Why President Poroshenko trumpets the autocephalous church issue?

Author : Yaroslav Konoshchuk

Source : 112 Ukraine

The appeal about autocephaly looks like an excellent way to consolidate the voters before the elections
09:15, 23 April 2018

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June 16, 2016, Verkhovna Rada appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I with a request to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church, which could take "a worthy place among the Orthodox churches." Almost two years later, April 19, 2018, the parliament supported a repeated appeal to Bartholomew with 268 votes. Patriotic experts began talking about the independence of the Ukrainian church and almost about the deposition of "Moscow priests". However, the first appeal of the Rada ended only with the silence of Constantinople and the statement of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that the patriarch recognizes the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) as the only canonical church. Sources of in the parliament do not rule out that the second appeal to autocephaly will end with the same.

Talks about autocephaly have been going on for years. Now President Petro Poroshenko gave a new breath to this topic. Authorship of the idea is attributed to Poroshenko's speechwriter Oleg Medvedev. It looks like an excellent way to consolidate the voters before the elections.

Related: Poroshenko gets appeal of Ukrainian Orthodox Church on provision of tome on autocephaly to it

The appeal about autocephaly was raised during a meeting of the leaders of parliamentary factions with President Poroshenko on March 17. In the course of it, the head of state announced that he would apply to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I with a request to grant the Ukrainian Orthodox Church a Tomos – special permission for autocephaly (that is, independence). According to the meeting participants, it was a real surprise for them.

"As president, I decided to ask the Ecumenical Patriarch to provide a Tomos about the local autocephalous church and I would ask you, dear colleagues (because there are things that unite us all), that the parliament supports this appeal as soon as possible," the head of state stated.

According to one of the participants in the meeting, Poroshenko hinted that he has already conducted preliminary work and highly estimated the chances of obtaining an autocephalous status. Poroshenko himself said that he expects to receive an autocephalous status already in July this year.

He also demonstrated a document on the support of autocephaly by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

Related: Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church: What is it and why is it important

The reaction to the president's statements was ambiguous. Poroshenko's faction has supported his position, as usual.

"The meeting has proved that there is a unity of political elites and parliamentary factions on this issue," leader of the Poroshenko’s Bloc told after the meeting.

Representatives of the "Opposition bloc" believe that the government meddles in matters that do not concern it.

"In the fifth year of his cadence, the president decided to tackle the issues of settling the church life. Opposition bloc considers it a botched pre-election politicking. According to the Constitution, Ukraine is a secular state, therefore politicians cannot and should not interfere in the affairs of the church," representatives of the political force claim.

However, despite the objections of some political forces, on Thursday the parliamentarians did what the president asked them during the meeting. After the speech of the head of state, who stated in the Rada that "the creation of an independent Orthodox Church is necessary for an independent state," the deputies supported the appeal to Bartholomew regarding the provision of autocephaly (268 votes “for”). The initiative of the president was supported by the majority of factions and groups, except for the "Opposition Bloc" and "Vidrodzhennya", who noted that Poroshenko was using the church issue in his election campaign.

Related: Cross of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate dismantled in Kyiv

Immediately after the vote, Poroshenko announced the parliament's decision to the Ecumenical Patriarch.

During a speech before the deputies, Poroshenko said that his appeal to Bartholomew is not a manifestation of emotion. "Representatives of our team have been visiting Fanar (the residence of the Ecumenical Patriarch, - Ed.) like their workplace," the head of state said. At the same time, sources in the coalition factions note that the president wants to increase his popularity in this way. According to our interlocutors, Bankova expects that the ecclesiastical theme will add 8% to Poroshenko rating and will allow stopping the rating fall.

"Moreover, we managed to take this issue from Yulia (the leader of the Batkivshchyna faction Yulia Tymoshenko, - Ed.). Now she will have to join in. And the church is a very effective tool for mobilizing the voters, although if autocephaly is not achieved, the consequences might be unpredictable," the interlocutors added.

Related: Vandals spill animals’ blood over menorah in Kyiv

However, they do not all believe that autocephaly issue is already settled. During a meeting with the leaders of the factions, President Poroshenko said that he expects to receive the status for the celebration of the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, but the deputies from Batkivshchyna and National Front factions, interviewed by the author, are skeptical about obtaining autocephaly.

"Autocephaly, of course, is needed, but unfortunately, for today it is a way for politicizing. There is no signature of the representatives of the UOC-MP, although there is a part of the clergy that advocates autocephaly, they do not want to go under Filaret’s rule’," the interlocutors note.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.

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