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    Viktor Yelenskyi: There’s public demand in Ukraine that Moscow Patriarchate structures not be present here

    The structures of the Moscow Patriarchate should not operate in Ukraine. This is the current public demand.

    This was stated by the head of the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience, Viktor Yelensky, who spoke with LB.ua.

    According to him, it is impossible to simply ban any church in Ukraine. There are many reasons for this. First, the church itself is not a legal entity. This is an atavism of the Soviet era, but it has taken root in Ukraine, so legal entities are currently each congregation, monastery, brotherhood, centers of diocesan administration, but not the whole church as such.

    Secondly, in Ukraine at one time there was a colossal demand for the unification of the Orthodox. When the Euromaidan vigil began on Sunday and representatives of various churches prayed, the Maidan hummed: “Unity, unity.” Everyone really wanted to see the Orthodox in Ukraine united. But now there is no such demand, but there is a public demand that the structures of the Moscow Patriarchate should not be present in the country, says Yelensky.

    “I think that the answer to this demand is the draft law, the first author of which is Mykola Knyazhytskyi. But I am forced to join those critics who believe that the government cannot give the church the right to implement state tasks, if there is a regime of separation of church and state. Of course, there is an opportunity to delegate some functions, such as, for example, spiritual care in those institutions where the people have no access to this care – for example, in hospitals, prisons, and, of course, in the army. But in this case, it is suggested that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine determine who is Orthodox and who is not. It seems to me that this is a dubious endeavor, and it is unlikely that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine will be delighted if it is entrusted with such a function. And the state, in fact, has no right to entrust it with such a function.”

    The third, according to the head of the watchdog, is that after the Russian Orthodox Church became one of the ministries of the Russian Federation, which did a lot to ensure that Patriarch Kirill was among top students at the “school of hatred of Ukraine,” he thinks that the structures of the Moscow Patriarchate will have no place in Ukraine.

    How to settle this contradiction?

    On the one hand, Viktor Yelensky emphasizes that the law really cannot totally ban the church (according to the Constitution, Ukraine is a secular state where the state does not interfere in the affairs of the church. It is impossible to change the Basic Law during martial law), and on the other hand, there is public demand to ensure that there are no structures of the Moscow Church in Ukraine.

    This settlement largely depends on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which announced in May that it was removing all references to the Moscow Patriarchate from its charter. But we have seen that in fact the connection with the Russian Church has not been interrupted. All the signs that a church that comes out of the church of which it was part should have are missing. I think that the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which removed the mention of the Moscow Patriarchate from its charter, but remains part of the Russian Church – and refers to the letter of Patriarch Aleksiy II, who died in October 1990 – understands this. But it cannot or does not want to break this connection, because it fears that it will find itself in the state in which the Kyiv Patriarchate was from 1992 to 2018, that is, in a state of uncertainty.

    But the situation in which the UOC (in unity with the MP) may find itself is fundamentally different from the one that existed with the Kyiv Patriarchate, if only because it can enter into a dialogue with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine – the church that has the 15th place in the diptychs, that is, in the report card about the ranks, if you can say so, of the Orthodox world, and to talk about possible models of its acquisition of canonical status. There are actually quite a few such models.

    There is a law that obliges religious organizations that have a decision-making center in the aggressor country to be titled according to the name of their center. But it does not ban these organizations. That is, they should have been renamed within a certain period of time, but the law was not implemented and is currently not being implemented. In a certain part, it was blocked by the infamous District Administrative Court of Kyiv, in another part it is absolutely valid, but they do not want to enforce it – the leaders of the state body for religious affairs have directly said that they will not enforce this law, although, I repeat, it is valid. The fact that it is pending in the Constitutional Court does not cancel the need to fulfill it.

    Moreover, the decision of the European Court of Human Rights “Mykhailo Illin v. Ukraine” was recently adopted, which in principle states that the government can resort to such a restriction as naming churches and religious organizations in an appropriate way so as not to mislead people who have joined or will join this religious organization. That is, these are different laws.

    First of all, I would like to remind you that not a single church has been banned in Ukraine yet. We are very proud of the level of religious freedom in the country. This level is disproportionate not only with that that our neighbors from the north and east have, but sometimes with that of some Western European countries, where there is a hierarchy of churches, where the law does not define the equality of these churches before the law, that is, the Ukrainian model is essentially much closer to the United States than to the European model. And even the White Brotherhood was not banned at one time. And every time, if you cancel, suspend or halt the activity of a religious organization, it must be done in accordance with a court ruling. But the activity of this or that religious center or religious administration, or some specific religious organization can be stopped by court – this is allowed by law.

    And again, let’s model the situation: if a center or some religious administration is banned, then the communities that are part of this administration, in principle, can remain and act at their own discretion. For example, I know that now there are many Orthodox communities that would like to register as autonomous religious communities, perhaps contrary to canon law, but the law allows it. That is, they consider themselves Orthodox, but do not submit to any religious center or administration.

    If the law is adopted, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) says: sorry, we have no connection with the Russian Orthodox Church, and will confirm this with amendments to the Statute of May 27, then in such a situation, the state body in matters of religion is obliged, which is stated in the law “On Freedom of Conscience” and the regulations on this body, to conduct a religious examination – not a legal one, but an ecclesiastical and economic impartial examination, which must answer the question, whether there is an ecclesiastical and economic connection with a particular decision-making center. I think that there are enough experts in Ukraine, including those from economic law, who will be able to conduct this examination and establish whether such a connection exists or not,” Viktor Yelenskyi said.

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