UOC and OCU: is it possible to unite?

The decision of the Council of the UOC on the OCU is evidence of the refusal to unite. Photo: UOJ

Critics of the Council in Feofania assert that now the UOC will definitely merge with the OCU. Let's analyze whether this is so and make some forecasts.

Following the Council of the UOC in Feofania, accusations of various “flaws” came raining down on the Church. Some of them are quite expressive. Certain resources and bloggers "prophesy" the inevitable unification of the UOC with the OCU and then with the Uniates. We propose to analyze the situation and find out whether there are at least some grounds for such forecasts. Prior to any arguments and analysis, it is necessary to clearly understand where the Ukrainian Orthodox denominations originate from.

Who is who in Ukrainian Orthodoxy

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) dates back to 988, when the Metropolis of Kyiv of the Patriarchate of Constantinople was created under the Great Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir. True though, there is an opinion that until 1037 the Kyiv Metropolis was subordinate to the autocephalous Ohrid Archdiocese, but it makes no difference in this case. In subsequent centuries, the Kievan Metropolis was divided and reunited several times. In the second half of the 15th century, this division was finally consolidated, the northeastern part of the Metropolis took shape to become a de facto autocephalous Russian Church, while its southwestern part remained part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In 1686, it was transferred to the Russian Church, which by that time had received recognition as a patriarchate. In 1990, the dioceses that were located on the territory of Ukraine (Ukrainian SSR at that time) were transformed from an exarchate into the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which gained independence and sovereignty, which was once again confirmed and even somewhat expanded by the Council of the UOC on May 27, 2022.

Without exception, all the bishops of the UOC are blessed bishops of the Church of Christ and are recognized as such by all the Local Churches without exception.

Without exception, all the bishops of the UOC are blessed bishops of the Church of Christ and are recognized as such by all the Local Churches without exception.

The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) was established in 1921 by the decision of the so-called First All-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Council. This event was not a Church Council, since there was not a single bishop among its participants. A total of 472 delegates participated, including 64 priests and 17 deacons. The Soviet government, under which all this took place, approved the event and did not interfere with its course. The congress proclaimed autocephaly, but it was not possible to find a single bishop at that time (neither in ministry nor retired nor even banned) to ordain bishops for the created religious organization.

Then the participants in the congress, priests and laity, decided to appoint themselves a "bishop", which was Vasily Lipkovsky. The obvious absurdity of such a decision is explained by the extremely low level of ecclesiastical self-awareness of the majority of the participants. One of the leaders of the UAOC, Vasily Potienko, later recalled: “There is no place to hide the truth: the deputies of the council were mostly people who were little familiar with church canons and all sorts of intricate missionary matters.” One can only imagine the level of churching of the delegates of that event, because every person, even the slightest bit familiar with Orthodoxy, knows that it is impossible to perform any consecration without a bishop, and even more so a bishop's ordination. In connection with such a creative birth of the “hierarchy” of the UAOC, the name “self-ordained” firmly stuck to them.

Subsequently, the UAOC was subjected to repressions in the territory of the USSR and survived only in the diaspora. With the beginning of perestroika, it was legalized in Ukraine and lasted until 2018, when it became part of the OCU.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) was founded by the so-called All-Ukrainian Unification Council of the UAOC and the “UOC” on June 25-26, 1992. Moreover, the “UOC” was represented by persons who at that time no longer belonged to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Filaret Denisenko and Yakov Panchuk, both at that time already defrocked and deprived of all degrees of the priesthood. In addition to them, there were two more "bishops" in the status of “defrocked”, whom Filaret and Jacob "ordained". At this event, the merger of the UAOC and the "UOC" was announced despite the fact that the actual head of the UAOC "Patriarch" Mstislav Skrypnik, who lived in the USA, was not informed about this "Council" at all. When he found out about this, he declared his categorical disagreement and called on all his supporters not to recognize the unification into a single structure, the Kyiv Patriarchate. Soon the UAOC, having hardly entered the association, withdrew from it, while the UOC-KP remained and began to develop as an independent religious organization. The entire “hierarchy” of the UOC-KP emanated from Filaret Denisenko and Yakov Panchuk, who were defrocked, as well as Andriy Horak, the former bishop of Lvov and Drohobych, who joined them a little later having been already defrocked.

Neither the UAOC nor the UOC-KP had the legal episcopate, which was recognized by absolutely all Local Orthodox Churches.

Thus, neither the UAOC nor the UOC-KP had the legal episcopate, which was recognized by absolutely all Local Orthodox Churches. On December 15, 2018, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was created from these two organizations, which was preceded by the decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to “reunite with the Church” of Filaret Denisenko and the head of the UAOC Makariy Maletich, along with all their followers. In addition to the fact that this decision itself is illegal, the Phanar has not done anything to solve the problem of the lack of the canonical episcopate in the OCU. They neither secretly nor explicitly "re-ordained" the bishops of the OCU, which means that the OCU does not have any valid episcopate, for the reason that it had absolutely nowhere to come from.

