The lost patriarch: the results of Bartholomew’s visit to Ukraine

The celebrations of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence have come to an end. One of the events that attracted public attention those days was the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to Ukraine. The arrival of a religious figure of this magnitude, it would seem, should have become one of the most important these days. However, either the time was not right, or the character was not so interesting… Other words, the head of the Phanar was frankly “lost” against the background of all other events, dedicated to the Independence Day. Let’s try to figure out what went wrong.

Beginning of the visit: greetings from the UOC and the omnipresent flock of Metropolitan Onuphry

It should be noted that from the very beginning, Patriarch Bartholomew clearly did not work out. Back on August 20, when he had just arrived in Ukraine, a “warm” welcome was already awaiting him. The fact is that throughout his stay the clergy and believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church actively protested against the visit. So, even on the way from Boryspil, where the country’s central airport is located, to Kyiv, the believers of the canonical Church met Patriarch Bartholomew with placards that clearly reflected their attitude towards the head of the Phanar. The theme of the posters was aimed at showing that the Patriarch of Constantinople is not expected in Ukraine, and the only canonical head of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry.

In fact, the believers of the UOC “accompanied” Patriarch Bartholomew throughout most of his visit to Ukraine. The apogee was a prayer stand in front of the Verkhovna Rada, where the head of the Phanar was to meet with the Speaker of the Parliament Dmitry Razumkov. Then more than 10 thousand supporters of the UOC were even ready to meet with Bartholomew and discuss his non-canonical actions in Ukraine and their consequences, however, this did not happen, since the patriarch, obviously not feeling at home in Ukraine, entered the parliament in reverse, under cover for numerous guards and police representatives.

In general, it looked very strange when the head of the “Mother Church” ran all over the country from his “spiritual children”, avoiding meeting with them. It seems that with this very behavior the “ecumenical” patriarch directly confirmed the assertion that he was not particularly expected in Ukraine. A “warm bath” was prepared for him only by representatives of his subsidiary organization, the OCU, who, nevertheless, could not attract even half of the number that the UOC gathered for the “meeting” of the patriarch.

The “cold shower” from Zelensky and night meetings “under the protocol”

Special attention should be paid to the communication between Patriarch Bartholomew and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky. The meeting between Bartholomew and Zelensky, by the way, took place in a very strange atmosphere. The President talked with the head of Phanar at night. To some, such a situation might seem like a manifestation of keen interest on the part of Zelensky to such a distinguished guest. This opinion was especially influenced by the press release of the meeting, in which, in particular, into the mouth of the president were put the idea that Ukraine believes that Russia is using the religious issue as a hybrid weapon. In addition, Zelensky allegedly promised to deepen cooperation with the Patriarch of Constantinople and support the OCU in every possible way.

However, in our opinion, the meeting between Zelensky and Bartholomew was more of a protocol and even disrespectful. Firstly, the fact of the meeting at night suggests that the President simply had neither the time nor the special desire to communicate with the Patriarch of Constantinople, but this had to be done “for show.”

Imagine that an important business partner comes to you, whom you are looking forward to. It so happens that his plane arrives only in the late afternoon. He is already two hours on the flight, and then almost the same period of travel from the airport to finally check into a hotel. What would you do first in such a situation? Most likely, they would offer the guest dinner and relaxation. And you certainly wouldn’t be dragging him into your office to discuss any business issue. This is hardly permissible even from the point of view of simple etiquette.

Nevertheless, the president meets with the far from young Patriarch Bartholomew at night, immediately after his arrival in Ukraine. Such neglect suggests that the visit of the head of the Phanar was more important and necessary for Bartholomew himself than his counterpart. Zelensky, however, showed condescension in this situation, they say, “well, let’s cross over quickly, since we have arrived.”

Secondly, the absence of a joint press conference is also suggestive. When, following such a seemingly important meeting, a bravura press release comes out with general quotes that are already known in Ukraine, it means that the parties did not have a specific subject of conversation. Consequently, Zelensky and Bartholomew did not agree on anything, and therefore there was nothing to report on. In principle, this is not surprising, because Patriarch Bartholomew became the hero of the “novel” of Petro Poroshenko, with whom they, together, designed the Ukrainian church schism in the wrapper of the “OCU”. Moreover, according to the information available in the media, the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew had very specific goals in the form of stauropegia throughout Ukraine, which had been promised to him earlier by mister Poroshenko. By the way, information has even appeared that during the visit of the head of the Phanar, several churches in Kyiv and Lviv will be solemnly handed over to him. Obviously, such claims of Patriarch Zelensky were completely inappropriate, and, as you can understand, the president did not satisfy them. In general, most likely, the release of the meeting was not made with the words of mister Zelensky, but fantasized by the employees of the President’s Office, among whom there are open lobbyists of the OCU.

