News feeds are full of messages about how in different regions of the country religious communities are moving from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church ‒ Moscow Patriarchate (read below about the renaming) to the Ukrainian Local Church ‒ the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The legislation is rationed, citizens express their will at meetings, the bloody scenarios, projected by the Kremlin, are failing. However, the path of the formation of the Ukrainian Church will be difficult and long.
The process is irreversible
Journalist and musician Roman Kolyada serves as a deacon at the Church of St. George in the center of Kyiv, in Dytynets, the burial place of the ancient princes. There are tourist excursions to the small church, in the interiors of which Petrykivka painting was used for the first time. Mr. Kolyada told, “The chapel is in a secret place in the courtyards. The place is blessed, there was Fedorivsky monastery. Recently there has been an interesting case that demonstrates the mood of people. The fact is that our rector from the very beginning supported Patriarch Filaret, he was the secretary of the Kyiv Patriarchate, and everyone, who knows him, doesn’t have any question what kind of patriarchy the church belongs to. So, the tourists, who attentively examined the church and icons, suddenly asked, “Have you already transferred to the Ukrainian Church?” That is, even people far from this process perceive the transition as logical. And the question of mass transitions for me is a matter of time.”
At the end of February, the Ministry of Culture, which implements the state policy in the field of religion, provided statistics: about 350 communities changed their jurisdiction by joining the UOC (on the interactive map on the Internet there are already more than 400 of such). According to the religious scholar, Doctor of Philosophy Oleksandr Sagan, this is more than in some Orthodox churches, which doubt to recognize our Church. True, according to the Moscow Patriarchate, the number of communities transferred to the UOC (Ukrainian Orthodox Church) is ten times less ‒ 36. That is, a trifle compared to the total number of MP churches in Ukraine.
“The Ministry of Culture annually publishes statistics on the number of registered statutes of religious organizations (not believers, but statutes!),” Mr. Sagan said. “The majority of analysts draw conclusions about the dominance of the UOC-MP in Ukraine on this basis, which is denied at least by sociology (42% of the Orthodox support the UOC, about 15% support the UOC-MP, and 40% have not decided on their legal background). Worldwide, the number of believers is determined by sociologists, not supernumeraries. On the other hand, we cannot but take into account the fact that the UOC-MP, as a result of the policy of Leonid Kuchma, received the overwhelming number of church property, confiscated in Soviet times. Therefore, taking advantage of officials’ favor, it has built a powerful infrastructure: more than 200 monasteries, 11,000 temples, 18 religious schools. The largest concentration of UOC-MP communities is in Vinnytsya, Khmelnytsky, Kyiv, and Zhytomyr.”
How does the legislation work?
Long before the receipt of the Tomos and the emergence of a new church, certain religious communities of the UOC-MP expressed a desire to move to the UOC-KP. Not everyone managed to realize their plans. There were also bloody clashes, in which mercenaries were involved, and the police, as a rule, did not interfere. Imperfect legislation, brute force, intimidation and harassment of believers did its dark work. However, on January 17 of this year, the Verkhovna Rada adopted the Law 4128-d “On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine (regarding the subordination of religious organizations and the procedure for state registration of religious organizations with the status of legal entities)”.
“Prior to this Law, subjective perception of judges reigned (and most cases of changes in the jurisdictional membership of Orthodox communities occurred by the courts) the norm “the right of the religious community to its subordination in canonical and organizational matters (Article 8 of the Law of Ukraine “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations),” Oleksandr Sagan explained. “There were cases when more than 90% of the religious community showed a desire to change jurisdiction, but the building of the temple and movable property remained with a minority. This led to many years of litigation, which is unacceptable for a legal state, different court decisions in different regions with the same initial data. Therefore, this rule required an immediate settlement and was made a law, according to which the concept of the majority of the community is defined, and determines the further owner of the property ‒ 2/3 of the number of community members.
“This law became the part of the Law “On Freedom of Conscience”, in fact, as an addition to the Article 8,” said Viktor Yelensky, the Deputy Chairman of the Subcommittee on State Policies in Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations of the VRU Committee on Culture and Spirituality. “And this addition has created specific conditions under which the transition, by and large, legitimized the possibility of religious communities to change their subordination. They had such an opportunity before, but they could not always use it ‒ the Law did not clearly state how to do it.”
On January 22, the Court of Cassation as part of the Supreme Court (Cassation Economic Court of the Supreme Court) of Ukraine approved the right of the community to decide on its subordination. After all, the priests, the ruling bishops were trying to assign this right (through the introduction of illegal provisions in the statutes of societies), in fact, turning society into “registered peasants”. Together with the draft law 4128-d, the decision of the CEC SC provides a real mechanism for the community to defend its constitutional rights in terms of changing jurisdictional affiliation.
From absurdities to provocations
For the Moscow Patriarchate, it is not so easy to give up their positions. Oleksandr Sagan predicts a tough standoff. He identified several factors that are hindering transitions:
“First of all, the informational ignorance of the majority of believers with an objective history of Orthodoxy in Ukraine and the dominance of Moscow myths. Recently, at his lecture on the development of the Local OC in Ukraine, I heard from one priest, the current Local OC “pulls” our Orthodoxy “under the Turkish Sultan”. Or another version, popular among opponents of the Tomos “property is the way to the union”. Unfortunately, some people do believe this. Another factor is that after the elections, the new President will abolish the Tomos and the situation in Orthodoxy will return to the state until 2018. In some areas, the UOC-MP began campaigning in support of one of the candidates, in opposition to the authorities, who allegedly promised to neglect the Tomos. This nonsense also makes no sense to comment.”
