He who rules, his religion: why Poroshenko needs Autocephalous Church

18 April 2018 11:11
Poroshenko Poroshenko "dreams" of creating a Single Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine

What is behind the idea of addressing Patriarch Bartholomew?

A Single Local Church in Ukraine – to be or not to be? Tuesday of April 17 brought unprecedented hitherto efforts on stepping up the creation of the SLC by the powers that be. No sooner had P. Poroshenko visited Turkey than they got the ball rolling with such a force that mass media rushed to highlight it as an almost accomplished fact. Mr. Denisenko has forgotten all his assurances that he will not go under the authority of Constantinople; someone among the hierarchs has probably been visualizing himself wearing a patriarchal koukoulion, while Mr. President has already set out to enter history as a founding father of the Local Church in Ukraine. But – tough luck – will not all the steam go off the horn? Let's sort it out.

Let’s begin briefly about the events having occurred in the last days. On Monday of the Bright Week, April 9, P. Poroshenko paid a visit to Turkey and received an audience with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The UOJ wrote that most likely it was a courtesy visit and there was no talk about the creation of the Local Church. But, apparently, there was. Although what the authorities package as Phanar's willingness to grant autocephaly is likely to be a willingness just to consider the matter provided that all stakeholders and organizations address the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The week was spent on collecting signatures of all these "interested persons". And on Tuesday, April 17, the presidential administration erupted in a sensation: the President agreed on the SLC. P. Poroshenko summoned the heads of parliamentary factions and asked them to support this idea and address Patriarch Bartholomew with the relevant request: "Ukraine as an independent state is not just entitled, but simply obliged to create this church. As a president, I decided to ask the Ecumenical Patriarch to grant Tomos of the Ukrainian local autocephalous church and would ask you, dear colleagues, that the parliament also supports this appeal as quickly as possible."

In addition, the President demonstrated the signatures of the "episcopate" of the UOC-KP and the UAOC, which accept this idea. And a little later the press service of the Kyiv Patriarchate expressed its warm approval of the President’s efforts, probably considering that their finest hour had finally come. However, negotiations with the only Ukrainian confession, recognized by Constantinople as a Church (that is, the UOC – Author), have not been held on this issue at all.

Besides, on Tuesday, the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, said that "the Russian Church arises from the fact that the unity of the Orthodox Church is an unshakable value all the Local Orthodox Churches must support." Metropolitan Hilarion also recalled that Patriarch Bartholomew had repeatedly stated that he considered the head of the UOC Metropolitan Onuphry to be the only canonical leader of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. "We proceed from the fact that this key position cannot be subject to changes," the hierarch said. In his turn, deputy head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Protopriest Nikolay Danilevich, said that this is just another PR campaign of the authorities, which in the end will lead to nothing. That is, the UOC does not participate in this project.

In this connection, plenty of questions arise.

First, to whom, in that case, will Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew give the Tomos on autocephaly? Schismatic groupings? Self-organized gatherings? Anathematized "hierarchs"? It is exactly how the Phanar officially views the UOC-KP and the UAOC. A lot of statements from both Patriarch Bartholomew himself and his episcopate have been made in this regard. Well, Constantinople would in the first line have somehow to recognize these self-organized mobs as graceful church communities. But for that end one needs some grounds, namely, statements about repentance with a request to remove the canonical punishments on the part of the "hierarchs" of the UOC-KP and the UAOC. But there are no such statements. There are only statements that they agree to have a Single Local Church.

After all, who is repentance supposed to be addressed to? All the canons say that to the one which imposed prohibitions, that is, the Russian Orthodox Church. But there is no even talk about it. In the event of any split in any Local Orthodox Church, the Church itself prohibits dissenters in the sacred service, disgowns or anathematizes them, while the other Local Churches, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople, only acknowledge these decisions and do not accept schismatics, do not allow them to serve in their churches, take the Sacraments and so on. In the case of healing the split, the Local Church in which it occurred, removes the imposed punishments and notifies other Local Churches about it.

Consequently, there is no one in Ukraine to be granted Tomos on autocephaly: the UOC does not ask for it, while the UOC-KP and the UAOC are not the Church of Christ.

