Ukrainian orthodox church in terms of conflict

Ukraine – multi-religious country, although the most common is the Eastern Christianity. After the split  of Ukrainian Orthodoxy in the 1990s, the most numerous are the jurisdictions of the UOC MP, UOC-KP and UAOC. The current socio-political situation in the country has caused a new wave of discussions on overcoming the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy and the creation of a single local church. The article deals with the position of participants of the conflict and possible scenarios to solve this problem. 

Ukraine is one of the largest European countries, located in Eastern Europe. Despite the fact that our country is secular, religiousity level of citizens in Ukraine is the highest in Europe. No country in Europe in this respect is similar to Ukraine. Multi Christianity in Ukraine borders with Islam, Judaism and  new religious movements. Long-term monitoring of the Institute of Sociologyof NAS of Ukraine suggests that the church has the highest level of trust from the population. Most people in our country traditionally identify themselves as the Christians of the Eastern rite, but they are tolerant to people of other religious beliefs. Number of communities (parishes) is the only statistical criteria of different Ukrainian  churches  and religions ratio. According to the State Departmenton Nationalities and Religions at the beginning of 2015 there were 36,995 (thirty-six thousand nine hundred and ninety-five) of religious organizations and this quantity is growing.

Orthodoxy in Ukraine is dis-united from 1990s, so there is no local autocephalous Orthodox church. At different times in different ways the most numerous Orthodox jurisdictions trying to solve this situation.

Nowadays, social and political processes in Ukraine, originating from November 2013, caused a new wave of discussions on overcoming the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy and the creation of a single national church.

The most numerous Orthodox jurisdictions participating in this dialogue are:

  • Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP) is the most numerous Orthodox community in Ukraine. It is a self-governing church of the Russian Orthodox Churchin Ukraine (since 1990). The current Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church defines it as a ″self-governing church with the rights of wide autonomy″.
  • Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate was created in June 1992 by the merge of the two religious groups that advocated in dependence from the Russian Orthodox Church. UOC-KP is a self- proclaimed Patriarchate. Officially, this declaration was not recognized, so the church has no eucharistic communication with the other Orthodox churches. The head of the churchis Patriarch Filaret. He is rather public person, who regularly appears in secular programs on radio and
  • Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) – it is the Orthodox Churchin Ukraine and the Ukrainian Diaspora in Western Europe and North America, which was revived in 1917-1921. UAOC defines itself as autocephalous Church, but now the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church has no Eucharistic communication with any Orthodox Church in the

The problem of formation and recognition of the Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church (ULOC) is not considered nor clerics churches or believers just as a church problem since the time of its actualization in the independent Ukraine in 1991. The objectivity of this assessment is confirmed by experience of obtaining autocephalous status by other local Orthodox Churches – each of them failed to win its autocephalous status only through the implementation of a specific program of the church. The reason for this situation is the fact that the procedure for obtaining (or providing) the administrative independence by any church unity is not disclosed in the Orthodox canons.

Orthodox Churches were receiving its local status mainly when their states have been extremely sensitive to the status of their Orthodox Churches. After all, the recognition or non-recognition of the autocephalous status was an indirect recognition or non-recognition of state of these nations.

The absence of a unified Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Churches undermines the international prestige of the country. Only the previous head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchy) – Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan was the part of the World Council of Churches, but not as an independent head of the Church, but as a representative of Russian Orthodox Church. Accordingly, the entire orthodox world is identifying the Ukrainian Orthodox Church only as part of the Moscow Patriarchate [1].

In our opinion, lack of constituting of a single Local Orthodox Church is the result of significant strategic failures of the Ukrainian establishment, in particular- the management of state body on religious affairs and the Offices of the Presidents of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma. Although it should be noted that the union of Orthodoxy in Ukraine and the establishment of a Local Church becomes the dominant idea of the administration of Leonid Kuchma after 1997, since 2000, when Ukraine officially celebrated the anniversary of the birth of Christ, this idea is more or less raised by President at almost each of his speech, connected with church-state relations and the settlement of the situation in Orthodoxy.

