Decisions of the UOC Council: schism or not?

The Council of the UOC has declared full independence. Photo: UOJ

The Council of the UOC of 27 May 2022 declared full independence from the Russian Orthodox Church. Can we say that this is autocephaly and even more so a schism?

On 27 May 2022, the Local Council of the UOC took place which declared the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Its results immediately caused a storm of emotions among Orthodox believers, ranging from jubilation to sorrow. What happened there?

We remind you that initially it was convened not as a Council of the UOC but as a meeting of bishops, the clergy and the laity. When the results of the discussion of church problems in the format of the meeting made it clear that the church needs to make certain decisions, there was an emergency meeting of the Holy Synod, then the Council of Bishops and, finally, the Local Council (by the way, this supreme governing body, according to the UOC Statute, is not called the Local Council but simply: "The Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church").

What did the Local Council resolve?

Disagreement with Patriarch Kirill’s position

"We express our disagreement with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on the war in Ukraine.”

The Patriarch's position on the war in Ukraine is one of the most painful for UOC believers. It is difficult to argue that he actually approved of the actions of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, as is evident from his numerous statements and sermons after the outbreak of war. As an example, on March 14, 2022, at the end of the Liturgy on the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, Patriarch Kyrill presented ) Viktor Zolotov, the head of the Rosgvardiya (the National Guard of the Russian Federation) with the August icon of the Mother of God, saying: "May this image inspire young soldiers of the Rosgvardiya, who take the oath, who embark on the path of defence of the Homeland.” Since the Russian Guard take part in military operations in Ukraine, the Patriarch's words become a blessing for such activities. This is exactly how Zolotov understood it because in his response speech he started talking about the war in Ukraine: "I would like to say that yes, not everything is going as fast as we would like, but this is only because the Nazis are hiding <...> but we are going towards the intended goal step by step and victory will be ours". The Patriarch said nothing against this and did not correct anything.

And it must be said that the Patriarch sets the tone for the overall position of the ROC. For example, authoritative Metropolitan Sergii of Voronezh and Liski said on April 12, 2022: "We must all support our President and the work he is doing. Most regrettably, this task is no longer possible without blood-shedding.”

That is, bloodshed is justified by high goals. And this is nothing else but the Jesuit principle: "the end justifies the means". So the UOC Council expressed its disagreement with this position. Murder, including of children, violence, and destruction of houses cannot be justified by any "high goals".

Chrism-making

"The Council had a judgment on the renewal of сhrism-making in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church".

First of all, the wording should be noted – сhrism-making is not explicitly announced, only "a judgement" is spoken of. But even these words have caused indignation among many because making myrrh is often perceived as a sign of the autocephalous Church.

In this regard, we can say that independent сhrism-making is only an attribute of autocephaly rather than a precondition. By the way, myrrh was made in Kyiv back in the days of the Russian Empire, when the dioceses of the former Kyiv Metropolis were part of the Russian Church.

Foreign parishes

We will not reproduce the text of this paragraph in full. It boils down to the fact that because of the mass (more than 6 million people) migration from Ukraine, there is an urgent need to organize the pastoral care of believers abroad. Moreover, it is logical to assume that some of the displaced people will not return to Ukraine in the foreseeable future. Therefore, the Council decided "to further develop the mission abroad among Orthodox Ukrainians in order to preserve their faith, culture, language and Orthodox identity”.

Parishes of the UOC believers abroad exist in many countries: Italy, Canada, the USA and others. Taking care of its flock that is abroad is an obvious necessity, and therefore this point in the decisions of the Council is logical. Nevertheless, it also provokes debate, since the presence of the diaspora testifies to the autonomy of the Church.

Search for unity in Ukrainian Orthodoxy

The UOC says it is ready to begin a dialogue with the OCU but puts forward three conditions:

  • to stop seizing churches;
  • to recognise its "autocephaly" as not full;
  • to reordain its "bishops" by canonical bishops.

