Patriarch Bartholomew’s arrival: to protest or demand a meeting?

Will Patriarch Bartholomew decide to come to a meeting with UOC believers? Photo: UOJ

The Phanar head does not intend to cancel his visit. Will he decide to come? And is it appropriate to demand a meeting after the protests against his arrival?

Over the past few months, UOC believers have protested in various ways against the arrival of Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine. During the Great Cross Procession – 2021, which gathered 350 thousand believers, one could see posters in the hands of people demanding that Patriarch Bartholomew do not come to our country. After a while, in some dioceses, the #STOPVARFOLOMEY flash mob took place.

Believers both in the centres of eparchies and in small villages spared no time and effort, wrote posters against the arrival of Patriarch Bartholomew in Ukrainian, English, Greek and held protest actions.

The UOC community in Radyvyliv, Rivne region. Photo: Facebook / Yaroslav Vozniak
Believers of the Holy Dormition Pochaiv Lavra. Photo: Facebook / Archbishop Jonah
The community of St. Prince Alexander Nevsky’s Cathdral in Melitopol. Photo: Facebook /Gennady Yelin
The community of the Holy Cross Church of the UOC in the village of Solgutovo, Kirovograd region. Photo: Facebook / Evgeny Ilchenko

All these actions are still ongoing. But since Patriarch Bartholomew made a number of statements in which he confirmed his intention to come to Ukraine, the believers decided to demand a meeting with him. However, before analyzing such a sharp change in tactics and speculating whether it is correct at all, it is necessary to understand what the previous protests against the arrival of the Phanar head were like and what caused them.

Protests of believers against the Phanar head’s arrival: political technologies or a heartcry?

At the Great Cross Procession of the UOC one could see many posters protesting against the activities of Patriarch Bartholomew in Ukraine: “Bartholomew, do not sow unrest!”, “Saint Vladimir, protect us from Bartholomew!”, “Bartholomew is a schism!”, “God is love, Bartholomew is discord!”, “Vladimir united Rus’ with Baptism, Bartholomew divides with Tomos!”, “God is love, Bartholomew is robbery!”, “Bartholomew, do not take our churches!”, “Stop Bartholomew's raiding!”, etc.

Opponents of the UOC declared that all this was a political “top-down” action and that people were almost forced to write and carry these posters. But if we look closely at the "anti-Bartholomew" signs, we will see that almost all of them are handicrafts. They were most likely made by the same people who held them in their hands since all the posters looked different. This is not a centralized action, there was no coordination whatsoever. There are no signs that these protests were initiated "from above". This is definitely a bottom-up initiative. In addition, there were not so many people with "anti-Bartholomew" posters. Still, in the minds of believers, the joy of the feast of the Baptism of Rus’ far more surpasses the sadness of Patriarch Bartholomew's arrival in Ukraine. Anyone who took part in the religious procession or at least was near could feel the indescribable atmosphere of joy, prayer and unity that was there. Protest motives simply drowned in this atmosphere and were far from the dominant push factors behind the Great Cross Procession.

Believers with the protest signs on the Vladimir Hill. Photo: Klimenko Time

It can be definitely asserted that the “anti-Bartholomew” signs are not just an initiative from below but a heartcry of those Christians who first-hand felt the “love of the Mother Church” as seizures of churches, beatings and threats. You can understand these people: their churches that they built, repaired and decorated with their own money were taken away, their own lives and health were in danger, they bear the brunt of physical and psychological bullying by the supporters of the OCU. And one of the main initiators of this violence is Patriarch Bartholomew. It was he who gave the go-ahead to the seizures and fights in the villages, and it is he who is responsible for everything that is happening there. In fairness, it should be noted that before the Tomos story in Ukraine there were seizures of churches, but after the intervention of Patriarch Bartholomew, these processes reached a qualitatively new level and became almost a part of domestic politics. Therefore, it is not surprising that those who suffered from the "love of the Mother Church" express their attitude towards him and urge him to change his mind.

It can be definitely asserted that the “anti-Bartholomew” signs are not just an initiative from below but a heartcry of those Christians who first-hand felt the “love of the Mother Church” as seizures of churches, beatings and threats.

For example, the rector of the persecuted Holy Protection community of the UOC in the village of Godomychi, Volyn region, Fr. John Shkabura says the following about this: “I am an ordinary priest. And no matter what the patriarch is like, I am not worthy to condemn his actions, everyone will be responsible before God for their lives. But nevertheless, the patriarch, committing such acts, must remember that at the Last Judgment it will be very difficult to answer for them. We hope that the Lord will bring him to senses." Note that in these words there is no hatred, no threats, no desire for revenge. There is only regret that the soul of Patriarch Bartholomew will sooner or later have to see all the consequences of his actions, all the tears of believers and all the sorrows that he brought them, and give an answer for this before the impartial judgment of God.

