Church after Tomos – State and National Project or EX ORIENTE LUX?
The Statement of the Open Orthodoxy Network, created by the clergy and faithful, mainly the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), caused contradictory thoughts. On the one hand, it is very good that the Ukrainianophilic group in the UOC (MP) defined itself and its position in a certain manner. It's good that they stand for the Tomos and are ready for dialogue. It is fine that they are against “imperial, totalitarian and Soviet layers” and “for peaceful coexistence, cooperation and co-ordination”.
On the other hand, this appeal once again upsets the applecart. First, it would be easier if the division line remained clear and unambiguous: on the one hand, the “Ukrainian Church”, on the other hand - the “Moscow clerics”. Secondly, some of the suggestions expressed in the appeal are quite similar to the “large-scale” rhetoric of the leadership of the denomination, which, in fact, hides the desire to preserve everything as it is after the Tomos and in spite of the Tomos.
This treatment, indeed, is easy to interpret exactly as treason. Those who prefer quick solutions and simple answers to complex questions, have already done so. The proposal for the “coexistence of jurisdictions”, for example, was interpreted as a maneuver of the Moscow Patriarchate. For this would mean that the “Moscow clerics” will continue to feel free on the Ukrainian soil and transform their swords into plough-shares. The way they do it right now. The jurisdiction should be one, the Ukrainian Church is the only one and the national one. And all those maneuvering as a bum boat are Moscow’s agents.
Why don't they just join? But it would have been so simple: there is a national Church, it will receive the Tomos and become canonical. “Moscow clerics” will perish like dew in the sun, and so will religious conflicts. Thus, such a kind of utopian picture has already been formed in the folklore that the Tomos is a kind of miracle to solve almost all of our problems. This confidence is particularly strong among secular people, confident that the Church is simply a public institution, either “for us” or “against us.” In general, à la guerre comme à la guerre - either we get a “national Church”, or we get eaten by the “Moscow clerics.”
This, indeed, would be too simple – “Moscow clerics” vs “national Church”. But fortunately or unfortunately – everything is much more complicated. “Moscow clerics” is a convenient meme that does not reflect the entire spectrum of positions and beliefs among the faithful and clergy of the UOC (MP), who are also Ukrainian citizens, as well as supporters of the “national Church”. And most supporters of the “national Church” have no clear idea of what it means - the “national Church”, how to build it, and who can (and who cannot) be involved in it.
There is nothing surprising that those who are not ready for various reasons to join the national Church project promoted by the authorities together with the UOC-KP are nervous and consider it necessary to “write down a separate opinion”. After all, it is not about whether they like Moscow or not. They may simply not like the Church project that they are being offered - the project is both vague and non-alternative.
Such a state of affairs may not suit not only them. With its statement, the Open Orthodoxy Network gives the Ecumenical Patriarch the clue that it may have lacked. While the UOC-MP, in general or in parts, had no slightest signal of willingness to conduct a dialogue on unity, autocephaly, etc., the situation, in fact, looked quite simple: there is one church power – the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate - that wants and is ready to receive the Tomos and become a canonical local Church in Ukraine.
But the Ecumenical Patriarch cannot feel so confident in such conditions. In every way he made clear that his intervention in Ukrainian affairs is aimed, first of all, at overcoming the division. It is the division that no-one has even tried to “heal” for a quarter century – that is what legitimizes the violation of the written / unwritten convention, under which Ukraine stays in the exclusive canonical subordination of Moscow. Moscow cannot cope with it - and does not even think of coping. So it's time to intervene, reminding that Kyiv, as a matter of fact, was transferred to Moscow only “for use”, and not “in the ownership”.
However, simply issuing the Tomos to the UOC-KP would look somewhat blatant. In this way, the Ecumenical Patriarch would have become vulnerable to criticism of the Moscow allies who have already cried foul about the “legitimation of the split”. It is important for Patriarch Bartholomew to have a confirmation that this is not a “legitimization”, but rather a step towards overcoming the split. And not for just a part of it - between the UOC-KP and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (it would have been not so much overcoming the split" as helping one schismatic group to absorb another schismatic group, remaining from yet another schismatic group). In addition, both groups are considered “schismatic”, and granting them autocephaly, even if they unite, can still be criticized as “legitimizing the split.” In order to avoid such accusations and unnecessary speculations, a clear demonstration is needed that the steps of the Ecumenical Patriarch will help overcome the tectonic divide - the one that passes along the general line of the UOC-KP - the UOC (MP). And for this, it is good to have at least some kind of signal from some part of the UOC-MP about their readiness for a dialogue, the search for a cohesive solution and, ultimately, unity.
So, if the Open Orthodoxy Network can be considered the “fifth column,” they are rather “agents of Phanar” than “agents of Moscow”. Although in Ukraine this statement did not attract much attention - most of the eyes now shift from Moscow to Istanbul, and vice versa, on the Phanar, they probably have seen and heard it.
