Declaration of Misunderstanding: why the meeting at St Sophia was pointless

The Ministry of Culture organized a meeting between members of the UOC and OCU. Photo: UOJ

There was a meeting of UOC priests and members of the OCU at St. Sophia of Kyiv, resulting in the adoption of "Declaration of Understanding". We analyze this document.

On July 5, 2022, a meeting of clerics of the UOC and representatives of the Dumenko structure took place at the St. Sophia of Kyiv, with 21 attendees in total. The UOC was represented by 9 priests and deacons, the OCU – by 11 "priests".

The meeting was initiated by the state. The participants received an invitation from the head of State Ethnic Policy Elena Bogdan, and the Minister of Culture Alexander Tkachenko spoke before the meeting.

The minister outlined the meeting's tasks as follows: "Our common goals are to overcome division, serve the people of Ukraine and build our common home." From the mouth of a government official, this sounds absolutely correct and logical. From the point of view of the state, any religious denomination is a type of public organization, an element of civil society. Well, we will find out in the article how it looks from the point of view of the Church. At the end of the meeting, the participants signed a "Declaration of Understanding", published on the Facebook page of OCU member Georgy Kovalenko. We suggest analyzing its theses in detail.

Meeting of members of the UOC and OCU at St. Sophia Cathedral. Photo: Facebook G. Kovalenko

"Christ blessed me for this meeting"

The text of the Declaration begins with a knowingly false thesis: "We, representatives of the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine..."

Persons who represent someone can call themselves "representatives". Accordingly, the one who is represented must authorize the given person for this representation. However, the UOC priests who participated in the event were not authorized by anyone to do so. The Chairman of the UOC Synodal Information and Education Department, Metropolitan Clement (Vecheria), immediately responded as follows: "No one from the Church delegated the priests who took part in this meeting to represent the point of view of the clergy and millions of laity of the UOC. This event was organized by representatives of the Ministry of Culture, therefore, only this organization is responsible for all organizational issues, including the composition of participants."

That is, UOC priests participated in the meeting as private individuals and represented only themselves.

Priests of the UOC participated in the meeting as private individuals and represented only themselves.

Actually, the participants themselves say there was no blessing. Fr. Dmitry Sydorenko could not answer the question about this on his Facebook page affirmatively, while Fr. Petro Semashchuk went even further. On his Facebook page, he stated he did not have the blessing of the clergy, but he did have a blessing from God: "Jesus Christ blessed me for this meeting, He is my Chief." Perhaps, comments are superfluous here; everyone will assess the statement of Fr. Petro themselves.

What kind of unity did Christ speak of?

Next in the text of the Declaration there is a preamble, which usually indicates the motives, goals and grounds from which the parties proceed. The preamble of the "Declaration of Understanding" has eight paragraphs, four of which are devoted to the issue of unity, two – to dialogue, and another two – to the foundations on which dialogue is based.

  • striving for unity in Christ, which He Himself wanted to see in His disciples and for which He prayed to the Father: "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one that they may be one, as We are one.” (Jn. 17:22);
  • fulfilling the apostolic guidance "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:3);
  • recognizing the overall desire of the Ukrainian society for the unity of Orthodoxy;
  • considering the unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy as an indispensable condition for the unity of the people and the pledge of the stability of the state.

These four paragraphs about unity can also be divided as follows: two of them have a religious connotation, and the other two have a socio-political context.

What kind of unity did Christ speak of? The words "that they may be one, as we are one" (John 17:22) can be actualized only in the Church, which is the Body of Christ. Consequently, those who separated from the Church of Christ must re-enter it through repentance. Otherwise, no God-ordained unity will work, only human unity at most. Let's listen to what Saint Cyprian of Carthage (III century) says in his famous treatise "On the Unity of the Church": "Anyone who separates from the Church joins an adulterous woman and becomes a stranger to the promised Church; the one who leaves the Church of Christ deprives himself the rewards predetermined by Christ: he is alien to Her, redundant, he is Her enemy. He cannot have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his mother." You can read more about unity in the Church in the article "Did Christ command global unity?"

As for social and political unity, it is necessary to note the following.

First, it is unacceptable to make the Church hostage to public opinion or state needs. The Church is not of this world; it is not authorized by Christ to solve social and political issues and should not compromise its principles for the sake of everyday interests, albeit very important.

Secondly, since the modern society, including the Ukrainian one, is highly secularized, the "unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy" cannot be "an indispensable condition for the unity of the people." For the Middle Ages, religious unity was indeed the key to the unity of the people, but now this thesis is completely false. As for the guarantee of "state stability", it is not about the religious unity, but the fulfillment of existing laws by all citizens. So if OCU followers violate the law by seizing churches, perpetrating violence against believers and violating the right to freedom of conscience, this undermines the stability of the state much more than the existence of various religious denominations.

