Kiev, December 17, 2019
The Supreme Court of Ukraine has rejected the Ministry of Culture’s appeal to force the canonical Ukrainian Church to rename itself as the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, thus allowing it to retain the name it has been registered under for 30 years.
Two previous courts had already satisfied the application of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine to ban the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Culture, state registrars, and public and private notaries from carrying out any registrations or cancelations of registrations concerning 267 religious organizations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
As His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary, the chancellor of the Ukrainian Church, reported to the Ukrainian outlet Glavkom, the Supreme Court agreed with and upheld these previous decisions.
“The panel of judges agrees with the conclusions of the courts of the previous instances, who established that registration authorities are forbidden to undertake any actions of entering information on the Kiev Metropolis of the UOC and of its structural religious organizations into the state registry until a resolution of the dispute on the merits,” reads the Supreme Court’s decision.
The 267 religious organizations involved in the case include dioceses, monasteries, and theological seminaries, academies, and schools.
However, Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, the Deputy Head of the Russian Church’s Department for External Church Relations, has noted that this is not the final say in the matter.
“Of course, we evaluate this decision of the Supreme Court positively,” Fr. Nikolai told RIA-Novosti. “It testifies to the judges’ respect for the law and Constitution of Ukraine. However, in this case, we are not talking about the final decision on the forced renaming of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” he said, emphasizing that the court forbade the Ministry of Culture to start any unilateral actions on renaming the UOC until the Church’s claim against the Ministry is considered.
Under former President Poroshenko, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted a number of laws aimed against the canonical Ukrainian Church, including Bill No. 5309, according to which all religious organizations having governing bodies in an aggressor country must include the name of their parent organization in their titles. As Russia is officially considered an “aggressor country” by Ukraine, the bill would have forced the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to rename itself as the “Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” with the aim of persuading the Ukrainian people that the UOC is administered in Moscow, although it enjoys full administrative independence and is governed by Ukrainians in Kiev.
As Church authorities have successfully pointed out, there is no legal relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.
The law is widely acknowledged as a thinly-veiled attack on the canonical Church, facilitating the seizure of its parishes and monasteries. “Patriarch” Philaret Denisenko even openly stated how the law would be used to take the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras away from the UOC.
The Ministry of Culture set April 26, Holy Friday, as the last day for the Ukrainian Church to legally change its name, though several court decisions halted that process in the meantime. The Ukrainian Church brought its claim against the Ministry of Culture in March.
In July, the Sixth Kiev Administrative Court of Appeals dismissed the Ministry of Culture’s appeal against the Church on the matter.