Ukrainian Orthodox Christians is About to Embark on “Independence” Voyage

Ukrainian Orthodox Christians is About to Embark on “Independence” Voyage


Is it likely that there will be the ecclesiastical division in Ukraine? The Rovenky and Sverdlovsk diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), following the Simferopol and Crimean diocese, also announced that it remains under the omophorion of Patriarch Kyrill and will not participate in the split together with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).

In general, not much time passed since Metropolitan Onufry and the UOC proclaimed independence, they began to lose entire dioceses. To be clear, the representatives of the Donetsk diocese, who, on the same day as the proclamation of “independence,” said that the decision of the UOC leadership did not apply to them, were the first to speak out.

At the same time, His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill himself commented sympathetically on the UOC statement on Sunday, saying that in the current situation the leaders of the UOC “should act as wisely as possible so as not to complicate the lives of their faithful people.”

UOC and Political Situation

It should be said that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is still a self-governing organization within the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), but it has broad autonomy. Metropolitan Onufry of Kyiv and All Ukraine is officially a member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. On May 27, the leadership of the UOC made a loud statement “about the full independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” from the ROC and also expressed disagreement with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia regarding the special military operation carried out by Russia in Ukraine.

It must be said that this statement sounded somewhat unexpected. According to the UOC leadership, it is about the “decree of the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of May 27, 2022” but there was no talk about a council of the UOC the day before the event! The leadership of the UOC itself announced on its official website “a meeting of bishops, priests, monks and laity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.” Even Metropolitan Onufry's speech at this event the official site of the UOC titles as “The word of the Most Blessed Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Onufry at the opening of the meeting of bishops, priests, monks and laity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.” That is, as early as the day of May 27 it was a “meeting” and in the evening it turned out that a council of the UOC had taken place! Moreover, there was a council that adopted an important resolution!

It may be concluded that the leadership of the UOC was not sure until the last moment that it would be possible to pass such a decree. That is why they first launched a safety net in the form of a “meeting.” When a majority of votes for the draft resolution was gathered, the event was declared a council of the UOC. This is for a fuller understanding of the situation in which the word “independence” was used.

“The Council condemns war as a violation of God's commandment “Thou shalt not kill!” (Exodus 20:13) and expresses sympathy with all those who have suffered in war,” says paragraph one. It should be reminded that in fact the war in Donbass has been going on since the spring of 2014, even if it used to be called the “anti-terrorist operation” and then the “united forces operation”, which was conducted by order of Kiev. However, in this case, the leaders of the UOC considered that it was more advantageous to fit the political situation. Therefore, the resolution of the UOC Council from the very beginning bears a political statement. It is strange, but it seems that political parties, experts and the media are usually responsible for the turns of the political weather vane, while the church has always been engaged in the sphere of the spiritual.

The UOC Council further asked the leadership of Ukraine and the Russian Federation to continue negotiations and “to seek a strong and reasonable word that could stop the bloodshed.”

Then there were the sensational statements that made the UOC Council resonate so powerfully. First, the head and the entire leadership of the UOC publicly expressed disagreement with Patriarch Kyrill's position on military action in Ukraine. Second, the council officially stated that it was going to make changes to the charter “that testify to the full independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.” In this case, this decision is directly related to the point “on the resumption of vows in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” because until now the UOC has received worship from the Russian Orthodox Church, which indicates its subordinate status.

Finally, in terms of sensational decisions, the UOC Council expressed “hope for the resumption of dialogue” with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). wrote that the OCU is a new religious organization, created at the suggestion of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in December 2018. In January 2019, the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople Bartholomew issued the OCU with a “tomos” [a decree of the head of a particular Eastern Orthodox church on certain matters.] Then, at the suggestion of Poroshenko's headquarters, this event was publicized as the receipt of autocephaly, but in fact the OCU is a subordinate organization of the Constantinople Patriarchate, which is based in Istanbul.

Under Poroshenko, the new organization of the OCU was being prepared to play the role of the official state church of Ukraine. The OCU and the “tomos” were one of Poroshenko's electoral projects, who went into his second term as president under the “Army, Language, Faith” motto. However, as we remember, Poroshenko lost the election. Most importantly, the OCU has the support of the United States.

