UOC Chancellor about relations with power, OCU and Pan-Orthodox Council
The UOC Chancellor Metropolitan Anthony gave a detailed interview to the UOJ, in which he spoke about the most important topics and problems faced by the Church in 2019.
- Your Eminence, in 2019, a new president, Vladimir Zelensky, came to power in Ukraine. How do you assess the current relations between the Church and the state?
- There is no need to invent anything. The appropriate relations should be built on the basis of the Constitution, where the principle of separation of the Church from the state is enshrined in black and white, which, in turn, implies the non-interference of the latter in church affairs and procedures.
After all, it’s abnormal when state agents begin to determine who is canonical and who is not canonical, who can be called schismatics and who can’t, when officials say that it’s completely permissible (and even commendable) to invade the religious sphere in order to allegedly satisfy the rights of a certain category of believers.
I can imagine what a scandal would be raised if some religious organization began to act likewise. For example, to dictate to the state which ministry is considered legitimate and which is not, which decree should be signed by the President and which should not, and so on.
It’s abnormal when state agents begin to determine who is canonical and who is not canonical. I can imagine what a scandal would be raised if some religious organization began to act likewise. For example, to dictate to the state which ministry is considered legitimate and which is not, which decree should be signed by the President and which shouldn’t.
That is why we greatly appreciate the position of the current President of Ukraine, who noted that it is necessary to speak very carefully on sensitive issues such as religion. We support all peace initiatives of Vladimir Zelensky, both in the external and internal spheres, and we believe that the key to effective relations between the Church and the state can only be objectivity, impartiality and an equal treatment of all faiths on the part of the authorities.
- The power has changed, but attempts to rename the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have not stopped. How should one approach this problem?
- In December 2018, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted Law No. 2662-VIII. Its name is quite long but in short, it is intended to regulate the implementation of changes in the official name of those religious organizations whose administrative center is located in a state recognized as an aggressor towards Ukraine.
The decision to rename the UOC was not only manipulative but was also made in violation of the law. Moreover, today there is no legal document that would oblige the religious organizations of the UOC to change their name.
It should be noted that in this law there is no mention that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church should change its name. Therefore, the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine carried out work to identify the relevant organizations to which this law applies. As a result, for some reason they decided that all religious organizations that belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, alongside the whole Church, should change their name.
Why the agency made such a decision is not entirely clear to me. After all, the administrative center of the UOC is based in Kiev. In more detail, the bodies of ecclesiastical authority and governance of our Church – the Council and Synod, headed by its Primate – His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, are also located in Kiev.
In our opinion, the decision to rename the UOC was not only manipulative, but was also made in violation of the law. Moreover, today there is no legal document that would oblige the religious organizations of the UOC to change their name. The list referenced by officials from the Ministry of Culture and regional administrations does not foresee such obligations for us. But when asked how a particular religious community of the UOC was listed there, none of them can answer.
Based on the aforesaid, we consider the actions of the Ministry of Culture to be unlawful, for which reason in March 2019, we went to court to protect our rights. As part of this lawsuit, we asked the court to prohibit the Ministry of Culture and all registrars to make any amendments to the names of religious organizations of the UOC. The court listened to our arguments and satisfied this request, because the actions of the Ministry of Culture and other persons may lead to unjustified state interference in the sphere of activity of a religious organization as a legal entity.
The Ministry of Culture did not agree to such a court decision and challenged it on appeal. But on July 22, 2019, the Sixth Administrative Court of Appeal refused the Ministry of Culture to satisfy the appeal, recognizing again the fact that our argument was substantiated.
But disagreeing with such a decision, the Ministry of Culture decided to challenge it on appeal one more time. On December 11, 2019, the Supreme Court dismissed the cassation appeal of the Ministry of Culture.
On the whole, the process of renaming the UOC, initiated by the Ministry, looks like a real nonsense and has all the signs of a raider seizure of the largest religious association in Ukraine in favor of the new religious structure – OCU. This process begins with the expropriation of the name of the UOC and ends with the seizure of its temples, monasteries and dioceses.
Believers of the UOC are being made to refuse to call themselves Ukrainians and to call their Church Ukrainian. Moreover, the state bodies want to impose a name on the faith and faithful, which, as the initiators of the renaming expect, will secure a marginal status for the UOC in society.
- Did the appearance of the so-called OCU somehow affect the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?
- It did not affect it in any way. Actually, there are no changes in the internal life of the UOC. The Church lived and continues to live.
- How has the number of parishes of the UOC changed since the formation of the OCU?
- To date, our Church has lost 128 churches as a result of raider attacks. In addition, a wave of illegal re-registration of statutes of religious communities in favor of the OCU by officials of regional administrations affected 220 of our parishes. And only 84 parishes moved from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to the OCU voluntarily, in accordance with all legal norms. First of all, I mean the law-stipulated requirement on positive decision of two-thirds of members of the religious community.
