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19 December, 2018

Resilience before the Assembly

The significance and challenges of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

On December 2018, the unifying Sobor or Assembly was took place. It declared autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, adopt the Church Charter and elect its leader. Shortly after, the Ecumenical Patriarch will conduct a solemn mass with the elected leader of the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) at the Fener. The granting of the tomos, the certificate of autocephaly, will follow.  

This will complete the establishment and recognition of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The process of granting autocephaly started proactively after the talks between President Poroshenko and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and is now drawing to a successful result. 

The meaning of this development will be recognized with time. But in the last days before the Sobor, when church hierarchs are discussing the draft Charter and finalizing the procedure of the Unification Sobor, Ukraine is facing a desperate attack from Moscow and pro-Moscow entities against the right to its proper Orthodox Church. They use all traditional tools, including lies, intimidation and threats. 

Patriarch Kirill’s laconic “We cannot let this happen” is probably the best expression of Russia’s attitude to the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church. He has also mentioned other Russki Mir-style stories where autocephaly supporters are portrayed as people “filled with rage” wanting to “destroy the life of others”. Hilarion, the head of the Russian Church’s external relations, claims that Ukraine is gaining autocephaly “against the will of the people”. Understandably, he has to find some way to justify his failure on the Ukrainian issue. All of his efforts, including an express tour of different National Churches, have failed. Virtually no National Churche opposed the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Kirill, too, failed in his attempts to “solve the issue” with Bartholomew because the Ecumenical Patriarchate understands the situation in Ukraine too well.  

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Most citizens in Ukraine support UOC independence. Security and enforcement services have received clear instructions on preventing and stopping provocations. Martial law currently enacted in Ukraine can make their actions more effective. A ban for male Russian citizens to enter Ukraine has blocked opportunities to quickly bring “the faithful” from there. 

This leaves Moscow with few tools of leverage. Still, it will try all of them. The information assault is in full swing. Since there is no real oppression of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine, some actors make them up, stimulate and try to amplify claims of it. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate hierarchs and clergy, who plan to take part in the Unification Sobor, are facing huge pressure. Efforts are taken to inject “they will not reach any compromise” ideas, statements of those involved in the process are manipulated, and attempts are made to fuel a conflict. 

This time, however, this assault can be countered. The Ecumenical Patriarch has stated clearly that he will immediately restore the current clerical status of all those whom the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate tries to “prohibit” or “remove from cathedra” after the Sobor. Moreover, Bartholomew’s public letter to Onufriy, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, shows that he will soon have to think about his own status.  

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Any attempts of forceful pressure against hierarchs or the clergy are being stopped and will be stopped by law enforcers and activists. Civic support for the autocephalous Church is the best answer and guarantee for whose who want to join the establishment of it. 

Many things have happened for the first time in Ukraine over the past four years. We now have more proof of vicious circles broken down despite looking unbreakable due to some features viewed as intrinsic to Ukrainians, including the inability to follow leadership or to find internal compromise, and dependence on external influence. 

Quite soon, another vicious circle will be broken. This one will be in the critically important sphere of Ukraine’s spiritual independence.

Translated by Anna Korbut 

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