Activation of so-called "Unity" efforts in Orthodoxy in 1999-2000 was due to several factors. Formal was 2000 anniversary of Christianity. Political – in March 1999 President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma expressed his positive attitude towards the idea of constituting for Orthodox Churches and the strengthening of statehood in Ukraine. And finally, the internal church – overcoming the church schism in Ukraine as a factor of regionalization.

In our opinion, the idea of the constituting in 2005-2010 gradually won arrangement of the Ukrainian population. Some rollback in the perception of this idea in 2010-2013 can be seen as a temporary phenomenon. Now, in the context of an expanding of national values and new understanding of national interests and national security in the context of the military conflict in the East of Ukraine, ULOC idea is rapidly gaining new fans. Especially, because the Razumkov Center indicates downward trend in the number of supporters of the UOC-MP (24% in 2010 and 15% - in 2016). On this background, there is an increase ofUOC-KP supporters from 12% to 25%.[4]which creates additional opportunities for the realization of the project ULOC.

However, the experience of association of even Ukraine-directed Churches - UOC-KP and UAOC - indicates that without mass movement from below, without the active participation of believers - the union of Orthodox churches in Ukraine and constituting of ULOC is impossible. Any attempts to bring the process of constituting of  ULOC to the subjective factor, try to merge from the "top", are doomed to failure.

But, efforts of the clergy, the authorities and the public in the direction of consolidation of Orthodoxy is not necessary toreview as unsuccessful, especially by UOC-KP and UAOC. At least for now, some of the trends are crystallized both in the Orthodox and the socio-political life of the country as a whole, that give insight into complications of constituting the field of ULOC. Some of them deserve special attention.

First, neither the UOC-KP or UAOC don`t have sufficient authority (especially internationally), to independently overcome all difficulties in the way of the approval of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The label of "non-canonical", "separatist" groups, hung on them by Russian OC, significantly limits their freedom of action, especially on the communicative horizon.

Second, the assurances about the Ukrainian position, the national orientation of the UOC-MP are not true, at least for a significant number of clergy. This orthodox organization is not just "in canonical communion with the Russian Orthodox Church", but it is a direct structural element, and therefore acts as a reliable instrument for the implementation of the policy of above. Since the Moscow Patriarchate is not interested in the approval of the Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine, it is quite natural that the UOC-MP will be guided by the instructions of his patron and otherwise impede the consolidation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Third, the prospect of the constituting of the Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church after the revolution of dignity, the presidential elections in 2014, in the condition of military conflict, has increased significantly. Powerful background increased for the restoration of active search of the Orthodox associations paths for the local Churches, followed by its international recognition.

In this situation, the leaders of the Ukrainian state can operate using three key approaches:

Scenario 1: Just follow the constitutional norm of separation of Church from State. Last is completely distance from the process of approval of the Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church. UOC-KP, UAOC and the individual dioceses of UOC-MP get a chance to solve this problem by own efforts.

However, to hope that this is reliable option will not work. As already mentioned, UOC-KP and UAOC does not have adequate capacity, although the last two years the process of increasing their religious communities is observed, as a result of the transition of the part of believers from the UOC-MP. In addition, between the bishops of all the jurisdictions there is a latent confrontation. Ambitions of church leaders, the competition for the spiritual space of the country will lead likely to another split, then for unity. If consolidation is possible, it will be only situational. But this is, frankly, not enough for a full constituting of the Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Non-interference of the Ukrainian State in the approval process for the ULOC, will give this process an uncertain direction and also indefinite implementation in time, and will provide preferential actions for  action of foreign states in Ukraine.

Scenario 2: policy regarding the religious sphere is reanimated with preferences for the UOC-MP. Ukrainian OC of Moscow Patriarchate again begin to enjoy the tacit support of government structures at all levels. There is unspoken attitude to it as the "only canonical" allegedly national-directed the Orthodox institutions. And it is given the decisive role in the formation of a Local Church in Ukraine.

