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ReligionChristianityOrthodoxy in Ukraine: war and another autocephaly

Orthodoxy in Ukraine: war and another autocephaly

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Author: Sergey Chapnin

War changes many things, first of all – the consciousness of the people, but also the habitual course of time. What takes years and even decades in peacetime takes months or even years in war.

On May 27, the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the highest body of ecclesiastical government, after long debates disagreed with the position of Patriarch Kirill on the war in Ukraine and adopted amendments to the Statute of the UOC, “testifying to the full independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.” church “. [1]

At this stage there is no possibility for a detailed analysis of the decisions of the Assembly of the UOC. Not all documents have been published yet and there are no official comments on them.

Not surprisingly, today, when information is not enough, commentators have split into two irreconcilable camps. Some believe that the UOC is saving its reputation and distancing itself from the ROC is insincere, fully coordinated with the Moscow Patriarchate. Others believe that an important step has been taken towards the autocephaly of the Church, towards true independence from Moscow.

In this text I will try to reconstruct the logic in the actions of Metropolitan Onuphrius, hoping that in this way the decisions of the Council of the UOC will be placed in the right context.

Thus, literally in the first days of the war, a number of UOC dioceses refused to mention Patriarch Kirill in protest against his anti-Ukrainian position, and this decision received the tacit support of Metropolitan Onufriy. A little later, calls began to be heard for a council and a decision to be made “for the future of the Church,” which many saw as a clear separation from the Moscow Patriarchate. Metropolitan Onufriy was in no hurry to convene a council, and his closest entourage – Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanic) and deacon-oligarch Vadim Novinsky – took an openly pro-Moscow stance. It is difficult to say how well Metropolitan Onufriy understood the mood of the Ukrainian flock in March-April. But he was much more aware of Patriarch Cyril’s position: if during the pandemic the patriarch called him every week, he had not called him once in the three months of the war. And that silence was very eloquent.

The situation changed dramatically on May 12. On this day a meeting of St. Synod of the UOC, the documents for it as always prepared by the Governor of the UOC Metropolitan Anthony. There was not a word in them about holding a fair. Moscow did its best to maintain the status quo and would not give its prior approval for a council. The first unexpected thing happened at the meeting of the Synod. Metropolitan Onuphrius insisted that the decisions of the synod be included in response to the appeals of the clergy and that a meeting be held with the participation of the clergy and the laity. And here’s how it was formulated in the end:

“A meeting will soon be convened with the participation of bishops, priests, monks and laity to discuss the problems arising from the war in church life, which concern us all. At the same time, we emphasize that we must do everything possible so that the discussion on this or that issue does not take us out of the canonical field and does not lead us to new divisions in the Church. “[2]

The discussion of this short and rather streamlined wording took two hours due to the resistance of some members of the Synod. In any case, Metropolitan Onuphrius succeeded in upholding the need for a meeting.

Seeing how strong the opposition to such initiatives was on the part of the supporters of maintaining unity with Moscow, Metropolitan Onufriy took over the preparation of the meeting and in fact removed Metropolitan Anthony from participating in the preparation of the substantive part. This is the second unexpected thing. This had never happened before.

This was obviously difficult for Onuphrius, but the only possible solution. On the one hand, he did not have a prepared team to organize such a meeting, and on the other hand, if Anthony and Vadim Novinsky had gained access to the draft documents, Moscow would have known in advance the scenario for the upcoming meeting and would have found an effective way to opposes him.

Metropolitan Onuphrius acted quickly and decisively and appointed the council for May 27, ie only thirteen days after the decision to hold it. During this time he received a large number of letters from various parishes, which helped him see the real mood of the clergy and laity.

An obvious shortcoming of this decision was the lack of any regulation to nominate delegates to the meeting. Elections for delegates took place in only two dioceses. In the remaining fifty delegates were appointed by the ruling bishop. And these were not authoritative or theologically educated people at all.

