Revolutionary decisions of the UOC Synod

24 May 15:19
What is the revolutionary spirit of the Synod of the UOC? Photo: UOJ What is the revolutionary spirit of the Synod of the UOC? Photo: UOJ

“Revolutionary” decisions were expected from the UOC Synod, notably vis-à-vis the ROC. No dramatic moves followed. But the texts of the Synod are revolutionary. Why so?

On May 23, 2023, a meeting of the Holy Synod of the UOC took place. It was held in the extremely difficult conditions. On the one hand, the UOC temples are massively seized by the OCU, and the UOC is “squeezed” by the authorities. On the other hand, the Berdiansk epachy of the UOC was “squeezed” by the Russian Orthodox Church. Therefore, tough decisions were expected from the synodals: both in the relation to the Dumenkovites and the Russian Church.


On the eve of the meeting, forecasts were coming from different sides that finally the Synod will be compelled to take extreme measures in connection with the conflict in the Berdiansk eparchy and, if not proclaim autocephaly, then break the Eucharistic communion with the Russian Orthodox Church for sure. Despite the fact that Patriarch Kirill back in December 2022 pulled back his media "hawks" and urged them not to fantasize more about the UOC than was said at the meetings of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, this did not help much. A number of Russian resources and bloggers are constantly throwing firewood into the flames of confrontation between the ROC and the UOC. They broadcast about the "schism", disparagingly call the hierarchs and priests of the UOC "Feofanians", and also keep hinting at the latter's desire to unite with the OCU. Sometimes it seems that this is the cherished secret desire of the authors themselves.

Now, in many publications, the topic of a complete rupture of the UOC with the Moscow Patriarchate is literally pumped up. It seemed that the "think-tanks" were simply looking forward to such developments with the hope that they would rightfully be able to speak of the UOC as schismatics. Supporters of the OCU also anticipated this but to the effect that in this case the UOC would no longer have any choice but to join the OCU. Here are some examples taken from Orthodox Telegram channels.

Pravblog: “Should we prepare for the suspension of Eucharistic communion between the UOC and the ROC? It is obvious that the clouds are gathering before the upcoming Synod of the UOC. And the date was clearly not chosen by chance – on the eve of the Day of the Angel of Patriarch Kirill. There is also no doubt that the Berdiansk eparchy ‘precedent’ will be maximazed – the people involved in shaping the opinion of the top leadership of the UOC understand that later it may be too late. It is necessary to break completely with the ROC now.”

True though, from the full text of this message it is not entirely clear whether the Pravblog authors welcome such a development of events or vice versa. However, in any case, their text forms a certain information field around the meeting of the Synod of the UOC, expectations and hopes.

Khrizma: “Obviously, the hierarchy of the UOC is being pushed to formalize Feofania into a full-scale schism. In recent days, the situation around the Berdiansk eparchy has become a front-page story for the near-church community both in Russia and Ukraine. The ruling bishop, Metropolitan Ephraim, left the eparchy, which was subsequently included in the Russian Orthodox Church by the decision of the ROC Synod. This caused a backlash from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Synod scheduled for May 24 will probably be dedicated to relations with the Patriarchate.”

Again we see an explicit escalation of the situation, the formation of a request for "abrupt" actions of the Synod. Like, for what else should they be after the UOC made sharp comments regarding the Berdiansk eparchy?

Exarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in Africa, Metropolitan Leonid descends to an outright banter against the UOC: “Yes, there are no problems with fantasy. 'Feofania', then 'autocephaly', then 'myrrh boiling', etc. Announce the entire list, please. There is a term ‘zugzwang’ in chess – a position in which any move by a player leads to a deterioration in his position. We are now seeing something similar in the UOC, which is without the MP. However, it must be taken into account that all the personalities, who will make appropriate decisions, do not leave themselves any chances in the future. And the future is discernible in the medium term. Then it will be impossible to make a reference to anyone and nothing, including the situation. Here we are. Having betrayed once, you can no longer feel the difference. Your next steps are taken according to the principle – screwing it up once slightly results in screwing it up catastrophically."