Thirdly, the visit of the head of the Phanar was completely untimely, because on August 21 Zelensky had a much more important and fateful meeting – with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And immediately after that, the “Crimean Platform” began. It was on these two events that the maximum efforts and attention of President Zelensky were spent these days. And, of course, the “cherry on the cake” was the Independence Day parade, at which Zelensky tried to be as frank and convincing as possible, because the political autumn predicts serious trials for him and his team. Fumbling at a time like this with the head of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the President’s Office was obviously considered absolutely useless and thankless.

It is also worth noting that the arrival and further travel of Bartholomew to locations in Ukraine was literally lost in the media. The media only casually mentioned where and with whom Patriarch Bartholomew was. It looked like there was simply no state order for maximum coverage of the actions of the head of the Phanar in Ukraine. Media activity on this matter is in contrast to how the patriarch was looked into his mouth diligently in late 2018 – early 2019, when the fate of the Tomos was being decided. Then the media caught every gesture and statement of the patriarch. This time, such hysteria was not observed.

On the results of the meeting between Zelensky and Patriarch Bartholomew, the following conclusions can be drawn. First, although we cannot call the president’s attitude to confessions in Ukraine equally remote, at least as of today, Volodymyr Zelensky is not ready to put the religious issue at the forefront of his domestic policy. That is, some impulses will of course persist in order to keep the topic in reserve, but there is no prospect of aggravation in the style of the late Poroshenko.

Second, Patriarch Bartholomew is unlikely to be able to wait for the stauropegions promised by Petro Poroshenko, at least during Zelensky’s presidency. Considering the difficulties with which the Phanar managed to get the St. Andrew’s Church, it is unlikely that Bartholomew will succeed in taking control of other objects in Ukraine. Really, if it were possible, it would have already been done.

Third, Zelensky is not ready to enter into open confrontation with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This is confirmed by the fact that the supporters of the UOC during the entire visit of the head of the Patriarchate of Constantinople had the opportunity to openly demonstrate their position to him. And the fact that Patriarch Bartholomew was absent during the most important religious event for the Independence Day of Ukraine in Sophia Cathedral. On this occasion, Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary, Administrator of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, expressed his position: “I would like to note that Patriarch Bartholomew was not there (a traditional event on Independence Day with the participation of the president and heads of confessions). This was the position and condition of our Church, which I spoke about earlier in the previous comments. Namely, that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church would not participate in the event in Sophia Cathedral if Patriarch Bartholomew was there. We brought this position to the attention of both the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, which organized this event, and the state. We are grateful that we were heard. Guests come and go, and we live here. And I want to live in inner peace and understanding.”

As for Sophia Cathedral, the announced divine service of the head of the Phanar and representatives of the OCU in this ancient Orthodox church was, for unknown reasons, moved from the building to the square in front of it. As you know, such issues are also resolved in high-ranking bureaucratic offices. Therefore, even in such a simple question, Patriarch Bartholomew went away with nothing. Something suggests that the influence of the head of state was present here too. Unfortunately for Patriarch Bartholomew himself and his satellites from the OCU, the president never took part in their internal events.

“Selfie party” from the OCU and the sudden “enlightenment” of the head of the UGCC

Even before the arrival of Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine, the OCU was actively preparing for this event. On this occasion, a number of orders were published, among which the most ridiculous are the entrance to the patriarchal service with documents and without water, as well as the prohibition of the archpriests of the OCU to wear miters during the patriarchal service. As a result, the divine service in St. Andrew’s Church on August 21 was held in the presence of several dozen people, which, in principle, is quite usual for Patriarch Bartholomew, especially recently.

A different picture came out of the patriarchal divine service on the square in front of St. Sophia of Kyiv on August 22. Let’s leave aside the fact that the service took place outside the church, maybe it is so familiar to the patriarch. However, it is worth paying attention to the number of clergy and believers of the OCU at this event. Based on the photo and available information, the OCU could not gather even two thousand people. And this despite the fact that schismatics from their dioceses also brought people to the capital. It is a demonstration of the real number of supporters of Patriarch Bartholomew and his actions in Ukraine, isn`t it?

