Jubilee of OCU: a year of illusion and deceit
A year has passed since the OCU was created. Why is there no unity and why do the founders of the new structure continue to deceive Ukrainians?
On December 15, 2018, the so-called “Unification Council” was held in Kiev, which was to demonstrate the readiness of the “three branches of Ukrainian Orthodoxy” to receive autocephaly from the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Representatives of the schismatic UOC-KP and UAOC, as well as two canonical bishops of the UOC, under unimaginable pressure from the government, were able to reach visible agreement, and within three weeks Patriarch Bartholomew handed the Tomos of autocephaly to the “united” OCU ... Triumph? At that moment, it seemed so.
The representative of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Archbishop Daniel (Zelinsky) of Pamphylon promised that within a few months other Local Churches would recognize the OCU.
In turn, the head of the Kiev Patriarchate, Filaret Denisenko, who liked to underpin the claims of his structure for autocephaly by various sociological surveys, assured that the Orthodox people of Ukraine would pass to the newly created OCU not as separate communities but as entire dioceses. Almost the same thing was said by the head of the Department of the Ministry of Culture for Religious Affairs, Andrei Yurash.
Before the “Unification Council”, Denisenko would tell that among the hierarchy of the UOC there are at least 10 bishops (or even 15) who delegated authority to Metropolitan Simeon (Shostatsky) and will transfer to the “single local church” at the earliest convenience.
These transitions were to be facilitated by the skillfully pumped-up atmosphere of hysteria around the Tomos and unprecedented support of the new “Church” from the state. The Tomos and OCU were supported not only at the information level but also by force. Pressure, intimidation, the use of physical force and the full power of the state machine (just recall the summons of priests and hierarchs to the SBU, searches, trials, etc.) had to foster the rapid growth of the OCU and destroy the UOC.
However, everything went awry and contrary to the expectations of the OCU founders, and today it is obvious – this Poroshenko-customized election project has crashed. Why?
In the video recorded by Dumenko on the eve of the “Council”, it is said that “on December 15, a truly historic event for everyone happened: we all together were able to witness the fact of the unity of the three branches of Ukrainian Orthodoxy.”
Looking at the current church situation, we can confidently state that these words are a lie.
Firstly, because under the shelter the OCU, only the UOC-KP and UAOC were able to unite (and even then, only relatively). Nobody represented the canonical UOC at the “Unification Council” in 2018, because Metropolitan Alexander (Drabinko) and Simeon (Shostatsky) had already been admitted to the clergy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In addition, the Synod of the UOC clearly stated its attitude to this meeting and did not bless anyone to take part in it.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church did not enter into an alliance with schismatics from the UOC-KP and UAOC despite the enormous pressure.
Secondly, even the apparent unity of the OCU back in January 2018 soon cracked – the main fighter for church independence of Ukraine, Filaret Denisenko, split off from his brainchild.
Consequently, even inside itself, the OCU was unable to reach an agreement. The struggle for power between the elderly "patriarch" and his young protege, which we have witnessed over the past months, ended in a split of the split and the restoration of the UOC-KP.
Even the apparent unity of the OCU back in January 2018 soon cracked – Filaret Denisenko, the main fighter for church independence of Ukraine, split off from his brainchild.
Therefore, the words of Dumenko that he wrote on his Facebook page look especially cynical: “The main task that I set for myself after the election was as follows: to strengthen the foundation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and maintain internal unity. A year has passed. Am I up to the challenge? I think so.”
But the revival of the Kiev Patriarchate and its quantitative growth (to date, along with Filaret Denisenko, there are already six “bishops” there) indicate the opposite.
In a report to the “Council” on December 14, 2019, Dumenko called on “bishops” to pay due attention to the “re-registration of the statutes” of communities, monasteries and other structural units of the UOC-KP in favor of the OCU. It means that so far, for the whole year and with the full support of the authorities, inside the new religious organization there are still those who are in no hurry to leave the ranks of the UOC-KP. At least de jure. This can imply only one thing – a split in the ranks of the OCU in the first year of its existence really exists, and therefore, there can be no talk of any kind of “unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy” under the wing of Sergei Dumenko.
Dumenko emphasizes that his local organization has already been recognized by two Local Churches, with several Churches being “in process”. But, again, can this be regarded as an achievement, much less a victory? No.
If the OCU had appeared in full accordance with the canons of the Church, there would simply be no “process” of recognition from other Local Churches: they would recognize it and that’s all. Immediately, not many months later. The fact that over the whole year only two Churches have supported the OCU is more likely to speak against this structure than in its favor.
In addition, one could get convinced that of their own free will, without external pressure, no one from the family of the Orthodox Churches was in a hurry to communicate with Epiphany Dumenko during the year. The Primate of the Church of Greece decided to add the name of the head of the OCU to his diptych only after representatives of the US Department of State had visited him several times.
