Kiev, August 16, 2019
A wave of discontent is reportedly sweeping through the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU), which could lead to a shakeup in the highest rungs of power.
Many bishops lament President Vladimir Zelensky’s rise to power. Whereas Petro Poroshenko repeatedly interfered in Church affairs and was personally involved in the creation of the OCU together with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Zelensky has declared a position of non-interference in Church affairs and has thus far stuck to it. He recently refused to sign an agreement with Patriarch Bartholomew that called for a continuation of Poroshenko’s policies.
Having lost state support, the OCU is suffering considerable losses. “Archbishop” Evstraty Zorya, formerly the faithful sidekick to “Patriarch” Philaret Denisenko in the “Kiev Patriarchate” (KP) and now loyal OCU speaker, even went so far as to make the bewildering claim that parish transitions from the canonical Church to the new OCU have ceased because of interference from Zelensky’s government.
OrthoChristian reported a month ago that no parishes had joined in the OCU in 2.5 months by that point.
Against this background, many have come to see the schismatic primate, “Metropolitan” Epiphany Dumenko, as an ineffective leader, concluding that they need a more strong-willed, determined, and authoritative head, reports the Ukrainian outlet Strana.ua with reference to its own sources in Church circles.
The main contender seems to be “Metropolitan” Mikhail Zinkevich of Lutsk and Volyn, who, interestingly, had been the main contender against Epiphany in the first place at the “unification council” held on December 15, until Philaret forced him to step aside in favor of the weaker Epiphany—Philaret’s protégé, whom he thought he could control.
“The main contender to be head of the OCU is Metropolitan Mikhail of Lutsk and Volyn, who enjoys good support from the main sponsors of the church,” the source said, adding that Zinkevich’s diocese still legally belongs to the KP, despite Dumenko’s earlier decree that all churches and dioceses be re-registered to the OCU, and despite the OCU Holy Synod’s decision to liquidate the KP.
The KP and the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” (UAOC) united into the OCU on December 15, after which began the long process of legally re-registering all their properties. However, many, such as those of Zinkevich, have never been transferred. On July 27, the Synod of the OCU resolved to liquidate the KP, though Philaret Denisenko remains determined to keep his KP alive, now officially separate from the OCU since the KP’s June 20 Local Council.
Meanwhile, Epiphany Dumenko is reportedly threatening all disgruntled bishops with excommunication though the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The tomos of autocephaly granted to the OCU on January 6 stipulates Constantinople’s leading role in important questions in the life of the OCU.
There is also unrest surrounding the recent cross processions for the feast of St. Vladimir the Great and the Baptism of Rus’ on July 27 and 28. The procession of the canonical Church, held on July 27, was 300,000 strong, while the schismatics’ procession the next day drew a mere 15,000, according to police estimates.
Rich Dnieper businessmen gave Zinkevich a considerable sum of money, believing he was a good organizer and could draw people in droves. However, when the comparative numbers for the processions came in, the financiers were furious. Zinkevich claimed, however, he had transferred all the money to Epiphany, and thus the blame lies with him.
If Epiphany is ultimately blamed, he could lose the support of the OCU’s main sponsors, who will likely then turn to back Zinkevich, leaving Epiphany with a sole ally in Poroshenko, who has been working to ensure the final dissolution of Philaret’s KP.