Secondly, what will the address of the Parliament and the President (if he joins the address) appear to be if it clearly and unambiguously violates the Constitution and laws of Ukraine? "The Church and religious organizations in Ukraine are separated from the state" (Article 35 of the Constitution). And Article 5 of the Law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" says: "The state shall not interfere with the activities of religious organizations, as long as it is carried out within the framework of the law." In addition, Article 19 of the Constitution says: "State authorities and local self-government bodies, their officials are obliged to act only on the basis, within the powers and in a manner that is provided for by the Constitution and laws of Ukraine." Yet neither the Constitution nor the laws of Ukraine give the president and parliament the power to solicit autocephaly from Constantinople.

Such questions are an internal affair of religious organizations themselves. Maybe two hundred or three hundred years ago, Ukrainian hetmans could handle such requests, but now it's XXI century and we must get used to living according to the rule of law. However, such actions of the authorities are so clearly illegal that Ukraine risks getting instead of the SLC another portion of criticism from various human rights governmental and non-governmental organizations and others. The Representation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to European International Organizations, created almost a year ago, will promptly inform the European public of the unlawful nature of actions of the Kiev authorities.

Thirdly, why now and why in such a haste? For the recent years of the mantra "Ukraine wants the Local Church" has been recycled so often that even those who believe that this is not true believe in it. A huge number of believers and clergy do not support this idea, at least in this historical period. There is no consensus in the society about this. Moreover, the difference of opinions depends on the geography: the farther it is from the west to the east, the fewer are the supporters of this project.

Bending the non-conformist across the knee means to draw another line of religious separation over the long-suffering Ukraine. The idea of the SLC has not yet ripened among the believers themselves. This can take years, but years of benevolent attitude to the Church on the part of the state, and not those persecutions we are facing today. But the authorities need to do it quickly. Why? Poroshenko himself explained it. In full accordance with the practice of the Communist Party of the times of the USSR, the matter needs to be accomplished by the specific date – the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. And, of course, it is interplayed with the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, which naturally was not announced. But everyone understands perfectly well that under the conditions when, in virtually all spheres of domestic and foreign policy, the authorities have no achievements, but only one continual failure, one desperately needs at least something that can be accounted as an asset. The UOJ spoke about it a long time ago: ”A home task for Poroshenko: Single Local Church served for elections?"

Now the situation has become even more acute. Even the notorious "visa-free" regime in fact turned out a failure. While at first everyone was delighted they can travel around Europe with a Ukrainian passport, today the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Pavel Klimkin, informs with horror that 100 thousand Ukrainians leaves Ukraine every month. In this situation, even faint hopes that the idea of the SLC might be implemented push the authorities to take the actions we are witnessing today in order to present to the voters at least some result of their work.

But the upcoming elections have the opposite side of the coin. Power, most likely, will change. Who will come to it is not yet known. But the fact that the incumbent president is a "lame duck ", according to political terminology, is clear to absolutely everybody, including Patriarch Bartholomew. Even with a stable political situation, one year before the elections, the incumbent authorities lose the opportunity to make any conceptual decisions. No one seriously deals with it, only current affairs are resolved. Moreover, this is true of Ukraine.

Fourthly, will the Patriarchate of Constantinople really dare take such a step? For the Tomos of autocephaly for the SLC in Ukraine from the Constantinople Patriarchate without the consent of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will mean the following:

a) Constantinople flagrantly violates both church canons and simply the laws of natural logic. How can you grant autocephaly to someone who does not ask for it? And how can a Single Local Church do this in relation to a part of another Local Church?;

b) Phanar disavows all its statements of recent years on recognizing the UOC as the only canonical Church in Ukraine;

c) The Patriarchate of Constantinople causes a multiple increase in persecutions of the UOC, including the illegal seizure of its temples and monasteries;

d) Constantinople breaks all relations with the Russian Orthodox Church;

e) Constantinople definitively spoils relations with those Local Churches, which have long expressed discontent with its ecumenical activities and claims for supremacy in the Orthodox world. It can be said with certainty that the Georgian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Antioch Churches will harshly criticize Patriarch Bartholomew. The oldest Church in Jerusalem will most likely join them both because the truth in this case is clearly not on the side of Constantinople, and because the Jerusalem Church is now under great pressure from the local authorities and badly needs the protection and assistance of the ROC.

e) Constantinople gives a "green light" to all schismatic groups that exist in many Local Churches, including in Constantinople itself.

