Monday 14 February 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Speaking at a press conference in the Polish parliament in Warsaw on 24
January, the senior Orthodox hierarch worldwide, Ecumenical Patriarch
BARTHOLOMEW, claimed that in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv the
local bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church loyal to the Moscow
Patriarchate has been persistently denied a building permit by the authorities.
The patriarch declared that actions by Byzantine-rite Catholic Churches in
Slovakia and western Ukraine would overshadow the reopening of the Roman
Catholic-Orthodox theological commission. But how true are Patriarch
Bartholomew's claims that Archbishop AVHUSTYN of Lviv and Drohobych
cannot get permission to build in the city?

In a telephone interview from Lviv on 8 February, OKSANA
ZHABORINSKAYA, an advisor to Archbishop Avhustyn, declared that the
diocese has been seeking permission to acquire land to build a new cathedral
for the diocese for the past eight years. `Since 1992, when we were deprived of
registration and all the property of the diocese,' she told Keston News Service,
`we have been applying for land to build a cathedral. We have appealed to the
local and the national authorities - including to parliament and the president -
for us to be allocated land. Ideally we would like to receive the land free of
charge, but we are not even allowed to buy land. The city council refuse to
allow us either to receive or to buy land. This testifies to the fact that our
Church has no importance in Lviv.' She reports that every time they address the
city council on this they are told: `It is not an architectural but a confessional

Zhaborinskaya stresses that since the splits in the Orthodox Church in Ukraine
in the early 1990s (during which most Orthodox parishes in western Ukraine
left for the jurisdiction of one or other of the Autocephalous Orthodox
Churches), the Church loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate was left with only two
churches in Lviv. `One church belongs to us completely - it is in the centre of
the city on Korolenko street. But it is small and the bishop doesn't call it a
cathedral, although it functions as one. The other church is a wooden barrack
on the edge of the city that can't really be called a proper church.' This is why
the bishop would like to acquire land to build a proper cathedral, she explains.

Keston spoke the following day by telephone to the chief architect of Lviv,
VLADIMIR SHVETS. `According to the law this question must be resolved by
the city council,' he declared. `The council must issue a decision to hand over
the land, which it has not given in the case of the Orthodox Church under
Moscow.' Asked why that was so, he responded: `It is difficult for me to know.
I'm just a clerk. We do only technical work. This is not an architectural but a
political question. For all churches there must be a decision of the city council,
whether they want to receive land or buy it. The Russian Orthodox have not
asked to buy.' Other officials Keston spoke to spontaneously described the
issue as a `political question' rather than a planning question.

Keston then spoke by telephone to VASILI BELOUS, the secretary of the city
council. Told that both the Ecumenical Patriarch and the local Orthodox
Church under Moscow were claiming that the council was denying the Church
permission to acquire land for building, he responded: `That's not true. You
don't understand the situation over here. This is not a matter that can be
discussed over the telephone.' As Keston's reporter did not speak Ukrainian
(Belous said he did not speak Russian or English), he declined to discuss the
matter further and put down the telephone. However, the following day the
Ukrainian Embassy in London spoke to him on Keston's behalf, and he
affirmed that `he has no information that anyone has refused to allow the
building of a Russian Orthodox cathedral'. He told Keston via the embassy that
there are forty different churches in Lviv, and the Moscow Patriarchate has one
large and beautiful church in the city centre which functions as a cathedral. `It
is a matter of financing - some churches are under construction, but the
shortage of finance makes them difficult to complete.' Belous referred Keston
to the chief architect, Shvets, who had already told Keston that a decision to
build any place of worship is a political question decided by the city council.

Archbishop Avhustyn confirmed to Keston in a telephone interview from Lviv
on 12 February that he has been trying to get permission to build further places
of worship in the city for the past eight years. Told that Belous had denied that
there was any bar to the allocation of land to construct such a church,
Archbishop Avhustyn declared: `That is not true. I can tell you officially that
the city council has denied us permission to acquire a site to build. There have
been discussions and promises, but nothing has happened. They don't refuse
verbally, but when you get the letter they say it is impossible for various
reasons. They do it diplomatically.' Asked whether his Church was being
denied the right even to buy land, he declared: `Buying land is a difficult
procedure - if you buy they'll only tell you later that under the city plan you
can't build a church there.'

Archbishop Avhustyn claimed that high-level political support had not been
enough to force the city council's hand. `President LEONID KUCHMA
personally asked the mayor of Lviv VASYL KUYBYDA to satisfy our
demands - in my presence. This was last autumn in the run-up to the elections.
The mayor wants to help but his team and his office - and the city council -
refuse.' The archbishop complained that many other religious groups had been
allocated sites for places of worship by the city council - including the
Ukrainian Greek-Catholics (the largest religious community in western
Ukraine), the Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the Baptists and the Jehovah's
Witnesses - but not his Church. `This is discrimination on confessional
grounds. Destructive sects, like the Baptists and the Jehovah's Witnesses and
even the most extreme groups, don't have problems,' he claimed. Asked why
his Church was apparently being singled out, the archbishop blamed `extreme
nationalists' who equated Orthodoxy, Russianism and Communism. `This is
something genetic - it arose during the Second World War. You know, they
worked with the SS, they had the SS Galicia division and fought against the
Soviet Union. This complex still survives.'

The reemergence of the Greek-Catholic Church in the late 1980s and the splits
within the Orthodox Church in the early 1990s has left a residue of interchurch
conflict in western Ukraine and left the Ukrainian Orthodox Church loyal to the
Moscow Patriarchate embittered that it has ended up with only a rump of
believers and churches. However, references to past history - such as those by
Archbishop Avhustyn - have not helped the Church's public image in western
Ukraine and have allowed institutionalised discrimination to continue. The
Ecumenical Patriarchate's claims that the Church cannot acquire land in Lviv to
construct a new cathedral - despite the denials of senior city officials - appear
well-founded. (END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 2000