Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church: fifteen years of lost opportunities for Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Will the mistakes be corrected?

13 March 2015, 10:41 | Open theme | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Prof. Olexander Sahan

mefodiy_top.jpgOrthodoxy in Ukraine is on the verge of changes. In war the internal demand of society for the establishment of the local Orthodox Church in Ukraine increases. The attempts by the UOC (MP) to pursue a policy of double standards (being patriots of Ukraine, swear allegiance to Moscow center) only reinforces centrifugal movements inside the Church (some clergymen publicly reject the adding of “Moscow Patriarchate" to the name of the Church). The patriotic position and activities of the UOC-KP, which is clear and understandable, considerably strengthens the position of the Church as a moral authority, resulting in an increase in dynamics of transition thereto of the UOC (MP) communities. Finally, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which recently lost its Primate, has to take principled decisions on its strategy and further development in the coming weeks.

All these issues are extremely important. However, in this article I would like to analyze the phenomenon of the third wave of revival of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church that formed in 1995. It is the position of this Church that had repeatedly disrupted the process of constituting of the national Orthodox Church, and in a greater perspective, the formation of ideological security of Ukraine - the history of many Orthodox Churches confirms that the national security and the lack of ideologically alien spiritual channels of influence on the population are closely related.

The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was too dependent on its Primates, Patriarch Dymytriy and Metropolitan Mefodiy: somehow the conciliar governance just did not work. It especially concerns the latter. Exchanging views with different experts on the activities of Metropolitan Mefodiy as Primate of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, I sometimes had an impression that we were talking about different people - as new data did not coincide with my ideas about this Metropolitan. Despite the veneer of modesty, even on the verge of simplicity, His Eminence Mefodiy was very different in different external conditions. Perhaps this was the secret of his longevity in the Primate’s office.

First I’d like to note that the Metropolitan was not a public person (as far from the public as a Church hierarch may be), although his office obliged him otherwise. Delegating his authority too often (in order not to go to Kyiv once again), a minimum number of interviews, articles and strategies (not systematized, often only for the moment’s actual need) not only by the Primate, but in general by the UAOC episcopate, testifies to the problem of defining strategic directions of the Church and to attempts (“silence is gold”) to defend its interests under any regime. However, this does not mean that Metropolitan Mefodiy had no point of view of his own on current events or orthodox political life – very often these views did not fit into a scheme of an ordinary believer’s perception of the UAOC behavior, so their publication, in the Metropolitan’s view, could damage the development of the Church (“we won’t get the new faithful and lose the old ones“).

Despite Russian roots, Metropolitan Mefodiy was a Ukrainian patriot by conviction, not by virtue of his office. This being Ukrainian thrust even through the thick walls of the Moscow Theological Seminary and Academy. At the event at St. Sophia Cathedral, dedicated to the memory of late Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan), Metropolitan Mefodiy drew attention in his speech to the Ukrainian spirit that prevailed in theological education and how he read books by Hrushevsky closed church archives, about the origins of his desire to “never wear anything contrary to our Ukrainian Orthodox traditions.” In the same perspective I recall that in 2004, His Eminence gave me an icon of the Holy Virgin, which, as he said, he liked much because the anthropological types of Virgin Mary and Jesus were very close to typical Ukrainian ones, and both of them had blond hair as ordinary Ukrainians have, not black as it follows from the Bible. His Eminence then told me that the combination of faith and ethnic factor had great potential, but in Ukraine the Moscow Church had deliberately eliminated this: in Soviet times it was easier to be a Ukrainian in Moscow, than in Ukraine.

In 1990, as one of the leading figures in the struggle for independence and Ukrainianization of the Ukrainian Church in the region, priest Valeriy Kudriakov joined the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Here he became friends with His Eminence Volodymyr Romaniuk, who, having become the Patriarch, initiated the ordination of monk Mefodiy Kudriakov (in honor of the Holy and Equal-to-the Apostles Methodius, the teacher of Slavonic people) as Bishop of Khmelnytskyy and Kamyanets-Podilsk Moscow. But a month later, having accused the UOC-KP leadership of the death of Patriarch Volodymyr, Bishop Mefodiy moved to the jurisdiction of Patriarch Dymytriy Yarema, and in five years after his death led this church.

