Why Ukraine's current government steps back from Orthodox Church of Ukraine issues

Author : Natalia Lebed

Almost a year has passed since Ukraine has made its first steps to the creation of a single local church
09:33, 8 November 2019

Open source

Almost a year has passed since Ukraine has made its first steps to the creation of a single local church. The unification cathedral that founded it took place in December 2018.

In ended on January 5, 2019 - then the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew signed the Tomos on autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).

After that, the OCU issue became very topical: almost every day brought victorious reports about the fact that another parish of the Moscow Patriarchate made the transition under the wing of the united Ukrainian church.

A single local church has ceased to be top news. The new government is not interested in it, but the church, of course, lives its life.

Related: Orthodox Church of Ukraine Head Metropolitan Epifaniy visits U.S.

Never ever!

The reaction of Ukrainians to the OCU creation went through three stages. The first was the hype. Naturally, part of the society considered the united church as an obligatory component of the Ukrainian national identity. These strata of society sincerely rejoiced at the creation of the church and eagerly took the news of its successes.

The second stage was surprise. After Poroshenko’s failure at the presidential elections, a certain kind of conflict within OCU occurred. Patriarch Filaret, who was removed from real power in favor of the newly elected Primate of the Orthodox Church Council, Metropolitan Epifaniy, unexpectedly expressed dissatisfaction with his current status (honorable, but mostly decorative), and the conditions under which the Ukrainian church received autocephaly.

Finally, the third stage was waning interest in it. Parliamentary elections were held in the country and the new government formed its own agenda, focusing on Russian-Ukrainian war: the "Steinmeier formula", the Minsk process, the "Normandy Four format," etc.

Head of the Third Sector Center think tank Andriy Zolotariov says, "in Ukrainian realities if the church does not have state support, it most likely will not develop."

Related: Greek Church officially began communication with Orthodox Church of Ukraine

But why did the church lose state support? Actually, it should not have it at all. But the Ukrainian political tradition consisted in the fact that one of the two "branches" of Ukrainian Orthodoxy - either "Kyiv" or "Moscow", was always raised by the ruling elite. This tradition was stopped by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In one of the interviews, he refused to discuss the topic of his religion and promised only that there would be no more public trips to the church, which his predecessors defiantly made.

From progress to regression

In an interview with, Zolotariov suggests recalling one of the forgotten but vivid episodes of Ukrainian history. July 18, 1995: on this day Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate Volodymyr (Romaniuk) was buried on Sophia Square.

The burial was unauthorized, it was carried out by far-right UNA-UNSO, whose fighters tor down the plates and dug the ground right near the walls of Sofia. This continued for several hours. And after seven in the evening, when the body of the patriarch was already covered with earth, Special Forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs jumped out from behind the gates of the temple and attacked the participants in the funeral from three sides.

Many detainees, many injured, many extremely dissatisfied with President Kuchma.

Director of the Institute for Global Strategies Vadym Karasiov states our publication, “the idea of ​​legitimizing power through a religious component” has long haunted the Ukrainian powers.

Related: OSCE representatives met with parishioners of captured Orthodox Church in Odesa region

None of the Ukrainian presidents devoted themselves to church affairs with such enthusiasm as Petro Poroshenko, Bogdan Petrenko, deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute for the Study of Extremism, tells us.

More dangerous than language and history issues

So, the first reason why the imperious team eliminates itself from a single church is the negative experience of its predecessor. The slogan quoted by Karasev, as well as the focus on Petro Poroshenko on autocephaly, his “Tomos Tour”, carried out as part of the election campaign, all this did not help the ex-president in the finish line.

And, perhaps, as Bogdan Petrenko suggests, such observations of the opponent’s program are holding back Zelensky.

"The inability to create a single church, which would be the ideological basis of the regime, indicates that Ukraine does not fit into the mono-ethnic and mono-religious project. Therefore, the authorities will seek other support," Karasiov says.

Unwillingness to aggravate the situation in the country might be the reason, because of which the President’s Office does not show the slightest interest in the OCU affairs. Meanwhile, Bogdan Petrenko draws our attention to the third point.

“Is the new government ready to slap Russia? It seems to me that it’s not, it’s not ready. The authorities today use the tactics of reconciliation and non-making claims, the tactics of concessions to bring matters to a dialogue. It will not use the church to score points and confront At least, this will not happen until the meeting in the "Normandy four format" and the definition of a certain kind of red lines," the expert is convinced.

