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UKRAINE: The Russian Orthodox Church annexes Ukrainian dioceses

The Russian Orthodox Church annexes dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in occupied territories

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (10.06.2022) – The Dzhankoy, Simferopol and Feodosia dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) of the Moscow Patriarchate have been annexed by the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).

This decision was made on June 7 at the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, allegedly “out of the need to maintain an effective canonical and administrative connection with the central church authorities.”

It should be noted that after the occupation of Crimea in 2014, the dioceses of the UOC remained in formal subordination to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU)/ Constantinople Patriarchate which had been banned on the peninsula.

Now, by the decision of the Synod of the ROC in Moscow, the Crimean Metropolitanate has been formed on the territory of the peninsula, headed by Metropolitan Lazarus of Simferopol and Crimea.

Why the annexation of UOC dioceses in Crimea, Donetsk and Gorlovka?

In April, over 400 priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church/ Moscow Patriarchate (UOC) signed a petition condemning the role of Patriarch Kirill in the war. A number of clerics stopped mentioning the Moscow Patriarchate in their church services.

 

On this occasion, Fr Andrei Pinchuk, Archpriest of the Dnipropetrovsk Diocese of the UOC (some 240 miles southeast of Kyiv), who launched this initiative, gave an interview which is worth watching.

On 27 May, the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) brought amendments to its charter, confirming and reinforcing its existing independence from Moscow because of “disagreement with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia about the war in Ukraine.”

However, several dioceses in occupied territories of Ukraine – the Donetsk, Gorlovka and Crimean dioceses – did not support the amendments to the charter. The ROC immediately jumped on this opportunity to unilaterally annex these dioceses without the approval of the UOC. The clerics in occupied Crimea who had hereby prioritized their faithfulness to the Moscow Patriarchate rather than to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will certainly be kept in place by Patriarch Kirill.

 

In recent months, a number of local authorities in many regions of Ukraine have banned the activities of the UOC and re-registered their communities in the OCU (Orthodox Church of Ukraine/ Constantinople Patriarchate), sometimes on their request, sometimes on the priest’s sole request without the approval of the parishioners, sometimes under pressure of the local parishioners and against the priest’s will.

Due to all these fractures inside the UOC, Moscow Patriarchate perceives the UOC as less and less solid and reliable.

In more and more Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia, we may see more annexation cases of UOC churches by Moscow Patriarchate, and their (Ukrainian) priests be replaced by Russian ones if they signed the protest petition in April.

Further reading about FORB in Ukraine on HRWF website





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UKRAINE: The Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate: Split or maneuver?

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate: split or maneuver?

Is the part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that remained in communion with Moscow really breaking with Kirill—or just pretending to?

By Willy Fautré

 

Bitter Winter (01.06.2022) – https://bit.ly/3M9gYHa – On 27 May, the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) decided to amend the Church Charter concerning its relations with the Moscow Patriarchate due to the current military invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation and the ensuing internal conflicts and divisions in its midst. An official resolution was issued. What does this step really mean and what does it not mean?

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) under existential threat

In recent months, a number of local authorities in many regions of Ukraine have banned the activities of the UOC and re-registered their communities in the OCU (Orthodox Church of Ukraine/ Constantinople Patriarchate), sometimes on their request, sometimes on the priest’s sole request without the approval of the parishioners, sometimes under pressure of the local parishioners and against the priest’s will.

These processes began after the OCU received in January 2019 the Tomos, a decree of autonomy, from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeus I of Constantinople and the Eastern Orthodox Church, but Russia’s war on Ukraine reinforced and accelerated the transfers of parishes exponentially.

Being almost on the verge of a full ban by the Ukrainian Parliament, which perceived the UOC as a Russian Trojan horse in Ukraine, the UOC decided to convene a Council to amend its Charter.

Moreover, there were rumors that the OCU, with the support of the civil authorities, was going to take away from the UOC the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra Men’s Monastery, also known as the Kiev Monastery of the Caves, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The autocephaly issue

It is in this context that the question of UOC’s possible autocephaly was raised but this status can only be granted by the Mother Church, i.e., the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). If there is no agreement of the ROC, the self-proclaimed autocephaly can be interpreted as a church split or schism (as the Kiev Patriarchate of Filaret was once perceived in the Orthodox world).

For the UOC itself, it would also be a risk of losing its canonical status.

The arguments of the “autocephalists” were that the consolidation of the independence in the Charter of the UOC in one form or another minimizes the risks of a complete ban by the Ukrainian Parliament, as well as the transfer of parishes. Especially since some of the parishioners’ communities and some clergy also changed their attitude towards the ROC after the outbreak of the war.

