Time seems to be cramped: important processes occur faster than before. So, it is with the united Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the struggle for the creation of which lasted for centuries, and now it seems to be coming to an end. A few months ago, it was difficult to believe that we would have had such.
The Synod will gather, but not everyone
Even last week, some media reported: the Unification Council of Churches, which declare the creation of a single Orthodox Church, will be held on November 22. True, the archbishop and press secretary of the UOC-KP (Ukrainian Orthodox Church ‒ Kyiv Patriarchate), Yevstratiy Zorya, stressed on his Facebook page that the date of the Council would be officially announced: “Just as the project of the Tomos was prepared long ago, but it will become a document only after official adoption and distribution”. A few days later he wrote that the information, spread on the Internet about the November 22, is false.
However, the fact that the provision of autocephaly to the Ukrainian church is entering the homestraight is beyond doubt. Last week, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the Ukrainian people on the eve of the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor. At the same time, he confirmed his decision on autocephaly. And soon the press service of the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced that the Unification Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches will take place in December. The exact date will be called at the meeting of the Synod at the end of November.
It was proposed to unite the UOC-KP, the UAOC (Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church) and the UOC-MP (Ukrainian Orthodox Church ‒ Moscow Patriarchate). The latter Church refused the offer. This decision was made on November 13 at the Council of Bishops of the UOC-MP in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. This Church went further, stopping the Eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. And it seems a trifle that the hierarchs of the MP did not arrive at the meeting with Petro Poroshenko in the Ukrainian House. They explained that they were not against meeting with the president, but in the church territory, in the Lavra.
“From the point of view of canon law, all the bishops of Ukraine should join the council, recognizing the right of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to initiate such a Council,” Yurii Chornomorets, professor, Ph.D., religious scholar, noted to Opinion. “Those, who do not come to the Council, from the point of view of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, will not be considered Ukrainian bishops, and therefore their service in Ukraine will be anti-canonical, schismatic”.
Despite the refusal to participate in the Council, the position of the UOC-MP cannot be considered monolithic. Some of its representatives are on pro-Ukrainian positions, in particular, Vinnytsya and Bar Metropolitan Simeon and Metropolitan of Cherkassy and Kaniv Sophrony. A few years ago, the ex-head of the Synodal Information and Education Department of the UOC-MP, Georgy Kovalenko, stated that he did not associate himself with the Moscow Patriarchate. True, Mr. Georgy told Opinion that he did not participate in the preparation for the Council and is not interested in its results. However, he noted that this is an important event, and he sees it only as the beginning of the convocation process.
“In April, more than 40 bishops of the UOC-KP, 15 bishops of the UAOC and 10 of the UOC-MP signed the appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the grant of the Tomos,” Yaroslav Kotsyuba, an associate expert on religious issues at the World Policy Institute, told to Opinion. “The hierarchs of the MP are under incredible pressure from Moscow. But, according to the bishops, they have determined their position. It is known that those, who support autocephaly, are already much more than 10. They are held by fear and caution. However, it is likely that we can count on their presence at the Council. They say there are at least 20 other bishops.”
So, who is really canonical?
“The name ‘Orthodox Church in Ukraine’ appears in all working documents, but, how it will be called, they will decide at the Unification Council,” Yaroslav Kotsyuba noted. “The option ‘Ukrainian Orthodox Church’ is being considered, which would be more appropriate, since it more fully declares the national content.”
The convocation will be an organizational gathering, and the strategy of a building of the Church will be discussed later. According to Lyudmyla Fylypovych, a religious scholar of the Institute of Philosophy named after G. Skovoroda of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the Charter on the united Church should be approved.
“The discussion continues on the title,” Lyudmyla assured Opinion. “The head must be elected. The question is in what rank (title) ‒ from the archbishop to the patriarch. The date of receipt of Tomos depends on the date of the Ukrainian Council and the Synod of Constantinople.”
