Ukraine Monitor

Date: 23 April 2018

Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be independent of Russia

Deputies of Ukrainian Parliament and Verkhovna Rada (ukr. Верховна Рада) supported the appeal of the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko (ukr. Петро Порошенко) to Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew and to The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople to issue a decree acknowledging the independence of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.


Thereby the Ukrainian state supported the actions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which aim to the unification of the three institutional streams of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Ukraine and to become independent from the Moscow Patriarchate. (There are three major Orthodox churches in Ukraine: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), supported by Moscow, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivian Patriarchate; the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church which was set up as an opposition in the interwar period and is connected with Ukrainian emigration e.g. to Canada). According to deputies of Ukrainian Parliament, the Ukrainian nation does not accept the unity of church with Patriarch Kirill (ros. Кирилл) of Moscow, who, in their opinion, not only did not defend Orthodox Christians, suffering as the result of Russian aggression in east of Ukraine and Crimea, but also become one of the main ideologists of “russkij mir” (ros. русский мир – Russian world), a thus is one of the architects of the present Russia’s hybrid warfare against Ukraine.

The supporters of autocephaly expect that Moscow will loose its lever on Ukraine. “It is necessary to precisely outline the line. I cannot look into statehood in terms of political issues – said Archbishop Zoria Yevstratiy (ukr. Євстратій Зоря), the spokesman of Kyviv Patriarchate to Kyivan newspaper Den (ukr. День). When asked about the ongoing discussion, said – for me it is clear that the issue of statehood and the independence of Ukraine cannot be the area of political debate. The statehood is the axiom that needs to be accepted by all Ukrainian citizens. There are orthodox, local autocephalic churches in Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia and finally in Russia. That is why, Ukraine as an independent country, and Ukrainian nation have the right to do so. Problems with the division of Orthodox church in Ukraine, which escalated in 1992, were related to the way of treatment of Ukrainian statehood and subjectivity of Ukrainian nation. Putin said that for him Russians and Ukrainians are one nation. That means, that he excludes the existence of Ukrainian nation as an entity. He treats Ukraine in the same way. There is a consensus in Russian policy. For them Ukraine, as a state does not exist. They think it is a “vibration” of the history. /…/ This aspect is particularly used by the Church institution of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is trying to keep Kyiv Patriarchate in artificial isolation by using its influence in the Orthodox world. So that, even priests and believers who do not share the vision of “russkij mir”, will stay in church institutions of the Russian Church. “I am convinced, that if the Ukrainian Church gains its independence, the 2/3 of believers from the Moscow Patriarchate will make their choice in favor of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. These are not my wishes, this is the data from survey” .

According to the newest survey conducted by Razumkov Centre, carried out between March 23-28, the number of parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate diminished from 24 to 13% of all believers in the 2010-2018. Razumkov Centre noted an opposite trend among the believers of the Kyivian Patriarchate: the number of parishioners increased from 15% to 29%. (67% of Ukrainians identify themselves as Orthodox, 9.4% as Greek Catholics, 2.2% as Protestants) .

According to the study, 27% of responders supported the idea of the unification of Orthodox Ukraine around the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate. A little less (23%) are of the opinion that Orthodox churches in Ukraine should unite in one church, which strives for independence. According to the researchers, this demonstrates a huge “unification” potential among the Ukrainians of orthodox religion .

Some experts claim that the big number of parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine (from 1/3 to 2/3) will move to the local church. It results from the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate is located in the country, which directs aggression against the Ukrainian state. And at least, because of safety reasons it is necessary to limit the activity of this church structure .

According to bishop Mykolay Danyleych, the spokesman of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, the creation of autocephalic church in Ukraine, requires the consent of all local churches, including the Moscow Patriarchate. Archbishop Zoria of the Kyiv Patriarchate answers him: “Ecumenical Patriarch has the right to grant tomos (autocephaly decree) to Ukrainian local church, and the Moscow Patriarchate may support this decision, if it wishes to” .

According to bishop Danyleych, Moscow is not against autocephaly, but it is mostly about “autocephaly not being anti-Russian”. He also claims that the ecumenical patriarchy decree is not enough to gain the status of autocephalic church because: “autocephaly, according to agreements at orthodox level, is confirmed by all local orthodox churches”, and recalls the EU experience saying: “… if Ukraine joins the European Union, it will be necessary that all 28 countries agree to Ukrainian accession to the EU, and by the same token all 15 local churches must confirm Ukrainian autocephaly. That is why it is necessary to negotiate with all, including Russia” – he adds .

This significant change in tone of the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate indicates increasing chances of realization of Poroshenko’s unification project. The events of this project may go according to a following scenario: In May in Constantinople, the Holy Synod will approve the decision of autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; then in Kiev a synod with all bishops who signed an appeal to the Patriarch will meet (it is possible that certain bishops form the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate will take part in it); after the tomos will be read by a representative of Ecumenical Patriarchate, the bishops will choose a new church primate within themselves. This according to the plan of Ukrainian authorities should happen by the end of summer. Before 1030 Anniversary of Christianization of Ukraine – Kievan Rus’ .

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