In the first part of this feature we looked at the main reasons why Ukraine is actively working on curtailing the presence and influence of the organization called the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). In this part, we will try to refute some of the favorite talking points of the Russian propaganda accompanying the process of the autocephaly and reunification of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy.
Let us recall the main actors:
Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)
Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP)
Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP)
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC)
Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU)
While researching the materials for this feature, the author could not help but marvel at the professional quality of the propaganda and almost frightening efficiency of the Russian state media. They are very careful and consistent with their language. On RT, Ukrainian Church is always “schismatic”, either in the headline or in the text. The text normally contains a quote from an “expert”, i.e. an Orthodox cleric from the ROC or from a friendly Local Church, e.g. Bulgarian or Serbian. TASS always refers to the OCU as “so-called” or “an organization called Orthodox Church of Ukraine”. Both outlets would write a very smooth western-style report about a given event and then slip in some strongly worded and emotionally colored quote creating a very contrasted but compelling message. Here is an example of a report by RT:
Bartholomew announced his decision to grant Ukraine’s request for its own Orthodox Church independent from Moscow in October last year. The Russian Orthodox Church responded to the controversial move by cutting all ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. Granting self-rule to the new Ukrainian Church was “non-canonical and illegal… and will only bring trouble, division, and sin to Ukraine,” Vasily Anisimov, the spokesman for now-persecuted Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, told RIA-Novosti. The divide in the Orthodox world caused by Bartholomew’s decision may last “for decades or even centuries,” Metropolitan Hilarion, Moscow Patriarchate spokesman, said.
Or this headline by TASS:
Brilliant, isn’t it?
So let us look into the substance of some these claims.
Ukrainian political leadership meddles with the church affairs
According to the Orthodox canon, the ruler of a state has the right to ask for autocephaly of the church in his/her dominion. That is exactly what happened in the case of the motion for the OCU independence from the ROC made by President Poroshenko. He also brokered the unification talks between UOC-MP, UOC-KP and UAOC.
President Poroshenko also had very valid state security reasons, which we examined in the previous part.
We also illustrated there how the true meddling in the church affairs looks, with the FSB and the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation being in effective control of the ROC’s hierarchy and conducting underhand operations in Ukraine through UOC-MP.
The UOC-MP has been legally obliged to rename into the “Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine”, and this is also cited as “gross meddling”. The operation of churches is normally regulated by nation states, and Ukraine is in no way exceptional. Having now the unified and recognized OCU, Ukraine has full canonical and legal right to demand the renaming of the church subordinated to the ROC. On the other hand, if Russia is a friendly country and Russians are “brotherly people”, then being named “Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine” shall bring no disadvantages to the UOC-MP. Or maybe the reality of the “brotherliness” is not what the Russian media and the ROC want us to believe?
UOC-MP is self-ruled and largely independent from Moscow, whereas Constantinople will have a bigger say in the running of the OCU, the autocephaly is not real, as the OCU will not be run by a patriarch
Indeed, the UOC-MP has broad autonomy within the ROC in its affairs, but there are rules in its statute that make it dependent on the ROC, namely, the primate of the UOC-MP is confirmed or “blessed” by the primate of the ROC; the decisions of the local and bishops’ councils of the ROC are binding for the UOC-MP; the court of the bishops’ council of the ROC is the highest clerical court for the UOC-MP; the UOC-MP communicates with other local churches only through the ROC.
Moreover the bishops of the UOC-MP take part in the bishops’ councils of the ROC, i.e. they are part of the hierarchy of the ROC. This is of immediate relevance to the law obliging the UOC-MP to be renamed into the ROC in Ukraine.
On the other hand, the text of the autocephaly tomos for the OCU does not contain any limitations on its autonomy, its right to communicate directly with other local churches. It recommends addressing complex ecclesiastical disputes to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Indeed, the primate of the OCU will have a status of a metropolitan. This is normal for a newly autocephalous local church. The patriarchate status can be obtained at a later stage upon meeting certain requirements. The only exception from this rule was the Georgian Orthodox Church, which got the patriarchate status together with the tomos of autocephaly as one of the oldest local Christian churches in the world.
There is western meddling in the Ukrainian politics behind the autocephaly process
Let us look at two examples of “western meddling”.
