The Ark and the “Titanic”: why politicians and schismatics can’t sink UOC
What happens to the leaders and structures that yesterday seemed unsinkable and wanted to destroy the Church.
When five years ago His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry became the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, it seemed that there could not be a worse time for the UOC: the authoritative and respected Metropolitan Vladimir passed into eternity, the country was shaken by revolutionary movements, and hatred for the Church grew every day. Against this background, the schismatics of all stripes, with the support of the new government and radicals, gained unprecedented strength, presented to the Ukrainian common man as a “national, their own, patriotic Church”.
In fact, politicians used the UOC KP as a consolidating factor for the people and a moral lightning rod for the authorities. “Patriarch” Filaret Denisenko “sanctified” and “blessed” any actions of yesterday’s professional revolutionaries and protesters who came to power, his name appeared on television screens as often as the name of the President, and he himself was called the “spiritual leader” of the Ukrainian nation.
Moreover, an incomprehensible to many of our fellow citizens Tomos, which was supposed to destroy the canonical Church of Ukraine once and forever, loomed like a ghost on the horizon all the time. Even among those who explicitly identified themselves with canonical Orthodoxy, one could hear that the Phanar’s recognition of the UOC KP would eventually lead to the creation of the Single Local Church of Ukraine, which would abolish de facto all other Churches, including the UOC.
Various experts predicted that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church would be only in the form of a marginal structure or division of the Moscow Patriarchate if it remains in the territory of the country.
Even among those who explicitly identified themselves with canonical Orthodoxy, one could hear that the Phanar’s recognition of the UOC KP would eventually lead to the creation of the Single Local Church of Ukraine, which would abolish de facto all other Churches, including the UOC.
On the other hand, in the conditions of hostilities in the east of the country, the position of the UOC — clear and unchanging — caused not only bewilderment but also indignation from a certain part of the population. “Why can’t the Church speak out on this issue as they do?” people wondered. “Why didn’t the Church want to be with its people and take its side?” others asked.
These and other questions sounded too often, and the lack of an intelligible (as it seemed) answer led to the fact that some priests and laity left the Church. All the explanations of the official representatives of the UOC that it is the Church which stays with its people, that She has always sided with the people, not with politicians or those who have speculated on the war, at best, remained unheard, and at worst – only caused greater rejection of the church.
Then they said that nobody and nothing could save the UOC, and only a crisis manager can save it from complete collapse and disappearance. But God has other plans and other methods for solving problems ...
When the “Titanic” was first launched, the engineer who built it said that God himself would not be able to sink the ship. A few days later the "Titanic" sank ...
A year ago, the same thing could have been thought of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate. It looked like a religious "Titanic".
This “Church” was headed by the almost hundred-year-old “elder” Filaret Denisenko, who, despite his age, could (and still can, by the way) stand long services, “consecrate” temples, participate in “religious processions” and state events. He is a fanatical supporter of the idea of “church independence” from both Moscow and Istanbul, a man who put his whole life in the creation of his and only his “Church”. And he achieved a lot, because the UOC KP consisted of four dozen “bishops”, several thousand temples and hundreds of thousands of believers.
Add to this the unprecedented support for the UOC KP from the state authorities — and you will get an analogue of the Titanic, which, as it seemed, cannot sink ... But it sank, and at the hands of those who built it.
A year ago, no one would have believed that Filaret would refuse the patriarchal koukoulion, sign the dissolution of the UOC KP and agree to run only the Kiev Eparchy in the status of a "metropolitan".
In the same way, a situation when the ones for whom he was the greatest authority would badmouth the “elder” would look completely unthinkable. But all this happened without the influence of any external forces.
All is simple – the pride of Filaret Denisenko and his closest associates became an iceberg for the Ukrainian schismatics, which first ripped the board of the ship called the UOC KP and then sank it.
All power comes from God, and the people have exactly the power they deserve. A ruler may be loyal to the Church or may be perceived as a test or temptation.
