Volyn: the second month "with OCU"
Church raiding in the Volyn region has got to the point where schismatics cut locks even from privately owned premises.
Attempts to create a picture of mass “transfers to the OCU” have been quite actively made in the western region of Ukraine since the “Council” held on December 15 in Kiev. Raider actions intensified significantly after January 6, when a cherished tomos was finally granted to the new church structure, and with the support of the local administrative resource, increased in the second decade of January.
At present, meetings of territorial communities are expected at a number of locations, which, according to the same scheme, are presented as parish meetings. Whatever the result – and it is almost always the same: scandals and confrontations down to fights – another tick on the list of "transfers" will be put, and the leadership of the Kiev Patriarchate in the region will report on another takeover, most likely, extremely doubtful.
On the old fronts
Heard around Ukraine and far beyond its borders, Volyn parishes, which fell victims of church raiders in 2014-2015, are now perceived as tranquil oases. It is now the turn of UOC communities of the villages of Ugrinov, Pechikhvosty of the Gorokhov district, Gribovitsa near Novovolynsk, to start asking their fellow brothers in other parishes how they are doing. In the above villages, whose communities suffered from raiders long enough, everything is surprisingly quiet, calm and peaceful.
The temples here have long been taken away, and the people who did not obey the invaders were simply left alone, and the initial mass euphoria from “our church!” has already calmed down. Not only did fellow villagers who succumbed to anti-church propaganda are gradually coming to their senses: well-established communities are strengthening and recovering their positions.
The Holy Intercession Community in Gribovitsa has long been praying in a new church in a private area. The Holy Cross Exaltation community of the UOC in Ugrinov follows the same path: it is preparing to start construction, but for now, like the Holy Presentation parish in Pechikhvosty, it is performing services in a room of a residential house adapted for religious needs.
If the wave of seizures of UOC temples in 2014 was somehow sluggishly realized in Volyn, compared to neighbouring Rovno and Ternopol, the events of 2018–2019, on the contrary, have been more active in the two Volyn eparchies. One gets the impression that in the previous raider campaign in the Rovno and Ternopol regions they grabbed everything they could, and now they are simply “picking up” random remains.
As for the Vladimir-Volynsky eparchy of the UOC, it has fewer "transfers" in its constituent areas than the Volyn eparchy. At the beginning of February, only two clergymen of the eparchy, rectors of churches in the villages of Griady and Topilishche of the Ivanichi district, officially agreed to move under the new church structure: here the decision of the parishioners to change jurisdiction was unanimous.
In several locations, a vote of territorial communities has already been held, but here the primates and activists of the UOC communities do not intend to transfer either to the OCU or the Kiev Patriarchate.
In the village of Myzovo of the Staraya Vyzhevka district, for the time being the only one in this district, a “meeting for the transfer” took place back in January. However, the priest refused to follow the “activists”. Moreover, after the announcement of the transfer of the community on February 10, supporters of the OCU blocked the church doors not to let the believers in there.
The rector of the church in the village of Ostrovye, Shatsk district, agreed to change jurisdiction before the “meeting for the transfer”. However, his entire community refused to follow the former pastor, officially confirming their decision at the parish meeting.
A comic situation developed in the village of Polozhevo of the same area. There was no UOC community here as such, services were performed in a private territory belonging to the abbot of the UOC monastery operating in a nearby village. Having declared the “transfer of the temple” to the OCU, supporters of the new church structure did not hesitate to trespass on private property and change the locks on the premises.
A similar precedent in the history of church raiding in Ukraine has not yet been recorded. To top it off, a few days later, the local “hierarch” of the OCU / UOC KP appointed two former monks of the monastery, outstaffed several months ago, to the parish in Polozhevo. Of course, it was joyfully presented as “the transfer to the OCU of two monks of the Moscow Patriarchate”.
In the village of Malyi Porsk of the Kovel district, the UOC clergy managed to defend the community, while the UOC church in the village of Radoshin and the cemetery church without a registered legal entity in the neighbouring village of Biten were seized. The raiders passed it off as a “dual transfer”.
