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Jun 3, 2022
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Was there a “local council of the UOC”?

In our previous publication about the latest decisions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, still the Moscow Patriarchate (hereinafter referred to as the UOC), through no fault of ours, an inaccuracy crept in, which in some way changes the state of affairs. Or rather, the aggravating anticanonicity of the decision on the “complete independence” of the UOC. The fact is that in a report from this event, the mouthpiece of the Kyiv Metropolis of the UOC – the Union of Orthodox Journalists said that the primate of the UOC was convening a Bishops’ Council for the evening of the same day.

We were guided by this, saying that the decisions of the Council of Bishops of the UOC still have to be approved by a higher authority – the Council of the UOC (similar to a local one, i.e. with the participation of the laity, ordinary monastics and clergy). And in the conditions of a war that divides the canonical territory of the UOC with a front line, such a council can be convened only “after the donkey dies, or the padishah dies.”

However, the Council of Bishops suddenly turned out to be … “local”, which only reinforces the blatant anti-canonicity of the enterprise. After all, no one announced or held elections for delegates to the council. The dioceses sent their members to no more than a kind of “meeting” that was not provided for by the charter of the UOC, and even more so did not have any canonical status. While the UOC Cathedral is the highest governing body of the church, for a moment.

How the elections for the “meeting” were held in the dioceses ruled by supporters of autocephaly can be judged from an insider on the most popular channel in the Russian segment of the Telegram: “From the general composition of the local clergy, all those who are openly against the schism, to the meeting [епархии] are not invited. Of those present, by hook or by crook (and more often by intimidation) they gain 50% + for a split and make a “decision”“. It is not surprising that among the participants of the “Local Council”, according to the UOJ, 95% voted for the adopted decisions (while on the website of the same UOJ 75% of visitors voted against). And the Lord and Father himself, the moderator of the “Sobor”, Metropolitan Onufry, set the “correct” tone, saying at the beginning of the congress that “he received a huge number of letters supporting the autocephaly of the UOC, but there are also such (“in some places we sometimes have.” – Auth.), who oppose“.

Then, judging by another report from the “sobor”, posted on the website of the UOJ (and, therefore, passed the censorship of the Metropolia), “one of the metropolitans proposed that our congregation be given the status of a cathedral. This idea was supported by other bishops and several of the priests who spoke. Considering the need for changes to the Statute of the UOC, His Beatitude suggested that the meeting be declared a Council. The decision was taken by an overwhelming majority“. Like this! With a deft movement of hands, the non-canonical assembly turns into the highest governing body of the church structure.

However, even among those who did not make a decision of the “council” are quite well-known bishops. This can be judged from the same report. So, “Metropolitan Onuphry asked the priest of the Odessa diocese, who declared that he fully trusted the opinion of Metropolitan Agafangel, would he adhere to the same position if Vladyka Agafangel became the Primate of the UOC, and he, Metropolitan Onuphry, headed the Odessa cathedra. In other words, His Beatitude clarified whether the priest has his own opinion, or whether he prefers to completely and completely trust his ruling bishop“. Based on the context of what has been said, Metropolitan Agafangel of Odessa “was against the non-canonical nature of the event“. Metropolitan Pavel, the abbot of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, is also mentioned in the same row.

And the eventually accepted proposal to use the “old” charter of the UOC (testifying to the unity of the UOC with the entire Russian Church) within individual dioceses came from the metropolitans of Donbass. One of them, Metropolitan Mitrofan of Horlovsky and Slavic, already on the Sunday following the “Council”, told his parishioners at a sermon about his attitude to the decisions made: “I do not support or approve of this, but I will not do anything to harm our brethren. We commemorate both His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry and His Holiness the Patriarch… Now we remain in unity with the Russian Orthodox Church and, with God’s help, we will maintain unity with the UOC“. And he reminded thatdiocesan bishops have the opportunity to make their own decisions.

As we know, the Crimean diocese was the first to take advantage of this opportunity, which they announced in an official statement.

Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye and Melitopol, who spoke a lot at the “Sobor” (a significant part of his flock is also already in the Russian world), transparently hinted that “the decision of any Council must go through reception (acceptance-non-acceptance by the clergy and the people of God), after which it takes root in the life of the Church, or is rejected“. Therefore, he urged not to accuse the hierarchy of causing a schism, for “when fateful issues are being resolved, you can’t instantly label someone“. As if these decisions themselves were not made instantly and as a result of labeling the same patriarch.

The representative of the organization “Laity” Valentin Girya expressed doubt that “changing the status of the UOC will save it from persecution and give impetus to further development“. Even at the “Sobor” he said: “Personally, I think that changing the status of our Church will not solve these problems. Firstly, because it will not be difficult for our enemies to attach a new label to us, which will immediately break our “autocephalous” protection. It will be enough for us to refuse to take part in prayer together with schismatics or to refuse to violate other church canons for us to be told: “You are what you were, you remain the same. The Kremlin does not allow you to do this,” etc.“. He concluded by expressing his belief that “The Church needs development, however, not quantitatively, but qualitatively.”, obviously calling not to grieve for those former priests who have recently joined the OCU.

But the dean of one of the districts of the Vinnitsa diocese, Fr. Oleg Makar expressed the dominant opinion at Sobor:We hope that this is a new stage in the life of our Church. We hope that the unauthorized seizures of our parishes and churches will end, and the slander against our priests and laity will end.“. And this, perhaps, is the whole essence of this “Council” – not to remain faithful to the canons of the Church, Christ’s commandment of unity, but to protect the Church from persecution. This is the meaning of “a new stage in the life of our Church.” Imagine if the first martyrs of Roman times had been guided by such motives…

However, does our today’s amendment – regarding the fact that this “council” turned out to be not hierarchal, but “local” – change the consequences for the Eucharistic life of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine? So far, not much. The adopted changes to the charter of the UOC must be approved by the Russian Church. Otherwise, the illegitimacy of the “cathedral” will only be aggravated. But in order to assemble the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church (a third of whose members are members of the UOC), the same conditions are required – the end of the war. And that means the completion of the earthly existence of the same donkey or padishah …

And, most importantly, the eternal Ukrainian question from an Orthodox classic: “Did your Poles help you?” As you can see, even after the abdication of the Moscow Patriarch in Ukraine, the parade of bans on the UOC by local councils and mayors of all levels continues, the seizures of Orthodox churches, attacks on the Church in the media and bills to ban it continue. And they will continue until the UOC recognizes all the decisions of Bartholomew. And that means decisions of common bosses, both for the Phanar and for Kyiv.

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