What was Petro Poroshenko? A big test. Moreover, at the very beginning of his reign one could think everything would be all right, that there would be no significant difficulties in the Church-state relations.
But the difficulties began almost immediately: the seizures of temples, the adoption of anti-church laws, the direct violation of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of belief, and interference in the affairs of the Church — all this happened.
What is interesting: Poroshenko had such information and propaganda opportunities that no president of Ukraine had had before him. And if we add to them the support of the security forces and the army, plus the almost successful European integration, one could get the impression that the second presidential term is only a matter of time. All those who called themselves patriots (and they are the majority in Ukraine) spoke in favour of Poroshenko, and his figure looked like the “Titanic” against the background of other politicians.
Was it possible to think that a Russian-speaking presidential candidate, having no experience in politics, would be able to compete with him? Of course not! But Zelensky not only made this very competition but also had the overwhelming victory by more than 50% of the vote. Well, wasn’t that an iceberg?
When in 2008 it became known that Patriarch Bartholomew was going to legalize Ukrainian schismatics, no one believed it. After all, the head of the Ecumenical Church cannot recognize the legitimacy of self-created religious groups, we thought.
However, it turned out that he can. True, this happened not in 2008 but much later – in 2018. And until the very end, we could not believe that this would happen.
Starting with the letter that the Verkhovna Rada sent to the Patriarch of Constantinople and up to the very moment of signing the document called “Tomos”, many Orthodox believers in Ukraine couldn’t shake off the feeling that everything that was happening was a dream, an illusion, a fantasy of imagination.
But unfortunately, sometimes the worst dreams are significantly inferior to reality – the patriarch recognized the Ukrainian schismatics and even concelebrated with them, thus placing himself outside the Church.
Under Poroshenko, difficulties began almost immediately: the seizures of temples, the adoption of anti-church laws, the direct violation of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of belief, and interference in the affairs of the Church.
The patriarch was told all the time that the people of Ukraine had longed for church independence from Moscow and sought the Tomos for more than a thousand years and was eager to overcome the schism of the Church by all means. It seemed that everything – power, strength, support of the government of Ukraine and “friendly states”, voices of people's deputies who were passed off as “the voice of the people” – was on the side of Patriarch Bartholomew ...
The document signed by the Patriarch of Constantinople became one of the key elements of the presidential race of Petro Poroshenko, who personally toured the cities and towns of our homeland with it, explaining to everyone its great importance for Ukrainian statehood.
In a word, the Tomos looked like the almost unsinkable “Titanic”, which guarantees Ukraine’s safe haven in the community of independent and sovereign states of Europe.
Both the initiators and the organizers of receiving the Tomos were one hundred percent sure that the paper signed by the Phanar would be a death sentence for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Bartholomew even wrote a letter to His Beatitude Onuphry, saying that after the bestowal of the "autocephaly" to the OCU, the latter could not be called the Primate of the UOC and perform the functions of the Kiev metropolitan.
Inside the Patriarchate of Constantinople, they confidently stated that the recognition of the newly created religious structure in Ukraine under the name was a matter of a month or two. The great authority of Patriarch Bartholomew among Orthodox primates, the interest of the powers that be in advancing the idea of Ukrainian “church independence” guaranteed a quick and painless reception of the Phanar's anti-canonical actions from the Local Churches. Both church and secular analysts predicted that the Russian Orthodox Church, which had come out with harsh rejection of what was happening, would be isolated and turned into a sect restricted by the territory of the Russian Federation. But...
The President lost the elections. Instead of uniting the Orthodox believers, the Tomos brought division and discord among the schismatics themselves. Moreover, as soon as the support of the authorities disappeared, the “transfers” from the UOC to the OCU stopped almost immediately, and the euphoria that accompanied the receipt of the Tomos gave way to bitter disappointment. No Orthodox Church has yet recognized the Ukrainian self-consecrated schismatics as having the canonical status. On the day of his heavenly patron, Patriarch Bartholomew prayed almost completely alone, without the celebration of a liturgy. The Tomos, signed with singing carols and the anthem of Ukraine, was not needed by anyone. Could one have expected such a turn of events six months ago?
