In Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv, currently a museum, there is scaffolding and noise. I visited the church, which boasts some of the most stunning medieval mosaics in Central Europe, in early October. The works there are not accidental. The cathedral will most likely be the place where emissaries of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I will solemnly read his “thomos” (Greek for “decree”), granting self-governance to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
While the exact date of granting autocephaly, or independence, to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church remains to be determined, the decision by the ecumenical patriarchate in Istanbul (since the days of the Byzantine Empire traditionally called the Constantinople patriarchate) to proceed with it led to a complete breakdown in relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.
“The Moscow church,” as it is frequently referred to in Ukraine, is the largest Orthodox community in the country. It enjoys administrative independence but sees Moscow as its spiritual home. The patriarchs of Moscow have had Ukraine under their canonical jurisdiction since 1688, when the Constantinople patriarch, Dionysius IV, gave the primates of the Russian church the right to appoint Kyiv metropolitans.
Dating back nearly 17 centuries, the Patriarchate of Constantinople is the oldest of the 15 autocephalous Orthodox churches. Its primate is considered “first among equals” by other Orthodox hierarchs. Patriarch Bartholomew says the 17th-century decree was a temporary solution and calls his decision to reclaim control over Ukraine legitimate.
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