Orthodoxy in UKRAINE in 2014: at the crossroads between Local Church and ‘Russian world’

25 January 2015, 16:32 | Analysis | 1 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Olexandr Sagan

Sagan.jpgThe previous year was significant for Orthodoxy in Ukraine in terms of determining the prospects for its development. And we are not talking about a particular Orthodox Church, but rather of entire denomination. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that Orthodox institutions in Ukraine (and worldwide) have entered into a stage of depression/stagnation, resulting in the transformation of Orthodoxy into the largest donor of other faiths, including non-Christian faiths (but this is a broader topic for individual research). The Ecumenical Patriarchate that has been trying to convene a Pan-Orthodox Council for more than half a year, attempts to give assessment of the current state of Orthodoxy in the world and find more or less universal recipes of getting out of the crisis. The permanent antagonist of this Council, the Moscow Patriarchate, has finally given its consent (not without self-interest). And, as they say, “the process has begun.”

Thus, the future Pan Orthodox council in 2016, for the sake of which Constantinople has actually frozen its activity in Ukraine, was the background of the “orthodox” year 2014 in Ukraine, despite the tragic whirlpool of political events. And this goal, in my opinion, is worth it: the Council has to address the main issues of modern life of Orthodoxy, almost the first of which is a refinement of canons regarding the ways of provision/acquisition of autonomy/autocephaly, and the issue of the so-called “canonical territory.”

These issues are so disturbing that, as pessimists believe, it is possible that the main players in the Orthodox ecumenical field will set at variance before the Pentecost 2016, thus questioning the very possibility of the Council (and in case of its conduct – the recognition of its results).

The reduced activity of Constantinople in Ukraine has not led, as it was the case in past times, to a significant intensification of the Moscow Orthodox lobby here. There are a number of reasons for that. The main reason is quick maturation of Ukrainian political nation, which resulted in a victory of Euromaidan and hard military resistance to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

A constant danger of losing a large part of the flock makes the Moscow Patriarchate being extremely cautious in the “Ukrainian issue,” up to non-recognition of Crimea as a territory of the Moscow Patriarchate’s outreach and leaving the Crimean dioceses in the composition of the UOC (MP), which is equivalent to non-recognition of the peninsula annexation. But caution does not mean inaction.

The so-called victory of the “monastics party” and the election to the office of Primate of Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovskiy) known for his conservative and even anti-Ukrainian statements/actions can be referred to as obvious success of the pro-Moscow faction of the UOC (MP) in 2014. Half a year after the official election (and the actual church governance as Locum Tenens) one may reaffirm that the Metropolitan fully lives up to his reputation of a pro-Moscow clergyman. De jure, possessing the status, non-existing in Universal Orthodoxy, i.e.of “independence and self-governance” (de facto almost autocephaly), and, with the coming of the new Primate the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) started rapidly losing its self-governing and independent position, having become in some areas even more conservative than the Moscow Patriarchate itself.

The nation haven’t heard from the UOC (MP) either a single statement or appeal with a clear condemnation of Crimea annexation, invasion of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, acts of terrorism throughout Ukraine, etc., or in support of pro-European choice of the people who fought for Euromaidan. Similarly, we haven’t heard any assessment of the anti-Ukrainian statement made by Bishop Longuin (Zhar) of Banchen or participation of Metropolitan Ioanikiy (Kobzev) in the “inauguration of the LNR head” and other anti-Ukrainian “feats” of the UOC (MP) clergymen (blessing separatist checkpoints, machines, banners, intention to bless Russian planes in Crimea, etc.).

The Church quickly refused from “autocephalous” rhetoric of clergymen, its proponents were removed from office, while some odious figures of the so-called “political orthodoxy” were returned. Strange enough, some interesting figures have been delegated to state authorities – the newly created Department of Humanitarian Policy to the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine employed some friends of Metropolitan Pavel (Lebid): Velychenkov, an activist of the “Party of Putin's policy” (now “Unified Russia”)as chief specialistand Reshetnikov, the years-long advisor of the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) as the division head.

What is the main trend of development of the UOC (MP) in 2014? Perhaps,it was desireof self-preservation in the context of acute internal church conflict. To do this, the leadership of the Church had to perform incredible somersaults, balancing between outright Russophile parties who openly rejoice or rejoiced with every failure of Euromaidan/ATO and Ukrainophiles, some of whom do not even refer themselves to clergymen/parishioners of the Moscow Patriarchate (and only of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church). Did it strengthen the Church? No. However, we may agree with some analysts that it is possible to save it as an integrated institution at a national scale, at least for now. And there is certain logic in it – the secular Ukraine is divided as well, and the Church as an organization is still largely a reflection of the community.

