UARU
Autocephaly and Ukraine: How a Western Ukrainian Region’s Dealing with the News
21 October, 2018

The Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarch (UOC-KP) made his first pastoral visit in Ukraine since the anathema against him was declared invalid to the western region of Ternopil. The visit was organized in spring, when talks about tomos were tentative and the whole idea of autocephaly seemed to be just another promise.  

Filaret comes here regularly every few years. The Ternopil region is a missionary frontline for the Kyiv Patriarchate. It lies on a border between the Catholic and the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate worlds. Orthodox Christians are in the minority here. There are 836 Greek Catholic parishes here, as well as 530 Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate parishes, 403 Kyiv Patriarchate parishes and just 170 Autocephalous Church parishes.

Patriarch Filaret, although he is not officially recognized as a patriarch by Istanbul, but definitely a legitimate bishop, is visiting one of the most complex areas in church terms. This region is the border between Galicia and Volyn. The Pochayiv Lavra monastery is located here and is the ideological and monastic center of Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, as well as an important pilgrimage site. An “Orthodox belt” has formed around the monastery – a band of small villages, where the parishioners constantly have to decide which church to belong to.    

Patriarchal Visit

Since the start of the war in Donbas, several local parishes have switched to the Kyiv Patriarchate. The reason for this was the refusal of UOC-MP priests to perform funerals for soldiers who had died in eastern Ukraine. These transitions were not always peaceful. Most of the disputes arose in villages with only one church and which therefore had to be divided.

Newly built church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the village of Kulykiv, Ternopil region. October 15, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

However, in the village of Kulykiv outside Ternopil, the parish switched jurisdiction peacefully. There’s 10 kilometers between the village’s wooden church to the gates of Pochayiv Lavra. On the site of the new church, which was blessed by a visit from Patriarch Filaret, stood an almost century-old church. The church was consecrated by Metropolitan Dionysius of Warsaw, the head of the Polish church, when it was still part of the Russian Orthodox Church. There were talks of autocephaly here back in the 1920s, but not of the Ukrainian church, but of the Polish church. When Volyn fell under Soviet control, the church became Russian Orthodox. Now it is Ukrainian. Only the church throne remains from the old church. It was saved. The throne is usually consecrated by the bishop by signing the name of the current Patriarch on it. This throne carries the name of the Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and All Russia.

Priest and military chaplain Andriy Lyubun, Kulyvikiv, Ternopil region. October 15, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

The church throne, which was part of the old church for almost 100 years, was saved and placed in the new wooden church, Kulykiv, Ternopil region. October 15, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

Patriarch Filaret performed his first liturgy since Moscow’s canonical punishment was lifted in Kulykiv. Several bishops, 40 priests and dozens of parishioners from surrounding villages attended the service. The villagers who have remained part of the Moscow Patriarchate – which consists of several families – no longer come here. They now have to travel to a neighboring village or to Pochayiv Lavra, which is visible from here.  

Newly built church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the village of Kulykiv, Ternopil region. October 15, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

Not far from Kulykiv is the village of Lishnya. The parish here also recently converted to the UOC-KP. The chapel is small. On the wall hangs a board with the names of those who died in the war. The priest here is a part-time military chaplain and regularly travels to the east. He says that he wants the church to become a memorial for those who participated in the war, and place where people can go to remember them. The families of the deceased often come here.

Church in the village of Lishnya. The parish recently converted to the UOC-KP, Ternopil region. October 15, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

Church in the village of Lishnya, Ternopil region. October 15, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

The priest also dreams of setting up a rehabilitation center for Ukrainian soldiers and a camp for children of veterans here, next to the picturesque lake and stream. Filaret also paid a visit to this village. Parents, widows and children of the deceased and war veterans from different regions came to the meeting. Thanks to the Patriarch’s presence, this was the most well-attended mass. He stayed there a while and happily talked to the guests.

Iconography on the ceiling of the church in the village of Lishnya, Ternopil region. October 15, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

On the wall hangs a board with the names of those who died in the war in Donbas. The families of the deceased often come here, Lishnya, Ternopil region. October 15, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

The third stop on the Patriarch’s tour of the area took him to the regional center, Ternopil. Here, Filaret consecrated the construction site of a new Byzantine-style Cathedral of Kostiantyn and Olena, which is dedicated to the empress and emperor-founder of Constantinople. This is very relevant to the current situation. Not many people attended the mass with the Patriarch.

Orthodox Retreat

Thousands of opponents to the church gathered near to where Patriarch Filaret visited. These pilgrims from Kherson, Odesa, Mykolayiv, Vinnytsia, Kolomyia and Ivano-Frankivsk went to Pochayiv Lavra to celebrate the day of Protection of the Virgin Mary.

Worshippers at the construction site of the new Cathedral of Kostiantyn and Olena, waiting for a visit from Patriarch Filaret of the UOC-KP, Ternopil, October 12, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

This monastery’s history, as with the religious history of this whole region, is a tangle of jurisdictions, patriarchates and anathema. Pochayiv Lavra has been part of the Greek Catholic, Greek, Polish and Moscow Orthodox monasteries over the course of its near 500-year history.

