On October 18, Ukrainian Parliament approved the handover of St. Andrew’s church in Kyiv to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. During the second hearing, 237 deputies voted for the bill (first, 216 deputies gave their votes). The project was personally initiated by President Poroshenko. It is reported that Parliament obliged the Cabinet to complete the handover in one month since the bill is adopted.
St Andrew’s Church was constructed between 1747 and 1754, to a design by the Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, and is rightfully considered one of Ukraine’s most beautiful religious structures.
Now it is the cathedral of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), but it’s a state property and part of the Sophia of Kyiv National Sanctuary. That is why the decision to hand over the church was reviewed by members of Parliament.
Nevertheless, the church won’t be transferred to the ownership but for use of Constantinople. As the bill reads, it was done to provide the Phanar with a place where its clergy can hold services, ceremonies and processions – on condition that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will comply with cultural protection laws.
Obviously, the UAOC’s consent was also obtained. Its primate Metropolitan Makarios said that if the UAOC was part of the new Local Orthodox Church he agreed to give his cathedral to the Exarch of Constantinople. Along with this he claimed that the UAOC needs another church in Kyiv in return, for example, St. Cyril’s Church or Church of the Savior at Berestove.
But here comes a peculiar detail: St Andrew’s Church was closed for restoration in 2015 and since then services haven’t been held there. The restoration will continue for at least a year and only after this the building will be opened, said a representative of the National Sanctuary complex “Sophia of Kyiv”, which owns the church. Besides, a special agreement will be signed between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the sanctuary complex according to which the church will operate both as a place of worship and a museum (like the Refectory Church of St. Sophia’s Monastery where services are held from 8 till 10 AM, and later it is open as a museum).
Does this property comply with the demands of Constantinople? After the Synod held on October 9-11, the Phanar published the decision on Ukraine’s autocephaly. One of the points was to restore the Patriarchate’s Stavropegion in Kyiv. According to Poroshenko, St. Andrew’s Church will become the “embassy” of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukraine. Kyiv seems to have decided that Constantinople would be fine with a church closed for restoration. The representatives of the world Orthodox leader would reside in a museum – and that, as politicians think, also shouldn’t confuse the Phanar. Moreover, the church won’t be owned but only used by Constantinople.
The Patriarchate seems to have come around with it as Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC KP), Archbishop Yevstratiy (Zorya) noticed that the state and the Phanar already agreed upon St. Andrew’s Church becoming the cathedral for the Stavropegion. But why was this very church, witnessing a long-standing restoration, chosen for the Constantinople Exarch?
Meanwhile, intriguing is the behavior of Filaret (Denysenko), the now-recognized primate of the UOC KP. On October 20, the UOC KP Synod changed the title of its head. Now the Church’s Primate will also be called the Archimandrite of Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavras, which seemingly reflects Filaret’s desire to get them at his disposal. At the moment both Lavras belong to the UOC MP, so it looks like the “Archimandrite” doesn’t want to comply with the fifth point of the Constantinople Synod decree in which the Patriarchate appeals to all sides involved that they avoid appropriation of Churches, Monasteries and other properties.
In any case, the transfer of St. Andrew’s Church shows how chaotic the process of creating a new Church in Ukraine is. Isn’t there a more decent estate to hand over to the Ecumenical Patriarchate?