The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) believes that mass transfers of parishes from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (the one that is allegedly not of the Moscow Patriarchate) to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine are a "threat to national security".
Sonya Koshkina, LB.ua editor in chief
No, it's not a joke.
I have read the relevant letters signed by the deputy head of the SBU main directorate in Kyiv and Kyiv Region, Yuriy Palahnyuk, several times.
To make sure everything is correctly understood and there are no misunderstandings.
First. The document
See our report for details and documents.
For ease of reference, I'm only offering the excerpts here.
The main directorate of the Security Service of Ukraine in Kyiv Region has asked representatives of local governments to carry out public explanatory work to prevent the leaders of territorial communities or representatives of local authorities from attending meetings of religious communities where they discuss plans to move from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
This, according to the SBU, creates preconditions for destabilising the socio-political situation in Kyiv and the region.
"In connection with the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, the process of transition of communities from the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has intensified, with meetings of communities/citizens/parishioners and local residents of merged territorial communities being organised, during which the majority resolves that a religious community should ask to Metropolitan Epifaniy (Dumenko), the Primate of Orthodox Church of Ukraine, to take it under the Orthodox Church of Ukraine omophorion with subsequent submission of prepared records and statutes to the public authorities.
It was established that the aforementioned processes are for the most part accompanied by accusations of the illegality of actions of a particular religious denomination, representatives of merged territorial communities and state authorities, which in turn leads to physical clashes, radicalization and criminalization of transition processes," the SBU said in a statement.
Mr Palahnyuk adds that under martial law, citizens cannot gather for a meeting because it is dangerous.
And here I almost fell off my chair: "Holding such a meeting can be used by representatives of the UOC to appeal these actions in court" and by the special services of the Russian Federation "to accuse the UOC of harassment, fuel inter-confessional discord and use the protest potential to destabilize the socio-political situation in the state."
And finally, a directive to the local authorities to carry out "explanatory" work among the responsible commissioners with a view to "further avoiding" and to report on it.
We have at our disposal a letter addressed to the [Kyiv] Darnytsya district administration, but it is not the only one - other district administrations in the capital have received similar ones (as confirmed by a comment provided to us by the SBU).
Photo source: Facebook/Серафим Кліпчар
Second. I will explain what it means in normal language
1. Let's start with simple things. Ukraine is a secular state.
This means that the church is separate from the state and the SBU has no right to poke its nose into religious life. More precisely, it should do so when it comes to national security. For example, to enquire about the fate of collaborator priests. Or about torture chambers in the basements of Moscow-run churches (check out the latest video investigation by Vitaly Deyneha's Ukrainian Witness Project), or finally tell the truth about the basements of Svyatohirsk Lavra, where weapons were stored for the "militia" in 2014 (I suspect that the same was true in 2022 too, but in this particular case these are only my suspicions, whereas in 2014 it was a fact established by our military).
2. Why would the SBU want to block a community meeting (note that this is the focus of the letter)?
It's very simple. If you want to move from the UOC (which is supposedly no longer of the Moscow Patriarchate, but more on that later) to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, your parish must convene a meeting and decide by at least a two-thirds majority. The procedure is elementary, as stipulated by Article 8 of the Law "On freedom of conscience and religion".
That's it. Next, the documents are submitted - up the vertical - for registration. In this case, it should be the Kyiv city or regional administration.
So the logic of the SBU is simple enough: in order to prevent the exodus of parishes from the UOC (allegedly not of the Moscow Patriarchate) to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, one should simply prevent this meeting from happening.
3. It is true that under martial law, mass events and assemblies by large numbers of people (for their own safety) are forbidden. But, as Michael Szczur says, there is a but. Or rather, three.
Firstly, you will not find in Ukrainian law a precise definition of mass events.
Roughly speaking, a mass event is how many? Three people, five, 10? The question is open. Of course, lawyers here will advise you to consult current case law (although we are not a country of case law). You will be surprised, but there is no established practice by law. That is, under current law, a meeting of three people, or five, or 10, can be considered a mass event. It depends on what mood the judge is in.
Secondly, if we are talking about a religious community, a meeting of its representatives is, roughly speaking, not so much a mass event as an element of the internal life of the community.
Of course, you can argue with this second argument, so let's move on to the next one.
Thirdly, the definition in the law reads: "Mass events are events of social and political, religious (religious, yes – editor's note), sports, cultural or entertainment nature with participation of a significant ("significant" - how many exactly? – editor's note) number of citizens held on the occasion of official (state), professional, religious holidays, memorable dates, as well as on the initiative of political parties, movements, public associations, religious confessions (societies), individual citizens, sports organisations, culture institutions and so on."