Preconditions for negotiations

In order for the UOC to be able to engage in some kind of negotiations with the OCU, the latter must receive bishops ordained by canonical hierarchs. Otherwise, it will be negotiations between bishops and laity, and the topic of these negotiations can be anything – politics, football, but not church unification.

Therefore, the Council of the UOC of May 27, 2022 put forward the OCU three requisites for negotiations:

  • stop the seizure of temples and forced transfers of parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church;
  • realize that their canonical status, as it is enshrined in the "Statute of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine", is in fact non-autocephalous and significantly inferior to the freedoms and opportunities in the implementation of church activities, which are provided for by the Statute on the governance of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church;
  • resolve the issue of canonicity of the OCU hierarchy, because for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as well as for the majority of Local Orthodox Churches, it is quite obvious that in order to recognize the canonicity of the OCU hierarchy, it is necessary to restore the apostolic succession of its bishops.”

The first two requisites can be merely ignored by the OCU. As for the seizures of temples, they can pretend that some third parties are engaged in church raiding, moreover, on their own initiative. The call to realize the inferiority of the OCU's status is not so much a requisite as a hint that the Tomos of the OCU did not bring true autocephaly.

In order for the UOC to be able to engage in some kind of negotiations with the OCU, the latter must have bishops ordained by canonical hierarchs.

The most important fundamental condition is the third: "to resolve the issue of the canonicity of the hierarchy of the OCU." However, it does not say how this issue can be specifically resolved. There is simply a statement of the fact that the OCU does not have such a hierarchy, but it should be for negotiations to happen. As far as one can understand, the UOC even allows “re-ordination” for the “bishops” of the OCU by the Patriarchate of Constantinople or another Local Church. This, of course, will not be canonically perfect, but it will still allow the OCU to resolve the issue of “restoring the apostolic succession of its bishops.”

OCU’s response

Immediately after the decisions of the Council of the UOC, a “synod” was convened by the OCU, which stated that it expected specifics from the UOC.

Here is a quote from the pomisna.info site: “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.”

It can be therefore concluded that the decisions of the Council of the UOC are regarded by Dumenko as "ultimatums". But what is meant by "first steps" and "appointment of responsible persons"? It seems that this is nothing more than a proposal to return to the dialogue between the UOC and the UOC-KP, which was being prepared in 2009, but did not actually commence. It is very useful to refer to those events in order to understand what is happening today.

On September 9, 2009, the Holy Synod of the UOC decided to create a working group to prepare a dialogue with the UOC-KP, and on September 14, a similar group was created by the "Synod" of the UOC-KP. On October 4, 2009, a meeting of these two groups took place in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. By the way, the main organizer of the meeting was the now odious Archimandrite Kirill Govorun, who at that time was the head of the DECR Department of the UOC. At the meeting, a joint protocol was signed, which stated, “Consider as positive and encourage the fact of the creation of working groups to prepare the dialogue. <...> The participants of the working groups hope that such a dialogue will be started as a result of their activities.”

In addition, representatives of the UOC and the UOC-KP developed a number of proposals for preparing a dialogue, namely:

  • to hold round tables, conferences, meetings, in which representatives of both parties are involved;
  • to establish cooperation in the issues of unification of Ukrainian theological and liturgical terminology;
  • to hold joint meetings of the working groups alternately for each of the parties, with heads of the groups being tasked to determine dates and agendas of such meetings.

As you can see, the dialogue was prepared very specifically and did not foresee any preconditions. That is, the UOC and the UOC-KP were then much closer to unification than they are now, but no one in the UOC was particularly concerned about “zrada” (betrayal in Ukrainian – Trans.) and did not accuse the hierarchy of their desire to join the schism. True, the matter was then limited to one meeting, Kirill Govorun left for Moscow on October 9, 2009 and continued his church activities in the status of clergyman of the Moscow diocese. As far as it is known from open sources, he still has the same status.

In 2013, the UOC-KP held its “Local Council”, at which it called on the UOC to resume preparations for dialogue, which had begun in 2009. This call went unanswered, but two years later, the UOC itself initiated contacts with the UAOC. On June 24, 2015, the Synod of the UOC decided to start a dialogue between the UOC and the UAOC and set up an ad hoc commission.

