Ukrainian Orthodoxy: On The Path To Confessing The Faith

If anybody thinks that persecution is a thing of the past,
and imagines it to be something only inside the torture
chambers of the theomachist sadists of the Cheka or pagan
Rome, then they are reassuring themselves in vain.
Confession of the faith is the future of the Church and,
probably, her present too. For at the beginning of the
twentieth-first century, in a country in central Europe,
with mass media and offices of human rights defenders,
huge shopping malls and gleaming limousines on the
streets, the unimaginable is unfolding before us.

The path from peace to persecution isn’t complex. Act
One is dedicated to the pathetic monologues, sessions of
meetings and appeals to Patriarch Bartholomew expressing
their agreed hope for the liberation of Ukrainian
Orthodoxy from the oppressive yoke of Moscow. Opinions
polls are conducted according to which the majority of
Ukrainian citizens desire “national Orthodoxy”.
Finally, in response to the appeals of citizens and
working collectives, the Church of Constantinople solemnly
proclaims the setting up of her exarchate with her throne
in Kiev, which is to form the basis of unifying work. The
cup of future sufferings is brought to the fore and the
clock stops at five minutes to midnight.

Act Two, in which in order to come together, it is
essential to delineate themselves. The few priests and
bishops, known as autocephalists, even though they are
simply anti-Moscow types who will never see autocephaly in
a month of Sundays, convoke an event called the
‘All-Ukrainian Council’ at which they create not a
Supreme Church Administration, but the one true Holy Synod
of the Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church or Ukrainian Local
Orthodox Church (Unified), shortened to ULOC (U), i.e.
that is essentially a new, fourth ecclesiastical
jurisdiction which goes under the heading of the Exarch
His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. Diocese, parishes
and monasteries are called upon to join quickly the ULOC
(U), and the territorial structure of the future of the
One Local Church begins to take shape. The clock points to
four minutes to midnight.

In Act Three the process moves along weakly and it is
decided to whip it into shape externally. The number of
those joining remains small – Metropolitan
Onuphrius’s authority outweighs all others. Kiev
officials burp sourly as they propagate a new schism. The
stage is occupied by collectives acting on their own –
participants of nationalist formations, portraying
themselves this time as Gospel saints and zealous
churchgoers. Rada deputies adopt a law on
‘self-determination’ (meaning changing the status
of ecclesiastical objects). Meetings are organized
ubiquitously at which clergy and lay people clash with a
wave of people who have come from God knows where to
aggressively pressurize them into joining the ULOC (U).
Fighting breaks out as church buildings are seized, blood
is spilt. Divisions of the National Guard come to the
Kiev
Monastery of the Caves and the Monastery of St. Job of
Pochaev, officially in order to avert disorder and
violence, but in reality to get ready the transfer of
monastery property to the schismatics. This is not yet
persecution, both sides flex their muscles; however, the
outcome of the struggle is predetermined: the canonical
Orthodox community gradually finds itself in the position
of a harassed minority. The media is silent about the
scale of the infringement of rights by whipping up an
atmosphere of hostility towards the ‘Muscovite
faith’ and ‘Muscovite priests’. International
opinion is in a good mood as it is occupied mainly with
the problems of the Crimean Tartars. So, the clock points
to three minutes to midnight.

In Act Four the destruction of the organizational
structures of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow
Patriarchate (UOC MP) becomes a fait accompli,
the authorities force the clergy and communities of
Orthodox Christians retaining their loyalty to
Metropolitan Onuphrius into a semi-legal position. They
are forced into abandoning their churches, monasteries and
diocesan administrations, which are then triumphantly
taken over by representatives of the ULOC (U). Not being
able to withstand the pressure, a significant part of the
bishops, priests and parishioners agree to go over to the
jurisdiction of Constantinople. But many active lay people
and clergy prefer not to be reconciled with this: the
celebration of the sacraments, pastoral care and
charitable ministry take place unofficially, in homes, in
those few buildings which have been re-registered as the
property of non-commercial organizations and charitable
institutions, collective enterprises and so on. The synod
of the UOC MP adapts to life in these most difficult of
circumstances by taking general leadership over a
disparate network of communities. There are direct
parallels with the situation from the middle to the end of
the 1920s. There are less than two minutes on the clock
until disaster.