Now I have a question:
- A regular Sunday service falls within the definition of the law on mass events. Yes, it does, for sure. So why aren't Sunday services banned?
- Is the church funeral service for a hero, which his comrades in arms attent, an "event" or not? Clearly an "event";
- And the cherry on the cake. Do you remember how on Independence Day 5,000 UOC-MP believers marched in a procession to Pochayiv? Hey, the SBU, where were you looking? Ukrainian MP Volodymyr Aryev asked the SBU the same thing. Do you know what the answer was? "No violations were found," the official letter (follow the link) said.
I'm sorry, but there are no comments left to make.
4. The SBU is very worried that the UOC (which is by no means of the Moscow Patriarchate) may appeal in court against the transfer of its parishes to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Are you serious? I would like to see a judge make such a decision.
It is also worried that Moscow may use the parish transfers as an excuse to "destabilise the situation and carry out provocations". Allegedly Russia in general and Putin and Gundyayev in particular need some excuse.
5. And then we have the most interesting part. The UOC itself. Let me remind you that on 27 May the UOC decided at its congress that it is no longer of the Moscow Patriarchate and has nothing to do with the Russian Orthodox Church. This was registered in amendments to its statute.
It is true that this statute has never been officially published (only information leaks have made it possible to study the document – editor's note). Why such secrecy? It is simple. The "determination" of the UOC-MP to break with the ROC was based, first and foremost, on an attempt to get out of the scope of the law on the activities of organisations whose governing centre is on the territory of the aggressor state. Secondly, it was an attempt to "let off steam" - to somehow calm down hundreds of ordinary priests who no longer wanted to commemorate Gundyayev and have nothing in common with Moscow at all. On 27 May, the UOC declared itself an "independent church" (first of all, from Moscow). But the canonical law has no such status as "independent church". It does not exist.
So, purely nominally, the UOC continues to be of the Moscow Patriarchate, that is, part of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Thus, when the SBU helps the UOC, it directly helps the Russian Orthodox Church.
During the war, yes.
As much as anyone would like to present it from a different angle.
6. Of course, when preparing this article, we asked the SBU press service for comment. We quoted it in the news, but I am adding it here too - to complete the picture.
"The SBU does not interfere in any way with religious processes in the state, but acts solely out of national security concerns. At the same time, we are well aware that Russia has not abandoned its attempts to undermine the socio-political situation in Ukraine and, in particular, uses the religious factor to do so. Therefore the letter which was sent by the Kyiv directorate of the Security Service of Ukraine to the capital's district administrations has identified a number of aspects which representatives of enemy special services use for information and subversive activities against Ukraine. The Security Service also drew attention to counteracting such hostile manifestations. Separately, it should be recalled that during martial law, any mass gatherings of people are forbidden because they may pose a threat to their lives due to the increased risk of missile attacks and sabotage that the Russian Federation may carry out. In order to prevent such crisis situations, as well as affecting sentiments in Ukrainian society, which could have negative consequences in times of war, the SBU monitors potential threats and informs the authorised agencies."
One last thing. "Why does it matter?" You may ask. "After all, I myself do not go to church at all, and although I am definitely against Moscow's popes, but I don't care who has how many parishes."
Let me explain. In our realities, the question of the church is more than about religion, it is closer to geopolitics. After all, it is the Russian Orthodox Church that is the creator and ideologist of the Russian world, under the banners of which the "combat Buryats" (here a composite image) are killing Ukrainians. Just as Vladimir Putin considers "the collapse of the USSR the main tragedy of the 20th century", so Kirill Gundyayev stubbornly opposes the independent Ukrainian church. First of all, because it is an important element of our identity. While the UOC MP - for the most part - works as a tool to promote pro-Russian narratives - "brotherly peoples", "everything is not so unambiguous" and the like.
Of course, it would not be right to colour everyone with the same brush - I personally know many good decent UOC MP priests, first and foremost in the regions, they are patriots, active volunteers, etc. They each have their own reasons for staying where they are. At least for now.
But the position of the UOC MP top clerics is clear as a day - they are waiting for an outcome of the war to swear allegiance to the victor. Perhaps the war has changed something in their minds, but many of them have openly invited Putin and Russia here. And it is very surprising (to put it mildly) that the Security Service of Ukraine is now helping them. Especially amid President Zelenskyy's statements during the dismissal of the previous SBU chief, Ivan Bakanov, that there are still quite a few Kremlin agents, spies and collaborators in the ranks of the service.
Commitment to the Moscow church is an excellent marker to identify them.