President and Church: first conclusions
How Vladimir Zelensky has proved himself in church matters in the first month of his presidency.
A month ago, on May 20, 2019, the inauguration of the new President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky took place. It is too early to talk about the results of his rule because, in fact, he has not yet managed to do anything. But it can be said that during these 30 days some trends have emerged, which, quite possibly, will be further developed. Of course, we are primarily interested in the religious sphere. So what has changed in this regard over the past month?
“Treat the Church the same way as all”
We should emphasize that Zelensky himself has repeatedly stated that his religious beliefs do not correlate with loyalty to any religious organization. Even before his election, he stressed that he would not like to participate in worship services with the broadcast on all television channels.
In addition, Vladimir Alexandrovich believes that religion belongs to the category of those things that cannot be discussed because this is a personal matter of everyone: “There are things that we never discuss at the table of our family. My father taught me so. I never discuss them with anyone. Questions of religion are number one. We never discuss things that split families and society. I never do that. But I believe in God.”
At the same time, Zelensky did not plan to violate the traditions and, if elected, promised to take an oath on the Gospel. He kept his promise and during the inauguration, the President took the oath of allegiance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, holding his hand on the Gospel.
“We never discuss things that split families and society. I never do that. But I believe in God.”
President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky
In principle, the believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church expected this from the new President – non-interference in the affairs of the Church. In other words, the believers of our Church have wanted the President to provide us with the right guaranteed by the Constitution to pray and serve God in accordance with our religious beliefs.
The head of the UOC, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, said immediately after the inauguration: “We want the President to treat us, our Church, the same way as all… So that we will be equal before the law so that there won’t be friends and foes”. And in principle, for the time being, we cannot make a complaint to the new President that he treats someone better and someone worse.
Congratulations which could not have been made
On the other hand, there are some not quite pleasant moments. For example, Vladimir Zelensky congratulated Patriarch Bartholomeus on his patron’s day. In greetings, the head of the Ukrainian state expressed hope for “further constructive cooperation” with the patriarch. And all would be ok if not for one “but”.
A few days earlier, another patriarch, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill celebrated his name day. Agree, it would be more correct on the part of the President to congratulate the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Not only because the Russian Orthodox Church is more closely connected with Ukraine and its history than the Constantinople. And not only because the congregation of Patriarch Kirill in Ukraine many times exceeds the congregation of Patriarch Bartholomew. By and large, congratulating both patriarchs, Zelensky could have demonstrated his equal attitude to the Churches. But he did not do that confirming the thesis that to promise and fulfill it are different things.
Certainly, it can be assumed that the President sent a greeting letter "under pressure of circumstances". You can also say that having congratulated Patriarch Kirill, Zelensky risked running into the harshest criticism from the nationalist forces. And, most likely, it would be so. However, in this connection, the question arises: Where is the guarantee that under the pressure of these same forces Zelensky will not do the same to the Church like Petro Poroshenko?
Certain alarming signals that this may happen are already coming. Thus, the new President practically completely borrowed Poroshenko’s rhetoric in relation to Russia, the Donbass and the Crimea, the rhetoric which many experts and analysts, both in Ukraine and abroad, called the “rhetoric of war”.
It turned out later that Poroshenko and Zelensky had the same speechwriters. It is not difficult to guess what this means for the Church. After all, pursuing such an aggressive policy sooner or later the President will return to the search for enemies within Ukraine. And it won’t take long as in the previous five years of the presidency such an enemy has already been named (with the help of the media and opponents of the Church) – it’s the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Will Vladimir Zelensky be able to resist this? Will he be able to soberly and honestly look at the situation and say his harsh “no” to any attempts to draw him into the war against the Church of Christ? We'll see.
Will the “Servant of the people” go against the people?
By the way, the image of the enemy from the UOC was created not without the help of the general director of the 1 + 1 TV channel, Alexander Tkachenko, who is now on the list of the “Servant of the People” party.
On the same list, under number 27, you can find another name, familiar to almost every Orthodox Christian in Ukraine, – Yurash. Yes, the son of the head of the Department for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Culture Andrei Yurash can also go to the parliament and represent the interests of the party there.
It is clear that it is very difficult to expect from these people a normal, neutral and lawful attitude towards the canonical Church. That is why their candidatures have got the most dislikes on the party website so far. Will the President listen to the voice of the people and do as he promised – exclude everyone who the people will vote against? Again, we'll see.
It turned out later that Poroshenko and Zelensky had the same speechwriters.
Will the President listen to numerous appeals from representatives of Orthodox communities who suffer from the illegal and unlawful actions of the Ukrainian schismatics? Recently, at least half a dozen communities have recorded video messages to the President with a request to protect their constitutional rights as citizens of Ukraine. So far, the President has not given any response to these requests.
Since the beginning of the presidency of the new head of state, the degree of religious tension in society has significantly decreased. The number of seizures of Orthodox churches without the support of both the central government and local authorities has almost disappeared. The head of the OCU Epiphany Dumenko testifies that in May 2019 only one community joined the OCU. For the beginning of June, the situation hardly changed.
Of course, there is no direct merit of President Zelensky in this. But the mere fact that he does not support raiders, does not make them understand that they are doing everything right, is definitely a positive phenomenon.
Likewise, Zelensky’s non-interference in what is happening today to the OCU can be viewed positively. Against the background of all the statements of the head of the UOC KP Filaret Denisenko and the head of the OCU Epiphany Dumenko, against the background of the struggle for power within the new religious structure, the emphasized neutrality of the President looks very competent.
In principle, in any normal state believers themselves resolve their own religious questions and problems. But if you remember how much effort and money the previous Ukrainian authorities spent on creating a new church organization in the country, then Zelensky’s distancing in this situation looks like a very bold decision.
On the other hand, what is happening in the OCU once again clearly shows that the Ukrainian schism like other similar schisms (Bulgarian or Macedonian) exists only at the expense of the state. And in order for the schismatics to no longer exist, nothing needs to be done, especially by the state.
The mere fact that he does not support raiders, does not make them understand that they are doing everything right, is definitely a positive phenomenon.
So, let's summarize. Over the past month of his presidency, Zelensky fully justifies the reputation of a man who does not intend to interfere in the affairs of the Church. During this time, the number of seizures of Orthodox churches has significantly reduced, and in some places they stopped altogether.
However, so far the President has not responded in any way to the numerous appeals to protect the rights and freedoms, which the UOC communities addressed him. At the same time, Zelensky, except for his congratulations to Bartholomew, has shown nothing of his sympathies regarding the OCU. Moreover, he completely distanced himself from what is happening inside this religious structure.
Quite anxious notes are noticeable in Zelensky’s public speeches – notes that may eventually grow into regular accusations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
In addition, there are several people on the lists of the presidential party who are very hostile towards the UOC and who are voted against by the people. And the President can do with them as promised – exclude from possible candidates to the Verkhovna Rada.
In general, we can say one thing – we still have nothing to blame the President for. God grant it will be so in the future. And there is a reason to believe so because Vladimir Zelensky is certainly aware: the UOC faithful are mostly people who supported him in the elections and who will back him in the future. And the only gratitude they rely on is that he does not touch the Church.