Simultaneously with Radoshin, the parish of the neighbouring Volyn eparchy suffered from the raiders: on the same day, the only church in the Kamen-Kashirsky district was taken over. It is located in the village of Krymno, next to the village of Bronitsa, practically on the same territory. A lot of budget workers who reside here were easier to persuade "to sign up for the new Church". However, the UOC community was also quite numerous, so the standoff for the temple lasted long enough. After the raiders from the Kamen-Kashirsky Deanery of the UOC KP had grabbed the premises, the faithful went to pray in one of the rural houses.
It is expected that Polessye districts do not respond very actively to the activities launched under the aegis of the “transfer to the new Ukrainian Church”. The wave of seizures was expected to spread widely in the Lutsk region, in the villages adjacent to the regional center. In the 90s, during the formation of the material base of the Kiev Patriarchate, many churches were taken over here.
Now the temples built in exchange for the seized ones are not touched yet: in these villages, there are already active parishes of the UOC KP, people have long been divided by belief. And in general, the “meeting of the territorial community” is very difficult to pass off as a “parish meeting” if in the village the opponents of the UOC already have their own church.
The only notable exception was the district relating to the Krasnovolya village council. Here, in January, at the request of the head of the village council, temples were successively seized in the village of Krasnovolya, Nichegovka, Telchi. The fourth parish in the village of Mateyki managed to hold its meeting to suspend the attack.
The Krasnovolya parish was the first on the raider list. In the media, the time of the seizure of the temple was presented as “singing a hymn and carols,” although, according to the UOC community, this option was launched at the time of video recording for TSN. And before that, from the steps of the church, quite a prosaic name-calling and demands to give the keys sounded from the supporters of the OCU who had surrounded it.
In Nichegovka, a crowd of activists led by representatives of the UOC KP did not allow the priest to go to the temple for several hours, terrorizing him and his parishioners, and eventually knocked out the keys from him.
In Telchi, OCU activists simply cut locks in the presence of the police.
Despite the tendency of the media to present the lawlessness as “the transfer of the UOC parish to the OCU”, all these communities have been preserved, the congregation is now gathering for prayer in the residential premises.
Also, attempts to hold a meeting of the territorial community under the guise of a “parish meeting” were made in the villages of Serkhov, Gorodok, and Godomichi. However, rather numerous communities of the UOC have survived in these villages and, temporarily denied access to their temples, are now looking for premises for worship.
A raider process has begun in three villages of the Lokachi district, and, according to unverified data, the pro-transfer activists “decided” here for all three parishes at the same meeting.
A new wave of raiding in the Lutsk and Kivertsi districts affected parishes of the UOC in Korshev, where the rector, after much reflection, nevertheless, went to the OCU, in Sadov, Berestianoye, Radomyshl. The invaders have already declared “theirs” temples in Ozeriany, Luchitsy, and Shepel. One of the “meeting for transfer” in the above villages ended up with the rector hospitalized.
The raiders are most active in the southern district of the Volyn region, neighbouring Lvov. At the moment, the raider process is started in the villages of Dolgov, Brany, Zhuravniki, Kutrov, Skobelka, Peski, Buzhany, Kvasov, Seltse, Dikoviny of the Gorokhov district.
Already seized is the cathedral in the town of Berestechko. In addition, three priests in the parishes of the UOC have defected and changed jurisdiction: rectors of the UOC temples in the villages of Merva, Novostav, and Galichany fell in schism.
The clergymen’s transfers occur mainly where their decision is unanimously supported by the entire parish: the rectors simply have nowhere to go. However, the reasons for opting for the Constantinople church project may be more complicated: for example, the opportunity to legally enter into a second marriage, which Phanariots, apparently, not by chance initiated simultaneously with the autocephalous movement.
The village of Boriskovichi, which is important, also went to the OCU along with the rector, but for some reason it was not under the wing of the most authoritative regional leader of the UOC KP Mikhail Zinkevich but to the former archimandrite of the UOC Gabriel Krizina, who moved to the UAOC and was ordained "bishop" with the title "of Rovno and Volyn".
At the beginning of February, the UOC KP “monastery”, operating in the territory of the Zhidychin united territorial community, spoke out. These are the villages of Zhidychin, Kulchin, Ozertso, Klepachev of the Kivertsy district, in fact, also neighboring Lutsk. In all localities, there are parishes of the UOC. At the initiative of the “brethren” of the Kiev Patriarchate monastery, “artillery preparation” has already been undertaken here in the form of an information attack on people and clergymen of the parishes.