Moreover, parts of Ukraine’s territories in the East and the South are being (temporarily?) controlled and annexed by Russia, which already imposes its rules, its administration, and its personnel on the remaining local population. In this fluid and unstable situation with an unpredictable future, local UOC priests might stay in place but they might also be quickly replaced with President Putin’s blessing by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow who would consider them unreliable.

For all these and other reasons, a move to autocephaly would seem unwise by the UOC at this stage.

What did the UOC Council really decide and not decide?

In their resolution, the members of the UOC Council agreed

  1. to condemn the war “as a violation of God’s commandment”
  2. to “disagree with the position of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus on the war in Ukraine” to adopt appropriate amendments, “all of which testify to the full independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church”

Noteworthy is that only the words “independence” and “autonomy” appeared in the document, never “autocephaly.” Moreover, there is no reference to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) with which the UOC has been “in communion” for over thirty years.

This omission in the resolution is not a mistake or due to chance. It is intentional and coherent with the objective really pursued: to avoid a ban by the Ukrainian Parliament on the ground of limiting the actions of “church communities with management centers in Russia.”

It means that the changes in the Charter are only meant to consolidate the UOC’s independent status. which dates back to the breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1990 when the Church was granted self-government by a decision of then Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia.

Autocephaly or secession from the ROC is not on the agenda of the UOC and there is no sign of schism inside the family of the Russian Orthodox Church. Religious scholars are not inclined either to consider the resolution of the UOC as going into a split with Moscow Patriarchate.

“The commemoration of Patriarch Kirill by Our Beatitude remains, and through him the canonical connection,” Archpriest Nikolai Danilevich, Secretary of the Department for External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, told “Strana,” an online media now banned in Ukraine.

The future will tell us if this highly political maneuver will be successful or not, in the short term, and if the compromise between the doves and the hawks inside the UOC will hold over time, according to the unpredictable developments of Russia’s war on Ukraine. In case of an apocalyptic scenario, a total invasion and occupation of Ukraine by President Putin followed by the sole recognition of the UOC, all the other Orthodox Churches would become illegal, as it is the case in Crimea, while the UOC could easily restore its “full communion” with the Moscow Patriarchate.

Photo: Metropolitan Onufriy with other UOC dignitaries. Credits

Further reading about FORB in Ukraine on HRWF website





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UKRAINE-RUSSIA: Over 400 Orthodox priests in Ukraine condemn Patriarch Kirill

Hundreds of priests of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine condemn the role of Russian Patriarch Kirill in the war

HRWF (15.04.2022) – As of Thursday evening 14 April, three days after the launch of the petition condemning the role of Patriarch Kirill in the war, over 400 priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church/ Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) had already signed it. The list of signatories is growing fast and is updated online every day. See this list HERE at the end of the petition in Russian.

The interview of Fr Andrei Pinchuk, Archpriest of the Dnipropetrovsk Diocese of the UOC-MP  (some 240 miles southeast of Kyiv), who launched this initiative is also worth watching HERE.

 

Text of the “Open request to the primates of local Orthodox churches

“In these tragic days, when the brutal war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine continues, we, the priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, consider it our pastoral duty to appeal to the fullness of world Orthodoxy.

On February 24, 2022, Russian troops invaded the territory of the sovereign Ukrainian state without declaring war. The military aggression has been going on for more than a month. Russian troops are systematically destroying military infrastructure and residential areas, civilian enterprises, schools, hospitals, theaters, and so on. The Ukrainian economy is suffering heavy losses. But we are most saddened that thousands of civilians have already died during the war. The actions of the Russian army around Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Akhtyrka, Hostomel, Vorzel and especially Mariupol and Bucha have obvious signs of the genocide against the Ukrainian people and cause indignation around the world.

Already on the first day of the war, the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy, condemned the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and addressed the president of Russia. V. Putin’s call to end the war. In addition, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy appealed to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to raise his voice against the war. After that, both His Beatitude Onufriy personally and the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church again appealed to Patriarch Kirill to speak out against the war and help end military aggression. However, Patriarch Kirill ignored these appeals.

Moreover, since the beginning of the war, Patriarch Kirill has repeatedly made public statements that contained actual support for the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. On March 13, 2022, during the Liturgy at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Patriarch Kirill presented the commander-in-chief of the National Guard of the Russian Federation, V. Zolotov, the Icon of the Mother of God and gave his blessing to the employees of this state military organization. In a thank-you note to V. Zolotov bluntly said that the National Guard of the Russian Federation troops are taking an active part in the war that Russia has unleashed against Ukraine. At the same time, he called the Armed Forces of Ukraine “Nazis”. After listening to Zolotov’s words, the Patriarch did not express any objections. Patriarch Kirill’s blessing of the Russian National Guard troops was an unequivocal endorsement of the war that the Russian Federation has unleashed against Ukraine.

