What the Synod’s decisions mean
The Holy Synod was held at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. We analyze its decisions, which can affect not only the life of the UOC but also the entire Orthodox Church.
On May 12, 2021, at its first meeting, the Holy Synod of the UOC took many decisions, which concern not only the life of the UOC but can also affect the entire Orthodox Church.
Listen to the Holy Synod
The report of the Information and Educational Department of the UOC about the work of the Synod starts with a very unusual, at first glance, decision. It is worded as follows:
“First of all, given the availability of that information that could have an impact on the internal and external life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Synod noted that the clergy, monastics and believers of our Church in their church life and activities should be guided by the decisions adopted by the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”
This is surprising: why does the Synod call to be guided by its own decisions? Firstly, its decisions as one of the governing bodies of the UOC should be implemented anyway, and secondly, why the Synod’s decisions, and not the Council of Bishops’?
It can be assumed that this ruling was made in the context of the possible adoption of anti-church laws or other decisions of the state authorities directed against the UOC, as well as possible decisions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the same direction. For example, Patriarch Bartholomew can declare Metropolitan Onuphriy and the episcopate of the UOC banned from priesthood, deposed, defrocked, and so on. On this basis, government agencies may require the communities of the UOC to re-register with a new name, etc. In all these cases, the Synod calls not to be embarrassed, not to be afraid, but to listen to the hierarchy of the UOC. And it does not go here about calling for non-compliance with laws or other decisions of the authorities. The fact is that the Legal Department and other structures of the UOC, as well as public associations such as the Union of Orthodox Lawyers, use all legal means to defend the constitutional rights of UOC believers in courts, administrative bodies or in any other legal way. And while this process is going on, there are no legal grounds for submitting to illegal demands.
The Council of the UOC and the Council of Bishops of the UOC, which are higher than the Synod in the hierarchy of government, are not mentioned because their convocation takes time and significant organizational effort. And they cannot, except in the most critical cases, promptly respond to a rapidly changing situation, while the Synod can.
Therefore, in simple words – do not panic but listen to what the Synod says.
DECR to grow by the Public Council
“For interaction and cooperation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with state, private institutions and organizations and associations of citizens, the Public Council at the Department for External Church Relations of the UOC has been created. The vicar of the Kyiv Metropolis, His Grace Bishop Spyridon of Vishneve, was appointed responsible for the activities of this council."
The creation of public councils under government bodies is a practice used mainly by states. In many countries, similar councils are created under the main ministries or other authorities, consisting mainly of highly reputed figures of culture, science, etc. in society. The purpose of these councils is to communicate with civil society. Moreover, communication in both directions is carried out. With the help of such councils, government bodies receive civic initiatives, as well as information about the attitudes within society. On the other hand, such councils explain to people certain actions of government agencies.
In conditions of pressure on the Church, the Public Council can be very effective in the UOC communicating with both the authorities and civil society. Although there is a risk that such councils will turn into another bureaucratic structure with zero efficiency. Let's hope this won’t be the case with us.
The Theological Academy to comprehend the principle of conciliarity
This is one of the most important decisions of the Synod, which risks becoming most resonant.
“The subject of consideration of the Holy Synod was the violation by the Patriarchate of Constantinople of the principle of the conciliarity of the Church through unilateral interference in Ukrainian church affairs, as well as the false interpretation by representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople of certain rules of the IV Ecumenical Council. <…> The Synod instructed the Kyiv Theological Academy to hold events dedicated to the theological and canonical comprehension of the principle of the conciliarity of the Church and the issue of primacy among the Local Orthodox Churches. Particular attention will be focused on the theological, canonical and historical interpretation of Canon 28 of the IV Ecumenical Council. Representatives of the Local Orthodox Churches will be involved in these events.”
The key point in this decision is the last phrase: “representatives of the Local Orthodox Churches” will be involved in the understanding. Two and a half years have passed since the anti-canonical intervention of the Phanar in church affairs in Ukraine; and during this time both decisions of the Synods of the UOC and ROC have appeared, as well as theological publications with a detailed analysis of the Phanar’s actions and an indication of the sacred canons of the Church, which these actions contradict. Now the task of the Kyiv Theological Academy will be to present at the scientific level an assessment of the actions of the Phanar, common for the Local Churches. We would like to say “of all Local Churches”, but the realities do not yet allow us to be so optimistic. At least the Local Churches that took part in the meeting in Amman in February 2020 and, apparently, expressed a desire to continue cooperating in the “Amman format”, are potential collaborators in understanding the issue of primacy in the Church.
This decision risks becoming resonant because if the KTA consolidates the already existing (both private and church) assessments of the Phanar's actions and formulates a full-fledged theological and canonical vision of this issue, with which a significant number of Local Churches will agree, then this may become the basis for the adoption of canonical measures against Patriarch Bartholomew and others responsible for violating the canons of the Church.
