Romanian Synod establishes “Romanian Orthodox Church of Ukraine,” Ukrainian hierarch responds

Bucharest, March 4, 2024

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A number of important decisions were made during the session of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church held in Bucharest on February 29.

In particular, the bishops resolved to establish two new dioceses within the Metropolis of Western and Southern Europe, for those Romanian faithful living in Great Britain and Ireland and Iceland, reports the Basilica News Agency.

The Synod also declared 2025 to be the Commemorative Year of the Centenary of the Romanian Patriarchate and the Romanian Orthodox Spiritual Fathers and Martyrs of the 20th Century. Several great elders, theologians, and confessors will be canonized in 2025, including Elder Cleopa (Ilie), Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae, Elder Paisie (Olaru), Elder Dionisie (Ignat), and several others.

And in a decision that immediately proved controversial, the Synod announced the establishment of the “Romanian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.”

According to the Synodal report, the hierarchs:

Bless, encourage, and support the initiatives of the Romanian Orthodox communities in Ukraine to restore communion with the Mother Church, the Romanian Patriarchate, through their legal organization in the religious structure called the Romanian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Western Ukraine, specifically Bukovina, is home to a very old community of Romanians-Moldovans who consider this region to be their homeland. In modern times, the ancient region of Bukovina in Ukraine is mostly part of the Chernivtsi Province, where there are more than 100 Romanian parishes.

The fate of these Romanians living in Ukraine has been of concern to the Romanian Synod for at least several years now (see below), amidst the growing ecclesiastical schism that picked up steam in 2018-2019 with the creation of the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, and now the war in Ukraine with the accompanying state persecution of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The state’s fierce persecution of the sickly Metropolitan Longin of Bancheny, a stalwart hierarch, father of hundreds of orphan, and ethnic Romanian, has been especially alarming for the faithful in Romania and Moldova.

While the Romanian Synod’s decision from last week effects ethnic Romanians, the establishment of a such a structure in Ukraine could only be met with condemnation, as the encroachment on the canonical territory of another Church.

An unnamed source in the Russian Orthodox Church, in comments to RIA-Novosti, referred to it as “expansionism” and “incredibly ignoble in light of the persecution unleashed by the Kiev authorities against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”

And in comments to the Union of Orthodox Journalists, His Eminence Metropolitan Kliment of Nizhyn, head of the UOC’s Information-Education Department, spoke of the Romanian Synod’s decision against the background of the Ukrainian state’s plans to ban the UOC, saying:

With this decision, the Romanian Church has witnessed to the whole world about the fact of possible open state prohibitions and persecutions of the UOC, including Romanian-speaking parishes and monasteries in the Ukrainian territories adjacent to modern Romania.

By offering its jurisdiction to such ecclesiastical units, the Romanian Church states the obvious danger that they may be outlawed in Ukraine, or even worse—under a direct ban. This is a loud signal to the Ukrainian Parliament about how Ukrainian politics is seen in Europe, and what consequences it will have.

At the same time, he spoke about the threat that such a structure poses to Ukrainian Church and state territorial integrity.

It’s unclear whether this is about the idea of legal registration under Ukrainian laws, or whether such a structure has already been registered in Romania. In any case, it poses a danger not only to Church integrity but also to state sovereignty on Ukrainian territory historically associated with the Romanian state. There is no need to go far for examples. The same processes are already happening in the southern and eastern parts of our country.

But in all this, there is another most important factor—the faith and religious principles of those Orthodox ethnic Romanians to whom this tempting offer is addressed in the face of looming trials and possible persecutions. Anyone familiar with the actual Church situation in the Romanian-speaking regions of Ukraine will agree that precisely this factor, at this stage, leaves such an initiative with very few real prospects.

And true to form, Viktor Bed, a “bishop” of the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine,” which also considers Ukraine to be its rightful territory, said that the Romanian Synod’s decision proves that it is under the political sway of the Moscow Patriarchate and Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).

The Romanian Synod also stated concerning Moldova that it:

Reaffirms the fact that all Romanian Orthodox clerics and their pastors from the Republic of Moldova who return to the Metropolis of Bessarabia are canonical clerics and blessed believers, and any disciplinary sanction directed against them on the grounds of their membership of the Romanian Orthodox Church is considered null and void, according to synod decision no. 8090 of December 19, 1992.

