Tetiana Derkach's column

Sultry August 2014: UOC (MP) waiting for Vox Dei

11.08.2014, 17:12
The departure of Metropolitan Volodymyr (Slobodan) from the vale of sinners exposed a serious gap of spiritual, emotional, intellectual and human resources on which a huge, clumsy and archaic machine called UOC (MP) tried to survive.

If the ROC can be at least associated with a tank (a non-Christian association, but at least an object for comparison), the UOC is now clearly reminiscent of some abstract exhibits from the famous Paris Centre Georges Pompidou. There is some semblance of movement, but at the same time it stands still; there is a certain similarity of mechanisms – but none of them can be used for their intended purpose. All visual effect is reduced to shadows cast on the wall, and only if the lights are correctly arranged.

And now this strange machine froze in anticipation of the upcoming election of a new “steersman”. In fact, all the development projects have been frozen – both real and simulation ones. Due to some electioneering the picture becomes somewhat vivid, which, however, is also rather one-sided and does not possess creativity. In the center of its attention there is only one tandem – Metropolitan Onufry (Berezovsky), the locum tenens, and Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanych), the UOC administrator. All others traditionally will be ignored at best, and defamed, often unfairly at worst. However, I must give proper respect to them, the UOC found neither motives nor specialists for the ROC-style "patriarch’s elections-2009". Thus, any candidate for a Primate seems purely technical against the background of the promoted tandem (e.g. Metropolitan Simeon of Vinnytsia), but there is no release of compromising material against them that struck the Russian public in 2009. This can only mean that the election will be purely symbolic value, and unfortunately there are no real competitors for the aforesaid two metropolitans.

The only person who experienced the full power of the Church’s negative PR is Metropolitan Olexandr (Drabynko). Obviously, it was His Eminence Olexander, according to the church’s “political technologists”, who was to bear the hit of the negative about the UOC (MP) that society accumulated, including the ‘dangerous liaisons’ with the former president, who become a black label for all his favorites. However I must say that the choice of a ‘lighting-conductor’ is very inadequate, because this bishop was not caught either in public support for separatists (which became the litmus for the entire society), nor in justification of Russian aggression against Ukraine or in admonitions of “fraternal reconciliation”. Against this negative background any personal compromising evidence fades and falls short of its information purpose. The time when the public enthusiastically watched the bishops’ scandals over cars and various recreational activities has come to an end. Today the test of a clergyman’s aptitude is only one thing: his attitude to the war developments in Ukraine. And here metropolitan Alexander cannot be reproached in any way. His personal appearances, statements and sermons stand clearly aside of the official church’s statements and explanations. While personal positions of other ‘heavyweight’ UOC clergymen is very difficult to see under the official disguise in the style of “run with the hare and hunt with the hounds” and “let it be peace”.

Thus, it is unlikely that the choice of the Bishops’ Council of the UOC will exceed the proposed (or imposed) scope of the duo of two metropolitans, Onufriy and Anthony. The intrigue is what will happen next. What are the prospects of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as it is and in coexistence with other Churches with one of these two candidates?

It is clear that today the UOC is no longer seen as an independent and self-sufficient player of public-church relations. The interest in it and its future lies only in one plane: whether this structure is ready to convert all it achievements into a status of the unified local church in Ukraine. However, here e may face one big disappointment. Judging by all visible signs, the UOC is not ready for such a dramatic turn in its life for the benefit of the Ukrainian society. And it won’t be ready in near future.

There are two reasons for that. The first reason is the need to disavow all its previous pseudo pious rhetoric intended to justify its role in the split of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy. This rhetoric is largely aggressive and unhealthy, and once has brought about enough moral and physical bonuses to the representatives of the Ukrainian Church, who remained under the wing of the ROC. It is psychologically very difficult to refuse these bonuses, because today many leaders of the UOC would not mind keeping the old ‘anti-schismatic’ apologies for a rainy day.

