New Challenges in Orthodoxy in Ukraine – Will There Be New Responses?

02.07.2013, 08:48
New Challenges in Orthodoxy in Ukraine – Will There Be New Responses? - фото 1
The summer-fall of 2013 will likely be the hottest in the life of Orthodoxy in Ukraine in the past ten years.

sagan.jpgThe summer-fall of 2013 will likely be the hottest in the life of Orthodoxy in Ukraine in the past ten years. At least at the beginning of July, a heavy atmosphere is expected – and not just because of the holiday of the “Russian world” (as it became by its very nature, at least in terms of its initiators and organizers), that is, the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Rus-Ukraine.

Each of the three major Orthodox Churches (as well as the smaller Orthodox Churches) in Ukraine is up against new church and social challenges, and the care in which they are met may determine the churches’ development for the next 10-15 years. Let us briefly consider only the last significant challenges as the format of the article does not allow us to look more deeply at the formal and strategic parameters of the institutional development of the churches (institutional rise, missionary and educational activities, Sunday school, etc.), although this does not prevent us from considering these factors in the conclusion.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). For several years the church has been experiencing difficult times, and objectively it is because its internal problems are combined with strong external pressure from both the ruling patriarchy and the so-called home-grown “political Orthodox Muscophiles” (both clergy and laity). The UOC-MP’s current, formal status as an independent and self-governing institution is not liked by the patriarchate and, therefore, its adherents in Ukraine because it allows for not only the nonliteral will of the center but also for it to conduct its own church policy. It suffices to recall the commotion in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) that was caused by the episcopate of the UOC-MP having the possibility to come as its own team with its own coherent position to the last electoral council of the ROC (January 2009), and the humiliation that the Moscow Patriarch felt when he heard the words of the strongest candidate for patriarch (along with the mobilization of the entire Ukrainian episcopate as well as territories of Russia). Then the head of the UOC-MP said he wished to appear before God as the 121st Metropolitan of Kyiv and not the 16th Patriarch of Moscow, and therefore refused to participate in the election of the patriarch. The Russians’ imperial mind and mentality simply exploded, forever leaving a scar from the insult.

Most of the “political Orthodox” believe that the independent status of the UOC-MP now rests only on the authority of Metropolitan Volodymyr (Slobodan). And this is partly true. A kind of proof of this is the UOC-MP hierarchs’ acquiescence to the activation of the radical Russophile wing during the Primate’s illness. The wing was able to go as far as removing the seal of the Metropolitanate and making attempts to amend the Statute of the Church in order to reverse the advantages of the current status of the UOC-MP. The unexpected recovery of Metropolitan Volodymyr (many link it to the organizational talent of Archbishop Oleksandr Drabynko) was an unpleasant surprise for those bishops who already saw themselves with new power.

And so today a real ideological and information war wages in the church against the Primate and his inner circle (the Russian media published the calls of the former leader of the Crimean Cossacks Khramova: “Citizen Sabodan should resign because the Church must serve God, Truth, and our Russian civilization”). The particularity of this campaign is the Primate’s passive position and his inability (unwillingness?) to protect/defend his closest allies and eliminate enemies. Even in compromising situations with his “right-hand man,” Archbishop Oleksandr, Metropolitan Volodymyr maintained his equanimity, which did not even violate the paradoxical thesis of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” which, in fact, showed that close to him is a heretic. What else can be said about the latest scandal with the nuns – it's hard to imagine that in our thoroughly corrupt state the request (if there was one!) of the Primate of the largest Orthodox Church was neglected for two weeks. And it cannot but demoralize those clerics of the UOC-MP who do not approve of the attacks of the pro-Moscow radicals, but who are forced to wait for the winner of the fight.

