to keep the mention of “Patriarchate” in the title of the Primate of the new structure.  [yalensis:  part of the 3-way power struggle between Filaret, Epiphany and Bartholomew, with the latter clipping the wings of the 2 former].  We must underscore in particular, that the Tomos of 5 January does not suggest the use of one Primate title “for internal needs” and a different title for communication with the outside world.  The title is sealed into the Tomos rather firmly and without any wiggle room.

[to be continued]

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1 Response to Characteristics and Limitations of Ukrainian Tomos – Part I

  1. Pavlo Svolochenko says:

    Canonical Church believers will not accept their persecutors as spiritual leaders, and Ukrainian nationalists can find a better vehicle for their politics. No empire for Bart, only deepened irrelevance and assured damnation.


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