NEWS 2023

  • 28 December 2023: Decisions in Moscow & other news

    The Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate met in Moscow on December 27, 2023.  The minutes of the meeting can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6087932.html.  There were some important decisions made.  The most important decision is that the Synod created a new diocese, carving it out of the existing Kherson diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).  In this regard, Journal Entry 120 includes the following decision:  “1. To form, within the administrative boundaries of the left bank [eastern side of the Dnipro River] districts of the Kherson region: Aleshkinsky, Golopristansky, Kalanchaksky, Skadovsky, Chaplynsky, the Skadovsky diocese with its cathedral center in the city of Skadovsk, separating it from the Kherson diocese.”  Since a government reorganization in 2020, these districts no longer exist in the Region.   However, they are the districts still used by UOC in its administration of the diocese.  The following is a listing of the districts in the diocese and the parishes in each of them.  http://www.pravoslavie.ks.ua/rubric/prihody-eparhii/article/spisok-prihodov-po-okrugam   The five districts encompass the southwestern part of the Kherson Region and are occupied by the Russian Federation.  The city of Kherson is now again under Ukrainian control.   The Kherson Region is one of the four Ukrainian regions which Russia purportedly “annexed” on September 30, 2023.

    The preamble to the decision reads as follows:

    Due to the actual impossibility of His Grace Metropolitan John of Kherson and Tauride to manage the parishes and monastery of the Kherson diocese located on the left bank of the Dnieper [Dnipro],

    Due to the lack of opportunity for a smooth resolution of this situation by the Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,

    Taking into account also the need for legal regulation of the situation of the mentioned parishes and the monastery,

    In response to the appeal of the majority of the clergy of the left bank parishes of the Kherson diocese, as well as all the nuns of the Nikolaevsky convent of the Skadovsky district of the Kherson diocese:

    Metropolitan John, age 59, is presently very active in the parts of his diocese which are not under Russian control.  See the website of the diocese at http://www.pravoslavie.ks.ua/.  The last part of the decision of the Moscow Synod provides:  “4. If the external situation changes, consider the possible restoration of the Kherson diocese within its current borders.”  Perhaps this is intended to cover a possible situation where the entire Kherson Region comes under Russian occupation.  So far, I have seen no reaction from the UOC concerning this decision.  The Holy Synod of UOC did meet on the prior day, December 26.  https://news.church.ua/2023/12/26/pidsumki-svyashhennogo-sinodu-ukrajinskoji-pravoslavnoji-cerkvi-vid-26-grudnya-2023-roku/#2023-12-27 

    At Journal Entry 129 the Holy Synod decided to release “His Grace Metropolitan Leonid of Klin from the temporary administration of the Yerevan-Armenian Diocese and to retire.”  As you recall, he was relieved of his position of Patriarchal Exarch of Africa by a decision of the Holy Synod on October 11, 2023.  Now his fall from grace seems to be complete with his forced retirement at age 55.  It is extremely doubtful that this fall is due to poor job performance.  It is much more likely that it was due to the activities of Leonid as one of the leaders of the ultra-conservative wing of the Moscow Patriarchate.  In commenting on the decision, Andrey Kuraev stated:  “This means that the stock of Anthony (head of the DECR) and Nestor (Exarch of Western Europe) went up.”  https://diak-kuraev.livejournal.com/

    You may recall that in November, Metropolitan Vladimir, primate of the Moldovan Orthodox Church (MOC), stated that he would go to Moscow in three weeks to discuss with Patriarch Kirill the status of the MOC.  The MOC has been seeking greater independence from Moscow.  It is also reported that he stated his intention to call a meeting of the archpastors of the MOC following the meeting with Kirill to make a final decision with respect to the status of the MOC.  https://www.jurnal.md/ro/news/be749a19448748ab/exclusivitate-ce-s-a-discutat-de-fapt-la-adunarea-de-la-mitropolie.html  As a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Vladimir attended the Synod’s meeting in Moscow on December 27.  https://mitropolia.md/intaistatatorul-bom-a-participat-la-ultima-din-anul-2023-sedinta-a-sfantului-sinod-al-bisericii-ortodoxe-ruse/  There is thus the opportunity for Metropolitan Vladimir to discuss the status of the MOC with the Patriarch.  Metropolitan Vladimir gave an interview on December 22 but did not touch on the issue of the relationship of the MOC to Moscow.  https://ortodox.md/inaltpreasfintitul-mitropolit-vladimir-sa-ne-nevoim-a-pazi-unitatea-duhului-intru-legatura-pacii/ 

    In my last newsletter, I discussed the Vatican’s Declaration Fiducia supplicans which approves the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples with certain stated restrictions.  Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Budapest has now become the first prominent Orthodox hierarch, as far as I know, to comment on the Declaration.  His comments are especially significant as he has met with Pope Francis on 12 or more occasions and has worked closely with the Vatican with respect to such projects as the Havana meeting between Patriarch Kirill and the Pope.  His views on Fiducia supplicans are expressed in a 43-minute English-language video posted on YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTh9m9DR6WI&t=55s  The video involves a conversation between the Metropolitan and Rod Dreher, who converted to Orthodoxy from Catholicism and who now lives in Budapest.  In the video Metropolitan Hilarion stated that his reaction after reading the full text of the Declaration was “a kind of a shock.”  He then describes in the video his reasons for his very negative reaction.  He also believes that Fiducia supplicans will create new problems between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.  The UGCC has taken the position that the Declaration does not apply to the Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the UGCC.  https://ugcc.ua/data/komunikat-shchodo-retseptsiy-v-ugkts-deklaratsiy-dykasteriy-virovchennya-fiducia-supplicans-pro-dushpastyrske-znachennya-blagosloven-4124/  A growing number of Catholic bishops in Africa have indicated that the Declaration will not be applied in their territories.  https://cruxnow.com/church-in-africa/2023/12/following-other-africans-cameroon-bishops-deliver-firm-no-on-same-sex-blessings 

    CORRECTION:  In my last newsletter I quoted from the blog of Andrey Kuraev that he had decided to move to the Exarchate of the Netherlands and Luxembourg of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  Although it appeared to me in my first reading of the blog that Kuraev was referring to himself, he was in fact referring to another person.

    I wish all of you a very HAPPY NEW YEAR and pray that 2024 will bring you many blessings!

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 23 December 2023: Hilarion on "Fiducia supplicans"

    Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Budapest has just given his views on Fiducia supplicans in a 43-minute video posted on YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTh9m9DR6WI&t=55s  The video involves an English-language conversation between the Metropolitan and Rod Dreher, who converted to Orthodoxy from Catholicism and who now lives in Budapest.  This is the latest in a series of conversations between the two.  See https://www.youtube.com/@JesusPortalEng (series under the title “Conversations with Metropolitan Hilarion”)  The series definitely seeks to promote Orthodoxy, and this latest video is not an exception.  However, I found the views of Metropolitan Hilarion on Fiducia supplicans to be very interesting as I believe that they reflect the views of many in Orthodoxy.

    It should be remembered that Metropolitan Hilarion has an excellent relationship with Pope Francis.  When Metropolitan Hilarion was the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, he had a very significant role in arranging the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill at the Havana airport in February 2016.  The Metropolitan has had audiences with Pope Francis on at least 12 occasions.  Most recently, Pope Francis, during his visit to Budapest in April of this year, had an unannounced 20-minute meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion.  http://hungary.orthodoxia.org/2023/04/29/ferenc-romai-papa-magyarorszagi-latogatasa-alkalmaval-talalkozott-hilarion-budapesti-es-magyarorszagi-metropolitaval/  At the end of this latest video (at 43:10) , Metropolitan Hilarion states about Pope Francis: “I very much like him as a person.  He is very intelligent.  He is humble.  He is a spiritual man.”  

    The Metropolitan states in the conversation that he was sent the full text of the Declaration Fiducia supplicans by a Catholic friend.  In the video he states that his reaction in reading it was “a kind of a shock.”  He then describes in the video his reasons for this.  He also believes that Fiducia supplicans will create new problems between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.  In my opinion, the very negative reaction of Metropolitan Hilarion to the Declaration is especially significant as he is generally very ecumenical and enjoys good relations with the Catholic Church.  If he is shocked, it is very likely that the vast majority of Orthodox will have a similar or stronger reaction.

     

    Peter Anderson

  • 21 December 2023: "Fiducia supplicans" and synodality & other news

    As has already been front-page news in secular newspapers across the world, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith issued on December 18 a Declaration entitled Fiducia supplicans.  The official English translation of the entire document can be read at   https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2023/12/18/0901/01963.html#en .  The introduction to the Declaration states that “the text of the Declaration was submitted to the Holy Father for his review, and he approved it with his signature.”

    The Declaration concerns “the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage.”  The Declaration permits a priest to provide a blessing to a same-sex couple or a couple in an irregular situation subject to a number of restrictions and conditions.  For example, one “should neither provide for nor promote a ritual for the blessings of couples’’ in such situations.  Rather, a simple blessing may be imparted only at the request of the couple.  The Declaration states: “In a brief prayer preceding this spontaneous blessing, the ordained minister could ask that the individuals have peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue, and mutual assistance—but also God’s light and strength to be able to fulfill his will completely.”  See paragraph 38.  In this regard, “there is no intention to legitimize anything, but rather to open one’s life to God, to ask for his help to live better, and also to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness.”  See paragraph 40.  Arguably, this opens the door for a priest in his "brief prayer" to include a petition seeking God’s light and strength so that the couple’s relationship will be in full compliance with the teachings of the Church.  

    Paragraph 39 provides: “In any case, precisely to avoid any form of confusion or scandal, when the prayer of blessing is requested by a couple in an irregular situation, even though it is expressed outside the rites prescribed by the liturgical books, this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them.  Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding.  The same applies when the blessing is requested by a same-sex couple.”

    What has been the reaction of the Orthodox world, so far, to this Declaration?  At this very early date, I have seen relatively few Orthodox reactions on the Internet.  Some of the articles that I have seen stress the limitations found in the Declaration.  See, for example,  https://spzh.news/en/news/77480-vatican-allows-rcc-priests-to-bless-same-sex-couples;   https://ria.ru/20231219/vatikan-1916793524.html (covering the topic through an interview of the Catholic vicar general in Moscow).  However, Metropolitan Evstratiy, who often acts as the spokesperson of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), called the Declaration “problematic.”  https://www.liga.net/all/opinion/zayavlenie-papy-rimskogo-o-blagoslovenii-odnopolyh-par-prodolzhenie-shemy-okna-overtona  In view of the fact that the OCU is liberal, one can imagine that more conservative Orthodox churches would have an even more negative reaction.  The Declaration has the potential of creating another difference between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. 

    The issuance of the Declaration also raises an interesting procedural question as to whether its issuance at this time is consistent with the principles of synodality.  Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed that the Catholic Church must become more synodal.  To that end, Pope Francis caused an Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held two months ago on the topic:  For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.  A second session on the same topic is now scheduled for October 2024.  At the first session, the subject of blessings for same-sex couples was discussed.  There was insufficient support at this session for including anything about such blessings in the final Synthesis Report of the first session.  https://www.synod.va/en/news/a-synodal-church-in-mission.html  The following article describes the heated controversy over same-sex blessings and related issues during the first session.  https://www.newwaysministry.org/2023/11/15/post-synod-commentaries-reveal-fuller-story-on-lgbtq-discussions/  However, the Synthesis Report is not the final document of the Assembly.  The final document will be issued at the conclusion of the second session in October 2024.  It is certainly possible that the topic of same-sex blessings would have been further discussed at the second session and that the final document at the end of the second session would expressly address same-sex blessings.

    However, now Pope Francis has taken the issue of same-sex blessings away from the Assembly, and the issuance of the Declaration has conclusively resolved the issue.  Paragraph 41 of the Declaration states:  “What has been said in this Declaration regarding the blessings of same-sex couples is sufficient to guide the prudent and fatherly discernment of ordained ministers in this regard.  Thus, beyond the guidance provided above, no further responses should be expected about possible ways to regulate details or practicalities regarding blessings of this type.”  The consequence of this is clear – the Assembly at the second session is denied the power to make a recommendation with respect to same-sex blessings or to regulate the details of such blessings in any way because the Declaration has now essentially preempted this entire subject.  Pope Francis could have waited until after the conclusion of the second session before making his decision. Is the failure of Pope Francis to await the final outcome of the Assembly and to resolve the issue unilaterally based on his authority as pope inconsistent with the principles of synodality? 

    The same question can be raised with respect to the historic and extremely important decision of Pope Francis to add to the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops 70 voting persons who are not bishops.  Do not the principles of synodality require that the bishops themselves be given the opportunity to express their opinions on the composition of their own Assembly prior to the Pope's decision?  As far as I know, the Pope's decision came as a surprise, and there was no broad consultation with the bishops.  In the Orthodox Church, I do not believe that a primate would make such important decisions without consulting the body of bishops, such as the Holy Synod. 

    In Ukraine, Ruslan Stefanchuk, the speaker of the Rada, expressed the hope that the Rada will adopt the second reading of Draft Law 8371 early in 2024.  https://spzh.news/ru/news/77394-stefanchuk-zakon-o-zaprete-upts-mozhet-byt-prinjat-v-nachale-2024-hoda  As I have previously report, 51 members of the Rada have petitioned the speaker to seek the opinion of the Venice Commission as to whether Draft Law 8371 complies with “constitutional and international law, European standards and values.”  https://interfax.com.ua/news/political/950256.html  As best as I can determine, Stefanchuk has not at the present time responded to the petition.  However, comments in the Ukrainian media allege that the petition is simply a delaying tactic.  However, it should be noted that Stefanchuk requested an “urgent opinion” of the Venice Commission in 2022 with respect to a draft law then pending in Rada.  See https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2022)054-e   Stefanchuk requested the urgent opinion on 10 October 2022.  The urgent opinion was issued on 23 November 2022.  The opinion was formally adopted by the Venice Commission at its plenary meeting, 16-17 December 2022.  This shows that an urgent opinion of the Venice Commission with respect to Draft Law 8371 could probably be obtained with little delay.  There is good reason for seeking an urgent opinion with respect to Draft Law 8371.  On December 19, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated in an address:  “I note also my concerns regarding freedom of religion and belief in Ukraine, given continuing action by the authorities against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  A draft law would set out a procedure for dissolving any religious organization with ties to the Russian Federation.  These proposed restrictions to the right to freedom of religion do not appear to comply with international human rights law.”

    In other news, Andrey Kuraev (formerly a protodeacon), the very well-known and controversial theologian of the Moscow Patriarchate, who changed his residence from Moscow to Prague last month, has decided “to move to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Belgium and the Exarchate of the Netherlands and Luxembourg of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”  https://diak-kuraev.livejournal.com/  TASS reports that a survey conducted in Moldova in the last month shows that only 27% of the respondents believed that the Moldovan Orthodox Church (MOC) should join the Romanian Patriarchate while 63% believed that the MOC should retain its present status.  https://tass.ru/obschestvo/19577705

    On a personal note, I was very sorry to hear that the Rome religious website Il Sismografo has now closed its doors due primarily to the age and illness of its founder and principal editor Luis Badilla.  https://ilsismografo.blogspot.com/  For a number of years, the website has posted all of my newsletters for which I am extremely grateful.  With many thanks to Prof. Dr.  Barbara Hallensleben at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, my newsletters continue to be posted within a day or so at https://www.unifr.ch/orthodoxia/de/dokumentation/anderson/.  All of the newsletters from 2011 to date are also collected on this website in an easily accessible format.

    For those of you celebrating Christmas on December 25, I wish you a very joyful and blessed Feast of the Nativity!

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA 

  • 17 December 2023: Il Sismografo closed its doors today

    Il Sismografo permanently closed its doors today.  See https://ilsismografo.blogspot.com/2023/12/il-nostro-congedo-e-la-nostra.html   Luis Badilla states that his age (78) and accompanying illnesses does not allow him to continue.  He states: “The strength needed to move forward is no longer there.”  Personally, I am very sorry to see the website go.  For me, it has been a great sources of information.  Plus, the website has posted many of my newsletters, for which I am very grateful.   Many, many thanks to Luis Badilla for all that he has done for the Church.  Also a special word of thanks to Roberto Dorais, who works at Il Sismografo and has been so kind to me.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 16 December 2023: Moscow decision on Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun
  • 9 December 2023: Metropolitan Tikhon's new book & other news

    There are those who believe that the recent assignment of Metropolitan Tikhon to Simferopol and Crimea by the Moscow Patriarchate’s Holy Synod would subject him to obscurity.  However, just the opposite has been the case.  He has been very much in the public eye.  The latest development in this regard is the release of his book, The Death of the Empire. The Russian Lesson (Гибель Империи. Российский урок).  TASS hosted a press conference dedicated to the new book.  https://tass.ru/press/21621  In the press conference, held on December 7, Metropolitan Tikhon answered questions from journalists and experts for more than three hours.  The entire press conference can be watched at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt4EuCevz7Q .  A transcript of some of the questions and answers can be read at https://pravoslavie.ru/157676.html .  The fact that Metropolitan Tikhon received such extensive coverage from the State-owned media for his “book launch” may possibly be an indication that he is viewed with favor by the State authorities.

    In the interview, Tikhon quotes the German military leader Carl von Clausewitz, who fought for Russia in 1812.  Von Clausewitz stated, “Russia can be defeated only by its own weakness and the influence of internal strife.”  To me, this seems to be a central theme of the book – Russia is great if it just does not inflict injuries on itself.  I would assume that this theme is very appealing to President Putin.  Metropolitan Tikhon stresses that before 1917, “Russia was, without any exaggeration, a prosperous country.”   However, the events in Russia beginning in February 1917 changed all of that.  An abstract of the book reads as follows:  “The February Revolution of 1917.  In this event, as in a mirror, representatives of all layers of society without exception can see themselves at almost any time: those who govern the country, and entrepreneurs, and the intelligentsia, and ordinary people, and youth, and the Church, and cultural figures.  The mirror is not complimentary.  But it is honest.  The events of the February Revolution mercilessly testify to what we ourselves are capable of bringing our country to, what we can do in Russia with the best intentions both for ourselves and for future generations.  In his research, the author relies on scientific sources, cites unknown, stunning facts, and offers material for fruitful reflection.”     https://www.moscowbooks.ru/book/1175947/  The book involved almost ten years of research and is written in a scholarly fashion.

    In the interview there are also some very interesting statements relating to the current world situation.  Metropolitan Tikhon held out an olive branch to priests who have left the UOC and joined the OCU.  If they repent they should be forgiven.  https://ria.ru/20231207/tikhon-1914447894.html  He also stated:

    They [the West] need Ukraine primarily as a proxy army against Russia.  And they need Russia as a proxy army against China.  They will buy our raw materials, and they are buying them now.  They will completely calmly solve all other issues that can be solved for money.  But creating Russia as a proxy state against China is already a task.  And for this it was necessary either to change the so-called “regime” in a so-called democratic way, so that it would obey and sit in this “Group” obediently, doing what was prescribed to it.  Who will bring China to a common denominator: Vietnam, Japan, South Korea?!  No.  This is what we don’t understand at all, that the task is precisely to change Russia, to transform it.  How to change consciousness?  We see in the example of our people - Little Russians, Russians, Ukrainians, who for two or three years - that’s all, and they are ready to kill.  By the way, there is an amazing phrase in a book.  Contemplating everything that was happening in Russia, Maurice Paleologue, then ambassador of the French Republic in Petrograd, said: “No people are as easily influenced and inspired as the Russian people.”  For the life of me, this is really true!  Look at our history.  Yes, we get out of difficult situations, get out of it, and so on.  But, as Paleologus says, there is no more suggestible people than we, like the Slavs in general, in principle.  And this must also be kept in mind.  Yes, the Germans are suggestible, of course, as are the French and the Americans.  But for us it is a special disease.  And here you should always make allowance for the wind.

    On a different subject relating to Ukraine, a letter from Viktor Yelensky, who currently heads the Ukrainian State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience, to Dr. Thomas Bremer, a Catholic theologian and former professor of Eastern Churches and ecumenical theology at the University of Münster, has just been posted.  Dr. Bremer has been a strong critic of Ukrainian Draft Law 8371, and Viktor Yelensky responds in the letter to this criticism.   https://www.dialogtut.org/vy-potrapyly-pid-vplyv-informaczijnogo-klishe-shho-poshyryuyetsya-kerivnycztvom-upcz-ta-yihnimy-lobistamy/?fbclid=IwAR2OK5kcxOTin6PvA1VO8-0e5Ur5BRcgBaZGrisMG03Rf43tnKQYTEJmPM0  As I have previously discussed in several newsletters, Draft Law 8371 contains a serious ambiguity.  In one interpretation, the activities of a religious organization in Ukraine can be prohibited only if it is managed and controlled by an organization in Russia.  Under a second interpretation, the activities of a religious organization in Ukraine can be prohibited if it is simply affiliated with an organization in Russia.  The second interpretation is especially problematic with respect to the exercise of freedom of religion.  In the letter, Yelensky states: “The state of Ukraine does not want to ban either the UOC or any other Church.  But she must be sure that no religious organization in Ukraine is connected by ‘earthly ties’ with centers that are participants in military aggression against Ukraine.”  Yelensky says nothing about the need to prove management or control from Russia.  From this it is clear that he is adopting the second interpretation.  Why does Yelensky adopt the especially problematic interpretation?  In my opinion, it is because Yelensky realizes that the Ukrainian government cannot prove that the UOC is presently in fact managed and controlled by the Moscow Patriarchate.

    As you may recall, Ilze Brands Kehris, who is the United Nations' Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, made a presentation on November 17 at a session of the Security Council relating to religious freedom in Ukraine.    https://www.ohchr.org/en/statements-and-speeches/2023/11/asg-brands-kehris-briefs-security-council-ukraine  In her presentation she discussed Draft Law 8371, now pending before the Rada, and extended an express invitation to Ukrainian lawmakers to make use of the expertise of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights “to assess whether the proposed means are clearly defined and the least intrusive ones possible for achieving the specific aim, and whether the proposed amendments comply with international legal standards.”  As best as I can determine, there has been no response to this invitation.  In fact I have seen no reference in the Ukrainian media about the invitation.

    However, on November 23, a petition was signed by 46 people’s deputies and was presented to the Rada’s speaker.  The petition urged the speaker to send Draft Law 8371 to the Venice Commission (European Commission for Democracy through Law) for the purpose of seeking its opinion as to whether the draft law would violate human rights and the freedom of religion.   https://lb.ua/news/2023/11/25/586035_kerivniki_slug_i_kolishnya_opzzh.html  By November 25 there were a total of 51 deputies who had signed the petition.  https://spzh.news/en/news/77162-50-mps-urge-vr-speaker-to-seek-opinion-from-venice-commission-on-uoc-ban  The statute governing the Venice Commission is set out at   https://venice.coe.int/files/RevisedStatuteRevisedRulesofProcedureandPrinciplesofConduct2023.pdf.  According to Article 3.2, the “Commission may supply, within its mandate, opinions upon request submitted by the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, the Secretary General, or by a state or international organisation or body participating in the work of the Commission.” (Article 3.2)  The Commission also has a procedure for providing “urgent opinions.”   https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2018)019-e  So far, there appears to have been no response to the petition by any governmental official in Ukraine.

    On November 30, the feast of St. Andrew, the Vatican continued its tradition (since 1979) of sending a delegation to Istanbul to be with the Ecumenical Patriarch for the celebration of this feast at the Phanar.  The Vatican delegation was led by Cardinal Kurt Koch, the prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and included Bishop Brian Farrell LC, secretary of the Dicastery, and Msgr. Andrea Palmieri, undersecretary.    http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/news/2023/2023-11-30-une-delegation-du-saint-siege-participe-a-la-fete-pat.html  A video of the entire service is found  at   https://www.facebook.com/ecumenicalpatriarchate/videos/1034175434501357 .  At the end of the service, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gave an address in Greek (video at 3:48:00) followed by an address by Cardinal Koch in English (video at 4:02:28).  As part of his address, Cardinal Koch read a letter from Pope Francis to the Ecumenical Patriarch.  The letter can be read at   http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/papa-francesco/2023/voyages-apostoliques1/message-au-patriarche-bartholomee-pour-la-fete-de-saint-andre.html.

