The newly formed Ukrainian Orthodox Church has finally received its anticipated Tomos of Autocephaly. This historic document, handed over by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul on January 6, formalizes the Ukrainian Church’s independence and legitimacy. And while the creation of an independent and united Ukrainian Orthodox Church may be one of the most important moments in the country’s religious history, it was Ukraine’s politicians that have been the driving force behind it.
However, according to Professor at Loyola Marymount University Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, it would be misrepresentative to say that Church independence is an achievement of the state.
“The Ukrainian state just facilitated or helped the Ukrainian believers, Ukrainian society, to achieve this goal In theological terms, we have this word "synergy" – cooperation between the body of the church, the people, the faithful and the Ukrainian state, who work together towards getting independence for the Ukrainian Church,” Hovorun told Hromadske.
Professor at Loyola Marymount University Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun speaks to Hromadske on January 6. Photo: HROMADSKE
What’s more, the motivation behind the push for autocephaly has been different for both the church and state, which is officially secular. However, this is not necessarily an issue, as Hovorun comments.
“For the Ukrainian state, it was obviously a response to Russian aggression,” he said. “For the Church, it was a way to heal the split, the division, what we call the schism within the Orthodox Church. And it was a nice combination of two goals that contributed to this common goal.”
And the role of Ukraine’s politicians in the creation of a new Orthodox Church is not over yet. There is currently a draft law pending in the parliament on regulating the way in which parishes transition to the new church and also safeguards the rights of the communities which want to remain part of the Moscow Patriarchate.
“The process of changing their affiliation will depend very much on that law, on its implementation and the way how the state will enforce order and will protect the choice of the communities, because one thing is when the state encourages and interferes in church matters and maybe forces communities to join the new church, which would be wrong,” Hovorun commented.
But that’s as far as the state’s role goes, according to Hovorun. There is the danger that creation of an independent church, which Hovorun describes as a form of emancipation, is seen as a purely nationalistic move.
“I'm personally worried, if this process of emancipation will end up in the process of nation building, encouraging or enforcing nationalist movements and nationalist groups, not really the civil society, the groups that forced civil changes,” Hovorun told Hromadske.