Author: Sergey Bortnik
Sergey Bortnik, a professor at the Kyiv Theological Academy and an employee of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s Department of External Relations, spoke about the motives of the Kyiv council to declare independence from the MP and attempts to meet public expectations in Ukraine without the UOC splitting. The decision of the Kiev Council was “pastoral” and not “in the canonical field.” Therefore, the word autocephaly has not been used and has not been announced. At the same time, the UOC will not apply the decisions of the governing bodies of the ROC to itself. The decision is addressed to believers in Ukraine and local authorities to show that the UOC is politically independent of its center in Moscow. Since the beginning of the war, Moscow Patriarch Kirill has refused to talk to Mitr. Onuphrius did not pick up the phone and refused any communication. The Council has not formulated an opinion on the position of Patriarch Cyril for the war, but only expressed “disagreement”. The main reason for the dissatisfaction with the ROC is “the personal position of Patr. Cyril for the war “, because of which the Ukrainian episcopate does not want to be subordinated to the Ministry of Justice. The ideology of the “Russian world” has been discussed, but not condemned.
– Can you tell us how the declaration of independence of the UOC happened?
– There was a meeting of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which grew into a council – a legally important assembly, which is authorized to decide important issues and which accordingly took this decision. If you read the decision of this council, you will see that the word “autocephaly” does not occur there – and it does not occur for reasons of principle. This is a canonical term, a term from ecclesiastical law. Therefore, I believe that this document is not ecclesiastical, but pastoral, addressed to believers and also to the Ukrainian state.
Autocephaly could have been proclaimed, but it was not. Filaret did something similar in 1992, when there was a split in the Moscow Patriarchate, motivated by the independence of the state of Ukraine. However, it remained a split that was not recognized, and the UOC-MP now does not want to take this path.
In this sense, what the UOC has done is an option that is not in the canonical field. This is not a question of the official status of our church. We declare that we are politically independent of our center in Moscow. In this case, it is done for the believers and for our country, which is at war with Russia.
– What does this mean?
– The UOC renounces its status as a subordinate of the Moscow Patriarchate, but does not sever ties. We do not go into schism, but at the same time we stop considering the decisions of, say, the Synod or the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow to be binding on us.
This is evidenced by the fact that yesterday (May 29) during the liturgy, our Metropolitan Onufriy mentioned the heads of local churches, including Moscow Patriarch Kirill. This is proof that the connection is preserved, but he did not mention it as “our great lord and father,” but simply among the other heads of the local churches.
In other words, we do not completely sever ties, but we do not consider ourselves responsible and dependent on the Moscow Patriarchate.
– Can this be considered a symbolic gesture?
– No. This is not a symbolic gesture, but a real one. We will no longer carry out the decisions of the Council and the Synod of the ROC for us.
This is important for our status in Ukraine – so that we are not accused of being associated with the ROC. (We pointed out that) we are independent. We announced it ourselves, we intend to observe it ourselves…
From now on, we do not want to recognize the power of the ROC over us. We will decide for ourselves how to live. However, we do not interrupt the prayerful communion with the ROC.
There were options when some hotheads said that we should condemn Patriarch Kirill, condemn the heresy of the “Russian world”. He was said to have no place in the family of Orthodox churches. We did not follow this path, we maintain communication, but our relations are no longer subordinate, but equal.
– What is the reaction of the UOC to the words of Patriarch Cyril for the war?
– No official opinion was expressed. The situation is such that the war has been going on for three months now and we have not heard any condolences for the priests who died or for the churches destroyed by the Russian troops. Not once did something like that sound from Patr’s mouth. Cyril. But when the Ukrainians entered a military unit and a priest from the Russian Orthodox Church was killed there, the patriarchate sent an official condolence.
Mitr. Onuphrius said he had been trying to call Patr for three months. Cyril more than once. He wanted to talk to him and clarify the situation, but it did not work out.
Now the reaction of the Synod of the ROC and the Patriarch is that we (the UOC) have made the decision for independence involuntarily and under pressure from the authorities – this is not true. This is a solution in a difficult situation, but it is free and conscious.
We had a discussion – very active, there were many different positions. There are 53 dioceses in the UOC, 14 of which are currently under Russian control. The metropolitans of these places – including Crimea and Donbass – spoke differently from the majority on the other side of the front.
That is why some wording acceptable to the UOC as a whole was sought. This was found in one of the points of the decision: the dioceses located in the occupied territories can make their own decisions about their lives if they are under Russian occupation. It is clear that it is impossible to reach a compromise position for all, but the decision was made taking into account the position of the majority.
– The Crimean Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church decides to remain under the rule of Patriarch Cyril. Was it expected?
“I think that was expected.” Prior to that, they were part of the UOC and repeatedly consecrated weapons to the armed forces of the Russian Federation, and the interaction on the ground was with the Russian state. We were blamed for that, so it was expected that their position would not change in any way, it was practically Russian and it has remained so. If Crimea remains Russian, church structures that once belonged to the UOC will likely become officially Russian. The probability of this is quite high.