The second reason lies in the peculiarities of the administrative apparatus of the church organization that experts today call "feudal freemen". After all, by and large, Metropolitan Volodymyr was convenient for the UOC episcopate because he divided Ukraine into self-contained spheres of influence and distributed these portions among the bishops. Therefore, the very psychology of the episcopate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – a kind of ‘feudal princes of the Church’ – is essentially not intended for any association. Especially if it automatically entails the centralized governance and even in some ways oppression of former privileges, liberties or vassal territories, not to mention the need to change the long-term rhetoric in relation to those with whom they are to unite. But by tradition, it is the united position of the episcopate which can legitimize any even most radical changes in the church's existence. It is possible that this scheme of ‘feudal fragmentation’ was designed for a purpose of preventing unification of the UOC episcopate in the striving to ‘improve the status’ of the Church towards autocephaly. Well, this task has been completed. In this case, the bishops of the UOC reproduce the classical Brownian motion ‘at sixes and sevens’, and this difference is the cornerstone: ‘the Church has not reached a consensus on the issue of autocephaly’.

Thus, at this point the reasons for the unification optimism are too scarce. Despite the declared readiness for dialogue with non-canonical Orthodox Churches and even the paper-based commissions being created, the UOC reflectively responds to all real attempts to move in the direction assigned in a Freudian manner: the priests who dare concelebrate with non-canonical ‘colleagues’ are prohibited in service with the wording “if anyone prays with those banned from ecclesiastical communion”, and in discussions about the future of Orthodoxy the seemingly forgotten epithets ‘dissidents’, ‘heretics’ appear again. And as a compelling argument, “the merger should take place only on the basis of the canons”. But it is clear for any sensible person that if one party believes the other to be ‘dissidents, banned from ecclesiastical communion’, there may be no union on an equal footing (needed by the society) according to the canons, only the “reunion with the Church of those who seceded from it”. There is no way out of this mental impasse in principle (no one who felt good without the MP omophorion, which tarnished itself by approval and support of the war for the Russian world in Ukraine, will go for it for his own free will). Similarly as I must finally admit, there is no decision-making center of the UOC (collective or unilateral) recognized by all.

In our turn, we can assume that this administrative feature of the UOC together with the ‘nobleman’s psychology’ of bishops will be one of the main motivating factors in electing a new UOC Primate. If this assumption is true, the chances of Metropolitan Onufriy are much higher than the chances of Metropolitan Anthony. During his tenure as locum tenens, Metropolitan Onufriy proved to be the biggest opponent of changing the established order. He ‘did not notice’ any humanitarian crisis in the UOC, or a social change vector in the Church, or the loss of control over its administrative governance. Against this background, a classic solution ‘I'll think about it tomorrow’ looks even revolutionary, because any tomorrow has time limits within which we must take anti-crisis measures. The case of Metropolitan Onufriy is much more prosaic: “do not make any sudden movements, it will resolve by itself” (or: “our enemies will vanish like dew in the sun”). This passivity is probably the kind of understanding of what Patriarch Kirill – an undoubted authority to Ukrainian locum tenens – called “stability in standing in faith”. This dramatic, even catastrophic decline of the authority of Patriarch Kirill for Ukraine is not taken into account by anyone in the UOC, as well as the fact that the irrational adherence of the UOC to the ROC as the center of ‘true, intact Orthodoxy’ will soon be regarded as something marginal or even annoying. The believers want to be members of a recognized Church, and it does not matter where the center of this recognition is located. And Moscow has already been rated the last on the list of these centers, with a threat to be discarded from it in disgrace.

It is much easier to predict the direction of movement of the UOC (MP) under the tenure of Metropolitan Onufriy than speculate how the Church will behave under Metropolitan Anthony. It seems that it should be the opposite way: the degree of publicity and media presence of Metropolitan Anthony is much higher than that of his ‘colleague’ in tandem. But the matter is that Metropolitan Onufriy rarely communicates hidden messages. If he says anything against the EU because of its ‘unchurchly life and sinfulness’, he reveals himself as is in this statement. Incidentally, it is also an interesting phenomenon of mind: to regard a predisposition to sin or virtue as purely collective matter rather than an individual’s feature: “it is easier to get saved collectively”. The Western world that recognized the value of individual choice of each person (including moral and religious one) is incomprehensible to those who are accustomed to act collectively (“the faith and morals are imposed by the one who has power”). All the arguments that a few countries whose population mostly confesses Orthodox Christianity are already in the EU (Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, and Cyprus) are not taken into account because of this ‘fork" in thinking. In the former Soviet Union’s territory there is a mythologeme that the religious choice is a collective matter, and it is unreasonable to leave such a serious issue and at a discretion of each individual. The same is the case of moral principles: older people sincerely believe that if the country allows same-sex marriages, the people will change the sexual orientation just because it is ‘permitted’, according to the principle ‘jump on the bandwagon’. However, as the events of recent months showed, these fears make sense: the collective unconscious of our nation is fully operational. The degree of contamination by pro-Russian propaganda of the residents of a number of regions of Ukraine suggests it that even a significant number of people is incapable of high-quality selection of information and, consequently, of making informed choices between good and evil. However, the church officials must understand and know the people among whom they carry out their mission. Ukraine faces a historic choice between the individualist (European) Primate over the collective (Soviet) one, and this choice is inevitable. In the context of a soteriological issue it may be even beneficial for the Church's mission. Based on the apostolic revelation, the crowd will worship antichrist, and the salvation will be the fate of a ‘small herd’. A small herd as a strong community always has a strong spirit of an individual choice, whose synergy will resist seduction of the collective spirit of the antichrist. And slowing down the development of our society in this area can cause more harm than good.

