KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 10, Article 13, 9 October 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
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SUMMARY: With support from the head of religious affairs in Ukraine, the
hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) and Ukrainian
Autocephalous Orthodox Church have written a joint letter to Ecumenical
Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW requesting him to facilitate their unification into
one local autocephalous church and to grant it canonical status. This would
leave out the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate but give the government a strong state
church.


Monday 9 October 2000
UKRAINE: CONSTANTINOPLE TO RECOGNISE UNIFIED ORTHODOX
CHURCH?

by Geraldine Fagan and Aleksandr Shchipkov, Keston News Service

In the latest attempt to bring at least partial unity to the three Orthodox
groupings in Ukraine, Keston News Service has learnt that the hierarchs of the
Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) and Ukrainian Autocephalous
Orthodox Church wrote a joint letter to Ecumenical Patriarch
BARTHOLOMEW on 18 September requesting him to facilitate their
unification into one local autocephalous church and to grant it canonical status.
Such a plan - even if successful - would still leave out the Ukrainian Orthodox
Church under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, the largest of the
three Orthodox Churches in Ukraine and the only one recognised by the
Orthodox world as canonical.

In outlining the plan the UOC (KP) and UAOC hierarchs put forward, UOC
(KP) Bishop of Lviv ANDREI (HORAK) explained to Keston on 25
September: `There will be two canonical jurisdictions in Ukraine just as in
Estonia, the USA and France.' Although UAOC Bishop of Lviv MAKARI
(MALETYCH) had been more ambiguous earlier the same day, stating simply
`we have written to Bartholomew requesting that he accept us,' he too
envisaged the imminent formation of two canonical metropolitanates in
Ukraine: `Moscow in the east and Ecumenical in the west.' In an interview in
Kiev on 28 September, Patriarch FILARET (DENISENKO) of the UOC (KP)
was visibly surprised that Keston had learnt of the existence of the 18
September letter, but confirmed its existence. `We propose that Constantinople
and Moscow agree to the formation of a Ukrainian Autocephalous Church,' he
explained, `the letter gives the basis to start the process of creating that church.'

On 28 September UAOC Archbishop of Kharkiv and Poltava IGOR
(ISICHENKO) also confirmed the existence of the 18 September letter, and
pointed to strong support from the Ukrainian government for the creation of a
national Orthodox church. The chairman of the government's Committee for
Religious Affairs VIKTOR BONDARENKO recently visited the Ecumenical
Patriarch and asked him to play a more active role in the formation of one local
Ukrainian Orthodox Church, he said, and the government had partially
financed the UAOC synod held in Kiev in mid-September at which
Bartholomew's blessing was conferred upon Metropolitan CONSTANTINE
(BUGGAN), the head of the diaspora Ukrainian dioceses of the Ecumenical
Patriarchate, to co-celebrate with the hierarchs of the UAOC.

On 28 September Bondarenko also confirmed the existence of the 18
September letter and his visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch. `We want unity of
the Orthodox churches - we will never interfere but we will try and facilitate
the process,' he explained to Keston, adding that the government did not wish
to preserve `the destructive tendency' of the present schism, since it had `an
extremely negative impact on the international image of Ukraine'. It appeared
to Keston that the UOC (MP) was not to be involved in the unification process,
since Bondarenko stated merely that the view of the Moscow Patriarchate
`would be taken into account'.

Speaking to Keston briefly on 29 September, vice premier of the cabinet of
ministers of Ukraine NIKOLAI ZHILINSKY described the 18 September letter
as `the first step' towards the creation of a local, national Orthodox church, but
confessed to not having read it. Archbishop MITROFAN (YURCHUK) of the
UOC (MP) told Keston on 29 September in Kiev that repentance on the part of
at least the UOC (KP) was the only way to unity: `If Bartholomew recognises
Filaret then he defies church canons because Filaret is under anathema, and we
can only accept the UOC (KP) if he repents or resigns.' Zhilinsky, however,
claimed that the Ukrainian authorities desired that all three Orthodox churches
should unite, commenting that the existence of the three churches `is not at all a
normal phenomenon - there are no special problems which prevent them from
becoming one church.' Canonical status, he told Keston, `doesn't mean
anything to the average person'.

Father STEPAN (BALAN) and Novice BOGDAN of the UOC (MP)'s
Ternopildiocese did not agree. `Only our church can lift the ban on the Kiev
Patriarchate priests,' they told Keston on 24 September. `Steadfast people who
understand Orthodoxy won't go over to them.' If the Ecumenical Patriarch were
to grant canonical status to a unified UAOC and UOC (KP), stressed Bogdan,
`We won't accept the decision here'. The authorities would probably put it to
the UOC (MP) that they should either accept the new church or leave, he
thought, `but they beat us, robbed us - are we supposed to kiss and make up? If
so, what did we stand up for? The truth or what?'

Assuring Keston that the Moscow Patriarchate would be involved in talks
aimed at creating the new church, Patriarch Filaret nevertheless thought that it
would `try to prevent the [unification] process in any way it can.' Although
Bishop Andrei (Horak) said that the newly-formed church would convene a
synod to elect a patriarch, Patriarch Filaret claimed that he could not see how
anyone else could head it apart from himself: `If someone other than Filaret is
voted in he'll be easy for the Moscow Patriarchate to remove.'

Should two metropolitanates be formed, the fate of those in the western half of
the country - such as Father Stepan (Balan) and Novice Bogdan, could be
uncertain. The UOC (MP)'s monastery at Pochayev, Ternopil region, which
withstood an unrelenting onslaught by the Soviet authorities right into the
1980s, could be marooned within an Ecumenical metropolitanate. Whether
there would indeed be a partition, however, and how it would accommodate
Kiev, is as yet unclear. Bondarenko assured Keston that there would be `no
reallocation of property' if two canonical metropolitanates were to be formed,
and Bishop Makari denied that an Orthodox partition of Ukraine would result.

Bishop Andrei expressed different ideas, however. `Sooner or later we will take
Pochayev,' he told Keston. Patriarch Filaret agreed, explaining, `it does not
depend on the monks but on the surrounding population. Not only Pochayev
will go over but the Monastery of the Caves [in Kiev] as well.' Speaking at the
Monastery of the Caves, Archbishop Mitrofan told Keston that the monastery
did not belong to the UOC (MP) but to the city council: `It is leased to us free
of charge in perpetuity. There would need to be special reasons for changing
that.'

No church representative with whom Keston spoke in Ukraine other than those
of the Kiev Patriarchate and UAOC expressed any knowledge of the
unification plans. However, on 23 September in Lviv Greek Catholic Studite
Abbot VENEDIKT (ALEKSICHUK) told Keston that it was currently obvious
that the Ukrainian state desired `a strong Ukrainian church'. In his view it was a
mistake that politicians were trying to achieve it: `It is like getting a dentist to
mend a car.' (END)