Since Ukrainian is highly secularized, the "unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy" cannot be "an indispensable condition for the unity of the people."

What did the supreme authority of the UOC decide on the dialogue with the OCU?

Further, in the text of the preamble, there is a reference to the decisions of the governing bodies of the UOC and OCU.

"Drawing attention to the decision of the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on May 27, 2022 regarding the resumption of inter-confessional dialogue; referring to the Statement of the Holy Synod of the OCU dated May 31, 2022 on the need for dialogue between the two Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine."

This is an outright lie again, because if the participants of the event had quoted the decisions of the UOC Council on May 27, 2022, they would have read the following there:

"In order for the dialogue to take place, OCU representatives need to:

  • stop the seizure of churches and forced transfers of parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church;
  • resolve the issue of the canonicity of the hierarchy of the OCU, 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 hierarchy of the OCU, it is necessary to restore the apostolic succession of its bishops."

Dumenko's representatives have not fulfilled these preconditions; moreover, the leadership of the OCU has declared it does not intend to fulfill them. Therefore, any dialogue between the UOC and the OCU is impossible a priori. Consequently, the UOC priests, who nevertheless took part in such a "dialogue", essentially went against the conciliar opinion of the Church. More details about why dialogue is impossible without fulfilling at least the condition of restoring the apostolic succession of the "hierarchy" of the OCU are available in the article "UOC and OCU: Is it possible to unite?"

The OCU will not fulfill the requisites of dialogue worded in the decisions of the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and therefore the priests who took part in such a "dialogue" essentially went against the Council's opinion of the Church.

The position of the OCU regarding the dialogue is negotiations without any preconditions. As we can see, this is precisely the position taken by the UOC priests who participated in the meeting.

What do the meeting participants agree on?

After the preamble, the participants of the event recorded in writing what they had reached an agreement with each other in the following positions:

  • "Condemnation of the war unleashed by Putin's Russia."

No comments here, since both the UOC and the OCU condemned the aggression of the Russian Federation in their official documents.

  • "Condemnation of the destructive position of the Moscow Patriarchate, which, neglecting the commandments of God, turned into a ‘servant’ of the Putin regime and blesses the Russian aggressors for bloodshed."

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church expressed its disagreement with Patriarch Kirill's position on the war in Ukraine, but branded the entire Russian Orthodox Church as a "servant of Putin's regime" somewhat prematurely. This position has not been officially formalized in the decisions of the governing bodies of the Russian Orthodox Church and is manifested so far only in individual statements of hierarchs and other representatives of the Russian Church. There is hope that the Russian Orthodox Church will still condemn this war and evaluate it from the point of view of the Gospel.

  • "Understanding the need for unity to protect Ukraine."

Of course, unity is necessary to protect Ukraine from the enemy, but what do you mean by this unity? Probably, everyone interprets this concept differently, but it is indisputable that repressions against the UOC, seizure of its shrines and other iniquities, which the followers of the OCU are now actively engaged, are things that surely divide the Ukrainian society and, accordingly, harm the defense of Ukraine. However, there is not a word about this in the "Declaration of Understanding".

  • "Understanding the necessity of the unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy facing the external and internal challenges of the present."

Here the variance in understanding can be even more significant. For example, one of the main such challenges is the emergence of a new union, i.e. union with Ukrainian Greek Catholics, against which all the saints of our holy land opposed. And it's not just about Uniates. One of the initiators of the meeting, Georgy Kovalenko (OCU), confirmed our fears. In the video broadcast of "Radio NV", on the eve of the meeting, he claimed that the UOC, after the decisions of the Council, maintains eucharistic unity with the ROC, but not with other denominations: "But you (the UOC – Ed.) cannot pray together with us, Orthodox Ukrainians (OCU – Ed.), with other Christians, Greek Catholics, Protestants, Catholics. You can pray with those who support aggression, but not with those who defend Ukraine?”

Georgy Kovalenko complained about the UOC not praying with the OCU, Uniates, Catholics and Protestants.

According to Kovalenko, this "problem" was discussed at the meeting in the cathdral. Although the Declaration does not highlight unification with other denominations, there are very serious fears that such a unified polyconfessional structure is the ultimate goal of the "Sophia" meeting and all subsequent ones (there is no doubt they will be continued).

  • "Understanding the need to reject aggression, stereotypes, prejudice and the language of ultimatums and enmity in communicating with each other and in public space."

The words about the "language of ultimatums" are definitely a hint at the decision of the Council of the UOC on May 27, 2022, in which the requisites for starting a dialogue with the OCU were put forward. These preconditions were called an ultimatum by the leadership of the OCU, although an ultimatum does not foresee a logical scheme like "if you don't do this, then we will do this." Accordingly, the position of the UOC is not an ultimatum at all. The UOC Council called on the OCU to resolve the issue of canonical ordination of its “hierarchs”, who are not recognized as bishops by the majority of the Universal Orthodoxy. Without a solution to this issue, any dialogue will be meaningless.