    The text of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s address can be read at   https://fosfanariou.gr/index.php/2023/12/01/omilia-ecum-patr-sti-throniki-eorti-2023/.  Referring to the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, he called the document approved by the Commission last June in Alexandria “a remarkable text.”  With respect to the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held in Rome in October, he referred to it as “a further step towards rapprochement between the two sister Churches.”   He remarked that Pope Francis and he “have common positions on contemporary burning issues.”  In this regard, he mentioned such matters as respect for human rights, peace and the suffering of civilians and children, the importance of dialogue and peacemaking, the obstacle posed by religious fundamentalism, interreligious cooperation in the area of environmental protection, and the plight of refugees.

    Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew also gave special recognition to Bishop Brian Farrell.  Bishop Farrell will turn age 80 next February, and the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium (2022) now mandates the retirement of all Curia officials at age 80.  A biography of Bishop Farrell, who was born in Dublin and who has held the position of Secretary since 2002, can be read at    http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/dicastero/organico/segretario.html  In honoring Bishop Farrell, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated:  “In this context, we express our particular and distinct appreciation and honor to His Grace Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of your Dicastery, who will soon be retiring, and we thank him wholeheartedly for his creative contribution to our bilateral dialogue, as well and for his wisdom, fraternal love and sincere friendship.”  Personally, I first met Bishop Farrell in Seattle in 2005, and we have communicated periodically since then.  I have a great respect for him and believe that he has done much to promote Christian unity.  Thank you so much, Bishop Farrell!

    On November 28, both President Putin and Patriarch Kirill addressed the plenary meeting of the XXV World Russian People's Council.   http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6080858.html   The following is a video of both of their addresses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMcwf_GJShU.  The subject of the plenary meeting was “The Present and Future of the Russian World.”  The meeting was organized by Patriarch Kirill.  In the addresses the present close relationship between the President and Patriarch was very evident.  The official English translation of the President’s remarks is found at   http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/72863.  Speaking via teleconference, the President stated at the end of his address:

    I am aware of your tireless work, Your Holiness, to bring about the spiritual revival of Russia and of the importance and influence of your position.  I want to emphasize this.  Under your leadership, the Russian Orthodox Church, clergy, and laity do much to implement social, charitable, and volunteer projects.  I am also aware of the support provided to our servicemen and their families and how eagerly our soldiers and officers on the frontlines seek out the Patriarch's words.  I am pleased today, at the World Russian People's Council, to congratulate you on being awarded the 2023 Presidential Prize for your contribution to strengthening the unity of the Russian nation.  You have my deepest respect [“A low bow to you”].

    The text of the Patriarch’s 41-minute address is found at   http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6080946.html.  In commenting on the Church’s relationship with the State, the Patriarch stated:

    I would like to express special gratitude to the state leadership of Russia and personally to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin for the invariably great attention to the spiritual component of the life of the people, for understanding the special historical role of the Orthodox tradition in the formation and development of Russian culture and Russian statehood.  I have said more than once before and I will repeat it again: we truly live in very favorable times.  Rarely does the Lord give such a unique chance: we can build constructive and friendly relations between the Orthodox Church and other religious associations with government authorities.  This is perhaps the first time in the history of Russia.  Even at a time when the country called itself an Orthodox empire, there was no such mutual understanding and unanimity in resolving important issues related to strengthening the traditional spiritual and moral foundations of the life of the people.

    Most of the Patriarch’s remarks related to the concept “Russian world.”  According to the Patriarch, the “Russian world” is not an ethnic concept but rather a broad diversity of peoples “sharing the same values of social life along with the Russian people.”  The Patriarch believes that the “common denominator in the Russian world formula is tradition” which “preserves and transmits valuable spiritual and cultural experience to people.”  He also stated:  “Being the core of Russian culture, the Orthodox faith has nurtured in the Russian people all of those moral qualities that today constitute our identity and thanks to which we can talk about Russian identity and the Russian world.”  Of course, there are many people, especially in Ukraine, who believe that the concept of the Russian world is being used to suppress the separate Ukrainian existence and culture.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 26 November 2023: Metropolitan Hilarion's latest interview

    Yesterday, the Jesus Portal posted on YouTube a one hour and seven minutes interview of Metropolitan Hilarion conducted this month.  The interview was conducted in English by Dr. Robert Moynihan, publisher of Inside the Vatican magazine.  You can watch it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLgv--xExnM .   I found the entire interview interesting, but will note a number of parts which were especially interesting for me.  They are as follows:

    4:20 The Metropolitan’s mother and the book written by her concerning a visit to a Georgian monastery with her son.

    26:30 The Metropolitan’s experiences at Oxford including his dissertation and Kallistos Ware

    31:10 The appeal by Hilarion to the Soviet soldiers in Lithuania not to fire on civilians

    36:00 The important role played by Metropolitan Kirill in a meeting that prevented a civil war in Russia in 1993

    42:00 Metropolitan Hilarion’s six volumes on Jesus with Pope Benedict being one of the sources of inspiration

    57:00 Hungary and religion

    1:01: 33  Impressions of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis

    1:05:56 Theological dialogue between Orthodox and Catholic Churches  -- very pessimistic about results

    If you click “more” under the number of views, a more detailed outline of the video is available.

     

    Peter Anderson

  • 21 November 2023: Will Ukraine work with the UN on Draft Law 8371?

    On November 17, Ilze Brands Kehris, who is the United Nations' Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, made a presentation at a session of the Security Council which was discussing the issue of freedom of religion in Ukraine.  The complete text of her presentation can be read in English at https://www.ohchr.org/en/statements-and-speeches/2023/11/asg-brands-kehris-briefs-security-council-ukraine .  Aside from the High Commissioner and the Deputy High Commissioner, Ms. Brands Kehris is the highest official of the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  https://www.ohchr.org/en/about-us/assistant-secretary-general/ilze-brands-kehris  In her presentation, Ms Brands Kehris was highly critical of certain actions by Russia against churches in the occupied territories.  She also criticized Ukraine.  She devoted two paragraphs to Draft Law 8371, which has been approved on the first reading by the Ukrainian Parliament (Rada).  The Draft Law is now with the Rada’s Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy, which is considering amendments proposed by Rada deputies to the Draft Law and which will present to the Rada for the second reading a draft law incorporating the amendments which the Committee finds appropriate.

    Ms. Brands Kehris in her remarks about Draft Law 8371 extended an express invitation to Ukrainian lawmakers to make use of the expertise of the OHCHR “to assess whether the proposed means are clearly defined and the least intrusive ones possible for achieving the specific aim, and whether the proposed amendments comply with international legal standards.”  One of the functions of the OHCHR is to work with and assist “Governments in fulfilling their human rights obligations.”  https://www.ohchr.org/en/about-us/what-we-do  According to Ms. Brands Kehris, Ukraine has previously used the services of the OHCHR with respect to other laws.

    In my opinion this invitation presents an important choice for Ukraine.  If the Rada has confidence that Draft Law 8371 complies with international standards relating to freedom of religion, one would think that it would accept this invitation.  A conclusion by the OHCHR that Draft Law 8371 now complies with international standards relating to freedom of religion would be an extremely powerful weapon for Ukraine in rebutting accusations that the Draft Law fails to meet these standards.  In contrast, a non-acceptance of the express invitation leaves one wondering why the Rada did not accept.  One conclusion is that the Rada wishes to rush ahead and approve this law and does not wish to hear any objections from the OHCHR with respect to the latest version of Draft Law 8371.  I believe that not accepting the invitation from the United Nations will hurt Ukraine in the eyes of the world.  It will also provide an additional argument to Russia.   

    In considering this latest development, it is helpful to review the events leading up to it.  On October 19, the Rada approved on the first reading Draft Law 8371 by a vote of  287 in favor, 15 opposed, and 2 abstaining.  A considerable number of the deputies were not at the Rada for the vote.  After the vote, various organizations and individuals engaged in a campaign to make known on the Internet and in the media the names of the 15 deputies who voted against the Draft Law.  Deputies had until November 11, two weeks from the first reading, to submit proposed amendments to the Draft Law.  According to Yevgenia Kravchuk, deputy head of the Rada’s Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy, 1,200 amendments have now been submitted to the Committee by deputies.  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-polytics/3784147-do-zakonoproektu-pro-zaboronu-povazanih-z-rpc-organizacij-podali-1200-pravok-kravcuk.html  She said that two-thirds of these proposals have “signs of spam,” apparently a reference to suspected efforts by opponents of the Draft Law to slow the legislative processes.  According to Kravchuk, some of the members of the Committee have submitted amendments for “ensuring that there are no protracted court procedures” in enforcing the Draft Law.  Some members of the Committee “were co-authors of other similar draft laws and submitted their amendments in order to integrate the best ideas from them into the government project.”  Kravchuk stated that the Committee wants “to prepare this draft law for consideration in the session hall of the parliament by the end of this year, if there is such an opportunity."

    I have heard of no efforts by proponents of Draft Law 8371 to submit amendments which define critical words or phrases used in Draft Law 8371.  To the best of my knowledge, Viktor Yelensky, who is the top official of the Ukrainian government with respect to religious affairs and who was probably the main drafter of Draft Law 8371, has not publicly commented on the subject of definitions.  Significantly, Ms. Brands Kehris in her invitation to Ukrainian lawmakers urged them “to assess whether the proposed means are clearly defined….”  The World Council of Churches in a letter to the speaker of the Rada stated that “without proper definition and limitations, this law [Draft Law 8371] could be used in ways that violate international norms of religious freedom or belief…”  https://spzh.news/en/news/76459-world-council-of-churches-turns-to-stefanchuk-due-to-a-possible-ban-on-uoc   Soon after Draft Law 8371 was submitted to the Committee, the Committee referred it to the Rada’s scientific–expert department for an opinion.  The scientific-expert department concluded that the key language of Draft Law 8371 is ambiguous, does not satisfy the requirements of legal certainty, and needs definitions.  https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/pubFile/1659324  

    In previous newsletters, I have focused on the ambiguity of the key language of Draft Law 8317.  There are two possible interpretations of this language, each of which would lead to drastically different results.  Again, the critical language is the following:  “Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed.”   If one interprets the phrase “centers of influence of a religious organization” to refer to the Moscow Patriarchate, the key question becomes whether the Ukrainian organization is “affiliated” with the Moscow Patriarchate.  If one interprets the phrase “centers of influence of a religious organization” to refer to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), the key question becomes whether the UOC has its “governing center (control)” in Russia.  It is my strong belief that prohibiting the activities of the UOC based on a mere affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate, without proof that the UOC is now in fact being controlled by the Moscow Patriarchate, would be a violation of the international norms of freedom of religion.  On the other hand, if the Moscow Patriarchate is now in fact managing and controlling the activities of the UOC, prohibition of those activities might be very well lawful especially when the control is being exercised to promote Russian objectives in the current war.

    There is a real concern that the Ukrainian government seems to be adopting the first interpretation.  In the session of the Security Council on November 17, the spokesperson for Ukraine was Natalia Moudrenko.  The entire proceedings of the session can be watched in English at  https://media.un.org/en/asset/k1t/k1tlnnj11y . Ms. Moudrenko’s remarks concerning Draft Law 8371 begins at 1:29:50 in the video.  Reading a prepared text, Ms. Moudrenko stated Draft Law 8371 “will disallow the activities of those religious organizations in Ukraine that are affiliated with the main bodies in the aggressor county.”  In addition, Viktor Yelensky stated in an interview on October 27:  “The draft law refers to the prevention of activities in Ukraine of religious organizations that are related to centers of influence in the country that carries out aggression against Ukraine.”   https://ukr.radio/news.html?newsID=102593  In neither of these two statements is there a reference for a need by the government to prove that an organization in Russia is at the present time managing and controlling in fact the activities of the religious organization in Ukraine.  Mere affiliation or a relationship would be enough.

    When the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine directed on December 1, 2022, that a draft law, which is now 8371, be prepared , it specified that the draft law must be “in accordance with the norms of international law in the field of freedom of conscience.”  There are now very sound and real fears that the present version of Draft Law 8371, especially as interpreted by the Ukrainian government, violates those “norms of international law in the field of freedom of conscience.”  Those fears would be largely dispelled if the Rada accepts the invitation of the UN’s OHCHR to work with it in framing a version of Draft Law 8371 which will comply with the norms of international law.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 17 November 2023: Accession of Moldovan Church (OCM) to Romanian Church remains open question

    As expected, Metropolitan Vladimir, primate of the Orthodox Church of Moldova (OCM), held a meeting on the morning of November 16 with the “extended” Diocesan Council of the Chișinău Diocese.  https://mitropolia.md/ips-mitropolit-vladimir-a-convocat-sedinta-ordinara-a-consiliului-eparhial-extins-din-cuprinsul-eparhiei-chisinaului/  The Diocese includes 16 of the 31 districts in Moldova.  Subsequent to the meeting, the Diocesan Council issued a letter to its clergy and faithful.  The entire letter, which was adopted unanimously, can be read at https://mitropolia.md/adresarea-consiliului-eparhial-extins-al-eparhiei-chisinaului-a-bisericii-ortodoxe-din-moldova-catre-cler-si-popor-in-contextul-provocarilor-actuale/ .  The letter includes the following statement:

    The unfounded accusations of non-canonicality and the exhortation made to our priests and believers by the Metropolis of Bessarabia [part of the Romanian Patriarchate] to leave the Orthodox Church of Moldova violate the canonical and eucharistic communion that the Metropolis of Moldova has both with the Romanian Patriarchate and with all other canonical Orthodox Churches in the world.

    In this sense, we urge all of you, clergy and people, to preserve peace and Christian unity and to avoid slipping into all kinds of politically fueled divisions, schisms and conflicts.

    Clerical brothers, let us think deeply and without haste!

    This unfounded and defective practice of voluntarily leaving the ecclesiastical jurisdiction and joining other religious entities, without a canonical letter from the hierarch, will be sanctioned in strict accordance with Canon Law - defrocking.  This canon applies in all canonical Orthodox Churches in the world.

    As you recall, Archpriest Pavel Borșevschi, dean of the second sector of the Metropolis of Chișinău, presented a letter to Metropolitan Vladimir on November 13.   https://www.facebook.com/BisericaSfantulDumitruChisinau/posts/pfbid02dCAME9QNBLh6ZskqgzDukA197gvf32uLBkP8qt1j6WAvY1pFV56awdEQtx67VcEQl   In this appeal, Metropolitan Vladimir was asked to initiate the accession process of the Metropolis of Moldova to the Romanian Patriarchate.   The letter from Borșevsch was very clear that the OCM should remain intact and that a merger with the Metropolis of Bessarabia was not suggested.  The Metropolis of Bessarabia is the part of the Romanian Patriarchate which already exists in Moldova and which has been very aggressive in urging the clergy and faithful of the OCM to join the Metropolis of Bessarabia.

    Later in the day on November 16, the parish of Archpriest Pavel Borșevschi posted a statement on its Facebook page.  https://www.facebook.com/BisericaSfantulDumitruChisinau/  It reads as follows:

    As dean of Chisinau, Sector II, Father Pavel Borșevschi, the priest of our parish, participated today, November 16, at the gathering of the archpriests from the Diocese of Chisinău, convened by His Eminence Vladimir, Metropolitan of Chisināu and All Moldova.  During this assembly, there was also a discussion of the appeal of priests from the Deanery of Chisinău, Sector II, of November 11, 2023, in which His Eminence Vladimir was asked to initiate the process of joining the Romanian Patriarchate.

    Following discussions and at the urging of His Eminence, there was a unanimous vote for the Unity of the Orthodox Church in Moldova; the topic of joining the Romanian Patriarchate remains an open one.

    We remain steadfast sons of the church of Christ, desiring to keep, according to the exhortation of the Holy Apostle Paul, "the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4, 3).

    Following the meeting, Bishop Ioan of Soroca, head of media relations, stated: Discussions regarding the accession of the Orthodox Church of Moldova to the Romanian Patriarchate or other structures will not be initiated.  https://moldova.europalibera.org/a/mitropolia-moldovei-respinge-ideea-de-a-adera-in-corpore-la-patriarhia-romana/32687238.html  However, the Diocesan Council’s letter of November 16 does not say that.  The letter is silent on the issue of the entire OCM being assumed intact by the Romanian Patriarchate.  Rather, the letter relates to preserving the unity of the OCM in face of the efforts of the Metropolis of Bessarabia to attract the clergy and faithful of the OCM.

    The website Jurnal.md has just posted a long article describing the events at the meeting obtained from several anonymous sources.  https://www.jurnal.md/ro/news/be749a19448748ab/exclusivitate-ce-s-a-discutat-de-fapt-la-adunarea-de-la-mitropolie.html  Some of the most interesting observations made in the article are the following:

    The results [of a survey requested by Metropolitan Vladmir] showed that the supporters of the accession of the Metropolis of Moldova to the Romanian Patriarchate are mostly priests from Chisinau, but those from the districts and villages do not agree.  Thus, the Metropolitan made it clear that he is not against a possible transition to the Romanian Patriarchate, but that he would not want to create division in the church.

    However, the hierarchs expressed their fear that the attachment of the Metropolis to the Romanian Patriarchate could lead to the loss of church unity in the Republic of Moldova.  In the same vein, a dean from a district warned the Metropolitan that if he took this step, he would tear the church in two, because not everyone would follow him.

    Moreover, during the discussions, the church leaders expressed their bewilderment that up to now the Metropolis of Moldova has not received any official invitation to dialogue from the Romanian Patriarchate.  The only proposal in this sense came from Ciprian-Vasile Olinici, the Romanian secretary of state for religion.

    At the end of the meeting, the Metropolitan announced that in three weeks he will go to Moscow, where he will have a meeting with Patriarch Kirill, to once again discuss the situation of the church here.  He mentioned that he would later convene a new meeting of the archpriests to make a final decision.  Therefore, the priests voted to remain within the Russian Patriarchate until then, in order to preserve the unity of the church, and that the dialogue regarding accession to the Romanian Patriarchate will remain an open one.

    The meeting on November 16  must also be viewed in the context of a statement made by a representative of the Bessarabian Metropolis to the media two days earlier.  https://moldova.europalibera.org/a/mitropolia-basarabiei-dezaproba-initiativa-preotului-borsevschi-nu-poti-ajunge-la-patriarhia-romana-neglijand-mitropolia-basarabiei-/32684441.html   Archpriest Ion Marian, who is responsible for receiving OCM parishes into the Bessarabian Metropolis, stated:  “We disapprove of this appeal [by  Borșevschi] … neglecting the Metropolis of Bessarabia, you cannot reach the Romanian Patriarchate.  He also stated that Romanian Patriarch Daniel had earlier asserted that “we have a canonical structure in the Republic of Moldova, the Metropolis of Bessarabia, and another structure cannot be developed….”

    The OCM has shown that it will strenuously oppose the efforts of the Bessarabian Metropolis to recruit the OCM clergy.  On November 14, the OCM, pending a final decision by its Synod, removed five defecting priests from their parishes and prohibited them from serving.  https://ortodox.md/cinci-preoti-din-eparhia-chisinaului-au-fost-opriti-de-a-oficia-cele-sfinte/   The OCM also replaced at its Chișinău Theological Academy and Seminary three individuals who recently defected to the Bessarabian Metropolis -- the vice-rector, the dean of the faculty of pastoral theology, and the vice chancellor.   https://ortodox.md/intaistatatorul-bisericii-ortodoxe-din-moldova-a-oferit-decretele-de-numire-in-functie-a-noilor-conducatori-ai-academiei-de-teologie-ortodoxa-din-moldova/ 

    From the foregoing, it is clear that the meeting on November 16 is only one chapter and that the end of the story will depend on future events.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 14 November 2023: Moldovan Church (OCM) to decide this Thursday???

    In recent weeks, the Orthodox Church of Moldova (OCM), part of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been faced with an ever increasing number of its priests defecting to the rival Metropolis of Bessarabia of the Romanian Patriarchate.  Some of the defections have involved important people in the OCM.  For example, in the last few days, Archpriest Vyacheslav Kazak, who actually runs the OCM’s Chișinău Theological Academy and Seminary (the official rector is Metropolitan Vladimir), joined the Metropolis of Bessarabia.  According to one website, Kazak is “one of the greatest theologians” of the OCM and was the “founder” of the Academy and Seminary.   https://globalhappenings.com/top-global-news/439177.html  All of Kazak’s parishioners and the church in Stresha joined him.    Another report states that more than 60 priests of the OCM have already moved to the Metropolis and that 13 churches of the OCM will officially transfer to the Metropolis next week.  https://timpul.md/articol/biserica-rusa-ne-a-fost-ca-o-mama-dar-ca-o-mama-vitrega-tot-mai-multi-preoti-trec-spre-mitropolia-basarabiei.html 

    Now there has been a new dramatic development.  On November 13, Archpriest Pavel Borșevschi, dean of the second sector of the Archdiocese of Chișinău, presented a letter to Metropolitan Vladimir, the primate of the OCM.  The Archdiocese’s second sector encompasses the Botanica Sector, which is one of five sectors in Chișinău and is the one with the greatest population (220,000).  It includes 30 parishes.  The entire letter, which is in Romanian, can be read on the Facebook page of the parish of Archpriest Pavel Borșevschi.  https://www.facebook.com/BisericaSfantulDumitruChisinau/posts/pfbid02dCAME9QNBLh6ZskqgzDukA197gvf32uLBkP8qt1j6WAvY1pFV56awdEQtx67VcEQl  This Facebook page also states:

    Starting from the extraordinary realities in which the Orthodox Church of the Republic of Moldova finds itself and in the context of the unjust and treacherous war that Russia is waging in Ukraine, the majority of priests and believers from the Archdiocese of Chișinău sector II, signed an address to His Eminence Vladimir, Metropolitan of Chișinău and All Moldova.  Through this address, we ask His Eminence to initiate the accession process of the Metropolitanate of Moldova to the Romanian Patriarchate.  His Eminence Vladimir's letter to Patriarch Kirill on September 5, 2023, in which he states that our people of Latin origin have nothing in common with the "Russky mir,” gives us courage to believe that now more than ever is the right time to correct historical mistakes and restore the dignity stolen by the Russian occupation.

    On November 13, Archpriest Pavel Borșevschi was interviewed by the Moldovan media concerning the letter.  https://www.jurnal.md/ro/news/11f81e2e8700e808/mitropolitul-vladimir-convoaca-o-adunare-cu-toti-protopopii-dupa-ce-a-primit-scrisoarea-preotilor-de-la-botanica.html  He stated:

    The letter is signed by most of the priests in the diocese.  We do not propose to join the Metropolis of Bessarabia, but we demand that the entire metropolis [OCM], as a canonical structure, led by Metropolitan Vladimir, renounce the Russian Church and Patriarch Kirill and come under the omophorion of the Romanian Patriarchate.  We cannot be in a church where the patriarch blesses his priests to pray for the victory of the Russian army over Ukraine, which is our suffering sister.  We also had a war in Transnistria, with the blessing of Patriarch Alexy II.  In such cases, when we say "victory," we are talking about humiliation.  It is something that cannot be explained from a Christian point of view.

    When he received the letter, the Metropolitan did not tell us either yes or no, but decided to summon all archpriests and abbots of the monasteries on Thursday to discuss this issue.  I don't think he has any reason to disagree with us, based on his letter to Patriarch Kirill and considering that this opinion is not only ours, the priests', but also that of the religious community, which we shepherd.

    One must now wait and see if this meeting will actually occur on Thursday.  Is Borșevschi overly optimistic?  From the viewpoint of Metropolitan Vladimir, the idea of the entire OCM transferring to the Romanian Patriarchate may be appealing.  It would allow the hierarchy and the entire structure of the OCM to remain intact.  It would be much more appealing than having a large part of the OCM join and become integrated into the Metropolis of Bessarabia.  In addition the Metropolis of Bessarabia has been very aggressive in soliciting OCM priests and faithful to join the Metropolis.  Because of the resulting bitterness, it would be humbling for Metropolitan Vladimir to surrender to the Metropolis of Bessarabia.  Under the idea presented by the Borșevschi letter, there would be two Orthodox jurisdictions in Moldova – both under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Patriarchate.  Would the Romanian Patriarchate agree to such an arrangement?  My guess is that it would – at least on a temporary basis.  If the OCM does transfer to the Romanian Patriarchate, would the Moscow Patriarchate sever communion with the Romanian Patriarchate?  This would lead to further isolation of the Moscow Patriarchate.  The Romanian Patriarchate is the second largest Local Orthodox Church and has not joined either the Moscow or Constantinople “camps.”   If the Moscow Patriarchate seeks to impose church sanctions on the Romanian Patriarchate, it might drive the Romanian Patriarchate closer to Constantinople.

