Moscow Patriarchate Won’t Take Part in Creation of Ukraine’s Independent Church
14 November, 2018

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate will not participate in the creation of a united Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was granted independence from the Russian Orthodox Church last month. It will also break ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, who granted Ukraine’s request for independence.

The council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, Kyiv, November 13, 2018. Photo credit: UOC MP

Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate made the announcement on November 13, after a meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko failed to go ahead. Moscow Patriarchate considers the provision of the Tomos of Autocephaly, meaning religious autonomy, to be “artificial” and imposed from outside. And it expects that none of its hierarchs will form part of the unification council for the creation of a united Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

“It, in fact, can hardly be even called that. It definitely has nothing to do with the creation of a single church,” UOC-MP spokesman Archbishop Clement told Hromadske.

In response, Poroshenko said such positions from the Moscow Patriarchate will not disrupt the creation process of the united Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

What Does the Decision of the UOC-MP Council Mean?

According to the Taras Antoshevsky, director of the Religious Information Service of Ukraine this is evidence of the UOC-MP leadership “ignoring” the current Ukrainian president. He said that the decision of the UOC-MP is consistent with the position of the Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Kirill, who during a meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch, urged him not to grant Ukraine’s church independence.

“He said clearly then that this leadership will be around for a short time, that the elections will be held soon – there will be a new president, and that president will not be interested in Tomos and therefore there will be no need to provide the Tomos,” Antoshevsky said.

“It’s possible that the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate are operating within this context. Their task is to wait for these elections and hope that there will still be another president who, by their understanding, will be pro-Russian and hostile to autocephaly of the Ukrainian church.”

However, Antoshevsky noted that the Moscow Patriarchate hierarchs are in an “uncertain” situation.  

“They can’t openly say ‘that’s it, we are going [to join the unification council]’,” he  added.

Antoshevsky believes that if they do voice such a position, the Moscow Patriarchate hierarchs may face sanctions from the Russian Orthodox Church, including being demoted in status.

Nothing Unexpected

At the meeting of the UOC-MP council, there was a marked lack of desire to participate in the process of creating a single unified church. Journalist Saken Aymurzaev, who has studied the relationship of Orthodox churches for many years, believes that the next steps include the assembly of a unification council, the creation of the Ukrainian local church and the provision of Tomos on autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

“As far as I know, this will all happen in the coming month, without the participation of the majority of UOC-MP bishops,” Aymurzaev said.

He also noted that the “most beautiful” part is that neither the hierarchs nor the President had made concessions throughout this process.  

Aymurzaev was confident that after the creation of a single Ukrainian church, the UOC-MP would not want to change its status of a Ukrainian church.

“But legally, and they have spoken about this more than once, the government will do everything so that it’s written in large letters that this is a Russian church. Unfortunately, the conflict there is escalating,” he said.

Furthermore, Aymurzaev added that the decision of the UOC-MP council to terminate relations with Constantinople doesn’t actually mean anything, because this was done earlier by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, of which the UOC-MP is a part of.

Failed Meeting?

Poroshenko was expected to meet with representatives of the UOC-MP on November 13 at the International Convention Center "Ukrainian House", where journalists and representatives of the Presidential Administration gathered that afternoon. But the UOC-MP declared that they were expecting the President at the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra.

“The bishops agreed to meet with the President and invited him to the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. Over time, the Presidential Administration began to propose other places for the meeting, but these places were absolutely unacceptable, because the conversation at this meeting with the President would concern church issues, the church organization, the future of the church – this is purely a church matter and the future of the church should not be for the president to decide,” UOC-MP speaker Archbishop Clement stressed.

Poroshenko did not go to the Lavra, telling the hierarchs that those who don’t want results, look for excuses to reject the process.

In the evening Poroshenko nevertheless met with representatives of the UOC-MP at the Ukrainian House. But only with those hierarchs who did not support the official decision of the Moscow Patriarchate. It’s unknown how many of them there are but the President’s Administration reported that there are more than three of such hierarchs. This signals that it is likely that some Moscow Patriarchate hierarchs will nevertheless take part in the unification council on the creation of a united Ukrainian church.

/Translated by Natalie Vikhrov