The US State Department supported the drive towards the independence of the Ukrainian orthodoxy from Russia. In late September 2018, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said: “The United States strongly supports religious freedom, including the freedom of members of groups to govern their religion according to their beliefs and practice their faiths freely without government interference. The United States respects the ability of Ukraine’s Orthodox religious leaders and followers to pursue autocephaly according to their beliefs.”
Also on December 21, 2018, newly elected Primate of the OCU had a telephone conversation with Mike Pompeo. The State Department issued an official statement about the conversation for the media. Pompeo called on Epiphanius to respect Ukrainians’ ability to worship as they choose. On the occasion, TASS ran a story titled “Kremlin blasts ‘unprecedented’ US meddling in religious affairs“…
That is more or less all about the “western meddling”. It is worth noting that all of it has been public and open.
On the other hand, Russia has shown what real meddling in the church affairs is, with the ROC being effectively an arm of the FSB, and UOC-KP being a widespread and elusive agent network as well as a subversive propaganda asset within Ukraine. “Creative” attempts at meddling in the Ukrainian politics even included probes to influence the behavior of President Yanukovych through his confessor, a priest of the UOC-MP.
The autocephaly process is driven by purely political reasons
There is a grain of truth in this. In the recent Ukrainian history, the question of the autocephaly flashed shortly in the early nineties, right after the Soviet Union crumbled, and Ukraine got its independence. In 1992, UOC-KP split from the UOC (which later got the “-MP” affix to distinguish between the two). Until the Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, there existed a status-quo with three Orthodox churches functioning in parallel in Ukraine. It worked, albeit imperfectly, for most of the aggregate Orthodox congregation. The UOC-KP and UAOC were stronger in the center and the west of Ukraine, UOC-MP had a foothold in the east and south, with innumerous parishes of UOC-KP catering to the nationally-minded in those areas. It is the policy of Russia, namely the armed aggression against Ukraine, which has changed it all. Widespread disgust at the behavior of the UOC-MP, their open pro-Russian propaganda, their harboring of militants with their weapons, their role in the Odesa tragedy, their refusal to give the last rites to the fallen Ukrainian soldiers – all these and many other facts influenced the moods among the Orthodox laity and in the society at large with ever growing numbers becoming strongly in favor of the ecclesiastical independence of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy from the ROC.
In August 2018, the share of Ukrainians supporting the creation of the One Local Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine reached 35%, the highest figure so far in the history of Ukraine’s independence, according to the survey of Razumkov Center. Other surveys showed even higher figures of 37% or 39%.
The detailed Razumkov Center paper on the religious and clerical self-definition of Ukrainians shows interesting trends in 2010-2018. There has been a steady decline in the support for the idea of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine being a part of the ROC (from 22% to 9%). The general trust towards the leader of the ROC, Patriarch Kirill (Gundyaev), took a pronounced dip over the decade (from 44.4% to 15.3%), while the mistrust towards him grew massively (from 21.6% to 44.6%).
We can conclude that the autocephaly process is driven, among other things, by the popular support and the sociology under it. However, the underlying reason for this sociology is, indeed, political – the war. The war which Russia unleashed on Ukraine using the church as one of its hybrid weapons.
Believers and clergy do not want the autocephaly
The same Razumkov Center paper (page 16) shows that the UOC-MP has been losing adherents to the UOC-KP over the last decade; the share of the UOC-MP among Orthodox believers in Ukraine went down from 34.5% to 19.1%, whereas UOC-KP went up from 22.1% to 42.6%. Believers have been voting for years with their feet against a Ukrainian subsidiary of the ROC.
Another interesting trend of 2017-2018 is the support towards a unified Orthodox Church, independent from the ROC; even among the adherents of the UOC-MP – it has grown from 15% to 25%.
The motion for the unification and autocephaly of the Ukrainian orthodoxy was jointly made by the President of Ukraine and hierarchs of two of the three Orthodox churches (UOC-KP and UAOC). There were consultations with the priests and the laity about the unification and the autocephaly. Eventually, ten of the UOC-MP bishops expressed their readiness to attend the Unification Council. Only two made it to the St Sophia Cathedral on the appointed date. One of the two, Metropolitan Simeon (Shostatsky), cited unprecedented pressure not to attend and personal threats.
