Why changing the UOC name cannot be accepted

11 February 2021 20:00
A new period of persecution could begin for the UOC. Photo: UOJ A new period of persecution could begin for the UOC. Photo: UOJ

Poroshenko's law on renaming the UOC into ROCU is a dream of schismatics. But why is this law completely unacceptable for the Church? We analyze it in the article.

In the near future, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine should consider the case on the compliance of the law on the forced renaming of the UOC with the Constitution. The UOJ has already repeatedly considered this issue and analyzed who and why wants to rename the UOC, how the pressure is exerted on judges and public opinion, who will benefit from this, and what this may ultimately lead to. The fact that the law on renaming runs counter to the Constitution and the laws is clear to any unbiased person. However, today anything is possible in our country. For example, the recent closure of three leading TV channels with sanctions having been imposed against them and their owners.

Any lawyer will say that the state cannot impose sanctions against legal entities and citizens of Ukraine by definition. They can be brought to criminal, administrative or other liability in case of violation of the legislation of Ukraine. Sanctions can be applied exclusively against other states, their citizens or legal entities. Therefore, we, of course, hope that legitimacy and common sense will prevail, and the Constitutional Court will recognize the law on renaming as inconsistent with the Constitution, but the likelihood that lawlessness will prevail is very high. In this regard, the thought may arise: why not agree to the renaming? Well, we may carry on praying, going to temples, participating in the sacraments. Everything remains the same, just under a different name. Why can't we agree to this? Let's figure it out.

Let us recall the brief plot of the case: the law on renaming arises from the fact that the leading center of the UOC is allegedly located in another state, namely, in the “aggressor state”. Therefore, the UOC cannot be called the Ukrainian Church, but should be given a different name, for example – "Russian Church in Ukraine" or “ROCU”.

First argument – violation of the Commandment of God

One of the Commandments of God, given to mankind in the Old Testament, says – do not lie, or according to the letter of the Exodus and Deuteronomy books – do not bear false testimony against your neighbor. The equivalence of these concepts is evidenced by the holy fathers, for example, "Do not give false testimony, which includes any lies" (Blessed Augustine).

The statement that the UOC has governing bodies abroad is contrary to the truth. This contradicts the statutory documents of both the UOC and the ROC.

Statute of the UOC: “1. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is independent and self-governing in its administration and structure. 2. The highest bodies of ecclesiastical authority and administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, headed by the Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine."

As you can see, no foreign governing bodies are indicated here. In the Statute of the ROC, the norms related to the UOC are placed in a separate Chapter X, which is called the "Ukrainian Orthodox Church". Paragraph 4 of this chapter reads: "The organs of church power and administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are its Council and Synod, headed by its Primate, bearing the title ‘His Beatitude Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine’. The governing center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is located in the city of Kyiv."

The relationship between the UOC and the ROC in the UOC Statute is defined by the following words: "The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is united with the Local Orthodox Churches through the Russian Orthodox Church" (paragraph 3), and also "The Ukrainian Orthodox Church <...> is a self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church" (paragraph 5).

The specific nature of this interaction is as follows:

  • The Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, elected by the Ukrainian episcopate, is blessed by the Moscow Patriarch.
  • The Ukrainian Orthodox Church receives holy myrrh from the Moscow Patriarch.
  • The charter on the administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is adopted by its Council and approved by the Moscow Patriarch.
  • The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church has the right to consider appeals from Ukrainian bishops against whom ecclesiastical judgments have been made in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

All these points do not relate to administrative issues at all and do not lie in the legal plane; these are ecclesiastic norms having to do with religious life. A separate question may arise about P.10 Ch. X of the Statute of the ROC: "The decisions of the Local and Bishops' Councils are binding on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church." However, this is also not about governance. The norms contained in other paragraphs of the Statute, as well as other statutory documents, and even more so the general thrust of these norms, unequivocally indicate that the UOC is completely independent in solving administrative, property, personnel and other issues. The binding nature of the decisions of the Local and Bishops' Councils of the ROC applies only to the religious sphere and does not concern administrative issues. In addition, these bodies include the episcopate of the UOC and we can say that precisely the UOC participates in the governance of the ROC, but not vice versa.

Therefore, the recognition that the UOC has governing bodies abroad will be a lie, and if we agree to rename our Church, we will be guilty of violating the Commandment of God. If we do not want to sin on this matter, then we will have to change not only the statutory documents of the UOC and the ROC, but also change the entire administrative procedure of the UOC. In other words, to abandon its autonomous status and return the status of the exarchate, which took place during the Soviet era.

Second argument – violation of ecclesiology

To recognize the existence of the governing bodies of the UOC in Russia and, as a result, to rename the UOC into ROC in Ukraine means violating Orthodox ecclesiology. To be more precise, it means to accept the imposed understanding of the Church as a legal entity of secular law. True though, the Church lives in the state and is governed by the rule of law. In particular, it has the status of a legal entity, has rights and obligations. But the Church of Christ is not of this world. She acts in the world, but does not belong to this world. And the main part of the relations developing within the Church relates to the heavenly, not the earthly. These relationships are governed by the Gospel and the law of love, not the law of the state. For example, how can one regulate the sincerity of confession or establish if a person receives the Holy Gifts “to be remitted of sins and acquire eternal life” or to be condemned? Similarly, one cannot look at the Ukrainian and Russian Church as a branch and parent organization with appropriate rules of subordination. This is not to say that one is controlled by the other, or vice versa. These approaches work for businesses, enterprises, or community organizations, but not for the Church. In the Church in general, everything is different. In the Church, for example, it is generally impossible to say that the bishop is subordinate to his patriarch in the sense that the secular worldview puts into the term “subordination”.

