Council of UOC strengthens UOC independence, considers making Chrism, expresses disagreement with Patriarch

Kiev, May 27, 2022     

Following this morning’s meeting of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s bishops with representatives of the clergy, monastics, and laity, an extraordinary session of the Holy Synod was held, followed by a meeting of the Council of Bishops, which is broader than the Holy Synod, including all hierarchs of the UOC.

Finally, a Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was then held.

A Council is the highest administrative body of the UOC, also consisting of the hierarchs, and clerical, monastic, and lay representatives. While the morning’s meeting was consultative, a Council is empowered to make major decisions affecting the Church’s life.

Among its many duties, the statutes of the Ukrainian Church task a Council of the UOC with:

  • “the preservation of the purity and integrity of Orthodox doctrine and norms of Christian morality;”
  • “the preservation of the canonical unity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as well as its canonical unity with the Russian Orthodox Church and with all Local Orthodox Churches;”
  • “solving fundamental theological, canonical, liturgical, and pastoral issues concerning the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”

The Council issued a number of resolutions, including a condemnation of the fratricidal war, disagreement with Patriarch Kirill’s position on the war, what’s necessary for there to be any dialogue with the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine,” and declarations of the increased independence of the UOC.

Notably, the possibility of the UOC making Chrism was discussed. In the Russian tradition, making Chrism is typically seen as one of the foremost signs of autocephaly, although this was not only the case. Chrism was made for centuries in both Moscow and Kiev, and in fact in other diocesan centers. Chrism was last made in the Kiev Caves Lavra in 1913.

The Council ended with memorial prayers for those who have died during war.

The Council’s resolutions read in full:

  1. The council condemns the war as a violation of God’s commandment Thou shalt not kill! (Ex. 20:13) and expresses its condolences to all those who have suffered in the war.
  2. The council appeals to the authorities of Ukraine and the authorities of the Russian Federation to continue the negotiation process and search for a strong and reasonable word that could stop the bloodshed.
  3. We express our disagreement with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia regarding the war in Ukraine.
  4. The Council adopted relevant amendments and additions to the Statutes on the administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, indicating the full autonomy and independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
  5. The Council approves the resolutions of the Councils of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and decisions of the Holy Synods of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that met in the period since the last Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (July 8, 2011). The Council approves the activities of the Chancellery and Synodal institutions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
  6. The Council considered the restoration of making Chrism in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
  7. During the period of martial law, when relations between dioceses and the central Church leadership are complicated or absent, the Council considers it expedient to grant diocesan bishops the right to independently make decisions on certain issues of diocesan life that fall within the competence of the Holy Synod or the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, with the subsequent informing of the hierarchy, when the opportunity is restored.
  8. Recently, our Church has faced a particularly acute new pastoral challenge. During the three months of the war, more than 6 million Ukrainian citizens were forced to go abroad. These are mainly Ukrainians from the southern, eastern, and central provinces of Ukraine. A significant part of them are believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Therefore, the Kiev Metropolitanate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church receives appeals from different countries with requests to open Ukrainian Orthodox parishes. It’s obvious that many of our compatriots will return to their homeland, but many will remain for permanent residence abroad. In this regard, the Council expresses its deep conviction that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church cannot leave its faithful without spiritual care, must be close to them in their trials, and organize church communities in the diaspora. It’s necessary to further develop the mission abroad among Orthodox Ukrainians in order to preserve their faith, culture, language, and Orthodox identity.
  9. Realizing its special responsibility to God, the Council expresses its deep regret over the lack of unity in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. It’s particularly disappointing that the recent actions of the Patriarch of Constantinople in Ukraine, which resulted in the formation of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine,” only deepened misunderstandings and led to physical confrontation. But even in such crisis circumstances, the Council doesn’t lose hope for the resumption of dialogue. In order for the dialogue to take place, representatives of the OCU need to:
    • stop the forcible seizures of churches and forced transfers of parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
    • realize that their canonical status, as it is fixed in the “Statutes of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine,” is actually not autocephalous and is significantly inferior to the freedoms and opportunities in the implementation of Church activities provided for in the Statutes on the administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
    • to resolve the issue of the canonicity of the OCU hierarchy, because for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as for most Local Orthodox Churches, it’s quite obvious that in order to recognize the canonicity of the OCU hierarchy, it’s necessary to restore the Apostolic Succession of its bishops.

The Council expresses its deep conviction that the key to the success of the dialogue mustn’t be only a desire to restore Church unity, but also a sincere desire to build one’s life on the principles of Christian conscience and moral purity.

10. Summing up the results of the work carried out, the Council offers a prayer of thanksgiving to the merciful Lord for the opportunity for fraternal communion and expresses hope for an end to the war and the reconciliation of the warring parties. According to the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the theologian, may we all, especially our brothers and sisters in the Risen Christ, have grace … mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love (2 Jn. 1:3).

