The state leadership is very interested in the unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches and that there are no winners and losers in this process.
This was emphasized by Viktor Yelenskyi, head of the State Service for Ethnic Politics and Freedom of Conscience, in his speech at the round table of representatives of the clergy and laity of the UOC (MP) and the OCU “Church, society, state: dialogue for the sake of unity and victory.”
Does the state welcome unification? Would it praise one? Of course, it would. Does the State Service of Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience support this? Of course, it does. Therefore, it would be more interesting for me to hear what you think about this. In principle, from the fathers I heard, I agree with absolutely everything. Even given the fact that the president, although he is not emperor, can invite the leaders of churches and ask them to fulfill their Christian duty.
Quite a long time ago, I attended a conference in England, which was devoted to Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. The young bishop Hilarion, surnamed Alfeev, spoke there. And he spoke correctly about the Balaman agreements, about the dialogue of love, which should turn into a dialogue of truth. The people were a little, to say the least, sleepy. And suddenly a nun jumped up from the back pew and started shouting: “What are you talking about? What is the meaning of the Balaman agreements and what is the meaning of all these documents if we cannot approach the Chalice together?”
Hilarion was a little confused, because everyone remembered the maxim of the philosopher Solovyov, who said: “When I began to study the differences between Catholics and Orthodox, I thought that these differences did not exist at all.” When I delved into this issue, I realized how deep and irreconcilable these differences are. But as I looked into the sources that dealt with the schism for seven years, as I reflected on these sources, I realized that, indeed, the differences are minimal. As the Metropolitan of Kyiv said, these differences do not reach the sky and are created by human hands. Therefore, when I think about the differences that divide Ukrainians who are in different Orthodox jurisdictions, and I hear about canons and about references to some church documents, I remember an official who does not read the Constitution, who refers exclusively to departmental instructions written in 30, 40, maybe even 70 years ago. Because in the Constitution, in the Gospel, it is clearly stated about this unification, and it is perhaps not very correct to refer to, in layman’s terms, by-laws under these conditions.
I was asked to tell about the draft laws registered in the Verkhovna Rada, which concern the activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate). Therefore, I immediately move from metaphysical things to very practical ones. There are nine of these bills. Because this parliament was elected by the people, and these people want to ban the Moscow Patriarchate, they want to ban the Russian Church. If eight to nine years ago there was a great public demand for the unification of the Orthodox, and Father George remembers when Viche was held in the Maidan Square and the Orthodox UOC MP UAOC of the Kyiv Patriarchate came out in the Maidan shouting: “Unity! Unity!” And I once did such research among Orthodox priests, and they said that our bishops should be put under lock and key, like the Conclave, and not released until unification takes place.
Now there is no such strong demand for this unification. There is public demand that there be no structures, let’s say, affiliated with Moscow. And that’s why the lawmakers are the first to submit draft laws related to this ban. Most of these bills cannot be implemented. For example, it is said in the draft law: the Russian church shall be banned starting tomorrow. It is impossible to do this because there is no such Russian church here. Only a legal entity that is in the Unified State Register can be banned, and there is no such entity. There is a government-filed draft law that proposes a working scheme – it establishes that the activities of structures that are affiliated with centers beyond Ukraine, in a country that has carried out or is currently carrying out aggression against Ukraine, shall not be allowed. An examination is being made to see if a certain organization is really affiliated with this center. If the audit establishes that there is such a connection, then the state body that implements policy in the field of religion issues a prescription to this organization: “Dear organization, interrupt this connection, which is expressed in such and such planes.” If this organization does not sever this connection, if it does not comply with the order, then this state religious authority applies to the court to terminate this organization.
I spoke with many priests, even bishops. And until the end, I still do not understand what the value of the connection with this center is for the clergy, monasticism, and for the episcopate. What is the value of a connection with someone who, a year into this war, hasn’t expressed any sympathy. None! When there is an explosion in Istanbul, he expresses his condolences. When a gas tank exploded in Syktyvkar, condolences were expressed. When people are killed by the dozens, then by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, he is at a loss for words. And that’s why it’s not entirely clear to me, to be honest, it’s not clear at all what the value of this connection is for these people. How can he continue to be their father and master? How can you receive communion with Shoigu? And not having the right to receive communion, conditionally speaking with Zaluzhnyi, this is not clear to me.
I understand everything about corporate interests, I understand everything about life as it is, about families, about economy. But when the father spoke about the return of the structures, he obviously understands that it is not about something that someone should take away from someone. There are many different models of unification. And some of them, maybe all of them do not mean asset seizure or someone taking something from someone. It is about the fact that, as it seems to me, those who support this unification, those who fight for it to the last, they simply chose for themselves the path of confrontation not so much with the state, but with Ukrainian society and with their faithful.
In turn, I’d like to assure you once again that the State Service and I have the courage to say that the country’s leadership is very interested in this unification taking place – so that there are no winners or losers in this process. So that there are no triumphants and, so to speak, those who are carried on a shield. Although we are all aware of the moods that exist. In this sense, I really hope for your progress, for your counter-efforts. It is clear that besides you, I mean the clergy and laity in general, hardly anyone will do this work. You start this work not in an empty place but under completely new conditions. I remember how the dialogues went under the late Metropolitan Volodymyr, then the bishopric took part in the dialogue. But then there were different times, people could talk about it for hours, converge and diverge, exchange some reprises and remarks with the press. Now there is no time for such swinging.