At the same time, there are three dioceses in Crimea and officially they have always remained part of the UOC, ie we turned a blind eye to the fact that they actually exist in another country, that their activities differ from those in the rest of Ukraine. We closed our eyes to that. It was difficult for us because we were criticized for it. We didn’t like that.
– However, we can not say that relations with the Russian Orthodox Church are completely severed?
– From the point of view of the current parliament, this should be the case – we will not accept the recommendations of the ROC, which does not recognize our independent status. This means that we will act administratively as we see fit and as we see fit.
At the same time, the prayer connection remains, our miter. Onuphrius is ready to mention Patriarch Cyril among the other leaders, but all other hierarchs of the UOC should not mention Patriarch Cyril. If they mention it, they will show a clear rejection of the decision of the UOC council. For example, in Crimea they will not implement the decision of this UOC council. But most dioceses are on the Ukrainian side. Some of them said earlier that they would not mention Patriarch Kirill.
– What was the interaction between the UOC and the ROC in the past?
– In fact, the interaction was not very active. Even if we take not only Patr. Cyril, but also Patr. Alexis. He was on the territory of Ukraine three times – twice in 1990 and once in 2008. That is to say, there was a huge pause for eighteen years when he did not come to Ukraine at all.
The UOC is used to living alone. We were not always ready to agree with what was accepted in Moscow. When in 2009 came Patriarch Cyril, he started coming to Ukraine all the time and that was a big change. We realized that we did not want such care from Moscow. We needed her rhetoric and tried to obey the Ukrainian Church. There was sabotage on the part of our bishops, but there was no need to state this clearly. Now is the time.
In general, it was the higher authority that upheld our decisions. For example, if the UOC elected a new representative. When the miter was elected. Onuphrius, we chose him ourselves – but the candidate is blessed and finally approved by the ROC.
We have also created new dioceses over the years, but the final confirmation that this is legal was done at a local council of the ROC. There will be no such dependence today.
– Is the decision of the council in Kyiv fully in force?
– From the point of view of this document, the decision shall enter into force immediately. There is nothing that requires its application after some time.
There was some improvisation in this decision, in particular a great role played by the miter himself. Onuphrius. He is a spiritual man and does not always adhere to formalities. Obviously, further clarification will be needed. We have declared our independence, but our further actions are still unclear. It should be understood that these decisions do not contain a norm.
– What do the parishioners say about this decision?
– Many are happy. There is a situation of war between Ukraine and Russia and it would be bearable if Patriarch Cyril had at least spoken out, but he expressed unequivocal support for the Russian Federation’s military action.
This caused bewilderment, bitterness, and on the part of our critics of the UOC was a stone in our garden. In this sense, it (the decision for independence) is an emotional decision, it is not completely canonical, but I think it is a great relief for many believers of our church in many parts of Ukraine.
– What does this mean in practical terms?
– First of all, it helps us in conflict situations for parishes. Since the beginning of the war, about 400-500 of our parishes have moved to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Our (representatives of the UOC) often talk about the forcible transfer and seizure of churches.
The main motive for these transitions was not that we are bad, but that we are part of the ROC, and the ROC is led by Patriarch Cyril, who supports this war. This chain is already broken. We express our disagreement with Patriarch Cyril, his position is no longer an order or an authority for us, we say that there is no reason to blame the UOC for its relations with the ROC. This is done in order to preserve the parishes, to preserve the flock and the structure of the UOC in Ukraine.
We ourselves have long been perceived as independent of Moscow, this is not a fundamental change in our self-consciousness. Obviously, this is a coercive measure; we want to make it clear that we are not part of the ROC, whose head blesses the war.
– How will the autonomy of the UOC affect the ROC?
– Now the ROC is losing a significant part of its church. It is estimated that we have twelve thousand parishes, and the ROC – about thirty thousand, including those in other countries. In terms of the number of parishes and priests, the ROC is significantly reduced.
Perhaps the situation in Ukraine will encourage other countries to sever ties with the Moscow Patriarchate. Perhaps a chain reaction will follow, which will lead to the dioceses and parishes belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate beginning to clearly express their disagreement.
– Is it possible that this will lead to complete isolation of the ROC?
– It is unlikely to reach complete isolation, unless the ROC itself so wishes. But the desire to communicate in this situation will decrease. In the current military situation, it is obvious that Ukraine is a victim of aggression. Reasonable Christian attitude is always on the side of the victim, so the votes of support will obviously not be on the side of the ROC.
– What is your assessment of the role of Patr. Cyril in this war?
– He did not say a word in support of Ukraine. Earlier, he said that the UOC was being attacked in Ukraine, and for him this was also a reason to start a war. If we look at yesterday’s decision of the Synod of the ROC, we can hear the rhetoric that we are under pressure from local authorities. The rhetoric of the ROC is very close to the rhetoric of Russian propaganda.