    The remainder of this week may be a very interesting time for Moldova.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 8 November 2023: In the U.S., conflicting views of the OCU and UOC & other news

    The Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox  Church (UOC) has retained an international law firm to represent it in its claims that the UOC has been subject to religious persecution by the Ukrainian government.  The firm is Amsterdam & Partners with offices in London and Washington, D.C.  The following is the website of the firm:  https://amsterdamandpartners.com/  The founder of the firm is Robert Amsterdam, a Canadian lawyer.  His personal website is https://robertamsterdam.com/.  The latter website states that “the firm also represents Vadym Novynskyi.”   https://robertamsterdam.com/law-targeting-the-ukrainian-orthodox-church-is-a-disgraceful-transgression-of-civil-rights/  Vadim Novinsky is one of the richest persons in Ukrainian, is a protodeacon in the UOC, and is a great financial benefactor of the UOC.  Novinsky has been subject to sanctions by the Ukrainian government and has stated his intention to receive relief in international tribunals.  It is possible that Novinsky may have suggested to the Holy Synod its retaining of the Amsterdam firm and may even be paying for this representation.

    In representing the UOC, Robert Amsterdam has acted very quickly.  On October 24, he wrote a letter to Ruslan Stefanchuk, chairman of the Ukrainian Rada, protesting Draft Law 8371.  The full text of the letter can be read at https://robertamsterdam.com/open-letter-to-the-verkhovna-rada-on-draft-law-8371-attacking-religious-freedom/.   Amsterdam ended the letter stating:  “Or you may support the bill, violating one of the most basic human rights and, in so doing, undermine Ukraine’s political future and expose yourself to sanctions or even criminal prosecution.”   Amsterdam has also given a 10-minute interview to Tucker Carlson.  The full interview in English can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjSqe47Lv10 (100,000 views).  A version with a Russian translation, provided by the Union of Orthodox Journalists (UOJ), can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xE5NbSt7Crw (1.1 million views).  Although many may sharply disagree with various statements made by Amsterdam, most would agree that he is an articulate and forceful speaker.  The UOJ (a very anti-OCU website) claims that on “Tucker Carlson's own Twitter page, the interview was viewed by a total of over 100 million people in just 3 days.”  This is such a high number that one can seriously wonder if it is true.  A biography of Tucker Carlson, who has had an interesting and controversial career, can be read at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tucker_Carlson .

    A delegation of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations was in the United States beginning on October 29.  Their meetings in Washington, D.C. are described at https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/mytropolyt-yevstratij-vzyav-uchast-v-advokatsijnomu-vizyti-vseukrayinskoyi-rady-tserkov-do-ssha/.   Their most important presentation in the nation’s capital was a panel discussion held at the United States Institute of Peace, which was established by Congress in 1984 and is devoted to the nonviolent prevention and mitigation of deadly conflicts abroad.  The entire panel discussion, which was conducted in English, can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UM4aSXLJ5zQ .  Contrary to Amsterdam, the delegation strongly maintained that religious rights are not being violated in Ukraine.  The delegation also travelled to Houston, Texas.  https://www.facebook.com/p/Consulate-General-of-Ukraine-in-Houston-100078270849023/  This included a panel discussion at the Houston branch of the American Jewish Committee.  Here again, the delegation asserted that Ukraine maintains a high level of religious freedom.

    In an interview with Voice of America concerning the delegation’s visit to the United States, Metropolitan Evstratiy, who was the chief representative of the OCU on the delegation, was asked whether Metropolitan Onufry of the UOC was invited to join the delegation.  https://www.holosameryky.com/a/mytropolyl-yestratij-pro-relihijnu-svobodu-v-ukrajini/7338347.html   In response, Metropolitan Evstratiy answered, “And they did not consider it necessary to send a person corresponding to the level of the delegation to participate in this event.”  Archpriest Mykola Danylevych, who is deputy head of the DECR of the UOC and a primary spokesperson for the UOC, has now issued a rebuttal on his Telegram channel.  https://t.me/s/MykolayDanylevych (November 6)   Danylevych maintains that the UOC understood that it was necessary for the designated delegation member to be fluent in English.  The UOC therefore submitted the name of Professor S. M. Bortnyk, who is on the faculty of the Kyiv Theological Academy and is an employee of the DECR of the UOC.  Personally, I have been on a Zoom panel with Professor Bortnyk and can confirm that he is completely fluent in English.  He also represented the UOC at the last General Assembly of the WCC.  According to Danylevych, the UOC was never informed that it should send a person having a higher rank.  He also maintains that “it is obvious that they did not want to see us there, so as not to spoil the picture and the supposedly unanimous position” of the Council.

    With respect to Draft Law 8371, the time has now passed for Rada deputies to submit proposed amendments to the draft approved on the first reading.  Presumably, the proposed amendments will now be considered by the Rada’s Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy.  The website of the Committee is https://kompkd.rada.gov.ua/   The website gives no indication that a meeting on the proposed amendments has been scheduled.

    Viktor Yelensky, head of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), has given an interesting Interview to Ukrainian Radio, which is the largest radio network in Ukraine and which is owned by the Ukrainian state.  Yelensky is probably the person who prepared  the current version of Draft Law 8371.  The entire interview can be read at https://ukr.radio/news.html?newsID=102593.  The interview also included remarks by Volodymyr Yavorskyi, an expert of the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv.  The interview relates exclusively to Draft Law 8371.  

    As discussed in my earlier newsletters, Draft Law 8371 seeks to amend the Ukrainian law “On the freedom of conscience and religious organizations” in certain respects.  The entire Draft Law may be read at https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/pubFile/1622350.  By far the most important change is the addition of the following sentence to Article 5 (separation of church and state): “Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed.”  [“Не допускається діяльність релігійних організаційякі афілійовані із центрами впливу релігійної організації (об'єднання), керівний центр (управлінняякої знаходиться за межами України в державіяка здійснює збройну агресію проти України.”]  After Draft Law 8371 was submitted to Rada by Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, it was assigned to the Rada’s Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy.  This Committee then sought the opinion of the Rada’s scientific – expert department with respect to the legality of the proposed law.  The resulting opinion of the department can be read at  https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/pubFile/1658255.  The department in its opinion stated:  The proposed amendment does not define the terms “religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence,” “center of influence of a religious organization (association),” “governing center.”  The department then concluded that Draft Law 8371 does not comply with the principle of legal certainty required by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine.  In spite of this conclusion, Draft Law 8371 was not amended before the first reading to provide definitions for such important terms.

    In the interview, Yelensky makes no reference to this problem and says nothing about the need to add definitions in the second reading.  The major ambiguity in the Draft Law is whether the Moscow Patriarchate or the UOC should be considered the “center of influence” when the key sentence of the law is applied to the specific facts.  This question makes a huge difference in terms of proof.  If the Moscow Patriarchate is considered the “center of influence,”  the main element that the government would need to prove would be whether the UOC is “affiliated” with the Moscow Patriarchate.  The part of the sentence relating to “governing center” would  require almost no attention by a court because obviously the “governing center” of the Moscow Patriarchate is in Russia.  On the other hand, if the UOC is considered the “center of influence,” the government would need to prove that the “governing center (control)” of the UOC is in Russia.  The government may have great difficulty in proving that the UOC is in fact now managed and controlled by Moscow.  I would be personally surprised if the government could prove a single instance where Moscow gave an order or instruction to the UOC subsequent to May 2022 (when the charter of the UOC was amended) and where the UOC in fact obeyed that order or instruction.

    Although Yelensky in the interview did not specifically address these two possible interpretations, he nevertheless indicated which interpretation is correct in his opinion.  Thus, he stated:  The draft law refers to the prevention of activities in Ukraine of religious organizations that are related to centers of influence in the country that carries out aggression against Ukraine.  From this quotation, it is clear that Yelensky considers the phrase “centers of influence” to mean the Moscow Patriarchate.  Thus, there is no mention by Yelensky of “governing center (control).”  In Yelensky view, the key question is whether the religious organization (UOC) is “related (пов'язані)” to, or as used in the Draft law “affiliated (афілійовані)” with, the Moscow Patriarchate.  This is not surprising as it would be much easier for the government to prove some type of relationship as opposed to proving actual control by the Moscow Patriarchate over the UOC.  In the interview, Yelensky also stated: “A religious examination, which was carried out, for example, in January of this year, concluded that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church remains a part of the Russian Church.  And it showed not just a connection, but that it is a part of this church.”   Applying the reasoning of Yelensky, the proposed law prohibits activities by any religious organization with a connection to the Moscow Patriarchate.  Because the religious examination in January found that a connection does in fact exist between the Moscow Patriarchate and the UOC, the only possible conclusion one can make under Yelensky’s reasoning is that the activities of the UOC or its subparts are indeed prohibited under the language of the draft law.  

    Interestingly, the Ukrainian Council of Churches last April unanimously (except for the UOC) declared “the inadmissibility of the activities of any organizations in Ukraine, including religious ones, whose centers and leadership are located in the Russian Federation.”  https://vrciro.org.ua/ua/events/rada-tserkov-zasudzhue-zlovzhivannya-rosiyskoyu-federatsieyu-religiynimi-pochuttyami-v-agresivniy-i-nespravedliviy-viyni-proti-ukraini  This is the same position adopted by the Council during  its visit to the United States.  However, as discussed above, Yelensky’s interpretation does not require that the “center and leadership” of the UOC be located in Russia, but only that the UOC has a connection with a center of influence (namely the Moscow Patriarchate) which has it “center and leadership” in Russia. 

    Lastly the well-known blogger, Andrei Kuraev, has now moved his residence from Moscow to Prague.  https://diak-kuraev.livejournal.com/;  https://ria.ru/20231106/rpts-1907737508.html  Kuraev, who is very well-known in Russia, was in his early years highly regarded by the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate but was recently defrocked.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrey_Kuraev  Kuraev does have a prior connection with Prague.  In a 2016 interview, he stated:  “For me, Prague is one of my homelands, because when I was 11–15 years old, my parents lived and worked here.”   Khttps://ru.krymr.com/a/27689125.html  Kuraev is very smart but also very controversial.  I have read his blogs fairly regularly.  I have been amazed that he has been so critical of the Church and government, and yet his blog has continued to operate.  In comparison, the Credo website, which was also critical of the Church and government, suddenly ceased to exist in March 2022. 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 25 October 2023: Moldovan Church does not retreat from stated grievances & other news

    The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Moldova (OCM) met on October 25.  The minutes of this meeting can be read at  https://mitropolia.md/hotararile-sinodului-bom-din-25-octombrie-2023-care-sunt-deciziile-adoptate/   However, before considering these minutes, it is helpful to review various events occurring prior to the meeting.  On September 5, Metropolitan Vladimir of Chișinău and All Moldova sent a very strong letter to Patriarch Kirill with a long list of grievances.  An English translation of the letter was provided in my last newsletter.  See https://www.unifr.ch/orthodoxia/de/dokumentation/anderson/ (20 October 2023).  The authenticity of this leaked letter has not been denied by either the Moscow Patriarchate or by the OCM.  One of the many grievances mentioned in the letter related to the failure of the Patriarchate to approve the decision to the OCM Synod to elevate Archimandrite Filaret (Kuzmin) to be a bishop of the OCM.  According to the September 5 letter, the candidacy of Archimandrite Filaret was rejected by the Moscow Patriarchate’s Synod (MPS) “at the last moment by a decision that can be qualified as a disdainful attitude towards the Synod of the OCM.”  Subsequent to the letter, the MPS held its regular meeting on October 11, 2023.  Metropolitan Vladimir attended this meeting in Moscow and brought with him Archimandrite Filaret.  https://www.jurnal.md/ro/news/e764fd2efbf9f893/eveniment-istoric-pentru-mitropolia-moldovei-dupa-scrisoarea-mitropolitului-primul-episcop-hirotonit-la-chisinau.html  According to the foregoing link, Metropolitan Vladimir had also brought Archimandrite Filaret to the immediately preceding meeting of the MPS where he had been rejected based on the “files of the Patriarchate” which revealed that the Archimandrite had committed several “unchristian” acts.  However, now at the MPS meeting of October 11 held after the September 5 letter, the MPS did approve Archimandrite Filaret as a new bishop.  See  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6066199.html (Journal entry 97).  The MPS left the location of the ordination to the discretion of Patriarch Kirill.  On October 22, Archimandrite Filaret was ordained a bishop in the cathedral at Chișinău by Metropolitan Vladimir and other OCM bishops.  https://mitropolia.md/galerie-foto-intaistatatorul-bisericii-ortodoxe-din-moldova-a-oficiat-hirotonia-intru-episcop-a-arhimandritului-filaret-cuzmin/  All of the hierarchs who participated in the Liturgy at the cathedral were part of the OCM, except for Bishop Ambrozie (Munteanu) of Bogorodsk (vicar of the Patriarchal Exarchate for Western Europe responsible for the many Moldovans residing in Italy).  It was the first time in over 200 years that an episcopal ordination of the OCM occurred in Moldova.  The day after the ordination, Metropolitan Vikenty of Tashkent and Uzbekistan, a permanent member of the MPS, was in Chișinău and met with Metropolitan Vladimir.  The Metropolitans “discussed the life and activity of the churches in both countries.”  https://mitropolia.md/inaltpreasfintitul-mitropolit-vladimir-a-primit-la-resedinta-mitropolitana-vizita-inaltpreasfintitului-vichentie-mitropolit-de-taskent-si-uzbekistan/ 

    The minutes of the meeting of the Holy Synod of the OCM are significant because of their silence.  Journal entry 2 thanked Metropolitan Vladimir for his participation in the meeting of the MPS on October 11, but extended no thanks to the MPS for approving the episcopal ordination or to Patriarch Kirill for allowing the ordination to occur in Chișinău.  With respect to the September 5 letter from Metropolitan Vladimir, the minutes are silent which indicates that Holy Synod does not disavow in any way the grievances expressed in the letter.  The Holy Synod did defrock six archpriests of the OCM who had recently transferred to the Metropolis of Bessarabia (Romanian Patriarchate).   

    Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov)who was appointed Metropolitan of Simferopol and Crimea at the October 11 meeting of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Holy Synod, has now arrived in Crimea to assume his new duties.  Subsequent to his arrival, he made several very interesting remarks.  The Telegram channel of the Crimean Metropolis reported certain remarks of the Metropolitan at a meeting with journalists on October 21.  https://t.me/s/mitropol_crimea  The report stated:   “Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Simferopol and Crimea to think through and present proposals for important and necessary changes in the life of the Crimean people of the peninsula.  Vladika Tikhon announced this during a press conference on October 21.   ‘Vladimir Vladimirovich instructed me to think about what can be done here (in Crimea - ed.) that is worthy, interesting and important for people based on the priceless treasure - Chersonesus,’ said Metropolitan Tikhon.”  This indicates that President Putin and Metropolitan Tikhon discussed the Metropolitan’s transfer and raises the possibility that President Putin may have actually been involved in the decision.   It is also possible that President Putin wishes Metropolitan Tikhon, whom he trusts, to be a set of eyes and ears for him in Crimea.  At the Liturgy the next day at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Simferopol, Metropolitan Tikhon stated according to the same Telegram channel:  “The Crimean Metropolis is now stable compared to those dioceses that are on the front line and that are divided.  And therefore, now the most important thing, from my point of view, is helping those who need this help, both here and there, in new regions.  Spiritual help, material help and preservation of unity and peace here in Crimea.”  This remark demonstrates that Metropolitan Tikhon believes his responsibilities are not limited to the Crimean Metropolis but also encompass providing spiritual and material help to “dioceses that are on the front line.”  Presumably, this would include the dioceses in the Donbass region which have been very recently absorbed by the Moscow Patriarchate.

    The Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch held its meeting at Balamand, October 16-21.  At the close of the meeting, the Synod issued a statement describing the results of its meeting.  This statement can be read in full at https://www.antiochian.org/regulararticle/1803?fbclid=IwAR1MnZCFid3bXnPG9kzDatfYu58xfba37MA5Om77GYd3prqYAJW2UnQJ3MU (English).  It includes the following very important decision:

    Therefore, the Synod Fathers offer fervent prayers to the King of Peace and Lord of Mercies, to wipe away every tear from the eyes of the Palestinian people, and to remove all injustice, oppression, homelessness, and displacement.  They call on all their children and Antiochian parishes to dedicate next Sunday to praying for justice, and for peace to prevail in the country of peace, and to collect aid for the relief of these afflicted people.  Since the current circumstances require intensifying prayer and cooperation, the Holy Synod decided to restore ecclesiastical communion with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and to assign a committee in the Patriarchate to communicate with the brothers at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in order to find a solution to the issue of the ecclesiastical dispute over the jurisdiction of "Qatar" in a way that preserves the right of ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the See of Antioch over it.   The Synod also decided to send a church delegation to visit Amman to express the love of the faithful in the Church of Antioch for the faithful in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and to stand by them in these difficult fateful circumstances.

    As you may recall, the Holy Synod decided on June 29, 2015, to impose “ecclesial severance with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, until further notice” because of the dispute between Antioch and Jerusalem with respect to jurisdiction over the Orthodox parish in Qatar.  https://www.antiochpatriarchate.org/en/page/1139/  The Qatar dispute has a complex history.  See https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/06/the-great-orthodox-council-antioch-is-different   The parish was founded in 1997, and its first priest was the now-Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem.  In 2013, the Jerusalem Patriarchate ordained a subsequent priest at the Qatar parish as “Archbishop of Qatar.”  The dispute between Antioch and Jerusalem then took on very serious dimensions.  Antioch contended that the entire Arabian Peninsula including all of the Gulf States was under its exclusive jurisdiction.  Efforts to mediate and settle the dispute over the course of many years have been unsuccessful.  However, it is very encouraging that the Patriarchate of Antioch has now decided to remove the severance, which has been unsuccessful in compelling Jerusalem to cede jurisdiction to Antioch.  It remains to be seen whether a solution to the Qatar dispute, which has been so elusive, will now be found.  Still communion between the two Patriarchates has now fortunately been restored.

    In Kyiv, a meeting was held on October 19 between Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal and the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.  https://vrciro.org.ua/ua/events/the-prime-minister-met-with-the-uccro  However, representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is one of the founding members of the Council, were not allowed by the Ukrainian government to attend the meeting.   https://news.church.ua/2023/10/23/zayava-vzcz-upc-shhodo-nedopushhennya-uchasti-predstavnikiv-upc-u-skladi-vrciro-na-zustrich-z-premjer-ministrom-ukrajini/#2023-10-25   I personally suspect that one of the subjects of the discussion at the meeting was Draft Law 8371, which was submitted to the Ukrainian Rada by the Prime Minister and sponsored by him.  As I previously reported, Draft Law 8371 was approved by the Rada on October 19 by a large majority.  Rada deputies have 14 days after October 19 to submit proposed amendments to be considered by the Rada on the second reading.  It is very possible that the meeting was held by the Prime Minister to obtain the “blessing” of the Council for his Draft Law.  It would be interesting to know whether the churches and religious organizations present at the meeting (including the UGCC and the Latin-rite Catholics) simply “rubber stamped” the government’s proposal or whether the churches proposed amendments to remedy some of the major defects in the Draft Law.

    In Rome, the first four-week session of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is drawing to a close.  The Assembly (which includes voting laypersons for the first time) is devoted to the subject For a Synodal Church.  Today, October 25, a letter from the Assembly "to the People of God” was issued.  https://ilsismografo.blogspot.com/2023/10/vaticano-letter-of-xvi-ordinary-general.html (full text in English).  I was personally pleased to see the following statement in the letter:  “We have thus also experienced the importance of fostering mutual exchanges between the Latin tradition and the traditions of Eastern Christianity.  The participation of fraternal delegates from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities deeply enriched our discussions.”  

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 20 October 2023: Plea of Moldovan Church to Patriarch Kirill

    There has been considerable discussion today about a letter dated September 5, 2023, from Metropolitan Vladimir of Chișinău and All Moldova (Moscow Patriarchate) to Patriarch Kirill.  A photocopy of the multipage letter appeared for the first time on October 20 in a posting by a blogger and former Moldavan deputy, who had also translated the Russian-language letter into Romanian.  https://cubreacovblog.wordpress.com/2023/10/20/mitropolitul-vladimir-cantarean-ne-aflam-intr-o-situatie-de-faliment-institutional-mitropolia-basarabei-a-demonstrat-ca-este-o-forta-care-nu-mai-poate-fi-oprita/    After this posting, Ziarul National, a Romanian-language journal in Moldova, contacted the Secretary of the Metropolis of Chișinău and All Moldova, Vadim Cheibaș, who confirmed that the letter had in fact been sent to Patriarch Kirill on September 5 and that no answer has been received to date.  https://www.ziarulnational.md/ultima-ora-vadim-cheibas-confirma-scrisoarea-adresata-patriarhului-kirill-in-care-ips-vladimir-ii-transmite-ca-lumea-rusa-ne-este-straina-si-ca-moscova-ne-trateaza-ca-pe-un-popor-fara-coloana-vertebrala-inca-asteptam-raspuns/    The Google translation tool does not work on the photocopy of the Russian-language letter.  However, the letter in a form on which the translation tool does work is found at https://t.me/s/veseliy_pip.   Using the latter site, a Google English translation of the entire letter is set forth below.  In understanding the letter, it is important to remember that not only does the Moscow Patriarchate have a presence in Moldova, but there is also in the country the much smaller Metropolis of Bessarabia, which is part of the Romanian Patriarchate.  The following is a short article about the current religious situation in Moldova.  https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/the-republic-of-moldova-is-not-ukraine-addressing-the-question-of-autocephaly-in-moldova  Metropolitan Vladimir is a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate.  It is very important to note that Metropolitan Vladimir did attend the most recent meeting of the Holy Synod in Moscow on October 11, 2023.  https://mitropolia.md/intaistatatorul-bisericii-ortodoxe-din-moldova-a-participat-la-lucrarile-sf-sinod-al-bisericii-ortodoxe-ruse/   Presumably, the Metropolitan has a conversation with Patriarch Kirill concerning the letter at that time.   The Metropolitan’s biography is found at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/56992.html.  The translation of the letter is as follows.  Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

     

    TO HIS HOLINESS, 

    THE HOLY KIRILL,

    PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUS’

    PRIMATE OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH

     

    Your Holiness,

    This appeal to you is a consequence of increasingly pressing circumstances that are rapidly pushing aside the Orthodox Church Moldova to the periphery of Moldovan society.

    This phenomenon is a direct result of our association as a church structure with the promotion of pro-Russian interests in the Republic of Moldova, due to our affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate, which, in turn, is perceived in Moldovan society as an outpost of the Kremlin and a champion of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For the Orthodox Church of Moldova, such a unification is tantamount to our disappearance from the religious and social scene of the country due to the persistent rejection by our fellow citizens of Russia’s aggressive interference in the affairs of both our neighboring and friendly state - Ukraine, and in our own.

    This attitude is also evidenced by the latest local public opinion polls, according to which for the first time since the proclamation of independence of the Republic of Moldova, citizens’ trust in the Church as an institution fell below the psychological threshold of 70%, and secular institutions turned out to be the most preferred by the population. And this happens in a situation where the church has always ranked first in the list of respondents' trust with a score of almost 90%. It is with regret that we have to state that this negative trend is directly related to our affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate and its rhetoric regarding Ukraine and Moldova.

    We are all the more perplexed that the Russian Orthodox Church, as the Mother Church, should have supported us in this difficult period, which has been going on for a year and a half; Let us at least remember our numerous appeals to the Moscow Patriarchate with a request to compensate for gas bills during the cold season, which have increased greatly, including due to the war unleashed by the Russian Federation against Ukraine. What did we receive in response to our requests? At best, if not almost complete ignorance, then promises that are most likely forgotten to this day.

    Correspondence and negotiations have been ignored, and time flies very quickly and not in our favor. The issue could have been resolved quickly, as our Romanian neighbors do. Efficiency was necessary to keep priests from being constantly tempted by the Romanian state, which offers full provision of clergy with a monthly salary of 800-900 euros, health insurance, pensions and exemption of parishes from quarterly reports.

    However, this important problem - one of the smallest that has arisen in the relationship between the Chisinau Metropolis and the Patriarchate - is more alarming in that there are signs that the Patriarchate is conducting consultations directly related to the structure and activities of the Orthodox Church of Moldova, ignoring and bypassing its leadership . Let us remember the case of Archimandrite. Filaret (Kuzmin), whose candidacy was rejected at the last moment by a decision that can be qualified as a disdainful attitude towards the Synod of the OCM, and which shows that for the Patriarchate the Metropolitan is not the only source of information in the Orthodox Church of Moldova.