In Bulgakov’s novel “Master and Margarita”, house manager Ivan Nikanorovich Bosoy wonders Koroviev whether he is an official person and whether being unofficially in apartment No. 50 is prohibited. Koroviev half in jest replied that all this is uncertain because today you are an official person, and tomorrow you are unofficial, and sometimes it happens vice versa. This is reminiscent of the situation with the Ukrainian churches. For a long time, advocates of the UOC-MP noted the canonicity of their Church and the non-canonicity of the UOC-KP and the UAOC. The question for them was fundamental. But the situation has changed “to the contrary”, with one stroke of the hand the hourglass turned upside down. The canonicity of the MP has become questionable, and those who were considered yesterday non-canonical will become canonical in the united Church.
“A statement on the termination of UOC relations (MP – author’s note) with Constantinople has no power since the UOC is not a subject of inter-Orthodox international relations,” Lyudmyla Fylypovych explained. “The ROC did everything for them, so it was possible not to stress out.”
“From the canonical point of view, UOC-MP has never existed, because for Constantinople it was not the Church, but an association of local bishops,” Viktor Yelensky, Deputy Chairman of the Subcommittee on State Policies in the Field of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations of the Parliamentary Committee on Culture Issues and Spirituality, assured Opinion. “For Constantinople and many other churches, this is a part of the Russian Church. First, it is futile to argue with the Greeks according to the canons, because they wrote them. Secondly, the MP does not recognize the rights of Constantinople, spelled out in the canons, in particular, in the rules of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of 451, where it says: Constantinople is second in honor, it is granted the same rights as Rome. And it is clearly stated that Constantinople has the right of supreme appeal.”
Under the chiming clock of the Kremlin
Moscow’s harsh reaction is not audible, although in October, at the meeting of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, President Putin did not hesitate to talk about interference in the internal affairs of another state, made it clear: Russia will ensure the safety of its metropolitans in Ukraine. Then the people’s deputy of Ukraine, Dmytro Tymchuk, said that the Kremlin was preparing special forced groups for placement in the churches of the UOC-MP. In addition, Putin’s words disrupt the camouflage screen from the UOC-MP, positioning itself as an independent church, not subject to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin.
“Putin has practically not spoken about this yet,” said Oleksandr Morozov, a Russian political scientist and researcher at Charles University (Prague), to Opinion. “Obviously, the Kremlin expects’ conflicts in parishes, around the Lavras and famous temples. We must not forget that Glazyev, Malofeyev, Zatulin and a number of other Russian leaders in 2014 expected to destabilize the east of Ukraine, including relying on ties in the Orthodox environment. These connections have not gone away in four years. People of Glazyev publicly repeatedly stated that they needed revenge for the “failure” of 2014 (the creation of the state of Novorossiya). Thanks to them, the Kremlin retains great opportunities to influence the situation. He cannot protect the temples of the UOC-MP with the help of “green men” ‒ this is obvious. But he can use the situation to destabilize.”
“There is no doubt that the Russian special services will take advantage of church issues with destructive considerations,” political analyst Mykhailo Basarab said to Opinion. “Firstly, for the Kremlin, it is important at all costs to preserve the Moscow church in Ukraine as an instrument of “soft power” and humanitarian aggression. Secondly, the creation of the Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church is a good reason for inspiring sabotage and confrontation, a great opportunity to fight us behind our backs. The Russians will try to fully play this card. This is an examination of the ability of our special services and law enforcement agencies.”
However, Yaroslav Kotsyuba believes that no provocation would have sense, or effect, because it is the same as stopping a high-speed train with bare hands. Nevertheless, the statements of the heads of the UOC-MP are directed only to their own audience. Their goal is to slow down the transition of parishes under the Omophorion of the newly autocephalous Church.
A lot of speculation, in particular from the Kremlin, about the future of church property, monasteries, temples, Lavras (all three Lavras in Ukraine subordinate to the UOC-MP). Under Ukrainian law, every religious organization is a legal entity, but the whole church is not. And the question of a separate temple should be decided by a particular community.