Would Patriarch Bartholomew want to take such risks to satisfy the political ambitions of the Ukrainian leadership? It seems no.

Fifthly, how can events develop further?

The most likely version was voiced by Protopriest Nikolai Danilevich: "I think that everything will end in a big puff, as it has been many times before. There will be a lot of hubbub in the media, but this will all end." Yes, the parliament will vote. Yes, the President will appeal to Phanar and attach the signatures of the schismatics to the appeal. Yes, there will be a lot of hype. But still, if the UOC and the ROC disagree, Phanar will not dare act contrary to canons. P.Poroshenko himself said that the necessary condition for the Ukrainian Church to seek autocephaly from the Patriarchate of Constantinople is an address of Orthodox Church hierarchs. Probably, our President is not aware that "Orthodox Church hierarchs" are the hierarchy of the UOC, and not of schismatic groups. That's what Constantinople thinks (at least, it voices so). And the signatures of the canonical clergy are missing under the address. The Phanar can just make a helpless gesture and say that since there is no address from the UOC, then there is no Tomos, we would be happy, but ...

In view of the above it get clear why SBU has recently announced large-scale inspections of the UOC on anti-state activities of the Church. It was an attempt to compel the Church to be more compliant in terms of the SLC. Of the same ilk is a recent capture of the temple in Ptichya, blocking of Tithe monastery, accusations of the hierarchy of the UOC in their collaboration with the USSR KGB, and much more. Now it becomes clear why this was done and is being done. For the One Church.

The next option is less likely. This is about ascribing a certain "canonical" status to one of the schismatic groups under the omophorion of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The most suitable for this role is the UAOC. It is not so numerous, its leader is not as odious as Mr. Denisenko, and it operates exclusively in the west of Ukraine. Much will be said about ecclesiastical dispensation, about the needs of believers, and so on, but eventually there will be created a notorious parallel jurisdiction which is advocated also by some hierarchs within the UOC. But this option is countered by the fact that this "parallel jurisdiction", in the subordination of Constantinople on top of that, certainly will not look like a Single Local Church. It will also be unacceptable for Phanar that in this case it will also enter into an open conflict with the ROC.

And finally, the third option, which can be conventionally called "a nightmare". Everything happens for real. P. Poroshenko takes to Phanar an address without the signatures of the UOC and brings back Tomos on autocephaly of the SLC. Schismatics celebrate their victory. Some eparchies of the UOC and a few hierarchs join the SLC. The UOC becomes a target of full-swing persecutions, with not dozens, but hundreds of temples being seized, with a real war for each of the three Ukrainian Lavras, with fabricated criminal cases against the clergy and so on. Patriarch Bartholomew is accused of usurping power in the Church, of "papism" and so on. ROC and very likely other Churches will break their canonical communication with Constantinople. Violating canons is so obvious, the harm to the entire Orthodox world is so great, and the "benefits" for Patriarch Bartholomew are so miserable that everyone is convinced he clearly does not act on his own in making such decisions but follows someone's instructions. His authority in the Orthodox world falls almost to zero. And all this can lead to the fact that from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, he can turn into "the Patriarch of Istanbul and All Phanar." And even this is not all. Deprived of the support of the most powerful Local Orthodox Churches, Patriarch Bartholomew can be evicted by Turkish authorities outside of Turkey. They have repeatedly expressed such a desire.

Can you fancy such a scenario? The UOJ cannot either.

And sixthly – cui prodest? Why are our political leaders ready to implement the SLC idea, although its probability of success is quite small?

It is profitable to those who want to incite an interreligious conflict in Ukraine and in conditions of confrontation win political scores or even cancel the election if the conflict flares up to the desired scale.

It is quite obvious that the SLC project is not religious, but exclusively political. And the fruit it can yield is division, rather than union.

It is also likely that all this hype with autocephaly is nothing more than an information shield for some important state decisions that can cause abhorrence with society or individual social groups. Such decisions are most likely to be made in the sphere of conflict resolution in Donbass or in the sphere of extremely unpopular reforms – pension or medical.

There is one more possible reason for what is happening: one should not search for deep meaning where everything is explained by mere stupidity.

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