Bill on transfer of Lavras to OCU: another Overton window?
A bill on the transfer of the Kyiv Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavras to the OCU has been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada. Why is it done and what are its prospects?
On September 8, 2022, Andrii Bohdanets, an MP from the "Servant of the People" faction registered draft resolution No. 8012 on the appeal of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine regarding the transfer of the Pochaiv Dormition Lavra and Kyiv Pechersk Lavras to the OCU for free use. According to the bill, the Cabinet must resolve the issue within three months and report to the Verkhovna Rada.
It is not a draft law but a draft resolution. A resolution and a law are different types of normative acts, they have different legal force and are adopted in different categories of legal relations. A law has supreme legal force, while a resolution usually deals with various procedural issues, staff appointments, etc. The resolution cannot contradict the law. Therefore, even if we imagine that the Verkhovna Rada will vote for this Resolution No. 8012, it does not obligate the Cabinet of Ministers to transfer the monasteries to the OCU.
The text of the draft Resolution states as follows: "To address the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine with the requirement to resolve the issue of transferring the complex of buildings of the Pochaiv Dormition Lavra and the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine for free use." The Verkhovna Rada demands "to resolve the issue", but the issue can be resolved either positively or negatively. As early as June 2022, the Legal Department of the UOC stated that the OCU has no legal grounds to claim the monasteries. That is, to carry out the decree of the Verkhovna Rada, the Cabinet of Ministers will have to violate several laws of Ukraine. If it does so, it faces a series of lawsuits, which will reveal an apparent violation of the law.
So, most likely the Cabinet will simply respond that the Lavras cannot be transferred to the OCU and cite a number of provisions of Ukrainian laws. And that is only if the Verkhovna Rada votes for the draft Resolution, and it is not obvious. The picture would be completely different if the Verkhovna Rada passed a law on the transfer of the Lavras, then the Cabinet of Ministers would have to implement it. This suggests that Bohdanets' submission of the draft Resolution is not legal but rather political and propagandistic in nature.
Anti-church bills: a retrospective
A number of anti-church bills have been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada in the recent past. On 22 March 2022, the Verkhovna Rada registered draft law No. 7204 "On banning the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine". It was submitted by MP Oksana Savchuk, a member of the “Svoboda” party, a Greek Catholic, who has received church awards from Pope Francis and the head of the OCU Serhiy (Epifaniy) Dumenko.
This bill envisaged a complete ban on the UOC and the nationalization of the assets with subsequent transfer to the OCU. A quote: "The activities of the Moscow Patriarchate – the Russian Orthodox Church and religious organizations that are part of the Russian Orthodox Church, including the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, are banned on the territory of Ukraine. <...> All the church property of the supreme bodies of church authority and administration <...> including the Kyiv Metropolis of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, synodal institutions, and eparchial administrations, shall be inventoried and nationalized within 48 hours from the entry into force of this law.”
The mention of "48 hours" seemed to be specifically meant to emphasize the impracticability of this law in principle, i.e. It was all about PR.
Somewhat more realistic was another anti-church bill, No. 7213, submitted to the Verkhovna Rada on March 26, 2022, by a group of deputies, most of whom were elected from the "Golos" party. The bill says: "For the protection of public safety and order, the activities of religious organisations (associations) which directly or as part of another religious organization (association) are included in the structures (which are parts) of a religious organization (association) whose governing centre (office) is outside of Ukraine in a state that is legally recognized as having committed military aggression against Ukraine and/or has temporarily occupied part of Ukrainian territory, are prohibited.” This bill is also unfeasible since the UOC, even at the time the bill was introduced, did not have its "governing centre" in Russia, and after the UOC Council of 27.08.2022 in Feofaniya, there can be no doubt about it at all. That is, bill No. 7213 is also propagandistic rather than real.
Several anti-church bills were passed and became laws, but practice has shown that due to their illiterate content they did not give the effect that the initiators had hoped for.
One may recall Act 2673-VIII of 17.01.2019. "On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine on the subordination of religious organizations and the procedure for state registration of religious organisations with the status of a legal entity", which, although it does not provide such broad opportunities for church raiding as were envisaged in its original version, still creates conditions for the possibility of re-registration of the UOC community against the will of its members.
