Why SBU puts pressure on Church again

The Security Service of Ukraine is searching for manipulative texts in the church literature of the UOC

What stands behind the headline-grabbing statements of the colonels?

On March 28 in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, colonels of the Security Service of Ukraine Valery Udovichenko and Yulia Laputina organized a round table on the topic “Aggression of the RF against Ukraine: historical parallels and modern dimension”, during which they made some vociferous statements that allowed news agencies to announce a large-scale investigation of the "atrocities" of representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. However, on March 31, Archbishop Clement of Nezhin and Priluki gave an interview to the Vesti news agency, in which he stated that the head of the Security Service, Vasily Gritsak, had no claims against the UOC; moreover, it is not clear who colonels Valery Udovichenko and Yulia Laputina are. Is this approach to the developments justified, or does Archbishop Clement underestimate the threat?

From this heading, we can conclude that the campaign against the UOC is coming up to a drastically new level, since the SBU personally decided to see to it. . And if one reads in the text the words of colonels V. Udovichenko and Yu. Laputina that "in fact the temples of the UOC-MP became the centers on which all relied in their activity against Ukraine", and that the SBU conducts an investigation throughout Ukraine – one can merely freak out.

What does Archbishop Clement answer? By the way, Vladyka is a hierarch who is involved in various humanitarian missions of the UOC in the Donbass, including very difficult negotiations for the release of prisoners of war.

Bishop Clement (Vecheria) and fighter for Donetsk airport Taras Kolodiy after his release

Well, bishop Clement is aware of the situation. According to his interview with Vesti news agency, "There have not been any official statements to this effect (investigations against the UOC – Ed.). Moreover, the head of the SBU Vasily Gritsak has repeatedly stated that his organization has no complaints against the UOC <...> Those statements that are now circulating in the press on this account were voiced by some people who identified themselves as SBU officials, but who they are in fact, personally I have no idea, like most of our citizens. Indeed, neither Valery Udovichenko nor Julia Laputina is known to most citizens, but the fact that they are colonels of the SBU is likely to be true.

These colonels, in their turn, have voiced two interesting things.

First, these are four-year-old claims to the UOC that allegedly in 2014 the Sviatogorsk Lavra distributed a prayer of "pro-Russian" content at Easter, printed on the reverse side of the icon of the Mother of God. And also that, allegedly, in the same year of 2014, one of the leaders of the unrecognized Dnepropetrovsk region, Igor Girkin, was the first to take refuge in one of Slaviansk city churches, then in the same temple he created his battalion (note, the battalion is approximately 500 to 1,000 personnel), and, at last, in this same temple, consecrated the weapons for this battalion. You can really laugh at this passage – if these accusations failed to turn into criminal cases with relevant judicial sentences within four years, then they are worth it, and repeating them now is only falling into disgrace before all people of good faith.

Secondly, the colonels say that today, in 2018, an investigation of the anti-state activities of the UOC is being conducted throughout the country. And they even talk about how this is carried out: "The investigation is carried out through scientific expertise, the identification of documents, the testimonies of people who saw or were participants in the activities carried out by the UOC-MP. The questioning of witnesses and collection of evidence is being carried out, the church literature is being examined for the existence of manipulative texts."

But any literate person who has at least superficially heard about the existence of the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine, it is clear that in order for the investigation to take place and that the evidence obtained in the course of its proof to be used in court, they must be properly registered. That is, it's not just about questioning of witnesses, but calling them to the SBU with a summons, explaining their rights during an interrogation, informing on what open criminal case the interrogation is being conducted, processing the interrogation protocol, and so on.

If this really was carried out across Ukraine – this would have already been trumpeted by all the media and the UOJ in the first place. But so far this has not even been heard of. In order to evaluate documents and carry out their examination, they must also be appropriately issued: the seizure of documents, witnesses, and so on. The same procedure is rather cumbersome and difficult to conceal, if it comes to an all-Ukrainian campaign.

Therefore, we can conclude: what some media hastened to call an investigation across Ukraine is not at all an investigation that involves a judicial perspective and sentencing. Archbishop Clement is absolutely right, being very skeptical about the statements of V. Udovichenko and Yu. Laputina. But then it turns out then that the colonels lie, and nothing what they say is done? It seems that they do not lie, and that there really are interviews of witnesses, evaluation of documents, examination of literature, etc. But the fact is that all these activities can occur not in the form of gathering evidence for the court, but in the form of operational and investigative activities, which are most often carried out secretly.