By the way, according to our information, the bringing of people from the dioceses of the OCU was openly sabotaged by some “bishops” of this organization. Such a demarche was associated with the desire to demonstrate the real influence of Epiphany Dumenko on the processes taking place in this structure. In some cities, significant sums of money were even charged from those wishing to see Patriarch Bartholomew, which, of course, really influenced the number of pilgrims. Nevertheless, the “clergy” of the OCU got an excellent photo session with their patriarch. The pages of representatives of the split are simply full of bright selfies with the head of the Phanar.

It is interesting that the personal meetings of Bartholomew with the “episcopate” of the OCU remained behind the scenes. Apart from declarative statements, we did not manage to hear anything at least somewhat significant. The impression was that the head of the Phanar, seeing the futility of his campaign against the ROC and the UOC, simply does not know what to say. There is no development vector. There are no plans for the near future. Everything is out of hand, bad, but you have to do a good face with a bad game.

The head of the UGCC Svyatoslav Shevchuk added to the atmosphere. Also, by the way, in their circles, he is called the “patriarch”. In the spirit of “brotherly communication”, the two patriarchs exchanged gifts and courtesies, and one of them, who is Greek Catholic, even praised the head of the Phanar for the fact that he does not forget about his spiritual children in Ukraine, referring to such and the entire flock of the UGCC. Naturally, Shevchuk does not really think so, but this had to be said in the context of the global geopolitical game being played by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Roman Catholic Church. We are talking about precisely those unifying processes that were initiated and implemented by the Phanar and the Vatican in Europe. We fully agree with the experts of the Telegram channel “Pravblog”, who defined the meeting between Shevchuk and the head of Phanar as another declaration of union with Catholics from Patriarch Bartholomew.

The reason for failure and whom to blame

Oddly enough, however, the organizers of the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine made a number of strategic mistakes and miscalculations. By the way, it is worth noting that we certainly include the Prime Minister of Ukraine Denis Shmygal, his direct subordinate and adviser on religious affairs Andrei Yurash, Ambassador of Ukraine to Turkey Vasily Bodnar and the main sponsor of the OCU Andrei Matsola to the organizing committee. Almost all of the above are already marked with various “black marks”, which clearly do not add image bonuses to Patriarch Bartholomew himself.

First, Prime Minister Denis Shmygal, who is almost the first in line to resign. Secondly, Andrei Yurash, who was never able to head the strategically important Department of Religious and Ethnic Affairs, will most likely also disappear into oblivion for his patron. Thirdly, Andrei Matsola, who has appeared in a number of scandals, including trade relations with Russia, while the whole country is strenuously fighting for the termination of any economic relations with a neighboring state. Moreover, the fact that it is the beer businessman who sponsors religious figures is very ambiguous. Nevertheless, this dubious business of Matsola did not prevent Patriarch Bartholomew from making him his archon in Ukraine.

As a result, this whole company, apparently, has grossly overestimated its capabilities, turning the visit of the head of the Phanar into an ordinary political event. Moreover, they absolutely missed the dates of the patriarch’s stay in Ukraine and the general interest in this event on the part of the President’s Office. Perfectly aware of the importance of Mrs. Merkel’s visit on the same dates and the holding of the “Crimean Platform”, the arrival of Bartholomew was a priori doomed to curtailed attention.

Much more correct from an ideological point of view would be his presence Patriarch on the Day of the Baptism of Rus, however, even here the desired success could turn into defeat, because the Procession of the Cross organized by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church demonstrated which Church in Ukraine is the most numerous. In principle, even during the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Independence, the UOC believers with posters “Our Primate – Metropolitan Onuphry” demonstrated that their attitude to the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine at any time of the year will be unambiguous. Most likely, this is why the Alexandrian patriarch, who had praised Epiphany Dumenko a week earlier, and swore allegiance to him “to the grave”, did not come to Ukraine.

Thus, we can conclude that in the near foreseeable future, the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine is unlikely to be repeated. Being offended by everything that happened this time, having received such a bitter experience, the Patriarch of Constantinople will be able to return to Kyiv only when he admits his mistake in the creation of the OCU and, having repented, will restore Eucharistic communion with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Serhiy Nazarchuk

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