Kiev, March 31, 2020
On March 18, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople announced the suspension of all Church services in all its dioceses throughout the world, although an exception was later made for clergy in America and other places to celebrate behind closed doors for the purpose of livestreaming. Originally lasting through March, this suspension has since been extended indefinitely.
Constantinople has dioceses in Turkey, Greece, and in the diaspora throughout the world, but there is now an attempt to enforce this decision in Ukraine as well.
Although the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a self-ruling autonomous Church within the Moscow Patriarchate, the National Police of Ukraine have been sending communiqués to the communities of the UOC, calling on them to comply with Constantinople’s order, reports the Legal Department of the Ukrainian Church.
In its letters, the National Police call to “implement the decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew expressed in the communiqué of the Ecumenical Patriarchate from March 18, 2020, which refers to the prohibition on all Divine Liturgies, church events, and rites in all its dioceses worldwide, for the preservation of the health and safety of the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, taking into account the decision of the local authorities on increased restrictions of freedom of movement and freedom of assembly for the duration of the quarantine.”
In response, Archpriest Alexander Bakhov, the head of the Church’s Legal Department, reminded that the Church is separate from the state, which means that no state authorities have the right to interfere in its internal life, “especially to distribute the decisions of an official of the Turkish Republic.”
His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine previously announced that the UOC’s parishes and monasteries will remain open.
Moreover, Fr. Alexander expressed confusion and surprise at the content of the letters: “Everyone tells us that the newly-created ‘Orthodox Church of Ukraine’ received autocephaly, which should mean that it makes its own decision about such things. And here police representatives are talking about the blessing of Patriarch Bartholomew, which everyone should fulfill. So is the OCU autocephalous or not?”