Poroshenko in Zarvanitsa: paradoxes of Ukrainian religious policy

President Petro Poroshenko in Zarvanitsa on July 15, 2018

On July 15 Petro Poroshenko took part in the Greek-Catholic "pilgrimage" in Zarvanitsa, dedicated to the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus.

Praying together with the Uniates, he made some bizzare and at the same time landmark statements.

Firstly, the President urged Greek Catholics "to fight and pray for autocephaly to be bestowed to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church" and noted that "autocephaly is not a sole concern of the Orthodox."

Secondly, he said that "autocephaly is one of the pillars of the Ukrainian state, the Ukrainian nation, Ukrainian national security", and, no less, "the whole world geopolitics"!

Thirdly, he stressed that "there is no reason to believe we have a tomos in our bag."

How it all looks from the sidelines:

“Act as they see fit?”

President of Ukraine calls on Greek Catholics to pray for autocephaly for Orthodox Christians! The question is: what do the Uniates have to do with the internal processes taking place in the Orthodox Church? Why are the people who are absolute outsiders to Orthodoxy suddenly have to "struggle" to somehow influence its inner life? And who will be the next to be called by the president "to struggle for autocephaly" – Muslims, Baptists, Hare Krishnas?

Not so long ago the head of the UGCC commission on interreligious and interreligious relations Fr. Oleg Shaban (the one who claimed that Uniates did not seize the church in Kolomyia but simply went inside because the doors were open) stated that "the UGCC in no way participates in the process of granting the Tomos: neither directly nor indirectly." He also accused Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolam of "blatant manipulations."

According to Oleg Shaban, all politicians who are Greek Catholics according to their confession and campaign for autocephaly, "act solely at their own discretion" and without the blessing of the UGCC's hierarchy.

Let’s presume there is really no blessing, but on the other hand there are no objections either.

Why not can the head of the UGCC Sviatoslav Shevchuk privately call his parishioner Andrey Parubiy not to interfere in the affairs of the Orthodox Church and respect the principle of separation of the Church from the state? Instead, the UGCC provides the information support to the project of the Ukrainian authorities approving of the "single local church" (after all, it could just keep silent).

Recall, on April 17, 2018 the head of the UGCC held a meeting with US Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and said that he "positively estimates all efforts for the possible recognition of the Single Orthodox Church of Ukraine by the Patriarchate of Constantinople" because it "will lead UOC-KP and UAOC from isolation." He also stressed that this is only the "first step" on the way of restoring unity between the UGCC and the Orthodox.

A logical question arises: why do Uniate politicians not deal with the problems of their own Church? It's no secret that the UGCC has long sought to obtain the status of patriarchy from the Vatican. The question is where are the crowds of Ukrainian diplomats storming the Vatican with the request to grant independence to Ukrainian Greek-Catholics, and the patriarch's dignity to Sviatoslav Shevchuk? Recently, the Pope ordained a number of archbishops as cardinals. However, the head of the UGCC for some reason did not take the spotlight – yet Andrey Parubiy does not care about it. Why such double standards?

Moreover, if we proceed from the principle voiced by Poroshenko that the Church should be independent of foreign states (any!) and religious centers, then, first of all, the question of the dependence of the UGCC on the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church should be raised. For the influence of the Pope on Ukrainian Uniates is almost infinite. He can personally defrock the guilty Ukrainian clergymen and approve the appointment of all the UGCC bishops. Just fancy such an influence of Patriarch Kirill on the UOC!

Autocephaly is pure politics

To continue with the above, the president once again frankly stated that autocephaly has nothing to do with religious motivation, but is a purely political and even geopolitical issue.

But what then does the Orthodox Church and ordinary believers have to do with this whole initiative? And how, in this context, should Patriarch Bartholomew feel whom the president exposes as an executor of his political order, which can blow up the unity of the Orthodox Church? This looks like an outspoken defamation of the leader of Constantinople Church.

Another thing that needs to be emphasized is that the president of the country, in which the overwhelming number of believers is Orthodox, celebrated the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus with Greek Catholics in the first line. After all, the pilgrimage was dedicated to this event.

It turns out to be an even more absurd picture – the president, who purportedly defends the interests of the Orthodox, butters up their historical opponents, who in every way try to subordinate the Orthodox Church to the Pope and have no scruples to talk about it. Once again – how will Patriarch Bartholomew look in the eyes of Orthodox Primates in this context?

By the way, recently the Tulchin eparchy of the UOC caught the UGCC in outspoken "proselytism", that is, an attempt to convert Orthodox believers to a union. According to the eparchial deans, the Uniates entice Orthodox children to free pilgrimages to Western Ukraine, Poland or Rome, after which Orthodox children return with a set of Uniate prayer books and paraphernalia, and some of them cross themselves in a Latin way – using five fingers.

This is a gross and overt violation of the Orthodox-Catholic agreements. However, it is not necessary to be surprised at the double standards of the Vatican and the UGCC: the Orthodox church in Kolomyia has not yet been returned to its legal owners, although the Vatican is well aware of what happened. In November 2017, head of the NGO Public Advocacy Oleg Denisov at a conference in Yerevan on the protection of Christians from hate speech, communicated with representatives of the Vatican and asked questions about the violations in Kolomyia. However, no disciplinary measures to influence the leadership of the UGCC followed.

It is also doubtful that the statement that autocephaly is a guarantor of national security. A few days ago, the speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament said that within the framework of the autocephalous process, "this year already" two draft laws will be adopted that would "allow to eliminate disputes in the communities". There is no doubt that he means bills #4128 and #5309.

The former involves simplifying the procedure for "changing jurisdiction," that is, the actual legalization of the seizure of temples. Everyone understands that in the absence of a fixed membership in Orthodox communities, any "referendums" for the transition to the Kyiv Patriarchate will be subject to large-scale manipulations. The other bill foresees forced renaming of the UOC.

It’s noteworthy that the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches, the head of the World Council of Churches, Ukrainian Catholic hierarchs, representatives of the Lutheran Church, experts and human rights activists are dead set against these bills noting that their adoption will lead to bloodshed! Thus, the legalization of the split will not only weaken national security, but, on the contrary, will endanger the interfaith peace in the country. If the authorities do not want to listen to the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, let them at least listen to the representatives of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

“Tomos is not in the bag yet. All that is left to do is to pray”

And, finally, it must be emphasized that the president qualitatively changed the rhetoric regarding the chances of getting the Tomos from Patriarch Bartholomew like "Tomos is not in our pocket yet" and all that is left is only "to pray."

After spokesman of the Kyiv Patriarchate Eustratiy Zoria expressed pessimism about the possibility of receiving the Tomos in the near future, the president's words sound like a funeral march for all supporters of autocephaly. It becomes utterly clear that the issue of autocephaly is postponed for a long and indefinite period, with the public opinion being prepared for the fact there will be no tomos in either this or next year.

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