Ukraine could become a “reserve” for the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad

27.03.2007, 16:02
Recently, the religious mass media published the Address of Bishop of the Russian [Rusyn] Orthodox Church Abroad Ahafanhel (Pashkovskyi) to the head of that church, Metropolitan Lavr. The bishop’s address was provoked by certain events which took place at the 11th World Sobor [Assembly] of the Russian People in Moscow in the beginning of March. The sobor opened with a joint prayer of Orthodox, Old Believers, Muslims, and Jews.

The sobor was also attended by a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA).The main thesis of Bishop Ahafanhel is that, during the time of its existence, the ROCA has been irreconcilable as to ecumenism, and one of its conditions for reunion with the Moscow Patriarchate was its withdrawal from the ecumenical movement. As he commented on the participation of a representative of the ROCA in the sobor, the bishop stressed that “we trespassed the line which is impossible to trespass by the Orthodox.” [1].

The document would be of no significance if it was not written by Bishop Ahafanhel. For such accusations are constantly brought by representatives of various True-Orthodox jurisdictions, the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile, etc. However, statements of this kind have long since been ignored by the Moscow Patriarchate. The significance of the address of Bishop Ahafanhel can be compared only with a recent “address” of Bishop Diomed of Chukotka and Anadyr. [2]. However, the sensation about the latter is mostly groundless, as Bishop Diomed wrote no official address. His theses are his personal views (which he stressed himself [3]) on the problems of the Moscow Patriarchate, written by him as part of a book on anti-globalism. And the bishop himself has nothing to do with its public distribution. The more so as it will not have any effect on the life of the ROC [Russian Orthodox Church] with its strict form of hierarchical government, and Bishop Diomed will not go further than theses if he wants to remain a ruling hierarch… The address itself has become a bone of contention for various pseudo-church figures and church publicists.

The situation with the address of Bishop Ahafanhel is a little different. First of all, it is official, which fact is stressed in the very text. Second, according to the fundamental positions of the ROCA, the criticism of the bishop is not at all groundless. During the time of its existence, the ROCA consistently opposed ecumenism, which resulted in the pronunciation of an anathema against ecumenism in 1983. This means that after 17 May the authority which is now accused by him of unorthodoxy may become Bishop Ahafanhel’s highest authority.

I am not going to dwell here on a theological analysis of ecumenism and the positions of conservative Orthodox circles on it, as this requires a separate and more thorough review. Also, in most cases I do not share the views of the people mentioned below and intend only to establish facts which I consider important in this context. I will concentrate on possible consequences of the actions of Bishop Ahafanhel in the context of the unification process between the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate [ROC] for the religious-denominational situation in Ukraine.


The Odesa and Zaporizhzhia eparchies of the ROCA, headed by Bishop Ahafanhel, are currently in an ambiguous situation. On the one hand, they are not quite “abroad,” as they are located in areas considered by the Moscow Patriarchate as its canonical territory. Therefore, under the situation of a single church, they would gradually have to join the structures of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [-Moscow Patriarchate] and other metropolitanates of the ROC, the Moldovan and Belarusian ones (the eparchy also include parishes in the territory of Moldova and Belarus). Problems related to this will be dealt with below. On the other hand, from 12 October, the eparchy stopped mentioning the name of the head of the ROCA, Metropolitan Lavr, during services. (This was announced officially[4]). This was a result of the approval by the Hierarchical Sobor of the ROCA of the “Act of canonical communion,” which envisages the ROCA joining the Moscow Patriarchate in a status similar to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [-Moscow Patriarchate] as a self-governed part of the Moscow Patriarchate. The faithful of the Ukrainian Eparchy of the ROCA were indignant at the fact that the unification is effected without the ROC repenting of sergianism and ecumenism, that the synod had no powers for that from the 4th All-Abroad Sobor and, most importantly, that, according to “abroad” ecclesiology, no part of the Russian Church (ROC and ROCA) has church fullness. Therefore, the inclusion of one in another is absurd. According to this position, complete church unity may be reached only at a national [pomisnyi] sobor of the Russian Church with the participation of the ROC and ROCA, where a patriarch of the single church will be elected. In his explanation, Bishop Ahafanhel has stressed that such actions do not mean a breach of unity with the Hierarchical Synod of the ROCA, but are only a signal about the non-acceptance of such conditions of unification with the Moscow Patriarchate. In another document, passed at the same eparchial meeting[5], the authors directly hint that in the event of immediate unification, the opposition party will have to convene a fifth All-Abroad Sobor, which will define the form of further existence of the ROCA.