However, not only a fool and fake dominates the current religious situation. In Volyn, a Moscow priest shot at his fellow villagers, who decided to be with UOC. The head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Vasyl Hrytsak, announced the exposure of the attempts of the Russian special services to destabilize the situation in Ukraine precisely on religious grounds. For an arson of temples in Zaporizhya, they promised 2 thousand dollars. They planned attacks on another 20 churches in Ukraine. The head of the SSU spoke about his intention to meet with the head of the ROC in Ukraine, Onufriy, in order to warn him about extremist actions.
Natalya Belitser, an expert of the Institute of Democracy, named after Pylyp Orlyk, hopes to benefit from such a meeting. According to her, there is a sense in preventive conversations with all the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church ‒ the church radicals. To eliminate possible threats to the Security Service of Ukraine, to work in advance precisely by such non-violent, but effective methods.
“The society already has the realization that any attempts to seize church buildings, belonging to the UOC-MP (now the ROC) are provocations,” said Ms. Belitser to Opinion. “Law enforcers need to strengthen the protection of these buildings. Also, to ensure the prevention of provocations by radical supporters and some church leaders of the ROC. There were very disturbing reports that they did not give the keys to the communities that decided to turn to the UOC. It is the state that must take all measures to secure both sides and avoid provocations. There were fears that right-wing radicals would resort to violent actions, but they seemed to be very well aware that these were really provocations and that Moscow is waiting for that.”
Change the name
Perhaps the formation of a new church would be less painful if the country had a clear information policy. Believers and non-believers should use proven sources, and not be led by Moscow myths and spread rumors.
“The state should be aware that the church is a huge part of civil society,” Roman Kolyada assured. “People, who believe that church issues can be neglected as something archaic, are frivolous. The state should adequately inform citizens in its inherent ways. We do not have state radio and television now, but there is Suspilne, and state bodies could interact adequately. When there is a need for comments, then go on the air, and not ask for a letter with a list of questions. We must communicate in a modern way.”
And what about the name “UOC-MP”? Legislation requires the renaming of the church. The Ministry of Culture warned: if a religious organization does not comply with the requirements of the law, its activities may be terminated by the court. However, in the MP they see no reason to change the name, but point to an attempt by the state to render raider seizures of property. This was stated by the chairman of the Synodal Information Department of the UOC-MP, Archbishop Clement (Vecheria).
“Their representatives said that this does not concern them, although in the expert opinion of the Ministry of Culture it is clearly stated how the organizations are subject to the bill number 5309,” Viktor Yelensky said. “But in Ukraine, one cannot simply forbid something like in Russia. Only by court decision. By the end of 2018, they could use the name “UOC-MP”, as it was said in the statute of the Russian Church: the Russian Orthodox Church, and another name ‒ the MP. They removed the other name, that is, now it’s the ROC in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, in the occupied territories of the East, the communities of the UOC were under the threat of prohibition. As the head of the UOC, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Epiphanius, assured, since the beginning of spring, 36 temples and other premises in certain temporarily occupied areas of the Donetsk region may “be confiscated in favor of the republic”, and the priests would be deported. The reason for the harassment is the unlawful demand for the communities “to register according to the laws of the republic” from March 1. Epiphanius appealed to the UN, the OSCE, the EU, the guarantors of the Minsk process, all democratic countries, international and inter-confessional institutions “to prevent catastrophic development of events.”
Can it be faster?
Opinion asked the well-known Ukrainians, how long will the process of transition of parishes to the UOC last and can it be accelerated?
Nelya Kukovalska, CEO of the National Reserve “Sophia Kyivska”:
“I don’t think someone will tell the date of the final transition of the parishes. The process is long, it depends on many factors, subjective and objective. Anyone, who is deeply “believing in the Russian world”, can remain forever in the church of the aggressor, not even realizing this, because one got used to this priest and this church. Many parishioners are intimidated, which also holds them back from the decision to move to the UOC. Now the UOC itself should show the society that it is new, open, modern, and tolerant to all believers. It is difficult to speed up the process because only the inner consciousness of each believer must determine the time of one’s readiness to move to a new church. There is no need to interfere deeply in this process, but it is necessary to convince!”
Mykola Motorny, an honored Journalist of Ukraine:
“We did not win and did not get the Tomos. It was given to us. And it does not unite people. The people relaxed because they thought that the Tomos itself is enough. In fact, the birth of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is just the beginning. And the enemy also “does not sleep”. There will be a battle. Moscow priests have something to lose. Therefore, it’s difficult to speak about the time frame for completing the transition from the MP to the UOC. As for me, we will not cope with it until the end of 2019. And it is not the task of the President or any authority to agitate. We need a real leader of the nation. Personally, I think that this is Filaret. And he was rather quickly excommunicated from specific deeds. Unfortunately…”
Tetyana Cherep-Perohanych, journalist, writer, public figure:
“Many factors directly or indirectly influence the time of the transition from the MP to UOC. Above all, pro-Ukrainian media will be able to effectively counter pro-Russian propaganda. A soft, but strong and consistent government policy should be pursued to increase the use of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of public life. Much will depend on the growth of people’s well-being, on overcoming the plunder of the population, through withdrawal of funds in offshore and smuggling. The stronger the Ukrainian state is, the more attractive the Ukrainian Church will be.”
Anatoliy Khromov, historian, archivist, poet:
“The creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is certainly a historic event. The United Ukrainian Church will complete its formation fairly quickly, of course, in the context of the duration of the historical process (in 10 years approximately 10% of the parishes will remain faithful to the MP). Speaking figuratively, the transitions go like an avalanche: coasting from the Carpathian Mountains and Podillya on wide expanses to Steppe Ukraine. Although, now there are communities, and under the southern sun they lost the ice “clamp” of the Russian version of Orthodoxy.”
Text by Viktor Tsvilikhovskyi