Istanbul, December 2, 2020
Increased pressure against the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church is expected in the coming months leading up to Patriarch Bartholomew’s planned visit to Ukraine next August, as mentioned by the Chancellor of the UOC and others.
The Patriarch announced his impending visit during his meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on Monday.
The UOC Chancellor, His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony of Brovary and Boryspil, emphasized the strong possibility that the Patriarch’s visit will bring renewed vigor to the schismatics who violently seize churches from the Orthodox faithful, often leaving bloody and beaten clergy, monastics, and old women in their wake.
The Patriarch should come look these believers in the eyes and tell them how much peace he brought them, the Metropolitan said.
However, the faithful of the UOC should not fear, he added, because the Orthodox Church always proves victorious in the end.
During the same meeting on Monday, PM Shmyhal also declared to the Patriarch that the Ukrainian state financially supports the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”
According to the official site of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers: “Denys Shmyhal stressed that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is a reliable partner of state institutions in matters of social and humanitarian service. The state, for its part, supports the active social activity of the church and provides it with full social and economic support within legally justified and possible limits.”
And while the Ukrainian constitution stipulates separation of church and state, the PM also thanked the Patriarch for granting autocephaly to the OCU “and for supporting the process of its recognition by other Local Churches.”
Unsurprisingly, Shmyhal’s statement caused waves. People’s Deputy and member of the Committee for Economic Development Nikolai Skorik has sent an official request to the PM, asking him to explain his statement to the Patriarch, given the fact that the state is to be separate from religious structures.
And while the overall situation has improved for the UOC under President Zelensky, who does not pursue his predecessor’s aggressive policy of persecution, the UOC nevertheless still feels this double standard in comparison with the schismatic OCU and other faiths, His Grace Bishop Viktor of Baryshevka, the head of the UOC’s Representation to European International Organizations, said in a recent interview with the Greek outlet news-politics.com.
The current situation is characterized by the attempts of politicians at the highest levels to legally restrict the UOC and create advantages for Constantinople’s OCU, the bishop explained. This includes a block on the legal registration of certain diocesan and monastery statutes and the law according to which the UOC must change its name to the “Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” which, although it has been halted by the courts for now, the Parliament is refusing to cancel.
“This is done in order to bully our believers, to create an image of pro-Russian forces, which will allow them to play on military sentiments, inciting hatred and hostility to our people, seizing churches and transferring them to the OCU promoted by nationalist and radical politicians,” His Grace explained. The main problem right now is the impunity of those who publicly carry out these seizures, even when their deeds are caught on camera, Bp. Viktor said.
Moreover, the visit with the Patriarch on Monday also portends the strong possibility of a change in state policy towards the UOC given the members of the delegation, comments the “Pastor and Flock” Telegram channel, representing the UOC’s official journal:
During the visit to the Phanar, the Ukrainian delegation included the known hater of the UOC Andrei Yurash. There is no doubt that he was not only a participant, but also the main initiator (or one of them) of this trip.
Yurash, we recall, dealt with religious issues under Poroshenko. His main task, in fact, was to hinder the activities of the UOC on the territory of Ukraine. Under the new government, he was dismissed from office, though he has apparently been resuscitated now.
What does this mean for the UOC? What we should expect is an abrupt change of policy on the part of the authorities, from a delicate and nominal neutrality to open persecution. Yurash doesn’t just go to the Phanar...
And Ukrainian Orthodox analyst Alexander Voznesensky suggests: “In the context of these statements, it is likely that some external forces have set the task for the Ukrainian authorities to suppress the UOC by August of next year and have the OCU declared the sole state church.”
“I think that in the very near future, a whole series of aggressive attacks against the UOC will begin, with the authorities as the initiators or supporters of such actions,” the analyst concludes.