One can only sympathize with the author of these lines, who obviously does not understand that the UOC is not in a state of “zugzwang”, but is going through the crucible of persecution. The same happened with the Church in the first three centuries of Christianity, and in subsequent times, up to the persecution in the USSR. All these persecutions only strengthened and cleansed the Church, leading it to renaissance, rather than degradation. The blood of the martyrs has always been the most effective preaching of Christianity. So now, the loyalty of Ukrainian Christians to their Church is the most effective preaching of the truth of the UOC. As for Metropolitan Leonid, he is not the only one among the Russian clergy to perceive the UOC in such a way.

Priest Georgiy Maximov, who recently sent all Ukrainian believers who do not commemorate Patriarch Kirill to hell, commented on the situation in the Berdiansk eparchy with a certain degree of mockery: “I think it would be right to start preparing documents on the ban or even on the defrocking of Metropolitan Ephraim <…> Truly good is not the one who is good when it is easy to, but who remains good when it is difficult to. Unfortunately, both Met. Ephraim and Met. Onuphry have failed this test."

Ideological antipodes of the ROC reps are not lagging behind either. Their statements are also aimed at escalating the situation, but from the other side. For example, recently banned from the priesthood, Fr. Andriy Pinchuk writes in his telegram channel: “The Russian Orthodox Church declares that all decrees of the ruling bishop of the Berdiansk eparchy of the UOC Ephraim ‘have no force’. <...> That is, those 4 Berdiansk z-priests will continue to perform divine services. Until the the AFU is there, of course. Well, the synod (written deliberately with a small letter, while it has to be capitalized in Ukrainian – Ed.) of the UOC ... will swallow it and wipe it off. Out of obedience."

The same banter, the same mockery, the same dismissive attitude towards the UOC, and the same incitement of the hierarchy to radical actions. Only from the other side. By the way, some also expected that the Synod would decide on the defrocking of Fr. Andriy Pinchuk and take harsh measures against his supporters who actively cooperate with the OCU, and this cooperation is presented as the position of a significant part of the entire UOC.

The life of the UOC, its clergy and believers is permeated today by malice and hatred. Waves of this hatred are sweeping the ship of the Church from all sides. Conventional Pinchuks drown this ship with hatred for the Russian Orthodox Church, radicals of the Russian Orthodox Church – with hatred for everything Ukrainian. What about the Holy Synod of the UOC?


The Synod did not proclaim autocephaly or break off Eucharistic communion with the Russian Orthodox Church, nor did it defrock anyone. The Synod did not accept any statements at all on the situation in the Berdiansk eparchy. The synodals did not even accept any appeal regarding the persecution of the UOC. Neither did they express their point of view on the persecution of the clergy and believers by the authorities and anti-church radicals. Instead, the Synod made the following decisions:

  • approved prayer texts for thanksgiving prayers, which will be performed in all eparchies on May 27, 2023 in honor of the 31st anniversary of the Kharkiv Bishops' Council and the first anniversary of the UOC Council in Feofania;
  • approved new liturgical texts, in particular the service to the Synaxis of the Cherkasy Saints, the service of the Cossack (Holy Intercession) parental Saturday and the canon for the burial of an Orthodox warrior;
  • blessed the creation of a new monastery in honor of the holy prophet of God Elijah in the city of Vinnytsia;
  • appointed the former Bishop of the Khmelnytsky Eparchy, Metropolitan Anthony (Fialko), Vicar of the Kyiv Metropolis, and Metropolitan Clement of Nizhyn and Pryluky as a permanent member of the Holy Synod.

The Synod also adopted an Appeal on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the Kharkiv Cathedral and the 1st anniversary of the UOC Council in Feofania. The essence of the Appeal boils down to the fact that the decisions of these Councils were correct and timely, which was confirmed by history. The Appeal also contains a call to unite to protect Ukraine from aggression by the Russian Federation.

In the current situation, it seems like completely toothless and amorphous solutions. But are they?

What is their revolutionism?