In turn, representatives of the OCU, when told about the invalidity of their ordination, call it the language of enmity. Let us remember that it was in this language that the Lord Jesus Christ and all the holy fathers spoke when they denounced sinners: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness" (Matthew 23:27-28). Nowadays, these words are akin to inciting religious hatred, aren’t they? However, there is no insult here, but on the contrary, a call to repentance, a manifestation of God's love for man.

It would seem, it is this point of the "Declaration of Understanding" that the members of the UOC should have spoken of the unprecedented pressure the UOC is currently put under; about the seizure of UOC churches, violence against believers, requests to ban the activities of the UOC by decisions of local self-government bodies, and so on. However, there is not even a hint about this in the Declaration. As if everything is quiet and calm, no one violates anyone's rights. Total shame!

  • "Understanding the need to abandon the non-canonical practice of rebaptism."

Are the baptisms performed by the OCU valid? Let's be honest: this is too serious a question to discuss within the framework of this article.

  • "The need of educational work on the ground in order to overcome and prevent inter-church and inter-denominational conflicts in the future."

Let's reiterate: for this, you just need to stop violating the rights of UOC believers, rather than engage in educational work

  • "The need to avoid narrow corporate interests in the inter-Orthodox dialogue".

If “narrow corporate" implies the interest of the Church of Christ, then this item is clearly anti-church.

  • "Understanding the existence of different models of coexistence of Orthodox jurisdictions, etc."

About different jurisdictions. There is Canon 8 of the First Ecumenical Council: “there may not be two bishops in the city." The fact that in practice there are many parallel jurisdictions in countries of the resettled type, all Local Churches recognize this as an abnormal situation that needs to be solved somehow, but no one knows how. However, Ukraine does not belong to such countries.

About overcoming disagreements 

Further, existing disagreements are recorded in the declaration in one cumbersome and unreadable sentence. They concern the following issues:

  • transition of communities from one denomination to another;
  • opportunities for joint service;
  • recognition of canonical status;
  • recognition of the sacraments.

Indeed, there are significant differences in the UOC and the OCU on these issues. But further on, the text of the "Declaration of Understanding" assures that these differences can be overcome through dialogue and that it is vitally necessary: "At the same time, we realize that none of the challenges is an obstacle that cannot be overcome through negotiations in the spirit of Christian love: ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’ (Phil. 4:13). Based on the above, we declare the expediency and necessity of a constructive dialogue between the two branches of Ukrainian Orthodoxy."

The Church of Christ is one, and it is not divided into branches. You can either be in the Church or be outside of the Church.

This is the key "misunderstanding" of the participants in the meeting. There can be no "branches" in Orthodoxy. The branch theory proved its unsustainability even in disputes with Catholics and Protestants. The Church of Christ is one, and it is not divided into branches. You can either be in the Church or be outside of the Church. The predecessors of the OCU (UOC-KP and UAPC) at one time broke away from the Church. The return to the Church does not occur through cooperation with the authorities, dialogues, meetings and other similar events. The return occurs through repentance. This is what the meeting participants cannot understand. A meeting at St. Sophia of Kyiv is a dialogue about anything, but not about the unity of the Church. In order to talk about its unity, one needs to take real steps towards it, rather than rant about it. The Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church named these steps quite specifically: the cessation of seizures and the solution to the problem of the lack of episcopal ordinations in the OCU. There is no alternate way and there cannot be. Alas, there is not a single word about this in the "Declaration of Understanding".

At the end, the participants of the meeting express the hope that the dialogue will continue and call on the hierarchs of both confessions to join it "as early as the Day of the Baptism of Kievan Rus'-Ukraine, which was designated as the Day of Ukrainian Statehood. This will be the best gift on the occasion of this holiday both to our faithful and to the entire Ukrainian society." Once again, there is a clear misunderstanding: the Church takes care of saving human souls, rather than distributing gifts on the Statehood Day, notably at the cost of a departure from the canons and dogmas of the Church.


UOC clerics participated in the meeting without any blessing and represented only themselves.

The meeting at the St. Sophia Cathedral was organized by the state and took place under its "wing". Since the rules by which the Church lives are alien and incomprehensible to the state, it is important for the latter to pool confessions into one structure, so it is easier to control and communicate with them. The "Declaration of Understanding" does not differ intrinsically from the logic of the state establishment: the interests of the country and nation come first.

The text of the document does not even mention the real problems facing Ukrainian Orthodoxy, and even more so does not offer ways to solve them. Nevertheless, such meetings will presumably be continued. Moreover, the UOC will be blamed for opting out of such events – equally by the authorities, by the OCU, and by the society.

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Do you support the call of His Beatitude to end the war and organize an exchange of prisoners?
yes, the Church must do everything to end the war
no, we must fight until complete victory
we must pray, it's up to politicians to deal with the war
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