“Until now it was possible to say that the property will remain solely with the communities, and the transition of a community will mean the transition of the relevant property”, Yuriy Chornomorets explained. “However, the UOC-MP puts itself outside the canonical field of Ukrainian Orthodoxy by the decisions of the Council (November 13 – author’s note). The state can take into account the experience of Bulgaria and adopt a new law, according to which one Orthodox jurisdiction will be recognized, and, as a single person, the rights to use all the existing churches will be transferred to it. The introduction of appropriate legislation is respect for the canonical law of the Orthodox Church, according to which the local church in the territory of the nation-state should be the one. In Bulgaria, the adoption of the relevant act stimulated the processes of unification, and not from the first, but from the second attempt, almost all Orthodox bishops and priests joined the canonical jurisdiction. In our case, such a canonical church will be the jurisdiction that is constituted at the Unification Council”.
One law for all
What other changes in the law require the creation of a new church? What will happen to the status of the UOC-MP? Will it be positioned as a representative of a foreign church?
“We have a sufficient legislative base to ensure freedom of conscience for all,” Viktor Yelensky said. “But in this association, a bill №4128 was registered in February 2016, which specifies how a community can change its jurisdiction. This document would be relevant. It is in line with the Constitution of Ukraine and the international understanding of freedom of conscience. We do not have such institutions as the representation of foreign churches. All religious organizations are equal before the law. The only thing is that parliamentarians insist on adopting a law that churches that are located in the territory of the aggressor country reproduce the name of the church to which they belong fully. There is such a bill №5309”.
According to Lyudmyla Fylypovych, only changes, confirming the principles of freedom of conscience and religion, will be needed to confirm even greater freedom for believers and non-believers: no religious persecution, coercion, abuse of the state church, state-church partnerships, and tolerant interfaith relations.
Oleksandr Morozov sees the future of the UOC-MP as follow: “The conflict between Moscow and Constantinople is for decades. But life will go on: local churches will recognize the Local Ukrainian Church, will be commemorated during worship. And in Moscow will not. Most likely, this will lead to the radicalization of the parishes of Metropolitan Onufriy. But as a result, in Ukraine, instead of the three Orthodox jurisdictions of the post-Soviet period, will be formed two, with the most educated and a European-oriented part of the priesthood and the laity will go to the Local Church. And then everything will be decided after Putin leaves the stage.”
Opinion asked the well-known Ukrainians, how do we overcome the difficulties encountered in the process of uniting Orthodox churches into one?
“It will be necessary to compile and update the list of difficulties. Some are already visible, some may arise in the process of unification. The next step ‒ a plan to overcome each problem should be drawn up. Perhaps, at the national and local levels, it is worthwhile to set up temporary committees with the participation of all interested parties to consider problems arising.”
“During the Russian-Ukrainian war, it is impossible to put up with the Moscow Church (MP) in Ukraine, which was and remains the mouthpiece of the Russian government ‒ the tsar, leader, the Kremlin, Putin himself ‒ it is no longer possible. The situation when the priest, knowing, who started the war on Donbas, refuses to pay the last honours to the Ukrainian soldier, who died at the front on the grounds that he allegedly killed his brothers, fully characterizes the church and its servants. Ukrainians understand that they are not only alien but also hostile to them. They see that a church in which intolerance and rituals reign, in which there is no love for one’s neighbor and compassion for those, who need it, in general, has little in common with Christianity. One would like to repeat after Shevchenko: “For whom are you crucified, Christ, the Son of God?” (translation of Shevchenko’s poetry – translator’s note) But a church without believers cannot exist. I think that after receiving autocephaly, first a split, and then extinction await for the UOC-MP in Ukraine.”
“There is no need to overcome difficulties, you just have to be Ukrainian. I do not know, whether I’m a believer or God-worshiper or none of these. Satire and humor, apparently, are not very suitable for churches. Or vice versa. Representatives of the UOC-MP should realize: only the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has the right to exist in Ukraine.”
“First of all, a balanced and consistent state policy is needed. In addition, it is important to rely both on the world experience of achieving autocephaly, and on historical traditions. It’s known that back in 1710, in the Constitution of Hetman Pylyp Orlyk, one of the main points was the article about the united Local Apostolic Church in Ukraine. Therefore, in my opinion, it is only necessary to restore the effect of the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk at the present stage.”
Text by Viktor Tsvilikhovsky