The results of this activity cannot be used as evidence at the trial, but may become the basis for proper investigative actions. In other words, the SBU authorities may not go that far as it was announced, but still conduct those actions described by V. Udovichenko and Yu. Laputina: they are working with "witnesses" who will come at the right time by the subpoena to the investigator, and they will voice the already agreed testimony under the protocol, they will collect literature and employ certain "experts" who can interpret liturgical and other texts in a certain way, and so on.

Let's imagine that at the Institute of National Memory (for example) the troparion of Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God will be brought to Mr. Vyatrovich for the examination: "Today the glorious city of Moscow is brightly adorned, like the sun we revere, Our Lady, the miraculous Icon of yours, flowing to it and praying before it. We are pleading you, oh, the marvelous Lady of the Theotokos, to pray to the incarnate Christ, our God, that He would keep this city (Moscow – Ed.) and all Christian cities and countries intact from all invasions of the enemy, and save our souls because He is Merciful." Perhaps this is the very prayer of the "pro-Russian" content the colonels spoke about?

What Bishop Clement is also true about is that he connects such attacks on the Church with the actually started pre-election campaign. "Unfortunately, the Ukrainian state has been living in a state of permanent election campaign for many years. Modern methods of its politicians have long been beyond the bounds of good and evil. The Church today is the last straw for a huge number of people. It constantly has the highest level of public confidence, while the media, the country's governing bodies, current politicians – all together – have only a few percent of this trust. Naturally, someone wants to exploit the Church in order to hype themselves. God is their judge." Attacking the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, those political forces that once again decided to ride patriotism in their election program show the society how consistent they are in revealing the "enemies" of the Ukrainian people. By means of such actions they point to a patriotically-minded voter whom he should vote for. And it does not matter whether their statements are true or not.

Nevertheless, the statements of the colonels should not be underestimated. In an interview with Vesti, Archbishop Clement says, "I would not comment on the rumors. As I said above, the Security Service had officially declared repeatedly that it has no claims to the UOC and, moreover, cooperates with our Church on the humanitarian support of Ukrainian prisoners of war. All other statements of people, who want to hype on the topic of religion, do not deserve attention."

Statements by themselves, perhaps, do not deserve attention because of their absurdity, but it is remarkable who sounded them and when. Whereas such absurd accusations were earlier voiced by various non-state structures, nationalist organizations like "Right Sector" and "S14", today they are voiced by current law enforcement officials. And tomorrow they can be voiced by the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, V. Gritsak or the one who will replace him, as in modern Ukraine the rotation of the highest officials of the state occurs with an enviable regularity. The choice of the moment is also indicative. This is the approaching elections, and intensified efforts of state officials to create a Single Local Church in Ukraine.

Thus, the statements made at the round table can be regarded, firstly, as an increase in pressure on the Church, and secondly, as a demonstration of the capabilities of special services to begin real persecution of the clergy and faithful of the UOC on charges of anti-state activities. Should you sing a Troparion to Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God –that's already a ready-made crime, now go and prove that you do not pray for the "aggressor state".

What do they want to get the UOC to do by such actions? First, to have a correct behavior during the elections – and this is not only agitation for the "right" candidates or the absence of agitation "for the wrong". This is also a certain position of the Church, if suddenly the results of the election provoke another "Maidan". Secondly, the Church must not interfere with the actions of the authorities to establish One Local Church. And here, quite possibly, it may entail opening churches of the Constantinople Patriarchate in Ukraine.

A few days ago Director of the Department for Religion and Nationalities of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine Andrey Yurash actually declared, that behind the absolutely non-canonical and openly hostile idea for the UOC of the opening of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Ukraine stand, in fact, the Ukrainian authorities. Yurash considers the matter resolved, but it is not so. Much will depend on the reaction of the hierarchy of the UOC to such provocation. Thus, in order to force the Ukrainian bishops not to firmly defend their position, it was necessary, as political experts say, to produce a "message", which was voiced by the colonels at the above-mentioned round table.

Well, it all seems quite in line with the Soviet experience of pressure on the Church by the commissioners for religious affairs from the Communist Party and the relevant bodies. But this experience also shows that it is not necessary to succumb to such pressure. The policy of conformism does not lead to weakening persecutions or their cessation. It remains only to prayerfully wish our priesthood wisdom and firmness of the spirit at this difficult time.

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