Why Patriarch Kirill does not give autocephaly to UOC

Metropolitan Onuphry and Patriarch Kirill understand why Ukraine is raising the issue of autocephaly. Photo: UOJ

Do the priests and laity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church need autocephaly?

Sometimes one can hear such a question: why cannot Patriarch Kirill of Moscow grant a legitimate autocephaly to the UOC? Say, it would instantly solve all church problems in Ukraine: schismatic groups would repent and enter the canonical Church, Orthodox would reconcile among themselves, seizures of temples would cease, believers would no longer be reproached for belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, people would come to confession and communion in any temple without the risk of “running into” graceless and disguised deceivers in robes.

How true can such theses be? For many reasons, similar views on the problem of autocephaly in Ukraine seem erroneous.

To begin with, let us give the simplest, most obvious answer to the question asked: “Why doesn’t Patriarch Kirill grant the UOC autocephaly?” Answer: he doesn’t do it because the UOC does not ask for it.

The Church in Ukraine does not ask the Moscow Patriarch for autocephaly because today there is no significant movement for autocephaly within the UOC. Those, who wanted to separate, have already moved to the OCU. Two bishops, several dozen priests and approximately 30 parishes voluntarily transferred to the new church structure – that’s the whole autocephalous wing that was once part of the UOC. All the other monks, priests, and laity of the UOC are satisfied with the status of the self-governed Church with the rights of broad autonomy.

Moreover, church people do not bother about this issue at all. As a teacher and catechist, I often have to talk about faith with very different audiences. And I have never heard a question from our people: when will we finally get autocephaly? Believers are occupied by completely different things: spiritual life, Holy Scripture, patristic works, theology. The topics of church policy are of little interest to them.

Today, the OCU supporters like to point out to the Council of the UOC on November 1-3, 1991, whose delegates signed an appeal to the Patriarch of Moscow to grant autocephaly to the UOC. Say, look: the UOC wanted autocephaly. Even His Beatitude Onuphry (the current Metropolitan of Kiev) put his signature! But our opponents are silent about many details concerning both this Council and what eventuated it. They also keep silent about why the current Primate of the UOC disavowed his signature right after the 1991 Sobor .

Why doesn’t Patriarch Kirill grant autocephaly to the UOC? Because the UOC does not ask His Holiness for it.

First of all, there is a lot of evidence that Metropolitan Filaret pushed the decisions of the Council. It is indicative that what happened in Kiev alarmed most of the clergy and laity in Ukraine, and telegrams from various eparchies of the UOC were sent to the Moscow Patriarchate with a request to remain under the Moscow jurisdiction.

On January 22, 1992, a bishop meeting of the UOC was held in Kiev at which, at the insistence of the same Filaret and under pressure from the authorities, they approved an ultimatum to the Patriarch and the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church for granting autocephaly to the UOC. At the meeting, bishops Onuphry (Berezovsky) of Chernovtsy, Sergiy (Gensitsky) of Ternopol, Alipiy (Pogrebniak) of Donetsk refused to put their signatures under the petition.

The day after the meeting, the Synod of the UOC removed all of them from their sees, which caused outrage among the believers. The flock did not let the bishops leave their eparchies. Bishops Onuphry and Sergiy sent messages to His Holiness Patriarch Alexy, in which they declared disavowal of their signatures under the decision of the UOC Council, held on November 1-3, 1991, as well as their signatures under the petition of the episcopate of the Ukrainian Church on granting autocephaly.

At the Bishops' Council, which was held from March 31 to April 4, 1992, the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian bishops spoke against granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. The discussion, held in the environment that excluded the pressure of the Ukrainian authorities, showed that there was no unanimous opinion on the issue of autocephaly among the Ukrainian hierarchs (there were 21 bishops in the UOC then, 20 of them participated in the Council, and 18 bishops had the decisive vote). Most of the bishops of the Ukrainian eparchies disavowed their signatures under the petition on bestowing autocephaly.

That is the history of the Council.

From the beginning of the 90s up to this day, the shared position of the clergy and laity of the UOC has not changed. One would rather say that it has become even more consistent and unambiguous with regard to autocephaly – a firm NO. Here you need to say “thank you” to Filaret, who with his immoral and anti-canonical actions cast a shadow on the very idea of ​​autocephaly. If it had not been for him, many believers would have viewed the dissociation of the Ukrainian Church from the Russian Church much more softly and tolerantly than today. But Filaret acted like an elephant in a china shop. He discredited the idea of ​​autocephaly seriously and for a long time.

However, the UOC believers do not want autocephaly only for one main reason: why? Why do we need autocephaly if we have everything for salvation? The Sacraments of the UOC are gracious and canonical; we pray and serve with the Local Churches of the entire Orthodox world. We have monks, priests, and many laypeople; we have seminaries and academies, monasteries, and temples. It is important for us to preserve a spiritual connection with the believers of Russia, Belarus, Moldova and many other countries within the spiritual space of the ROC.

One needs to say “thank you” to Filaret, who with his immoral and anti-canonical actions cast a shadow on the very idea of ​​autocephaly.

Therefore, even if someone from the hierarchs began to impose autocephaly on us, we would perceive it as betrayal.

Autocephaly would definitely be harmful to the UOC. It would isolate the UOC and we would be left alone with all those viruses roaming in Ukraine’s ecclesiastic environment: nationalism, missionary passivity, love for money, lack of education. It is like closing all the windows in an apartment and enjoying independence from clean air. As a result, we would suffocate from our internal diseases.

