UKRAINE: State Commission To Keep Foreigners Out?

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service, 25 July 2001

On 10 July a meeting was held between representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC KP) and the Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox Church (UOAC), where practical issues relating to the creation of a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church were discussed. Not all the bishops who are members of the previously-created commission for the unification of the two branches of Orthodoxy in the country attended the meeting, which took place with the participation of the chairman of the State Committee for Religious Affairs in Ukraine, Viktor Bondarenko. And although representatives of both churches expressed a similar opinion that one independent church should be formed in the country, the State Committee was more circumspect.

On 10 July, four days later than previously scheduled, a meeting took place at the Patriarchate of the UOC KP between `a group of bishops from the UAOC, who are members of the commission for unification of the UAOC and the UOC KP' and the UOC KP Patriarch Filaret (Denisenko), according to a statement from the UAOC Patriarchate. Metropolitan Andrei (Abramchuk), Metropolitan Mefodi (Kudryakov), Archbishop Roman (Balashuk), Archbishop Ioann (Modzalevsky) and Bishop Yakov (Makarchuk) also attended the meeting on behalf of the UAOC, while Metropolitan Andrei (Gorak), Archbishop Daniil (Chekalyuk) and Bishop Dimitri (Rudyuk) represented the UOC KP.

According to press releases from the UAOC Patriarchate, there had been no recent notification of the date of the meeting; the invitation to participants had been communicated `verbally, by the chancellor of the Ternopol diocese, archpriest Bogdan Skaskivisky'.

Patriarch Filaret's participation in the meeting demonstrates a clear development in the process of dialogue, given that meetings with a representative of the joint delegation of the Moscow and Constantinople Patriarchates, who visited Kiev in May of this year, were attended neither by Metropolitan Constantine (Buggan), head of the UAOC parishes in North America under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch, nor by Patriarch Filaret.

And despite certain differences in attitude, which in particular were the reason for the absence of Bishop Makari (Maletich) from the meeting (a UAOC bishop and a member of the joint commission for unification of the churches), issues relating especially to inter-communion between bishops were to be discussed at the recent meeting.

`Now there is no unification process like this one,' Bondarenko told Keston by telephone on 13 July from Kiev. `Two churches, which are related by their public and political positions, are extending their range of contact.'

Commenting on the outcome of the 10 July meeting, Bondarenko noted that both churches had recognised that there were `no obstacles to joint services'. But he stressed that `bishops may not make their communion together'.

Unlike representatives of the UAOC and the UOC KP, which see the future united Ukrainian Orthodox Church as `equal to other Orthodox Churches', the State Committee has been more cautious in its pronouncements, declaring that `there is no organisational move into unification', and that at this stage the discussion is about establishing `normal relations between the churches'.

Bondarenko noted that he had not participated in the discussion at the meeting on 10 July, but had `followed its progress, taking the view that unification brought with it the threat of new schisms and consequently, the destabilisation of society'.

Without having information on the UOC KP, Keston has learnt that the overwhelming majority of UAOC bishops who took part in the meeting - four or five - used to be clerics in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). (Patriarch Filaret too used to be a metropolitan in the ROC.) Asked to comment on this, Bondarenko said he did not find anything remarkable in it, as `practically all the UOC bishops were once clerics in the ROC' - an assertion that clearly points up the division between, in particular, the two parts of the UAOC - in Ukraine and abroad. `I believe that people have expressed their attitude to that church [the ROC] by leaving it.'

It appears that, in its desire to retain control over the process, the State Committee is pursuing a policy of forming an episcopate for the future church from the local bishops. At a meeting with Keston in October 2000, Bondarenko stated categorically that he did not see the head of a future united church being chosen `from among the Varangians [i.e. foreigners]'. The authorities believe Metropolitan Constantine Buggan might assume the post, as he was the favoured choice of the late Patriarch Dimitri as his successor as head of the UAOC. Being the most recent newcomer to the canonical structures of the UAOC abroad (under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch), he would have recognised de facto the canonical nature of the UAOC in Ukraine.

The election of the head of the UAOC, a post taken by Metropolitan Mefodi, formerly an employee at the Department of External Church Relations in the Moscow Patriarchate, was attended not only by officials of the State Committee, but was accompanied by a certain pressure on UAOC clergy, Keston has learnt.

The presence at the meeting on 10 July of an overwhelming majority of former ROC bishops may be explained, believes Archbishop Igor Isychenko (UAOC), `in the attempts by the Ukrainian political establishment to prevent direct contacts between the UAOC and the diaspora and our departure from state control'. Commenting on the establishment of a wing of former ROC clergy within the UAOC, Archbishop Igor admitted in an e-mail to Keston on 25 April that `a section [of the episcopate] of the UAOC is absolutely in favour of taking certain steps to join the "Moscow Patriarchate". But even the officials who are "supervising" this group understand that such a move is only possible independently, without the parishes. True, Bishop Ioann (Modzalevsky) has nothing to lose. He too, over the course of last year, spoke out with even more candour than Bishop Mefodi as an opponent of contacts with the Ukrainian Orthodox diaspora.' (END)