While the resolutions don’t specify how the UOC statutes were amended to reflect its full independence (§4), Archpriest Nikolai Danilevich, Deputy Head of the UOC’s Department for External Church Relations, comments:

The UOC disassociated itself from the Moscow Patriarchate and confirmed its independent status, and made appropriate changes to its statutes.

All references to the connection of the UOC with the Russian Orthodox Church have been removed from the statutes. In fact, in their content, the UOC statutes are now those of an autocephalous Church.

It’s unclear to what degree Fr. Nikolai’s comments are to be taken literally. Recall that according to the statutes of the Russian Orthodox Church, only a Local Council of the Russian Church, which consists of bishops plus clerical, monastic, and lay representatives, can grant autocephaly to a Church body within the Russian Church. When the Ukrainian Holy Synod decided earlier this month to hold a meeting of the bishops, clerics, monastics, and laity, it specified that “the discussion on this or that issue should not lead to going beyond the canonical field and should not lead to new divisions in the Church of Christ.”

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Steve6/4/2022 5:39 pm
Gail, this statement of repentance of Archbishop Lazar was simply what the OCA Holy Synod required for reconciliation. Sometimes a statement of repentance is required, but sometimes it isn't. In the case of the "Kievan Patriachate", Constantinople only required its dissolution, and indeed that's exactly what happened. The terms of reconciliation vary from case to case and according to the bishop being reconciled to. At any rate, it's pointless to talk about the "validity" of ordinations outside of the Orthodox Church. What's more to the point is whether a non-canonical bishop actually has an Orthodox formation. If they have an Orthodox formation, then the Orthodox bishop they reconcile to, by the grace of reconciliation gives them anything lacking, including apostolic succession. We can see that's what happened just recently with the previously schismatic Macedonian Orthodox Church.
Gail Sheppard6/1/2022 12:38 am
Steve, Archbishop Lazar repented. "2002: In a "Repentant Declaration" addressed to the Holy Synod of the OCA, dated 10/21/2002, Archbishop Lazar stated "I wish to express my sincere regret and repentance for my years of involvement in Orthodox Church bodies outside the Canonical Orthodox Church. While my long involvement with schismatic bodies such as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, the Greek Old Calendarist bodies and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev, was well-intentioned and motivated by a love of Orthodoxy, it was an error. I deeply regret this error and sincerely repent for it."
Alex5/31/2022 4:34 am
Steve, Mother Cornelia is correct! If the 'OCU' wants to return to unity with the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, then they would first have to seriously REPENT, then be ORDAINED and CONSECRATED by genuine hierarchs with genuine apostolic succession. The TRUE Church of Ukraine headed by the saintly Met. Onufriy would be the right direction for the 'OCU' to go!
m. Cornelia5/30/2022 9:16 am
Steve: That's the way it sounds to you (not sure based on what) but in fact, the ordinations of some of the "hierarchs" of the OCU are so uncanonical that they are not strictly speaking even schismatics, because they were never in the Church in the first place. The "economia" shown by Pat. Bartholomew is so disputable, that a truly pan-Orthodox Council would simply have to overthrow it. Plus, please be aware that the Ukrainian bishops know much more about the situation in their own country than you or I ever could. Moreover Met. Onuphry has a solid theological education. Guided by the Holy Spirit, they will have to work it out themselves.
Steve5/29/2022 10:52 pm
Mother Cornelia, it sounds to me that the main obstacle presented by the UOC-MP Council is the perception that the OCU doesn't have apostolic succession. This obstacle can easily be dismissed. In 2018, Constantinople sent two exarchs to Ukraine to reconcile with the Ukrainian schismatics. By economia and the grace of reconciliation, the schismatics were received into the Orthodox church. Apostolic succession thus comes from the two exarchs of Constantinople who reconciled them. This is also consistent with Russian Orthodox practice, such as with 1946 Council of Lvov, and the OCA's reception of Archbishop Lazar Puhalo.
m. Cornelia5/29/2022 11:48 am
Steve: On what are you basing your claim that the UOC is now "open to dialogue" with the OCU? They have always been open to dialogue, but the basis for canonical communion was always and still remains repentance on the part of the schismatics--to their mother Church, and not to Constantinople, which still canonically should have nothing to do with it until these conditions are met. Despite all that has been written to explain these things, you are still stuck in your wrong ecclesiology.
Sorin5/29/2022 6:58 am
It would be nice if they would get autocephaly. This is the case where EP should intervene. Not to create ex-schismatic proxy Church for EP in Ukraine. But probably nobody will give autocephaly to UOC. Both EP and ROC destroyed the Orthodoxy in Ukraine with their political moves. Only God knows what can be done to save the Ukrainian Orthodoxy.