    Another situation that makes us wary has already traditionally developed in the Transnistrian region, where bishops are appointed without agreement with the Metropolitan of Chisinau and All Moldova and the Synod of the OCM, as well as with local authorities - which is an inexplicable phenomenon for us.

    And as if these omissions are not enough to cause bewilderment and alarm, let us also mention the increasingly open and consistent support for the Metropolis of Bessarabia (and its growing influence) on the part of the governments of the Republic of Moldova and Romania. This signal from the authorities is perhaps the clearest, creating the impression that the Orthodox Church in Moldova is becoming increasingly unwelcome in the public sphere due to its direct connection with the Russian Federation. Recently, chairmen of village councils from the Transnistrian region, veterans and participants in the armed conflict that took place in the spring-summer of 1992 have been appealing orally and even in writing to the clergy of our church not to remember the name of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill during services, since he continues to bless the Russians. soldiers to fight brothers of the same faith in Ukraine and accordingly offer an ultimatum to the priests to transfer to the Romanian Patriarchate. Their initiative is supported in other regions of Moldova.

    To understand the unprecedented scale of this situation, let us give one extraordinary example - on August 31, 2023, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Balti diocese (Romanian Orthodox Church), a council of six hierarchs of the Romanian Orthodox Church, headed by His Eminence Teofan, Metropolitan of Moldova and Bukovina, including The Most Reverend Ignatius, Bishop of Hus, The Most Reverend Benedict Bistricianul, Vicar Bishop of Cluj and Archbishop Gerontius of Hunedora, Vicar Bishop of Virgo and Hunedora, accepted the invitation of His Eminence Peter, Metropolitan of Bessarabia, to take part in a large public event, during which His Eminence Theophanes consecrated the Cross on the site of the future Cathedral in Balti (Bessarabian Metropolis).

    Who could have imagined such a situation, say, two years ago, when a hierarch of another Orthodox Church, accompanied by a whole council of bishops, would come to the canonical territory of the Moldavian Metropolis, and even to participate in a public event, without asking permission from the local church authorities? But what seemed unthinkable just yesterday has become a fait accompli today, and the Orthodox Church of Moldova has absolutely no levers to stop these processes. In the current situation, any of our steps aimed at intervention will practically be qualified as anti-national sabotage, for which the people will isolate us forever and, in the end, forget us. In other words, we are in a position of institutional bankruptcy.

    No matter how harsh it may sound, the reality is that with the events of August 31, 2023 in Balti, the Metropolis of Bessarabia, with the open support of the Romanian Patriarchate, the states of the Republic of Moldova and Romania, demonstrated that it is a force that can no longer be stopped, what it wants and, it seems, will achieve the restoration of its historical rights, and the Chisinau-Moldovan Metropolis is only an auxiliary and useless element on the religious, social and cultural scene of our region.

    This should not surprise anyone, since the fate of the Republic of Moldova has already been decided by the great powers - in a relatively short time it will certainly be reunited with Romania and, naturally, everything that the Orthodox Church of Moldova stands for will become part of the Romanian Orthodox Church. As I said above, the Chisinau-Moldovan Metropolis can only observe these metamorphoses, because any of our intentions to stop this process will be perceived not only by civil society, but, above all, by our clergy and believers, who are also increasingly looking towards Romania and the West - as a subversive and unpopular step, because no one can resist historical facts, and delaying this process only prolongs the agony of those who want to stop them.

    Another trend that worries our people and clergy, which by the way 80% have Romanian citizenship, is the increasingly persistent desire of the Moscow Patriarchate to absorb the Moldavian Metropolis into the so-called “Russian World” - which is alien to our national aspirations and values. Unfortunately, this trend is a continuation of the brutal policy of denationalization carried out against Moldovans during the Tsarist period and then the Soviet era, which the Russian Orthodox Church wants to “improve.” Unfortunately, Moscow still has not understood that the people of Moldova have Latin roots, and it is quite natural that they strive to get closer and remain in this civilizational space, after centuries of artificial division, without in any way betraying Orthodoxy. Of course, we cannot deny the values that connect us with the Russian people, especially those expressed in a common faith, but this also applies to our relations with the Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbian and other peoples with whom we have common religious beliefs, and it must be seen as such and cannot be the basis for any interference in our internal affairs or "control" of our aspirations.

    In Russia, whether by secular or ecclesiastical authorities, we were and are treated as a peripheral and spineless people who are deprived of the right to make those decisions that they consider necessary for their own good and prosperity. Let's return to the recent refusal to ordain Archimandrite. Filaret (Kuzmin) to the rank of bishop - if in this case the opinion of the Orthodox Church of Moldova was completely ignored, although there are written denials from bishops who “allegedly know something,” especially since we promoted him to serve in Moldova, where he is known and loved. On the other hand, we observe the reaction of the Moscow Patriarchate, which was simply presented with a fait accompli, and was completely different than in our case at the ordination of archimandrites. John (LIPŠANS) as Bishop of Valmiera by His Eminence Metropolitan Alexander of Riga and All Latvia. According to the Synod of the Latvian Orthodox Church, this was dictated by the need for the presence of a Latvian bishop for the archpastoral management of the entrusted flock. For us, the decision to take this step without receiving the consent of Moscow was an act of courage and national dignity, which, of course, should have served as an example for everyone who has basic self-respect, especially if this example comes from the Baltic people, who have never under no circumstances will he allow his dignity to be violated.

    In this situation, we ask you, Your Holiness, how can we avoid falling into the abyss that opened as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on the one hand, and the growing distrust of both the clergy and the people in our position, which is supposedly directly related to Russian interests, with another? How can we maintain close relations with the Russian Orthodox Church when the geographical connection is practically severed, when we can no longer purchase church items made in the Russian Federation, since there are practically no trade routes between our countries? What to do in the context of the increasingly noticeable consolidation of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the Republic of Moldova and what to do when the Russian Orthodox Church, which considers itself our Mother, behaves towards us, in our opinion, to put it mildly, disrespectfully?

    Unfortunately, time is working against us at an accelerated pace, so that tomorrow the OCM may find itself excluded from public life, and its merits in the consolidation of the Church and Moldovan society will be quickly forgotten.

    Hoping for the wisdom of Your Holiness, and especially for the help of the Lord, we remain awaiting a speedy enlightening answer.

    With love in Christ,

    METROPOLITAN OF CHISINAU AND ALL MOLDOVA

  • 19 October 2023: Ukrainian parliament approves on first reading Draft Law 8371 & other news

    Today, October 19, the Ukrainian Rada passed Draft Law 8371 by a vote of  287 in favor, 15 opposed, and 2 abstaining.  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-polytics/3775951-rada-pidtrimala-zakonoproekt-pro-zaboronu-religijnih-organizacij-povazanih-iz-rpc.html;  https://global.espreso.tv/ukrainian-parliament-adopts-bill-to-ban-religious-organizations-linked-to-russia  The Legal Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church immediately issued a statement.  https://news.church.ua/2023/10/19/progolosovanij-v-pershomu-chitanni-radoyu-zakonoproekt-8371-ce-shhe-ne-prijnyatij-zakon-proekt-yakij-ne-vidpovidaje-jevropejskij-konvenciji-z-prav-lyudini-konstituciji-ukrajini-yurviddil-upc/#2023-10-19  The statement reads:

    On October 19, 2023, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine voted in its first reading the draft law 8371, as it is called in the media, "On the Prohibition of the UOC", which has not yet been adopted and has not become a law.  According to the procedure, there should be a second reading.  Therefore, it remains a draft law and needs to be revised, as it violates the right to freedom of religion and contains significant shortcomings of legal technique and does not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Constitution of Ukraine.  The relevant comment was published by the Legal Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Information and Education Department reports.   Draft law No. 8371, which, as noted, prohibits the activities of religious organizations associated with the aggressor state, is essentially aimed at banning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and violates the rights to freedom of religion of Ukrainian citizens who belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.   The draft law itself does not mention the UOC, but its origin (the decision of the National Security Council regarding the UOC), media and political support indicate that this law will be applied to the UOC, which is actually an independent and independent Church, and they are deliberately trying to pass it off as the ROC , and clerics and religious people who are citizens of Ukraine were classified as agents of the Russian Federation.   In order to justify the need to adopt this draft law, they refer to religious expertise, which, by the way, is not even of a legal nature (paragraph 3, section 5 of the expertise), criminal proceedings against members of the UOC, which allegedly pose a threat to national security.   According to the official notification of the SBU, there are 68 cases.   c order, health and morals of the population or protecting the rights and freedoms of other people.  Therefore, neither religious expertise, nor criminal proceedings, nor national security are grounds not only for banning, but also for limiting the right to freedom of religion.  It is certain that the adoption of this draft law will indicate that human rights and freedoms, for which our State is also fighting, are losing their meaning.

    The full text of Draft Law 8371 can be read at https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/987-12#Text.   It appears that no amendments were made to the draft law on the floor of the Rada today.  The draft law seeks to amend the Ukrainian law “On the freedom of conscience and religious organizations” in certain respects.  The full text of the existing law can be read at https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/987-12#Text.  By far the most important change is the addition of the following sentence to Article 5 (separation of church and state): “Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed.”  [“Не допускається діяльність релігійних організаційякі афілійовані із центрами впливу релігійної організації (об'єднання), керівний центр (управлінняякої знаходиться за межами України в державіяка здійснює збройну агресію проти України.”]  Another important change relates to Article 16 (termination of activity of a religious organization).  The following ground for termination is added: “In the cases provided for by this Law, the activity of a religious organization may be terminated in a court of law at the request of the central executive body that implements state policy in the field of religion, or the prosecutor.”  There are also amendments to Article 30 which list the responsibilities of “the central body of executive power implementing state policy in the field of religion.”  This central body is the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience, which formerly reported to the Ministry of Culture but now reports directly to the Cabinet of Ministers.  One of the responsibilities which the draft law adds is the following:  “Conducting a theological examination of the activity of religious organizations to identify subordination in canonical and organizational issues with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine.”   In a recent newsletter, I wrote a critique of the draft law, from my perspective as a retired attorney.  https://www.unifr.ch/orthodoxia/de/dokumentation/anderson/  (9 October 2023)

    Prior to the passage of the law today, the World Council of Churches had expressed serious concerns regarding the potential ban on the UOC and its compliance with international norms on religious freedom.  https://spzh.news/en/news/76459-world-council-of-churches-turns-to-stefanchuk-due-to-a-possible-ban-on-uoc  As far as I can determine, no organization and church outside Russia, except for the WCC and the UOC itself, has publicly criticized Draft Law 8371.

    As discussed in my last report, Metropolitan Leonid of Klin was removed by the Holy Synod from his position of Patriarchal Exarch of Africa.  According to the minutes of the Holy Synod, the removal occurred as the result of a report by Metropolitan Leonid  “outlining the reasons preventing him from fulfilling the duties of Patriarchal Exarch of Africa.” http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6066199.html (journal entry 93).  Father Georgy Maximov, who is actually the number two person in the Moscow Patriarchate’s efforts in Africa, has now commented in his Telegram channel concerning the removal.  https://t.me/s/OtecGeorgy (Oct. 13)  He stated:  “Vladyka Leonid coped well with the difficult duties of the Exarch of Africa and did not refuse to fulfill them.  I am grateful to God that He vouchsafed me to work under the leadership of such a bishop.  I consider removing him a big mistake.  Despite this opinion, of course, I continue to remember His Holiness the Patriarch as a father and a great master.”  Metropolitan Leonid has stated on his Telegram channel that "with the blessing of His Holiness the Patriarch, I am going on vacation.”  https://t.me/s/exarchleonid 

    The Holy Synod also transferred Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) from Pskov to Simferopol and Crimea.  On October 14, Metropolitan Tikhon celebrated his farewell Liturgy at the Holy Dormition Pskov-Pechersk Monastery.  https://pravpskov.ru/156681.html  As any one knows who has read Metropolitan Tikhon’s best-seller book, Everyday Saints, the Metropolitan began his religious life at the Monastery.  His farewell address can be read at https://pravpskov.ru/156677.html.  It can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrVaUrmvQxY .  At the end of an emotional farewell, he stated:  “And pray for me!  Pray: it’s a different diocese, a big diocese, and it has its own difficulties….After all, what is Crimea?  What was Crimea in Ancient Greece and Byzantium?  Kolyma! This is Kolyma!  For us it is Crimea , but for them it was a place where people did not live normally: they exiled Chrysostom and Clement (yes, the Pope), to Kolyma!  So I'm off to the resorts of Kolyma.  No, it's wonderful there, of course.  It's wonderful there.  It’s beautiful there, but it’s not Pechory.”  Kolyma is a historical region in the Russian Far East which was noted for its gulags during the period 1930 to mid-1950s.  The Metropolitan’s address to his flock in the city of Pskov can be read at https://pravpskov.ru/156703.html .  There he stated:  “Now in my soul, despite all the former difficulties, there is peace and harmony.  And in this state it is very easy to go on a new path.  I hope and pray that the peace of God will accompany me in the new obedience, new service.  This peace, by the grace of God, I believe (I may be mistaken, of course), is now received as a great grace and a great gift.”

    There continues to be speculation with respect to the reasons for Tikhon’s assignment to Crimea.  I have my own personal guess which may be totally wrong.  I believe that President Putin and Patriarch Kirill agreed that there should be a strong, popular, and charismatic church leader in the Russian-occupied portion of Ukraine around whom the Orthodox in the occupied areas can rally.  Presumably Metropolitan Onufry, primate of the UOC, still has loyal supporters in the occupied area.  Tikhon would be a counter-weight to Onufry’s influence.  There may also be a hope that Tikhon will also be attractive to Orthodox in the other areas of Ukraine.  This would increase Moscow’s influence there.

    For the 100th anniversary of the journal Theologia, published by the Church of Greece, an international conference was held in Athens beginning October 11. https://orthodoxtimes.com/opening-ceremony-of-international-scientific-conference-for-journal-theologia-has-been-completed/   In a time at which the various Local Orthodox Churches seem to be very divided on certain issues, it was heartening to see the representative of 12 Local Orthodox Churches at the opening ceremonies for the conference.  This included five primates:  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria (arriving two days later), Archbishop George of Cyprus, Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece, and Archbishop Anastasios of Albania.  The Patriarchates of Antioch, Jerusalem, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Georgia were represented by metropolitans, archbishops, or bishops.  The Church of Poland was represented by two theology professors.  The Patriarchate of Moscow and the Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia did not send representatives.  https://www.romfea.gr/ekklisia-ellados/59318-enarksi-diethnoys-epistimonikoy-synedriou-gia-to-periodiko-theologia-foto

    On October 14, hierarchs from six Local Orthodox Churches  (Ecumenical Patriarchate, Alexandria, Antioch, Romania, Georgia, and Cyprus) celebrated the Liturgy together in the Romanian city of Iași for the feast of St. Parascheva (an ascetic female saint of the 10th century whose relics are in the cathedral at Iași).  https://basilica.ro/26-de-ierarhi-au-slujit-la-sarbatoarea-sfintei-cuvioase-parascheva-de-la-iasi-video/   Metropolitan  Andreas of Arkalochori (Crete) of the Ecumenical Patriarchate presided at the Liturgy.  It is estimated that approximately 450,000 of the faithful participated in the events surrounding the feast day.  https://basilica.ro/450-000-de-pelerini-au-participat-la-hramul-sf-cuv-parascheva-pelerinajul-s-a-desfasurat-fara-incidente-majore/ 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 13 October 2023: Big changes by Moscow's Holy Synod & other news

    On Wednesday, October 11, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate met at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.  The meeting had not been previously announced.  The minutes of the meeting can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6066199.html.  Changes were made in three important positions of the Moscow Patriarchate.  The first change is that Metropolitan Lazar of Simferopol and Crimea is retired by the Holy Synod.  See Journal entry 92.  The retirement of Metropolitan Lazar is not a surprise.  He was born in 1939 (thus 84 years old) and has served as the head of the Simferopol and Crimea diocese since 1992 (31 years).   In 2012 he became a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).  Based on an appeal by Metropolitan Lazar, the Moscow Synod on June 7, 2022, accepted the Simferopol diocese into the direct canonical and administrative subordination to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus' and the Moscow Synod.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/53175.html  On March 20, 2023, the Holy Synod of the UOC removed Metropolitan Lazar as a permanent member of the UOC Synod on the grounds that it was not possible for him to take part in the meetings of the UOC Synod.  https://news.church.ua/2023/03/20/results-of-the-meeting-of-the-holy-synod-of-the-ukrainian-orthodox-church-on-20-march-2023/?lang=en#2023-10-12  However, the UOC took no other action against him.

    Although the retirement of Metropolitan Lazar is not a surprise, it is a surprise that he has been replaced by Metropolitan Tikhon of Pskov and Porkhov, who was simultaneously released from the administration of the Pskov Metropolis.  Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) has never previously worked in Crimea or Ukraine.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/60784.html   However, in March 2023, he accompanied President Putin to Crimea for the observance of the ninth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea. https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2023/10/12/russian-bishop-known-as-putins-confessor-named-head-of-crimea-diocese-a82746   Why was he selected?  It strengthens the bonds between the Orthodox hierarchy in Crimea and Moscow.  However, in my opinion, it may also be the first step towards making Metropolitan Tikhon a permanent member of the Moscow Synod.  As is well known, Metropolitan Tikhon has a strong friendship with President Putin.  In discussions with respect to possible successors to Patriarch Kirill, Metropolitan Tikhon’s name is often mentioned.  Permanent membership in the Moscow Synod would be a logical next step in his advancement.  Because of the close relationship between Tikhon and Putin, it is very unlikely that Patriarch Kirill would make a transfer which would be viewed negatively by Tikhon.

    The second surprising change is that Metropolitan Leonid of Klin is no longer the Patriarchal Exarch of Africa.  Journal entry 93 provides the following decision:

    1. In connection with the report of His Eminence Metropolitan Leonid of Klin, which was received in the name of His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus' Kirill, outlining the reasons preventing him from fulfilling the duties of Patriarchal Exarch of Africa, release Metropolitan Leonid of Klin from this position with gratitude for the labors incurred and with the preservation of his temporary management of the Yerevan-Armenian diocese.

    2. To appoint His Eminence Bishop Konstantin of Zaraisk as acting Patriarchal Exarch of Africa.

    This states that Metropolitan Leonid provided to Patriarch Kirill the reasons why he was prevented from fulfilling the duties of Patriarchal Exarch of Africa.  Metropolitan Leonid still retains his position as temporary head of the Yerevan- Armenian diocese, a position that he first obtained in October 2021. http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/3010995.html  This is clearly a demotion.  The big question is whether Metropolitan Leonid truly sought to be removed from the position of Exarch or whether Patriarch Kirill in fact directed Metropolitan Leonid to provide reasons why he could no longer perform the duties of Exarch.  Metropolitan Leonid has an extremely active Telegram channel, but there is no reference to the change or the reasons for it on his channel.  https://t.me/s/exarchleonid  One website has stated: “Source in the Russian Orthodox Church: Metropolitan Leonid of Klin, Patriarchal Exarch of Africa, was dismissed for connections with Prigozhin and the Wagner PMC.  Metropolitan Leonid, like General Surovikin, was a secret honorary member of the Wagner PMC.”  https://t.me/s/rusbrief?before=163792  Another possible reason is that Metropolitan Leonid made many indiscrete comments, completely unrelated to Africa, on his Telegram channel.  Some of these indiscrete comments have been discussed in my previous newsletters.

    Bishop Konstantin (Ostrovsky) of Zaraisk was appointed acting Patriarchal Exarch of Africa.  On August 25, 2022, the Holy Synod had appointed Konstantin a vicar of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus' with instructions to head the newly created missionary department of the Moscow diocese.     http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/2377357.html   His heading of the missionary department presumably gives him some qualifications to be the acting Exarch.

    A third surprise is that Metropolitan Dionysius of the Resurrection was released “from his duties as manager of affairs [chancellor] of the Moscow Patriarchate, permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, member of the Supreme Church Council, post of First Vicar of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia for the city of Moscow, manager of the Central Vicariate of the city of Moscow, secretary of the Inter-Council Presence, chairman of the Church-wide Disciplinary Commission under the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, chairman of the Interdepartmental Working Group for coordinating assistance provided to the dioceses of Donbass and adjacent territories located in the conflict zone, and abbot of the Novospassky Monastery.”   See Journal entry 91.  While losing all of these responsibilities, Dionysius now becomes the head of the  Omsk and Tauride diocese and the head of the Omsk Metropolis.  Omsk is the third largest city in Siberia after Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk, and the twelfth-largest city in Russia. 

    The new manager of affairs and permanent member of the Holy Synod with the title “Resurrection” will be Metropolitan Gregory of Ekaterinodar and Kuban.  Ekaterinodar is the old name for the city of Krasnodar.  It was the historical center of the Kuban Cossacks.  The west end of the famous Kerch bridge is in Crimea while the east end is in the Krasnodar district (krai).  The Kuban Metropolis, headed by Metropolitan Gregory, includes the famous city of Sochi.  It is therefore very likely that President Putin knows Metropolitan Gregory personally.  The appointment of Metropolitan Gregory to the Holy Synod gives the South additional representation on the Moscow Synod.  This helps to tie the South to Moscow. This may be important as Metropolitan Onufry, primate of the UOC, has not been attending meetings of the Moscow Synod since the beginning of the Ukrainian war. 

    Metropolitan Gregory will be the fifth manager of affairs (chancellor) under Patriarch Kirill.  In certain situations, the chancellor has been a very powerful position.  For example, Metropolitan Alexy (later Patriarch) of Leningrad held the position for 22 years.  Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil has been chancellor of the UOC since 2012 and has become the second most influential hierarch in the UOC.  By frequent changes in the holder of the chancellor position, it is very unlikely that a chancellor under Patriarch Kirill will become a major player in the Moscow Patriarchate.

    All three of these major changes make sense from a Russian political point of view.  Whether President Putin was the original source of these changes is a matter of speculation.

    In Journal entry 111 the Holy Synod dealt with the difficult situation in Sofia.  In paragraph 1, the Holy Synod stated:  “Express a categorical protest in connection with the rude and discriminatory actions of the Bulgarian authorities in expelling from the country under a far-fetched pretext the representative of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus' to the Patriarch of Bulgaria, the rector of the Compound of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia, Archimandrite Vassian (Zmeev), the secretary of the Compound, Archpriest Evgeniy Pavelchuk, and employee V. Bonko.”  In paragraph 7, Archimandrite Vassian is now appointed the head of the Russian spiritual mission in Jerusalem.  In paragraph 5,  Archpriest Vladimir Tyshchuk, a priest of the Vienna- Austria diocese is made the new representative of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus' to the Patriarch of Bulgaria and the rector of the Metochion [St. Nicholas Church] of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia.  Tyshchuk presently serves at the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Vienna.  In a TASS interview Archimandrite Vassian has praised the selection of Father Vladimir.  https://tass.ru/obschestvo/18994243  Vassian stated:  “I believe that this is a worthy person, and our parishioners in Sofia have received a good priest, who, I have no doubt, will become a good mentor for them….Of course, the appointment of a new rector by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church will make it possible to open the Russian church in Sofia and resume regular services there, as was the case in all previous years.”  The TASS article also states that Father Vladimir is the son of a priest who served in Sofia in the 1970s.  A religious website in Bulgaria has posted additional information about Father Vladimir.  https://dveri.bg/component/com_content/Itemid,100724/catid,19/id,72660/view,article/ Father Vladimir had previously worked in the protocol section of the DECR and as secretary of the patriarchal parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in the United States.  To date, I have seen no reports of the reaction of the Bulgarian government or the Bulgarian Patriarchate to the new appointment.  There is still the unresolved question of whether the Bulgarian Patriarchate or the Moscow Patriarchate has jurisdiction over St. Nicholas Church in Sofia.  Presumably, the Bulgarian Patriarchate will contend that Patriarch Neofit must approve the appointment of Father Vladimir as rector of St. Nicholas Church.  Therefore, the dispute in Sofia may not be over.

