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The Year of the Great Jubilee [1020th Anniversary of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus]

20.07.2008, 20:23
Yurii CHORNOMORETS, Candidate of Philosophical Science.

Yurii CHORNOMORETS, Candidate of Philosophical Science.

Lately the mass media of the Russian church is flooded with alarming articles about the future autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church[-Moscow Patriarchate, UOC-MP]. Everything that is taking place in Ukraine’s church sphere during the year of the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus is interpreted as steps to a split of the UOC[-MP] from the Moscow Patriarchate [MP]. In truth, Russians are irritated by the freedom, dignity and maturity of the UOC[-MP], which became unexpectedly apparent for them as a church which really “uses the rights of broad autonomy” and is prepared for everything, including autocephaly.

The broad autonomy of the UOC[-MP] for 18 years

In 1990 Moscow Patriarch Alexis granted the tomos for the UOC[-MP], according to which the UOC[-MP] was an independent church which enjoys broad autonomy inside the Moscow Patriarchate. The double meaning of the formulation was done with a future aim, because it is one thing to have rights and another to use them. One always has rights, but uses them from time to time. However, the formulation suited both sides. The UOC[-MP] had to use broad autonomy up to the time of an approaching autocephaly, according to one group, or up to the time of the [re-]joining of Ukraine to Russia, according to the other group.

In 1992 they didn’t dare to abolish the once given tomos and the temporary status became permanent. The episcopate of the UOC[-MP] felt themselves part of the bigger corporate body of the bishops of the ROC [Russian Orthodox Church], and the faithful of UOC[-MP] were content with canonical union with Moscow. National independence was something new for the bishops and faithful, and it was not easy for them to get accustomed to it. But after 18 years it has finally happened on various levels, with the exception of a small group of marginal people who loudly make themselves known by various kinds of actions for a modest payment or even for free.

In addition, eschatological opinions blew over in the UOC[-MP]. From 1988 to 2000 a readiness for an approaching “last battle” was constantly sensed. Initially many people interpreted Chornobyl as “the Wormwood star” from the Book of Revelation of St. John the Divine. Then they saw the signs of the approaching anti-Christ in the “goods” coming with the Western way of life. But gradually this sensitiveness became dull, and not without the help of the clergy themselves. If frightened many times in vain, people cease believing. For example, nothing special happened because of the visit of the Pope of Rome. For sure there was neither the end of the world nor an increase of Catholic parishes. Nothing happened because of the shift of the seat of the head of the [Ukrainian] Greek Catholic Church to Kyiv. Also, nothing happened when Viktor Yushchenko became president. And now threats about the end of the world as a result of violating the status quo in Ukrainian Orthodoxy don’t frighten anybody. Perhaps there will be a few hardships, but the country is independent, we constantly have demonstrations against NATO, against everything Ukrainian and European. And nothing [happens]. This mean nothing is changing because of it.

So, 18 years were enough to change the attitude of minds. Of course, Russia tried to mobilize all and sundry, but only certain people can live in a state of mobilization for 18 years, and they are not quite adequate personalities. All normal people got tired long time ago. Without mobilized readiness the UOC[-MP] is not the fifth column for Russia, but a suitcase without a handle.

The new face of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [UOC-MP]

For a long time the officials of the UOC[-MP] were an icon of faithfulness to the great idea of canonical status. There existed only one answer to all suggestions of discussion about the future of Ukrainian Orthodoxy: let them come back, we might forgive them and maybe afterwards we will think about it. A radical change of tone was incredible, revolutionary and reassuring for many people. Somehow it is forgotten at once that these are only words, gestures, fiction.

The turn to a new public image of the UOC[-MP] is connected with a whole number of processes. First of all, the unfaithfulness of the Moscow Patriarchate to the “great idea of canonical status.” Unity with those abroad [the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, ROCA] occurred by means of achieving unity without repentance and reconsideration of a long-term ideological war. But in their time [the ROCA] were fighting with the Moscow Patriarchate much more heavily than contemporary Ukrainian autocephalists. From the unity of the MP with the ROCA a conclusion logically followed: unity without an actual repentance is possible even after all anathemas and ideological wars. If it is allowed for the Russian president to promote union, the MP can’t see in the efforts of the Ukrainian president only “intervention in the internal affairs of the church”; the possible unity of Ukrainian autocephalists with Constantinople with repentance is better and “more canonical” than the unity of [the ROCA] with the MP without repentance.

It is impossible at the same time to show the extreme concessions for [the ROCA] and to be excessively strict regarding Ukrainian autocephalists. Therefore, a change in the public image of the UOC[-MP] became inevitable. Otherwise, the UOC[-MP] was threatened with losing its image completely. The new rhetoric by itself does not oblige anything, but it is pleasing for many: for the autocephalous, the Ukrainian state, and the bishops of the UOC[-MP] themselves. A feeling of imputability and humaneness inspires.

