The Capture of Canonical Churches by Schismatics in Ukraine: Legal Analysis

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


After the so-called unification sobor was held and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was created with the active support of the president Poroshenko, the instances of temples of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] being captured became considerably frequent in Ukraine. The “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform analysed such instances and picked out a number of the legal points that must be observed when changing the canonical belonging of a parish.

According to article 13 of the Law of Ukraine “On the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations” (heron-in – the Law), a religious organisation is a legal entity that has rights and performs duties according to the current legislation and their charter (regulation).

In addition, the current law does not stipulate a procedure for changing the canonical belonging of a parish. Therefore, in addressing this issue it is necessary to use the general provisions of the Law and the Charter on the management of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (heron-in – the Charter).

The section VIII.G of the Charter assumes that a Parish assembly is the supreme body of parish management. Therefore all decisions on changing the canonical belonging of a parish, according to the general norms, must be accepted by persons who are legally a part of the Parish assembly.

Also, according to paragraph 31 of section VIII.G of the Charter, the composition of the Parish assembly should include clergymen and church officers, founders of the parish and also the laity, and members of this parish who regularly take part in the liturgical life of this parish and show Christian virtue. In addition, they should be adult age and must not be under a ban on serving in the holy service of a Church or criminal court of General jurisdiction.

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The transition must be approved by the diocesan bishop.

Since Law No. 4128 “On the introduction of amendments to the Law of Ukraine ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations'” has not yet been signed by the President of Ukraine, all actions bypassing the specified procedure fall under corpus delicti.

Human rights activists emphasise that the procedure of changing belonging is applicable only from the moment that the changes enter into force. After this, the decision to change subordination and to introduce the corresponding changes or additions to the Charter will be made by no less than two-thirds of the number of members of the religious community (criteria of membership must be written down in charters), necessary for the recognition of a general meeting of the religious community as authorised in accordance with its Charter (regulation). Also, all religious organisations will have to carry out the re-registration of their charters within a year.

Therefore, upon the first attempt to capture a temple, the human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta” strongly recommend to the parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to call the police and to write a statement concerning the illegal acts of “activists”.

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