Schism in on Horizon

Today, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is the largest Orthodox denomination in Ukraine. According to public data, the UOC has more than 12,000 parishes and about 10,500 priests. By comparison, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has 6,900 parishes and about 4,500 priests. As for the unrecognized Kyiv Patriarchate (KP) of Mykhailo Denysenko (Filaret), there is no complete information. Meanwhile, according to open sources, the KP with Filaret has retained under their control several dozen dioceses in Ukraine, as well as parishes in the United States, Canada and countries of Western Europe.

You would be surprised, but according to Kiev's official propaganda, Ukraine has been at war with Russia since 2014. Therefore, because of its religious affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is in an openly hostile environment. After the 2014 coup d'état, the official authorities have demonstrated an openly unfriendly attitude toward the UOC, and it is clear why. The harsh crisis in relations between Kiev and Moscow, which the Ukrainian authorities and nationalists extrapolate to the religious structure with the prefix “Moscow Patriarchate,” also affected the attitude towards the UOC. Since 2019, when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew signed the “tomos,” some 700 OCU dioceses have been forcibly and voluntarily transferred to the UOC.

With the beginning of the special military operation, deputies of the Verkhovna Rada and local authorities decided that “war would write off everything,” so they launched a crackdown on the UOC, without even trying to observe minimal decency. Deputies from the Golos faction (this party is staffed by employees of organizations that are funded by the U.S. budget and money from George Soros) registered a bill to ban the UOC as part of the ROC. A wave of attacks on UOC priests and churches swept across Ukraine. Here are just a few examples from all over Ukraine.

For example, the city council of Brovary (a satellite of Kyiv) passed a resolution prohibiting the activities of the UOC, although such decisions are a direct violation of the Constitution of Ukraine. Oleksandr Pavlyuk, the head of the regional military administration of Kyiv region, signed an order and transferred three religious communities from the UOC to the OCU by order. Needless to say that such “orders” are legally null and void, because they contradict the Constitution of Ukraine, according to which “the church and religious organizations are separated from the state” and “no religion can be recognized by the state as obligatory” (article 35). It is unclear whether we can speak of God's punishment, but the topic of the “transfer” of UOC parishes did not work out for Pavlyuk, because a few days later Pavlyuk himself was “multiplied by zero.” Not even a month later, President Zelensky dismissed him from the position of “military governor” of the Kyiv region.

With Help of Kind Word and State Department

Although Poroshenko lost the election in 2019 to the current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, established on his initiative, exists. Although Zelensky himself differs from his predecessor in that he shows no public support for the OCU, this religious organization has the support of the United States.

As of today, the OCU is a partially recognized church. It has been officially recognized only by the Greek, Hellenic, and Cypriot Orthodox Churches. At the same time, some Orthodox hierarchs demonstrate a very harsh attitude toward the OCU. For example, Patriarch Theophilus III of Jerusalem immediately and publicly called it “dissenters,” explaining why he would not allow a delegation from the OCU to serve at the Holy Sepulchre and would not allow them to receive the Holy Fire.

Most importantly, the U.S. demonstratively supports Epiphanius & Co. The first foreign official to call the head of the OCU in December 2018 was U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. In the last year alone, OCU Head Epiphanius met with U.S. congressmen, the assistant secretary of state, and other diplomats and politicians.

It is clear why, with such political clout, the OCU is constantly expanding its sphere of influence, acting “with a good word and a gun.” It is the OCU organizations that initiate attacks on Orthodox churches throughout Ukraine to forcibly transfer Christian communities to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Here are just a few recent examples. On March 29, armed men attacked the Pokrovsky Church in the city of Smela (Cherkassy region), twisted and threw a hieromonach into the street, and then beat up a parishioner who dared to stand up for the priest.