Another indicator of the willingness of the church communities either to stay in the sway of the ROC or join the OCU is this map showing the parish churches and cathedrals transferring to the unified Orthodox Church in Ukraine. There were 22 parishes that switched to the OCU on 29 December, the map showed 31 parishes and 2 cathedrals on 2 January 2019; 69 parishes and 2 cathedrals on 15 January.
Autocephaly process of the OCU deepens a schism in Ukraine and leads to a schism in the world Orthodoxy
Russian state media are playing by the Goebbels book, as usual, accusing the other side of doing what Russia does. In fact, the unification of three Orthodox churches in Ukraine has been at the heart of the autocephaly process from the very inception. It is inscribed in the appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the autocephaly is requested for the OCU, the unified Local Orthodox Church which still had to be created.
Before the establishment of the unified OCU, there had been three Orthodox churches working in parallel in Ukraine: the UOC-MP, UOC-KP and UAOC. The UOC-MP, being a “self-ruling” part of the ROC, engaged in aggressive propaganda against the other two churches, branding them as “schismatic”, “unblessed” and unworthy of any dialog. Metropolitan Simeon (Shostatsky), former UOC-MP bishop of Vinnytsia and Bar, said in a recent interview that “they had been zombifying people” about the attitude to the other two churches, and that he was sorry for it. The ROC also used its massive influence in the Ecumenical Patriarchate to uphold the excommunications of the UOC-KP / UAOC and anathemas on their hierarchs. In short, UOC-MP did all in its power to stamp out any Orthodox clerical movement which was not Russia-centered, not caring about spiritual salvation of the massive numbers of the laity associating with the “unblessed” and “schismatic” UOC-KP and UAOC.
However, the very existence of the UOC-KP (founded in 1991) and UAOC (founded in 1990) has been a strong evidence of the drive in a large part of Ukrainian clergy and laity to be independent from the ROC, mainly for the reasons examined in the first part of this feature. The ROC, being an arm of the state of the Russian Federation, did nothing to mend the schism and confusion in the Ukrainian Orthodoxy for over 26 years. The situation gradually came to a point where more than a half of Orthodox believers in Ukraine attended, belonged to or supported “schismatic” churches. This situation necessitated action, and President Poroshenko acted on it, doing all in his power to mediate the unification and autocephaly process between the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the UOC-KP, UAOC and, of course, UOC-MP.
Nevertheless, having a chance of playing a major role in the unified local Orthodox Church, even of having their bishop as its Primate, the hierarchy of the ROC and UOC-MP vehemently rejected the bid for unity with fellow Orthodox Christians. It merits an earnestly surprised “Why!?”, and the only reasonable explanation is that the ROC did not expect the UOC-MP to have enough leverage within the OCU, therefore they chose an uncoveredclerical war and open “divide et impera” approach both within Ukraine and internationally.
The ROC severed all ties with Ecumenical Patriarchate and fiercely lobbied with other autocephalous churches not to support the autocephaly for Ukraine. Several Local Churches around the world supported to various degrees the position and actions of the ROC. The ROC also took aggressive retaliatory steps by establishing exarchates in the Western Europe and South-East Asia. Mainstream western media called the rift over Ukraine the biggest schism in Christianity since the divorce of the Catholic and Orthodox churches in 1054.
Ukraine is the canonical territory of the ROC. Autocephaly process of the OCU is not canonical. UOC-MP is the only canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
The roots of the “canonical territory” notion lie deep in the canons and canonic law. The canons started developing very long ago, in the form of Ancient Church Orders (from 1st century AD). In 4th century AD there already existed the first collection of canons – the Apostolic Canons. The principles of the governance, ecclesiastical and territorial hierarchy etc. (i.e. canonical norms), were actively created by the participants of the early bishopric councils in the first 5-6 centuries of the Christian Church, in many cases in response to persecutions and political turmoil. Later developments tended to be founded on “tradition” (i.e. precedent), but to also to take into account current legal, political and even geopolitical realities of different lands and empires. The concept of Orthodox canonical law more or less shaped up in the 18th century, after the French Revolution. In short, Orthodox canons and canonical law is one of the most complex and controversial legal systems – a cross of norm-based and precedent-based law with religious writings. It could be very difficult determining what is canonical and what is not. In the absence of a pontiff and juridical approach, like in the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church came to a setup with the Ecumenical Patriarch, “primus inter pares”, being a kind of final arbiter in the ecclesiastical disputes.
