Seizures of temples. How it was: Kolosovaya

After the seizure of the temple, the fighters of the Right Sector arranged a photo session

The Kiev Patriarchate and the raiders caused a deep schism in the Ternopol village, but they could not crush the community of the canonical Church.

The community of St. John the Theologian of the UOC in the village of Kolosovaya, Ternopol region, was one of the first victims of a new wave of church raiding in the vicinity of the Holy Assumption Pochaev Lavra. Both main raider schemes were employed at that – the administrative, implemented with the help of regional authorities, and the regular illegal seizure.

All this happened against the backdrop of the real split of the village – not only in the church plane but the more profound one dividing the community into two parts. It seemed impossible to reconcile it all at the beginning of the conflict.

"Referendum" and radicals

In April 2015, an “initiative group” appeared in the village, the core of which was composed of several people from the local Orthodox community of the UOC and a couple of visiting residents who had never been particularly interested in church-related matters. Leadership in the "patriotic asset" went to a certain Viktor Kotik, who personally paid visit to every house of the village, collecting signatures for the "referendum" on the church jurisdiction of the local community. True though, when voicing to parishioners an idea of the “transition” of the local church to the Kiev Patriarchate, “active parishioners” would get confused as to who is the patron saint of the parish, mentioning for some reason John the Baptist. There were still many reasons for surprise ahead.

This bizarre activity attracted the attention of local believers. In the end, a detour with a notebook for signatures ended up with the breakout of a conflict between an activist and a priest of the UOC from the neighboring parish, who lives in Kolosovaya. The woman said publicly she had been brutally beaten. And although nothing came out with verification of the battery-induced injuries, namely the “beating incident” became one of the key triggers for a rally of the rural community on 26 April 2015.

Supporters of the UOC KP confused the name of the heavenly patron of the temple, which they wanted to take away from the community of the canonical Church.

On this day, the Orthodox celebrated the holiday of myrrh-bearing women. However, the belated festive atmosphere was already poisoned by fear and bad anticipation of provocations: for some reason, members of the Right Sector arrived for some reason at the rally of the village, whose appearance was not welcomed at all by Kolosovaya residents. The unwanted guests turned out to have come “to back up the supporters” of the Kiev Patriarchate, who had claimed that the temple had to be withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the UOC.

What was happening at that moment in the village was most like a kind of phantasmagoric show. The territory of a rural chapel, framed by thugs in masks, near which clergymen of the UOC and a local community with banners were crowded, turned into a real arena. A circle of singers stood out from the crowd, responding with church chants to “patriotic” exclamations. After a while, a few supporters of the transition to schismatics also began singing – though in a demonstrative way. People shouted to each other, tried to convince the rector of the church to pass to the Kiev Patriarchate. This incident wasn't formalized as a protocol form: the relevant document was issued by officials a little later.

Invaluable help from the authorities

In the falsified protocol, the village rally was called a “meeting of the UOC church community in the village of Kolosovaya”, which allegedly decided to change its jurisdiction in favor of the Kiev Patriarchate. Later this protocol would be canceled by the court decision, but representatives of the regional authorities, acting in tandem with the raiders, took it into service and set it in motion.

The temple in Kolosovaya is not a monument of architecture; the believers built it themselves in 1990. For this property, the community of the UOC registered the right of ownership. Raiders from the UOC KP did not bother much with establishsing their own community and simply rewrote the statute, legal registration and, accordingly, property rights.

Later, in the process of judicial battles, there was an argument that, according to the law, churches which are built before 1991 (the Kolosovaya temple was built in the period from January to autumn 1990) could not be privatized. In this case, the owners of the temple could only enjoy the old status – the right to use the building. Why the UOC KP community, which arose after the destruction of the UOC community, put forward its claims to the church, is extremely difficult to understand.

The re-registration of the legal entity – a religious community – took place at the end of August 2015. Before that, the UOC believers filed an appeal to the authorities, asking them to just leave their small parish alone. However, at that time everything had been already decided: by the order of the chairman of Ternopol Regional State Administration Stepan Barna, the religious community in Kolosova was converted into the parish of the Kiev Patriarchate.

At the beginning of September 2015, the frustrated UOC community gathered in the RSA building to secure acceptance and revision of the order. Igor Kulchitsky, an official of the Department of Cultural Affairs, Religions and Nationalities, came out to them. He told believers that there was only one way for them – to court.

Court Battles

With the order on re-register at the tilt, representatives of the Kiev Patriarchate showed up in Kolosovaya on the following Sunday. Crowds arose near the church, however, the negotiators should be given their due: on that day it was decided and publicly stated that while the order was being disputed in court, the UOC community would remain in its temple, and supporters of the Kiev Patriarchate would gather for worship in a private house.

The delay of several months was relatively peaceful. As the UOC believers recall, the head of the Kiev Patriarchate community even started up revelations, telling that he had become an active believer “for money.” In the first instance, the UOC community won the courts upon their claims. However, on 2 June 2016, there was a final and irrevocable split of the village: the Lvov Administrative Court of Appeal recognized Barna’s decree lawful, and a similar decision was made in Ternopol. This meant that the order of the RSA head entered into force, thus the UOC community no longer existed as a legal entity in the village.

The schismatics did not wait for cassation.

The illegal entry into the church building took place on June 10 with the support of the Right Sector fighters. About 50 men in camouflage uniforms and balaclava surrounded the church in the morning, not allowing local parishioners to enter. Subsequently, they were joined by other supporters of the Kiev Patriarchate, among whom there were no more than 20 residents of Kolosovaya.

Fighters of the Right Sector during the seizure of the temple in Kolosovaya

The already mentioned elder of the UOC KP community, Viktor Kotik, still managed to make history: he attacked one of the UOC parishioners Yakov Ramsky and beat him, after which the parishioner was taken to an intensive care unit.

Outraged believers filed a cassation appeal and were heard. On 23 November 2016, the Supreme Specialized Court of Ukraine for the consideration of civil and criminal cases overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal of Ternopol region, and returned all claims to the first instance for reconsideration.

A new life with a new temple

The UOC community realized well that the authorities and raiders would go to the end, and, most likely, the true owners would never go to the temple. Immediately after the seizure, the ravaged community, devoid of both status and property, began to gather for worship in a private old house, in the territory of which people planned to build a new temple from scratch. Having prepared all the necessary documents for the construction, they got down gradually to erect their future temple.

The foundation was laid in the spring of 2017, exactly three years after the beginning of the split in the village. In fact, this decision unleashed an actively fomented conflict, but since the incident the parties have been no longer communicating as before. In their turn, the UOC parishioners simply took up their new business, moving away from the once-shared property. The Kiev Metropolitanate, brethren of the Pochaev Lavra, and local patrons provided significant assistance for that end.

It took just a tear to finish the construction works. For several months the community was engaged in the interior design. On 2 October 2018, Metropolitan Sergiy (Gensitsky) of Ternopol and Kremenets consecrated the throne of the new church. The parish decided to consecrate the church like the lost one, in honor of John the Theologian.

Thus, within a year, working practically with their hands, the parishioners of the canonical Church were able to erect a new church, which finally resolved the interfaith conflict in the village.

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