The nationalist organization “Right Sector” demands the transfer of two Orthodox churches to the chaplain service of the UOC-KP: one is in the honor of St. Theodore Ushakov at the Head Office of the National Police in the Kherson region and the other of the Holy 40 Martyrs of Sevastia at the former Directorate of the State Automobile Inspection. Who can stand behind this and why is it taking place now?
On December 27, 2017, N. Voteichkina, head of the Right Sector in the Kherson region, sent a letter to the Head of the Main Directorate of the National Police, A. Merikov, in which she expressed her request to facilitate the transfer of the above-mentioned temples to the Kyiv Patriarchate.
The letter refers to the allegedly numerous appeals of believers who long to see these temples in the hands of the religious organization of Mikhail Denisenko. Any competent lawyer would necessarily attach to the letter a list of signatures of these very believers. But we do not see any here. Further, Ms. Voteichkina puts forward a number of charges against the UOC:
- "this religious organization is a part of the Russian Orthodox Church";
- "there are numerous facts of the criminal cooperation of the UOC MP priests with Russian invaders and pro-Russian terrorists";
- "active propaganda of ideas of the ‘Russian world’".
Firstly, there is nothing illegal or reprehensible in the fact that the UOC "is united with the Local Orthodox Churches through the Russian Orthodox Church" (Para. 3 of the UOC Constitution). According to Art. 8 of the Law of Ukraine "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations", "The state recognizes the right of the religious community to its subordination in canonical and organizational matters to any religious centers (administrations) operating in Ukraine and beyond its borders, as well as free change of this subordination." And in the case of the UOC there is not even a need to refer to this provision of the law. The recently changed Charter of the ROC absolutely clearly defines: "The Centre for Administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is in the city of Kiev" (clause 4 of Chapter 10 of the Statute of the ROC).
Secondly, "the facts of criminal cooperation" Ms. Voteichkina speaks about are unknown to anyone because of their complete absence. Gossip – yes, verified facts – no. No court decision, in which these "facts" would be established, exists in reality. The only “hitch” in terms of such accusations was found last summer when the media trumpeted to the whole world that allegedly two clerics of the Sumy eparchy of the UOC were convicted of separatism. In fact, these people turned out not to have any relation to the clergy of the UOC, and the Sumy administration of the SSU was compelled to bring official apologies for the erroneous information.
Thirdly, it is very convenient to blame the Church for propagating the ideas of the "Russian world". Nobody formulates these ideas, nobody analyzes whether they are good or bad, but everyone thinks that this is something terrible. "The Russian world" has long been transformed into such a terrible "boogieman", which is used to frighten children. Unfounded accusation of sympathy for the "Russian world" can now justify any illegal activity, which we can see in the letter of Ms. Voteichkina.
The UOC does not make any political propaganda of either "Russian" or "American", or any other "world". The UOC preaches what apostle Paul said: "we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1, 23). And the Church will not give this up, even if it is one of the "ideas of the Russian world". We repeat, the UOC does not make any political propaganda. Otherwise – fix and contact the law enforcement bodies.
Ukrainian authorities and the media are not tired of associating Ukraine with Europe. But no one particularly remembers such a fundamental European value as the rule of law. And no one remembers Art. 34 of the Constitution of Ukraine, which guarantees everyone freedom of thought and speech, as well as free expression of views and beliefs. Art. 15 of the Constitution says that no ideology can be recognized as mandatory by the state (including the ideology of nationalism).
But disregard for the Constitution and the Law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" is only the beginning. Ms. Voteichkina, by her letter, commits actions provided for in Art. 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine and urges to them police Colonel A. Merikov.
"Article 161. Violation of citizens' equality based on their race, nationality or religious preferences.
Willful actions inciting national, racial or religious enmity and hatred, humiliation of national honor and dignity, or the insult of citizens' feelings in respect to their religious convictions, and also any direct or indirect restriction of rights, or granting direct or indirect privileges to citizens based on race, color of skin, political, religious and other convictions, sex, ethnic and social origin, property status, place of residence, linguistic or other characteristics, shall be punishable by a fine up to 50 tax-free minimum incomes, or correctional labor for a term up to two years, or restraint of liberty for a term up to five years, with or without the deprivation of the right to occupy certain positions or engage in certain activities for a term up to three years."
It is under such actions that Ms. Voteichkina signed.
It is noteworthy that the transfer of churches is initiated not by the Kherson eparchy of the UOC-KP and not by its chaplaincy service, but by the "Right Sector". The KP "clergy" seem to have nothing to do with it, but they do not seem to be against it. This is how the secretary of the Kherson and Tavria eparchy of the UOC-KP, John Zamarayev, commented on this issue: "Regarding the chapels mentioned by you, they are really supervised by the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate. How do I feel about this? Cautiously, because most of the clergy of the ROC (not all) are propagandists of the ideology of the "Russian world", which in the current hybrid war is a weapon of the aggressor state. Undoubtedly, it would be much better for the country and our people to have our own Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church – as it has long been in world Orthodoxy – Georgia has its own, Georgian Church with its Patriarch, Greece – its own, Greek headed by the Primate, Bulgaria – its own, Russia has the Russian Church headed by Patriarch Kirill, etc., and Ukraine should have its own – Ukrainian – not supposedly – with false papers, but truly Ukrainian. As for the above-mentioned churches, it is really strange: how can our security forces be patronized by people, among whom there are a lot of devout propagandists of anti-Ukrainian mentality. However, this fact should not provoke our Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate to "march against" Christian brothers and sisters even if they are erring."