In the dispute around ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Ukraine, both the ROC and Ecumenical Patriarchate had valid claims. Phanar tested the limits of its power, but its case looked stronger both from ethical and canonical standpoints. At the same time the ROC’s recklessly aggressive stance shattered an established order in the global Orthodoxy.
Moreover, the ROC’s claim that its subsidiary UOC-MP is “the only canonical” church in Ukraine needs solid historical and moral high ground, which is certainly not the case. The canonical standing of the ROC itself and its autocephaly is doubtful. The creation of the Russian Church in its modern understanding and of the Moscow Patriarchate was fraught with canonically dubious steps, self-proclamations, political pressure and meddling. Moscow obtained its autocephaly from Constantinople in late 16th century from Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremias who was visiting Moscow to ask for economic aid but was subjected to a house arrest and prolonged duress by tsar Boris Godunov. The very title of the “Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus” was taken and reinstated at will by the autocratic rulers like Peter I and Stalin. Throughout the 20th century the ROC became effectively an arm of the Soviet state. The control over the ROC’s hierarchy was apparently seamlessly handed over from the KGB of the USSR to the FSB of the Russian Federation.
Autocephaly will lead to violence, and the responsibility will lie with the “schismatics” and Ukrainian state, the UOC-MP will be robbed, churches will be taken over by force for the OCU
To prove this, RT and TASS would quote aggressive rants of right-leaning or ultranationalist mavericks from Ukraine and counter-quote frightened priests of the UOC-MP.
While preparing this feature the author interviewed members of laity and clergy in Kharkiv region. The talking point about eventual “robbery” is strongly pushed among the clergy of the UOC-MP. Some of them, being genuinely terrified, remove valuables, including old icons, from their churches for fear of “violent takeover” of their parish churches.
In reality, the official position of the Ukrainian state was voiced by President Poroshenko who said that no parishes would be pushed in any way to join the OCU. Moreover, Ukrainian Ministry of Interior proved multiple times its commitment to orderly religious process in Ukraine providing thousands of policemen to ensure security to all kinds of cross processions and other public events organized by the UOC-MP.
On the other hand, the SBU foiled a possible FSB-inspired bloody provocation in Kyiv planned for 13-14 December, on the eve of the Unification Council. According to the statement released by the SBU, Fr Pavlo (Lebid), a metropolitan of the UOC-MP and the vicar of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, was supposed to coordinate the protests against the autocephaly of the OCU in Kyiv and other cities of Ukraine (Fr Pavlo is a colorful character also known as Pasha Mercedes for his love of flashy lifestyle, fast cars and rudeness on the road). The terrorist operation failed because the citizen of Ukraine recruited as the liaison by the Russian side defected to the SBU. The latter had to stop the cultivation of the case and publish the preliminary results not to risk the lives of the members of laity that were supposed to attend the protests and also not to jeopardize the holding of the Unification Council.
RT is rhetorically asking in one of its features on the topic: “Will there be blood?” Judging by this example, Russian intelligence services will try to see to it.
A ‘global conspiracy’ undermines Orthodox world – head of Russian Church
This was our favorite headline on RT during the whole research of materials for this feature. If an organization becomes a target of “global conspiracies”, then it’s probably high time to rethink its actions, policies and attitudes.
Video: A priest of the UOC-MP blessing the militants of the Russian hybrid army before battle.
Despite the claims of the Russian propaganda, the ROC is the true source of contention in the Ukrainian and world orthodoxy. Here, let us quote Yevgeny Ponasenkov, a Russian historian, who very well summed up the ROC’s reaction to the autocephaly of the OCU: “Main virtues of Christianity did not work there – ‘love your neighbor as yourself’, ‘ turn the other cheek’. The virtues, that Orthodox Christians celebrate, did not work there. What worked, were pride, lust for power and profit…”
Patriarch Kirill (Gundyaev) and many hierarchs of the ROC are followers of the irredentist and imperialist Russky Mir or Russian World ideology. The ROC echoes or rather mirrors imperial policies of the Kremlin, accepting Ukraine only within its own sphere of influence, no matter whole or divided. Therefore, making a clear distinction between Ukrainian and Russian churches and limiting the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the territory of Ukraine is of utmost importance in terms of our state security.
By Artem Velichko specially for InformNapalm.
Distribution and reprint with reference to the source is welcome!
Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0.
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