Law No. 2662-VIII of 20.12.2018 is in the same vein: "On Amendments to Article 12 of the Law of Ukraine 'On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations'", which states that religious organisations which are part of a religious organisation whose governing centre is located in a country recognised by Ukraine as an aggressor country are required to change their name (to be renamed as "the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine").
All of these, as well as some other bills, have served to put constant pressure on the UOC in the hope of forcing it into the OCU or at least forcing individual bishops or priests to do so. The practical implementation of these bills does not lead to the destruction of the UOC as its enemies would like it to do, but they maintain an atmosphere of tension, mistrust and hostility in Ukrainian society. They also serve as a cushion for the future, should circumstances turn out to be more favourable to the UOC's opponents in the future.
A. Bohdanets’ bill and an explanatory note to it
The text of the draft Resolution itself is very short:
"1. Apply to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine with a request to resolve the issue of transferring the complexes of buildings of the Pochaiv Dormition Lavra and the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine for free use.
2. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine shall inform the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine about the implementation of this Resolution within three months.
3. This Resolution shall enter into force on the day of its adoption.”
As already mentioned, the Cabinet of Ministers is not obliged to resolve this issue positively, you can simply point out the impossibility of transferring the Lavras on the basis of current legislation. But the explanatory note to the draft Resolution is also of interest. It is very significant that A. Bogdanets proposes to adopt the Resolution based on a number of false statements.
- “For many years, the leading Ukrainian spiritual and historical shrines – the Pochaiv Dormition and Kyiv-Pechersk Lavras have been used exclusively by the Moscow Patriarchate, which, despite changes in the statute, remains part of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).”
This is another example of legal illiteracy. Yes, indeed, the “Moscow Patriarchate” remains part of the Russian Orthodox Church, but what does this have to do with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church? This is not to mention the fact that the "RF" Church does not exist even in Russia itself, there is the Russian Church.
- "Law enforcement agencies (of Ukraine – Ed.) have repeatedly detained the clergy of the UOC (MP) for cooperation with the special services of the Russian Federation."
These "repeated" cases can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Details about collaborationism can be found in the article: "Collaborationism and the UOC: Facts and Conclusions", which provides relevant statistics. On May 27, 2022, the "Ukrinform" agency, citing the press secretary of the State Bureau of Investigation Tatyana Sapyan, reported 420 criminal cases against officials and law enforcement officers on charges of collaborationism. At the same time, there were only a few known criminal cases against the priests of the UOC, and most of them fell apart altogether. But for some reason, this did not become a reason for filing a bill to ban the police or the National Guard. Why are such obvious double standards used in relation to the UOC?
- "The Pochaiv Dormition and Kyiv-Pechersk Lavras are widely used by representatives of the UOC (MP) for their propaganda purposes."
Again, where are the facts, where are the open criminal cases, and where are the investigative actions carried out? There is none of this. And without this, the theses of the author of the draft Resolution are unsubstantiated and groundless statements.
- “On August 20, 2022, the current Primate of the UOC (MP), Metropolitan Onuphry, met with Russian prisoners of war at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. He held a joint prayer with the invaders and blessed those who came to our land to kill Ukrainians and destroy us as a nation. At the same time, there is no public information that Metropolitan Onuphry pays attention to the defenders of Ukraine, attends joint prayers in support of the defenders of the Ukrainian state, or visits the wounded in hospitals, which is beyond understanding in modern conditions.”
First, there is such information. For example, on August 24, 2022, His Beatitude Onuphry took part in a solemn event on the occasion of Independence Day "Prayer for Ukraine" at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv, which was led by President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Secondly, everyone knows that visiting the wounded on camera is mainly a one-time PR action, much more important is the daily assistance to the wounded, refugees and war victims. And in this case, the UOC is one of the most (if not the most) active organizations in Ukraine. All the churches in Ukraine collect aid for the displaced, and thousands of people are given shelter. Hundreds of tons of goods are sent to the war zone. Parishes and monasteries use their own money to buy ammunition, cars for Ukrainian servicemen and provide other support. Thousands of UOC parishioners are fighting (and dying) at the front, including the children of the clergy.
