Moscow, May 24, 2017
A number of hierarchs throughout the world have expressed their opposition to the two bills recently proposed in Ukraine, that would significantly hinder, if not forbid, the activity of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Among the vocal hierarchs have been several primates of Local Churches, as well as local hierarchs.
The first bill, No. 4511, “On the special status of religious organizations with headquarters located in states recognized by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine as aggressor states,” proposes that such religious organizations be able to appoint metropolitans and bishops only in agreement with the governing authorities. The same bill also gives the government the right to forbid a confession if its representatives cooperate with religious centers in “aggressor states.”
No specific denominations are mentioned in the bill, but only the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) meets all the criteria listed.
The second bill, No. 4128, practically proposes to legalize raiding churches. The document introduces the term “self-identification” and clarifies the minimum number of representatives of a religious community needed to decide to change membership to an active Ukrainian religious center.
His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East expressed his support for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church in a letter to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, reports the Information Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
“We condemn any move that would affect the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people, and we also strongly condemn any step which affects the independence, reliability, integrity, and freedom of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” His Beatitude writes.
The proposed laws are “aimed at increasing tensions and changing the identity of Ukrainian society,” the patriarch believes.
Joining his brother bishop, Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and All Africa has also voiced his support for the Ukrainian faithful and his opposition to the proposed parliamentarian bills in a May 23 letter to Pat. Kirill.
“The state cannot adopt laws about the Church on its own without the participation of the Church itself, especially in a country that claims to respect European values,” the African primate writes. In his opinion, Ukrainian leadership needs to “take a neutral position and not be controlled by irresponsible nationalist circles.”
On behalf of the entire Church in Africa, Pat. Theodoros voices his support for the canonical Ukrainian Church “in the struggle for the preservation of the inviolable privileges of the Orthodox communities of Ukraine,” condemning any such legislative decisions by the Ukrainian parliament as “invalid.”
In a letter to the chairman of the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada, Metropolitan Rostislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia writes that adopting such laws would undermine the foundations of religious freedom and equality of churches and religious organizations in Ukraine, and would raise tensions and cause instability in Ukrainian Society, reports the UOC’s Information Department.
“The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the sole canonical Orthodox Church on the territory of Ukraine. Our Local Churches are not connected by territorial boundaries, but they are deeply connected by close historical relations,” the primate writes. “We perceive very close to the heart what is happening with our brothers in Ukraine today, and are worried about the future of holy Orthodoxy and the canonical Church. We are deeply concerned about the intention of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine,” he continued, expressing the deep love that exists between the Local Orthodox Churches.
“Your Excellency,” Met. Rostislav writes, “praying to the Lord, we demand the withdrawal of these bills.”
Several other hierarchs, including Metropolitan Pavel of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, and a number of hierarchs in the Ukrainian and Moscow Churches have also spoken out against the dangerous bills.