ANKARA, December 7. /TASS/. The Ukrainian Unifying Assembly will take place on December 15, even if some hierarchs refuse to participate in it, the press service of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul informed TASS on Friday.
"Even if some bishops refuse to participate in the unifying assembly, it will still take place on December 15," the Constantinople patriarchate stressed. "I would like to stress that we have not excluded any hierarchs from the list of invitees, and it’s their decision whether they would participate [in the assembly] or not."
The press service could not confirm the reports claiming that Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate Metropolitan Onufriy sent back Patriarch Bartholomew’s invitation without a response. "Unfortunately, I can neither deny nor confirm this information," the agency’s source said. "However, if Onufriy or anyone else refuses to participate in the assembly, this person cannot be elected as head of the Ukrainian church."
Earlier on Friday, the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate said in a statement that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has no canonical right to call any church assemblies in Ukraine. "The Holy Synod also stressed that Patriarch Bartholomew has no right to summon the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to any assemblies. The planned "unifying assembly" is considered an illegal gathering, because it will be attended by representatives of schismatic groups," the statement says.
Earlier reports informed that the Unifying Assembly, aimed at setting up an autocephalous church in Ukraine, would take place on December 15. Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew has sent out invitations to the heads of Ukrainian autocephalous and canonical churches, asking them to take part in the assembly. However, the hierarchs of Ukraine’s canonical churches have refused to participate in the assembly, stating that their position on this issue has not changed.
Chairman of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s Legal Department Archpriest Alexander Bakhov stated on Tuesday that the Ukrainian government is pressuring the Ukrainian canonical church’s clergy to participate in the assembly, and that the church will fight against any allegations. He added that such attempts destabilize the situation in the country.
On the outcomes of the Holy and Sacred Synod held on October 9-11, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople announced the decision to lift the anathema against leaders of two extracanonical churches in Ukraine - Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and Makariy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The Ecumenical Patriarchate also announced that it is starting the process of granting autocephalous status to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
In response to this, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church has made a decision to cease joint Eucharistic celebrations (joint liturgies) with Constantinople.
On November 13, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate announced that it deems the decisions made by Constantinople invalid, and officially proclaimed the rupture of relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.