Our communion with the Russian Church gives at least some kind of spiritual ventilation. We get mutually enriched owing to our church-based brotherhood – Ukraine and Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, Ukraine and Moldova ... They give us something, we give them back. It's just like the river flows into the sea and thus, continues to live. If you block it, there will be trouble. The same principle applies to us.

* * *

The above was said about the UOC believers – why we are not interested in autocephaly. But what about the people who were and remain outside the Church only because they don’t like Moscow, Russia, Patriarch Kirill, and so on? Wouldn't independence from the Russian Orthodox Church be conducive to their churching?

No, it wouldn’t. If in matters of salvation a person is driven by ideological motives, then the solution of these issues will be precisely the solution of ideological issues, but not spiritual ones. Even if such a person turns out to be in the canonical Church with the stroke of someone's pen, he or she will live in it with the same mindset. In the eyes of the Ukrainian nationalist, for example, the most important thing will be Ukraine, for the Russian – Russia, for the Romanian – Romania, etc. Autocephaly will not change his gut, so in the autocephalous Church he will remain more a nationalist than a Christian.

Those residents of Ukraine, who sincerely desire the salvation of the soul, love Christ and try to lead a spiritual life, found all this in the UOC long ago. Those who still want to attach the Church to the ideology of Ukraine, see in the Church only a servant of this ideology. They view the Church as a must-have detail in the construction called “new Ukraine” and are unlikely to be able to search for God in it.

* * *

If you approach the church problem of Ukraine from this perspective, you need to recognize that the current church division is, on the one hand, a tragic phenomenon, but on the other – a good one. Tragic – because we are separated spiritually, and spiritual separation provokes conflicts at all other levels. Good – because it gives everyone the opportunity to be where they want to.

If the most important thing for a person is a given ideological system and he knows no such dimensions as, for example, the opinion of the Local Churches or the ancient canons; if the struggle for political independence replaces his spiritual life, then he simply does not need to stay in the Church. He will be able with the same success to keep himself busy in the OCU or the UOC KP.

It happened exactly so that all those people who were obsessed with ideological topics joined the OCU. That's great! Do, gentlemen, what you are interested in – but inside the OCU’s box. And we will be engaged in what is interesting to us – in our own UOC. Just leave us alone, please, do not seize our temples. After all, if you do this, you show that you are simply non-Christians.

Besides, we hardly need to unite. Such a ecclesiastic cohesion will not do any good. One cannot blend  the incompatible. It is unlikely to unite those who threw old women from temples and inflicted physical and moral injuries on them. It is highly unlikely to put His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry on a par with “patriarch” Filaret. It is unlikely that those who have taken temples from us will be able to become one-minded and unanimous with us. It is impossible to bring those who scream in the temple "Glory to Ukraine" together with those who sing "Lord, have mercy on us"…

They have different goals and a different faith. Yes, a different one. We believe, according to the Symbol of Faith, not only in God, but also in "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." Not in a fundamentally “Ukrainian” Church and not in a fundamentally “Russian” – but in “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. The Church is also a matter of faith and it is necessary to believe in it correctly. And if they begin to tell us that the Church in which we used to be is wrong only because it is not “Ukrainian,” this argument does not work for us. This is obviously a false approach.

If the most important thing for a person is a given ideological system and he knows no such dimensions as, for example, the opinion of the Local Churches or the ancient canons; if the struggle for political independence replaces his spiritual life, then he simply does not need to stay in the Church.

Therefore, it is better for everyone to be where his demands are met – whether they are ideological or spiritual. For this end, God also let the creation of the OCU and the UOC KP alongside the UOC.

This explains why the Bible gives the motive not only of association, but also of separation. Recall the parable of the sheep and goats (Matt. 25, 31-46). “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law ” (Matt. 10: 34-35), Christ also says. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division” (Luke 12:51), He proclaims elsewhere. “Go out from among them and separate yourself, says the Lord” (2 Cor. 6, 17), recalls the apostle Paul. The Scripture also says, “If he does not listen to the Church, let him be to you like a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17).

And those champions of Christian love, who advise UOC believers from Russia to unite with everyone (there are such, and there are quite a lot of them), you just have to go to Ukraine and witness the next raider seizure of the UOC temple. To look into the eyes of people who beat old women, expel the priests from the temple, shout out nationalist chants in the church, cut off locks on the temple doors with a grinder. Come and see who you offer us to unite with and whether it is worth doing altogether.

Now, at least in Ukraine, it is clear who is who: who is the victim and who is the aggressor; who is praying and who is raging. And if to mix it all into one religious melting pot, there will be chaos. Such an explosive mix will be hardly pleasing to the Lord.

* * *

Both the Church and the people should grow mature for autocephaly. There must be at least some solidarity on this issue. As long as there is no unity in the Church and in the country on the subject of autocephaly, nothing can be done in this respect artificially. The experience of the afflicted UOC against the backdrop of the created OCU has revealed the truth of these theses.

Patriarch Kirill understands this; His Beatitude Onuphry understands it even better. Believers of the UOC also understand it or feel it. Therefore, we do not ask Moscow for autocephaly (after all, only this autocephaly would be legal), and the Patriarch does not raise this question.

Stand clear of us with the issue of autocephaly, gentlemen. Leave us alone. Let us quietly pray in our temples. Create for yourself whatever you want: OCU, holy church – anything, but leave us alone. Let everyone pray where he wants. Only then will Ukraine enjoy at least some church peace, albeit external, fragile – but peace. The peace, which the people of Ukraine are longing for so much today.

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