At the same time, the hierarchs of almost all Orthodox Churches gathered at the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra to celebrate the namesake day of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry. Many of them said that the presence at the celebrations in Kiev is not only a tribute to His Beatitude but also evidence of the unity of the Local Orthodox Churches with the persecuted Church of Ukraine. Unprecedented pressure on the Church only strengthened the position of the UOC in the Ukrainian society, and the church raiding has led to the fact that Orthodox Christians felt their responsibility for the Church, to which they have the honour to belong.
The Ark and the “Titanic”
In the patristic works, the Church is called the ark of salvation. The analogy is clear – during the World Flood, only those who believed Noah were saved and boarded a wooden, resin-impregnated and sweat-soaked ship. Yes, it is very different from the "Titanic", a modern airliner sparkling with the lights, which offers rest and entertainment to passengers. But if you were offered to choose between them, which would you choose?
The seemingly imperfect forms of the Ark, its outdated production technologies, the lack of usual conveniences and clumsiness are more than compensated for by stability during the most terrible winds and storms, reliability, and strength that waves of the life sea cannot withstand. One can say for sure – Noah’s family was looking for salvation rather than comfort. And these are often very different things.
Five years ago, they said that no one and nothing but a crisis manager could save the UOC from complete collapse and disappearance. But God has other plans and other methods for solving problems ...
The exterior beauty of the “Titanic”, the presence of various devices designed to ease the cruise of passengers, the fun that prevailed on the decks of this ship, as it turned out, did not guarantee the achievement of the ultimate goal of the trip. Not a single passenger of the externally magnificent ship could reach the nearest port on its board.
But the biggest difference between the Ark and the “Titanic” is not in functionality and reliability, and not even in the absence of amenities and technical specifications. The difference is that the “Titanic” was ruled by the captain, and the Ark was driven by the “Helmsman”. As soon as Noah went inside his ship, he battened down all the hatches and gave control completely to the hands of the Lord, according to whose design and desire the Ark was created. The only surest and most reliable way to somehow influence the viability of the vessel was prayer. All that Noah could do was ask God to save him and his children. And for many days, the Ark neither hit sharp cliffs, nor met an iceberg, nor turned over because of the strong wind. And all because God ruled it.
In the same way, the Church is a saving ship, which, despite all its unwieldiness, slowness, archaism and lack of modernity, clearly and confidently fulfills its function of saving a person. Winds, storms, thunder and lightning, a raging sea and hurricanes are not terrible for the Church. And not because the Church is unsinkable, but because Her Helmsman is God Himself.
For several years, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has passed a very difficult path. The path of trial and grief, on which She was often met with reproaches, defamation, and hatred. She was demanded to actively participate in politics, to forget some of Her children for the sake of others, to accept traditions that were alien to Her and replace the search for the Kingdom of Heaven for the establishment of the kingdom of earth.
She resisted. She stayed true to her principles. And most importantly – She remained faithful to Christ. And people know it, feel it. You can't fool them. Over the years, they have been able to make sure that the position of the Church does not change depending on the political situation or short-term preferences. The position of the Church is the position of Christ, and Christ is the same yesterday and now.
The Ukrainian Church, as a loving mother, did not abandon Her children in the Crimea and the Donbass. The Ukrainian Church is not tired of calling for peace all parties to the conflict and doing everything in Her power to make this peace come. The Ukrainian Church always tries to fulfill the call of Christ – “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and everything else will follow you”. But most importantly, the Ukrainian Church prays. As Noah in the Ark handed the wheel into the hands of the Creator, so we entrust ourselves into the hands of God.
And we believe that the day will come when a released pigeon will bring an olive branch in its beak – a symbol of peace and love.