Thus, in 2014, it could be very clearly observed in some dioceses, which gradually formed their own versions of the UOC (MP) – according to the mood of the congregation. Their poles are the so-called "Political orthodoxy" with the "Russian world" on the one hand, and the typical Ukrainian independence-oriented wing that ignores mentioning Patriarch Kirill (which has been strictly forbidden by the Synod and Metropolitan Onufriy) on the other hand.

So, 2014 quite has clearly shown vulnerability of “Russian world” concept in Ukraine – despite its years-long inoculation by pro-Moscow politicians and certain hierarchs of the UOC (MP), it did not take root on a scale that its authors expected, but still caused a lot of damage. Many believers and clergy of the UOC (MP) that would have to go in the forefront of the “world” are now the participants of the ATO or pro-Ukrainian volunteer movement, dressing and feeding people and Ukrainian soldiers in the ATO zone, helping the displaced. Often it happens even in spite of the will of the ruling bishops.

What is the official position of the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) – Metropolitan Onufriy – on homeland defense? The UOC (MP) hierarchy, as in the days of Euromaidan, continue calling for peace (i.e. passivity, inaction). It is not surprising that the UOC (MP) gradually dissociate them from society, limiting their social activity to the highest extent possible, and thus narrowing their social base. Even in contrast to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who preaches active social service, Metropolitan Onufriy probably considers his Church to be a monastery, where the believers get likened to monastics (earthly cares remain outside the walls of the monastery).

Such Metropolitan Onufriy’s position contravenes the ROC policy document, which has been adopted with his participation – “Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church.” It clearly states: “In every age the Church urged her children to love their earthly homeland and spare no lives to protect it if it was in danger.” (Section II clause 2). “Orthodox Christians are called to love their country, which has a territorial dimension ... The patriotism of an Orthodox Christian should be effective. It manifests itself in the defense of the Homeland from enemy, work for its benefit, care for the arrangement of people's lives, including through participation in public administration. A Christian is called to preserve and develop national culture and people's consciousness” (Section II clause 3).

So, even the “Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church” confirms that in war, when the enemy is attacking, the current position of the UOC (MP) leaders with their “calls for peace” and failure to condemn the ideas of “Russian world” and the like ideological myths of Russian propaganda, propagated in the Church media as well, is tantamount to treason of “earthly Homeland” Ukraine (although these clergymen might consider their Homeland quite another country – then what are  Ukrainians, who in some way contribute to the defense of Ukraine, doing in this Church?)

Unfortunately, the parishioners of the UOC (MP) are not aware of this fact. The concepts of “canonical” – “non-canonical” were speculated on for a long time, and the ideas of “Russian world” and Ukrainian inferiority were inoculated, therefore the believers were learning on entirely different quotes and examples ... In particular, isn’t it the slogan “When a nation, civil or ethnic, is a wholly or mostly monoconfessional Orthodox society, to some extent it can be perceived as a single community of faith “Orthodox people” (“Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church "S.II clause 3) that gave rise to the idea of “orthodox armies” and the proclamation of Orthodoxy as original and dominant faith in the People’s Republic of Donetsk? Therefore, even in the face of ideological split of the country and the war with Russia, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) has practically lost its position not only in the East and Central Ukraine, but also on its west. Those 20-30 communities that last year tried to leave the UOC (MP) for the UOC-KP are close to statistical error against 12,700 parishioners of the UOC (MP).

What is the reason for such institutional stability of the UOC (MP) in 2014? For years of the state protectorate over the UOC (MP) during Kuchma and Yanukovych’s tenure, virtually in every region of Ukraine the influential pools of “converted” officials and businessmen were formed who currently ensure and maintain its strong political and administrative positions. It is almost impossible to move from the UOC (MP) to another jurisdiction - just to mention a classic case in Ostroh, where one (!) person won a church by court action from the whole community that passed to the UOC-KP, or a recent episode of setting on fire the house of a priest who moved from the UOC (MP) to the UOC-KP in Podino village (Chernihiv region). However, public mood changes and Russophilism trend has ended. It is Russia itself and the Ukrainian soldiers fighting and dying in the ATO zone which help our officials part with it. But changing the behavior patterns – it is not as quick a process as desired.