Of course, the main condition is the last one. The fact remains that almost all the "bishops" of the OCU received their "consecration" from Filaret Denisenko when he was already excommunicated from the Church. The recognition of hierarchical dignity of the OCU "bishops" by the Patriarchate of Constantinople has not changed anything in this matter – representatives of many local Churches pointed out the impossibility of retrospective recognition of the grace of "ordinations”.

Time will show to what extent such a condition can be fulfilled by the OCU. For its short history, it has demonstrated an enormous dependence on the secular authorities, including foreign ones. Therefore, if suddenly, for some reason these forces consider it necessary to unite the Orthodox denominations in Ukraine, appropriate pressure can be put on the OCU.

At the same time, the decision of the UOC Council does not specify from whom the OCU representatives can receive legitimate hierarchical ordinations. It only says that "to recognize the canonicity of the OCU hierarchy, it is necessary to restore the apostolic succession of its bishops”.

At the moment, however, the possibility of unification with the OCU seems absolutely impossible.

Independence of the UOC

"The Council adopted relevant addenda and amendments to the Statute on the government of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, indicating full independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”

This point is the most significant in the Resolution of the Council, for the solution of which the Council was convened. But from the text, it is absolutely unclear: is it already autocephaly or not yet?

The text of the amendments to the Statute of the UOC is not yet in the public domain, but Metropolitan Clement (Vecheria) in an interview with LIGA.net when asked what the changes in the Statute provide in practice, said: "Non-commemoration of the Patriarch, independence in making all organizational decisions, non-subordination to any decisions of the ROC in relation to the UOC."

Two days after the Council, on May 29, 2022, there was a liturgy at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, where at the Great Entrance Metropolitan Onuphry mentioned Patriarch Kirill among the Primates of the other Local Churches. Prior to that, the Metropolitan had commemorated him as "the Grand Master".

Metropolitan Onuphry mentioned the name of Patriarch Kirill among the Primates of the other Local Churches. Prior to that, the Metropolitan had commemorated him as "the Grand Master".

Let us now turn to relations with the ROC.
Until recently, the Statute of the UOC has contained several norms indicating a connection with the Russian Orthodox Church:

  • The UOC is a self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church (p. 1, para. 5);
  • The newly elected Primate of the UOC receives the blessing of the Moscow Patriarch (p. 5, para. 2);
  • The Primate of the UOC is a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church (p. 5, para. 8);
  • The UOC is connected with all the Local Churches through the ROC (p. 1, para. 3);
  • The Council of Bishops of the UOC acts on the basis of the decisions of ROC Councils (p. 3, para. 3).

The participants in the Council claim that all of these clauses will disappear. Whether this is true or not will become clear when the new UOC Statute is published.

Forced independence of the dioceses

"For the period of martial law, when the relations between the eparchies and the Church governing centre are complicated or absent, the Council considers it appropriate to empower eparchial bishops to make independent decisions on various issues of eparchial life, which fall within the competence of the Holy Synod or the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, followed by informing the clergy if possible.”

It is no coincidence that we placed this point of the Statute last. Of course, it is intended to address a whole range of issues in the life of the dioceses, which are outside Ukrainian control and with which communication during the war is difficult or impossible. These include staff issues, the opening of monasteries, the establishment of educational institutions and so on. But there is another one, and it is probably the main one right now.

Such dioceses have the right to be guided in their work by the former Statute of the UOC. Donetsk, Simferopol and Crimean dioceses of the UOC have already announced that they intend to exercise this right.

Reaction to the Council

As has already been said, the decisions of the Local Council of the UOC have caused a very strong reaction both in Ukraine and in the Russian Federation. Two main questions are being discussed:

  1. Is it autocephaly or not?
  2. Is it schism or not?

For example, the deputy head of the Russian Orthodox Church's Synodal Department for Relations with Society and the Media, Alexander Shchipkov, said about the schism on his Telegram channel. He wrote that the UOC has allegedly already declared the restoration of chrism-making, and this is the main attribute of autocephaly. Also, Shchipkov said that Kyiv has never made myrrh (which is an obvious mistake). The author summed up his publication by saying that the Council is a project of the State Department and Metropolitan Onufry is its executor. There were other emotional statements by representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church.