Although Patriarch Kirill for many years claimed that he considers the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine his flock, for which he is responsible, in his public statements (including during visits to Ukraine) today, he directly blesses the physical destruction of this flock by Russian troops.

The actions of Patriarch Kirill caused mass indignation among the clergy and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. At least fifteen dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have officially announced that they are stopping commemorating Patriarch Kirill during divine services. We know that in many other dioceses, the ruling bishops gave oral permission to the clergy not to remember the name of Patriarch Kirill. Thus, bishops, priests and ordinary parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church expressed their unequivocal distrust of Patriarch Kirill.

We fully support the refusal of the bishops and clergy of our church to commemorate Patriarch Kirill during the divine service. But today, this is not enough.

We clearly state that we can’t continue to remain in any form of canonical subordination to the Moscow Patriarch. This is a command of our Christian conscience.

“We are witnessing the brutal actions of the Russian army against the Ukrainian people, which are approved by Patriarch Kirill. As pastors of the Church, and simply as Christians, we have always been, are and will always stay with our people, those who suffer and need help. We fully support the Ukrainian state authorities and the Armed Forces of Ukraine in their fight against the aggressor.

Our position fully corresponds to the Gospel and Church tradition. Protecting the motherland from the enemy is one of the main Christian virtues. We would especially like to emphasize that our position also corresponds to the internal legislation of the Russian Orthodox Church. Back in 2000, the foundations of the social concept of the Russian Orthodox Church were adopted. This document approves Christian patriotism, which is manifested, among other things, “in defense of the fatherland from the enemy” (II, 3). Also, the foundations of the social concept clearly state that “the Church … does not prohibit its children from participating in military operations, if it is a question of protecting their neighbors and restoring violated justice” (VIII, 2). This document also notes that “during the war, it is necessary to ensure the protection of the civilian population from direct military actions” (VIII, 3).

As citizens of Ukraine, today we act within the framework of these principles. We call for the protection of our homeland from the enemy who came to us with weapons; we support the Ukrainian army, which has come to the defense of our people and is striving to restore the violated Justice; we call for an end to the brutal destruction of the Ukrainian civilian population by the Russian military.

At the same time, Patriarch Kirill (as well as numerous bishops and priests in Russia) directly violate the norms of the basic social concept. In particular, this document clearly states that the Church cannot provide assistance to the state and cooperate with it if the state is waging an aggressive external War (III, 8). Today, the actions of the Russian Federation against Ukraine are nothing more than aggressive foreign war. This fact is recognized by the entire international community. In particular, on March 2, 2022, 141 countries supported the UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine. But both Patriarch Kirill himself and numerous clergy in Russia continue to support the aggressive foreign policy of the Russian Federation. Consequently, the position of the Moscow Patriarchate regarding the war against Ukraine does not meet either the norms of Christian morality or even its own regulatory documents.

Reflecting on the origins of the position of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding the war in Ukraine, we must admit that one of the ideological foundations of this war was the doctrine of the “Russian World”, which was promoted personally by Patriarch Kirill for many years. This doctrine has been actively formed by Russian political scientists and sociologists since the 1990s. Its goal is to preserve the influence of the Russian Federation on the territory of the former Soviet Union after its inglorious collapse. Ideologists of the” Russian world”, in particular within the Moscow Patriarchate, have never hidden the fact that this doctrine should contribute to Russian irredentism, that is, the gradual establishment of Russia’s political control over territories that were previously part of the Soviet Union or even the Russian Empire.

Patriarch Kirill is one of the main ideologists of the “Russian World” doctrine. According to Patriarch Kirill, the “Russian World” is a single civilizational space covering territories where Russian culture has historically had a significant impact. He has repeatedly stated that he considers modern Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians “one people”, the people of the “Russian World”. In particular, in 2014, in one of his speeches on television, Patriarch Kirill said: “The Russian World is a special civilization, which embraces people who today call themselves by different names – both Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians.” That is, according to the Patriarch, Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians simply call themselves by different names, but at the same time remain a single people.

 

In 2021, in an interview on his 75th birthday, Patriarch Kirill said: “For me, as the Patriarch of all Russia, there is no division into peoples and states, but there is a flock of the Russian Orthodox Church.” Although Patriarch Kirill has always stressed that he does not question the existing state borders, he still stated that these borders “create unnecessary obstacles between the peoples of the Russian World.”

 

On March 20, 2022, during the war that Russia launched against Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill, in his sermon at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, said that Russians and Ukrainians are “really one people.” He stressed that he considers this to be God’s truth, which is not changed because “we live in different countries today.” Therefore the Patriarch said that he will continue to pray “for our united people, who today live in different countries.”

 

All these statements are quite consonant with Russian state propaganda, which rejects the very fact of the existence of the Ukrainian nation and Ukrainian culture, and therefore does not actually recognize the right of Ukrainians to their own statehood. Thus, the “Russian World” doctrine, which Patriarch Kirill has been promoting for many years, today contributes to justifying Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.