However, the situation in 2015 could change very quickly and very dramatically – the image loss of the UOC (MP) is now reaching a critical point. After the mass demobilization/military rotation significant changes may occur, especially given that our country will really respect jurisdictional choice of the Orthodox believers instead of maximally complicating the implementation of the rights provided by legislation.

Unlike the UOC (MP), the position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate in 2014 on important issues of further development of Ukraine is radically opposite. Being guided by historical experience, while in time of struggle for independence “the Church often assumed the functions of the leader of national liberation of Ukrainian people,” the Church hierarchy implements the ideas proclaimed in the Declaration of the anniversary of theLocal Council of the UOC-KP “Church and world at the beginning of the third millennium” (January 2001): “Today the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, standing on the government's positions and defending its interests, is the spiritual foundation of the state. We condemn any attempt to discredit our state by any means. The Church as a divine organism will always act to support the idea of consolidation of peace and harmony in Ukrainian society (Section XIV clause 7). “A Ukrainian Orthodox is called today to love his country. Orthodox patriotism and national identity should be revealed through activities aimed at protect our country from the enemy, work for the good of Homeland, care of the welfare of people” (Section XV clause 6).

Therefore Kyiv Patriarchate in 2014 will continue active participation in building up the Ukrainian political nation that cannot but lead to increase in authority of the Church and religious and national feelings of believers. Following the effective assistance to Euromaidan participants (just remember opening the gates of St. Michael's Monastery for the protesters) and a number of daring innovations and statements (on suspending prayers for the criminal authorities, impossibility of the Holy Communion for corrupt officials and condemnation of corruption as a social evil, about Satan-possessed Putin, on raising additional requests of “liberation from the invasion of foreigners” following the request to preserve Ukraine, an extra prayer that is read during the liturgy or prayer "in the days of trouble and invasion of enemies to our state and homeland," etc.), in 2014 Patriarch Filaret became a unique symbol of invincibility of Ukrainian spirit, the national religious leader. The efforts of the clergy and Patriarch Filaret himself to organize delivery of aid to ATO participants and IDPs is a logical and organic development of the patriotic stance of the UOC-KP, which was declared since the founding of the church and manifested itself in two Maidans or other crucial events of the Ukrainian history since its independence.

Against the background of new social challenges (Euromaidan, annexation of Crimea, war in the East, terrorism, etc.) the issue of the one Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church moved into the background in the rhetoric of the UOC-KP in 2014. Being actively discussed at the Council of Bishops as of 03/11/2014, the propagation of the idea of unification (“based on canons and Orthodox tradition”) has significantly declined, although the Patriarch sometimes mentions it in his spoken sermons. This is partly due to the fact that the new Ukrainian leadership and most of its staff ideologues actually did not support the idea of local Orthodoxy. At least, there was certain indifference of pro-government speakersat the information level that, in my opinion, is their system error – if there be such Church in Ukraine, we might be able to avoid a significant share of these social problems, or at least reduce their scope.

A striking example of indifference of the heads of state to address the "orthodox" issues is ignoring initiatives from below. In particular, the so-called “Rivne Memorandum” signed on November 13, 2014 by the UOC (MP), the UOC KP and UAOC representatives. This document states that the Orthodox Churches of the region recognize and pray for an integrated and unified Ukraine, in favor of creation of the one Ukrainian National Orthodox Church, condemn Russia's actions as aggression and the activities of other states on the territory of Ukraine and attack on the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, condemn inciting religious hatred and seizure of Orthodox churches. What else does the state need? However, instead of active support and call for the spread of this unique experience, the President removed the head of this region and watched silently the “pro-Moscow agents of influence” destroying the initiative.

It is clear that the UOC (MP) and the UOC-KP were not alone in the field of Orthodox Ukraine. However, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which had been an active player previously, did not show any activity in 2014. This is partly due to the fact that its head – Metropolitan Methodius– came seldom enough to Kyiv through illness and delegated representative power to Bishop Volodymyr (Cherpak). It should not also be forgotten that in 2013 several passionate bishops and priests have left the UAOC, which greatly weakened the Church in the information, initiative and presentational planes.

