What awaits UOC believers in the Local Church?

Former parishioner of the UOC Petro Poroshenko prays at a service in the Holy Vladimir Cathedral of the UOC KP

One of the main tasks of the SLC founders is to attract as many UOC members as possible. We will look into what believers can expect there, what they can gain and lose.

The unexpected steps of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, who at the beginning of September in deed not in word, supported the initiative of Petro Poroshenko to create the Local Church from the two schismatic structures of the UOC KP and the UAOC, makes us think that this political project can really be implemented. On top of that, one of the main tasks of the SLC (Single Local Church) founders is to win over as many clergymen, parishes and believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as possible; after all, they are now at times more than all the schismatics put together. Local campaigners assure that with the emergence of their structure, the UOC parishioners will immediately rush, pushing each other up with their elbows, to confide themselves to the SLC. Although it is an obvious and absurd exaggeration, there are still sympathizers of autocephaly in the ranks of the UOC.

Let's try to find out in detail what they expect from the Local Church, what they can gain and lose there.

Among sympathizers of autocephaly, who enjoy today the omophorion of our Beatitude Onufriy, there is an opinion that the granting of Tomos will save our Church from many problems. For example, from the problem of an aggressive attitude on the part of society and the state.

Indeed, through the efforts of the media, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (with the prefix “MP” mandatory for these media) has long been turned into the “fifth column of the Kremlin”, the “propaganda machine of the Moscow Patriarchate”, the “accomplice of the aggressor”, etc. The priests and even the laity, at the suggestion of the media, are perceived solely as “agents in cassocks”, “FSB agents” and “KGB people”. Given this, moderate adherents of Tomos, who are in the bosom of the UOC, are sure that autocephaly is needed in order to save the long-suffering people of Ukraine and our Church from all these accusations. Say, we will agree to the Tomos and immediately cease to be "agents of the Kremlin’s hand”. Yet, is this true? Will they treat smoothly and benevolently in the “single local church” those who decided to shift to their side in the hope of avoiding accusations of unreliability or even possible persecution?

Now, the SLC political consultants talk a lot about the “unity” of all Orthodox (and this is addressed, first of all, to the UOC believers) in the new structure. But such a thesis is very doubtful. Recall that when in 2014 the conflict in the Donbass was just beginning, all Ukrainian TV channels went on the air with the logo of a “Single Country”. It’s a paradox, but at the same time journalists openly incited hatred towards a certain part of the population of the country, whose inhabitants, in their opinion, were not patriotic enough or had a “wrong” world view. It is no secret that such a paradoxical combination of “love hatred” did not yield any benefits to our power, right on the contrary. However, the displaced citizens from the conflict-ridden areas, who sincerely tried to become “their own” among the bearers of the title ideology, were perceived instead by local “patriots" as fringe elements being often harassed or even physically beaten.

Currently, similar technologies are being tested on other “wrong” citizens of Ukraine – the believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, who are voluntarily-forcedly invited to join “One Church”. But how will the bearers of the title ideology, dominant in the UOC KP and the UAOC, accept them? After all, it is representatives of these structures that are entrusted to form the backbone of the future Local Church.

Paradoxically, in Western Ukraine, the local (mostly Uniate) clerics and parishioners refer to the Kiev Patriarchate as “Muscovites”. And this is despite the demonstrative ultra-patriotic character of the UOC KP members. Although supporters of the Filaret structure are offended by this and desperately challenge the Greek Catholic patriotism, it does not change the essence – there is no unity on the basis of love for the Motherland in the midst of church patriots. But the only thing that the creators of the SLC are talking about as a unifying factor is precisely patriotism, balancing on the edge of nationalism. After all, none of the creators of this project offers anything else, except the slogan “Ukrainian Church to Ukraine”.

Paradoxically, in Western Ukraine, the local (mostly Uniate) clerics and parishioners refer to the Kiev Patriarchate are called “Muscovites”. And this is despite the demonstrative ultra-patriotic character of the UOC KP members.

It is clear that the Ukrainian language of divine services is waiting for the potential “defectors” from the UOC to the SLC, reforms to remove the “Moscal” saints from the holy calendar and religious processions under the national flags. One can accept these things, after all, for the sake of the cause. However, the main thing for a Christian is unity in Christ. But can it be achieved with those for whom “Glory to the nation!” and “Death to the enemies!” slogans quite harmoniously get along (or do not get along) with the need to praise God and the commandment of love for your enemies?

Will the UOC parishioners, in the event of their transition to the Local Church, cease to be “Muscovites” and the enemies whom current Filaret adherents wish to die?

Not a fact at all.

Authentic church patriots also ask themselves and our “twin” friends. They wonder how they should treat those “Muscovites” from the “Moscow Church” whom they offer to unite with. And most importantly – are the “patriots” themselves happy about such a unification?