And thirdly, the meeting of Metropolitan Onuphry with Russian prisoners of war is not a blessing for the occupiers but a true Christian attitude towards sinners, aimed at their admonition and correction. And by the way, in that very prayer service at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, there was a prayer for "the authorities and the army of Ukraine".
Well, the stated goal of the draft Resolution deserves special attention: “The purpose of the draft Resolution is to protect national security and prevent the manifestation of information propaganda by representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.” It has already been said many times that there is no “Moscow Patriarchate” in Ukraine. On September 5, 2022, this was also confirmed by the Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine Oleksandr Tkachenko: “I don’t know the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, there is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which at the last Synod dissociated itself from the Russian Orthodox Church.”
The draft Resolution is directly aimed at splitting the Ukrainian society because its implementation will cause just indignation among millions of Ukrainian citizens who believe in the UOC. A rhetorical question arises: will it contribute to the "protection of national security" or, conversely, will it threaten it?
Point 6 of the draft Resolution generally states that “the adoption of the draft Resolution will reduce tension in society since the Moscow Patriarchate’s monopoly on services in lavras is categorically not accepted by the majority of the Orthodox in Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.” However, it is clear this will not reduce tension, but on the contrary, it will increase rapidly. A religious confrontation may arise in Ukraine, which is very dangerous in today's conditions. Back in April 2022, the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Ruslan Stefanchuk, when asked whether the Parliament would consider a bill to ban the UOC, answered: “During the war, we have no right to adopt a single law that splits Ukrainian society.” In this case, the emphasis should be on the fact that the second, according to the Constitution, person in the state stated that anti-church laws are splitting society.
What is Andrii Bogdanets?
What is MP Andrii Bohdanets who, contrary to the opinion of the head of the Ukrainian Parliament, has submitted a bill aimed at dividing Ukrainian society? Ukrainian Wikipedia gives the following information about him:
- an active participant in the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity;
- People's Deputy of Ukraine of the 9th convocation from the "Servant of the People" party;
- Member of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Agrarian and Land Policy;
- Deputy Director of the “Ternopil Poultry Farm”;
- An ATO participant.
Wikipedia also speaks about the scandals in which A. Bohdanets was involved. In 2014, he severely beat a driver on the road, with whom Bohdanets had a domestic conflict. As a result, the diver suffered a head injury and underwent surgery. Bohdanets was found guilty of deliberate infliction of moderate injury and hooliganism. In 2019, during a meeting of the Committee on Agrarian Policy, he got into a fight with MPs from the VO “Svoboda”. The deputy was also noted for non-payment of alimony.
It is clear that all of these can only be "unfortunate" episodes of life, but it is noteworthy that A. Bohdanets has never been noted for his interest in religious topics. This allows us to suppose that the initiation of this bill is an alien theme for him and perhaps was imposed from the outside.
Bill No. 8012 is unlikely to be passed by the Verkhovna Rada and most likely it will not even reach the voting stage. The authorities' position, which consists in blocking the subjects that may cause discord in Ukrainian society, has not changed. God only knows what will happen after the war. But the very fact of such an anti-church bill suggests that certain forces, or rather the supporters of the OCU or its direct representatives, are doing everything in their power to continue to exert pressure on the UOC. They probably hope that the mechanism of the "Overton window" will work, according to which if the subject is constantly discussed, then, no matter how absurd or unacceptable it is, in time it will begin to be implemented.
Separately, it should be noted the interest in the issue of transferring the Lavras to the OCU leadership, and personally Serhiy (Epiphaniy) Dumenko. Back in May 2022, the OCU announced the creation of the monastery "Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra" and demanded that the authorities give them one of the temples of the Upper Lavra. This was the first step towards "conquering" the whole monastery. Obviously, the submission of the bill by A. Bohdanets is one of the next steps. Time will tell whether the calculation will be justified or not, but we should not forget that in the whole OCU there are fewer than 250 "monks" for 80 monasteries, that is, there are on average 3.1 monks per monastery, while in the UOC there are 255 monasteries and 4550 monks.
In other words, even if we were to gather all the "monks" of the OCU from all of Ukraine, they could not fill even half of the monasteries. Therefore, the need to transfer the Pochaiv and Kyiv-Pechersk Lavras to the OCU is absolutely far-fetched.