In March, Ukraine terminated an agreement with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on the use of the Lower Lavra of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, where the residence of UOC Primate Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev. The UOC monastery has been ordered to vacate the buildings it occupies by March 29. Most likely, they will be occupied by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, whose tomos was issued by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2018. Religious scholar Roman Lunkin explains to RTVI what the implementation of this decision can lead to.
Roman Lunkin is a Russian religious scholar, sociologist of religion, publicist and journalist. Doctor of Political Science, Doctor of Philosophy, Deputy Director of Research, Senior Researcher and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the Europe Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Member of the “Russian group” of the Keston Institute. Editor-in-chief of the scientific journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences “Modern Europe”.
Why the herd of the UOC does not actively protest against the transfer of the Kiev-Peche Lavra to the OCU
Everything ripens and bubbles from within. The fact that many actions directed against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which gave rise to whole protests, do not provoke an active reaction, is mainly due to the military situation in the country. With a special attitude towards all groups of people who gather in the streets, including even groups of church hierarchs, bishops, who gather near Zelenskyyy’s office.
Moreover, there is an expectation of specific actions from the authorities, which they will be ready to do. Everyone is waiting for the monks to be expelled from the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. And if that happens with the use of force, then I think that will provoke active opposition. It will be both in Kiev and in the regions, where the “maidans” of the local churches will meet in the capitals of the regions. For example, it can happen around the Pochaev Lavra, which they also want to take away, and a criminal case has been opened against the viceroy for disobeying the police.
However, in Ukraine, such decisions do not always lead to concrete actions, to their absolute implementation. This was evident in the initiatives of the Poroshenko Church, when the Verkhovna Rada passed laws on the liquidation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. But then Zelenskyyy came along and effectively reversed those laws.
I think that, in particular, this is connected, by the way, with the hope of the UOC hierarchs that Zelenskyyy meets them and understands everything. From their point of view, he was “normal”, and now, for some reason, he suddenly stopped treating them adequately. I myself here, to be honest, do not see the logic of power to the end and I do not understand why to do this.
Is the UOC ready to leave Lavra
Judging by fragmentary information, it turns out that indeed part, so to speak, of the “leading staff” of the Lavra, and representatives of the UOC are ready to leave it, since official decisions have already been taken. All the official papers have been received and they say that by March 29 they must vacate the premises.
As for the monastic brothers, each of them can make his own decision. The monks were divided into different groups. Some may be inclined to switch to the OCU. Others go directly to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Both options imply that they will be able, for more or less legal reasons, to stay in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra in agreement with the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the OCU, Epiphanius.
The other part of the monks will remain loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate and adopt an irreconcilable position. And it will be necessary, according to the logic of the OCU, to get them out of their cells with the help of the police.
I don’t really understand how this will generally correlate with the law. Changing leaders is one thing. But of the monks who legally reside in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, the state has no right to ask which church they belong to and expel them on the basis of their membership in the UOC.
What prevents the UOC from joining the OCU
For people who go to church, the canonical space, the different jurisdictions are of great importance. Not only from a legal standpoint, but also from a church structure standpoint, from a spiritual standpoint. Therefore, it is important that the UOC remains an independent national church.
The OCU maintains close relations with the administration of President Zelenskyyy, who in fact controls it. The local church in Ukraine was founded with the support of Kuchma, then came completely under the control of Poroshenko, and now Zelenskyyy. Joining it simply means becoming a subdivision of the office of the President of Ukraine.
Moreover, it will mean stepping on the throat of its own song and completely submitting to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which supports the OCU. And that implies an agreement with its decisions regarding the ecclesiastical schism in Ukraine, which occurred in 2018 and which the UOC opposed.
Therefore, such a decision would to some extent divide the UOC itself and subordinate it to decisions made by Constantinople. According to them, the whole territory of Ukraine and, as it turned out the other day, Lithuania belongs to it. From the UOC’s point of view, this is a complete loss of subjectivity.
Even according to the current charter of the Russian Orthodox Church, and based on the decision of the Council of May 2022, the UOC is an autocephalous national autonomous Church, which has a canonical connection with the Moscow Patriarchate. But at the same time there is no legal and ecclesiastical administration.