A few days ago, one of the most authoritative western Ukrainian outlet Zakhid.Net published an “analytical” article in which its author asks the question: “Will the Local Church be able to embrace the clerical staff of the UOC MP and at the same time preserve internal unity?” After a short lead-in, he expands his question and specifies it in detail:

“Can the priesthood, which is well trained in the tradition of the Moscow-centered Orthodoxy, become an organic part of the Local Church? Where is the guarantee that after their transfer to the Local Church, these “priests” will not become its more or less hidden pro-Russian wing? To put it bluntly, will not the “migration” of the staff of the UOC MP turn for the Local Church in the expansion of the pro-Russian forces into the bosom of the Ukrainian autocephaly? Will the parishes, especially in the southern and eastern regions, give up the Church Slavonic (read Russian) language of worship? Will the local Moscow-centric mood change to Ukrainian-centric? Unfortunately, there are no consoling answers to all these questions.”

So what do we see? That the “priests” who are “brought up in the tradition of the Moscow-centric Orthodoxy” will be considered the “pro-Russian wing”, and they will be forced to undergo ideological testing and processing in order to “change their Moscow-centric sentiments to the Ukraine-centric ones”. Pay attention – not CHRIST-CENTRIC, but Moscow and Ukraine! That is, the author of the article considers the issue of autocephaly solely from a political standpoint, and the Orthodox Church for him is neither the Church nor the faith at all. Moreover, he argues that those who switch will simply be forced to quit the Church Slavonic language, and this failure, in his opinion, can serve as a serious marker of reliability.

But the most interesting thing: Zahid.Net outlet believes that the process of autocephalization will be most easily tolerated by hierarchs, while ordinary citizens will resist it for a long time: “The greatest flexibility (at least at first) should be expected from the hierarchs who will demonstrate loyalty to the new leadership and further adoption of the new rules of the game. But at the grassroots level, inertia can be very strong – especially in the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions.”

There is no doubt that the authors do not even realize that according to the Message of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs, it is the people of faith who are the guardian of Orthodoxy, the people of the Church, because its hierarchs have betrayed the Church many times. So, any decision requires the approval of the church people. The UOC hierarchs, by the way, mention about it when they explain the inopportuneness of autocephaly for Ukraine – the folk will simply reject it.

Well, the end of the article draws rather a repellant prospect for those who will choose to go to the “united local structure”: “If Ukrainian Orthodoxy is really ripe for autocephaly, the Local Church will have enough inner strength — both spiritual and organizational — ‘to digest’ the new-comers, integrating them as far as required in order to preserve internal unity.” True though, the author does not specify how exactly they are going to “digest” those who would join it, so that the latter would be sufficiently fermented to “integrate” the former for the sake of “internal unity”. Nor does he say what the output after such a digestive process should be. However, having historical precedents of similar “digestion”, it is easy to guess about the outcomes for the time being.

We remember: if during the times of the USSR your father was a priest or a White Guard member, then you could not occupy leading positions. Moreover, if your relatives were abroad, then you were an “enemy of the people.” So from the point of view of those who are asking for autocephaly today, the former “Moscow” priests and laity do not arouse any patriotic confidence. Therefore, to think that after the arrival of Tomos those UOC believers, who will accede to the SLC can be looked upon as equal, is at least naive. They will still remain the “fifth column” with the appropriate attitude. This is fraught with the fact that such renegades will have to constantly prove their loyalty both to the government and to those who consider themselves to be the “color of the nation”.

No less hopeless are the hopes of those Orthodox Christians who are trying to prove that the granting of the Tomos by the Phanar will save the Church in Ukraine from schism. After all, it is quite obvious – not everyone in the UOC will accept autocephaly. It can be assumed with a high degree of confidence that autocephalous project will be shunned in the east of the country and in the Crimea. As for the central Ukraine, it is naive to rely on a large number of its adherents. What does it mean? It means that the current split will not just vanish, but will deepen considerably. Those who will not accept the Tomos will be regarded as enemies of the people and the state. Moreover, the opponents of the Tomos will be persecuted much more seriously if at least part of the Church okeys it. Thus, the problems will not disappear – they will multiply instead.

In general, the desire to shield oneself from problems by all means has little to do with Christianity. Christ said that we, Christians, will be persecuted: "In the world you will be persecuted ... As I was persecuted, so you will be persecuted." There is nothing surprising or new in the case of new persecutions. However, to believe that the rejection of autocephaly provokes this persecution is not just nonsense but a lie. Because it'd be possible to speak similarly about the first Christians: that the unwillingness to practice pagan sacrifices provoked persecution. Christians do not provoke anything – they bear trials. Because they know that if instead of persecution they choose shame, they will get both shame and persecution.

The Church history knows a lot of situations in which Christians have been offered choices. A choice when it was not at all necessary to publicly renounce Christ, it was enough to make a very small, completely unnoticeable deal with his/her Christian conscience. We pray to those who made the only right choice – we know them as saints. Though, there were certainly those who made another choice. Their names are unknown.

One Ukrainian priest said: “I don’t want to make any judgments: whether the members of the SLC will be saved or not, but I know one thing: if I leave Orthodoxy and go to the SLC, I will undoubtedly perish.”

For our salvation, all we need is to be faithful to God and our Mother Church. Does a Christian need to look for something else?

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