No trifles of oligarchical-hierarchical life
“My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:13)
The friendship of church hierarchy with wealthy faithful extends back over many hundreds of years. In the former Soviet Union’s territory, where the spiritual path of numerous current nouveau riche passed through the crucible of 90 years, all the more so it is not customary to delve into the track record of church sponsors and inquire about cleanliness of the source of a considerable donation “to the needs of the Church.” One is expected to please these philanthropists, and cater to their eccentricities so that the cash flow would not stop. As a result, thimblerig with “the rich Pinocchios,” the Church gambles away all that was put at stake – the reputation, credibility and respect of society, favorable attitude of the state. And then the tail starts to wag the dog.
During the entire time of its existence, the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church after the split was wagged by the so-called Donetsk crime family, acting under a political brand of the Party of Regions and Opposition bloc. The actions under the leadership of Victor Nusenkis are still live in the memory. From recently, his place has been firmly occupied by Vadim Novinsky, a Russian oligarch who God knows for what services received the Ukrainian citizenship, and in fact has not lost the Russian one (at least nobody has seen the Presidential Decree). So, Novinsky has become involved in the extraordinary scandal that Prosecutor General’s Office qualifies as complicity in criminal offense aimed at removing the already late Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Volodymyr from the Metropolitan throne in favor of another hierarch, Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanych), and illegal restriction of freedom of action and movement of his closest aide – Metropolitan Oleksandr (Drabinko).
After all, there is nothing new under the sun – dissension, intrigue, conspiracy and physical elimination of rivals to the episcopal throne have become an integral part of the Church’s earthly life since the time where the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity. This lot also befell the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church. All Ukraine watched with horror as lethally ill Metropolitan Volodymyr was methodically hounded to death by those who were literally indebted to him for their miters and standard of living. Perhaps, the UOC believe that the church synod has the sanction of the Holy Spirit to punish or pardon their feeble primate, and resort to the services of law enforcement agencies – and this was not for the first time. The society must believe this carousel without brakes to be a manifestation of some mysterious grace, inaccessible to an average mind. And God forbid someone suddenly remembers the Criminal Code or constitutional rights. Judging the decisions of ecclesial hierarchy from the perspective of secular law is taboo and sin. Summoning the Synod members to the prosecutor's office for questioning is a total blasphemy!
Unfortunately, it was the government itself that has allowed church bureaucrats to treat it this way. How many times the authorities were blamed for omission regarding the UOC clergymen who were inciting the war in Donbas and participated in the annexation of the Crimea – but their activity has never been systematically hindered. Odious figures from the rebellious “republics” of Donbas, who had previously threatened to arrive to Kyiv by tanks, have managed to visit Kyiv multiple times. Metropolitan Lazar of Simferopol and Crimea, who actually gave a blessing to the Crimean adventure continues to be member of the Holy Synod of the UOC and is freely moving in any direction.
But an incredible thing has happened. Ukraine’s government in the person of the Prosecutor General suddenly put off fears and accused of Novinsky of complicity in the criminal offense which makes it impossible for him to fly to Mount Athos for up to 5 years, and even demanded to abolish parliamentary immunity of the church sponsor. The prospect to find itself in a position of Sonia Marmeladova loomed over the UOC, which will be simply left without subsistence. The Synod in the person of the UOC Primate, Metropolitan Onufriy, stood up for Novinsky. What is typical, when Oleg Tsarev and Serhiy Klyuyev were stripped of their parliamentary immunity, the UOC tactfully decided not to interfere. Either the time for intervention was inappropriate, or a cause too insignificant or the MPs too negligible. Novinsky is a different case.
The appeal to President Poroshenko, released a few days before on the official site of the UOC, has only one signature affixed – that of the head of the UOC. The text was written and signed “on behalf of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.” However, neither that day nor the day before, any meeting of the Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church ever took place, and the Holy Synod gave no official commission to Metropolitan Onufriy to sign and publish this appeal. We will not guess what it was – a secret meeting of the Synod, amateur activity of its head or something else. The content of the document is much more interesting than the process of its drawing up.