    There is the sad news from Geneva that the planned roundtable organized by the WCC and involving the UOC and the OCU will not be held in October as hoped.  https://www.oikoumene.org/news/wcc-postpones-roundtable-on-ukraine   WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay has announced:  “Unfortunately, despite our best efforts over the intervening months, practical and political obstacles to the participation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) as core participants in any such dialogue process render our plans impracticable for the time being.  We continue to believe that the engagement of both the UOC and the OCU is an essential foundation for the dialogue process we envisage, for promoting social cohesion among the people of Ukraine on their journey as a free and independent nation, and for the broader search for peace in a deeply divided and contentious world.”  As you may recall, Rev. Prof. Dr. Pillay and a small WCC delegation were in Kyiv from May 11 to 13, 2023, and met with both the UOC and the OCU.  At that earlier time, the WCC issued a press release.  https://www.oikoumene.org/news/wcc-leadership-delegation-meets-with-churches-in-ukraine This press release stated in part: “Both Metropolitan Anthony, Chancellor of the UOC, and Metropolitan Epifaniy, Primate of the OCU, have given clear signs of their willingness to engage in dialogue.  This openness to dialogue offers a sign of hope of healing one of the many wounds and divisions which this tragic conflict has deepened.”  It now appears that subsequent events have so poisoned the relationship between the UOC and the OCU that they are now unwilling to engage in any dialogue.  I personally believe that a major factor in poisoning the relationship is the support of the OCU for the campaign to outlaw the UOC and to take its property.

    Lastly, Metropolitan Job of Pisidia (Ecumenical Patriarchate), who is one of the Orthodox “fraternal delegates” at the ongoing XVI Assembly of the Synod of Bishops meeting at the Vatican on the subject of “For a Synodal Church,” gave a short address to the full Assembly on October 9.   https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/255617/eastern-orthodox-synods-are-bishops-only-metropolitan-tells-delegates   His address includes the following comment:  “In light of this, we could say that the understanding of synodality in the Orthodox Church differs greatly from the definition of synodality given by your present assembly of the Synod of Bishops.”

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 9 October 2023: Problematic law on religion likely to be passed by Ukrainian parliament

    There have been several reports in the last few days that enough deputies in the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) have pledged their support for the passage for Draft Law 8371.  Draft Law 8371 has been pending in the Rada for more than nine months but had not been submitted to the Rada for the first reading because of lack of majority support in the Rada.  However,  Oleg Dunda, a deputy in the Rada, stated on October 6:  “The appeal of the People's Deputies to ban the UOC-MP has already collected about 240 signatures, and in reality, votes for around 250.  There is no doubt that when this draft law [8371] is introduced, it will be voted on without problems.”  https://kyiv24.news/news/zakonoproyekt-pro-zaboronu-upcz-mp-bude-progolosovanyj-bez-problem-nardep  The support of 226 deputies is required for the passage of a draft law at the first reading.  https://spzh.news/en/news/76309-rada-collects-the-required-number-of-signatures-for-banning-uoc   As can be seen from the foregoing quotation from Oleg Dunda, the purpose and effect of Draft Law 8371, at least in the eyes of its supporters in the Rada, is to “ban” the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC or UOC-MP).

    Draft Law 8371 had been submitted to the Rada by Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on January 19, 2023, and had been assigned to the Rada’s Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy.  https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/Card/41219   It had been introduced in the Rada by the Prime Minister pursuant to a decision of the National Security and Defense Council (chaired by President Zelensky) on December 1, 2022, which in part directed the Cabinet of Ministers to “submit to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine for consideration within a two-month period a draft law on making it impossible to operate in Ukraine religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation in accordance with the norms of international law in the field of freedom of conscience and Ukraine's obligations in connection with joining the Council of Europe.”    https://risu.ua/rnbo-virishila-pereviriti-diyalnist-upc-mp-ta-pravomirnist-koristuvannya-kiyevo-pecherskoyu-lavroyu_n134450 . 

    Draft Law 8371 seeks to amend the Ukrainian law “On the freedom of conscience and religious organizations” in certain respects.  The full text of the existing law presently in effect can be read at https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/987-12#Text.  The full text of Draft Law 8371, seeking to amend the existing law, can be read in Ukrainian at  https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/pubFile/1622350    By far the most important change reflected in Draft Law 8371 is the addition of the following sentence to Article 5 (separation of church and state): “Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed.”  [“Не допускається діяльність релігійних організаційякі афілійовані із центрами впливу релігійної організації (об'єднання), керівний центр (управлінняякої знаходиться за межами України в державіяка здійснює збройну агресію проти України.”]  Comparing the decision of the National Security and Defense Council (quoted above) with this key sentence from Draft Law 8371 (also quoted above), one can see that the key sentence closely tracks the first part of the decision of the National Security and Defense Council.  However, Draft Law 8371 completely ignores the second part of the decision which provides “in accordance with the norms of international law in the field of freedom of conscience and Ukraine's obligations in connection with joining the Council of Europe.” 

    A proviso could have easily been added to Draft Law 8371 which states:  “Provided, nothing in this statute shall conflict with the norms of international law in the field of freedom of conscience.”   Omission of such language can only be considered intentional on the part of the drafters as it is part of the same sentence from which the key language in Draft Law 8371 was adopted.  This omission is a matter of great concern as it may indicate that the drafters of 8371 feared that the inclusion of such a proviso might interfere with what the supporters of 8371 were intending to accomplish  -- the banning of the UOC.  Another matter of great concern is that there is no requirement in 8371 that it be shown that the church activities sought to be prohibited pose a genuine threat to national security.  If the government of Ukraine seeks to ban or limit a particular church in Ukraine, it would seem that overriding the rights of freedom of religion would require proof that the church poses an actual threat to the national security of Ukraine.  However, Draft Law 8371 says nothing about national security.  Draft Law 8371 could have been easily drafted to include an express requirement that an actual threat to national security must be proven in order to limit the activities of a religious organization.

    The language of the key sentence of Draft Law 8371 (“Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed.”) is extremely ambiguous and the terms used are nowhere defined in the Draft Law.  Shortly after Draft Law 8371 was referred to the Rada's Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy, the Committee in turn referred the Draft Law to the “Scientific – Expert Department of the Rada” for its opinion.  The resulting opinion of the department can be read at  https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/pubFile/1658255.  The opinion of the department is highly critical of Draft Law 8371.  For example, it states:

    1. In the amendments to Art. 5 of the Law proposes to provide that "the activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed."  In this regard, we note the following.  The law, which is proposed to be amended, does not contain a definition of the terms “religious organization that are affiliated with centers of influence,” “center of influence of a religious organization (association),” “governing center.”   At the same time, the draft law does not disclose their purpose [зміст] , which, in our opinion, does not take into account the requirements regarding the need to comply with the principle of legal certainty.  [At this point, the Department discusses opinions of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine requiring legal certainty, clarity, and comprehensibility of legal norms.]

    Even though the Rada’s own expert department concluded that the language of Draft Law 8371 does not comply with the constitutional requirement of certainty, it appears that Draft Law 8371 will be submitted to Rada for adoption on the first reading without any modifications whatsoever to cure the defects found by the Rada’s own expert department.  Essentially, the opinion of the Rada’s expert department is being totally ignored.

    The key sentence of Draft Law 8371 also includes terms which seem completely out of place in describing relationships between church organizations.  The term “affiliated” is normally applied with respect to business relationships.  What it means in a religious context is completely unclear.  Personally, I have never heard the phrase “centers of influence” used in a religious context.  On the other hand, it would be easy to draft language which is clear and understandable.  For example, the key sentence could read:  “Activities of religious organizations which are actually controlled and managed by an organization in the Russian Federation and which pose a threat to the national security of Ukraine are not allowed.”  In my opinion such language would be clear and would comply with international norms relating to freedom of religion.  Instead, Draft Law 8371 uses very ambiguous language which is subject to many different interpretations.  This lack of clarity and guidance greatly increases the possibility that Law 8371 could be used to deny religious rights contrary to international norms. 

    At the present time, there are conservative Republicans in the United States who oppose additional funding to Ukraine.  Some of these conservatives use the restrictions imposed by the Ukrainian government on certain aspects of the exercise of the freedom of religion as one of the reasons for their opposition to funding.  See, for example,  https://catholicreview.org/pence-pushes-back-on-false-claims-about-ukraines-religious-freedom-at-gop-forum/   If I were one of those conservative Republicans, I would now use Draft Law 8371 as one of my prime examples.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 6 October 2023: Russian Orthodox and Bulgarian Orthodox tensions in Sofia

    Among the Local Orthodox Churches, it is common for one Local Orthodox Church to have a representation church (more properly called a podvorie or metochion) at the seat of another Local Orthodox Church.  This is true of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Bulgarian Patriarchate.  The Bulgarian Patriarchate has a representation church in Moscow.  Conversely, the Moscow Patriarchate has a representation church in Sofia.  The church in Sofia is the Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker, located in central Sofia.  It is also known as the “Russian Church.”   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Church,_Sofia  Many come to pray here because the church is the location of the grave of Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev) of Bochugarsk (1881-1950).  Archbishop Seraphim is a Russian hierarch who cared for the Russian parishes in Bulgaria from 1921 to 1950.  He was canonized by the Moscow Patriarchate in 2016.  Since 2018, the dean of the Russian Church in Sofia has been Archimandrite Vassian (Zmeyev), a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate and a Russian citizen.  (http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5161596.html - brief biography)

    On September 21, 2023, Bulgarian governmental authorities expelled from the country three persons connected with the Russian Church -- Archimandrite Vassian (dean), Archpriest Yevgeny Pavelchuk (parish secretary), and a staff member of the church.  The latter two are citizens of Belarus.  Shortly after the expulsions, a press release was posted by the Bulgarian State Agency for National Security (“DANS”).  https://www.dans.bg/bg/press-releases-menu-bul?start=3  The press release stated that by order of the chairman of DANS, the three individuals were subject to expulsion, deprivation of the right of residency, and a ban on entering Bulgaria for a period of five years.  The reason for this order was described as follows:

    The measures were imposed in connection with their activities directed against the national security and interests of the Republic of Bulgaria.  Data were obtained on the actions of the mentioned persons related to the implementation of various elements of the Russian Federation's hybrid strategy for purposefully influencing the socio-political processes in the Republic of Bulgaria in favor of Russian geopolitical interests.

    Many news sites in North Macedonia have reported that shortly before September 21,  Archimandrite Vassian had also been banned from North Macedonia by the governmental authorities there. https://kanal5.com.mk/sofija-go-protera-od-bugarija-ruskiot-sveshtenik-vasijan-zmeev/a601888;  https://meta.mk/po-skopje-i-oficijalna-sofija-go-protera-ruskiot-sveshtenik-vasijan/ ;  However, to date, there has been no official confirmation of this by the governmental authorities of North Macedonia.

    On the same day that Archimandrite Vassian was expelled from Bulgaria, the Moscow Patriarchate issued a strong protest, and a separate protest was issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.  The Patriarchate’s statement can be read in full in English at http://www.patriarchia.ru/en/db/text/6061647.html.  It includes the following:

    The Russian Orthodox Church has protested in the strongest terms against the unjust expulsion of its representatives from Bulgaria.  The expulsion of priests, whose calling is service to God and people and the preaching of peace and brotherhood among nations, is an outrageous act dictated by Russophobic motives and the desire to erase the glorious pages of the common history of Bulgaria and Russia….Today’s decision by the Bulgarian authorities demonstrates their disrespect for the feelings of believers who have now been denied the opportunity of visiting his [St. Seraphim’s] tomb as a result of the cessation of the activities of the Russian metochion.

    The protest by Maria Zakharova can be read in full in English at https://mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/1905499/.

    People who have dedicated their lives to serving God in the name of unity between the Russian and Bulgarian peoples based on a shared religion and Christian values were transported like criminals in a vehicle with barred windows back to the church by Bulgaria’s immigration service for them to pack their belongings.  Today, they will be deported as lawbreakers. They will simply be left at the Serbian border to fend for themselves.   Adding a particularly blasphemous dimension to this situation is the fact that this action was taken on a festive day that marks the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God which is a sacred and pure day for the Russian Orthodox Church parishioners.  We are outraged and shocked by what happened….This old Russian church, which has served as a place of shared worship for Russians and Bulgarians for many years, will now be closed.

    The Russian Church was in fact closed.  Immediately after the expulsion, the Russian Church was locked and sealed by personnel from the Russian Embassy in Sofia.  The Russian ambassador contends that the closure was not a form of retaliation for the expulsions but simply because there was insufficient staff to operate the church.  However, it quickly appeared that this problem would be solved because Patriarch Neofit, primate of the Bulgarian Patriarchate, made the decision on September 25 to appoint five of his priests to serve at the Russian Church.  This action was reported in a press release issued by the Sofia Metropolia.  https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news/saobshtenie-do-mediite-vav-vrazka-s-ruskia-hram-sv-nikolay-c  The press release is as follows:

    With his order dated today, 25/09/2023, His Holiness Bulgarian Patriarch Neofit, in the exercise of his powers as Metropolitan of Sofia, in whose diocese is located the "St. Nicholas Mirlikiyski" temple, personally appointed priests from Sofia who will take care of the temple, performing the usual services.  The Holy Metropolis of Sofia guarantees that no part of the property of the church will be lost or damaged.  As before, believers will be able to venerate the relics of Saint Seraphim of Sofia and beg for his gracious help and support.  The action of His Holiness is dictated by care for the faithful, preservation of good order in the church and should be understood only in its spiritual aspect.  It does not affect the property or other rights of anyone as guaranteed to them by secular laws.  Any other questions of a secular legal and administrative nature related to the case will be discussed at the regular meeting of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church - Bulgarian Patriarchate.  His Holiness Bulgarian Patriarch Neofit has informed the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’ Kirill about the actions taken in a special letter.  His Holiness expects assistance from the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Sofia for the opening of the temple and the continuation of its blessed life, which plays an important role in the spiritual upliftment of Orthodox Christians.   Before assuming their duties, the clerics were received by His Holiness in the building of the Sofia Holy Metropolis, who blessed them and gave them his primate ministerial instruction in carrying out the upcoming responsibilities.

    Bulgarian Justice Minister Atanas Slavov has  subsequently called the closure of the Russian Church “unacceptable” and has blamed the “Russian state in the person of the ambassador.”  https://ria.ru/20231004/khram-1900465842.html  The Minister stated: “ This is arbitrariness in the field of canon law.  Perhaps government measures should be taken.”

    On October 3, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Patriarchate met to discuss the Russian Church matter.  The resulting decision of the Synod is divided into three paragraphs.   https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news/reshenie-na-sv-sinod-na-bpts-bp  The first paragraph provides:  Fully supports the letter and actions of the Bulgarian Patriarch in his capacity as Metropolitan of Sofia regarding the temple-courtyard "St. Nikolay Mirlikiski Miracle Worker" in Sofia, and sending the letter to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’.  The reference to “actions” appears to be the appointment of priests of the Bulgarian Patriarchate to serve in the Russian Church.  The “letter” refers to the letter informing Patriarch Kirill of these actions. A copy of this letter has never been made public.  Metropolitan Daniil of Vidin dissented with respect to this paragraph.  https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news/osobeno-mnenie-na-vidinskia-mitropolit-daniil (dissenting opinion).  Metropolitan Daniil, who frequently supports the Moscow Patriarchate, contends that the Bulgarian Patriarchate has no jurisdiction over the Russian Church or to appoint priests for it.    Presumably, all of the other members of the Holy Synod believe that the Bulgarian Patriarchate does have jurisdiction.  Interestingly, with respect to the representation church of the Bulgarian Patriarchate in Moscow, the church is run by priests of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the actual representative of the Bulgarian Patriarchate has only honorary functions in the representation church.  https://dveri.bg/component/com_content/Itemid,100723/catid,14/id,72633/view,article/ 

    The second paragraph of the decision provides: The Holy Synod expresses hope that the temple will be opened as soon as possible, but this is not within the competences and powers of the BOC-BP.  This sentence is somewhat ambiguous.  It could simply mean that the Bulgarian Patriarchate does not have the power to open the representation church because the Russian ambassador has the key to the church.  A less plausible interpretation is that the Bulgarian Patriarchate cannot open the church because it has no jurisdiction over the church.  However, this interpretation is inconsistent with the first paragraph which upholds the actions of the Bulgarian Patriarch in appointing priests for the representation church – an action requiring jurisdiction.  The third paragraph of the decision provides:  Assigns to the canonical-legal commission of the Holy Synod to study and analyze the statutes for the functioning of the Podvorie in Sofia and Moscow, after which a decision will be made.

    On October 4, the communications service of the Moscow Patriarchate’s DECR posted a report that Patriarch Kirill had sent a reply to the letter received from Patriarch Neofit.  https://mospat.ru/en/news/90851/ (English)  The DECR report does not provide a copy of Patriarch Kirill’s letter.  With respect to Patriarch Neofit’s letter, the DECR report only states:  “In his appeal to His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus' Kirill, His Holiness Patriarch of Bulgaria Neophyte expressed his concern at the suspension of the liturgical life in the Church of Saint Nicholas in Sofia.”  The DECR report makes mention of the appointment of priests by Patriarch Neofit for the Russian Church in Sofia or that aspect of Patriarch Neofit’s letter to Patriarch Kirill.  The DECR report also does not mention that it was the Russian Embassy that locked the Russian Church.  The DECR report does state:

    In his letter of reply the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church noted the unprecedented nature in recent history of the decision by the Bulgarian authorities and expressed his profound regret with regard to the use of humiliating and discriminatory measures towards religious ministers with the clear aim of damaging the friendly relationship between the fraternal nations and sisters Churches.  His Holiness the Patriarch labelled the actions of the Bulgaria state authorities an unfriendly and unjust act towards the metochion of the Russian Orthodox Church, emphasizing at the same time that the Moscow Patriarchate was willing to continue its cooperation with the representative of the Patriarch of Bulgaria to the Patriarchal Throne of Moscow in his ministry for the good of the two Churches and assuring the Bulgarian Patriarch of his support for the work of the metochion of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Moscow.

    Sharing his concern with His Holiness Patriarch Neophyte over the temporary cessation of worship and the closure of the Church of Saint Nicholas, expressing his sympathies for the parishioners and churchgoing people of Sofia and deeply regretting that at present there is no possibility of visiting the church and praying at the tomb of Saint Seraphim of Boguchar, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill made clear that full responsibility for the suspension of the work and activities of the metochion lies with those who took the decision to deport its dean and coworkers.

    The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church notified His Holiness the Patriarch of Bulgaria and Metropolitan of Sofia that the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate in the near future will appoint a new dean so that the doors of the Russian metochion would be open as soon as possible. The letter also contains a request to help the soon-to-be appointed dean to settle in Sofia.

    From all of this, it is apparent that the Moscow Patriarchate will not allow the priests appointed by the Bulgarian Patriarch to open and serve at the Russian Church even though permitting this on a temporary basis would allow the faithful to worship there.  The report makes clear that the Church would only open after a new dean for the Russian Church in Sofia is appointed in the near future by the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate.  In the future one can expect a continuing controversy as to whether the Russian Church in Sofia is under the Bulgarian or Russian Orthodox jurisdiction.  With respect to the Bulgarian representational church in Moscow, it appears clear that it is presently under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 2 October 2023: Why is the Moscow Patriarchate prosecuting Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun?

    On Sunday, September 25, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’ issued a decree initiating canonical proceedings in the diocesan court of the Moscow Diocese against Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun.  Pending a canonical trial, the decree imposed severe limitations on the priestly service of Archimandrite Cyril.  The full text of the decree is posted at http://moseparh.ru/ukaz-u-02152-ot-25-sentyabrya-2023.html .  A Google translation of the full decree is as follows:

    Decree No. U-02/152 of 25 September 2023 // to Archimandrite Kirill (Hovorun)

    The written commitment of fidelity to the Russian Orthodox Church given by you was repeatedly violated, which was expressed, among other things, in your concelebration with the bishops and clergy of the Church of Constantinople, with which the Eucharistic communion was interrupted by the decision of the Holy Synod due to a gross invasion of the canonical territory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  In this regard, you, as having violated the priestly oath given by you, in accordance with the 25th rule of the Holy Apostles, are hereby prohibited from serving in the priesthood without the right to wear a cassock and a priestly cross and give a priestly blessing during the consideration of your case in the diocesan court of the Moscow diocese.

    +KIRILL, PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUS’

    The decree does not suspend the priesthood of the Archimandrite, but it does prohibit his priestly ministry pending trial.  Presumably, the diocesan court of the Moscow diocese has the power to recommend the removal of Archimandrite Cyril from the priesthood.

    Who is Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun?  He is an Ukrainian and was born with the name Sergii in the town of Zolotonosha, Ukraine (southeast of Kyiv).  He first studied theoretical physics at the Kyiv National University and then graduated from the Kyiv Theological Seminary (1994) and Academy (1998).  He was a brilliant student.  After graduation from the Academy, he went to Greece and obtained a bachelor’s degree in theology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in 2000.  He also became fluent in modern Greek.  He joined the DECR in Moscow in 2001 and remained in the DECR until 2007.  He studied at the University of Durham (UK) and received a MA and PhD in theology in 2003.  There he also became fluent in English.  From 2002 to 2005 he taught at the Sretensky Seminary in Moscow, and from 2003 to 2007 at the Moscow Theological Academy.

    In 2007 he was assigned to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kyiv, and in 2008 he became the head of the DECR of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  While in this assignment, he became a monk with the name Cyril (Kirill) and was then made an archimandrite.  One of his subordinates was Father Mykola Danylevych, who is now deputy head of the DECR of the UOC and a primary spokesperson for the UOC.  Archimandrite Cyril also became a friend of Father Georgy Kovalenko, who in 2008 had become the press secretary for Metropolitan Volodymyr, then primate of the UOC.  Father Georgy Kovalenko is now one of the leading priests of the OCU and is rector of the Open Orthodox University in Kyiv.

    In 2009 Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) became the chairman of the DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate.  At that time, Archimandrite Cyril was assigned back to Moscow with the very extremely important task under Metropolitan Hilarion of reconfiguring the entire Russian Orthodox educational system to make it compatible with the western educational standards, particularly the ‘Bologna process’ in the European Union.   In connection with this important role, Archimandrite Cyril was made vice rector of the Graduate School of the Russian Orthodox Church and First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Education of the Russian Orthodox Church.  In September 2010, Metropolitan Hilarion and Archimandrite Cyril were the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate at the plenary meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in Vienna, Austria.

    The year 2012 marked an important turning point in the career of Archimandrite Cyril.  He decided to pursue an academic and teaching career in the West.  This began in July 2012 with a research fellowship at Yale University in New Haven, USA.  It appears that the year 2012 marked the end of his assignments with the Moscow Patriarchate and that Archimandrite Cyril has since 2012 pursued his academic career independently as “his own boss.”  Archimandrite Cyril’s subsequent academic career in the West has been extremely active in teaching, speaking, writing, and traveling.  This is very clear from the following curriculum vitae:  https://yale.academia.edu/CyrilHovorun/CurriculumVitaehttps://www.amazon.com/stores/author/B001JOJEDA/about;  https://www.sanktignatios.org/dr-cyril-hovorun/ .  At the present time, he has a modest home in Southern California and has been Director of Huffington Ecumenical Institute at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  The Institute seeks to bring Orthodox, Catholics, and Anglicans closer together.  See  https://bellarmine.lmu.edu/ecumenical/  He is now spending substantial time at Sankt Ignatios College in Stockholm as well as time in his native Ukraine.  For his various speaking engagements, he travels almost continually.  Earlier this year, he was an invited professor at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

    Archimandrite Cyril has been a very vocal advocate for the complete independence of his native Ukraine.  Although he has never joined the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), he has been a strong advocate for an autocephalous Orthodox Church for his country.  Archimandrite Cyril did not participate in the “Unity Council,” which was held in Kyiv in December 2018, but he was probably “on the sidelines.”  Two months earlier, the name of Archimandrite Cyril was raised by Metropolitan Sofrony of Cherkassy, an important hierarch of the UOC, in an interview.  Sofrony was also a strong supporter of an autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine, but never joined the OCU.  In the interview, he stated:  My candidate [for head of the new church] is Archimandrite Cyril (Hovorun).   He is a man of knowledge, enlightened, learned in the works of the holy fathers.  He is far from any vices,  he is clean and not spoiled.”  Archimandrite Cyril never sought the position.