Steve5/28/2022 10:09 pm
This is a very positive step. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is finally being open to dialogue with the OCU, listing the three main obstacles for intercommunion and a possible merger. Fortunately, Patriarch Bartholomew left the door open for a Ukrainian Patriarchate. That itself might be the pathway for settling these obstacles.
Alex5/28/2022 4:35 pm
m. Cornelia is correct. Let's stop being armchair quarterbacks (or observers), and see what happens. The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church is under tremendous pressure. We must pray for them!
Andrew5/28/2022 3:12 pm
Dionysius, I wish to answer your question: Ukrainians ARE, in fact, currently fleeing to countries with hardly any Orthodox churches - compared to the number of Ukrainians that are arriving. Let's take Poland for example. The Polish Orthodox Church has a membership numbered in the hundreds of thousands. But several *million* Ukrainians have fled to Poland. Not all those who have fled are Orthodox, of course, but enough of them are that they probably outnumber the Polish Orthodox by now. So, there are nowhere near enough Orthodox churches in Poland to accommodate them. And the same story will be repeated throughout the rest of Europe and maybe even America (if a lot of Ukrainians arrive here eventually). Ukrainians need churches in the countries where they have fled not for nationalistic reasons, but because those countries really have "hardly any" Orthodox churches, compared to the numbers of Ukrainian faithful they are receiving. And then there's the matter of language. 99% of Ukrainians don't speak Polish. Or Slovak, or Romanian, or German, etc. Most do not speak English either. How can they participate in church life in a church whose language they do not speak?
Ioann5/28/2022 11:13 am
In 1448 the Russians elected by their own “Metropolitan of All Russia” declaring themselves to be autocephalous, no longer ruled by Constantinople. After more than a century passed, Constantinople recognized the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1589. On May 27, 2022, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church made a similar 1448-style move and will wait as long as takes for the rest of the Church to recognize its autocephaly. I don’t think that this recognition will take anywhere near a century to happen.
m. Cornelia5/28/2022 10:33 am
Please, let's all show understanding and support for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is under tremendous pressure, even persecution in their country. There are many very wise men on their synod, possibly the wisest being Metropolitan Onufry himself. And they are solidly Orthodox--that much is clear given their firm stance throughout these difficult years. I personally trust that they will make the right decision. It is all in God's hands.
Alexander Nevsky5/28/2022 5:30 am
They are not doing this because it's natural, they are doing this because they are caving to the Pressure of Secular authorities
Archpriest John C Kassatkin5/28/2022 2:30 am
Please explain why today's action of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is not schismatical? I can not think of any Canon (of Law) that would describe the end result of being Canonical! ARCHPRIEST JOHN C KASSATKIN
Nikolai5/28/2022 2:17 am
The "mazepa" gene has arisen once again. It is now only a matter of time for the UOC.
Alexei5/28/2022 2:01 am
Demonic posturing by the Ukrainian church, how sad.
D5/27/2022 10:14 pm
Mostly these seem like positive developments, but I still do not grasp the Orthodox obsession with nations and nationalism. Why is it important for diaspora Ukrainians to have Ukrainian churches (as opposed to cultural centres) to 'preserve their language and culture'? Why would living abroad cause anyone to lose their 'faith and Orthodox identity'? Perhaps if they were fleeing to some place with hardly any Orthodox inhabitants this would be a reasonable concern, but are many Ukrainian refugees really going to such countries? Are they not going to Eastern or Western Europe, or perhaps to America? While recent accusations that Russia espouses a 'heresy' called the Russian World are slightly exaggerated, there is no doubt that many Russians, Ukrainians, Greeks, and others have an attachment to their respective earthly homelands that, even when it does not lead to wars and massacres, can hardly be considered spiritually healthy and comes very close to heresy. --Dionysius Redington
Zakarpattia Oblast5/27/2022 10:11 pm
@John You know that the government in the Ukraine is about to outlaw them, right? They're doing all they can to stay legal and avoid persecution.
Ioann5/27/2022 9:48 pm
Слава Ісусу Христу! Слава навіки!
Ioann5/27/2022 9:45 pm
Слава Богу! Glory be to God!
John5/27/2022 9:23 pm
The Russian Church ought to read the writing on the wall. Regardless of the actual changes to the UOC's charter, the UOC has now distanced itself from Moscow as much as it can without going into schism. The right thing to do is grant the UOC autocephaly. No matter how the war ends, the Church of Russia will never win back the hearts of the UOC faithful. Let Metropolitan Onuphry pastor his flock without this albatross around his neck. I have largely supported Russia in this conflict, but the pastoral thing to do now is to let the Ukrainian Church go its own way.
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