It was said before that dialogue is not possible; now we can say that it is possible. But dialogue can be carried on for years and decades. It was said before that we are for unity with Russia; now we can say that we are Ukrainian patriots and for its unity. It was said before that we are against the Ukrainian language in church services; now let us say that it is up to the parishes. It was said before that it is necessary to approach schismatics with all the strictness of church canons; now we can declare the possibility of indulgence.

The real policy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [UOC-MP]

The change of public image is occurring at the same time as the resolution of the most important intrinsic problem of the UOC[-MP]: the problem of its controllability by the episcopacy. The bishop was always the ruler of his eparchy as the priest was the ruler of his parish. Their actual independence was always limited by the freedom of the hierarchy to displace them. A chain of acts during the last years, displacements of bishops, dividing eparchies, appointments of young bishops for many important chairs, considerably raised their controllability by the head of the church. The dismissal of Bishop Hippolyt, famous because of his Russian hyper-patriotism, was a separate important step. He had to be not only displaced but also be retired, as he did not recognize the authority either of the head of the UOC[-MP] or the Moscow patriarch and had his own opinion about ecumenism and church policy.

Subordination to the episcopacy has been a problematic question for the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine for a few years now. At the beginning of its existence this organization equally keenly fulfilled the wishes of the UOC[-MP] and Moscow. But gradually the Union of Orthodox Citizens became more and more independent and less and less subordinated to the head of the UOC[-MP]. Criticizing its functioning became a considerable step to strengthening the controllability of the church. In the church there should be only one authoritative controller of the observance of the canons: this is the episcopate. Independent lay organizations which criticize the bishops can’t exist in the church. If at the end of 2007 there would have been also a Ukraine-Loving Union of Brotherhoods, it would have been condemned as well. The church needs only those lay organizations which will fluctuate together with the general line and not by themselves.

Ejection of the UOC[-MP] from the Moscow Patriachate

The creation of a new public image for the UOC[-MP] and the growth of its controllability by the episcopacy and head of the church cannot damage the interests of the Moscow Patriarchate. But the Moscow Patriarchate does not want to have the UOC[-MP] as a part of it; moreover it wants the UOC[-MP] to be similar to it in everything as a whole. This creates difficulties, since the UOC[-MP] is the church of another country and all its priests can’t be patriots of the great motherland.

Now the Russian patriotism itself of the MP doesn’t give the UOC[-MP] the possibility to be the sole main denomination of Ukraine, and so undermines its missionary possibilities. Unity with the MP becomes a formal obstacle on the way to full-fledged penetration of the UOC[-MP] into the army, military and police branches of government, schools, and higher educational establishments.

But the demands that the UOC[-MP] be governed like any other eparchy in the depths of Russia and be similar in everything to Moscow Orthodoxy are just not feasible. The UOC[-MP] has survived in Ukraine not thanks to unity with the MP but on the contrary. The demand to give the fruits of many years of hard work to “the higher instance” looks like mockery now.

When there was no new public image or inner healing of the UOC[-MP], its independence was not so noticeable and didn’t irritate so much. But this was enough to accomplish a number of actions, since “the rights of broad autonomy” turned out to be suspiciously broad. Now the MP is looking for an occasion to shout, to blame, to “establish order.” All these serve only to eject the UOC[-MP] from the MP.

The episcopate of the UOC[-MP] have found themselves faced with a choice between their own dignity and unity with the MP.

Anniversaries as a condition for the freedom of actions

So, the strategy of the UOC[-MP] in previous years has been aimed at achieving the controllability of the church by its supreme authority. Ensuring the church’s controllability by its supreme authority, struggling against a display of anarchy and disrespect to the episcopacy, improving the educational system, and the new public image of the UOC[-MP] are actually valuable in themselves. They gave to the UOC[-MP] episcopacy the freedom to act in any possible direction. In the future the UOC[-MP] episcopacy would prefer to stay in a state of liberty. That is, having created a situation of independence in which it is possible to turn in the direction of Constantinople, autocephaly, an exarchate [mission diocese] which is included in the MP and, in fact, does nothing, does not turn in reality to anybody. This is a resemblance that the church bears to Ukrainian multivectoral state politics: ready for everything, making advances to everyone and staying in the same place…

The additional changes that go with freedom are connected with the organization of the anniversary celebrations. In 2007 the 15th anniversary of the Kharkiv Synod was extensively celebrated. It was impossible to finish fortifying the UOC[-MP]: there were too many real and significant steps to make. And 2008 has been declared a jubilee year. The organizers of the anniversary celebrations hoped to increase the respect for the UOC[-MP] in society, for the growth of the UOC[-MP]’s influence in the political life of Ukraine, fortifying the renewed public image of the UOC[-MP]. No abrupt steps in the direction of independence were supposed. But the jubilee turned out to be a convenient reason for everyone interested in changing the situation in Ukrainian Orthodoxy.

The Ukrainian country was inspired by the example of the successful mediating of V. Putin at the initial stage of negotiations of the [ROCA] with the MP, which concluded with the unity of the ROCA and the ROC. President V. Yuschchenko has made many appeals to regulate the status of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, as the alienated position of millions of faithful from universal Orthodoxy should arouse compassion but not malevolence in every responsible Christian. Isn’t the value of church unity equal to the value of the unity of the various nations of the former “Great Motherland”? It is obvious that the church unity of one people is far more valuable for it than the unity of part of this people with other peoples from neighboring countries.