Bishop Ahafanhel

The increase of religious freedom in the USSR at the end of the 1980s urged many religious dissidents to seek connection with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, as they viewed it as one which preserved intact “pre-revolutionary Russian Orthodoxy.” Despite the fact that as early as 1982 on the territory of the USSR there acted an underground (catacomb) Bishop Lazar (Zhurbenko) (secretly ordained by Bishop Varnava of the ROCA), the legal activity and establishment of full-fledged eparchial structures became possible only at the beginning of the 1990s. The ROCA organized its structures on the territory of the former Soviet Union under the name Free Russian Orthodox Church. Bishop Ahafanhel (Pashkovskyi) was ordained exactly in that church. However, by that time, there were many contradictions in relations between foreign hierarchs and bishops in Ukraine and Russia as to the organization of church life on the territory of the former USSR, as well as complaints of local bishops against the actions of the “abroad” ones. Finally, the conflict ended in a breach of canonical links and, later, due to internal contradictions within the Free Church, in the establishment of two new jurisdictions: the Russian True-Orthodox Church (Archbishop Lazar) and the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (Archbishop Valentyn).

As Bishop Ahafanhel was ordained without permission of the Synod of the ROCA, he was summoned to New York, where they set a condition that he should make hierarchical vows to the synod and undergo a “probation period” to confirm his episcopacy. After nine months in the USA, he was appointed bishop of Simferopol. After Archbishop Lazar and Bishop Valentyn broke canonical links with the “abroad” ones, he remained faithful to the Synod of the ROCA. Therefore, two bishops of the ROCA are left on the territory of the former Soviet Union: Bishop of Ishim and Siberia Yevtykhii and Bishop of Simferopol and Crimea Ahafanhel.

The church career of Bishop Ahafanhel is remarkable for the fact that all three degrees of priesthood were received by him not in the Moscow Patriarchate but in the True Orthodox Church (of Lazar [Zhurbenko]). This characterizes him as a consistent adherent of the ideology of the catacomb church, anti-sergianism and anti-ecumenism. However, he was able to avoid “catacomb sectarianism,” to which all catacomb adherents are reduced sooner or later. And finally, Bishop Ahafanhel is one of the hierarchs of the ROCA who work with bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate not at the table of negotiations but under conditions of competition. Therefore, he is constantly criticized by the pseudo-Orthodox organization Single Fatherland, which acts under the umbrella of the local metropolitan of the Moscow Patriarchate, Ahafanhel (Savvin).

As of today, the Odesa and Zaporizhzhia eparchies include about 35 parishes, some of which are located in Belarus and Moldova. There is the distance learning Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius, and a publication “Herald of the TOC,” edited by Bishop Ahafanhel himself. Last year, the women’s monastery of St. John Maximovich, which was denied registration by the authorities in Russia, moved from the Ishim-Siberia Eparchy to the Odesa Region.

The ROCA and Ukraine

The unification process between the ROCA and ROC, which was started with the direct support of Russian President Putin, went on at high speed. As the final goal of unification was set at once, the parties “forgot/forgave” each other everything: “previously issued acts which were in the way of full canonical unity are considered void.” [6] However, the clearer it became that the “Act of canonical communion” would be signed in the nearest future, in some eparchies voices of protest of individual clergy, laity, and pseudo-church organizations were heard. Certain communities transferred to the Greek Old Calendar jurisdictions and the Russian True-Orthodox Church (of the late Bishop Lazar [Zhurbenko]). However, these migrations are almost unnoticeable against the general backdrop of unification. The problems regarding such transfers will come later and will be related to the urgent problem of real estate, which is so familiar from Ukrainian realities. The situation regarding the eparchies on the territory of the former Soviet Union appeared the most problematic. It consisted in the fact that the majority of their clergy and flock are former faithful of the Moscow Patriarchate for whom it would be impossible to return to it. As for the Russian Eparchy, the problem was solved quite quickly. Ruling Bishop Yevtykhii “repented” and agreed to unification.