Only five months ago, Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria sent to Kiev Metropolitan Meletius of Carthage on the occasion of St. Patron’s Day of His Beatitude Onuphry, who said, “Our stay here is an occasion to witness our liturgical unity with the UOC and express support for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”
The fact that over the whole year only two Churches have supported the OCU is more likely to speak against this structure than in its favor.
The patriarch himself in Odessa in September 2018 vehemently urged believers to be faithful to the UOC and His Beatitude Onuphry, but more recently he sharply changed his mind to the opposite. We don’t have to guess for a long time about the reasons for this metamorphosis – just remember that the decision to recognize Dumenko as the “canonical primate” was announced by Patriarch Theodore in the presence of the Greek ambassador.
The situation with the recognition of the OCU by the Church of Greece cannot inflate OCU’s esteem, since at the Council of Bishops there was no conciliar decision, and some of the hierarchs still consider Dumenko and his colleagues to be lay people.
Therefore, when Epiphany says that “if we had not maintained unity within our Church, we would not have had any success today, in particular, the process of recognition of our autocephaly by other Local Orthodox Churches would not have begun,” he is disingenuous, lying, and distorting the reality. And not only because the “recognition” of the OCU has nothing to do with the “unity” (there is no unity), but also because he made his first official visit to those who are working on the “recognition process” most of all – the United States.
According to the figures that Dumenko voiced at the “Council”, the OCU includes “over 7000 parishes, 77 monasteries and nunneries, 4.5 thousand clerics and 62 bishops”. He stated that 50% of Ukrainians support this organization. “Our Local Church is the largest religious organization in terms of number and support,” he said, “and by all indicators it is one of the largest Local Orthodox Churches.”
However, in this case, Dumenko speaks an outright lie.
According to the Ministry of Culture, the UOC-KP and UAOC at the time of the merger had 5,363 and 1,171 parishes, which totals, respectively, to 6,534. Dumenko said that in 2019 the OCU opened (“consecrated” meaning the temples were not grabbed) 23 new temples. Another 68 voluntarily transferred from the UOC, which is 6 625. Where does the figure of more than 7,000 parishes come from?
It's simple: Dumenko attaches to the OCU hundreds of parishes of the UOC, which were either seized or illegally, contrary to the will of the parish, transferred to the OCU and which are now sealed awaiting court decisions.
However, this is not all. According to Dumenko, there are only 4,500 “priests” serving at more than 7,000 OCU parishes. Elementary logic suggests that this is simply not possible, since a community cannot exist without a pastor. And although there really are cases in distant villages when one priest has ministry simultaneously at two parishes, you need to remember that in city-based churches it is more often the other way around – in one parish there are two, three or more priests.
What does this mean? It means that almost half of the OCU parishes exists only on paper, which, by the way, Dumenko agrees with. At the "Council" he said that "formally, there can be many communities registered, but such a figure reflects only the number of registered statutes and not the real situation of a religious association in society and among other religious associations." That’s why it’s not worth talking about the 7,000 parishes of the OCU – real estimates are closer to the real number of “priests”.
Dumenko attaches to the OCU hundreds of parishes of the UOC, which were either seized or illegally, contrary to the will of the parish, transferred to the OCU and which are now sealed awaiting court decisions.
At the same time, according to the Report of the UOC Chancellor, Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church today has 12,338 parishes – almost twice as many as the OCU. Over a year, the number of temples in the Church has grown by 240. 12,411 clergymen perform pastoral service at the UOC. Therefore, the words of Dumenko that “our Local Church is the largest religious organization in terms of number and support” are an outright lie.
There is another interesting point. Having voiced the number of monasteries of the OCU, Dumenko did not say about the number of monks. Why? Because there are almost no monks there.
According to the Ministry of Culture, as of January 1, 2019, the Kiev Patriarchate and the UAOC (then the OCU) had only 248 “monks” at 77 monasteries, i.e. an average of 3.22 "monk". For comparison: in the UOC there are 248 monasteries and 4 609 monastics.
In light of the aforesaid, Dumenko’s words that the OCU is the largest religious organization look extremely implausible.
Silenced are also the data from “opinion polls”, according to which half of Orthodox Ukrainians allegedly support the OCU.
Practice shows that all supporters of "patriotic" faiths have always used the survey data of Razumkov Center, which were always far from reality. But even according to these dubious studies, in 2019, not half of Orthodox believers (as Epiphany claims) belonged to the OCU but only 20% (for comparison, Filaret’s UOC-KP – 12%, the UAOC – 16%).
The following words of Patriarch Bartholomew testify most explicitly about the political nature of the OCU: “Poroshenko did not make efforts to create the Church for himself alone. He did this so that in Ukraine there would be a single united Church.” We discard the pathetic words about “one Church”, the deceit of which we have already examined. What is left? The recognition that the OCU was created by Poroshenko. And it’s really hard to argue with that.