For two decades now the MP has been saying that, without the support of Ukrainian nationalistic politics, the autocephalous movement would split and faithful of the UOC-KP [Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate] and the UAOC [Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church] would return to the MP. Every person acquainted with Ukrainian politics knows that, in Ukraine, everything exists because of the people and not politicians. The UOC-KP and the UAOC exist thanks to the efforts of the people. Ukrainian politicians can only ruin everything that they “support.” If the Ukrainian government would completely prohibit the UOC-KP and UAOC, the faithful that had once gone from the MP would never return to it. The latter fact is also realized by the patriarch of Constantinople. That’s why after decades of appeals to come back, his position may change to indulgence for the already established Ukrainian church jurisdictions. And the jubilee devised by the UOC-MP turned out to be a jubilee of great opportunities.

The UOC-KP and the UAOC today

The Ukrainian autocephaly movement today is not the same as it used to be in 2000. The MP itself has contributed to the growth of the ecclesiastical consciousness of the UAOC and the UOC-KP episcopacy. After the Orange Revolution there were some difficulties in negotiations about unity between the UAOC and the UOC-KP. There were just a few prospects, but, nevertheless, the MP was worried: What if suddenly on the wave of the national rise they would unite? It was decided to distract the UAOC’s attention by negotiations with the UOC-MP. During these negotiations the episcopacy of the UAOC realized that it should have presented a more ecclesiastical face to its jurisdiction. There were agreed-upon documents which condemned church nationalism, confirming the necessity of the independent existence of Ukrainian Orthodoxy on the basis of modern Orthodox ecclesiology and not on bare ultra-patriotism. A number of symbolic steps on the part of the UOC[-MP] facilitated the convergence of the UAOC. Namely, disapproval of the ideology of “political Orthodoxy” and a new tone of the discussion about possible unification.

The episcopacy of the UOC-KP is also internally ready to move from a national consciousness to an ecclesiastical-national one. Defending the right to an independent Ukrainian church is the main motive of the official documentation of the UOC-KP and the civic movements which are supporting this jurisdiction. However, the episcopacy of the UOC-KP is aware that to have a right and to obtain the realization of this right in life are two different things. Real church policy can’t be substituted by declarations about having a right. And readiness had ripened in the UOC-KP for a more flexible ecclesiastical-political position than it used to have before. This readiness was unwillingly provoked by the change of tone of the UOC[-MP] and the jubilee atmosphere. Just like during the Christmas holidays everything seems possible.

The UOC-KP and the UAOC are ready for almost everything and the UOC[-MP] is trying to turn those jurisdictions to negotiations exactly with the [UOC-MP] and not with Constantinople. The Synod of the UOC[-MP] announces change in the akribeia (strict observance of the canons) for economy (deviation from the observance of the canons for the sake of church unity).

This change is indeed even more radical. The UOC[-MP] did not officially recognize baptisms performed by the UOC-KP and the UAOC, though such strictness is not foreseen by any canons. That is, baptisms in Protestant churches were recognized, but those by “Orthodox schismatics” were not. The promise to deviate from such overseverity to indulgence will only serve as a sanction of the general indulgence to the Ukrainian autocephaly movement. But it will not provoke the joining of the UOC-KP and the UAOC to the UOC[-MP] if the [UOC-MP] remains with the MP.

Each of the three hierarchs of the Orthodox jurisdictions realizes the obviousness of the solution of the simple choice standing before him. From one side, Moscow gives no autocephaly, no autonomy. Even if it gives it, universal Orthodoxy would not recognize those formations without Constantinople’s sanction. From the other side, autocephaly or autonomy given by Constantinople is today recognized by the majority of Orthodox churches and in the historical perspective will be recognized by Moscow.

The MP insists on the need for Ukrainian autocephalists to “repent for the schism committed,” namely, before it. The “schism” exists not because of separated bishops but because of the choice of millions of Ukrainians. And the “schismatics” may beg the Orthodox church’s pardon, the embodiment of which is rather the ecumenical patriarch and not the ROC. And Moscow recklessly accepted [the ROCA] without any repentance, which destroyed the significance of the well-known “main demand for schismatics.” What if they beg everyone’s pardon and someone excuses them with his power? The UOC[-MP] or Constantinople, for example?

In general, everything has turned out to be possible. And the details of the possible juridical justifications with the canons may be discussed even longer. But why? Everything is possible in the year of the Great Jubilee. It is a holiday because of the possibility of the wonders. Any holiday is a small Easter. And everything impossible becomes possible. It is not people but the design of God which defines the sequence of events.

Let us hope that the Moscow bear will push Ukrainian Orthodoxy out of his “common house” and urge universal Orthodoxy to accept and recognize Holy Rus-Ukraine. Let us hope that the episcopacy of Orthodox Ukraine has power for freedom and defense of its own and the whole church’s dignity. May God help them all!