However, we, Orthodox priests, want to draw special attention to those aspects of the doctrine of the “Russian World” that directly relate to the doctrine of the Church. In particular, Patriarch Kirill persistently identifies the “Russian World” with the so-called “canonical territory” of the Russian Orthodox Church. In particular, in 2009, in its speech at the Assembly of the “Russkiy Mir” Foundation, Patriarch Kirill said that “the Russian Orthodox church fulfills its pastoral mission among peoples who accept the Russian spiritual and cultural tradition as the basis of their national identity, or at least as its essential part. That’s why in this sense we also consider Moldova a part of this Russian World.” In his official speeches, Patriarch Kirill repeatedly claimed that according to the Charter of the Eastern patriarchs on the creation of the Moscow Patriarchate (1593), all the territories that were located north of Byzantium were transferred to the jurisdiction of this Patriarchate. For example, on September 24, 2014, while speaking in Moscow at the VI International Festival “Faith and Word”, Patriarch Kirill said that in 1593 The “Christian Oikumene to the north of the Byzantine Empire” was transferred to the Moscow Patriarchate. This is everything located to the North of Byzantium.” According to this logic, the Eastern Patriarchs seem to have recognized the extension of the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarch to Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states, and Moldova. It is these territories that Patriarch Kirill today declares a zone of his “canonical responsibility” and identifies with the “Russian World”. From the point of view of Patriarch Kirill, all churches in these territories do not have the right to church independence (autocephaly). According to his logic, Churches in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and the Baltic states are literally doomed to remain part of the Moscow Patriarchate forever.

 

These statements of Patriarch Kirill come into obvious contradiction with historical facts. But, surprisingly, Patriarch Kirill passes off this false interpretation of history as the position of the entire universal Orthodoxy. Moreover, in the words and actions of Patriarch Kirill, we see obvious distortions of the Orthodox teaching about the Church. Patriarch Kirill’s statements regarding the “Russian World” are reminiscent of ethnophyletism condemned by Ecumenical Orthodoxy, where the role of an ethnic group is played by “Russian civilization”. Patriarch Kirill’s statements that the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate extends to all people who accept “Russian spiritual and cultural traditions as the basis of their national identity” come into obvious contradiction with Orthodox canon law. Such an understanding of the Church order means rejecting the territorial principle of spreading ecclesiastical jurisdiction and replacing it with a national (or cultural-national) principle.

In March 2022, a group of Orthodox theologians issued the Declaration on the Doctrine of the “Russian World”, which has already been supported by over 300 intellectuals worldwide. We believe that this declaration was an important step toward understanding the distortions of Orthodox teaching about the church that occurred in the Moscow Patriarchate.

 

All these considerations force us to turn to the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches. We declare our loyalty to Universal orthodoxy, our desire for the fullness of our communion with it, and condemn any attempts to limit our communion with it. We also believe that it is the fullness of ecumenical Orthodoxy that should pay full attention and responsibility to the statements and actions of Patriarch Kirill today. “The tragedy unfolding in Ukraine today is also the result of the policy that Patriarch Kirill pursues during his time at the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Obviously, this has already become a challenge for the entire universal Orthodoxy.

Therefore we call on the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches:

  1. Clearly and unambiguously condemn the military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.
  2. Call on the president of the Russian Federation, V. V. Putin will immediately end the war and liberate all the occupied territories of sovereign Ukraine.
  3. Review the public statements of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow regarding the war against Ukraine and evaluate them in the light of the Holy Scriptures and the sacred tradition of the Church.
  4. Consider at the Pan-Orthodox level the doctrine of the “Russian World”, which for many years has been promoted by Patriarch Kirill and which has become one of the ideological justifications for the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, and give this doctrine an assessment from the point of view of orthodox teaching and in case of the condemnation of this doctrine, bring Patriarch Kirill to justice and deprive him of the right to hold the patriarchal throne.

This appeal is open for signing by the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Those clergymen of the UOC who are willing to sign our appeal, please send me private messages (067-6-333-112 in any Messenger) with the following text: “I sign the appeal. (rank, last name and first name, Name of the diocese) After the collection of signatures is completed, the appeal will be sent to all primates of local Orthodox Churches. It will also be sent to the attention of Moscow Patriarch Kirill.

 

 

More reading

Orthodox priests call for patriarchs to depose Kirill, by Patrick Hudson, The Tablet (12.04.2022)

https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/15278/orthodox-priests-call-for-patriarchs-to-depose-kirill?fbclid=IwAR3iOJ_HFDMMOJ_S9T1xcsdDFY_Ie11-ryqT_Wreq1So5G3AGrJZBaRnEO0

Further reading about FORB in Ukraine on HRWF website


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