It is no secret that the decisions on the transition of the UOC churches to the OCU under the Poroshenko presidency were most often made not by religious communities but by territorial ones, moreover, with powerful support from the authorities. Over the past year, we have witnessed dozens, if not hundreds, of cases where state agents intervened in the affairs of the Church, brazenly flouting the Constitution (which clearly states that the Church is separate from the state).
In fact, the OCU emerged only because the state authorities wanted it in the person of the then president. The reasons why he so energetically joined this project and then advertised it no less vigorously are clear – the election campaign.
"Army. Language. Faith” – with this slogan Poroshenko planned to become president for the second term. Naturally, by the word "faith" he understood the religious structures that supported his candidacy – the OCU and the UGCC. As part of his election campaign, Poroshenko organized the so-called “Tomos Tour”, during which either Filaret Denisenko or Epiphany Dumenko delivered the Tomos to the regions of Ukraine in the hope of gaining support from the nationalist-minded electorate. But they lost. Furthermore, he lost in almost all regions. He secured the victory over Vladimir Zelensky only in Lviv region with a predominantly Uniate population. It was after the election that Mr. Poroshenko lost his enthusiasm regarding the Tomos with the OCU and almost completely switched to cooperation with the UGCC.
In fact, the OCU emerged only because the state authorities wanted it in the person of the then president.
Therefore, when Dumenko declares that his organization cannot be called “state”, he is again disingenuous. Because, having been born with the help of the state, the OCU can exist only with the help of the state.
The lack of support for Poroshenko by the new government is very alerting for Dumenko. In the same report, he says, “Unfortunately, recently under the influence of our opponents, individual state representatives in the center and in the localities, including judges and law enforcement agencies, have openly resorted to pressure on the communities, to fabricating cases against bona fide employees only because they registered changes in parish statutes, adopted in accordance with the law. Using authority and position, having a certain motivation, such fast and loose state agents undermine the authority of the state; provoke the deepening of inter-confessional misunderstandings.”
However, this is again outright lie and manipulation.
Firstly, because the statutes of the UOC were reregistered in favor of the OCU contrary to the legislation of Ukraine, on the basis of illegal meetings of territorial communities under the guise of religious ones. Members of all faiths – Protestants, Catholics, Uniates, and atheists – voted at such meeting. And it is precisely because of such illegal re-registrations that lawsuits against “conscientious officials” are pending.
Secondly, because so far the OCU has lost the vast majority of litigations. And it keeps losing them, as it is a violation of the law by Ukrainian schismatics. This is understood by Dumenko himself. He recently stated that “in many regions of Ukraine, the documentary formalities of transitions of religious communities have been suspended due to the expectation of the end of the court trials in Vinnitsa." It turns out that officials are afraid to openly violate the law of Ukraine by re-registering communities in the OCU, and therefore they are waiting for the outcome of the case in Vinnitsa, doesn’t it?
Eager to quickly solve the problem to his advantage, Dumenko resorts to his favorite method: he asks for “protection” and support from the state: “We urge the state to respond to such violations and bring those responsible to justice in order to put an end to such manifestations.”
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The past year for the OCU can only be called successful for the fact that they received the explicit support of Phanar and powerful political forces. Expectations of an early recognition by all the Local Orthodox Churches were not met. On top of that, hierarchs of other Churches are increasingly calling that that the “Ukrainian issue” needs to be addressed collectively.
Many Churches have made it clear and unequivocal that they are not going to recognize the OCU. As for the Churches that entered into communion with Epiphany Dumenko, they have serious disagreements that could lead to an internal split. Ultimately, the Tomos did not solve the problem of the Ukrainian split but only exacerbated it. Moreover, it moved beyond Ukraine causing a split among the Orthodox Local Churches.
In the same way, the hopes that the UOC believers would rush headlong into the arms of the Ukrainian schismatics as soon as they receive the Tomos of autocephaly from Patriarch Bartholomew were not justified. On the contrary, over the past year, the UOC has not only shown its firmness in upholding the canonical principles of Orthodoxy but also its viability. Indeed, existing in adverse conditions, in a situation where the canonical Church is artificially stigmatized as the enemy, She only continues to grow.
A lot of Orthodox Christians, in an effort to be in the bosom of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, defend their shrines for many months, build new temples instead of the grabbed ones. Having lost the frenzied support of the state authorities, the OCU sharply slowed down its “growth” – the seizures of churches now, if they do occur, are sporadic rather than mass. Litigations continue regarding those communities that were reregistered in violation of the law; in some cases even international organizations interceded for the churches of the UOC (in particular, the UN blocked the decision to evict the UOC congregation from their church in Ivano-Frankivsk).
In addition, the OCU is increasingly moving away from Orthodoxy, traditional for Ukraine, aiming at reforming the worship, calendar and pious customs of our people ...
At the same time, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, created by the Holy Spirit, continues its saving mission. Its main task is not to be bigger than others, not to be closer to power but to be with Christ. This is the main thing. And we pray for that.