Unknown people threw stones at the Church of St. Seraphim of Sarov in the town of Golaya Prystan (Kherson region). On April 14, armed men in Boryspil, near Kyiv, seized a church in honor of the Intercession of the Mother of God and demanded that it be placed under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church. On May 25, the administration of the city of Drohobych (Lviv region) forcibly seized the church of St. Job of Pochaev and sealed it up for further transfer to the OCU. These are just random examples that illustrate the lawlessness that goes on in Central, Western, and Eastern Ukraine. In all cases, the police do nothing, as if the believers themselves wanted to transfer the church and parish from the UOC to the OCU.

I see it here but there I do not see it

That is why the UOC is actually under siege today. On May 12, the Synod of the UOC appealed to President Zelensky to stop the religious hostility and put an end to the lawlessness against UOC parishes. The resolution of the Council should be viewed as an attempt by the UOC leadership, led by Onufry, to protect from lawlessness. On the other hand, the leaders of the UOC in the decision too sagged to please the political conjuncture. For example, the UOC leadership called for dialogue with the Orthodox Church but why only with the OCU? There are several Orthodox churches in Ukraine. In addition to the UOC and the OCU, there is also the “Kyiv Patriarchate,” led by the anathematized Mikhail Denysenko, who calls himself Filaret. Then there are the Old Believers. And in some places there are structures of the unrecognized Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC).

As wrote, shortly after the creation of the OCU, the head of the unrecognized UOC-KP, Filaret, publicly stated that Poroshenko and Yepifanii deceived him by taking away the religious organization of the Kyiv Patriarchate, after which he “went AWOL.” Filaret announced the restoration of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the structures that remained dissatisfied with the policies of Epiphany and the Orthodox Church came under his wing. Many, many, but, for example, the foreign parishes of the Kyiv Patriarchate have said en masse that they do not recognize the Orthodox Church and remain with Filaret. However, the UOC says it is ready for dialogue with the “patented” OCU, and it ignores the “dissident” Filaret. Because he does not please the official course of the State Department?

In addition, one should not perceive the UOC as a monolith dominated by defenders of canonical Orthodoxy. Within the UOC itself there is a fairly powerful group of supporters of autocephaly, who have long and loudly advocated that the Ukrainian Orthodox declare a complete break with the ROC and set sail for “self-determined” voyages. What can one say if a group of OCU clerics who were part of the entourage of the previous Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, Volodymyr (Sabodan), hastily joined the ranks of the Orthodox Church?

By the way, given the presence of the autocephalous wing, surprisingly enough, the appearance of the OCU has played more to the benefit of strengthening the ranks of the Orthodox Christians. There is a saying “A pike in a river to keep the crucian carp awake.” The creation of the OCU threw a siege on the ambitions of the autocephalists within the UOC. The UOC leadership, instead of demanding autocephaly from the ROC, had to resist the attacks of the structure led by Epiphany (Dumenko).

It was not yesterday that the UOC leadership began to knuckle under to the political situation. There is a simple example. When UOC priests received the Holy Fire from Jerusalem on Easter Day 2021, they handed it over to Ukrainian soldiers in Donbass on Onufrya's orders. That is, not all participants in the conflict but exclusively to soldiers and officers of the AFU in the combat zone in Donbas. There were no statements that it was high time to stop the fratricidal war, no calls to end the shelling of towns and villages in Donbas with artillery, no condemnation of those on whose conscience the killing of over 100 young children and about 14,000 civilians during the war in Donbas is on the books. How convenient! I see it here but there I don't see it here.

While Patriarch Kyrill made it clear that he was sympathetic to the maneuvers of Onufry & Co, the resolution of the UOC Council has already led to a split. The UOC diocese of Simferopol and Crimea said the same day that it “remains under the omophorion of His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia,” and its delegation voted against the Sobor decision. It then became known that the decisions of the Council would not affect a number of regions of Ukraine, in particular the Donetsk diocese of the UOC. It is clear that the position of all the dioceses that are located in the territories outside of Kiev's control such as Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, Mykolaiv and Kherson dioceses is currently in question.

So, because of the proclamation of “independence” from the ROC, part of the UOC dioceses, led by Onufry, has already lost. However, there is the intrigue: will the proclamation of the “independence” protect the UOC from attacks by the Orthodox Church and militants?

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