The events related to “economic Orthodoxy” or the “theology of business” – which could not but leave an impact on Ukraine during the dominance of this subspecies of “Orthodoxy” in the Russian Federation – were new and unexpected challenges for many supporters of the UOC-MP. Expensive watches, cars, apartments, and scandals that always accompany the Patriarch of Moscow became a catalyst for similar events in Ukraine. “Misuse of funds” for the construction of the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Resurrection, the “Lexus” scandal (a multimillion dollar scam originating in the Pokrovsky Monastery in Kyiv to raise funds for non-existent cars), the privatization of the holdings of the Kyiv Cave Monastery, expensive houses, a collection of Mercedes – all this and more has become the reality of church life of the UOC-MP.

However, “economic Orthodoxy” (like “economic Protestantism,” etc.), as opposed to “political Orthodoxy,” often takes the relations between business structures not only to the moral but also to the criminal realm. At least with the impact of the “secular factors,” it is not difficult to do. Thus criminal cases where clergy and even bishops are the persons involved have become commonplace.

The peculiarity of the “Lexus” scandal is that it was another attempt (this time with the involvement of secular law enforcement authorities) to neutralize (detain/hide) the closest and most powerful ally of the Primate of the UOC-MP, Archbishop Oleksandr (Drabynko). Archbishop Oleksandr’s expected retirement (as an alternative to conviction), if it indeed happens, could trigger a fundamental change in the strategic situation in the church still during the life of the current church head.

Yanukovych’s position in this matter is surprising because he somehow sided with Metropolitan Volodymyr’s opponents. Under these conditions (reversing the Primate’s authority, introducing metropolitan districts, etc.), anticipated changes in the leadership and policies of the UOC-MP not only spoil the “picture” of the celebration of the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus-Ukraine, but also the beginning of the presidential campaign of 2015 (as some analysts believe). The point here is more complicated: the president’s PR people calculated that Metropolitan Volodymyr, because of his health and beliefs, will keep a seemingly neutral position (as in the last election) and hence will not work actively for Yanukovych’s second election. However, there are other equally obvious points; for example, the Kremlin-appointed hierarch (even from Donetsk) is strictly controlled from Moscow (after the amendments to the Statute UOC-MP), and due to geopolitical reasons and the current relations between Ukraine and Russia he will support the candidate chosen by Moscow. And there is no guarantee that it will be Yanukovych.

An equally difficult situation has developed in the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The Kyivan Patriarchate’s change in tactics – rejecting formal talks and conducting separate negotiations with individual autocephalous bishops, clergy, and parishes – has benefited the UOC-KP. In addition to the conversion of priests and parishes (which occurred in other years as well), in 2012-2013 there was a strategic turning point. Four active bishops (along with their parishes) left the UAOC and transferred to the UOC-KP. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that such transfers will continue.

One can argue that the bishop-defectors ministered to the smallest eparchies and therefore did not cause significant harm to the church. However, such actions have a moral dimension because they are examples of behavior, an incentive to action in a growing trend in the UAOC of separatism and federalism in the church in circumstances where the Primate is losing his functions as the leader and moral authority. In addition to the AUCCRO and meetings with officials, Metropolitan Mefodiy rarely shows himself in the church and secular media space. Even such important events in the life of the church as the exit of bishops with their eparchies or the celebration of the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Rus-Ukraine have not broken Bishop Mefodiy’s silence.

The UAOC leadership’s passivity intensified the activities of its old opponents in the church electoral field. In particular, the Bishop Ihor (Isichenko), head of the isolated Kharkiv-Poltava Eparchy of the UAOC, could be a viable candidate for the head of the parishes (eparchies) that categorically, for whatever reasons, do not fall under the UOC-KP.

Against the background of the described events, the situation in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate is the most optimistic. Using the popular wisdom that one should learn from the mistakes of others, the hierarchy has taken measures to deal with a possible split in the church. Patriarch Filaret at the Local Church Council (27.06.2013, Kyiv) insisted on the appointment of an “auxiliary patriarch” (Vice Primate), which, according to the Primate of the UOC-KP, will ensure that the church will never be without a leader and will “prevent the possibility of external influence on the church when a new hierarch is being elected.” That such an influence is unavoidable the patriarch knows not from stories, but from the time when representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church put pressure on Metropolitan Andriy (Horak) and the events in 2010 when the leaders “highly recommended” to the clergy of the UOC-KP “to switch to the correct jurisdiction.”

