Ukraine Mission 2015 – Kyivan Rus’ Historic Orthodoxy Discussion

Peter Goldring, MP for Edmonton East.

Over the past year, I met with religious, cultural, and political leaders throughout Canada, Ukraine, Turkey, and the United States, discussing the prospect of establishing a single national autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch. The foundation of this new Church would be based on historical precedent and the legacy of the conversion of Kyivan-Rus’ to Orthodox Christianity in 988, which, arguably, was the beginning of Orthodoxy in mainland Europe. Everyone that I met with agreed that unity of the Orthodoxies in Ukraine was a desirous and necessary goal.

Most recently, from January 15th to January 25th, I travelled to Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Istanbul (Constantinople) to continue these talks. Meeting with leaders from each major Ukrainian Church – Patriarch Filaret of the Kyivan Patriarchate, Metropolitan Mefodiy of the Autocephalous Church, Metropolitan Antony of the Moscow Patriarchate, and Bishop Milyan of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church – and His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, as well as many other religious, cultural, and political figures I continued my work on what has been repeatedly deemed a worthwhile project to pursue. For each of these public figures, notions of cohesiveness, inclusiveness, and solidarity are key to moving forward.

While formal and direct international diplomacy in the realm of foreign affairs has its role politically, progress can be had elsewhere. That is what former-President Viktor Yushchenko and I agreed upon after concluding a two-hour meeting on January 21st. He felt that the most important issue facing the government of Ukraine is the unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy under a recognized Kyivan entity. My wish is to assist by facilitating much needed dialogue between the three major Orthodox Churches in hopes of moving towards a common understanding for the benefit of all Orthodoxy.

Indeed, as Yushchenko and I discussed, this position has the potential to strengthen both the Ukrainian position as well as national sovereignty in the wake of growing Russian influence through various outlets, including – but not exclusive to – components of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Moving forward from this meeting, Yushchenko, who expressed a deep appreciation for my initiative and methodology, and I will be working together and pursuing this common goal, along with many others, both before and after the Pan-Orthodox Council in 2016.

Upon discussing these issues with the Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul (Constantinople), it was further emphasized that given the state of contention currently within Orthodoxy, it is best that the prospects of unifying the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches not be brought before his Patriarchal council before the 2016 meeting. However, His All-Holiness and I discussed the ongoing consultations and planning taking place now as I emphasized the will of so many Ukrainians to pursue such a goal for future consideration.

He did suggest, however, that in Western Ukraine there might possibly be one way to bring Orthodox Ukrainians under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate worth exploring. In 1924, when Poland was granted full political autonomy after the First World War the Polish Orthodox Church was formed. Originally established to cater to the small percentage of Ukrainian, Polish, and Belarusian Orthodox in the country’s east, the jurisdiction of this Church could be expanded to include those in Western-Ukraine.

This move would be highly strategic as only one autocephalous Church can exist in each state. Because Ukraine already has one, it is impossible to install another Orthodox Church in the country. The overall aim would be to move Ukraine’s Orthodox Churches into a single body, one exempt from intrusive outside political influence and a truly national Church. Utilizing the Polish Orthodox Church is just one possible step forward.

This mission concludes a yearlong series of discussions, including over 60 meetings with religious, cultural, and political leaders, and academics throughout Ukraine, Turkey, Canada, and the United States. This most recent trip to Eastern Europe and Turkey culminated my exploratory dialogue on the subject, giving me a well-rounded understanding of the structural foundation of Ukraine’s society as it relates to the Orthodox Churches, allowing me, and, upon my return, to report to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I believe that this broad constructive dialogue, combined with careful presentation and planning, will help future initiatives that aim to move forward Ukrainian Orthodox unity.