The patriotic mood did not transform Metropolitan Mefodiy into a charismatic leader of his church like his predecessors - Patriarchs Mstislav or Dymytriy. One of the biggest Metropolitan’s challenges was his temper and often unpredictable actions. Since his conviction as priest Valeriy for “hooliganism” (Article 206 of the Criminal Code, “crimes against public safety, public order and public health”"), and ending with constant interpersonal conflicts, and thus public complaints about his team of hierarchs (whoever it might be over the years), whom he often and not without reason called “pocket presidents of regional level” or local feudal lords. This somehow disclosed the fact that talking about "chieftains’ rule" in his church, Metropolitan forgot to say it was the result of his own ill-conceived human resources and information policy.

After all, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church actually has no single church media, public discussion / debate on pressing issues: for example, neither the unions with the UOC-KP, nor the request of submission under Constantinople jurisdiction had entailed an internal church discussion at the appropriate level (with possible involvement of the laity), and then another failure of negotiations had no negative effects on church leadership (which is not logical). Large dioceses (Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and partly Ternopil) have lived their common life, hardly focusing attention on the problems of the newly created dioceses. At the time when the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church actually started “providing services” of granting episcopal dignity to some dignitaries who could not get this in other churches, the so-called “single-parish bishops” appeared, whose entire diocese was a congregation with which they came to ordination.

The ambition of the new bishops and their lack of economic opportunities turned them into a destructive force that undermines now the ship of the UAOC. The Primate’s inability or unwillingness to work with the staff (medieval prohibitions are now ineffective for management purposes) have entailed and will entail internal micro-schisms in the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and even the creation of independent branches, such as Kharkiv-Poltava Diocese of the UAOC.

His Eminence Mefodiy understood his own lack of personal charisma, lack of managerial knowledge and often tried to drift along rather than model the events. However, the main reason for such behavior, in my opinion, was the lack of a clearly defined strategy for the direction of the church’s development. Over the past 15 years, several times (in 2000-2001, 2005-2007 and 2011) the joint committees for dialogue / integration with UOC-KP have been pompously established. And every time there has been no less scandalous breach with loud accusations.

Metropolitan Mefodiy’s refusal from dialogue with the UOC-KP often had no logical explanation. For example, in September and October 2005, when there was a process of closest rapprochement of the UAOC and UOC-KP and there was real hope for positive participation of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the settlement of the inter-Orthodox conflict in  Ukraine, there was a case where the Metropolitan Mefodiy disappeared in the most crucial moment of negotiations, when his team had reached a compromise in the scheme of integration between churches and discussed the convening of the bishops’ assembly, which would have determined the agenda for the unification council, which was planned for November 19, 2005. Exactly in one week the Metropolitan appeared and clearly and unequivocally renounced all agreements. As it turned out, he had been in Moscow for a week. He explained, he was tested for diabetes (these tests may be done in an average Kyiv laboratory). His denial was categorical and did not give any options to continue negotiations. Metropolitan was not willing to explain his refusal, and then he put all the blame for negotiations’ failure on the UOC-KP.

A similar scheme was implemented in relations with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church Patriarchate of Constantinople. Actually, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Patriarch Dymytriy was conceived as a “project of Constantinople,” with the prospect of transition to their jurisdiction. According to Patriarch Dymytriy and his entourage, one should just wait for a convenient moment, as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the diaspora did. However, at the early stage of his primate’s ministry Metropolitan Mefodiy refused practical steps to reach a compromise with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This became especially evident after the failure of the Joint Memorandum between the UAOC and the UOC-KP in 2001. Later the UAOC’s activity in this area was limited mainly to the periodic sending delegations or letters from the Bishops' Council of UAOC to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with a request to receive the Church in its jurisdiction.