How, for example, one should translate into the language of secular law Canon 34 of the holy apostles: “The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do those things only which concern his own parish, and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit”?

Still less can the relations between the ROC and the UOC, their mutual connection and mutual dependence be expressed in the language of secular law. To recognize the requirements of the law on renaming means to narrow down the Church in one’s own mind to the level of a public organization or a commercial enterprise, when it can be said that one is incorporated in the other, or something is subordinate to something else. In fact, this is what Emperor Peter I (the one who is Romanov) tried to do. Following the example of Germany, the Netherlands and other Protestant countries, he looked at the Church as a secular organization, a kind of department for "spiritual affairs".

Third argument is ideological

For those who grew up in the USSR, the division into nationalities in the country was rather arbitrary. "My address is not a house or a street, my address is the Soviet Union," one popular song said. Of course, each republic had its own ideological characteristics and national character. But one could live in Latvia today and leave for Kazakhstan tomorrow, for example, without feeling much discomfort. Even more so, very few Ukrainians felt like strangers in Russia and vice versa.

30 years have passed since the USSR collapse. A whole generation of Ukrainians has grown up, for whom Russia is a completely alien state like, for example, Poland or Australia, with the exception, perhaps, of the language, which is still spoken by most of the citizens of Ukraine. These people have never been to Russia, never visited the shrines of the Russian Orthodox Church, they do not consider themselves loyal to the Russian Church. Yes, at the end of the Liturgy, they pray for “the most holy Patriarch Kirill of Moscow,” they pray to the saints of the Russian Church, but nevertheless they consider themselves part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Don't they have the right to do this? Why should these people be forcibly transferred to another Church?

Of course, now "patriots" with flashing eyes will jump up tripping over each other – here's the salvation – OCU, the real Ukrainian church. But what if a person does not want to join the OCU, if he or she doesn't consider this structure as a Church? Did we really end up having the state decide for its citizens which religious organizations to join or not to join? Let us recall the Ukrainian Constitution – a legal act of the highest legal force, which states that "everyone has the right to freedom of religion and belief." And "the exercise of this right can be limited by law only in the interests of protecting public order, health and morals of the population or protecting the rights and freedoms of other people." Do the believers who associate themselves with the UOC (and not the ROCU) somehow violate "public order, health and morality, the rights and freedom of other people"? No! As a reminder, there can be no laws above the Constitution in Ukraine. Therefore, those who do not consider themselves members of the ROC cannot be forcibly transferred there.

Fourth argument – breaking unity

In the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the principle of the unity of the Church of Christ is surprisingly vividly actualized in the following epistle: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11). The UOC unites in Christ representatives of different nationalities, different political convictions, different social strata, and so on. The loyal children of the UOC may be supporters of European integration and those who are dead-set against it. The UOC unites residents of western Ukraine and the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR, as well as Crimea. All of our worldview and political differences are surmountable in Christ.

What happens in the event of renaming the Church? It is not hard to guess that a significant part of the faithful and even the clergy will not agree to stay in the "Russian Church in Ukraine". Discontent, strife will arise. Someone will agree to a new name, someone will be categorically against it, because they will think they have nothing to do with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Moreover, this rupture will occur not only and not so much on a territorial basis. It will substantially affect dioceses, monasteries and parishes. Enmity, mutual distrust will arise, harmony and love between people will be broken. In this regard, one can recall the experience of the 1927 Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), the future Patriarch, on loyalty to Soviet power. This Declaration did not contain any canonical and even more so dogmatic deviations from Orthodoxy, but nevertheless brought long-term confusion and division into the Church.

In any case, if the renaming is approved, it will entail the destruction of the UOC in the form in which it exists today.

Fifth argument – the UOC will be left with the property that belongs to it by right of ownership, but it’s not even clear

As a result of the renaming, not only the Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochayiv Lavras will be seized from the UOC, but in general all monasteries and churches that have been transferred to the UOC for long-term lease or free use. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church can own buildings that are in state ownership, but the “Russian Church in Ukraine” cannot do this by definition. There is a 100 percent probability that a corresponding law will be adopted in this regard. Thousands of Orthodox communities will literally be thrown into the streets. At most the UOC will be able to retain the temple buildings, built from scratch, and which have the documents of title. But even then, in many cases, such buildings are located on land plots that are leased or used by communities.


Summing up, we can say that the agreement to renaming is the agreement to the destruction of the UOC and hence it is impossible. We cannot agree with the lies of the enemies of the Church, nor can we agree with the destruction of our understanding of the Church and its unity in Christ. May God help us remain faithful to Him and resist any temptations.

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