    With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Archimandrite Cyril became very critical of Patriarch Kirill's and the Moscow Patriarchate’s support of the war effort against Ukraine.  This criticism greatly irritated the “hawks” within the Russian Church.  They wanted Archimandrite Cyril punished.  Although Archimandrite Cyril had not been involved with the Moscow Patriarchate for over ten years, he had not resigned from the Patriarchate and is still technically a member.  Among the Russian hierarchs, Metropolitan Leonid of Klin has been probably the strongest hawk.  He now holds the title of Exarch of Africa and is responsible for the entire current major campaign of the Moscow Patriarchate in Africa.  He had personally served in the Russian Armed Forces from 1986 to 1988.  In 1997 as a young priest, he was transferred to Moscow to be an employee of the Synodal Department for Interaction with the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/3010995.html  Since the invasion of Ukraine, Metropolitan Leonid has used his Telegram channel to advocate support of Russia’s war effort.  https://t.me/s/exarchleonid  In April 2022 I reported in my newsletter one of the remarks of Metropolitan Leonid in his Telegram channel.  The Metropolitan criticized Igumen Arseny (Sokolov), representative of the Moscow Patriarchate to the Patriarchate of Antioch, for calling the war in Ukraine “fratricidal.”  Metropolitan Leonid stated:  “And who, then, does he consider a brother when he speaks of a fratricidal war.  I have no brothers among the brown scum [“коричневого отребья”]!   

    On August 16, 2023, Metropolitan Leonid turned his attack directly on Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun.  The Metropolitan’s entry in his Telegram channel on this date reads as follows:

    “Today I sent an appeal addressed to His Holiness the Patriarch with a request to consider in the Church Court of the Russian Orthodox Church the case of a supernumerary clergyman of the Moscow Diocese, Archimandrite Kirill (Govorun).  It is unacceptable for anyone to denigrate the Church, the Patriarch, our Fatherland, bishops and clergy.  You will have to answer for destructive activities to undermine Orthodoxy and Russian statehood, concelebration with schismatics, lies and slander.” 

    As can be seen above, one month and nine days later, Patriarch Kirill did just that.  He referred Archimandrite Cyril’s case to the diocesan court of the Moscow diocese.  The decree of the Patriarch accuses Archimandrite Cyril as follows:  “ The written commitment of fidelity to the Russian Orthodox Church given by you was repeatedly violated, which was expressed, among other things, in your concelebration with the bishops and clergy of the Church of Constantinople….”  The phrase “among other things” is broad enough to encompass all of the matters of which Metropolitan Leonid complained in this appeal.  The specific reference of the Decree to concelebration with “bishops and clergy of the Church of Constantinople” is presumably a reference to the fact that Archimandrite Cyril celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Church of St. Andrew on August 13, 2023, with  Bishop Mykhailo (Anishchenko) of Komansky, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Exarch to Ukraine.  https://www.facebook.com/stavropigiainua/ (entry for August 13, 2023).

    The timing of the Decree on September 25 and the specific reference to concelebrating with bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate could also have a secondary purpose in addition to punishing Archimandrite Cyril.   On September 24, three priests of the UOC (Archimandrite Gabriel Antsimov, Archpriest Alexander, Kolb and Archpriest Andriy Gerasimenko) concelebrated with Bishop Mykhailo  in St. Andrew’s Church.  https://www.facebook.com/stavropigiainua/ (entry for September 24, 2023).  The institution of canonical proceedings against Archimandrite Cyril on the following day also constitutes a threat with respect to the three priests as to what may happen to them as well in the future for concelebrating with Bishop Mykhailo.  As a practical matter, Patriarch Kirill cannot at the present time institute proceedings against the three.  The UOC would not carry out the decree as it would be conclusive proof that the UOC is still under the control of Patriarch Kirill.  Therefore, an implied threat is used against the three.

    On September 28, Sister Vassa Larin of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) wrote a reflection that includes Archimandrite Cyril.  https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=7439014226126925&set=a.774106055951142  Sister Vassa is the host of the very popular Orthodox blog, Coffee with Sister Vassa,  She is an American, but now lives in Vienna.  She has written:

    “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!  For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.” (Lk 6:22-23)

    I am so grateful this morning to read our Lord’s words, quoted above from today’s Gospel-reading, because lately, in my Russian Orthodox Church, quite the opposite message is being preached.  Our Lord Jesus Christ promises that we will be “blessed,” and greatly rewarded, and should even rejoice and leap for joy, when excluded, reviled, and our names “cast out as evil,” for the sake of Christ.  But in my church, both in Russia and abroad, priests and laypeople are being intimidated into silence, on the issue of the great war-crime of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for fear of being cast out of their ministry, of losing their “name” and place in the church.

    Just this past week, one young priest in the village of Gorodische in the Tverskaya region was publicly shamed by his superior, Bishop Adrian Ulianov (see the picture above), because the priest prayed for “peace” instead of “victory” when he said Patriarch Kirill’s war-prayer during the Liturgy, and because he had signed an anti-war petition.  Bishop Adrian says in the video of this public shaming (see the link in the comments below), right before he demands that the priest “repent” before his parishioners: “Do you know what happens (to a priest) for such actions? …Who were you? Fr. Ilya?  Now you’ll just be Ilyushka…”  That is, the bishop is pointing out, you will lose your priestly title; you will no longer be “Father,” and will “just” be a nobody.  This is what one is supposed to fear, according to Bishop Adrian: the loss of your church-name, even while our Lord Jesus Christ says, “Blessed are you when men…cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake…” In another such incident this past week, the brilliant theologian Fr. Cyril Hovorun was suspended from priestly ministry by Patriarch Kirill, for speaking out against the Patriarch’s sanctioning of the war through manipulations of Scripture and Orthodox tradition.

    But let us take heart, my friends, embracing faith and not fear, and re-affirming our dedication to Christ and His word, to which we as Church owe our obedience.  “We ought to obey God rather than men,” as the Apostles say in Acts 5:29.  Thank You, God, for blessing us at this time, with Your word, Your Church, and Your witnesses, against which the gates of hell will not prevail.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA 

  • 26 September 2023: Kirill suspends Hovorun from the priesthood

    Yesterday, September 25, Patriarch Kirill suspended  Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun from the priesthood pending his trial by a diocesan court in Moscow.   http://moseparh.ru/ukaz-u-02152-ot-25-sentyabrya-2023.html   A good English translation of the decree has been posted at https://orthochristian.com/156272.html.  The translation is as follows:

    You have repeatedly violated your written commitment to the Russian Orthodox Church, which was expressed, among other things, in your concelebration with the bishops and clergy of the Church of Constantinople, with which the Holy Synod interrupted Eucharistic communion due to the gross invasion of the canonical territory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In this regard, you, as having violated the priestly oath given by you, according to rule 25 of the Holy Apostles, are hereby prohibited from the priesthood without the right to wear a cassock and a priestly cross and to give a priestly blessing during the consideration of your case in the diocesan court of the Moscow Diocese.

     

    Peter Anderson

  • 22 September 2023: Will the Orthodox view on synodality be seriously considered at the Catholic Synod? And other news.

    The first session of the XVI Assembly of the Synod of Catholic Bishops will be held at the Vatican during the period October 4-28, 2023.  The Synod will be devoted to the subject: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.   On September 19, the Vatican provided the final list of the Synod participants.   https://www.synod.va/en/news/the-participants-of-the-16th-general-assembly-of-the-synod-of-bishops.html  Of the twelve “fraternal delegates” listed, three are from the Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine tradition, and three are from the Oriental Orthodox Churches.  With respect to the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch is listed as a participant, and Father Hyacinthe Destivelle O.P. is listed under “experts and facilitators.”  The three “fraternal delegates” from the Orthodox Churches are:  (1) Ecumenical Patriarchate -  Metropolitan Job (Getcha) of Pisidia, Co-President of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches; (2) Serbian Patriarchate – Bishop Nektarije (Samardžić) of Jegar, vicar of Patriarch Porfirije and previously a priest of the British-Scandinavian Eparchy; and (3) Romanian Patriarchate – Metropolitan Iosif of Western and Southern Europe.  The fact that Serbia was one of the three Local Orthodox Churches invited to attend reflects, in my opinion, the warming of relations between the Serbian Patriarchate and the Vatican since the election of Porfirije as Patriarch.

    There is a significant question as to whether the Orthodox view of synodality will be seriously considered at the Catholic synod on synodality.  During the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and during the first year of the pontificate of Pope Francisall of the papal references to “synodality,” except for two, were made in connection with the Eastern Churches.  For example, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (November 24, 2013), Pope Francis stated: “To give but one example, in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality.  Through an exchange of gifts, the Spirit can lead us ever more fully into truth and goodness.”   One would therefore expect that the Orthodox experience of synodality would be a major subject of discussion at a Catholic synod on synodality.  In a positive development, an international symposium on synodality in the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches was held at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome on November  2‒5 and 23‒26, 2022, upon the initiative of the Pro Oriente Foundation (Vienna) and of the Angelicum Institute for Ecumenical Studies.  The entire symposium may be watched at https://www.youtube.com/@prooriente5059.  Unfortunately, the experience of the Orthodox churches with respect to synodality received almost no attention in the Instrumentum Laboris made public on June 20, 2023.   https://www.synod.va/content/dam/synod/common/phases/universal-stage/il/ENG_INSTRUMENTUM-LABORIS.pdf  The Instrumentum Laboris is the very important “working document” for the first session of the Synod and was prepared after the completion of the “listening phase” involving extensive consultations at the diocesan, conference, and continental levels.   In this 60-page document, the word “Orthodox” is used in only three sentences.  The most relevant sentence is the following:  “The rediscovery of synodality as a constitutive dimension of the Church is one fruit of ecumenical dialogue, especially with the Orthodox.”  See page 33.  However, nothing in this very important document describes for the participants the concept of synodality from the Orthodox perspective.  It is also totally unrealistic to expect that the very limited time allowed for the “fraternal delegates” to speak at the Synod will allow them sufficient opportunity to adequately describe the Orthodox experience of synodality.  Rather than being a major subject of discussion at the Synod on synodality, I personally predict that the Orthodox experience of synodality will hardly be on the Synod’s radar scope.  I hope and pray that I will be wrong in my prediction.

    Bishop Emmanuel Nin O.S.B., who is the Apostolic Exarch for the Catholics of the Byzantine rite in Greece and who have been appointed by Pope Francis to be a participant in the Synod, has written a commentary concerning the forthcoming synod on the Exarchate’s website.  https://elcathex.gr/%CE%BC%CE%B5%CF%81%CE%B9%CE%BA%CE%AD%CF%82-%CF%83%CE%BA%CE%AD%CF%88%CE%B5%CE%B9%CF%82-%CF%80%CE%B5%CF%81%CE%AF-%CF%84%CE%B7%CF%82-%CF%83%CF%85%CE%BD%CE%BF%CE%B4%CE%B9%CE%BA%CF%8C%CF%84%CE%B7%CF%84/   In the commentary, he stated:

    Of course, this exercise of ministry / service / authority in the Eastern Churches definitely has a synodical dimension in that the decisions taken at a fully collective level belong to the synod of bishops, understood as a gathering of bishops together with their superior: Patriarch, archbishop or metropolitan.  Therefore, in the East, and for each of the Churches, there is talk of a course of the synod of bishops in a collective way.  However, and picking up the thread from the beginning, if the West understands synodality as a place or as a moment where everyone, laity and clergy, act together in order to arrive at some ecclesiastical, doctrinal, canonical, disciplinary decision, whatever it may be, it becomes clear that such synodality does not exist in the East.

    Although not Orthodox, Synod participants from the Catholic eastern churches may perhaps provide some insight to the Synod about the eastern perspective of synodality.  However, there is the possibility that the Synod may follow more of a Protestant model of synodality than an Orthodox model.

    There have been several recent events of interest in Ukraine.  On September 11, the feast of the beheading of St. John the Baptist, the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary (KTA) of the OCU observed the opening of the 2023-2024 academic year at its new location, the Pokrovsky Monastery in the Holosiiv district of Kyiv.  The liturgy was celebrated by Metropolitan Onufry, the primate of the UOC.  http://kdais.kiev.ua/event/11092023-2/?fbclid=IwAR22VZSu183R7Fc7g-DcLeCWb75jFn1CYkmXLCILj8SCikCFlNJo0I1sxgE  From photos it appears that the  Pokrovsky Monastery has very nice physical facilities for the KTA, but there is the spiritual disadvantage of no longer being at the very holy site of the Lavra.  A good group photo of all of the students on the opening day can be seen at https://news.church.ua/2023/09/11/predstoyatel-ocholiv-bogosluzhinnya-z-nagodi-svyata-usiknovennya-glavi-ioanna-xrestitelya-ta-pochatku-navchalnogo-roku-u-kdais/#2023-09-16  In connection with the move, the UOC has surrendered to the National Reserve of the Lavra the keys to Buildings 63 and 64, which the KTA had previously occupied.  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-kyiv/3760404-u-niznij-lavri-pid-kontrol-zapovidnika-povernuli-vze-13-obektiv.html     It is reported that the UOC will move its administrative headquarters from the Lavra to the area of the Cathedral of the Resurrection being constructed near the Lybidska metro station in Kyiv.  https://risu.ua/upc-mp-perevozit-svij-kerivnij-centr-z-lavri-do-nedobudovanogo-soboru-na-libidskij_n142365   The cathedral has been under construction for many years and will be the largest church in Ukraine.  The move of the administrative offices may have the effect of encouraging completion of the cathedral.

    With respect to the current conflict between the UOC and the Zelensky government, the courts have been a very important venue for the confrontations.  On September 14, the Northern Commercial Court of Appeals issued a decision requiring the UOC to remove the small Church of the Tithe Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, from the grounds of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine.  The Court of Appeals has posted a detailed summary of its decision at https://nag.court.gov.ua/sud4873/pres-centr/news/1477175/ .  The small church is located approximately 30 meters from the building of the National Museum, 40 meters from the open area believed to be the location of the historic Tithe Church, and 85 meters from the reconstructed St. Andrew’s Church.  The reconstruction of the St. Andrew’s Church was completed in 1987 using the drawings of Rastrelli, the original architect.  In August 2001, the Cabinet of Ministers granted permission to the UAOC (now part of the OCU) to use the St. Andrew’s Church on a daily basis for religious services.  https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/371-2009-%D0%BF#Text   The presence of the UAOC at St. Andrew’s may have been one of the motivating factors in the decision of the UOC to establish its own church nearby.  The small UOC church is named after the Tithe Church, the first stone church in Rus’.  The Tithe Church was built by St. Volodymyr, who allocated a tenth of his income for its construction and maintenance.  The church was destroyed by the Mongols in 1240.  During the period 1828 to 1840, a new Tithe Church was built at the approximate location of the original Tithe Church.  This building was destroyed by the Soviet authorities in 1935.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Tithes

    In 2004 the head of the National Museum gave permission to the UOC to build three small kiosks (each covering 20 sq. m.) on the property of the National Museum with ownership of the land remaining with the State.   In 2012 a court upheld the ownership of these three structures by the UOC.  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-kyiv/3761313-apelacijnij-sud-zobovazav-demontuvati-hrammaf-bila-desatinnoi-cerkvi.html  Subsequently, the UOC, without any authorization by the government, built the present structure which occupies twice the area of the three kiosks.  Since the building of the three kiosks, the entire UOC project has been the subject of great public controversy.  For example, the publication Left Bank posted from 2011 to 2018 a total of 54 articles relating to the Tithe Church.  https://lb.ua/tag/10252_desyatinna_tserkva  The Northern Commercial Court of Appeals in its decision of September 14, 2023, concluded that the plot of land on which the present structure was built was not given to the UOC for its ownership or use.  In addition the present structure was built without government approval of the project and was built without obtaining construction permits.  Accordingly, the Court ordered the UOC to remove the structure from the land of the National Museum.  It is very likely that the decision will be appealed by the UOC to a higher court.

    On September 12, Patriarch Kirill spoke at the end of the Liturgy at the Lavra in St. Petersburg.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6058732.html  The Liturgy celebrated the feast of the transfer of the relics of St. Alexander Nevsky.  The Patriarch’s words including the following: 

    Today Russia is faced with the task of emerging victorious from the struggle that has been unleashed against us by the forces of evil.  And there is no need to downplay the complexity of the moment we are experiencing!  Today we need the mobilization of everyone - both the military and political forces; and, of course, the Church must be mobilized first.  In order to pray for our authorities and army, but also in order to be there, at the forefront.

    These words are just further proof that Patriarch Kirill unequivocally champions the Russian side in the Russia – Ukraine war and considers the Ukrainian side to be evil.  The fact that such words received very little media attention demonstrates that such words from the Patriarch are now expected and are no longer news.

    On September 18, Pope Francis met with the new Russian ambassador to the Holy See, Ivan Soltanovsky.  After the meeting, Soltanovsky told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti:  “Pope Francis warmly recalled his meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Havana and expressed hope that it would not be the last and that he would be able to see the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church again.”  https://ria.ru/20230918/papa-1896993674.html  With respect to this comment, Father Nikolai Balashov, advisor to Patriarch Kirill, informed the news agency that the Russian Orthodox Church is open to a new meeting between the Patriarch and the Pope, but that initiatives in this regard should come from the Vatican.  https://ria.ru/20230920/rpts-1897639735.html  Although Pope Francis may be interested in a second meeting, he cancelled the meeting with Patriarch Kirill planned for June 2022 in Jerusalem.  It is therefore very likely that Pope Francis was expressing to the ambassador a hope relating to a period after the war in Ukraine.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA 

  • 3 September 2023: Ecumenical Patriarch will not convene a pan-Orthodox conference or synaxis on Ukraine & other news

    On September 1, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated at the Phanar the Feast of Indiction, which marks the beginning of the church year.  September 1 is also the Day of Prayer for the Protection of the Environment, instituted by the late Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios in 1989.   The Ecumenical Patriarch’s letter for this year can be read in English at  https://ec-patr.org/patriarchal-message-for-the-beginning-of-the-ecclesiastical-year-and-the-solemn-day-of-prayers-for-natural-environment-1st-september-2023/.  This year’s letter includes a paragraph devoted to the “horrible ecological devastation” caused by the war in Ukraine.  In view of the fact that “the people and ecosystem of Ukraine have undergone and continue to undergo incalculable losses,” the Ecumenical Patriarch emphasizes again:  “The war should cease at once and sincere dialogue should begin.”  The Ecumenical Patriarch was joined in the Liturgy for the feast day not only by many bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate but also by Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.  On the prior day, the Ecumenical Patriarch met with Metropolitan Epifany and hosted a dinner in his honor.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/blazhennijshyj-mytropolyt-epifanij-zustrivsya-zi-vselenskym-patriarhom-varfolomiyem/ 

    Of particular interest are the words of the Ecumenical Patriarch during a reception following the Liturgy on September 1.   https://ec-patr.org/%ce%bf%ce%b9%ce%ba%ce%bf%cf%85%ce%bc%ce%b5%ce%bd%ce%b9%ce%ba%cf%8c%cf%82-%cf%80%ce%b1%cf%84%cf%81%ce%b9%ce%ac%cf%81%cf%87%ce%b7%cf%82-%ce%ba%ce%ac%ce%b8%ce%b5-%cf%80%ce%bf%ce%bb%ce%b5%ce%bc/;  https://orthodoxtimes.com/bartholomews-message-we-dont-put-our-decisions-to-the-judgment-of-the-other-churches/   At the reception, the Ecumenical Patriarch first welcomed a delegation of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy.   In a speech that followed, he referred to the efforts by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to strengthen the unity and cooperation of the Local Orthodox Churches, especially through the Crete Council in 2016.  He then stated:

    “Unfortunately, this effort of unity and cooperation has been destroyed in recent years by a new ecclesiology, which comes from the north, and by a new theology, the theology of war.  It is this theology, which the sister Church of Russia began to teach trying to justify one unjustified, unholy, unprovoked, diabolical war against a sovereign and independent country, Ukraine.  We have been witnessing a tragedy for almost two years now.  Not just in the relations of two Orthodox Churches, but in the center of Europe, we see a daily bloodshed…. I repeat that this is a tragedy.  This of course also has an impact on the relations of the corresponding Orthodox sister Churches, brothers by euphemism now.  The disruption of Communion by the Church of Russia at the expense of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as Mr. President [of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy] said, is unacceptable, inexplicable.  We cannot have the Eucharist as a tool to pressure each other and force other Churches to go along with this new ecclesiology….”

    The Ecumenical Patriarch then continued:

    “In the face of this tragedy, we call for the participation of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy in an effort to restore things.  We, for our part, do what we believe is right.  We are challenged and invited by various sister Churches for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to convene again a Pan-Orthodox Conference or a Synaxis of Orthodox Primates to deal with the Ukrainian ecclesiastical issue, and our Patriarchate rejects these proposals because it is not willing to put under the judgment of the other Churches a Canonical Act, which it carried out itself.   And I say Canonical Act, because the granting of the Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine, with its 44 million believers, was within the framework of the rights and ministerial responsibilities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  If we exclude the Ancient Patriarchates of the East, all the newer Orthodox Churches, first of all the Church of Russia, received Autocephaly from Constantinople.  Why shouldn't Ukraine get it too?  That is the point, very simple and very clear.  Well, we are not going to convene a Pan-Orthodox Synod, nor a Synaxis of Primates, because we have no inclination to put the decisions and initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate under the judgment of the new ecclesiology.”

    In developments relating to the Kyiv Lavra, a representative of the Human Rights Commissioner of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine is now investigating the situation in the Lower Lavra.  Under Article 55 of the Constitution of Ukraine, persons can apply to the Commissioner if they believe that their rights and freedoms have been violated by a governmental entity.  https://ombudsman.gov.ua/about  In this case, it was the attorney for the UOC who submitted the claim of violations.  https://lavra.ua/uk/kiyevo-pechersku-lavru-vidvidav-predstavnik-upovnovazhenogo-verhovnoyi-radi-ukrayini-z-prav-lyudini/#  On September 1, Mykhailo Spasov, who works for the Commissioner, came to the Lower Lavra to investigate the claim.  The Commissioner’s office has seven “representatives,” each responsible for a different subject area.  Spasov is responsible for rights relating to national minorities and to political and religious views.  It appears that the OCU claim relates primarily to a denial of freedom of movement for the persons occupying the Lavra’s three hotels.  Spasov spoke to at least several occupants.  Although the hotel is for pilgrims, there is one monk, Archimandrite Varnava, who resides in Building 58.  Father Varnava stated that he had been informed by Reserve representatives that if he left the building, he would not be allowed to return to the building.  Although the occupants have water from the tap, persons have been prohibited from bringing in food for the occupants.  Aside from Father Varnava, there are seven other persons now residing in Building 58.  https://ria.ru/20230901/ugrozy-1893768427.html  On August 11, there were approximately 15 persons residing in Building 58.  It therefore appears that the occupants are gradually leaving.

    In general, events are proceeding fairly slowly in the Lower Lavra.  In March 2023, Metropolitan Pavlo, vicar of the Lavra, stated that he did not know whether the brothers would be allowed to stay in the Lower Lavra until Pascha.  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3686382-namisnik-kievopecerskoi-lavri-vid-upc-mp-zaaviv-so-jogo-cenci-ne-viselatsa-do-29-berezna.html  It is now almost six months later, and there is no immediate sign that the monks will be evicted.   On July 6 the Reserve gave notice to the UOC to vacate Buildings 57 and 58 by July 10.  https://ria.ru/20230706/lavra-1882694014.html  As reported above, there are still some occupants in these buildings.   

    On September 1, Metropolitan Pavlo, who recently had a heart attack, appeared in proceedings at the Solomyanskyi District Court of Kyiv by video.  https://t.me/s/nikita_chekman  Metropolitan Pavlo is no longer hospitalized, but is being treated on an outpatient basis.  The Court will reconvene on September 12.  On August 25, the UOC’s Kyiv Metropolia initiated a lawsuit in the Kyiv District Administrative Court against the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS).  The lawsuit relates to the findings of the “expert group” appointed by DESS to examine the ecclesiastical-canonical connection between the UOC and the Moscow Patriarchate.  The group found on February 1 that such a connection exists even after the UOC’s Local Council in May 2022. The UOC claims in the lawsuit that “the religious examination was conducted in violation of the law, by biased and hostile experts against the UOC, who arbitrarily changed the subject and object of the study, resorting to manipulations.”  https://law.church.ua/2023/08/30/komentar-yuridichnogo-viddilu-upc-pro-sudove-oskarzhennya-religijeznavchoji-ekspertizi-statutu-pro-upravlinnya-ukrajinskoji-pravoslavnoji-cerkvi/  On August 30, the Moscow Patriarchate issued a statement, blessed by the Patriarch, expressing “a strong protest against the expulsion of the Kyiv Theological Academy from the walls of the Holy Dormition Kiev-Pechersk Lavra.”   http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6055117.html   The Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian government, and the Russian media continue to be extremely active in protesting various actions being taken against the UOC.  Perhaps the hope is that Russia can now win back the hearts of UOC members in spite of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

    On August 30, the press office of the Orthodox Church of Albania issued a sharp denial to an article by a resident of the United States, Ilias Damianakis, that the Albanian Orthodox Church is “under the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church.”  https://orthodoxalbania.org/2020/en/2023/08/30/essential-refutation-from-the-press-office-of-orthodox-autocephalous-church-of-albania/ (press statement in English)  The statement also denied the claim that “international oligarchs” were involved in the restoration of Albanian churches.  However, the statement does not comment on another recent article criticizing Archbishop Anastasios, primate of the Albanian Church.  Andreas Loudaros , the editor of the orthodoxia.info website, highly praises the past accomplishments of the Archbishop.  https://orthodoxia.info/news/poios-telika-o-anastasios/  Loudaros then contends: “…if Anastasios had realized the scope of the dynamics of his name and the weight of his words, he would not have behaved like this in the matter of Ukrainian autocephaly.  He would not have allowed the Russians to use his speech and attitude as cheap communication tools.”

