Will the pressure on the UOC continue after the Council?
The Council of the UOC declared its full autonomy and independence. How did the enemies of the Church respond to this and what to expect next?
After the Council of the UOC, enough time has already passed to understand the reaction to its decisions of those who are trying to ban and destroy the canonical Church. In turn, the analysis of this response allows concluding whether the actual persecution of the Church will continue in the near future or will gradually come to naught.
The response of the OCU to the Council
It was predictably negative.
On May 31, 2022, a whole “Synod” was convened by Dumenko in order to criticize the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In their opinion, the Council did not condemn strongly enough the position of Patriarch Kirill on the war in Ukraine and did not “put forward demands to him to change this position.” There is no doubt that if the participants in the Council had commented even more harshly on the position of the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, the OCU would still be dissatisfied.
Dumenko also spoke out on the dialogue with the UOC: “For our part, we reaffirm that such a dialogue should begin without preconditions or ultimatums. We expect concrete proposals from the other side regarding the first steps in the dialogue and the appointment of those responsible for the dialogue.”
Recall that at the Council of the UOC, these very “concrete proposals” were voiced: a dialogue is possible provided the temples of the UOC are no longer seized and the “bishops” of the OCU are re-ordained by legitimate hierarchs. However, Dumenko obviously considers such proposals unacceptable. In other words, the OCU is not going to withdraw their raiders, much less re-ordain men in episcopal vestments.
Also, the "synodals" expressed regret that the amended Statute of the UOC, which would reflect the changes confirming its independence from the ROC, has not yet been published. For this reason, they say, the new status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is not obvious to them.
In addition, the last thesis caused only bewilderment – why then did the “Synod” of the OCU meet? To state that the new Statute has not yet been published? Wouldn’t it be easier to make judgments once the document is published?
In general, we can say for sure: the UOC Council is a strong blow to the structure of Dumenko. Now they will not have any arguments to criticize the canonical Church or organize "transitions" to their own structure.
The response of the enemies of the UOC from government offices
Even more negative was the reaction of state officials, who initiated the ban on the UOC both at the level of local government and at the national level. Let's give two examples.
Oksana Savchuk, a member of the VO Svoboda party and the author of odious bill 7204, which provides for a harsh version of the ban on the UOC and the confiscation of all church property, responded to the Council of the UOC in the following way: “The maneuvers of the Moscow Church in Ukraine will not work. FSB agents in cassocks are trying to create a ‘smokescreen’. But it will not work!"
Moreover, a few days after the Council of the UOC, she demanded that Rada consider her bill. According to Savchuk, the head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy N. Poturayev promised her to do it.
She also announced an agreement to create a “Parliamentary Temporary Investigative Commission to look into the facts of cooperation between churchmen and Russian invaders. Law enforcement officers need to be more active in bringing collaborators in cassocks to justice. There have been many cases over the last three months, but few criminal proceedings.”
With these words, O. Savchuk denounced herself, because if there were such cases during the three months of the war, then there would be plenty of criminal cases, but there is none, at least, no one ever mentioned such precedents.
O. Savchuk ends this post with the following appeal: “We do not have time to look for a long time for a solution on how to neutralize the influence of the Moscow Patriarchate. We must do this as quickly and legally as possible."
Firstly, this cannot be done in a “legal way” in principle, since a ban on the UOC would be a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of the Church from the State, as well as a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of conscience. Any European court (if Ukraine wants to join the EU, right?) will make it abundantly clear Oksana Savchuk.
Secondly, the fact that O. Savchuk rushes everyone to adopt a law banning the UOC clearly shows that the decisions of the Council of the UOC of May 27, 2022 cut the ground from under the feet of the enemies of the UOC who want to destroy the canonical Church. After all, both from the factual and from the legal point of view, there are no grounds for banning the activities of the Church. Now it is not related with the ROC at all, except for the Eucharistic unity, which has already been mentioned above. However, this area is not at all within the competence of state bodies.
To show the reaction of local authorities, let us cite the statements of the head of the Rivne Regional Council, Sergei Kondrachuk, who “gained notoriety” back in the “tomos” times, when he would seize churches of the UOC with his own hands.
Shortly after the Council, Kondrachuk was outraged by the “wrong”, from his point of view, wording of the condemnation of the war and the position of Patriarch Kirill, so his fianl words were: “This structure in Ukraine must be liquidated.”