None of the people gathered on May 27 imagined what exactly they were going to do, what issues there were and how they would solve them. Metropolitan Onufriy’s grand plan was revealed only in the middle of the day. At the end of the meeting, at which the majority of those gathered spoke in favor of the independence of the UOC from Moscow, Metropolitan Onufriy announced an extraordinary meeting of St. Synod, which in turn immediately convened a Council of Bishops, which in turn announced the holding of a Council of the UOC with the participation of clergy and laity.

It must be acknowledged that Metropolitan Onufriy’s bold plan paid off. Moscow’s supporters were confused and their resistance was not as strong as expected. The actual opponents of Metropolitan Onufriy were Vadim Novinski and the Zaporozhian Metropolitan Luka (Kovalenko).

However, if in the morning of the meeting about 60% of the participants were in favor of secession from Moscow, then at the assembly the amendment “for independence” was supported by 70-80% of the voters. And this is the result of a unique situation for the modern Orthodox world: for many gathered, the authority of Metropolitan Onufriy is so high that they are ready to follow him even if they themselves doubt or declare their opposition to secession from Moscow.

At the Council, Metropolitan Onuphrius himself did his best to avoid using the word “autocephaly.” He spoke of “independence” and thus confused his opponents and even some of his supporters.

Three days have passed since the assembly, but the changes in the Statute of the UOC have not been published yet. There are no official comments from Metropolitan Onuphrius on the final decisions.

I guess he’s deliberately pausing. The situation in Ukraine and more broadly – in Ukrainian society – is so complicated that Metropolitan Onuphrius wants to see what the reaction will be: how many supporters there are; what arguments opponents have; and how many are his opponents?

It did not go unnoticed by Metropolitan Onufriy. He did not take advantage of the support of the Council to renew the composition of St. Synod, and left in it his open opponents; did not remove from his post the deputy of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra the odious and frankly pro-Moscow Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed).

It remains unclear who will provide Metropolitan Onufriy with confidential contacts with the heads of the local Orthodox churches in order to reach their position and possibly his plan for further action.

It is obvious that the decisions of the parliament dramatically change the established balance of power: internally, the UOC, separating from Moscow, became stronger, but at the same time significantly weakened. Strictly speaking, the UOC has lost its clear canonical status and is teetering on the brink of division. In conditions of war, this is perfectly acceptable, but in the long run this status must change.

Given that it is impossible to return to the ROC, there are only three ways:

1. Joining (unification) with the PCU, which has already received the Tomos for autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarch – but judging by the firm wording of the Council regarding the PCU, this time will be complex and long, probably noticeable results can be expected only in the distant perspective.

2. Establishment of an Exarchate (or several Exarchates under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the territory of Ukraine) – but therefore there must be the will of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the first place and it is not certain that the representatives of Metropolitan Onuphrius can negotiations.

3. Receiving de facto recognition from at least some local Orthodox churches and existence in the “gray zone” – at first glance without a clear autocephalous status, but local churches will not give up communion, as it would be madness to push in a schism a church in which there are 52 dioceses and 12,000 parishes, and which does not want to enter into a schism; this time it can be called “RCC 2.0”; it is very likely that this is the main plan of Metropolitan Onuphrius.

One day after the Council of the UOC, the Moscow Patriarchate responded to Metropolitan Onufriy and the entire Ukrainian Church with ill-concealed threats. [3] However, Metropolitan Onuphrius is clearly not afraid of them.

It is difficult to say how long and painful the path of autocephaly of the PCU will be. Now, however, it is important to help Ukraine’s largest religious community gain new status. This is an opportunity to show the solidarity of the local Orthodox churches with the UOC. It is obvious that in recent years the churches have been quite frugal in showing solidarity.

Maybe the time has come when it’s worth it?

[1] Resolution of the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of May 27, 2022. https://kdais.kiev.ua/event/postanova-27052022/

[2] Statement of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of May 12, 2022. https://news.church.ua/2022/05/12/zayavlenie-svyashhennogo-sinoda-ukrainskoj-pravoslavnoj-cerkvi-ot-12-maya-2022-goda/?lang=ru

[3] MAGAZINE of the Holy Synod of May 29, 2022. https://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5931468.html

Source: Publicorthodoxy.org

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