Calls for the autocephaly to be granted to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine are associated with similar processes in Macedonia, Montenegro, the Baltic States, as well as a number of other states where political forces that came to power have chosen to strengthen nationalist foundations of society. In particular, the Macedonian Orthodox Church, which is non-canonical and unrecognized by Ecumenical Orthodoxy, has received state support, followed by a series of persecutions against Orthodox Christians of the canonical Ohrid Archbishopric of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The head of this Church, Metropolitan Ioann Vranishkovsky, was imprisoned, and the total term of three sentences in his case goes beyond more than 5 years. Upon that the Ohrid Archbishopric was compelled to go to the European Court of Human Rights to simply obtain state registration and start using the minimal rights of a legal entity.
In Montenegro, the political power also supported a newly formed non-canonical Montenegrin Orthodox Church, established in 1993 and having no relations with any Orthodox Church in the world. In the 1990s, it endured a whole series of severe trials, when the state power supported the formation of a non-canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate led by Mikhail Denisenko (now “Patriarch Filaret”), which entailed a wave of forceful seizures of temples and persecutions of Orthodox Christians in the country. In these years, several eparchies were completely taken away from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by force with the involvement of militant radicals; believers lost hundreds of temples throughout the country.
In all the above cases, state authorities, or rather political elites who received only temporary powers from the voters to rule the country, in fact ignored fundamental human rights and democratic values and betrayed the ideals of a free civil society by intervening in the sphere of personal confession of faith, which in all traditions should remain in the realm of personal self-identification by each individual without any outside interference.
The canonical identity, i.e. the right of an individual to remain in the faith he/she considers to be proper is a legal right, and all the participating states of the UN, the OSCE, and the CoE have assumed various obligations to protect such a right.
Meanwhile, politicians of the highest level indulge in frank stigmatization and hate speech, discriminating the canonical Orthodox believers and supporting only one church, which appeals to them for opportunistic political reasons.
In particular, the President of Ukraine is determined to act very decisively towards the creation of the SLC and to oppose all who will stand in the way of “national interests of Ukraine.” “This is a matter of national security and our defense in a hybrid war, because the Kremlin views the ROC as one of the key instruments of influence on Ukraine,” Petro Poroshenko said. “Therefore, I am very determined to act in this matter. And to counteract all those who will stand in the way of Ukraine’s national interests and will try to disrupt cooperation with the Ecumenical Patriarchal Throne,” he said.
Such rhetoric appears as an unacceptable interference of government officials in the internal affairs of the Church, which is not only separated from the state, but also has the right to maintain its status both legal and canonical.
In accordance with international legal standards and European practice, the form and method of canonical relations of any Church with religious foreign centers are an internal matter of a religious denomination and constitute the religious identity of believers. Confession of religious beliefs in a particular Church is a subjective right to freedom of religion, and everyone has the right to choose the Church according to their selection criteria, including the canonical one.
On the part of civil servants, it is inadmissible to use the hate speech and to indicate to society that a particular confession is an enemy of the state or, equivalently, it must change its canonical name, legal status or the order of forming its management bodies (as it is now demanded in relation to the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church).
At present, a stigmatizing information campaign has been launched in Ukraine against the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was confirmed by the UN mission in Ukraine in its report. The facts of violations are numerous and obvious. For instance, since 2015 more than 40 temples have been seized from communities and believers, many conflicts were fomented personally by clerics of the non-canonical Kyiv Patriarchate. Attacks on the church were accompanied by injuries to the believers of the UOC, all these actions taking place in the presence of the police and with the connivance of local authorities who actually back up the commission of these crimes. In a number of cases, such as the case of the community of Ptichya village, violations by the authorities are flagrant and blatant: in this case, representatives of local authorities repeatedly insisted on transferring the church, which is the property of the UOC, to the possession of the Kyiv Patriarchate. The behavior of government officials is in fact blackmail and open extortion, comparable only to the open confiscation of church property during the Communist Revolution of 1917. All of the above facts have been repeatedly confirmed by reports of human rights organizations, speeches made by representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on the platforms of the OSCE and the UN.
It should be understood that in the current situation, addresses of the President of Ukraine, Parliament, and a number of politicians to Patriarch Bartholomew on granting autocephaly for the Kyiv Patriarchate will lead in the future to a surge of en masse violations of human rights in the country being already overheated by conflicts and religious confrontations.
Unfortunately, the authorities do not take any steps to put a stop to conflicts, to bring the actually guilty criminals to justice for their capturing temples, beating believers, and inciting religious hatred. Instead, a lot of state politicians openly enunciate hate speech against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, undermining the remnants of shaky religious peace.
As a matter of fact, on October 15, 2015, at the 52nd session of Ternopol Regional Council of the 5th convocation, its deputies adopted an appeal to the President of Ukraine Poroshenko regarding the fact that “… the Lavra (the Holy Dormition Pochaev Lavra), with the assistance of enemy emissaries, purposefully turns into the center of anti-Ukrainianism, inter-confessional hostility and discord.”
On October 25, 2017, at the session of Lutsk City Council, deputy Pavel Danilchuk called for the capture of the temple of All Saints of the land of Volyn, which belongs to Volyn eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and is located at 39 Sobornosti Ave in the city of Lutsk. The deputy said, “I invite all factions, all deputies, let’s take over this temple. Perhaps this is not quite legal, but I suggest that we all go out to the rally, gather activists. Let’s fight for the Ukrainian Church.”
In January 2018 Parliamentarians Andrei Ilyenko, Mikhail Golovko, Oleg Osukhovsky, Yury Levchenko, Alexander Marchenko, Andrei Biletsky, Oleg Petrenko and Oksana Korchinskaya addressed an MP request to the National Security and Defense Council, the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine and the Department for Religions and Nationalities of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine urging to consider at the meeting of the National Security and Defense Council anti-state activities of representatives of the UOC-MP in Ukraine, in particular, “to stop their subversive activities in the state bodies, Armed Forces, law enforcement structures and educational institutions”, as well as to begin the process of returning to the Church of the UOC-owned sanctuaries. Besides, MPs request the NSDC to take measures to rename the UOC-MP into the ROC in Ukraine.
A marker of aggressively hostile propaganda towards Orthodox believers of the UOC is that personal data of the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Chancellor of the UOC Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich), head of the UOC Representation to European Organizations Bishop Victor (Kotsaba), deputy chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the UOC Prot. Nikolai Danilevich, and priest Aleksei Zoshchuk – were published on Mirotvorets (Peacemaker) site. This site publishes the data of persons involved in the activities of the DNR and LNR – entities in Ukraine’s territory beyond Ukraine’s control, which are called terrorists and enemies in Ukraine. Thus, placing information on this site about clerics of the UOC is caused by their critical attitude to the presidential project of receiving autocephaly, and aims to create an image of the enemy, to defame the entire Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the person of its hierarchs as hostile, and to pave the way for new mass violations of human rights.
In the circumstances at hand, Patriarch Bartholomew willingly or unwillingly becomes an accomplice in the stigmatization and persecution of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, since the political opponents of canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine use negotiations with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, as well as statements and various signs of attention to this problem on the part of the Patriarch in order to enhance the religious confrontation in the country.
If these Ukrainian politicians soon leave the stage and lose power in the country, the Ecumenical Patriarch will have to bear responsibility in a far longer time frame for participating in this political campaign.