Very different reasons stand behind ROC’s accusations against the Greek Catholics

13.09.2011, 16:25
Open theme
In his commentary to Reuters, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfyeyev) once again reminded about the conflict between Greek Catholics and Orthodox in western Ukraine in the early 90s. As in previous years, this conflict is considered as the main reason it is impossible for a meeting to be held between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict XVI.

Such a declaration on one of the most respected global news agencies is a very good tactical move. The Moscow Patriarchate uses the same tactics that the Russian Federation uses on their political opponents. Instead of negotiating directly with those against whom it has a complaint, it tries to put its opponent in a bad light before the eyes of the international community, in particular the intellectual environment.

As for the question of church property, the previous head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) Lubomyr (Husar) in an interview to the BBC said: “These accusations have been made for many years now. But I have yet to hear someone prove them. There is a Latin proverb quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur what is asserted without reason may be denied without reason. If we heard legitimate criticisms that could be taken as truly objective, it would be interesting. Until now, other than public statements submitted to the Vatican or to others, I see no proven allegations. They say that we, the Greek Catholics, interfere in the building of churches in western Ukraine by the Orthodox of the Moscow Patriarchate, or that we have forcibly taken them away. I do not know if there is at least one example where we have taken a church built the Orthodox of the Moscow Patriarchate. In 1946 the ROC received from the state very many, if I’m not mistaken, more than 500 churches for liturgical use, while the other churches were to be used for secular purposes, such as cinemas, theaters or stores. But one can hardly say that those that were transferred were the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate. They never showed us their willingness to return them when the right time and freedom came.

According to Patriarch Lubomyr, one can conclude that the UGCC can is ready to clarify this issue, but the Moscow Patriarchate should reasonably provide evidence of why specific churches should belong to them. Attempts to decide on the ownership of churches were made back in the times of conflict between Greek Catholics and the Orthodox in Galicia. I mean the work of the Quadripartite Commission in 1990 (with participation of the Vatican, the UGCC, the ROC and the UOC), but the demands of the Orthodox parties at the time were unacceptable for the Greek Catholics (in particular, the Moscow Patriarchate did not want to return the Greek Catholic St. George Cathedral, the center and most important UGCC shrine until 2004, when the seat of the head of the church was moved to Kyiv. The Russian Orthodox Church also refused to accept the UGCC as a church in the legal and canonical sense; according to their convictions, Greek Catholics could not act as a structure and claim its inheritance of the church which was liquidated in 1946). Because of these and other terms UGCC Metropolitan Volodymyr Sterniuk left the session. The Moscow Patriarchate often mentions this event, in particular Metropolitan Hilarion, but it never voiced the real reason behind the Greek Catholics’ refusal to participate in negotiations.

Thus, the former head of the UGCC Lubomyr Husar demonstrated openness to dialogue on this issue, but the Moscow Patriarchate did not respond to these words, but only continued to make public accusations.

Another aspect in this matter is that the Moscow Patriarchate does not recognize the ecclesial nature of the UGCC, considering it only part of the Latin Church (the ROC tends to put an equal sign between the Catholic Church (which the UGCC really is part of) and the Latin Church). Therefore, claims are heard constantly “over the head” of the UGCC to the pope, who, according to leaders of the ROC, should resolve the issue. According to Metropolitan Hilarion, he heard from the leadership of the Catholic Church that the UGCC is autonomous (Archbishop of Volokolamsk Hilarion replied to questions from the magazine Spiegel). By these words, it can be understood that the Russian church’s chief diplomat hinted that the ROC should independently communicate with the UGCC, since the latter in these issues is independent. However, as I noted above, the Moscow Patriarchate does not want to resolve anything directly.

There are, it seems, several reasons for this: the Moscow Patriarchate refuses to recognize on the territory of the former Soviet Union the full legitimacy of any ecclesiastical institution other than the Roman Catholic Church (I mean the Latin Church), which can be attributed to the church of the diaspora, and it is more advantageous for the Greek Catholics to be considered part of the RCC, only of the Eastern Rite. The recognition of another autonomous church structure does not seem possible because this institution would have to be treated as its equal, and this is unacceptable to the ROC on the territory which it considers purely its own. Therefore, only the whole Catholic Church centered in Rome is considered equal, and by no means the national Greek Catholic Church centered in Kyiv. Moscow will never sit at the negotiating table with the UGCC because it would mean recognizing the legitimacy of an autonomous canonical structure on its “private domain.”

The next reason is that the Moscow Patriarchate has not decided how and about what to begin a dialogue with Rome, except for the social sphere. The anti-ecumenical sentiment in the ROC is quite popular. The loud departure of Bishop Diomid and the “Izhevsk priests” from the ecumenical patriarch (i.e. heretic) was a serious signal for ecumenical activity and threatens to split the ROC. So it hard to be sure that Kirill wants a meeting with the pope, since it can provoke a lot of problems within the ROC. The ROC dialogue with Rome looks rather as a counterbalance to the dialogue between Rome and the Constantinople Patriarchate and churches that support it. As such, Moscow is trying to control the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, basing on material and quantitative superiority in relation to the rest of churches of Ecumenical Orthodoxy.

But in this whole controversy the Moscow Patriarchate stubbornly does not want to notice one very important detail. Speaking of “the defeat of three Orthodox dioceses” conceals the true statistics of Orthodoxy in Galicia. And they are really impressive. Here is the number of Orthodox parishes: in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast there are about 462 parishes (34 UOC-MP, 279 UOC-KP, 149 UAOC), in Lviv Oblast, respectively, 912 (69 UOC-MP, 460 UOC-KP, 383 UAOC) in Ternopil Oblast 663 parishes (125 UOC-MP, 227 UOC-KP, 261 UAOC). For comparison, take the Donetsk Oblast (one of the largest in Ukraine), which has 757 Orthodox communities, or Zhytomyr with 848 parishes and finally Odessa with 684 Orthodox parishes. With so many parishes can there be talk about the defeat of Orthodoxy in Galicia? Statistics show that such centers of “canonical Orthodoxy” as Donetsk or Odesa do not exceed the number of communities “defeated” in the Lviv Oblast, where there are 912 communities.

According to the number of Orthodox parishes, Galicia looks very stable against the whole Ukraine. Only the thing is that most of these parishes do not belong to the Moscow Patriarchate. Their faithful who wish to be Orthodox Galicians have the unhindered possibility to pray in their churches. The Moscow Patriarchate would hypothetically resolve its internal problems and restore its potential in Galicia, which it had before 1990, and even surpass it, if all these parishes joined it. However, these parishes, on the one hand, do not want to go/return to the Moscow Patriarchate. And, on the other hand, such transfers are not very desirable for the ROC, as they will raise the pro-autocephalous sentiment in the UOC-MP. For the Moscow Patriarchate these autocephalous parishes – either of the UOC-KP or the UAOC – would become a Trojan horse.

It seems that by its anti–Greek-Catholic polemics the Moscow Patriarchate is trying to avoid a worse problem, the inner Orthodox one. Along with all of these statements it would seem logical that the ROC would have as a priority establishing relationships with fellow believers, who, in fact, do not want to belong to its jurisdiction, but have churches, than to demand something from the Greek Catholics. Moreover, since noting was provided in response to Patriarch’s Lubomyr’s proposal to submit arguments in its favor.

Thus, the claim that the churches in Galicia is the main reason it is impossible for there to be a meeting between the patriarch of Moscow and the pope has little justification. And perhaps that’s why these accusations are not directed directly toward the UGCC, but somewhere beyond.