Lesser Churches of Orthodox roots/origin (which tend to use Orthodox canonical-dogmatic guidelines, Orthodox symbols, rituals and traditions) in Ukraine often exist (and 2014is no exception) on the periphery of social and public life and information space, being prisoners of their internal church problems. The largest among them is the Old Believer denominations. Three quarters of the Old Believer communities are united in the archdiocese of Kyiv and All Ukraine, which is in the jurisdiction of the Moscow Metropolis of the Russian Orthodox Old Believers Church (Belokrinitskaya hierarchy/consent). In addition to it, there are Russian Old Orthodox Church (Novozybkov consent); Bespopovtsy (priestless, Pomorian Old Orthodox Church).

Several branches of Russian Churches, oppositional to Moscow Patriarchate, have proliferated in Ukraine. However, they have a limited social basein their development in independent Ukraine, so they are actively implementing the principles of charismatic churches in search of converts. These Churches are as follows: Apostolic Orthodox Church, Ukrainian True Orthodox Church; Exarchate of the Russian True Orthodox Church; Free Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (the diocesethat did not agree to association with the ROC in May 2007); Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lady (Marian Church); Apocalyptic Orthodox Church; Greek Orthodox communities; independent Orthodox communities; Ukrainian True Orthodox independent communities; Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church and others.

To summarize, we’d like to note that on the background of common development problems of Ecumenical Orthodoxy, which are typical for the home Orthodoxy, the basic trend of Orthodoxy in Ukraine in 2014 was the differencein interpretation (and relevant activities on that basis) by the largest Orthodox Churches of the ideas of European/“Customs-Asian” ways of development of Ukrainian Society and of the defense of Homeland under circumstances of undeclared and hybrid war between Ukraine and the Russian Federation (the ATO).

Inpast year there was a growth of contradictions in the ranks of faithful and clergy of the UOC (MP), because basically these contradictions take root in a conservative and unpatriotic position of the church hierarchy, which is considered by many patriotic-spirited priests and even bishops. On the other hand, there has been consolidation and growth of prestige and popularity of the UOC-KP, which has clearly and uniquely positioned itself (and confirms this by actions) as a Ukrainian national and patriotic Church. Against the background of growth of Ukrainian national consciousness, including among supporters of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine, the said stance of the UOC (MP) hierarchy is the causative factor of jurisdiction change of Orthodox communities and disbelief/frustration in the Church for individual believers or growth in its ranks of “internal church sects” (so called “religious groups” with fans of various spiritual practices, worshipers of recognized and unrecognized “prophets and prophetesses,” etc.).

Ukrainian society has long been waiting for changes in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. It became apparent that 2014 was a crucial year of this expectation. The events of Euromaidan and ATO have transformed the issue of constituting a unified local Orthodox Church from theoretical considerations to the issue of national security of Ukraine. It involves withdrawal of Ukrainians from Moscow’s sphere of influence and education that takes place due to the Church media, outreach, and activities of civil society organizations. If Ukraine does not block at once the channel of Moscow’s spiritual influence and education of believers in the spirit of “Russian world” and inferiority, a long-term civil war may be expected. The year of 2015 will show if the Ukrainian people, and above all, the state leaders are aware of that.

Система Orphus
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  • chrischristian | 1 February 2015, 13:29
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    Maybe the place to begin is to set aside politics and self-interest and turn to Christ, even to listen to His words: "This I command you that you love one another." (John 15) "By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13) "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. . . .But love your enemies. . ." (Luke 6) In these days of bloodshed, we could learn much from the early Church and be light to the world as they are. https://christianpacifismblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/early-christians-and-the-sword/

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  • Леонтій | 21 October 2016, 21:07

    Так виглядає, що найбільш важливо, аби - та чи та - Церква - як правдива християнська спільнота - була, передусім, визнана Самим Господом Богом! А от справа цього - якраз ЛЮДСЬКОГО

  • Андрій Смирнов | 21 October 2016, 17:57


  • Оленка | 21 October 2016, 15:00

    Леонтію, в УПЦ КП та мусулман у Криму наразі спільний ворог - російська влада, заради протидії такому ворогу вони хто зна на що підуть. УГКЦ підпорядковується Папі, так що зовсім нічого дивного немає

  • Леонтій | 21 October 2016, 12:52

    Между прочим, было такое, что, скажем, ещё при совдепии в Киеве, на ул. Ямской, баптисты и адвентисты делили между собой одно и тоже молитвенное здание: богослужения проводились там в разные дни

  • Юзьо | 21 October 2016, 12:40

    Таке дурне наговорив, що навіть не хочеться доводити, що дурне. Скочиляс - автор кількох великих монографій, один з кращих фахівців з історії Церкви в Україні. І про націоналізм та ставлення до нього

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