Mother Ulyana Taborovets from vlg. Berestye of the Rivne region, who defended her church from the raiders of the OCU, being in the last months of pregnancy, said harsher: “He (Patriarch Batholomew – Ed.) will soon go to God and look God in the eye. What will you say, man? Yes, I say "man" because I no longer consider him a patriarch as he broke the canons. He became a schismatic himself since he recognized schismatics. What has he done? <…> I have no right to judge, only actions can be condemned. But this is terrible. It's terrible – how much wrong he did, how many tears and blood were shed in other temples, as far as I know." Yes, the is strong language, but it's true. Believers of vlg. Berestye were deprived not only of their temple but also of a church house, and even a chapel in the cemetery.

That is, all these "anti-Bartholomew" signs like all protests in general are the voice of the suffering people.

Will new seizures come?

The protests against the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine to celebrate the Day of Independence are not only a reaction to the evil that has already been done against the UOC communities but also an attempt to prevent the further spread of this evil. Sergei (Epiphany) Dumenko, the OCU head, almost makes it clear that the seizures of churches and other violence will certainly take place in connection with the Phanar head’s arrival: “Those who were ready took a decision (to move to the OCU – Ed. ). But there will be another wave. And not smaller but bigger. Therefore, they (the UOC – Ed.) have a certain fear of the arrival of the Ecumenical Patriarch to Ukraine” (from an interview with Radio Liberty dated 24.04.2021). It should be clarified that the term “transfer” of the community to the jurisdiction of the OCU, constantly used by OCU adherents, in fact, means in most cases their forcible seizure or illegal re-registration.

Also, a new wave of seizures was discussed during the meeting of S. Dumenko with the head of the US Department of State Antony J. Blinken during the latter's visit to Kyiv in May 2021. Following the talks, the OCU press service reported: “Particular attention during the short …… but meaningful meeting was paid to the issue of the formation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the importance of removing artificial obstacles in the free, based on the principles of freedom of conscience, determination of communities’ affiliation.” What actually means “free determination of communities’ affiliation” is said above.

Therefore, protests against Patriarch Bartholomew’s arrival in Ukraine are a natural expression by the people who do not want the renewal of the previous nightmares of their attitude to what is happening.

What does Patriarch Bartholomew have to do with Ukraine?

A spoiler – nothing.

Nevertheless, we propose to analyze this issue in detail, from the perspective of the statement of the OCU promoter Ya. Mishchenko that those who criticize Patriarch Bartholomew "should be handed over to the SBU". What status should Patriarch Bartholomew have in relation to Ukraine for the Security Service to deal with his critics?

From the point of view of the Ukrainian state, Patriarch Bartholomew is a foreign citizen who, even in his own country (Turkey), is the head of a foreign religious organization. Moreover, the status of this religious organization from the point of view of the Turkish state is rather specific. The Orthodox Church of Constantinople, or rather its governing body, is located on the territory of Turkey, but in this country itself, it has practically no flock. All believers of the Patriarchate of Constantinople live in different countries, mainly in the United States.

In international law, they distinguish international organizations of public law or international interstate organizations, which are established by states and receive from them their legal personality. And there are international organizations of private law, created by individuals and legal entities from different countries. Of course, the Local Orthodox Church, which is the Patriarchate of Constantinople, does not belong to either category, but again, from the point of view of the state, it is closer to private law organizations. And if so, it remains a mystery why V. Zelensky invited Patriarch Bartholomew to the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's Independence: this is a secular holiday, according to the Constitution, the Church is separated from the state, there are no merits of Patriarch Bartholomew in Ukraine's gaining independence.

Patriarch Bartholomew does not have any flock in Ukraine, except for a dozen parishioners of St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv, given to the Phanar as a stauropegion.

Maybe, Patriarch Bartholomew is a significant person from the point of view of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU)? But here we come to an interesting conclusion: formally, he is not. If you believe the statements of the OCU head Sergey (Epiphany) Dumenko and other persons who have spoken on this topic, the PCU has the status of a self-governing religious structure, over which there are no higher management levels. Patriarch Bartholomew does not have any flock in Ukraine, except for a dozen parishioners of St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv, given to the Phanar as a stauropegion, which, by the way, is quite controversial from the point of view of Ukrainian legislation. The invitation of Pope Francis is much more logical in this regard because he is a recognized head of the two Ukrainian religious organizations: the Ukrainian Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches.