The political component of such scenario is obvious and practically set out above. Moreover, such a policy is clearly not in the national interests. After all, instead of the actual formation of Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church, real dependence on the Ukrainian state from the Russian Federation is intensified. And the idea of the constituting of the national local Orthodox institution is turned into the usual illusion.

Scenario 3: Ukrainian President, Government and Parliament reaffirm their commitment to the idea of constituting and under the current legislation, strongly contribute to the formation of it. Only under such conditions successful implementation of idea of national-oriented ULOC is possible.

Since this option is fully consistent with the national development strategy, it is rational to take it as a  base for the leaders of the Ukrainian State and proceed from the following:

  1. Adoption of the Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church - is not just a tribute to the centuries-old tradition or formal imitation of the experience of those countries where Orthodoxy stands as a dominant religion. This, above all, pragmatic requirement of nowadays, the strategy of the national development of the Ukrainian people depends on the successful implementation of. In other words - its independence. It is impossible to build an independent Ukraine, avoiding serious control over their own spiritual and  information space from foreign religious and political
  2. Support of the officials of nationally oriented institutions and Orthodox hierarchs - evidence of their patriotism. This is not about interfering in the internal affairs of the Church, but only on the promotion of State to religious organizations for the speedy solutions of actual problems. In this case, it refers to the category of the formation of a positive international image of the Orthodox jurisdictions of Kiev tradition, and therefore their status. Without the help of the officials last cannot solve this problem on their own, because there is a strong external
  3. Ukrainian realities suggest that the association of the UOC-MP parishes with UAOC and the creation of UOC-KP in the first half of the 90s was quite fragile. After a short period of time from virtually established church organization UAOC separated again. Taking the current unstable situation in this environment, splits that are available in it, the constant conflicts between the bishops of the Church, it is likely to assume that the constructive potential in the bosom of the UAOC is not good enough. And it is unlikely that anything will change for better in the nearest future. Therefore, to avoid unnecessary situational formations, it is appropriate in the future to be oriented to UOC-KP and part of UOC-MP, that supports the idea of the constituting of the Local Orthodox Church in
  4. The processes that take place among the Orthodox sphere in Ukraine should be understandable to its citizens. But there is a problem with this understanding. One of the reasons of inadequate perception of the situation are religious organization names essentially irrelevant to it substances. Thus, the name "Ukrainian Orthodox Church" does not reproduce the true nature of this structure, which, of course, misleading millions of faithful citizens of Ukraine. Therefore, there is need for correlation at all levels (government, education, media, etc.). As the UOC-MP is a structural unit of the ROC, the corresponding status should be reflected in its title. But the special task of Ukrainian authorities is to bring valuable information to all citizens, who have a constitutional right for objective
  5. The question is on the agenda of the transformation of the Ukrainian model of church-state relations. The transition from separate to the concordat system of relations between the Ukrainian government and religious organizations will allow to restore order in the confessional space of the country. Moreover, a real opportunity to differentiate confessions, operating on Ukrainian territory, based on their contribution to the development of the national state, culture, spirituality,

Next logical step, which is provided by concordant model is determination of the current places and roles of  a  Churches,  religious  communities in  the  public life  of  Ukraine. This aspect  is  especially  important because it is directly connected with the withdrawal of Orthodox Churches of Kyivan tradition to the forefront.

The system of concordats with clear legal tools will allow to streamline the state-church relations with unequivocal valuation of the rights and obligations of the contracting parties.

The implementation of this policy could lead to the constituting of the Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church in the short terms, and will finally liberate the Ukrainian nation from spiritual and cultural slavery and will become a powerful step of free development of the Ukrainian society and the real factor of its integration  into the United Europe.



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Year: 2016
City: Almaty
Category: Religion