The auxiliary patriarch of the UOC-KP expectedly become Epiphany (Dumenko), now Metropolitan of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyi. Many clerics as well as laymen were not pleased with the election of a relatively young priest (34 years old) for such a high position (the auxiliary patriarch automatically becomes the locum tenens of the patriarchal throne and convenes the electoral church councils). This is because, as believed by his opponents, the lack of his episcopal experience (his episcopal ordination was only three years ago), the “closeness” of his character, and his lack of communication skills. However, no one spoke openly against Epiphany’s appointment – the authority of the Patriarch is undisputable.

Under certain conditions, even if the current patriarch will be unable to cross the centennial milestone, Bishop Epiphany still has a chance to become the head of the UOC-KP. After all, in the new edition of the Church Statute there is no time limit within which the patriarch must be elected. It is hard to believe that Moscow will allow the UOC-KP to build a dialogue with the UOC-MP, but it can be simulated for a long time. And the situation which is now in the UAOC can be repeated: under the pretext of not electing the patriarch to remove obstacles to unite the Orthodox Churches in a “single national Ukrainian Orthodox Church with the patriarchal throne in Kyiv,” Metropolitan Mefodiy has already led the church for 13 years, without the Local Councils and having, in fact, only a temporary status.

By the way, a ticking time bomb may be another new provision of the Statute of the UOC-KP, whereby a hierarch may be transferred to another parish without his or the community’s consent. This provision has already caused a wave of discontent among many clergy, and its massive and arbitrary implementation may even strengthen the AUOC.


1. Orthodoxy in Ukraine is experiencing qualitative changes, which is especially noticeable in the area of theological education and in the changes in the paradigm of self-awareness and planning of its institutional development in the country. Therefore, the Orthodox churches with the best chances of being successful are those that realize that not everything can be gained from administrative and psychological resources. Rather, those that “expect to see the believers in the churches” should also engage in new communicational forms of work with believers (“we educate your children in Sunday schools,” “we implement social projects,” etc.).

2. The 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Rus-Ukraine is a multifunctional holiday. As such, church (and not just Orthodox ones) and secular institutions (public, social, and political) that fund certain events (even one tangential to the date of baptism) pursue pragmatic, often conflicting objectives. This creates conditions were provocations and illogical actions and events (in terms of Ukrainian national interests) become possible.

3. The events held by the UOC-MP during and after the celebration of the 1025th anniversary (as a pretext for the visit of the Patriarch of Moscow and propagating the ideas of the “Russian world” and the Customs Union) may be crucial for the future of this church. The victory of the radical wing and replacing the current Primate with someone more loyal to Moscow or to the current Ukrainian regime can play a cruel joke on these “zealots of Orthodoxy.” It can also become a catalyst for the next schism in the UOC – at the level of ordinary believers and hierarchs, or to establish a permanent transition process of parishes to the UOC-KP or some other church structure. To prevent this, some hierarchs and politicians are actively trying to secure legal status for the UOC-MP (when going to another jurisdiction believers will have to leave their church, even if they built it themselves).

4. In the next year to two years we should expect a reformation in the UAOC and the transfer of many parishes and clergy to the UOC-KP. This period will provide the Kharkiv-Poltava Eparchy of the UAOC (Renewed) with the opportunity to strengthen its position and emerge from the margins. If on this wave of change one of the parts of the UAOC can “draw” to Ukraine one of the Ukrainian diaspora churches (which Bishop Ihor Isichenko has long dreamt about), it can be a new significant factor in the changes in the institutional picture of Orthodoxy in Ukraine.

5. We believe introducing a new church position in the UOC-KP, the auxiliary patriarch, is a good managerial step. With the increasing influence in Ukraine of the Patriarch of Moscow and pro-Moscow forces, the “spare patriarch” with no aggravating factors (anathemas, insults from the time when Ukraine was becoming independent, etc.) can be an effective counteraction to divisive tendencies and promote the growth of the institutional church and the growth of its international authority.