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 26 August 2023: UOC Academy moves from Kyiv Lavra & other news

    The Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary (“KTA”) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) is moving from the Kyiv Lower Lavra to the Pokrovsky Holosiiv Monastery, which is located 7 km. southwest of the Lavra.  (Holosiiv is the district of Kyiv where the Monastery is located.)  The Monastery is also approximately 2-1/2 km. from Feofania where Metropolitan Onufry resides.  The Monastery was fairly recently restored.  The website of the Monastery can be viewed at http://goloseevo.com.ua/?lang=uk.  As can be seen from the photos on the website, the Monastery is a large and attractive complex.  A photo of the Monastery is also pasted below.   The first and second classes of the Seminary will move by August 27, and the third and fourth classes of the Seminary plus all of the Academy will move by September 9.  Although many are upset that the KTA is moving from the Lower Lavra, at least this important educational institution will be able to continue its existence at the new location.  An interesting video showing the moving operation at the Lavra can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/www.kdais.kiev.ua/videos/587866956652071/.

    A series of events led to the decision of the UOC to relocate the KTA.  On August 10 the Kyiv Commercial Court ruled that UOC Monastery was obligated to remove obstacles to the use of the property of the National Reserve and to return this property to the National Reserve.  The UOC has now appealed this decision.  Later on August 10, the government National Reserve issued an “urgent statement” that “from 7:00 on August 11, 2023, access to the territory of the Lower Lavra is temporarily suspended to all visitors (except priests, monks, and employees of the male monastery).”  The reason given for the temporary suspension was the “systematic disruption of the work of the Reserve regarding access to the premises of the Lower Lavra.”  https://www.facebook.com/kplavra  On August 11, Maksym Ostapenko, the acting director of the National Reserve, met with journalists.  He stated that visitor access to the Lower Lavra will be restored when the buildings and other property are fully returned for the use of the National Reserve.  https://glavcom.ua/kyiv/news/u-kijevo-pecherskij-lavri-zabarikaduvalisja-storonni-osobi-948383.html   With respect to whether the access limitation will be applied to the KTA, Ostapenko indicated that this question will decided at the State level and not by the National Reserve.  https://spzh.news/en/news/75385-the-issue-of-placing-kdais-in-lavra-will-be-decided-by-the-state 

    Ostapenko’s major concern appeared to be not the KTA, but rather the individuals who have been blocking the entrances to certain buildings.  He stated that there are three to four dozen unidentified persons who physically prevent the work of the National Reserve and who have been staying at the Lavra for months. https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3747609-na-teritorii-niznoi-lavri-zabarikaduvalisa-do-40-storonnih-osib-kerivnik-zapovidnika.html  Presumably, these are the persons one sees in videos massed in front of building doors and preventing employees of the National Reserve from entering the buildings.  These individuals have been living in the pilgrims’ hotels such as Buildings 57 and 58 in the Lower Lavra.  On August 11, police were stationed at the entrance of these two buildings.  The police allowed people to leave the buildings but not enter.  A video was posted on August 12 showing a person seeking to enter one of the building with an armful of bread and not being allowed in.  https://news.church.ua/2023/08/12/policiya-ne-dozvolyaje-peredati-xlib-dlya-palomnikiv-yaki-zablokovani-v-odnomu-iz-korpusiv-kijevo-pecherskoji-lavri-video/#2023-08-25   The UOC contended that this constitutes the use of “starvation” by the police, although the individuals were free to leave the building to obtain food.  They would simply not be allowed back into the building later.  On August 15, the police entered Buildings 57 and 58 by apparently breaking the locks to the doors.  The police obtained the identity of the occupants and then left.  https://risu.ua/komisiya-zapovidnika-kiyevo-pecherska-lavra-oglyanula-dva-korpusi-iz-troh-yaki-blokuvali-prihilniki-upc-mp_n141747  There were 11 persons in Building 57 and approximately 15 people in Building 58.  The police did not attempt to remove the occupants from the building physically.  Apparently the individuals are still occupying the two buildings.  I believe that the National Reserve will probably commence legal proceedings against the now identified individuals.

    On August 25, the UOC posted photocopies of a series of letters by the rector of the KTA and by the Acting Minister of Culture.  In the first letter, the rector argued that because of the historic relationship between the KTA and the National Reserve, the students, teachers, and working personnel should be given unhindered access to the buildings of the KTA.  On August 17, the acting Minister replied that the teachers, students, and employees of the KTA should be equated with “visitors” and therefore would not be allowed to reenter the Lower Lavra if they left.  On August 19, the rector responded with legal arguments supporting the position of the KTA.  On August 24, the Acting Minister stated that the position of the Ministry remained unchanged.  https://news.church.ua/2023/08/12/policiya-ne-dozvolyaje-peredati-xlib-dlya-palomnikiv-yaki-zablokovani-v-odnomu-iz-korpusiv-kijevo-pecherskoji-lavri-video/#2023-08-25  Because it is impossible to operate the KTA without free access to and from the KTA, the UOC made the decision to move. 

    As previously reported, Metropolitan Pavlo, vicar of the Kyiv Lavra, was released from the Kyiv pretrial detention center on August 7 following the posting of bail in the amount of UAH 33,300,000 ($902,183).  However, this does not mean that Metropolitan Pavlo has complete freedom of movement without restrictions.  On August 11, the Solomyansky District Court of Kyiv required Metropolitan Pavlo to continue to wear the electronic bracelet, not to leave the village of Voronkiv (the place of his legal registration) without notifying the investigator or the judge, to come to them at the first request, and not to communicate with witnesses in the case.  The prosecutor also requested that the Metropolitan be prohibited from visiting the Kyiv Lavra, but this request was denied by the Court.  https://news.church.ua/2023/08/13/sud-prodovzhiv-diyu-nakladenix-na-namisnika-kijevo-pecherskoji-lavri-mitropolita-pavla-obmezhen/#2023-08-26   On August 14, the Metropolitan was hospitalized in the cardiology department of a Kyiv hospital and underwent an operation on the vessels of his heart.  https://news.church.ua/2023/08/14/mitropolita-pavla-terminovo-gospitalizuvali-ta-zrobili-operaciyu-na-serci/#2023-08-26  It is not clear whether this involved a stent or bypass surgery.  On August 17, the attorney for the Metropolitan stated that the health of Metropolitan is now satisfactory, but that he is still confined to bed.  The attorney stated that the Metropolitan had suffered an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). 

    There has been a strong reaction to the Vinnytsia City Court's sentencing Metropolitan Ionafan of Tulchin to five years of imprisonment on August 7.  For example, on August 11, Archbishop Anastasios, primate of the Orthodox Church of Albania, wrote a personal letter to Metropolitan Ionafan.  A photocopy of the original letter in English can be read at  https://www.romfea.gr/ekklisies-ts/ekklisia-albanias/58250-o-alvanias-anastasios-sto-plevro-tou-toyltsin-ionathan.  The letter included the following:  “We participate in Your sufferings, and, to the extent of our capabilities, we share where appropriate your testimony about the atrocities against the pious Orthodox holy clergy, the devoted people, as well as the renowned sacred places in Ukraine.”  In an apparent reference to the OCU, the Archbishop stated:  “Our thoughts and supplications unceasingly are with you, so that, aligning yourself to the chorus of the new martyrs, You may also face the present absurd persecution by Orthodox….”  Metropolitan Hilarion, who has been relatively quiet during his last year in Budapest, wrote a letter on August 9 to Prime Minister Orban of Hungary, concerning the sentence of Metropolitan Ionafan.  https://mospat.ru/en/news/90610/  Metropolitan Hilarion pointed out that Ionafan was a past abbot of the Kyiv Lavra and that his musical compositions are performed by many leading choirs.  Hilarion stated:  “His Eminence is 74; he is suffering from diabetes in a severe form.  The deprivation of liberty means nothing but the death sentence.”  It appears that Ionafan’s conviction is being appealed by his attorneys to a higher court.

    The Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate met on August 25.  The minutes of the meeting can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6051881.html.  In Journal entry 51, the Synod: “Condemn the actions of Metropolitan Alexander of Riga and All Latvia aimed at destroying church unity.”  The Synod pointed out that on August 13, 2023, Metropolitan Alexander of Riga and All Latvia officiated the rite of consecration of Archimandrite John (Lipsans) as Bishop of Valmiera.  He had done this without using a list of candidates approved by the Patriarch and the Synod as required by the Statute of the Moscow Patriarchate.  Metropolitan Alexander had also reportedly failed to commemorate Patriarch Kirill in the Liturgy and had demanded that his clergy not do so.  The Holy Synod emphasized the inadmissibility of failing to commemorate the primate and referred the matter of the consecration of a new bishop to a future Council of Bishops.  In Journal entry 62, the Holy Synod established a “permanent Patriarchal Humanitarian Mission” in “the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic, Lugansk People's Republic, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions.”  In Journal entry 72, the Holy Synod noted the report of Metropolitan Anthony, chairman of the DECR, concerning his attendance at the meeting of the Central Committee of the WCC in Geneva.  The entry also referred to his meeting on the sidelines with Dr. Jerry Pillay and the leadership of the WCC.  However, there was no express reference in the entry concerning the roundtable proposed by the WCC with respect to Ukraine.  In Journal entry 78, the Holy Synod heard a report by Metropolitan Hilarion of Budapest concerning the composition of the Synodal Biblical-Theological Commission and approved certain changes.  In Journal entry 47, the Holy Synod approved the document  “On the distortion of the Orthodox teaching about the Church in the acts of the hierarchy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the speeches of its representatives” which had previously been approved by the Bishops’ Conference.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

     

     

  • 11 August 2023: Flurry of developments relating to the Kyiv Lavra

    Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon, who has been the key representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with respect to Ukraine since 2018, has now arrived in Kyiv.  On August 10, the Metropolitan met with President Zelinsky.  https://www.president.gov.ua/news/volodimir-zelenskij-zustrivsya-z-predstavnikom-vselenskogo-p-84813.  According to the President’s website, attention was paid at the meeting to “the spiritual independence of Ukraine, the discussion of the Ukrainian peace formula, as well as the issue of the return of children illegally deported from our country”  A short video of the meeting can be accessed at https://orthodoxtimes.com/elder-metropolitan-of-chalcedon-met-metropolitan-of-kiyv-and-president-of-ukraine-video/  The video shows that Viktor Yelensky, the head of DESS, was also present at the meeting.

    On the same day, Metropolitan Emmanuel also met with Metropolitan Epifany, the primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/predstavnyk-vselenskogo-patriarha-mytropolyt-emmanuyil-prybuv-do-ukrayiny/  The website of the OCU provided the following information concerning the visit:

    Metropolitan Emmanuel conveyed warm greetings on behalf of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew personally to Metropolitan Epiphany and to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as a whole.

    "With the blessing of His Holiness our Patriarch Bartholomew, I came to Kyiv to testify to the constant support of the Mother Church to the heroic people of Ukraine, who are resisting the unjust and cruel Russian aggression.  During the visit of His Eminence the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky to the Ecumenical Patriarchate a month ago, the humanitarian dimension of the implementation of the peace formula proposed by Ukraine, as well as other humanitarian initiatives, were discussed.  It was agreed that we will continue working in this direction.  So, at the invitation of the President of Ukraine, I also came to fulfill this important mission," said Metropolitan Emmanuel.

    During the meeting, a warm and fruitful telephone conversation took place between His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphany of Kyiv and All Ukraine.

    At the Memorial Wall of the Mykhailo Golden-Domed Monastery, dedicated to the soldiers who gave their lives in the fight against Russian aggression, Metropolitan Emmanuel, in co-service with the brothers of the monastery, prayed for the souls of the deceased defenders of Ukraine and peaceful residents killed as a result of the war.

    On the same day, together with His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphany, Metropolitan Emmanuel visited the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, where the vicar Archimandrite Avraamiy [OCU] met the distinguished guest and told him about the Dormition Cathedral and the current state of life of the monastery, which is gradually freeing itself from the yoke of the "Russian world.”

    It appears that the visit of Metropolitan Emmanuel to the Kyiv Lavra only involved a visit to the Upper Lavra and not the Lower Lavra.

    The Lower Lavra has been subject to much activity in the last two days.  However, it appears that the visit of Metropolitan Emmanuel had been previously planned and is not related to the events of the last two days.  On August 9, the Kyiv Commercial Court addressed the merits of the claim by the UOC Kyiv Monastery that the National Reserve did not have a legal right to terminate the lease agreement between the Monastery and the National Reserve.  The Court ruled in favor of the National Reserve and upheld the right of the Reserve to terminate the lease.  https://mkip.gov.ua/news/9617.html  On the same day the legal department of the UOC indicated that it will appeal the decision of the Commercial Court.  It also stated that because the decision was oral and not yet written, the decision does not yet have legal effect and cannot be used by the National Reserve as the basis for sealing buildings in the Lower Lavra.     https://news.church.ua/2023/08/09/za-opechatuvannya-korpusiv-zapovidnikom-peredbachena-kriminalna-vidpovidalnist-yuridichnij-viddil-upc-prokomentuvav-ostannje-rishennya-sudu-shhodo-kijevo-pecherskoji-lavri/#2023-08-10;  https://spzh.news/en/news/75349-lavras-lawyer-on-the-court-decision-preparing-an-appeal.

    Also on August 9, the National Reserve sent a letter to the Monastery stating that the Monastery should surrender to the National Reserve Buildings 54, 57, 58, and 68 on the morning of August 10. (See last link)  All four buildings are used as hotels for pilgrims.  You may recall that the National Reserve unsuccessfully attempted to seal Buildings 57 and 58 on July 10.   Early on August 10, representatives of the National Reserve came to Building 58, but access to Building 58 was blocked by a small group of the faithful.  The representatives of the National Reserve then left, and no force was used.  https://spzh.news/en/news/75357-these-are-our-premises-reserve-is-set-to-seal-other-lavra-buildings (includes a video).  Late on August 10, the National Reserve issued a notice that access to the Lower Lavra would be temporarily suspended for all visitors beginning at 7 a.m. on August 11.  https://www.facebook.com/kplavra  Two exceptions were made.  Priests, monks, and employees of the Monastery will have access.  The public will have access to five enumerated churches at the Lavra.  Although not mentioned in the express exceptions, it appears that the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary (UOC) has now negotiated with the National Reserve a third exception relating to its students. http://kdais.kiev.ua/event/novyna-10082023/?fbclid=IwAR0SGmZVVJb2wzd-UdtH2jrRerHYglbMbwIBX4Z_rl5mhDetIFnjQrKdEvM  The National Reserve will also hold a press briefing at 10 a.m. on August 11.

    Aside from the lawsuit by the Monastery against the National Reserve decided by the Commercial Court on August 9, there is also pending in the same court another lawsuit brought by the National Reserve against the Monastery.  On August 10, after a long hearing, the Commercial Court ruled in favor of the National Reserve on its lawsuit.  This second decision obligates the Monastery to remove obstacles to the use of the property of the National Reserve and to return this property.   https://mkip.gov.ua/news/9625.html   This involves 79 property items.  The attorney for the Monastery has strenuously attacked this latest decision.   https://news.church.ua/2023/08/10/advokat-kijevo-pecherskoji-lavri-prokomentuvav-rishennya-gospodarskogo-sudu-m-kijeva-vid-10-serpnya-2023-r/#2023-08-10;   https://t.me/s/nikita_chekman  On August 10, the National Reserve posted on its Facebook page the following:  We emphasize once again: the activities of the monks in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra must continue, but all objects in general must be returned to the use of the state, and this will be done.  https://www.facebook.com/kplavra

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 8 August 2023: UOC vicar of Kyiv Lavra released on bail and another UOC hierarch sentenced

    On August 7, 2023, Metropolitan Pavlo, vicar of the Kyiv Lavra, was released from the Kyiv pretrial detention center following the posting of bail in the amount of UAH 33,300,000 ($902,183).  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3745466-mitropolit-pavlo-vijsov-izpid-varti-pid-zastavu-advokat.html   The attorney for Pavlo, Archpriest Nikita Chekman, posted the details on his Telegram site.  https://t.me/s/nikita_chekman  His description is as follows:

    Today, August 7, 2023, the Vicar of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra was finally released from custody.  We will remind you that the Solomyansky district court of the city of Kyiv changed the preventive measure of Metropolitan Pavlo from 24-hour house arrest to detention with bail in the amount of UAH 33,300,000 - an unaffordable amount at first glance.  Details were published on the website of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, by which anyone could join and pay the bail for Metropolitan Pavlo, speeding up his release from the pre-trial detention center.  Today's event is the collective merit of the parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, who proved that nothing is impossible. About 1,000 people made pledges!!!  

    A method for contributing to the bail amount was posted at https://lavra.ua/uk/u-yuridichnomu-viddili-upts-poyasnili-yak-mozhna-doluchitisya-do-vnesennya-zastavi-za-mitropolita-pavla/  Presumably, the bail amount will be refunded by the court if the terms of the bailment are not violated by Metropolitan Pavlo.  Chekman also stated on his Telegram site that there were reports of many problems with financial institutions making the requested transfers of funds difficult.  Contributions were also collected through collection boxes that were placed at the Lavra and at many UOC churches in Ukraine.  From this, Chekman concluded that “millions of people” contributed to the bail amount.  A three minute video has also been posted of remarks by Chekman and Pavlo after the release on August 7.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcbfCFF6lls  An English translation of some of the remarks by the Metropolitan can be read at https://spzh.news/en/news/75312-lavra-abbot-tearfully-thanks-all-those-who-prayed-for-his-release 

    Metropolitan Pavlo was initially placed under 24-hour house arrest by the Solomyansky district court on April 1.  The house arrest period was subsequently extended by the court twice.  During the house arrest, Metropolitan Pavlo was confined to his elegant home in the village of Voronkiv.  On July 14 the court changed the house arrest into confinement in the Kyiv pretrial detention center.  The prosecutor’s office requested this change because the Metropolitan had allegedly communicated with a witness in the criminal proceeding against him in a situation where the court had specifically prohibited such communications with witnesses.  https://t.me/s/press_kobl (July 13 entry)  Chekman visited the Metropolitan in the detention center on July 17.  As reported by the official website of the UOC, Chekman subsequently stated the Metropolitan’s health was satisfactory and that the Metropolitan’s “conditions of detention are absolutely civilized.”  https://news.church.ua/2023/07/17/advokat-namisnika-kijevo-pecherskoji-lavri-vidvidav-mitropolita-pavla-v-sizo-ta-rozpoviv-pro-stan-jogo-zdorovya/#2023-08-07 

    After the bail was set by the district court at UAH 33,300,000, the prosecutor’s office filed an appeal and contended that the bail should instead be UAH 60,000,000.  https://www.unn.com.ua/ru/news/2037950-prokuratura-prosit-zbilshiti-zastavu-dlya-mitropolita-upts-mp-pavla-do-60-mln-grn  A hearing on the appeal before the Kyiv Court of Appeals was set for August 7.  Because Metropolitan Pavlo did not appear at this hearing, the hearing was postponed until August 14.  https://tass.ru/obschestvo/18461013   This raises some interesting legal questions.  If the Court of Appeals finds on August 14 that the bail was set too low by the district court, would this mean that the Metropolitan must return to the detention center until the additional bail is raised?  On the other hand, is the issue of the appeal now moot because the Metropolitan has already been released on bail?  One must wait for an answer with respect to such questions.

    The detention of Metropolitan Pavlo has been subject to considerable media attention in the Russian Federation.  On July 15, Patriarch Kirill wrote a letter to the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches and to other important leaders.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6042462.html  The letter included the following:

    A religious figure cannot and should not be subjected to such repressive measures for their religious beliefs.  I note with great concern that the change in the measure of restraint for Metropolitan Pavel, a man of advanced years [age 62], from house arrest to placement in custody threatens him with a serious deterioration in health and may lead to his death in a pre-trial detention center.

    On July 22, Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia responded by issuing his own strong appeal.  https://spc.rs/en/appeal-of-the-serbian-patriarch-porfirije-to-world-leaders-take-action-to-secure-the-release-of-the-metropolitan-of-vyshgorod-and-chernobyl-pavel/  He stated that the Metropolitan has been incarcerated and that this is a glaring example of human rights violations, based on who he is and his personal and religious identity.  Patriarch Porfirije called upon the religious and societal leaders of Europe and the world to advocate for the release of the Metropolitan.  On July 25, Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandia sent a reply to Patriarch Porfirije.  https://www.patriarchateofalexandria.com/varysimanto-gramma-toy-makar-patriarchoy-alexandreias-pros-ton-makar-patriarchi-servias/;  https://www.romfea.gr/epikairotita-xronika/58010-apantisi-patriarxi-aleksandreias-ston-patriarxi-servias  Theodoros compared the great concern that Porfirije has for the situation of Pavlo, while at the same time being completely silent on the actions of the Moscow Patriarchate in Africa. 

    While the release of Metropolitan Pavlo has decreased the concern about the plight of the Metropolitan, a new issue arose on August 7 with the sentencing UOC Metropolitan Ionafan of Tulchin.  He was sentenced to five years of imprisonment by the Vinnytsia City Court.   https://ssu.gov.ua/novyny/za-materialamy-sbu-do-5-rokiv-tiurmy-zasudzheno-mytropolyta-odniiei-z-vinnytskykh-yeparkhii-upts-mp-yakyi-vypravdovuvav-povnomasshtabne-vtorhnennia-rf  A video of the sentencing can be watched at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfGraOkhhGI&t=5s.  The trial began on June 8.  https://vn.20minut.ua/Kryminal/sud-po-spravi-mitropolita-tulchinskogo-ionafana-vidbulos-pershe-zasida-11828043.html   The metropolitan was defended by three attorneys.  The Metropolitan has stated his intention to file an appeal.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6048488.html  The same day as the sentencing Patriarch Kirill issued a statement concerning the sentencing.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6048460.html  The statement provides in part: “In this court decision dictated by hatred for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, we see another act of blatant violation of religious freedom, an example of persecution of faith.  I once again call on the world community, religious and political leaders, and human rights organizations to pay attention to the purposeful policy of the Ukrainian authorities aimed at destroying the Ukrainian Orthodox Church….”  The Moscow Patriarchate’s official biography of Metropolitan Ionafan can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/52485.html   Ionafan was ordained a hieromonk by Kirill in Leningrad in 1978.

