The bill to ban the ROC in Ukraine: what's the catch?

28 November 2022 18:26
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Will Zelensky do with the UOC what Poroshenko dreamed of so much? Photo: UOJ Will Zelensky do with the UOC what Poroshenko dreamed of so much? Photo: UOJ

A draft law has been submitted to the VR, which should proclaim "whose realm, his religion" principle, setting Ukraine back in its development. Let's figure it out.

In November, a campaign against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was launched in Ukraine unexpectedly. It began with the “Russian” song scandal in the Lavra, and continues now with SBU searches in the Kyiv shrines and in several dioceses of the UOC. In parallel, there is a large-scale information campaign against the UOC with the media and social networks. On November 23, 2022, SBU officers carried out “counterintelligence activities” in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the Zverynetsky Monastery, the administration and monasteries of the Sarny eparchy. On November 25, unprecedented searches took place in the Chernivtsi diocese. On the 28th – in Ivano-Frankivsk eparchy, as well as Pochaiv seminary. The "catch" of the SBU is small, but each search is accompanied by "victorious" reports about the initiation of criminal cases. At the same time, there are statements by “experts” about the need to ban the UOC and anti-church petitions are being registered. All this is happening at a very fast pace.

But the main blow to the UOC is dealt in the legislative plane. Bill 8821 “On Ensuring the Strengthening of National Security in the Sphere of Freedom of Conscience and the Activities of Religious Organizations” has been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada. Its author is M. Kniazhytsky, MP from P. Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party. The need for the adoption of this law in the Explanatory Note is explained as follows: “While Russian missiles are attacking Ukrainian civilian cities, and our soldiers and civilians are giving their lives, the ROC, through its structures and individuals on the territory of Ukraine, is spreading the ‘Russian world’ ideology, justifying Russia's aggression against Ukraine and the death of civilians." This is only one phrase from a fairly sizable explanation, selected as the most “juicy” example. The UOC is not mentioned in the bill, but everyone understands very well what it is directed against. How can one briefly comment on this?

Firstly, the UOC is a part of Ukrainian society and a rather significant part. Russian missiles also kill believers of the UOC alongside other citizens of Ukraine and leave without housing, electricity and other livelihoods. Believers of the UOC are fighting against the aggressor and giving their lives for Ukraine in the same way as other Ukrainians. More than a hundred churches of the UOC have been destroyed by Russian troops. Take a look at least at the Sviatogorsk Lavra!

Secondly, are there any supporters of the “Russian world” among the believers of the UOC? Yes, there are, as they are among state agents, police officers, National Guard employees, and so on. But is this a ground for passing laws to ban these bodies? The question is rhetorical.

Thirdly, the draft law is drawn up quite wickedly – nowhere is there any mention of the UOC in it. However, hardly anyone doubts against whom it is actually directed. In the grassroots’ eyes, the distributors of the "Russian world" are those who keep several “Russky Vestnik” ("Russian messenger" – Trans. Note) newspapers. And it does not matter that the UOC faithful are sending food and essentials in multi-ton trucks to support Ukrainian soldiers and civilians affected by the war. It does not matter that they bless their parishioners to go defend Ukraine with weapons in their hands, and married priests often send their own children, receiving their sons back in coffins.

Yet, let's get back to the bill. It proposes per se to legitimize two points: firstly, to ban the activities of the Russian Church and all organizations in one way or another associated with it on the territory of Ukraine, and secondly, to assign to the OCU the exclusive right to be called “Orthodox”.

Ban on the Russian Church

The ban on the activities of the ROC is articulated in Art. 4 of the Draft Law as follows: “The activities of the Russian Orthodox Church, religious organizations (associations) that are directly or as components of another religious organization (association) are incorporated into (part of the structure of) the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as religious centers (administrations) that are its members or recognize (declare) in any form subordination in canonical, organizational, and other matters to the Russian Orthodox Church on the territory of Ukraine, are prohibited.”

During the war and given the support of the ROC leadership for the aggression of the Russian Federation, this ban may have looked justified in some way, but the fact is that religious organizations that would be located in Ukraine and at the same time would be part of the structure of the Russian Orthodox Church do not exist now.

By and large, the UOC has been independent of the ROC since 1990, when, under the legitimate Metropolitan of Kyiv Filaret (Denisenko), it became independent and autonomous in governance. And if certain moments (for example, the blessing by the Patriarch of the newly elected Metropolitan of Kyiv) could previously seem to someone an element of subordination, then after the decisions of the Council of the UOC in Feofaniya on May 27, 2022, the UOC is in no way related to the ROC, except for the Eucharistic communion (not even canonical).

Then who are the authors of the bill trying to ban in Ukraine? Despite the fact that both the statutory documents, the statements of the Holy Synod of the UOC and its Primate, and the peculiarities of worship bespeak the complete independence of the UOC, its enemies deliberately call it the UOC-MP and the structure of the ROC. It means that via the bill, the UOC can simply be “qualified” as part of the ROC and, accordingly, its activities can be banned.

Even more vague is the wording of Art. 3 of the Draft Law: "The activities of foreign religious organizations that directly or indirectly, including through public statements by their leaders, support armed aggression against Ukraine are prohibited on the territory of Ukraine."

Again, it would be a completely reasonable position, if it were not for the well-founded fears that the enemies of the UOC will scrupulously look for any pretexts, any statements of hierarchs or priests in order to “put the entire UOC under a guillotine.”