Let us return to our ungrateful occupation: forecasting the UOC development for the two choices of the Bishop’s Council of August 13, 2014. The first thing to say is: whatever the choice might be, it will be tragic in any case. With one of them the UOC will become ‘a sect of Diomidians’ with a high degree of probability (this is clearly evidenced by personal doctrinal preferences of Metropolitan Onufriy and his environment, which is considered to be the most pious and ascetic), with the second further disorientation is inevitable and will result in fragmentation of bishops, clergy and faithful (because the candidate is unable to give a clear message about the general Church’s positions on the actual and most burning issues that might have consolidated the whole church without drawing it either in moral or civil internal conflict). It is a choice between an indecisive conservative who is feeling uncomfortable in the rapidly changing realities because of his old age, due to a kind of spiritual education, and a young but careful rope-walker with absolutely unpredictable reactions to external stimuli. But while both candidates are not eager to quarrel with Moscow (and the union Ukrainian Orthodoxy as the maximum program of the Church in this case would mean an inevitable break with the former legitimizing center of the UOC), both almost equally determine the status of non-canonical church organizations – potential association partners- as “dissenters, excluded from ecclesiastical communion”. And, of course, both will not review the official mythology of the canonical Bishops’ Council in Kharkiv 1992, where the tragedy of Ukraine began.

No bitter fruits of that Council, including the so-called ‘fratricidal war’ will urge to string up resolution for reviewing its decisions with an eye to the fact that the church history is not only a biography of some bishops, but rather passionarity of their flock. The UOC used to treat the bishops as units of measurement of the church life, and all the rest were reduced to a value less than the statistical error. None of the above candidates is going to have regard to the demands of society and his own flock to unite the Orthodox and the soonest separation from the destabilizing center in Moscow. This limited thinking can hide a cause of the Church’s collapse in the form in which it was designed by Metropolitan Volodymyr with a very narrow purpose and for a very short historical period. Unfortunately, none of the Primate candidates is incapable of taking the UOC lossless between the Scylla of the past and the Charybdis of the future. Too many artificial structures and alliances were tactically designed to support the church balance. Sooner or later they will either enter into conflict with each other, or get liquidated, offering nothing in return. This generation of bishops will lack the willpower, personal or collective, to declare something a mistake and ‘non-core assets’, ballast that pulls the Church ship to the bottom. Hence, entropy is inevitable.

There can be two ways out. A tactic solution: when electing Primate the voters should still try to go beyond the imposed framework of ‘pass candidate’ – ‘technical candidate’, ‘acceptable for Moscow’ – ‘undesired by Moscow’. For the UOC is more necessary for Moscow than the UOC need Moscow. A strategic solution: take care about their Church’s ‘Silicon Valley’, where a new generation of believers could be brought up without psychological pressure, mossy myths and undercover intrigue. Let the dead bury their dead, those who stuck in the 90's may still remember with delight their ‘battle for canonical Orthodoxy’ and believe that canonical Orthodoxy is impossible without war. The age of these Horse Guards is short. But the younger generation of believers should not become hostage to religious soldiers of the invisible front. After all, young people can create a qualitatively different future of the church at all floors of the building, apparently still majestic and one that inspires formal respect. If the elders of the UOC have wisdom enough not to turn the entire of the Church in a nursing home for reactionaries, next to which it is not only difficult to believe in Christ, but simply to breathe.