But then there was a series of official statements and passions immediately diminished.

On May 28, 2022, the head of the MP DECR Metropolitan Hilarion said that the Council of the UOC only confirmed the 1990 Tomos of Patriarch Alexy and the unity with the Russian Orthodox Church is still preserved. The spokesperson for the ROC, Vladimir Legoida, immediately pointed out that it was the words of Metropolitan Hilarion that were the official position of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Then Patriarch Kirill spoke out. On May 29, he commented on the decisions of the UOC Council: "We understand that His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry and the episcopate must act wisely today in order not to complicate the life of their faithful people.”

Well, the official point was made by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had an emergency meeting on May 29. Its main theses are as follows:

  • The Status of the UOC is determined by the Letter of Patriarch Alexy of 1990.
  • The amendments to the Statute that have been adopted by the Council of the UOC need to be studied in accordance with the established procedure to determine their compliance with the said Letter and the Statute of the ROC.
  • It is regretted that in a number of dioceses of the UOC the commemoration of the Patriarch was ceased.

Representatives of the ROC clergy have already had time to comment unofficially on these decisions. For example, the well-known priest and theologian Georgy Maksimov said that the ROC did not condemn the decisions of the Council of the UOC but did not approve them either: "Thus it is indicated that the changes made by the Council of the UOC cannot be considered to have taken legal effect".

Since Maximov was also supported by the episcopate of the ROC (for example, by Patriarchal Vicar Bishop Savva (Tutunov)), it is worth noting that the UOC Statute, even in its previous wording, did not require approval of its decisions by the ROC. This is evidenced by p. 2, para 15 "On changes to the Statute on the government of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church": "The right to make addenda and amendments to this Statute shall be vested in the Council of Bishops of the UOC with subsequent approval by the Council of the UOC.”

Whatever it may be, all who feared that the decisions of the Local Council are a schism can calm down. The break with the Russian Church has not happened.

All those who feared that the decisions of the Local Council are a schism can calm down.

The question of autocephaly remains open – does the UOC have it or not?

The answer can be the following: by the rights that the UOC now has – certainly, yes, but by its official status – no.

And does it matter to those believers who have come and will continue to come to services in UOC churches? Does it really matter to them whether the UOC will be called autocephalous or autonomous? For them, it is really important that no schism has occurred, and that all the Sacraments of the Church have been and remain valid.

The UOC in any case is and will be the only grace-bearing Church of Christ in Ukraine. It will continue to be recognized everywhere in the Orthodox world. It will continue to carry out its mission of salvation on earth.

And we can already say that in a very difficult situation, in which UOC has now found itself, the Council made the best decision.

On the one hand, the Church declared its complete independence: now the authorities have no reason to ban the UOC, prohibit its activity, "transfer" communities to the OCU, etc.

On the other hand, it has preserved the prayerful connection to the Russian Church and avoided the danger of a schism. Yes, now neither "autocephalists" nor "traditionalists" are completely satisfied, but the Church has been preserved, and our unity as members of the one Body of Christ has been preserved. "So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others" (Rom. 12:5).

In a very difficult situation, in which UOC has now found itself, the Council made the best decision.

We all remain united in Christ with all the Orthodox communities throughout the world. And we must also preserve the integrity of the UOC. The discussions about its status should not cause internal divisions. Many have taken up arms against our Church, and in these difficult conditions, our task is to preserve internal unity around our Primate, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, because only our unity is the guarantee of the existence of true, not sham Orthodoxy on the Ukrainian land.

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How has your life changed since the outbreak of war?
It hasn't changed in any way
70%
My church has been seized by OCU members
10%
My church has been damaged/destroyed by shelling
10%
I'm going to another church because of displacement
10%
Total votes: 10

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