Related: Greek Church recognizes Orthodox Church of Ukraine

The Third Rome

Ukrainian church continues to take root. This is a painful and difficult process, on the path of which there are both ups and downs. October 12, an extraordinary council of hierarchs of the Greek Church approved a decision on the recognition of the autocephaly of the OCU. And on October 31, the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church did everything exactly the opposite - it stated that it did not recognize the OCU.

“The church has already been formed, and Zelensky’s secular power cannot destroy it. At least because Zelensky’s secular power will not last so long. Therefore, the church’s acquisition of new parishes will last. It’s another thing that we all understand: if there is an administrative resource, then the process is faster," expert Taras Berezovets assures.

But the matter is not only and not so much in the personal position of the new or old president. “The further fate of the local church will depend on how events will develop in the context of world Orthodoxy, in the context of relations between Constantinople and Moscow and finding out which of them is the Third Rome and which is not Rome at all. Plus, everything will rest on what Ukraine itself will be.

If it does not translate into a project that is nationalist, but cosmopolitan or moderately national, then today's status quo will remain. That is, there will be a Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow patriarchy, there will be a local church, and perhaps the Filaret church will remain plus Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic. In short, church pluralism or even federalism," suggests Vadym Karasiov.

Related: Patriarch Filaret asks Metropolitan Epifaniy to withdraw letter on closing of accounts of Kyiv Patriarchate

 “The future of the OCU also depends on the faith in its flock and on how the process of recognition from other churches will go. This process, as we know, is moving slowly and contraversely: the Church of Hellas recognized us, but the Orthodox Church of Poland didn’t. Battle for recognition is without varying success," he adds.

But the main idea of creating the OCU was the further separation of Ukraine from its colonial past and from Russia, which personified it. Separation, including from the standpoint of creating your own church.

Seven thousand congregations

As for the UOC-MP, it still dominates among the religious communities of Ukraine. And Tomos did not influence this situation too much. So, at the beginning of this year, the disposition was as follows. “About 11,000 religious communities are registered in the Moscow Patriarchate. We (the UOC-KP) had more than 5,000. And somewhere around one and a half thousand - in the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. That is, now we can roughly say that there is a single Ukrainian church about 7,000 religious communities, while the UOC-MP has about 11,000,” Bishop Yevstratiy (Zorya), a member of the Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, said in February.

Over the 7 months - October 11 - the head of the PCU, Metropolitan Epifaniy, cited the same number on his Facebook – 7,000 parishes (47 dioceses, 77 monasteries, 58 bishops) - that’s what the OCU can boast of. As for the transitions from “Moscow” to “Kyiv” patriarchate, the unofficial number of parishes that performed them is approximately five hundred.

And, possibly, the worst part in the development of the OCU is not even the presence of a strong "competitor", but internecine wars in the body of the local church itself. True, now they have somewhat subsided. Metropolitan Epifaniy speaks of Patriarch Filaret in an invariably respectful tone. And Patriarch Filaret also invariably upholds the right of the UOC-KP to exist, denying the liquidation of the Kyiv patriarchy after the creation of the PCU.

"The tensions between Epifaniy and Filaret will continue. Filaret himself clearly said that he was a patriarch and a patriarch and would die. Knowing Filaret, he will not give in. But this conflict will not be a top topic, he will remain at the point of zero," Andriy Zolotariov notes.

Related: Patriarch Filaret sues Yevstratiy, archbishop of Orthodox Church of Ukraine

“Without establishing relations with the Kyiv Patriarchate Filaret, without total support from other Orthodox churches, the local church of Ukraine will remain a local project,” he summarizes.

Bogdan Petrenko recalls the correlation that was pointed out by German sociologist of the 19th century Max Weber: the lower the level of religiosity among the population of the country, the higher the level of its socio-economic development. This thesis is not popular in Ukraine, where traditionalism and "Christian values" are a very significant component of the generalized portrait of a nation.

“Not so much religion determines our behavior as our mentality determines religion, which dominates society. We ourselves choose certain models, in particular, Orthodoxy, which in the world is perceived as an orthodox religion,” says Bogdan Petrenko.

One can argue with this or not, but this discussion will no longer concern directly the existence of the OCU, which will soon celebrate its first anniversary.

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