Two overlapping canonical structures operate in Moldova: the Moscow Patriarchate’s Metropolis of Chișinău and All Moldova, and the Romanian Orthodox Church’s Metropolis of Bessarabia, which have essentially tolerated each other since the latter was reestablished in 1991 by a bishop formerly of the Russian Church’s structure.

However, since the start of the war in Ukraine, a number of clerics have left the Metropolis of Chișinău and joined the Metropolis of Bessarabia without a canonical release, and several have subsequently been defrocked by the authorities of the Russian Church’s structure. However, the Romanian Church’s structure, with the backing of the Romanian Holy Synod, does not recognize these canonical sanctions.


Recent history leading to the establishment of the “Romanian Orthodox Church in Ukraine”

At the Synodal session in February 2019, His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel spoke about the ecclesiastical tension in Ukraine and noted that there are 127 parishes in Ukraine with Romanian communities, calling on the Holy Synod to consider their pastoral care.

The Synod stated that in considering its stance on the Ukrainian ecclesiastical issue (the Romanian Church has never recognized the schismatic OCU), priority will be given to the consideration of the Romanian parishes.

Thus, the Synod said that it’s necessary to obtain written guarantees from the Church authorities that the Romanians’ ethnicity and language will be respected and that they will have the opportunity to organize into a Romanian vicariate and to cultivate their spiritual connection with the Romanian Patriarchate. The statement also mentions that a Ukrainian vicariate has operated in Romania since 1990.

“Metropolitan” Epiphany Dumenko, the head of the schismatic OCU, immediately said his group was willing to create a Romanian vicariate, which was reiterated by its Synod a few months later in July 2019, though the OCU did not have a single Romanian parish at that time and nothing seems to have come of these plans.

It was later reported that the schismatics were pressuring the Romanian-speaking faithful to join them, while at least some individual parishes had already declared their fidelity to the canonical UOC under His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine.

Then, in February 2023, a year after the start of the war in Ukraine, and with the increased persecution of the canonical Church from state authorities, the Romanian Synod reiterated its concern for the Romanian faithful in Ukraine:

Concerning the situation of the Romanian Orthodox parishes in the Northern Bukovina area, under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church firmly maintains its stance in favor of respecting the rights and freedoms of Romanian communities throughout Ukraine, just as Ukrainians are respected throughout Romania.

The issue is also of great concern to secular authorities in Romania. In January 2023, politician Gelu Visan went on TV to talk about the Ukrainian authorities’ “crimes against the servants of the Lord,” accusing President Zelensky of closing 100 Romanian churches and banning the Romanian language, despite all the help that Romania has given Ukraine throughout the ongoing war.

Another participant in the program recalled how priests are being physically attacked and the services interrupted, forcing the faithful to gather elsewhere. “These are real crimes they’re committing against the servants of the Lord,” she said.

There have even been calls from Romanian public and political organizations for His Eminence Metropolitan Longin of Bancheny to lead the Romanian-speaking parishes into the Romanian Patriarchate, due to Kiev’s initiative to ban the Ukrainian Church.

After this call, Romanian politician Dumitru Viorel Focșa visited Ukraine and interviewed Romanian clerics and faithful. “Romanian priests are being terrorized and forced to join the new political church, leaving the autonomous canonical Church of Ukraine,” Focșa said, adding that they remain loyal to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine and don’t want to join the Romanian Church.

The Security Service officers who are wreaking havoc in churches throughout the Chernivtsi-Bukovina Diocese use “Stalinist rhetoric without evidence, shameful and stupid,” summed up Focșa. “So I will report to the European Parliament Commission on Violence. Ukraine doesn’t know how to respect minorities, and the European Commission, the European Parliament should know what these Kiev politicians are doing.”

His Eminence Archbishop Viktor of Baryshevka, head of the canonical UOC’s representation to European international organizations, commenting on the situation at the time, wrote that if Ukraine does finally ban the canonical Church, then it would be no surprise if the Romanian clerics and faithful look to join the Romanian Church, which would be a clear signal to the world that there is discrimination and harassment going on in Ukraine.

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