However, the interests of Phanar are only part of the problem. The main thing is that the very idea of a “national Church”, which is persistently promoted for the public, causes judiciousness in Ukraine. For various reasons, the most important of them are potential isolationism and the risk of growth with the state, which will provide preferences to the “national” Church. Just on the grounds that this Church carries out important functions in society, standing on the guard of State interests in ideological issues and even in the sector of state security.
The fact that preferences from the Ukrainian authorities will be granted makes no doubt. Neither does the fact that these preferences are the key to the rapid development of the Church and its successful absorption of “imperial remnants”. If the State support of the national church project will be granted in one form or another it will be joined on a large scale. And those who do not join will turn into a bunch of outcasts. We have already experienced it in the 90s, when not only those who welcomed the independence, but also those who did not ask for it, went and received Ukrainian passports, became citizens and taxpayers. No need for pathetic gestures and loud statements, it will be enough to explain that the rules of the game are the same – “Friends get everything, enemies get the law” - and most of the Church authorities, in order to become “friends”, will agree to anything, including the “canonical independence”.
Therefore, those who are unwilling or incapable of joining this promoted state-church project for various reasons, are tormented by anxiety. If this continues, and the national Church comes to be, which will also benefit from State preferences, not only these “Moscow clerics” may prove to be “outcasts”.
For example, the words of the Head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, have attracted attention recently, “The Church can never be a State, but always must be state-creating.” If the first part of the phrase cannot be disputed, then the second is a surprise. Which State was created by Christ and His disciples? Was there a gift to “create a State” among the gifts of the Holy Spirit which came down onto the apostles on the day of Pentecost?
The preacher's attempt to justify the “state-creating” Church in that it affects the principles of justice also seems mildly unconvincing: justice is not the prerogative of either a state or of the Church.
What is this verbal equilibrium for? It is caused by nervousness, by tired anxiety that gives rise to the desire once again to remind that the UGCC has served and continues to serve the interests of the State rather than the potential “one local church”. Many people involved in Church affairs feel this anxiety. This anxiety is due to the very real possibility of emerging of the Church, not de jure but de facto, which will enjoy preferences, and will be able to use them, in particular, for internal expansion. This threat is felt not only by “Moscow clerics”, but also by Greek Catholics - if not at the level of Church policy, then “on the ground.” Representatives of the UOC (MP), who entered the Open Orthodoxy Network, can feel this threat - and they respond in all possible ways.
But the matter is not only a threat to the transformation of the Ukrainian local Church into the state Church.
Many of the participants in the process, including those of the UOC-KP, agree that this project should not be state-owned. But not everyone agrees with the fact that this project should be “national” - in any case, in the narrow sense of the word. There is a great temptation to “beat the enemy with his own weapon” - to oppose the imperial Church project of Russia, with the national Church project of Ukraine. But this context narrowed the understanding of the role of the Church and religion in society. There is a risk of obtaining a “patriotic” project as a result of a “national identity” and “traditions” that is self-absorbed which absorbs itself and does not intend to let something new into, or give something to the world from the world.
The Ecumenical Patriarch, of course, would like to strike a blow to Moscow as it has nearly disrupted the Pan-Orthodox Council – but its determination regarding the Ukrainian Tomos does not end here. It is not limited to attempts to destroy the hegemony of Russia, to reduce its influence in any part of the world – this is a desire not only and not so much of the Ecumenical Patriarch, as of his secular allies in Washington and Brussels.
The Patriarch, in contrast to them, cares (at least, has to do so) not so much about geopolitics as about the fate of universal Orthodoxy. What can the Ukrainian Church give him? Apart from reformating the political blocs -- it is quite clear: new breath, new passionarity, new meanings.
The Ukrainian Church can become “fresh blood” for the ancient and in some cases an outdated structure. The blood which simply did not get there previously because of the barriers created by Russian Orthodoxy.
In addition to purely “domestic” ideas about how we can arrange our domestic church life, we must think about what we can offer to the world. This is an ambitious idea, which may seem to us “beyond measure.” But in order to achieve at least some success, we must set ourselves a great goal. Here I agree with the Open Orthodoxy Network: the Tomos is not such a goal. It cannot at all be a goal - only the means. The means to achieve something truly important - both for the country and for the Church. Not for the “national” Church, but for the Church in its fullness. “Openness” is not only saying "brothers", but also giving something to the world. Actually, this is an indispensable condition for the successful realization of any real “national project” in the modern world: the one who does not (does not want or cannot) give anything, has no influence, and it remains only the object of other people's interests.
Such “openness” is unlikely to be realized within the framework of any of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches that currently exist - the UOC (MP) and the UOC-KP. Both of them - each in their own way - are “closed”, directed inside their own (or not own, but still closed) project. Both – each in its own way – resist openness. Both focus mainly on institutional interests.
But the one who does not take a risk he does not win.
Either the Ukrainian Church project finds courage to be universal, or sooner or later it becomes purely state-owned. Not de jure, but de facto. It is easy to prove. Just take a look at the Roman Orthodox Church.