The UAOC has had equally complex relations in the last 15 years with the UOC (MP), or even the Moscow Patriarchate in general. Once the UAOC had times when a possibility of merger with the UOC (MP) was seriously discussed (provided that the latter withdrew from the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate). A joint committee of the UAOC and the UOC (MP) was created twice, which, however, did not issue a single document. By the way, the last joint committee has not been eliminated so far, although it has not been convened for years.

Participation in the theoretical study and implementation of the idea of ​​restoring the hierarchy of the Apostolic Orthodox Church (project by Fr Gleb Yakunin), and later of the Russian True Orthodox Church in Ukraine was yet another little known page of Metropolitan Mefodiy’s life. However, in their present implementation, these projects are predominantly Moscow-oriented, which is explained both by ideological (Ukrainian branch or department was created in opposition to Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate churches) and ethnic (their supporters are of Russian origin in majority) factors. Therefore, these projects did not result either in weakening of the Moscow Patriarchate, or in the strengthening of the UAOC, so the UAOC lost interest in them.

Thus, following repeated unsuccessful efforts to find common ground with other Orthodox Churches in Ukraine, one can rather speak of the attempts of the UAOC to gain some political or economic dividends on the background of political processes. Obviously, it was not a sincere desire to achieve results in the negotiations, but simply the willingness to participate in the process. In fact, it looks like the UAOC was professionally engaged in imitation of the integration/negotiations with the UOC-KP, UOC (MP) or Constantinople Patriarchate than actually pursued any practical purpose.

To sum it up, I’d like to note that the UAOC historians will still have to find out all the circumstances of how quite an ordinary manager, mediocre theologian managed to head this church. Many see pro-government or secular trace here. By proof of the contrary, it should be noted that for the past 15 years of its existence the UAOC was a convenient object for manipulation / speculation both public opinion and the unification process for pro-Russian officials in Ukraine.

On the other hand, revival of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and its release from the bosom of the UOC-KP in 1995 formed the preconditions for disrupting a bipolar friend-or-foe pattern, the friend being the UOC-KP and  the UOC (MP) a foe, which had started its development in Ukraine at the time. It was after 1995 that the UOC (MP) launched a “canonical-church virus,” non-canonical in its nature - a temporary condition of an unrecognized church that most local Orthodox Churches survived through, including the Moscow Patriarchate in 141, was deliberately transformed in the concept of "canonical", which was openly manipulated and actually broke the internal unity of the Ukrainian people, which was especially apparent last year.

The presence and activities of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church not only objectively weakens the Orthodox “Ukrainophile wing” in Ukraine, but also constrains opportunities to resolve the problematic issues for the Mother Church - Patriarchate of Constantinople. Not by chance 15 years ago the Ecumenical Patriarchate believed the reunion of the UOC-KP and the UAOC one of the conditions to resolve the crisis. And perhaps it’s no accident that this reunion did not occur for all these 15 years.

The UAOC is on the verge of dramatic changes. On the one hand, society expects the merger / entry of most of the parishes to the UOC-KP: Patriarch Filaret has once again openly called for it. On the other - quite predictably, the so-called “Constantinople Party” may become active in the UAOC, which may extend discussion on ways and means of entry into the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch for at least a year and a half (till Pentecost 2016, when the Pan-Orthodox council is planned). There is a third option, which is most likely according to many experts in the present circumstances when the state actually ignores the religious security factor. It is the conservation of the current state of stagnation and actual decline of Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. This will be possible on the condition that the Primate, who will continue the policy of Metropolitan Mefodiy, will play the so-called “Golden share” of Ukrainian Orthodoxy.

It depends not only on the hierarchy, which of these ways the UAOC will choose: they are quite ambitious and are in quarrel between themselves. Society expects first of all the view of church activists, rural communities that form the basis of the current UAOC. And the extent to which such traits such as conciliar right and democracy are atrophied in the UAOC will be shown at the next local council of the Church.

The choice of the Church (as the union of hierarchy, clergymen and faithful) will predetermine not only the fate of the UAOC, it will precondition the rate of positive changes in Ukraine. I wish all the participants of this process understood it.

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