New York, August 11, 2021
Earlier this month, the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, reposted an article that contains a number of misleading and false statements about the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The Archons is a group of prominent and influential laymen, dedicated to serving the Patriarchate and fighting for its survival in Turkey.
The article, “Religion as a Hybrid War Weapon to Achieve Russia’s Geopolitical Goals,” by Tetyana Zhurman was originally published by the Jamestown Foundation.
The Archons’ introduction refers to the article as a “uniquely enlightening analysis” that demonstrates how the Ukrainian Church is being used by Russian authorities in a “hybrid war” against Ukraine.
However, the article, in fact, contains a number of serious inaccuracies about the Ukrainian Church, the most serious of which is the incendiary charge that “The UOC-MP has been repeatedly rebuked and criticized for not officially condemning (and instead even supporting) Russia’s occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukrainian regions.”
After attributing a stance to the UOC as a whole, the article then speaks only of individual priests. The article linked for reference also speaks only of certain priests who have taken a pro-separatist stance concerning Donbass.
In a Church with millions of faithful and thousands of clerics, it is to be expected to find views that span the political spectrum, but the views of individuals are not those of the Church. The same can be said of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” that Constantinople supports, which has clerics like Alexander Dedyukhin, who has declared that the “aggressors” should simply be killed.
To the Archons’ credit, during the writing of this present article, they posted a statement on Facebook acknowledging this serious error in the Jamestown Foundation’s article:
UPDATE: It has come to our attention that the assertion of the Jamestown Foundation in the article below that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate did not oppose the Russian occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine is incorrect. The primate of that Church, Metropolitan Onuphry, actually wrote to Putin and Patriarch Kirill in 2014 protesting against that occupation.
For example, Met. Onuphry wrote to Pat. Kirill: “I appeal to you, Your Holiness, with a request to do everything possible to prevent bloodshed on the territory of Ukraine. I ask you to raise your voice about preserving the integrity of the territory of the Ukrainian state.”
The full text of his appeals to Pat. Kirill and President Putin can be read here.
And Ukrainian Church authorities have continually maintained this stance. In a December 2018 interview with Radio Liberty, His Eminence Archbishop Clement (Vecherya), the Chairman of the Church’s Synodal Information and Education Department, stated that the UOC “does not recognize the annexation of Crimea, condemns everything that is happening in Donbass, and has called on the head of the Russian state to stop this aggression. The UOC has repeatedly noted that it fully supports all the initiatives of the Ukrainian state regarding its determinations related to what is happening in eastern Ukraine.”
However, the Archons’ social media statement continues: “To the best of our knowledge, the other material in this article is accurate, and makes numerous important points regarding the Russian state and the Russian Church.”
But in an article about Russia using the autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church to further its geopolitical goals, the fact that the Church actually condemns those goals in Ukraine would seem to undercut the entire thesis.
The article includes several other inaccuracies. It begins by stating that in granting the tomos of autocephaly, Pat. Bartholomew gave the Ukrainian Church independence from the Russian Church. But the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that was part of the Russian Church remains part of the Russian Church and has several times declared that it has no interest in seeking autocephaly. The groups that were united and granted autocephaly were already independent from the Russian Church for 30 years. Rather, their schisms were essentially legitimized by Constantinople.
Zhurman also refers to a recent poll that claims the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” is more than twice the size of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but other surveys can be pointed with the opposite result, of course. The article also claims that the UOC has been shrinking in recent years, but the reality on the ground does not support this thesis. The UOC indisputably has by far the largest number of communities and monasteries, and those numbers have only been increasing, even as hundreds of parishes have been lost to seizure by the supporters of the OCU.
While some clerics and parishes did voluntarily leave the UOC and join the OCU, the vast majority that have “transferred” were physically and judiciously forced to do so. And a number of the churches seized now stand empty, as the OCU simply does not have the clerics or parishioners to make use of them, while the victimized communities continue to grow and actively build new churches.
And the fact that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was able to gather 350,000 faithful in Kiev on a Tuesday for the procession in honor of the Baptism of Rus’ is a testament to its size and vitality.
Further, Zhurman refers to “numerous incidents of local UOC-MP clerics refusing to conduct funeral services for Ukrainian soldiers killed on the front lines.” Again, with thousands of clerics, it is not inconceivable that some would take such an unfortunate stance. However, an important question is overlooked in both the Jamestown Foundation’s article and the article linked for reference: To which church did these soldiers belong? Clerics of the canonical UOC cannot serve funerals for parishioners of schismatic groups. This is an ecclesiological truth of all Orthodox Churches.
Similarly, in early 2018, a story spread through the media that a Ukrainian priest cruelly refused to serve the funeral for a young boy. However, the family in question belonged to the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate,” and as Ukrainian Church authorities noted, the priest was right to decline the service.
According to Zhurman, Ukrainian bishops have unleashed an “onslaught of disinformation.” The article casts doubt on the story of Bishop Gideon of Makarov, whose Ukrainian passport was seized when he returned from telling U.S. Congressmen about the persecution against the Ukrainian Church, forcing him to stay abroad for more than a year.
However, if Bp. Gideon’s story is “misinformation,” then it must be asked: Why did Ukrainian courts have to step in and order that his passport be returned to him?
Further, the article states that, “None of these appeals [from Ukrainian bishops to international organizations—OC] were taken into consideration by the West—another failure of Russia’s ‘religious’ policy.”
However, this is simply untrue, as the UN and other bodies have several times acknowledged that there is violence and persecution against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The article concludes: “Ukrainian officials will need to be on guard for possible outbreaks of new clashes in the occupied territories and the rest of the country that coincide with the upcoming visit of Bartholomew I of Constantinople to Ukraine—another great outrage for the Kremlin.”
In this, Zhurman is correct—the Ukrainian Church itself has warned several times that the Patriarch’s upcoming visit is likely to bring new waves of violence from the nationalists who will take his presence as a call to action against the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful and their churches.