The UOC abbreviation “MP” was dropped from its name after 2014. In 2015, corresponding changes were made to the Charter of the Russian Orthodox Church. A separate chapter on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was included, where its very special status was determined among all the churches that generally belong to the ROC. It was written there that it is autonomous and that its control center is in Kiev. Everything was done in such a way that Poroshenko’s law was respected.
But, of course, until 2022, some kind of ecclesiastical-administrative connection between the ROC and the UOC still existed, since Metropolitan Onufry participated in the meeting of the synod and in the management of the Moscow Patriarchate as a whole. But that doesn’t mean the ROC controlled the UOC.
How the ROC can help the UOC in word and deed
Apps play a big role. OSCE, UN – all these platforms were mentioned in the statement of Patriarch Kirill. They are also included in the declaration of the representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow to the Council of Europe, Archimandrite Philip Ryabykh. The head of the Department of External Church Relations (DECR) of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Anthony, has also spoken very well at the UN. Later, we may find that these statements mean a lot.
As for not words, but deeds, then, of course, there are problems with that. In my opinion, action can only be taken against the dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which are now under the control of the Moscow Patriarchate. Everything should be quite accurate, given the military-political situation.
Last year, three Crimean dioceses came under the personal leadership of Patriarch Kirill, while formally remaining in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The same thing happened in the Donbass, in the new territories. But some of these dioceses still commemorate Onuphre, and some – Patriarch Kirill. Some remained self-governing dioceses that do not commemorate Onuphre because they disagree with the May 2022 UOC Council decision. So here, the ROC is not making any decision that would be construed as church annexation.
Will the monastic brothers of the UOC and the OCU be able to agree in the framework of the Lavra
I think in each case the relationship will evolve differently. It cannot be said that an irreconcilable struggle between the representatives of the UOC and the OCU will unfold, because over the past 20 years Ukraine has accumulated a lot of experience of coexistence and dialogue between different jurisdictions .
The dialogue between the Kiev Patriarchate of the OCU and the UOC was conducted throughout the years of the schism. It’s hard for Russia to imagine that anyone communicated with schismatics, but in Ukraine it did.
Therefore, I think that a certain dialogue will be built within the framework of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. And if one of the monks is indeed expelled, a monastic maiden will gather before her.
Is it possible to completely eliminate the UOC on the territory of Ukraine
Until recently, it seemed like this was generally impossible. Metropolitan Onuphry, the leadership of the UOC after 2014, maintained in every possible way a very balanced political position, for which they were criticized a lot.
Now, I would say that it is possible in principle, but under certain conditions. From a historical point of view, the OCU is a sort of replacement for Uniatism. In past centuries, in the western Russian lands, they also wanted to make everyone Uniates in order to subordinate them to their political power. Therefore, the OCU is such a method of reforming the church. The Patriarchate of Constantinople is active on this issue, and it has lobbyists in Zelenskyyy’s office. My American colleagues also support this development of events. Apparently they really want to cut eastern Ukraine off like this.
First of all, it will not be possible to maintain the full integrity of Ukraine even in the current situation – under any circumstances this is practically impossible. In the presence of the population, which is the flock of the UOC, this church cannot be destroyed. This means that it is necessary to discredit it, that is, to discredit that part of Ukraine that Central and Western Ukraine does not need. Cut this piece. And then the OCU will be the queen of the fields. This process is already underway. The UOC herd dies and suffers in the conflict zone.
Donbass is clearly not needed in Kiev, despite the fact that they constantly talk about the territorial integrity of the country. Nobody will make a Marshall Plan for Donbass, and so they have to quietly merge this whole story.
Only this can explain the role of the UOC as a kind of symbolic force which always keeps together the east, the center and the west of Ukraine. If removed, you can safely make peace even tomorrow, they say, take these ruins for yourself on certain terms and do what you want. As many of my colleagues from Kiev have said, “we don’t need this cattle”.
The opinion of the author may not coincide with the opinion of the editors
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