What does it mean? First, 84 communities are less than a percent of all parishes of the UOC. It turns out that without administrative support and raider attacks, the corresponding transition process has a minimal scale.
A decision of the assembly of the whole village to transfer the UOC temple to the OCU looks like a decision of the residents of your apartment building to give away your apartment to other owners. Even without your knowledge and knowledge of your family members.
Secondly, the situation with 84 parishes indicates that if there is real support for the idea of a transition to the OCU from the majority of believers in the community, then this transition occurs without any problems. Conflicts arise only when they try to initiate this process artificially and forcefully. For example, instead of voting by members of a religious community, they suggest the volition of the inhabitants of the entire settlement in which the temple of this community is located. This is a direct violation of the law and very often serves as the basis for the unlawful re-registration of our parishes for the jurisdiction of the new church structure.
From the side, such actions look like, for example, a decision of the residents of your apartment building to give away your apartment to other owners. Even without your knowledge and knowledge of your family members. And you will find out about this only when unknown people start breaking locks on your door disguising it with the documents which are notarized based on the voting protocol of the village residents.
- Are the temples of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church still subject to illegal seizures?
- Compared to the period of Poroshenko’s presidency, the situation, thank God, is no longer so depressing. However, it must be recognized that in certain regions there is a tendency to seize temples. I mean, in particular, Rivne and Chernivtsi regions. In Vinnitsa region and Volyn, the epic with the illegal re-registration of our communities also continues.
I was personally shocked by media reports about the situation in the village of Myshev, Volyn Region. Our religious community confirmed by the protocol of its meeting that it was not willing to join the OCU. However, officials did not just ignore it. They came up with another protocol, signed not at the meeting of the indicated religious community, but by God knows whom and thus re-registered the religious community.
In response to a sensible question from believers about the reasons for such lawlessness, representatives of the local authorities said that they would re-register it even if 3 people signed under the protocol. Comments are needless.
Of course, we do not intend to put up with such offences. This year alone, more than 150 lawsuits have been filed on relevant issues.
It should also be noted that in many regions of Ukraine, illegal registration triggered raider seizures of church property, which was often accompanied by beatings and even bloodshed. More than 250 criminal proceedings have been opened on the facts of the offences committed, as well as because of obstruction in the performance of worship, illegal penetration and desecration of shrines.
- Is there any kind of communication with the OCU aimed at resolving conflict situations?
- In fact, it is the OCU members that get tough with us and not vice versa. After all, it is not we who take away temples from them but they seize them from us; it is not we who try to rename them, but they initiate these changes. Therefore, we would like them to behave just in a Christian way. After all, their behavior cannot always be called Christian: forceful seizures of temples, slander, politicking, and the like. Unfortunately, their withdrawal from our Church in the early 1990s initially led to a split in Ukraine, and the current "legalization" leads to a split already in the entire World Orthodoxy.
- Hostilities are going on in the Donbas. Tell us about church life in this long-suffering region.
Most of the eastern dioceses of the UOC in the Donbas are divided in two. Part of the dioceses is located in the territory controlled by Kiev, while the other part – in the uncontrolled territory. In general, in the military conflict zone, the UOC has about a thousand parishes, five dioceses, and monasteries.
We hope that next year we will see positive changes in this region. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church prays for ceasefire in our country, for the arrival of peace and the end of hostility.
In all temples of our Church, a prayer for Ukraine is offered, the Metropolitan of Kiev is commemorated at worship; basically, the UOC is the only structure that unites people on both sides of the conflict. Clergymen provide all possible assistance to civilians of Donbas. Local self-proclaimed authority does not interfere with our activities and does not interfere with the service of the Church.
We hope that next year we will see positive changes in this region. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church prays for ceasefire in our country, for the arrival of peace and the end of hostility. Faithful Ukrainians throughout the country are striving for this, but the people of Donbass, who are exhausted by this almost six-year war, need this peace most of all.
- What are the threats eventuated by the recogniton of the OCU by the Alexandrian Patriarch and the Athenian Archbishop?
- This means the threat of a split in the Orthodox world. To be more correct, it is a de facto split. The situation in world Orthodoxy has worsened significantly, and the division between the Local Orthodox Churches deepened. After all, there are and will be Churches that will never recognize the new church structure.
Therefore, we and the majority of Local Churches see the solution to the problem only in convening a Pan-Orthodox Council on this issue. The leaders of the Jerusalem, Albanian Churches, the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia have already called for a Pan-Orthodox Synaxis. Now many hierarchs in the Local Churches talk about this, and it is obvious that the need for such a Council is brewing.
We hope that in the coming 2020, it will be possible to implement the proposal of Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem and to convene a Synaxis of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in Jordan to overcome the crisis in World Orthodoxy.