Now, due to the actions of the Phanar, the UOC has found itself in the center of attention of the entire Orthodox world. And it is quite natural that it is the theologians of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church who are forced to solve the tasks that have been set before the entire Orthodox Church.
If the KTA consolidates the already existing assessments of the Phanar's actions and formulates a full-fledged theological and canonical vision of this issue, with which a significant number of Local Churches will agree, then this may become the basis for the adoption of canonical measures against Patriarch Bartholomew and others responsible for violating the canons of the Church.
Taking care of the diaspora
“Taking into account the large number of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church who live or work outside Ukraine, the Holy Synod stated the need for their spiritual care. In this regard, the Department for External Church Relations of the UOC was instructed to organize and coordinate this care. And the eparchial bishops received the blessing to inform the Department for External Church Relations of the UOC about the places of compact residence of the laity from the eparchies entrusted to them abroad with the aim of further organizing missions or parishes."
Millions of Ukrainian citizens now live in other countries. Among them is a significant part of the UOC believers. Migrants from Ukraine often organize church communities and turn to the UOC eparchies with a request to send them a priest. Parishes of the UOC appear in many countries with a large number of Ukrainian migrants. In particular, in Italy they are given the most beautiful ancient Catholic cathedrals, which are empty due to the absence of Catholic parishioners.
Previously, the emergence of such parishes occurred on a case-by-case basis and depended both on the initiative of the migrants themselves and on the opportunities of the eparchies to aid such communities and to send priests. Now it will be of a systemic nature. Bishops will have to send information to the DECR about the established communities of UOC believers abroad, what exactly they need to organize a parish, and what the UOC can do for a new community to appear. The DECR will have to coordinate all this work on the organization and life of parishes abroad and will be able not only to respond to the initiative of migrants but also, on its part, initiate the creation of church communities abroad.
Now the emergence of UOC parishes abroad will be of a systemic nature.
This decision is long overdue since there are a lot of people who are willing to “care” for Orthodox Ukrainians abroad. This is the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Greek Catholics, and the UOC-KP, which Filaret Denisenko is trying to revive. They often use the natural attraction of people who find themselves in a foreign land to their native cultural and religious environment to lure the Orthodox into the union or schism.
We wish the DECR and all those involved in this good work God's help.
Priests in medical institutions
At the Synodal Department for Healthcare and Pastoral Care of Medical Institutions, the Commission for Pastoral Affairs in Healthcare will be created. It will deal with chaplaincy issues in medicine. The decision is also urgent since priests who care for believers in medical institutions face significant difficulties: this is the issue of admission to hospital wards, the peculiarities of communication with medical staff, interaction with administrations, and much more. Probably, in the foreseeable future, the issues of pastoral care of believers in medical institutions will be regulated at the legislative level, following the model of the Law on Military Chaplaincy. In this regard, it is very important that the rights of UOC believers are not infringed upon, as in the case of chaplaincy in the armed forces.
The decision of the Synod will make it possible to systematize the practice of caring for believers in medicine for the priests and laity who carry church obedience in the field of health care. In particular, the Department for Healthcare and Pastoral Care of Medical Institutions was instructed, together with the Educational Committee and the Kyiv Theological Academy, to develop a curriculum for the preparation of medical chaplains.
Other decisions of the Synod
- a congress of monastics will be held at the Pochaev Lavra;
- three monasteries are formed;
- abbots, abbesses and governors of five monasteries are appointed;
- Saint Eumenius (Khorolsky) is canonized for local veneration within the Zhytomyr Eparchy;
- the texts of akathists, orders of divine services and prayer chants are approved;
- two new bishops are elected.
All this, especially the formation of three new monasteries, testifies to the fact that the UOC lives and develops despite pressure from the authorities, attacks by aggressive supporters of the OCU, and information campaigns from individual media outlets. Even the most ardent opponents of the UOC cannot clearly explain why the number of communities, monasteries, and educational institutions is growing in the UOC. Why is the number of monks concealed in the OCU, while new tonsures are constantly performed in the UOC?
In general, the decisions of the Holy Synod clearly debunk the myth that the supporters of the OCU are trying to compel the Ukrainian society to believe that the UOC is allegedly completely dependent on the ROC, cannot make independent decisions and does not have powers in the field of international relations. As we can see, the UOC is not only a completely independent structure but also the Church that initiates a theological dialogue on common Orthodox issues. The UOC has the competence and authority to organize discussion at the pan-Orthodox level of such an important question today as the issue of conciliarity and primacy in the Church.
It remains to wish that the current decisions of the Holy Synod would be fully implemented, and that this would become another stage in the development of the UOC.