Those who expected dramatic decisions and resonant demarches from the Synod are disappointed, because their hopes were not justified. Some expected an angry censure from the Russian Orthodox Church for the actions in the Berdiansk eparchy. Others – extreme hardline statements against the OCU. However, the Synod did not live up to their expectations. It did not live up to the expectations of all those who wanted to involve the UOC in big politics and geopolitics.

It's time to open the Gospel and read that in his time, Jesus Christ did not live up to similar expectations either. After the miracle of the multiplication of loaves on the Sea of Tiberias, many Jews began to hope that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah who will help the Jewish people lift up the hated yoke of the Roman invaders and make the kingdom of Israel powerful and prosperous. Just imagine – a king with such incredible abilities, who gets food from the air, heals and resurrects the dead. it was a completely explicable and understandable desire.

“So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world’” (John 6:13-14).

But the Lord very revealingly avoided such a prospect: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:15).

Subsequently, the unwillingness of Christ to become the political leader of the Jews and to satisfy their requests caused the crowd shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David", to yell a few days later, "Crucify, crucify him."

The Synod of the UOC did not live up to the expectations of those believers who would like to hear words of consolation and support from the lips of the hierarchy in today's persecution. These are those who protect the Lavra and monasteries, temples, and sometimes their homes from church raiders. These are the ones against whom criminal cases are initiated and baseless accusations are raised. Perhaps they would like to hear the Synod's assessment of the ongoing events, an indication of how to proceed. But the Synod did not do this either. And here the gospel parallels are also clearly visible. “That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’" (Mark 4:35-38).

In these words one can hear a reproach: we have troubles, and You seem to notice nothing, do You really not care about our suffering? The Lord then pacified the storm, but also reproached his disciples for lack of faith: “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’” (Mark 4:39-40). Now we really need support and an encouraging word, but on the other hand, are these gospel words not sufficient for us to calm down? After all, we are in the bosom of the Church, in this saving ark, about which the Lord said: “I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). After all, Christ is with us, which is the most effective consolation and encouragement when we realize this.

The revolutionary spirit of the decisions of the Synod of the UOC of May 23, 2023 consists precisely in this adherence to the Gospel, rather than to the needs of society or expectations of the antipathetics of the UOC and even of the believers of the UOC. For all their non-topicality, these decisions actually have a deep Christian rationale. In conditions when it seems to many that the Church must necessarily act this way and not otherwise, the Church acts in a completely different, evangelical way. They tried to drag Christ into politics, but He refused and thereby incurred the wrath of the crowd. From different sides, they try to drag the UOC into a political confrontation, but She refuses (which was proved by the Synod meeting of May 23, 2023), and thereby incurs attacks and reproaches of many.

As mentioned above, both on the one hand and on the other hand, various media people are constantly demanding something from the UOC. Some demand to condemn the Nazis, others to condemn the collaborators. But both sides are in a state of anger, thirst for blood, revenge. And against this background, to preserve the peace of Christ is a revolution per se. This is the gospel; this is the spirit of Christianity. We do not respond to malice from either side, we follow in the footsteps of Christ. We approve the texts of church prayers, we open monasteries, we are engaged in the affairs of the current life of the Church.

They wanted Christ to spearhead a revolution in the earthly, secular understanding. They demanded an uprising against the Romans, they expected Him to become an earthly king, they demanded participation in political events. Instead, Christ brought another revolution: the revolution of humility, love, reconciliation, inner quiet dignity. And the Pharisees of that time could not understand this, nor can our today's slanderers and persecutors, those who expect revenge, hatred, and intransigence from us. Like the Pharisees, they think that their point of view is the only correct one. However, the Gospel says something completely different.

Today, reproaches are pouring in from all sides against His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry. For some, he is a schismatic, for the second he is a collaborator, for the third he is an "elder" who does not care about believers. Why so many attacks? Perhaps precisely because Metropolitan Onuphry follows the evangelical Christian path? His path is no condemnation of anyone, but love, silence, prayer. This is the revolution. However, not everyone will be able to see this, but only those for whom the Gospel is not just an interesting book but God's revelation about our being.

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