As for the Ukrainian eparchies, the problem is more complicated. As already said, our fellow-countrymen headed by Bishop Ahafanhel are not willing to accept unification on the conditions agreed between the ROCA and ROC. Their arguments are not groundless. Unity is being achieved today not by way of removal of mutual complaints, but by way of simple annexation. Everything is made even more complicated by the fact that the relations of the communities of the Odesa and Zaporizhzhia eparchies with communities of the Moscow Patriarchate are far from friendly.

The future of the communities of the ROCA on the territory of Ukraine was discussed in 2005. A meeting between representatives of the ROCA and Moscow Patriarchate was held in Odesa. Possible models of unification of eparchies were considered there. At the same time, Bishop Ahafanhel (Pashkovskyi) agreed not to receive into his jurisdiction clergy and communities of the MP during the negotiation process on condition that the latter sticks to the same conditions.

However, hostilities did not stop.The Odesa Eparchy continued to open parishes and receive clergy from the Moscow Patriarchate. Baiting from representatives of the respective eparchy of the MP and state authorities of Belarus continue as well. Things are made worse by the fact that Bishop Ahafanhel (Pashkovskyi) privately supports pro-Western democratic forces in Ukraine headed by President Victor Yushchenko, whereas the Odessa Eparchy of the MP is known as a pro-Russian and sometimes even openly anti-Ukrainian structure thanks to the speeches of its bishop, Metropolitan Ahafanhel (Savvin), and the head of Single Fatherland, Valerii Kaurov.

Thus, at the threshold of the end of the unification process, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is actually losing a whole eparchy. Last month, another two clergy of the UOC-MP were admitted to the ROCA. The fact is not ambiguous. Why transfer from one side to another if in two months it will be a single structure? The answer is simple, in my opinion. It consists in the words of the faithful of the eparchy addressed to Metropolitan Lavr: “However, we will stay with you, Bishop, as long as hope lives.” [7] The Odesa and Zaporizhzhia eparchies hope that the unification will not take place on 17 May, because the necessary conditions have not been fulfilled. However, the forms to be filled in for the “Act of canonical communion” have been ready for a long time…


So, the religious-denominational map of Ukraine has every chance of remaining unchanged qualitatively. However, the ROCA can grow in numbers in Ukraine. The opponents of the unification process between the ROCA and ROC already view Bishop Ahafanhel (Pashkovskyi) as the future leader of the “unbroken” ROCA. It is difficult to predict if it will happen this way. Time will show. However, the political conditions in our state are conducive to this. In Russia and Belarus, the problem of dissidents is solved in a very simple way: they are denied registration. However, in Ukraine it is easier to breath in this respect, and every community has a chance to defend its rights, even though it is difficult. The same situation is true of Moldova. After the European Court of Human Rights made the state authorities of Moldova register the Bessarabian Metropolitanate of the Romanian Orthodox Church, communities of the ROCA have ready-made instructions for achieving this.

This denomination undoubtedly does not and will not have a noticeable influence on the religious situation in Ukraine. According to all the laws of development of such structures, it will be driven to the margins and is doomed to stew in its own juices. However, Ukraine may become a “reserve” for its existence on the territory of the former USSR.

RISU’s Ukrainian-language site posted the original of this text on 27 March 2007.
1 Address of Bishop Ahafanhel on the occasion of the 11th World Sobor of the Russian People held in Moscow
2 “Time to stop lawlessness.” Address of clergy, religious, and laity of the Anadyr-Chukotka Eparchy of the ROC to all faithful children of the Holy Orthodox Church
3 The address of Bishop Diomed of Anadyr and Chukotka was not intended for the mass media, was written a long time ago, and was prepared for publication in a book.
4 Address of participants of a special eparchial meeting of the Odesa and Zaporizhzhia eparchies to the head of the ROCA, Metropolitan Lavr
5 Resolution of the Eparchial Meeting of the Odessa and Zaporizhzhia Eparchies of the ROCA
6 “Act of canonical communion”
7 Address of the participants of the special eparchial meeting of the Odessa and Zaporiozhzhia eparchies to the head of the ROCA, Metropolitan Lavr

Tags: #ROCOR