Constantinople is violating its own call to refrain from church seizures.
Vinnitsa, Ukraine, December 21, 2018
The Holy Transfiguration Cathedral in Vinnitsa will remain under his control as a hierarch of Ukraine’s newly-created nationalist church, Simeon Shostasky explained during the evening service in the cathedral on Monday, December 17, reports the Vinnitsa news agency Vezhna.
Moreover, as Simeon explained, he received a letter from Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople investing him with such authority over the local diocese and the local faithful.
Simeon was formerly the Metropolitan of Vinnitsa and Bar of the canonical Ukrainian Church but he abandoned the Church by attending Saturday’s “unification council” and uniting himself to the schismatic structure created there.
He has already been officially suspended and removed and replaced in the administration of the diocese by the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
On Saturday morning, in preparation for Simeon’s participation in the “council,” the keys to the cathedral were seized from the on-duty guard by several young men who then set themselves up as the guards. The church remained open but was filled with these men and employees of the Security Service of Ukraine, and has remained under Simeon’s control since then, as has the diocesan website.
The canonical administration of the Vinnitsa Diocese, headed by Simeon’s replacement His Eminence Archbishop Barsanuphius (Stolyar) of Vinnitsa and Bar, formerly of Borodianka, has opened a new site on Facebook.
As Simeon explained at the service on Monday, the faithful will not be able to control the fate of their cathedral as they did following Ukraine’s independence in 1991, as it belongs to the state as a monument of national importance.
With the unfolding reality in Vinnitsa, Constantinople is violating and negating its own announcement from October 11 when the Synod resolved to accept the Ukrainian schismatics and to take the entirety of Ukraine under its omophorion, in its view. The fifth point of the Synod’s decree reads:
To appeal to all sides involved that they avoid appropriation of Churches, Monasteries and other properties, as well as every other act of violence and retaliation, so that the peace and love of Christ may prevail.
“The situation with our cathedral is different from that with newly-built churches that aren’t monuments of local or national importance. Our cathedral and the entire complex belong to the monuments of architecture of national importance, and we are the tenants of this space. We have concluded a security agreement with the state and we can be here based on these rights,” the former metropolitan explained.
“A change in canonical status of the organization cannot affect this agreement,” Simeon added. “It’s not mine; it belongs to the state, and the state has the right to defend it,” he explained.
Simeon also told those in the church that he had received a letter from Pat. Bartholomew confirming his authority as a representative of the new church in Vinnitsa and placing all the local believers under his omophorion.
Alexander Drabinko, the former Metropolitan of Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky and Vishnev, who also broke his episcopal oath and abandoned the Church of Christ to join the new schismatic structure, received an analogous letter.
However, despite Constantinople’s sweeping declaration on behalf of all the faithful in Vinnitsa, Simeon himself has acknowledged that the majority of the diocese does not support him. In an interview with the Ukrainian site hromadske.ua earlier this week, the former Vinnitsa hierarch acknowledged: “Currently, the majority in the diocese of Vinnitsa, apparently, do not support the idea of an autocephalous Church.”
More than half of the clergy, choir members, and faithful gathered in the cathedral on Sunday left the church in protest as Simeon announced his betrayal. Many of those who remained are believed to have been gathered under pressure to show their “support” for Simeon, whether genuine or not. The Union of Orthodox Journalists has reported that state employees in Vinnitsa have been pressured to attend every service in the cathedral since Saturday evening under threat of firing.
Additionally, while about a third of the priests of the diocese initially threw their support behind Simeon, 45 of those 75 soon rejected their decision and returned to the Church, many of them coming out to joyfully greet their new hierarch Abp. Barsanuphius.
Further, the press service of the canonical Vinnitsa Diocese has since reported that, all told, only 6 priests and 3 deacons have departed into schism with Simeon. The most authoritative priests and deans of Vinnitsa and the diocese’s monasteries have refused to follow their wayward former bishop.
Thus, despite Constantinople’s attempt to control the allegiance of the entirety of the Vinnitsa faithful and to invest Simeon with authority over them, he has very little support in his former diocese. Thus, it has become clear that when Simeon says “we” are the tenants of the cathedral, he is referring to himself and a handful of clergy, with Constantinople’s backing. The will of the people is ignored and negated.
Simeon has also announced that the Cabinet of Ministers will soon make a decision about re-registering other churches of the canonical Church to the schismatic church.
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