A U-turn of power against the UOC: What is the role of the United States?

30 December 2022 15:09
Do the authorities heed the advice of the West in religious matters? Photo: UOJ Do the authorities heed the advice of the West in religious matters? Photo: UOJ

The OCU owes much of its creation to the U.S. Now that Ukraine depends on the U.S. finances and weapons, it takes recommendations in all areas. Religious included?

The year of 2022 was by far the most tragic year for Ukrainians. But it turned out to be particularly difficult for the believers of the UOC. Like everyone else, they lost relatives and friends in the war, the enemy destroyed their homes and cities. Also, their temples. During the war, about 300 churches of the UOC, 8 monasteries were damaged and completely destroyed, 15 priests and monks were killed. But that's not all.

At the end of 2022, the state took a number of tough actions against the UOC. Searches by the SBU, sanctions against hierarchs, anti-church bills submitted to the Rada, non-renewal of the lease with the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the decision of the Constitutional Court on the law on “renaming”, unprecedented black PR in the media – all this happened suddenly and simultaneously, in a matter of five or six weeks. Such "accuracy" cannot but surprise. For example, the Constitutional Court was silent for almost 4 years. It is hardly possible to call its decision accidental.

Only yesterday, the Office of the President and the Ministry of Culture unanimously stated that attacks on the UOC would cause internal conflicts in society, but today everything is being done to destroy the country's largest confession. Given the very competent actions of the authorities in other areas, this can hardly be explained by their incompetence.

One gets the impression that the decision on the UOC was made not so long ago, and all possible resources were thrown to get it implemented. But what could push the leadership of Ukraine to such actions?

USA and the creation of the OCU

Currently, the following traditional confessions operate in Ukraine: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC).

The OCU emerged in December 2018 through the efforts of ex-president P. Poroshenko by merging the UOC of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. This happened with the most active participation of the United States. And this is not a conspiracy theory at all. The State Department was quite vigorous and open in backing the creation of a new denomination in Ukraine.

A few months before the granting the Tomos to the OCU, the head of the UOC-KP Filaret, together with Epifaniy Dumenko, met in the United States with Joe Biden, who declared the importance of creating a future church structure. Support for this project was voiced many times by State Department Ambassador for Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, the then head of the State Department Michael Pompeo, its current head Kurt Volker.

Shortly after its creation, the OCU received the first official congratulations from the State Department and the US Embassy. At the same time, representatives of the State Department S. Brownback and J. Pyatt visited Athos and the Local Churches, where they spoke to the primates and hierarchs about the importance of recognizing the new Ukrainian confession. Both the current Secretary of State Volker and the former Pompeo met with the head of the OCU many times and declared support for his structure. All facts indicate that the promotion of the OCU is part of US policy in our country. This was before the war, and we have no reason to believe that anything has changed now, when Ukraine is in great need of military and financial assistance from the United States, as well as counsel on a variety of issues. Surely, the American government wants only the best for the Ukrainians. But it is unlikely that Ukrainian realities are objectively assessed there in religious matters.

The Church is not a political party, its ban will not give anything

It is obvious to everyone that Ukrainians had different political preferences before the war. Someone was attached to the Western world, someone to Russia. After February 24, there were practically no one left among proponents of Russia, and the Russian Federation did everything possible for this. In this situation, the desire of the United States to maximally support the pro-Western aspirations of Ukrainians is understandable. But they do not fully realize that the projection of the political division “pro-Western/pro-Russian” onto the confessional situation in Ukraine is incorrect. The notion that the OCU and the UGCC are churches of “democratic Ukrainians”, while the UOC embodies and promotes the “Russian world” is fundamentally wrong.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church includes believers from all regions of Ukraine with a variety of political views. It provides great assistance to the army, to refugees, to everyone who suffers from the war. But even this is not the main thing.

