Sunday, September 18, 2022

    Division between Orthodox Christians in Ukraine deepening by day – Spiritual Front of Ukraine

    Oleksandr Kyrylenko

    Spiritual Front of Ukraine

    Yesterday, September 15, a letter signed by the chief of the SBU’s Kyiv regional office was leaked, revealing the threats the security agency sees in the process of parishes’ transition from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine amid the ongoing war.

    Many Ukrainians found this position disgraceful.

    However, I’m actually glad that such a letter surfaced. I rejoice because, finally, the attention of Ukrainians was drawn to the fact that the existing divisions among Orthodox Christians in Ukraine are growing by day. Religion remains the only dividing line between Ukrainians within the country. And, unfortunately, that split is becoming increasingly apparent.

    Unfortunately, I’m aware of cases where communities shifted to the OCU in violation of law. And I agree with the SBU which claims that such cases pose a threat to national security. What kind of threat is that?

    Well, imagine that our courts, in full accordance with the current legislation, will start canceling en masse community decisions on their transition to the the OCU. What will be the result of such rulings? To say the least, they will spark indignation and frustration. This will undermine trust in Ukrainian authorities at a time when we are repelling Russian aggressors.  And I don’t even want to explain the worst-case scenario.

    As for our legislation, namely, there are amendments to Law of Ukraine “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations,” adopted in January 2019, providing for a possible change in the canonical subordination of religious communities.

    The main problem of this law is that it fails to clearly state who is or can be a member of a religious community entitled to vote for changing their community’s canonical affiliation. In other words, here everything depends on political expediency and political will of citizens, judges, and state authorities rather than on the transparent and clear letter of law.

    And it is not the transition of communities to the OCU that, in the SBU’s opinion, poses a threat to national security. It’s those glaring problems that arise afterwards.

    The SBU letter says that both parties, meaning the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), are both violating the law during transitions.

    But there is a nuance here. It is one thing to convene a community meeting the wrong way and to draw up minutes of meeting incorrectly. Another thing is deliberately employing residents of other villages and towns, threatening to disrupt community meetings, refusing to comply with decisions that have entered into legal force, and preventing communities that have already changed their canonical affiliation from performing religious rites.

    Is this an equal violation of law on both sides, as the SBU claims? I’m sure it isn’t.

    As for hate speech… It incites intolerance towards a certain religious denomination. Let’s call a spade a spade: individuals from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) don’t shy away from accusing the OCU clergy and believers of “inciting a religious war in Ukraine.”

    For example, Metropolitan Meletii of the UOC MP stated: “The only large-scale inter-confessional conflict in the country is caused by OCU representatives and those sympathizing with them on the ground.”

    Archpriest Mykola Danylevych, spokesman for the UOC MP, emphasized that “the evil of war was called to Ukraine by those who captured our churches and thus drew for Putin the picture he needed.” That is, he implies believers with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

    As far as I’m concerned, such statements could easily result in their author’s prosecution under Article 161 of the Criminal Code. Dear law enforcement officers, please, consider this a formal crime report.

    But let’s return to the SBU letter. Its authors recall that mass public events are banned amid martial law, which includes meetings of religious communities, as per the SBU.

    Here I’d like to remind the law enforcement officers of the thousands of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate, who marched from the city of Khmelnytskyi to the Pochaiv Lavra just three weeks ago.

    Isn’t this a threat to public order, national security, and a violation of martial law? Where do these double standards come from?

    Actually, they come from the fact that the authorities, both in Kyiv and in other localities, tend to flirt with each Orthodox church separately. There is no statesmanlike, strategic vision of the general situation. Instead, there are personal preferences and beliefs. This was also the sin inherent in the previous government, which flirted with the UOC-MP in matters that the government saw as important to them.

    For the past 2.5 years, , the Kyiv District Administrative Court has been hearing the case of normalizing the name of a religious organization headquartered in Russia, the aggressor state. In simple words, for the UOC MP to be officially renamed to the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The case is seeing no progress whatsoever.

    In the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, where the leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate is headquartered, they swear that they have removed from their church charter all references to Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church, and Moscow. Well, it appears that not all of them were removed as they left intact their connection with world Orthodoxy through the Moscow Patriarchate.

    But if all that’s claimed by the UOC-MP is true, then why haven’t they still officially published their amended church charter? And one more thing: let the religious organization “Kyiv Metropolia of the UOC-MP” show their civil charter, registered by the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine back in the 1990’s.

    And also, why did the UOC-MP hierarchy never publicly condemn collaborators in their ranks? At least those who have already been sentenced… Why were they not banned from ministry, as is done with the priests who shift to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine? It turns out that for the UOC-MP leadership, cooperation with the aggressor is a lesser crime than the transition to the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, recognized by other local churches.

    At the same time, I don’t believe that the UOC MP has earned a ban, for which some local authorities have recently voted. There should be no collective responsibility in any case! The religious organization “Ukrainian Orthodox Church” in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate has not been recognized by court as either a criminal organization or one that violates the law on freedom of conscience.

    Let me remind you: even during the Nuremberg trials against the Nazis, no organization, not even the SS and Gestapo, were recognized as criminal organizations. It was only specific groups of people.

    Once again: in general, believers, priests, bishops of the UOC MP are not enemies of Ukraine, they are our fellow citizens. Indeed, among them there are collaborators, those who justify Russian aggression, who incite religious enmity to please the Kremlin…

    Therefore, in each such case, it is necessary to notify law enforcers and seek for them the accountability provided for by law.