In Act Five of the tragedy the tension enters an
existential phase. Between the two parts of a once single
ecclesiastical whole an unsurpassable chasm has opened.
Under the administration of Constantinople the ‘One
All-Ukrainian’ exarchate is reformed rapidly, Church
Slavonic is put out of use, they go over to the new
calendar. The antithesis of ‘Renovation versus
Tradition’ once again comes to the fore. The
revolutionary wave brings with it a host of odious
personalities. In a strange mixture of nationalistic and
liberal European clichés, the schism becomes
further and further removed from its Orthodox look and
acquires the nature of a dogmatic departure. The Uniates
in the mass media and the corridors of power promote the
idea of a wider union involving the Ukrainian Greek
Catholic Church, this time changing its dogmatic
foundation. Resistance to the schism becomes a matter of
conscience and the preservation of the purity of the
faith. The communities belonging to the canonical
jurisdiction, finding themselves to be in a siege
situation, endure colossal inconveniences and
humiliations. In this way the Church of Ukraine embarks
upon the heroic feat of confessing the faith. The mourning
sound of midnight will strike in a minute.

 

In Act Six (the concluding act) the Ukrainian Church
acquires her new martyrs. Accusations of unreliability
encourage the authorities to instigate criminal
investigations and court cases. The hierarchy of the UOC
MP, which now finds herself outside of the law, is
isolated and placed under house arrest. Operatives of the
Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) use force to obtain that
which they could not obtain through propaganda and
harassment. The persecutors furiously beat out of their
prisoners confessions and sow lies and slander. The bodies
of those tortured to death are concealed, destroyed and
buried in unmarked graves; in a number of instances their
remains are found and miracles flow from them. Those who
remain free conspire among themselves to go underground.
The veneration of the martyrs’ heroic feat grows. In
Russia and throughout the whole Orthodox world they
venerate the memory of ‘our fathers and brothers who
have suffered for the faith at the hands of the Bandera
authorities’.

Do we realize that what we have described above isn’t
a fantasy and can happen before our very eyes within a
very short time, in the next two to three years, since the
ground has been quite well prepared for this? Do the
Ukrainians realize that by putting their signatures to
petitions to Constantinople they are playing the role of
provocateurs? Does Metropolitan Alexander Drabinko realize
that, when he rambles on about the illusory freedom to go
over to the self-proclaimed schismatics or stay with
Moscow, he has no influence whatsoever on the fighters
from the Azov and Right Sector battalions? And does
Patriarch Bartholomew realize that, having now interfered
in the Ukrainian situation, he is letting great suffering
out of the box and thereby blackening his own name in
history?

The internet resources of the ‘autocephalists’
dazzle with their accusations and denunciations, the
embryos of coming repression. ‘Residents of houses
belonging to the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and
Paul have begun to complain about the distribution in the
church of dubious literature: “They are spreading
their journals. They say it’s a journal for
children”, notes a local resident and publishes a
photo of the journal Verkh with the title of the
article “Our Country Will Not Be Broken” on the
cover’. … ‘A blogger, who went to Moscow for the
Nativity Readings, was detained upon his return to Kiev at
Borispol Airport for trying to bring in separatist
literature’ (for information: there was a single
published copy of the book signed by the author – A.R.).
… ‘The bishops of the Kiev Patriarchate published on
Facebook a letter from residents in a village who
complained of the rector of the local Church of the
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow
Patriarchate…’

What is the average Ukrainian believer to make of all this
when he reads it? He imagines a Black Maria outside,
investigators rifling through the contents of bookcases…
And who in these circumstances can avoid
accusations?—those who have no connection with
Russia, those who in social networking sites never once
criticized the Ukrainian leadership or the ideology of
Ukrainianism, those whose homes are full of publications
with the yellow and blue colours of the Ukrainian flag.

Whether the supporters of ecclesiastical independence from
Moscow want this or not, they are driving themselves into
an ever narrower scope of events. They will soon realize
that what has been done cannot be undone, but it will be
impossible to restore balance, albeit imperfect and
fragile. There is still time to come round to one’s
senses, draw back from the edge, otherwise from the
chapters and paragraphs of books on Church history
persecution will become a reality advancing from various
directions.

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