The Church is not a political party, no matter how much one might want to view it that way. And the psychology of a believer is fundamentally different from that of a politician or a member of some social movement. In politics, it is quite obvious that if one party is banned, its members will move to another or engage in other activities. By definition, this cannot be the case in the Church.

A believer will never leave his/her Church, under no circumstances.

He knows that after earthly life comes eternal life. In this regard, fidelity to the Church, fidelity to Christ and His commandments is a crucial condition in order to earn this eternal life. One can consider him a fanatic or a fool, but this will not change anything.

All the current actions of the authorities are aimed at destroying the UOC and forcing its hierarchy and believers to join the OCU. However, this is a mistake. While in politics there are many parties that almost do not differ from each other, then in religion it is not so. The Church is the Body of Christ. Those who are in in the bosom of the Church must fulfill the Logos.

Why getting to the OCU is silly

What do we see in the OCU, after all? Forgery of documents, falsehood, aggression and violence during church raiding and transferring our temples. The clerics of the OCU break down the doors with their own hands and even physically attack and beat our priests, drive them and their families out of their own homes. A real persecution is organized against the communities of the UOC, they are explicitly hated. And it's not just a conflict of one group of people against another. This is an obvious contradiction to what Christ said, "By this egveryone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another."

What is the point for a believer to leave the Church that fulfills the word of God into a structure that doesn’t? Even from the point of view of ordinary human logic, this is stupid and irrational.

Moreover, we can already see that most of the churches “voluntarily transferred” to the OCU are empty. This was confirmed by the ex-head of the State Ethnopolitics Olena Bohdan. Even the clerics of the OCU speak of this. In December, chaplain Nestor Nazarov publicly called on his leadership to close half of the churches simply because no one goes there, they are empty. There are neither parishioners nor priests there.

In addition, what is especially important is that there are almost no monks in the OCU, and this is an important indicator of the life of the Church. After all, a person, who is going to be a monk, renounces the family, the world with all its joys and pleasures, and dedicates all of himself to God. Why? Because he feels the special grace of God. There are more than 4,600 monastics in the UOC. And this is not even such a large number. For example, our brothers from the Romanian Church have over 8,000 monastics.

The OCU does not publish data on the number of monks. According to government agencies, at the time of its formation there were about 240 people. Their number can hardly be bigger for now. What does this mean?

It means that having expelled the UOC from the Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavras, they will have to rent out monastic cells, because there will be no one to inhabit them. After all, more than 220 monks live in the Kyiv Lavra alone and even more in the Pochaiv Lavra. Apart from that, there is another 260 more monasteries in the UOC. Who will live and pray there? Will they open gyms and shops like it was in the USSR?

Some 100 years ago, unprecedented repressions were launched against the Church in the Soviet Union, which lasted for many decades. Temples were closed, destroyed, priests and believers were shot, sent to prisons, camps and exile. Many-year harassment in the media was organized against the Church. One of the Soviet leaders promised to show "the last priest" on TV. So what? What did it lead to?

Believers both prayed and continued to do so, only secretly. Children were secretly baptized, then they were secretly married, secretly gathered for worship. And as soon as Soviet power disappeared, in a matter of years, thousands of old churches were restored and new ones were built.

Therefore, it is naive to think that the Bolsheviks were stupid and hence they failed, while we, “reincarnated Bolsheviks”, are smart and hence we will succeed. Not at all.

After the first wave of seizures in 2019, hundreds of communities that lost their temples only rallied and strengthened. Dozens of them managed to build new churches for themselves in a year or two. The rest pray in huts and sheds, slowly collecting money for the construction of a new temple.

Now you can call the UOC whatever you like, you can ban it. You can drive it out of the Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavras and hundreds of other monasteries. But it is not worth expecting that the Church, in the event it is outlawed, will simply vanish as many political parties did. And the country's leadership needs to remember this, even if its very powerful counsellors think otherwise.

If you notice an error, select the required text and press Ctrl+Enter or Submit an error to report it to the editors.
Read also