However, it ended in nothing again. Why – no one can say for sure. Presumably, when dealing with the representatives of the UOC-KP and UAOC, the UOC pointed out the need for the canonical ordination of "bishops", which was turned down by the former. Be that as it may, in both 2009 and 2015, the UOC was much closer to dialogue with other confessions than it is now, but no one accused its hierarchy of being ready to unite with schismatics. Thus, the fact that these accusations are pouring in right now shows that the "prosecutors" have completely different motives than those they declare.

"Unification Council" of the OCU as the refusal of the UOC to unite

In the recent church history of Ukraine, there was a moment when the UOC could unite with schismatics without “fuss and muss”. Suffice it to recall the events of 2018 preceding the Tomos. Then the head of the Phanar declared the entire episcopate of the UOC to be bishops of the Church of Constantinople and sent them invitations to the “Unification Council” alongside members of the UOC-KP and the UAOC.

It is not difficult to predict what could have happened if the Primate and the bishops had accepted these invitations and come to the “Council” at St. Sophia of Kyiv. There would have been a complete absorption by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the structures of the UOC-KP and the UAOC. Metropolitan Onuphry would have been elected head of the OCU simply because the number of bishops of the UOC is twice as much as the "episcopate" of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. There would be hence no problems with the authorities, no seizures of churches, no bans on the UOC, no encroachments on the Lavra now...

But, as we remember, His Beatitude Onuphry sent his invitation back to Phanar without opening it. The other bishops did the same. And we need to remember another important point. At that time, Poroshenko literally persecuted the bishops with the hands of the Security Service of Ukraine. Almost all the ruling bishops were summoned for "talks" to the local state security structures and forced to come to the "Unification Council". The result was almost zero – no one went to the OCU (with the exception of two "volunteers"). The conclusion from this whole ambience is simple: if the UOC really wanted to unite with the OCU, they would have done it much earlier on much more favorable conditions for themselves.

The real state of affairs and forecasts for the future

Putting forward requisites for a dialogue with the OCU is important. However, far more important is the fact that these terms are enshrined in the decisions of the highest authority of the UOC – its Council. Now neither the Holy Synod, nor even the Council of Bishops of the UOC will be able to start a dialogue with the OCU without fulfilling these terms, since the decisions of the Council cannot be changed by lower bodies. It can be said that the Council of the UOC forbade both the Synod and the Council of Bishops and, basically, anyone to conduct a dialogue with the OCU until Dumenko fulfills these terms.

In a sense, it would be more correct to call the decision of the Council of the UOC of May 27, 2022 not as an invitation to the OCU for dialogue, but, on the contrary, as a decision on the impossibility of such a dialogue. This is exactly how Sergey Petrovich (Epifaniy) Dumenko understood it, who on June 11, 2022, in an interview with nv.ua, said that the OCU would never agree to a dialogue on the terms of the UOC. Quote: “On the eve of their Council (Council of the UOC on May 27, 2022 – Ed.), we ourselves took the initiative to start a dialogue, but without any prerequisites, much less ultimatums. They seemed to respond, but gave us ultimatums, which we will never agree to, because we are the recognized local Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”

In case of pressure, His Beatitude Onuphry or any other bishop can substantiate the refusal to unite with the OCU precisely with this: “I cannot violate the decisions of the Council of the UOC.”

That's the whole story: the OCU will never fulfill the requisites of the UOC, and in order to remove them, a new Council of the UOC has to be convened. Now, if the authorities, oligarchs or anyone else puts pressure on the UOC, His Beatitude Onuphry or any other bishop can substantiate their refusal to unite with the OCU precisely with this: “I cannot violate the decisions of the Council of the UOC.”

However, it is possible that the UOC still expects the OCU to agree to “re-ordination”, albeit with a meager degree of probability. Also, one cannot discount the fact that individual “hierarchs” or “priests” of the OCU can start a dialogue, of course, having fulfilled the preliminary requirement of “restoring apostolic succession”.

Finally, the forecast. Considering all of the above, we can assume that there will be no unification or even negotiations on this matter. The UOC and the OCU will follow completely different paths. The UOC will most likely follow the path of confession, standing in the Orthodox faith and patiently enduring attacks from various enemies.

The OCU, on the other hand, is likely to go along the path of conciliation with the state's policy in the field of LGBT, gender and other pseudo-values, as befits a structure that claims to be the "state church". It can also be assumed that the OCU will unite with the Ukrainian Greek Catholics, as its representatives explicitly declare. For example, “Metropolitan” Mikhail Zinkevich, who said that he anticipates a new, joint tomos for the “church” bundled with the Uniates. Most likely, this unification will take place not organizationally, but at the level of joint divine services and statements about “eucharistic unity”, which does not change the substance.

Thus, there will be two religious organizations in Ukraine again, as in the 17th century: the Uniate one, represented by the UGCC-OCU, and the Orthodox one, represented by the UOC. Everyone will choose for themselves which one to be loyal to.

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