A few days later, Kondrachuk published the text of his speech at a hearing at the Humanitarian and Information Policy Committee of the Verkhovna Rada. There he called for the adoption of a law that would ban the UOC throughout Ukraine, and the Rivne Regional Military Administration to cancel "in accordance with the procedure established by law, the statutes and state registration of religious communities of the UOC (MP) on the territory of the Rivne region."
It is very sad that a state official of this level does not know the provisions of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations", which provide for only two ways to terminate the activities of communities:
- on the basis of their own decision or a court decision;
- in case of illegal activities.
That is, to ban churches is not within the purview of the military administration, as well as other state bodies. Only the court can do it. By the way, Vasily Dorosh, head of the Department of Religions and Nationalities of the Department for Culture, Nationalities and Religions of the Lviv Regional Military Administration, said that local communities do not have the authority to prohibit the activities of religious organizations.
Moreover, just like O. Savchuk, the head of the Rivne Regional Council let slip about criminal cases: “Back in 2019, I was a witness in criminal cases against the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Rivne region. Criminal proceedings against them were initiated under several articles, one of which is high treason. <...> Unfortunately, after the presidential elections in 2019, I do not know what is the fate of these criminal cases. <...> I conclude that the case has not been brought to an end, to real sentences.”
In this connection we can say that if there were a real evidence base in these cases, then they would have been in court long ago and the court would have passed the appropriate verdicts. But the fact that such verdicts do not exist proves once again that these cases had no prospects of litigation.
On May 30, 2022, Kondrachuk published a very revealing post that deputies from Eurosolidarity, Svoboda, the Lyashko party and others allegedly demanded a session to ban the activities of the UOC, whose center is located in the capital of the occupying country.
That is, after the Council of the UOC removed all references to the ROC from its Statute, the Rivne deputies gathered to ban the religious organization, “whose governing center is located in the capital of the occupying countrry.” I wonder what kind of religious organization they had in mind?
Also noteworthy is the composition of the political forces that initiated the meeting on the issue of banning the UOC. In the first place is European Solidarity, but there are no representatives of the pro-government Servant of the People party. This confirms the assumption made in the article “Whose ears are sticking out of local bans on the UOC” that there may be a political struggle between parties behind the campaign to ban the UOC at the local government level, where some of which deliberately shake up the domestic political situation in the country.
Church raiding: was there a turning point?
After the Council, conflicts are still fomented around the temples of the UOC, which the authorities are trying to transfer to the Dumenko’s structure, but this is more likely due to inertia.
On May 29, 2022, in the village of Glinsk, during a procession with the miraculous icon of Spyridon of Trimythous, supporters of the OCU staged a provocation, shouting “Shame!” to the believers of the UOC!
On the same day, in the village of Popelnia, Zhytomyr region, the faithful of the St. Nicholas church defended it from the raiders after many hours of prayer standing.
Also on May 29, 2022, during the liturgy, supporters of the OCU broke into the St. Michael church in the city of Rozhyshche (Volyn diocese) and demanded that the temple be transferred to the OCU.
On the other hand, there are other messages now. In Ivanychi in Volhynia, the "transition" meeting, scheduled for May 29, did not take place. There are even cases when priests, who backslid into schism earlier, return to the UOC with their parishes.
The decisions of the Council of the UOC are a strong blow to the positions of both the OCU and anti-church politicians. The Dumenkovites no longer have arguments for organizing "transitions" of the temples of the canonical Church. The same applies to politicians – there are now no grounds at all for parliamentary bills and decisions (being illegal per se) to ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the field.
Does this mean that such people will give up their attempts? Certainly not, they will continue to fight the UOC in order to destroy it altogether. No statuses, no jurisdictions have anything to do with it. It must be understood that there will always be those for whom the existence of the Church of Christ is a finger down their throats. They will hence use every opportunity to tackle it.
Nevertheless, the decisions of the Council of the UOC leave no arguments for those who are trying to destroy it. If the authorities do not act arbitrarily and against the law, creating new artificial conflicts within the country, the current persecution of the UOC will gradually come to naught, although it will last by inertia for some time.
Today, the swaying of the situation within the UOC is believed to be the main danger. Now notably “pious” bloggers and resources have stepped up, which incite enmity and hatred towards the participants of the Council, insult the Primate of the UOC and so on. It is quite possible that they are driven by zeal and good intentions, but we must remember that our main task is not to try to save the Church, but to make every effort to be saved in the Church, to remain faithful to Her and not to betray Her in the troubled times.