Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The situation with the process of granting autocephaly to a Ukrainian local church is heating up.
The unifying episcopal sobor, during which Constantinople plans to unite the Ukrainian orthodox churches (and then give Tomos of autocephaly), will take place no earlier than December – and maybe even later. Such a statement was made by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. This is partly the consequence of the disagreement of the vast majority of bishops of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) about their participation in the unification.
As a reminder, on November 13th the president Petro Poroshenko refused to be present at the Hierarchal sobor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] at the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, insisting on the need for priests to come to a location that is convenient for him – the premises of the International Convention Center. After the members of the sobor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] refused to change the meeting place at the request of the president, the Security Service of Ukraine started inviting some bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] for “talks” or “conversations”.
Thus, on November 19th the SBU summoned Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye and Melitopol for questioning. “Employees of the SBU told me that because I often travel outside of the borders of Ukraine I have to be on guard – something can be suddenly transferred, asked, or offered to me. So that there are no provocations”. The Metropolitan told the Union of Orthodox Journalists after his meeting that, according to him, “representatives of the SBU asked him, whenever possible, to report to them if such attempts are made”.
In the evening of November 19th the SBU also took the priest of the Vinnytsia diocese Nikolay Dudnik for an interrogation. As the head of legal department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] archpriest Aleksandr Bakhov reported, the priest was released after being interrogated for several hours. The details of the “communication” with the employees of the SBU are still unknown. The Vinnytsia priest’s refusal to sign a document in support of a united local church (ULC) may be the reason for his detention.
According to the head of the legal department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed], after the latest events surrounding the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed], such behaviour by employees of the Security Service of Ukraine “is rather expected, even indicative”. The representative of the Church pays attention to the fact that “procedural law doesn’t contain such forms of communication as ‘talks’ or ‘conversations'”.
The SBU wasn’t able to confirm if any actions with the episcopate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] were carried out. “We have no information about such conversations taking place, therefore we can’t comment,” said the speaker of the SBU Elena Gitlyanskaya to the journalists of the “Vesti” publication.
Also, according to the head of the legal department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed], the employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs have become more active over the last few months. “District police officers go to temples and deaneries and ask priests to show them what relics and shrines are being stored in their temples. There were such cases in the Nikolaev and Chernigov regions. I was even personally called by the local police inspector from the Darnitsky district and asked what relics there are in the temple, having referred to the corresponding instruction from his leadership, almost saying ‘we want to protect you from radicals’,” said Bakhov to “Vesti”, having specified that in some areas district police officers even photograph shrines and include them in a certain list. The Ministry of Internal Affairs confirmed that it held discussions with priests and parishioners as a preventive measure.
Nevertheless, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] believes that this is connected to the second round of “inventory”. As a reminder, in September-October the Ministry of Culture gave the order to carry out the “inventory” of the cultural values stored in the temples of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed].
On November 15th it became known that the police in the Ternopol region initiated a criminal case concerning the transferral of constructions by the Pochayev Svyato-Uspensky Lavra to the use or tenancy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed]. We are talking about the cathedral, the belltower, the monastic cells, the hierarchal house — in total 7,000 sq.m of constructions. Earlier the deputy of the Pochayev city council Taras Palyanitsa declared that the transfer of six constructions of the Pochayev monastery to the use of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] until 2052 was illegal.
The website of the Pochayev Svyato-Uspensky Lavra published the appeal of the brethren to all who deliberately create hostility and an interfaith standoff between the people. “The attempt of the reserve to register its religious buildings as the property of the reserve failed,” it is said in the appeal. “They were refused registration by the State Registrar on the grounds that these structures were removed from the reserve by the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 483 from July 17th, 2003”.
Having been refused registration, the Ministry of Culture appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office to check the transfer of cult buildings to the Lavra for its free use. “So-called ‘activists’ gather in Ternopol in order to ‘develop measures to prevent the transfer of the constructions of the Pochayev Lavra to the Moscow Patriarchate’. It sounds like nonsense, but it is happening and nobody wants to know that these buildings are state property and nobody except the state owns them or has them at their disposal,” wrote the Pochayev Lavra. “The actions of government structures testify that everything is connected to the order of certain political forces and the attempt to create a united local church, and, in fact, the canonical Orthodox Church and apostolic belief in Ukraine is actually being destroyed”.
As a reminder, the right to freedom of conscience is enshrined in Article 35 of the Constitution of Ukraine, Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As the human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta” noted in the monitoring report for the 3rd quarter of 2018, in connection with representatives of the Ukrainian authorities actively lobbying the creation of a local church via the granting of Tomos by the Constantinople Patriarchate, discrimination and rhetoric of hatred towards parishioners and clergy of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church has considerably amplified.
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