Ukrainian Archpriest Sergey Gorbik says that Constantinople could grant autocephaly to the Belarusian Orthodox Church in the near future and for the same reason it is in the process of doing so now: The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has never recognized what is now the territory of Ukraine or Belarus as part of Moscow’s canonical territory.
Belarusian Orthodox have been following developments in Ukraine closely for many months, Father Gorbik says; and they are aware of this reality. But all too many in Ukraine and elsewhere are not because Moscow has thrown up so much confusion that the record has been obscured.
The basis for offering autocephaly to Ukraine, the Kyiv specialist on canon law says, is that “the Kyiv metropolitanate is the canonical territory of the Constantinople Patriarchate, and the transfer of this territory to under the power of the Moscow Patriarchate is illegal.”
“Even more,” Father Gorbik says, the Ecumenical Patriarch has been explicit that the grant to Moscow of the right to appoint the Kyiv metropolitan did not change the borders of the canonical space of the Ecumenical Patriarchate or the Moscow Patriarchate, whatever Moscow believes.
According to the church commentator, “the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate and particularly its Western borders is recognized [to this day] by Constantinople in the variant of 1589, and this is very important for Belarus, since in this case, its territory never was included within the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate.”
“Naturally,” Father Gorbik continues, “the Constantinople Patriarchate from the end of the 17th to the beginning of the 20 centuries did not have any opportunity to restore its control over the Kyiv metropolitanate or any of its parts. But when the Russian Empire collapsed and on the territory of the Kyiv metropolitanate appeared as new independent states, the Ecumenical Patriarch openly declared about his canonical rights.”
“On this basis took place the extension of autocephaly to the Polish Orthodox Church in 1924, an act that was recognized by all Orthodox churches except for the Russian Orthodox Church which, besides its own imperial ambitions, was under the control of the Bolsheviks,” the Ukrainian churchman says.
Constantinople, of course, is not seeking to restore the borders of the Kyiv metropolitanate to what they were in 1589. No one is talking about that because its territory is today divided among five independent states: Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and the western part of Russia.
Moreover, Poland already has an autocephalous church; and Ukraine soon will as well.
Rather, from the point of view of canon law, Father Gorbik says, Belarus’ Orthodox are not part of Moscow’s canonical territory and can thus choose either to be an autonomous formation within the Constantinople Patriarchate or pursue autocephalous status as Poland did and Ukraine now is – and only Constantinople has a voice in the matter.
“Thus, the offer by Constantinople of autocephaly to Ukrainian Orthodox practically means that Belarusian Orthodox believers are a step from an analogous status. Its offer depends only on the presence of their desire and on political circumstances in that country,” the Ukrainian expert says.
Father Gorbik notes that Belarusian Orthodox faithful have been discussing this issue for some time and considering how what happens in Ukraine will affect them. Now that Ukraine is on the verge of receiving autocephaly, that Belarusian attention will certainly intensify.
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