Worshippers at the construction site of the new Cathedral of Kostiantyn and Olena, waiting for a visit from Patriarch Filaret of the UOC-KP, Ternopil, October 12, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

Patriarch Filaret of the UOC-KP (right) consecrating the construction site of the new Cathedral of Kostiantyn and Olena, Ternopil, October 12, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

During the Soviet era, some monks remained at the monastery. Then a psychiatric hospital was set up on the premises. After Ukraine gained independence, the monastery continued to come under the UOC-MP. The monastery now has hundreds of monks. They look after the old churches and relics – exquisite icons, remains and even the footprint of the Virgin Mary. They also have to manage the whole estate. The monastery has a large hotel for pilgrims, a publishing house, a farm and crops.

Patriarch Filaret of the UOC-KP (right) consecrating the construction site of the new Cathedral of Kostiantyn and Olena, Ternopil, October 12, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

People flock to the Lavra on the day of Protection of the Virgin Mary. It one of the most popular Ukrainian holy days. It is an important occasion for Orthodox believers to go on a retreat. People confess, talk with members of the clergy and take communion. They normally come in small groups organized by their parishes, priests or fellow Orthodox christians.

Olena has brought 12 people from Kherson. She notes that it was a tough journey for them as their bus broke down. But “the Mother of God protected [them]” Olena adds – protection from the split, protection for the monastery and the church as a whole. The arguments put forward by the pilgrims are dominated by religious reasoning, so they answer all questions on the future and possible confrontations between the churches. It seems this is what they regularly hear from their priests during masses.

Patriarch Filaret of the UOC-KP (right) consecrating the construction site of the new Cathedral of Kostiantyn and Olena, Ternopil, October 12, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

A group of modestly dressed women from Mykolayiv have spent six and half hours at the monastery, with a 40-minute break for the procession. However, their tiredness doesn’t show. Everyone brings their troubles and problems here.

Worshippers in the main church of the Pochayiv Lavra monastery, Ternopil region, October 13, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

Worshippers in the main church of the Pochayiv Lavra monastery, Ternopil region, October 13, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

Nina has come to the monastery for treatment. The first thing she mentioned was the fact she has a headache. Pochayiv has become a center for unconventional medicine. People drink from the water from the healing spring, hold their palms against the church bell; in the pharmacy they can purchase herbs and various extracts.

Nina thinks that the Pochayiv Lavra should belong to the people. This is what a lot of people say, even without referring to some of the finer points of ecumenical law and church politics. They find out about these finer points, as well as historical examples of the Orthodox believers being faced with attempts to rid them off their shrines, from head of the Lavra, Metropolitan Volodymyr (Viorel Moroz).

Worshippers in the main church of the Pochayiv Lavra monastery, Ternopil region, October 13, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

Worshippers in the main church of the Pochayiv Lavra monastery, Ternopil region, October 13, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

Metropolitan Volodymyr has lived in Pochayiv since 1992, and he has been the Superior of monastery for the last 22 years. Born in Bukovyna to a simple peasant family, he tells his parishioners about unity with Moscow and how this is the only option for the Ukrainian church, stressing in each of his sermons that the current rights of the UOC-MP are enough and that autocephaly is not needed.  

The words of the Metropolitan are repeated by 11-year-old Zakhariy, the brother of Yelizaveta, Macarius, Korenelius, Kyprian and Havryyil. This large Orthdox family live near the monastery. Their grandfather sings in the choir, their mother works in a kiosk at the Lavra and his father, and Zakhariy himself, serve at another nearby church. He says that on this holy day he is praying for peace in Ukraine and a end to the war, which has lasted four years – one third of his lifetime.

Worshippers in the main church of the Pochayiv Lavra monastery, Ternopil region, October 13, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

His older sisters adds: “We’re praying for the Lavra not to be taken away, so that it is Orthodox autocephalous.”

“Independent?” I ask.

“No, so that there won’t be autocephaly,” she corrects herself.

Procession during  the day of Protection of the Virgin Mary at Pochayiv Lavra monastery, Ternopil region, October 14, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

Procession during  the day of Protection of the Virgin Mary at Pochayiv Lavra monastery, Ternopil region, October 14, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

Metropolitan Volodymyr has been telling the children and adults of Pochayiv, as well as the many other people here, about what autocephaly is and whether it is a threat to the monastery. A formidable warning letter appeared on the Pochayiv Lavra website a few weeks before the day of Protection of the Virgin Mary.

The same statements have been made by the Superior of Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv. But people are not afraid of this, they have come here ready for anything. “You know that we won’t give it away so easily,” one pilgrim from Odesa noted, adding “I have given birth to four children for Ukraine, what have you done?”

Procession during  the day of Protection of the Virgin Mary at Pochayiv Lavra monastery, Ternopil region, October 14, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/HromadskeProcession during  the day of Protection of the Virgin Mary at Pochayiv Lavra monastery, Ternopil region, October 14, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Popenko/Hromadske

Children of various Orthodox denominations, just like their parents, are truly happy to be celebrating the day of Protection of the Virgin Mary. They all peacefully visit the same shrines. They would not even think about who the churches and chapels belonged to if it weren’t for the Superiors standing over their heads at the altar constantly talking about divisions.

/By Saken Aymursaev and Oleksandr Popenko

/Translated by Sofia Fedeczko