In general, this was to be expected: in the 90s, the situation in Zhidychin was quite complicated: the current cleric of the local church, at that time a child of pre-school age, was taken from the church, apparently, by UOC-KP activists, who thus tried to influence his father. The attempt of the small-scale kidnapping did not last long: the kid was returned to the priest, who still acts as the rector of the local temple. This time the family of priests was again remembered: the son was shown the decree of “Vladyka” Mikhail, according to which he had been already enrolled in the Kivertsy Deanery of the UOC KP as the head of his father’s church.
Where UOC communities are transferred
The raider actions of the UOC KP (in fact, hiding under the title of the OCU) in Volyn have increased in those locations where they manage to win over the representatives of the local government – chairmen of village councils or headmen. Moreover, in some cases, "leaders of territorial communities" themselves cut locks on seized temples. It is also not difficult to “persuade” the population to opt “for the new Ukrainian Church” if these people are state employees and are afraid of losing their jobs. Despite the frantic propaganda, without the assistance of village councils or local businesses, it would be extremely difficult for church raiders to persuade people to rebel against the priests whom they have known all their lives.
However, the new "Kiev Metropolis" under the leadership of Epiphany Dumenko is already registered. But this happened only at the end of January and does not yet include forming a network of "eparchies" and "deaneries": it is time-consuming systematic work. But where did the raiders transfer the grabbed parishes?
Couldn’t UOC communities have been transferred to the UOC KP, which was declared “self-disbanding”, but has not been liquidated yet and hardly be liquidated in the future? This is a rather significant structure with its assets and resources, which it has been reluctant to hand over to Constantinople. "Transitions" are organized only for the UOC communities.
So, where are seized parishes transferred? Yes, of course, under all the shouting – to the Kiev Patriarchate.
The question remains: why is raider work so intensive in the domain of “Vladyka” Mikhail Zinkevich – the Volyn eparchy of the UOC KP? After all, Vladimir-Volynsky eparchy, which has arisen quite recently as a result of the separation and was assigned to his former vicar, “Vladyka” Matthew, is absolutely identical to Volyn in people's mindsets. However, the transfers in this area are rare. In general, they are not illegal by nature, and in two cases the rectors also transferred to the OCU, along with the communities.
Perhaps, Mikhail Zinkevich is hurrying somewhere, being, as it can be supposed, not very confident in his positions in the future OCU? The scandal at the “Unification Council” and the non-admission of “the metropolitan of Lutsk and Volyn” to the Synod of the OCU could account for the speed with which seizures are conducted in his districts.
Why are the first hierarchs silent?
The precarious position of the OCU in the Orthodox world, the rejection by other churches of the Ukrainian project of Constantinople is one of the few factors that still hold back people who really want to leave the UOC and its connection with the Moscow Patriarchate. Many parishes in the western Ukrainian province are in fact not against changing jurisdiction and at the same time maintaining the status of a true, not schismatic, Orthodox Church. As a result, as of mid-February, quite a few communities, having actually made a decision, are still waiting and openly delaying.
Their superiors remain “suspended”. If in the 1990s, it was obvious to everyone where there was the defense of the Church and ties with Orthodoxy and where there was an open schism, then after the intervention of the Phanariots in the Ukrainian question, it would be possible to appeal to the first hierarchs of other patriarchates and Local Churches openly condemning the incident. However, many of them, as it becomes clear, do not rush to oppose the raiding of the highest level.
As a conclusion, we would like to cite the rector of one of the Volyn churches, which are still under the UOC. However, his community has almost decided everything; and so far, only the authority of the aged priest stops the open seizure.
"Have I transferred? No, not yet, and not going to. Maybe, I’ll resign. I do not know anything yet. And tell me what I should do? The whole community is almost unanimously ‘for’. What should we do here, where should I go? When in 1992 we, priests, stood in the district center in front of the temple, covering the dean from a hail of stones from the schismatics, we knew what we were doing. We were then only four, but we withstood. Now I cannot withstand anymore. And what should we defend now? Why are the first hierarchs silent?”