The invitation of Patriarch Bartholomew can only prove the fact that the OCU does not have a truly autocephalous status and depends on the Phanar, which, according to the Tomos text, is empowered to manage this religious organization and is also the highest judicial authority.

Why believers decided to demand a meeting with the Phanar 

It is debatable if protests of believers could influence the decision of Patriarch Bartholomew to come to Ukraine or not, but today we have not only the confirmation of the visit from both the Phanar and Kyiv but also the programme of the visit. So, on August 21, St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral will host a meeting of the Phanar head with the "clergy" of the OCU, and on August 22, a "liturgy" at St. Sophia’s Cathedral of Kyiv will be celebrated.

On August 21, Patriarch Bartholomew is going to meet with the Verkhovna Rada Speaker, Dmitry Razumkov. The NGO "Miriane” (“Laity”) wrote a letter to Patriarch Bartholomew demanding a meeting with him and call on believers to come to the Verkhovna Rada at 9:00 to express their disagreement with the Phanar head’s actions in Ukraine. "Miriane" explained the objectives of this event on their TG channel:

"The Patriarch of Constantinople should understand that his view of the Ukrainian church situation has nothing to do with reality. That we are Ukrainians with Ukrainian passports, and not the ROCU, 'FSB agents' or marginal 'non-existent church', as he calls us now. That we are a huge canonical Church that has been standing on our land for 1033 years. That our Primate, His Beatitude Onuphry, is the legal Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, and not the 'Russian hierarch in Ukraine'".

Is the transition from protests against the arrival to the demand of the meeting justified?

It seems it is. To continue protesting against Patriarch Bartholomew’s arrival when the matter is already decided is definitely unreasonable. The protests make sense when there is the likelihood that the decision can be changed. In this case, all interested parties – the Constantinople Patriarchate, the OCU, and the Office of the President – said that the visit would take place. Under these conditions, protests against the arrival will look marginal. If you protest further, you need to shift accents and protest against the Phanar’s actions in Ukraine rather than Patriarch Bartholomew’s arrival.

After all, protests are not an end in itself. The purpose of all the efforts of believers in relation to the Phanar is the awareness by the hierarchs of the Constantinople Patriarchate of the sinfulness and harmfulness of their decisions in Ukraine for Patriarch Bartholomew to reverse them and bring repentance for their bloody (literally) results. This is an uncomfortable maximum. A minimum task is to reduce or stop the pressure on the UOC from the state, to reduce or stop the seizures of churches and allow the UOC believers to fully realize their rights to freedom of conscience and religion, as it is guaranteed to Ukrainian citizens by the Constitution.

Based on these purposes, the forms of protests or other actions are chosen. Yes, it would be better if Patriarch Bartholomew refused to go to Ukraine. But if this is no longer avoided, then you need to try to convey to him true information about what is happening in the religious sphere of our country and what consequences his actions have led to. There is still a possibility that Patriarch Bartholomew is not provided with all the completeness of information, or it is distorted it in such a way that he has an idea that he did the right thing in Ukraine, that thanks to his decisions, the schism disappeared, and that “grateful” Ukrainians are looking forward to his visit. The likelihood that Patriarch Bartholomew is under a delusion is certainly small. And the chances of Patriarch Bartholomew paying his precious time to the believers of the UOC, which he "abolished", are slim to none. But the fact is that the announced prayer standing at the Verkhovna Rada has not only Patriarch Bartholomew as its addressee. It is also addressed to the authorities of Ukraine, who will see the manifestation of the civil position of a significant part of Ukrainian society. It is addressed to other Local Churches that recognized and did not recognize the OCU project. It is a reminder to them that the "abolished" UOC exists that it is still the most numerous denomination in Ukraine and that defectors in its environment have been very few.

This is what the “Miriane” message says: "Our call to a meeting сonfronts Patriarch Bartholomew with a difficult choice: if his conscience is clear and he really worries about the fate of Orthodox Ukrainians as he declares everywhere, he will come and hear the whole truth from us. And after that, he will not be able to continue his previous policy. If the head of the Phanar ignores "his flock" (as he calls us), then in the face of the whole world he will clearly confirm the hypocrisy of his own rhetoric."

Prayer standing is addressed to the enemies of the Church within Ukraine. We are not going to sit back but will protect our Church in all legitimate ways.

The event near the Verkhovna Rada is also addressed to the UOC believers themselves. This is a call to gather around our Primate, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry and realize that the fate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church depends, including, on each of us.

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