The content is quite strange and chaotic. Novinsky’s case is presented in the appeal as a “political manipulation” and “getting even with political rivals.” Here the Synod has come to the right man: who else if not Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko knows what is getting even with one’s political rivals. But the mention of “discrimination against believers” and even “inciting inter-religious hatred” is clearly intended to attract attention of international human rights organizations. Persistent insertions of this terminology obviously imply that Metropolitan Onufriy (or those who gave him the text) believes that international organizations, to which the UOC representatives so often apply, do not understand what is going on. But let’s leave aside the human rights. According to the Holy Synod of the UOC, the investigation authorities have absolutely no understanding of the inner life of the Church. Honestly speaking, this is true: we all have lost the understanding of how the UOC has arrived at the kind of inner life that the fight for church power has become such an appalling sight.
The Synod of the UOC sadly reports that “today, in our country, the insults, threats and calls for discrimination against millions of faithful of our Church have become commonplace.” In other words, many years ago, when the UOC started a dirty campaign against other Orthodox churches and the Greek Catholics, spreading tons of books, pamphlets, films, articles and interviews with the said “insults, threats and calls for discrimination” against the “non-canonical” and “heretics” – it was just normal. When other denominations were not allowed to build churches and register communities by incitement of the UOC members – it was not considered a violation of someone’s civil and constitutional rights. It was a sacred struggle for the purity and triumph of Orthodoxy. And the state, according to the majority of the UOC, the government was simply obliged to legalize this legal arbitrariness. Therefore, the puppet leadership of the UOC is only now talking about the alarming trends in church-state relations.
On this occasion I remember an old joke: “Hey, let’s go and beat Muscovites!” – “And what if they beat us instead?” – “What’s wrong with us?” The UOC leaders do not want to take the current situation as a boomerang, which they launched many years ago, and which inevitably, fairly and logically had to return to the initiators of its launch. It comes as a surprise that politicians “are not responsible for numerous cases of incitement to religious hatred.” How come that they don’t? Currently, they are trying to prosecute Novinsky. By the way, he is guilty of running a number of church-related media, whose staff are tirelessly fueling interreligious hatred.
The appeal points to the absolute inadmissibility of using the UOC as a tool for political struggle involving security forces. It goes without saying that using security forces as a tool in internal intrigues is a standard practice of the UOC.
I would like to understand what is the logical connection between the crimes Novinsky is charged with and the “confessional choice of the citizens of Ukraine,” referred to in the statement by Metropolitan Onufriy, and why Metropolitan Onufriy has decided that “society has not received any clear explanation on the basis of which the Parliament should strip him of parliamentary immunity.” Society has long sought for justice in all aspects of internal life and external activities of the UOC. It is concealing the circumstances of bringing Metropolitan Volodymyr to a painful death is more detrimental to his memory than their impartial investigation.
Dissatisfaction of the Holy Synod of the UOC with Novinsky’s case only shows that all the bitter events of 2012-2013 involving Yanukovych &Co took place by mutual consent and with full acquiescence of the church leadership. So, it is not the political pressure and government interference in the affairs of the Church as simpletons think, but on the contrary, the act which is God-pleasing and beneficial for the Church. Initiating a full criminal investigation into this dirty adventure will hit the church sponsors not in the last place. Therefore, Novinsky’s immunity is also a guarantee of full legal immunity of the UOC hierarchy, who in one way or another are involved in this case and they will defend their privilege by all available means. Now the outcome largely depends on whether the multimillion UOC congregation agrees to become a living shield for the adventurers and cynics who take refuge in demagogic slogans about the threat to the rights of believers and avoidance of political pressure on the Church.
The Parliament’s procedural committee did not dare take responsibility for the decision to strip Novinsky of his immunity. But everyone noted the Opposition bloc gracefully voting in favor of the government laws. This means the obvious vulnerability of Novinsky’s positions, the integrity of which is comparable only with the size of his wallet. As a payback, the prosecutor's office closed “Pshonka’s chapel” and the room was transformed into the working offices. Just an eloquent hint at how the UOC project can be curtailed.