Currently in Ukraine, events are unfolding surrounding the Orthodox Church that will have immense implications for Christianity as a whole. Although for some this may seem only a matter between Ukraine and Moscow, it does in fact have a much broader impact.
We are witnesses to very significant developments in
Ukraine which have a serious impact on the religious life of our people and hopefully will set right an historic wrong in the life of the Christian community in Ukraine.
The issue is the juridical status and unity of our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Ukraine. Over the next few weeks the bulletin will be devoted to explaining this important question because we may soon witness the creation of a self-ruling (autocephalous) Orthodox Church established by the Patriarch of Constantinople (the senior Orthodox Patriarch).
This would mean an independence from Moscow that finally would be recognized by most other Orthodox Churches in the world.
When grand prince Volodymyr had his state baptised in 988, he requested that the Patriarch of Constantinople appoint bishops (a hierarchy) for Ukraine. Even though in 1049 grand prince Yaroslav the Wise appointed the first Slavic metropolitan for Kyiv, the custom was (and continued into the 13th c.) for Constantinople to appoint Greeks to that post.
The Kyivan Church was regarded as a daughter Church and thus partially juridically subservient to Constantinople. It is important to recall that at this time the split between Rome and Constantinople (Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy) was not as serious as it became.
A critical change in the history of Ukraine occurred with the incursion and ultimate
victory of the Tatars over the feuding princes of Kyivan-Rus’. The Kyivan state was greatly weakened in the 11th century and Kyiv itself was devastated by the Suzdal’ prince Andrij Bogolubsky in 1169.
At the time of the plunder, the “God-loving” (bogolubsky) prince burned churches and monasteries, destroyed sacred objects, stole the most valuable items and took them to his princedom of Suzdal ’. To this day the world mistakenly regards the superb icon of the Mother of God of Vyshorod as the Vladimir icon because, in stealing it, the prince took it to the Church of the Dormition in Vladimir Suzdal’.
At this time, he also demanded that the Patriarch of Constantinople appoint Bogolubsky’s own candidate metropolitan of Kyiv. The request was rejected. However after the Tatars destroyed Kyiv in 1240, the metropolitan fled to the north: first to Volodymyr on the Kliazma and then in 1325 to the town of Moscow.
The weakened influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the fall of Kyiv, and the growing strength in the north of Moscow meant that the metropolitan of Kyiv remained for some time in the northern territories and only occasionally returned to the Kyivan lands in order to gather the Church taxes.