Again, a "tale" named "Russian world". Again, a misconception that every independent state should have an independent Church. And the bottom line is distancing from the actions of the "Right Sector": "this fact should not provoke our Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate to "march against". But why? After all, the Kyiv Patriarchate has only welcomed the seizure of churches earlier.
First, the Kyiv Patriarchate does not have an objective need in the churches of St. Theodore Ushakov and the Holy 40 Martyrs of Sevastia. As the secretary of the Kherson eparchy of the UOC, Protopriest Maxim Tarasenko said, "two churches of the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate are situated in the immediate vicinity of the Head Office of the National Police."
Indeed, one of the churches of the Kyiv Patriarchate is located approximately 110 metres, and the other – 350 meters from the church of the UOC. Despite all the victorious assurances of the UOC-KP and slyly manipulated polls, a very small number of parishioners go to KP churches, especially in the southeast of Ukraine. But the churches should be maintained, utility and other costs covered.
And secondly, and this is the main thing, this attempt to aggravate the interfaith situation should be viewed only in the context of possible negotiations with the Kyiv Patriarchate on overcoming the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. If we put aside all verbalities in the late Byzantine style, then the Appeal of the Synod of the UOC-KP on the issue of negotiations is generally positive. The Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church also spoke positively about it and even formed a commission for such negotiations.
Both the UOJ and many religious scholars and analysts expressed the opinion that the so-called "penitential letter" of Mr. Denisenko to the Moscow Patriarch and all the events that followed in the Kyiv Patriarchate exposed and aggravated the struggle of various groups of influence within the UOC-KP.
A group of supporters of compromises with the Russian Orthodox Church, thanks to the efforts of whom the "penitential letter" appeared, apparently suffered defeat. Such a conclusion can be drawn from the press conference of Mr. Denisenko on December 1, 2017, but this is only at first glance. In fact, the position of this group is based on objective factors. The ideology of nationalism and Ukrainian statehood, with which the UOC-KP has tightly bound itself, has nothing in common with Christianity. More and more people are beginning to understand that in the Kyiv Patriarchate there is more politics than religion. Actually, this is stated by the leader of this organization, Mr. Denisenko: "Everyone who cares about the Ukrainian state is confident that there must be the Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church in our country."
The UOC-KP is a political project. And from politics Ukrainians are already dead tired! Besides, the project is unsuccessful. Despite the whole "patriotic" colour, the KP failed to win over a large part of the Ukrainian Orthodox. Exposed to constant attacks and persecution in the media, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has two and a half times more parishes, and monastics – 20 times more than the UOC-KP. To date, it is already clear that all attempts to somehow get into the family of the Local Orthodox Churches through Constantinople, Jerusalem or other patriarchates have failed completely.
Spells such as "we do not need anybody's recognition", constantly sounding from the lips of representatives of the UOC-KP, only confirm the political nature of this organization. After all, this approach is not familiar to World Orthodoxy. For 2,000 years Local Orthodox Churches have lived as one family and mutually recognized one another. All attempts to drag the UOC communities into their patriarchate have had the opposite result: Orthodox believers are even more united and help their brothers and sisters in distress, building new churches instead of the seized ones and opening new parishes (52 only in 2017).
The statements of the UOC-KP that the believers of the UOC are passing to them massively are being laughed at by even people far from the Church. All these moments make moderately-minded "hierarchs" from the Kyiv Patriarchate look for a way out of this situation. But they are opposed by "irreconcilables". So far, in this confrontation, the score is 2-0 in favor of the "moderate": the ROC said "yes" to negotiations, the UOC-KP, with a bunch of reservations and ornate verbal passages, also said "yes." With a certain degree of certainty, we can assume that negotiations will begin in the foreseeable future.
But they can be disrupted by seizures of churches. The Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church called refusal of this policy a step towards the unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy: "The decisive rejection of violence and the seizure of churches, the rejection of mutual accusations and reproaches, mutual forgiveness of old grievances – these are the remedies of self-sacrifice and love of Christ that can restore the unity of the canonical Church in Ukraine" (from the Resolution of the Holy Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church "On the Appeal of the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine Filaret").
It is natural to assume that the "Right Sector", which in May signed an agreement with the UOC-KP on cooperation and interaction, focuses precisely on "irreconcilables" and will do everything to torpedo possible negotiations with the ROC. And the most accessible and effective way for this is the seizure of temples. Therefore, it can be assumed that soon attempts to incite the so-called temple confrontation will increase. They can if not disrupt negotiations with the ROC then significantly hamper, but such actions will further show people what the Kyiv Patriarchate is like. Common people clearly associate the "Right Sector" with violence, and the UOC-KP is increasingly associated with the "Right Sector". And this association is very unfavorable. That is why the Kherson eparchy of the UOC-KP does not express its unequivocal support for the "Right Sector" on the issue of the transfer of the two Kherson churches.
But the position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the temple confrontation is absolutely correct and winning. The Orthodox do not resort to violence, and in every possible way try to cool down the "hotheads" in their camp, who, perhaps, will not refuse to answer the invaders in their language. Instead, the UOC resorts to prayer, solidarity with those who are in trouble, explaining their point of view, as well as legal instruments: appeals to judicial and law enforcement agencies. In the end, people understand on which side is the truth.