The word "indirectly" provides a very wide range of possibilities. For example, this is how the UGCC (as part of the RCC) can be banned based on the latest statements of Pope Francis about love for Russian culture and that the war was provoked by “NATO barking” at the gates of Russia.

The wording of the draft law “foreign religious organizations” is a bit incomprehensible – after all, the UOC definitely does not fall under this. However, I think, in the course of work on the bill, this oversight will be corrected and the word “foreign” will be removed.

"Orthodox" only in the OCU

While something can still be discussed on the issue of prohibitions of the ROC on the territory of Ukraine, then the provision that only organizations associated with the OCU can be called "Orthodox" is absolutely absurd and unacceptable.

Art. 2 of the Draft Law sounds as follows: “A religious organization, including a religious community, uses in its name (both full and abbreviated) the word ‘Orthodox’ in the appropriate cases only if this religious organization is subordinated to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in canonical and organizational issues. <...> By decision of the governing body of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the word ‘Orthodox’ in the appropriate cases cannot be used by other religious organizations."

That is, we are dealing with nothing less than an attempt to "nationalize" Orthodoxy by one structure, the OCU. To be called Orthodox, one must go under the authority of Serhiy Dumenko, whom most of the Local Orthodox Churches consider to be a person without holy orders.

Let us recall just one of the opinions about the “chief of the Orthodox” Epifaniy Dumenko:

“The entire time that Mr. Filaret was deposed and anathematized, he performed non-canonical rites, which were not real Sacraments. Therefore, the consecrations performed by him are invalid, empty, devoid of Divine Grace and the action of the Holy Spirit. Among others, these are successive consecrations as a deacon, a priest, and, finally, as a bishop, of his secretary Sergei Dumenko, now Metropolitan Epifaniy.”

from the Epistle (on behalf of the Holy Synod of the Albanian Church) of Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania to Pat. Bartholomew of Constantinople

And now this man, S. Dumenko, should not only be revered as a legitimate bishop, but also determine who is Orthodox and who is not. Not only the Byzantine emperors and medieval rulers of a smaller caliber, but also the rulers of Russia, who are now so criticized, did not think of this. In the 16th century, the principle of "whose realm, his religion" was proclaimed; and to be more precise, “whose land, his religion” (“cujus regio, ejus religio”), which laid the foundation for confessional confrontations and wars for centuries forward. And now they want to revive it in Ukraine. What for? To sow enmity in the Ukrainian society, which today is in bad need of unity in the face of the enemy, severe winter and other challenges?

It’s unheard of that in the 21st century the state determines who is Orthodox and who is not Orthodox!!! It’s unheard of that government officials or even MPs determine what is canonical and what is not canonical!!! Isn't Ukraine a rule of law whose Constitution enshrines the principle of separation of the Church from the state and the right of every citizen to freedom of conscience and worldview?! Can a state be considered democratic if it interferes so blatantly in church matters?! Even the ban on the activities of religious organizations fades before the terrifying prospect of a ban on the "Orthodox" name.

Conclusions

First, we must express a strong protest against attempts to privatize Orthodoxy in favor of one of the Ukrainian confessions, and not even the most numerous (let alone its canonical status). Let's hope that MPs are aware of the absurdity of such proposals and will not support them. Otherwise it will mean wiping their feet on the Constitution of Ukraine, which gives all citizens the freedom to profess a particular faith or not to profess any at all.

It is not for the state, and even more so for S. Dumenko, to determine who is Orthodox and who is not, who can be called Orthodox, and who is forbidden.

Second, the very message about the ban on the activities of the ROC in Ukraine is pointless simply because the ROC does not conduct any activity in Ukraine anyway. A separate moment is the activity of the UOC communities in the occupied territories. The ROC asserts they are controlled by the Moscow Patriarchate. However, we all understand that this is from the same opera as the activities of state bodies of the Russian Federation in these territories.

Third, the adoption of the draft law in the form in which it is submitted for consideration will definitely give weapons to the enemies of the UOC in the fight against it. Even though the text of the bill does not mention the UOC, it will still be possible to qualify it as a branch of the ROC in Ukraine, despite all the inconsistency of this decision with the real state of affairs.

Fourth, in the Explanatory Note, the authors refer to the experience of Lithuania: “The activities of the ROC, its structures and organizations that retain any subordination to the ROC should be completely prohibited in the territory of Ukraine. Such a ban is in line with the practical implementation of international human rights law, in particular freedom of conscience, which is evidenced by the legislative experience of Latvia, where a decision was made at the legislative level to separate the Latvian Orthodox Church from the Russian Orthodox Church.”

One can, of course, argue that this "corresponds to the practical implementation of international human rights law", but if it really hurts, why not pass a law on the separation of the UOC from the ROC? It will be concordant not only with the Resolution of the Council of the UOC in Feofaniya of May 27, 2022, but also, to a certain extent, with the decision of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church on the formation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of 1990.

Fifth, it cannot be denied that the campaign against the UOC is splitting Ukrainian society instead of uniting it. Millions of believers of the UOC are not collaborators, not second-class citizens and not disenfranchised people. They have the right to their faith and their Church and will defend this right by all legal means.

All that said, I would like to ask the enemies of the UOC a question: do you really think that the UOC could not, as you wish, join the OCU with all its multi-million members and absorb it simply because of its numerical superiority? It could – to say the least! But in this case, one would have to sacrifice the Orthodox faith itself, which the UOC cannot do. Therefore, She’d better suffer, endure persecution, harassment, injustice, than betray Christ and His Church, which is the only ark of salvation for human souls.

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