Phyletism and the Case for Ukrainian Autocephaly

Public Orthodoxy

by Nicholas Denysenko

In my previous post, I introduced the Ukrainian problem and its significance for the forthcoming Great and Holy Council to be held in Crete in June 2016. Having argued that the movement for autocephaly in Ukraine originated nearly one-hundred years ago and is beginning to mature only in this post-soviet period, a formidable obstacle to Ukrainian autocephaly can be addressed: the problem of phyletism.

Phyletism is a modern phenomenon whereby the organization of Church life occurs on basis of ethnic or national identity. Phyletism violates the universalist spirit of the Gospel because it identifies the Church as a space exclusively reserved for one ethnic people, a type of elitism that tends to breed hatred for other peoples. In 1872, the local synod of Constantinople condemned phyletism, with reference to a controversy which emerged within the Bulgarian Church, as leading Bulgarians sought to hold jurisdiction…

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