The Transfer of St. Andrew’s Church to the Constantinople Patriarchate Contradicts the Constitution of Ukraine

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


On September 17th president Poroshenko initiated as urgent a vote in parliament on draft law No. 9208 “On features of the use of St. Andrew’s Church of the National reserve of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral”.

On October 18th the law was adopted and sent to the president for his signature.

According to the law, the outstanding object of cultural heritage and monument of architecture of national value St. Andrew’s Church of the National reserve of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral will be transferred to the continuous use of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the implementation of church services, religious practices, ceremonies, and processions.

Earlier, in 2008, the temple was transferred to the use of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. In 2015 permission expired, and de jure the church returned to the direct control of the state. However, representatives of autocephalous church still serve there.

It is specified in the law adopted on October 18th that the transfer of St. Andrew’s Church to the Constantinople Patriarchate is carried out for the purpose of “ensuring the religious needs of believers for the restoration and preservation of ties with the Constantinople Mother Church” and also “eliminating the negative consequences of Russia’s interference – the aggressor state – in the life of Ukrainian Orthodoxy and in opposition to the threats of national security caused by its interference”.

According to assessment of the main legal department of the Verkhovna Rada, Making the decision to transfer one concrete object owned by the state is in essence a legal act of an individual character but cannot be the subject of a law that is supposed to define the order of regulating certain public relations of a general character – in particular, the order of transferring all religious buildings – objects of cultural heritage, architectural monuments of national value, but not a concrete religious construction.

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In addition, transferring concrete objects owned by the state doesn’t belong to the powers of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, which are determined by the Constitution of Ukraine. Management of objects of state ownership according to the law is the constitutional prerogative of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine (point 5 of part 1 of article 116 of the Constitution of Ukraine).

The adopted law also contradicts part 1 of article 171 of the Law of Ukraine “On freedom of worship and religious organisations”, according to which transferring the cult construction of St. Andrew’s Church of the National reserve of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral is carried out according to the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine”.

Human rights activists are also concerned that the order of the Minister of Culture Evgeny Nishchuk addressed to museum workers with the demand to carry out the full inventory of all icons and other cultural historical values in temples of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).

The active interference of the state authorities in questions of religious freedom within the framework of the process of creating a United local church contradicts 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 a reminder, on April 19th, 2018 the Ukrainian Parliament supported the appeal of president Poroshenko to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew about granting autocephaly to the orthodox church in Ukraine. On October 11th the Ecumenical Constantinople Patriarchate cancelled the legal obligation issued in 1686 in the Synod letter granting the Moscow Patriarchate the right to appoint the Kiev Metropolitan. President Poroshenko considers this decision made by the synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be the actual granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian church.

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Meanwhile, it became known that two temples of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) asked the Supreme Court to recognise as illegal the decision of the Verkhovna Rada from April 19th. Thus, on October 5th a complaint from the religious community of the temple of the Prelate Nikolay Berdyansky of the diocese of the city of Berdyansk of the Zaporozhya region came to the Cassation administrative court. The claimant asks the court to recognise as illegal and cancel the decision of the parliament to support the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s issuance of Tomos of autocephaly. The Supreme Court has initiated proceedings and decided to consider the case in a simplified order, i.e., without summoning the parties and within 60 days – in other words, before December 9th of the current year.

On October 9th the court passed a similar decision concerning the claim of the Gorodnitsky St. George Monastery of the Zhytomyr diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Supreme Court also decided to demand from the parliament the disputed provision.

As the experts of Uspishna Varta specified while monitoring compliance with political and civil rights and freedoms in Ukraine during July-September, 2018, in connection with the active lobbying by representatives of the Ukrainian authorities for the creation a local church by obtaining Tomos from the Constantinople Patriarchate, discrimination and rhetoric of hatred towards parishioners and the sacerdotalism of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church has considerably amplified.

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