    As a retired attorney, I find it difficult to evaluate the actions taken against Pavlo and Ionafan because neither side gives a detailed description of the evidence.  In the case of Ionafan, there were days of open trial in which the evidence in the case was presented or rebutted.  However, I cannot find on the Internet any detailed description of this evidence or rebuttal as presented in a court.  As far as I know the attorneys on neither side have given to the media any details of the evidence or rebuttals aside from enumerating the various laws under which the hierarch was charged.  Without knowing the evidentiary strength of these cases, it is very difficult to determine whether these prosecutions by the government involve “persecutions” or not. 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 3 August 2023: Russian Church-State Partnership in Africa & other news

    The Second Russia-Africa Summit was held in St. Petersburg from July 27 to 28.  The First Russia-Africa Summit was held in Sochi on October 23-24, 2019.  The Summits are efforts of the Russian Federation to bring together representatives of the 54 African countries in order to strengthen the bonds between those countries and Russia.  Much media attention is given to the number of heads of African states to be present at the Summits.  A very impressive 43 heads of state attended the summit at Sochi.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_Russia%E2%80%93Africa_Summit#:~:text=The%20first%20Russia%2DAfrica%20Summit,or%20government%20were%20in%20attendance (listing of all heads of state who attended the first summit).   The second summit attracted less than 20 heads of state.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2023_Russia%E2%80%93Africa_Summit#:~:text=28%20July%202023,-Azali%20Assoumali%20and&text=Leaders%20from%20the%20Comoros%2C%20Burkina,the%20Russian%20invasion%20of%20Ukraine (listing of heads of states or other representatives attending second summit).  President Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, blamed the much lower numbers on the “absolutely blatant, brazen interference by the United States, France and other states.”  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jul/26/kremlin-blames-west-for-small-number-of-leaders-russia-africa-summit-ukraine-war-grain-deal-vladimir-putin 

    At the first summit at Sochi, the Russian Orthodox Church was given little or no exposure to the African delegates.  At the second summit, the Russian Orthodox Church was given maximum exposure.  At the beginning of the plenary session in St. Petersburg, President Putin gave an address followed by remarks from the Chairman of the African Union, Azali Assoumani, who is also president of Comoros (islands northwest of Madagascar).   The third speaker was Patriarch Kirill who gave a fairly long address.  The Kremlin’s transcript of the addresses by Putin, Assoumani, and  Kirill can be read at http://www.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/71814  Patriarch Kirill was also a member of the presidium at the session.  Patriarch Kirill first talked about the defense of moral values shared by Russia and African countries and then about inter-religious peace of which Russia is an example.  The last third portion of his address related to the establishment by the Russian Orthodox Church of an exarchate in Africa.  The Patriarch stated: “Over the past year and a half, the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa has opened more than 200 parishes in 25 African countries.”  He also remarked, “New schools, water wells, electrical substations, hospitals, and cultural centers appear in the places where our parishes are established.”  According to the Kremlin transcript, Patriarch Kirill also stated:

    To our deep regret, in 2019, the Primate of the Alexandrian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Theodoros, of course, under external pressure, decided to recognize the schismatic church group in Ukraine.  These sad circumstances, I repeat once again, prompted the Russian Orthodox Church to create the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa in December 2021.   We thought that the Patriarch of Alexandria, the Greek Patriarch, could, among other things, represent the entire Orthodox Church on the African continent, but on the occasion of certain Western forces, he went about creating this new schism in Orthodoxy.  Of course, we had to respond to this act.  Not least, but one of the very first, we made a decision to organize the life of Orthodox churches on the African continent.

    Two aspects of the above quotation are especially interesting.  First, Patriarch Kirill at least implies that before 2019, the entire African continent was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.  Second, he seems to imply that the life of all of the Orthodox churches on the African continent are now under the Russian Orthodox Church.  The website of the Moscow Patriarchate has also posted the text of the Patriarch’s remarks.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6045846.html   The remarks above were edited by the Moscow Patriarchate to eliminate both of these points made by Patriarch Kirill.  The edited version of the above quotation reads as follows:

    To our deepest regret, in 2019 the Primate of the Church of Alexandria, Patriarch Theodoros, of course, under external pressure, decided to recognize the schismatic group in Ukraine.  These sad circumstances, I repeat, prompted the Russian Orthodox Church to create the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa in December 2021.  The Patriarch of Alexandria, at the behest of certain Western forces, set out to create a new schism in Orthodoxy, and we had to respond to this act.  So we decided to organize an Exarchate on the African continent. 

    At the second summit, there was also a discussion by Metropolitan Leonid, Exarch of Africa, and other members of the Russian Church on the subject, “The Religious Component of the Development of African States in a Dynamically Changing World.”  The entire discussion can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJfacRpY_6s.  A tour of St. Petersburg cathedrals was organized for first ladies and wives of ambassadors.   http://mitropolia.spb.ru/news/parishs/?id=228168  There was also in the lobby area of the meeting hall a large exhibit with information relating to the Exarchate of Africa.  Individuals such as Metropolitan Leonid and Father Georgy Maximov were there to talk to delegates and to answer questions.  As part of the exhibit there was the model of the future headquarters of the African Exarchate, which will be located in Kampala, Uganda, near the presidential palace of Yoweri Museveni.  https://exarchate-africa.ru/novosti/na-sammite-rossiya-afrika-predstavili-maket-budushhego-pravoslavnogo-kompleksa-v-ugande/

    The great exposure given to the Russian Orthodox Church at the Second Summit is a further indication that the expansion effort of the Church in Africa is very much a joint Church-State project.  The joint nature of the project is also shown by the fact that Russian embassies and consulates are often used as bases of operation for the Church’s missionary efforts in Africa.  The Russian Federation is interested in increasing its influence in Africa, and a Russian religious presence in Africa is one of many ways to do this.  It is not publicly known whether the State is providing financial support to the Church in such matters as clergy salaries and various humanitarian measures in Africa.  In any event, the Church is becoming more and more indebted to the State for all that the State is doing for it.  However, this comes with a price.  The Church becomes less and less free to criticize the State.

    For supporters of the UOC, there is some good news in Ukraine.  As you recall, Draft Law 8731 provides in part: “Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed.”  The draft law was submitted to the Rada by Prime Minister Shmyhal on January 19, 2023.  The appropriate committee referred the draft law to the Rada for the “first reading” on February 21, 2023.   https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/Card/41219  Although months have now followed, the full Rada still has not considered the draft bill.  The draft law was finally on the Rada agenda of Friday, July 28,  for consideration for its first reading, but the draft law was then withdrawn from the agenda.  https://spzh.news/en/news/75100-source-the-issue-of-banning-uoc-was-removed-from-vr-agenda  It appears that the reason for the withdrawal is that the proponents of the draft law did not have majority support for its passage.  In another development the Rada approved the resignation letter of Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Information Policy, Oleksandr Tkachenko.  https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukrainian-parliament-accepts-culture-ministers-resignation-lawmaker-2023-07-27/  The Lavra’s National Reserve is part of the Ministry of Culture, and Tkachenko had been greatly criticized by the UOC.  Finally, since July 6, the National Reserve has taken no further action to seal additional buildings of the Lower Lavra.

    On July 27, the OCU held its first Local Council since its “Unification Council” in December 2018.   The resolutions of the July 27 council are posted at https://www.pomisna.info/uk/document-post/postanovy-pomisnogo-soboru-upts-ptsu/.  One of the resolutions is the confirmation of the previous decision of the OCU Council of Bishops to adopt the neo-Julian liturgical calendar for dates not related to Pascha.  This means the observance of Christmas on December 25.  On July 28, one day later, President Zelensky signed a new law moving the public observance of Christmas from January 7 to December 25.  https://spzh.news/en/news/75158-zelenskyy-signs-law-on-moving-christmas-to-new-style  Although the UOC will continue to observe January 7, it may mean for many that it will be a work day as January 7 is no longer a public holiday.  In the resolutions, the OCU stated its willingness to engage in a dialogue with the OCU, but implied that such a dialogue must be based on the tomos issued by the Phanar.

    Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil, chancellor of the UOC, has responded in a video to the appeal by more than 300 UOC clergy for another UOC local council to sever completely any ties between the UOC and the Moscow Patriarchate.  A transcript of Metropolitan Anthony’s reply is posted at https://pravlife.org/uk/content/mytr-antoniy-pakanych-bozhe-zberezhy-cerkvu-tvoyu-v-istyni-i-yednosti  Metropolitan Anthony strongly attacks these clergy members and states that the true goal of the signers is to return to “prayer unity” with Constantinople and other churches that have recognized the OCU.  Patriarch Kirill has now responded to the letter of UOC Archbishop Viktor of Artsyz, (https://spzh.news/en/news/75027-after-odesa-cathedral-shelling-uoc-bishop-addresses-patriarch-kirill) attacking Kirill for his support of the war against Ukraine.  Viktor wrote his letter immediately after the severe damage to the cathedral in Odesa.  The Patriarch’s response can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6047576.html

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 28 July 2023: Positive development - Bill 8371

    Controversial Bill 8371 was on the agenda at the Rada for the “first reading” on July 28.  It was reportedly withdrawn for lack of sufficient support to pass it.  Peter

     https://spzh.news/en/news/75100-source-the-issue-of-banning-uoc-was-removed-from-vr-agenda 

     “According to a UOJ source in the Verkhovna Rada, the initiators of the draft law No. 8371 failed to collect enough votes to pass it.

    On July 28, 2023, a bill on banning religious organizations affiliated with an aggressor country, which provides for a ban on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, was removed from the agenda of the Verkhovna Rada, UOJ sources report.

    According to our information, the reason for the cancellation of voting on draft law No. 8371 is an insufficient number of votes to make a decision on this issue.

    Earlier, the UOJ wrote that it became known when the Rada would consider a bill to ban the UOC.”

    See also https://www.rada.gov.ua/news/Top-novyna/239527.html 

  • 27 July 2023: First interview of Hilarion & other news

    Metropolitan Hilarion of Budapest has given a long interview to RIA Novosti, the Russian state news agency.  https://ria.ru/20230725/mitropolit_ilarion-1886120415.html   To the best of my knowledge, this is the first significant interview that Metropolitan Hilarion has given since his transfer to Budapest in June 2022.  Most of the interview relates to Constantinople and the document presented by Metropolitan Hilarion at the recent Bishops’ Conference (https://mospat.ru/ru/news/90540/ ).  However, the Metropolitan also addressed the discussion at the Conference concerning  the “current armed confrontation between Russia and Ukraine.”  Thus, the Metropolitan stated:

    I would like to quote the words of His Holiness the Patriarch from his report at the Bishops' Conference.  He talks about the current armed confrontation between Russia and Ukraine: “Entire territories become uninhabitable!  It is with deep pain that I perceive what is happening, especially the suffering and sorrow of peaceful people, especially since on both sides of the line of hostilities there are, among other things, the children of the united Russian Orthodox Church.” 

    This is the position that clearly indicates that the Russian Orthodox Church perceives everything that is happening with pain, prays for all those who become victims of armed confrontation, both for military personnel and for civilians.  The Patriarch recalled that the flock of the Russian Orthodox Church is on both sides of the confrontation, which makes this conflict particularly tragic for the Russian Church.

    His Holiness the Patriarch touched upon the now most important topic of pastoral care for servicemen and a number of other very important topics.  His report has a programmatic character and at the same time incites the bishops to the appropriate actions in their dioceses.  The thoughts that the Patriarch shared with the bishops are reflected in the adopted resolutions of the Bishops' Conference.

    For each of the participants, this meeting became an opportunity not only to hear the voice of the Primate of the Church, but also to communicate with each other, and for those who wished, also an opportunity to express their opinion.

    If one were reading the above remarks with no other information, one would assume that the Russian Orthodox Church is pursuing a position of neutrality in the Russian – Ukrainian war and is praying for the “victims of armed confrontation, both for military personnel and for civilians” on both sides of the conflict.  However, at the dinner the night preceding the opening of the Conference, Patriarch Kirill told the bishops, “Today, we must all recognize our calling and join the fight.  Fight for the Motherland, for the Church.”  Personally, I believe that Metropolitan Hilarion selected only the words of the Patriarch that reflected most closely the personal views of Metropolitan Hilarion himself.

    The agenda for the Conference was primarily set by Patriarch Kirill and not by the Holy Synod.  Metropolitan Hilarion was given great visibility at the Conference by his presentation to all of the bishops and the discussion that followed.  This exposure was not a role played by a person assigned to obscurity.  In my opinion, this very important role indicates that the Patriarch never lost his respect for the intellectual and other abilities of Metropolitan Hilarion.  According to a theory held by many, the Metropolitan was assigned to Budapest not at the initiative of Patriarch Kirill, but rather as a result of pressure from the Putin administration.  Metropolitan Hilarion, unlike Patriarch Kirill, had not given public support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and the Putin administration might well have been unhappy with Hilarion for this reason.  Interestingly, Metropolitan Leonid of Klin, the Moscow Patriarchate’s Exarch for Africa, sent a message on Telegram during the actual course of the Conference.  https://t.me/s/exarchleonid  With respect to the report given by Metropolitan Hilarion, Metropolitan Leonid stated, “The report is strong, the theological justification is impeccable.”  This compliment comes from Metropolitan Leonid, who is one of the most prominent “hawks” in favor of Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.  We have not yet heard Constantinople’s rebuttal to the report.

    On July 25 Metropolitan Onufry personally met with Viktor Yelensky, head of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), in the Kyiv Lavra.  https://news.church.ua/2023/07/26/blazhennishij-mitropolit-onufrij-zustrivsya-z-golovoyu-dess-v-jelenskim/#2023-07-26  The UOC website states:

    During the meeting, a number of issues related to state-church policy in Ukraine were discussed.  During the conversation, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy emphasized that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, according to its constitution, is endowed with all the rights that enable it to carry out its mission exclusively independently in Ukrainian society, and refuted accusations about the influence on it of religious centers located outside the Ukrainian state.  The Primate also emphasized that the general church position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church consists in fully supporting the actions of the authorities to preserve the sovereignty of Ukraine in all its territories, as well as in the fight against Russian aggression, which was repeatedly highlighted in official documents adopted by synodal and council decisions.

    DESS also posted a statement.  https://dess.gov.ua/holova-dess-zustrivsia-z-predstoiatelem-upts-mytropolytom-kyivskym-i-vsiiei-ukrainy-onufriiem/  It provides:

    The religious situation in the country, the issue of church life in the conditions of the Russian-Ukrainian war, targeted terrorist attacks by Russian aggressors against civilian infrastructure and the civilian population were discussed. 

    The head of the DESS especially emphasized that the complete and unconditional break of the UOC with the Russian Church is not only a request of the state and society, but also, to a growing extent, of the faithful and clergy of the UOC.

    In my opinion it is exceptional for the primate himself to attend such a meeting.  For example, on July 7, Yelensky held a meeting with UOC Metropolitan Kliment of Nizhyn and Archbishop Sylvester (rector of the Kyiv Theological Academy) at their request. 

    A long appeal has been posted by a group of UOC clergy urging Metropolitan Onufry to make a final and complete break with the Moscow Patriarchate.  The full text of the appeal can be read at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf8BQhNSno0BlVZevRM0FeWBJSVEzGQiMEpTTk6F8CrMW9v0w/viewform .  So far 362 UOC clergy have joined the appeal.  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/16QHBZ3ha9PfUgFaUXC3mFerNy1wIFFww1gs-2lCu6Ds/edit#gid=0 

    Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Information Policy, Oleksandr Tkachenko, submitted a letter of resignation on July 20.  The National Reserve of the Kyiv Lavra is part of the Ministry of Culture.  The resignation letter will now be considered by the Rada.  https://lb.ua/news/2023/07/21/566326_radi_zareiestruvali_zayavu_pro.html  Since July 6 no further efforts have been made by the National Reserve to seal additional buildings in the Lavra.  

    At the request of the Russian Federation, the United Nations Security Council considered on July 26 the issue of persecution of the UOC in Ukraine.  At the request of Ukraine, it is also considered the recent missile strikes in Odesa.  The complete proceedings can be watched at https://media.un.org/en/asset/k11/k11j8ftrs3  (beginning at 17:00).  A summary of the various presentations can be read at https://www.publicnow.com/view/40EBA1BCE137A0B8B31701CB15D12252F9FD6A51?1690397173.  Nihal Saad, Director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, gave a report which can be watched and read at  https://www.unaoc.org/2023/07/briefing-by-ms-nihal-saad-director-of-unaoc-at-the-united-nations-security-council/  The Russian Federation sought to present two non-UN briefers but the UK chairmen allowed only one with a written statement to be submitted by the second.  A vote was taken with only three votes in favor of the presentation by two briefers.  As a result, UOC Bishop Gideon (Charon)( http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5231408.html ), now living in Russia, did not appear. 

    No vote was taken on Russia’s allegations as to persecutions.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 25 July 2023: UOC reaction to the damaging of Odesa cathedral

    The UOC’s Savior - Transfiguration Cathedral in Odesa (Ukrainian spelling of the city) is the most important and largest church in the city.   The Cathedral dates back to 1794 but was destroyed by the communist authorities in 1936.  Beginning in 1999 reconstruction began, and the new magnificent cathedral was consecrated a number of years later.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfiguration_Cathedral_in_Odesa.  On the night of July 23 during a Russian missile attack on Odesa, the cathedral was severely damaged by a missile which penetrated the building and “directly hit the main altar.”   More details concerning this and subsequent events relating to the cathedral can be read at the website of the UOC’s Odesa Eparchy.  https://eparhiya.od.ua/   A video filming rescue efforts may be watched at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXcNAMOcclU  In the late afternoon of July 23 the Patriarch’s official website in Moscow posted an article relating to the destruction.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6044675.html   The article factually summarized the damage as stated on the website of the UOC’s Odesa Eparchy, but expressed no sadness concerning the damage to this important religious structure.  The article ended with the following paragraph:

    According to the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, the most likely cause of the destruction, taking into account the video footage from the Transfiguration Cathedral published by local residents, is “the fall of a Ukrainian anti-aircraft guided missile as a result of the illiterate actions of the operators of air defense systems that the Armed Forces of Ukraine deliberately place in residential areas of settlements, including in the city of Odessa.

    The reaction of the UOC was far different.  The well-known Metropolitan Agafangel, the conservative head of the UOC eparchy in Odesa, strongly condemned Russia in an appeal written to the faithful.  https://www.facebook.com/Odesskaja.eparhija/posts/pfbid0qQmHKMFRLhtE5oKWN4WkpUzbvGN8U2ir58x7Gn1ec4yJwtq69iwLxPJrihhycXGil.  The appeal included the following statement:

    From February 24, 2022, the large-scale military aggression of the Russian Federation began in our native Ukraine, people are dying, human blood is being shed, cities and villages, churches and monasteries are being destroyed.  Whatever the purpose of the so-called shameful "special military operation," it will not be able to justify the killing and violence, the destruction and the forced flight.  We still do not understand: from whom do they want to free us?  From life?  This is a real genocide of the Ukrainian people.  This is the madness of all those who give orders to bomb Ukraine, kill our soldiers and our people.  We defend our native Ukrainian land, we defend the borders of our sovereign Independent State.  We want to be left alone, to be given the opportunity to live under a peaceful sky on our native land.

    One of the vicar bishops of Metropolitan Agafangel, Archbishop Viktor (Bykov) of Artsyz, has written what can only be described as a scathing attack on Patriarch Kirill and his Holy Synod.  I believe that it is significant that the deputy head of the DECR of the UOC, Father Mykola Danylevych, who often serves as a spokesperson for the entire UOC, has posted the full text of Archbishop Viktor’s letter on his Telegram channel.  https://t.me/s/MykolayDanylevych  It is an indication that the strong feelings prompted by the missile attack are not limited to Odesa.  An English translation of the entire letter (translated with the aid of Google and https://spzh.news/en/news/75027-after-odesa-cathedral-shelling-uoc-bishop-addresses-patriarch-kirill) is as follows:  

    To Patriarch Kirill of Moscow

    and all members of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church,

    Please note that at the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on May 27, 2022, a decision was made that we, led by our Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, completely leave your subordination.  More than once, in your sermons, you talk about the unity of "Holy Rus," which you completely destroy with your blessing and deeds.  I am also asking you to pay attention to the fact that it is with your personal blessing that today the Russian army is wreaking havoc and open war on the sovereign territory of the Ukrainian State.  In my opinion, you forgot that, as in Russia and Ukraine, there are (were) your children, whom you consider to be such, and you blessed those who are killing them today.  To my great disappointment, at the last Bishops' meeting in Moscow, you did not say a single word about the need to stop this Cain-like war.  Stop these murders and destruction of peaceful cities and villages!  Stop the bloodshed!  Your bishops and priests sanctify and bless tanks and rockets that bomb our peaceful cities.

    Today, when I arrived at the Transfiguration Cathedral of Odesa after the curfew, I saw that the “blessed” missile from Russia flew right into the altar of the temple, into the Holy of Holies.  I realized that there is nothing left in common between the understanding of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and yours.  Due to personal ambitions, you have lost the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and other Churches in the countries of “Holy Rus.”!  The words “Great Lord and Father” do not come to my tongue when addressing you, for you are a father who has sacrificed his children to destruction and killings!  We have our loving father and Abba, and therefore we ask: please do not ignore our Primate, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry of Kyiv and All Ukraine, who was elected by the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and we ask you not to discredit our Church and not to destroy it with your own blessing.  As of today, neither you nor your representatives, such as Metropolitan Leonid [https://t.me/s/exarchleonid] or Archpriest Andrey Novikov, who fled the Odesa Eparchy, supposedly persecuted by the SBU, are doing anything to support us as your brothers, and in their internet posts, only tarnish the name of the Holy Church without showing any respect for its Primate and the voice of our Ukrainian Church.

    How can we, faithful children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and faithful to the decision of its Holy Council, be called subjects who "go on the path of schism?" Today, you and all your followers are doing everything to destroy the UOC within Ukraine.  There is no understanding of oikonomia in relation to the UOC. 

    Why today you talk about the canonical rules of commemorating you as the Head of the Church, but in turn, for a long time you do not commemorate the Heads of Local Churches.  Are you under political pressure, which you say is on the territory of Ukraine?  Today, we (speaking on behalf of many hierarchs of the UOC) condemn this senseless aggression of Russia against our Independent country.  We condemn the barbaric seizures of our eparchies in the East and South of Ukraine.  We condemn the repressions and persecutions carried out by your authorities in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine!  We have our own path, which was chosen by the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  Sincerely, I ask you to stop.  Every missile that comes to Ukraine's territory is perceived by its inhabitants as your “blessing” to your children.

    Faithful obedient servant of the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,

    Archbishop Viktor of Artsyz

    Without attempting to determine the truth of the various allegations, I believe that a basic truth can be learned from all of this.  Contrary to the attempts by some to portray the UOC as the “Moscow Church” or as a church subservient to Moscow, the expression of views, such as the foregoing, prove that there are significant parts of the UOC who are strongly opposed to Moscow.  Archbishop Viktor states that “many hierarchs” of the UOC condemn Russia, but he does not use the word “all.”  The UOC is not a monolithic organization.  The UOC encompasses people holding a spectrum of views.  All of them are held together by Metropolitan Onufry, the primate of the UOC.   As with many matters, it is a big mistake to use sweeping generalities and to paint with too broad a brush.  

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 20 July 2023: Results of Moscow's "Conference" of Bishops

    On December 29, 2022, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate decided in Journal Entry 121 to set a “bishops’ conference” for July 19, 2023.   https://mospat.ru/ru/news/89905/  It is important to note that this is not the “bishops’ council” which has been repeatedly postponed because “the international situation continues to hinder the arrival in Moscow of many members of the Bishops’ Council.”  A Bishops’ Council is a decision-making body under the Statute of the Moscow Patriarchate while a Bishops’ Conference is not.  Rather this Bishops’ Conference is to be “a fraternal discussion of current issues of church life” with an agenda to be prepared by Patriarch Kirill for presentation to the Conference for approval.  This Conference consists “of all diocesan and vicar bishops of dioceses in Russia - on a mandatory basis, as well as bishops of dioceses in other countries - depending on the opportunity to arrive in Moscow.”

    The Conference on July 19 was held at the famous Trinity-Sergius Lavra  in conjunction with the observance on July 18 of the important feast day commemorating the discovery of the relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh.  On July 17 an all-night vigil was held by the assembled bishops at the Lavra, and the Divine Liturgy was celebrated on July 18 in front of the Dormition Cathedral of the Lavra.  A video of the entire Liturgy can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9bx7uRnJjE&t=7951s .  At the end of the Liturgy, Patriarch Kirill delivered a sermon.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043035.html (full text)   The following are some excerpts from his sermon:

    Unfortunately, in our time, due to human deceit, betrayal, the desire to please some political forces far removed from our country, Rus' has again divided.  We can only hope for what is preserved, although not clearly expressed and insufficiently, in my opinion, the strong unity of the Russian Orthodox Church.  And today the same forces that sought to divide the country and our people are doing everything to tear the Orthodox Church in Ukraine [Православную Церковь на Украине] away from the Plenitude of the Russian Orthodox Church.  They managed to do something in an insidious way, through the establishment of schisms, divisions; and how all this resembles the struggle of the atheistic authorities that came to rule the country in the post-revolutionary period!  After all, even then the godless authorities saw danger in the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church and inspired all sorts of schisms and divisions…. But I want to emphasize once again: our battle, according to the apostle, is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of the darkness of this world, the spirits of wickedness in high places (see Eph. 6:12). 

    On the evening of July 18 at a dinner for the bishops, Patriarch Kirill continued the theme that Russia is engaged in a fateful metaphysical struggle against evil.  The full text of this address can be found at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043452.html.  The address included the following statement:  And you and I must firmly follow what the Lord has intended us to do in order to keep our country, our people, and through this, perhaps, the whole world from the domination of the devil, from decay and destruction.  I have never said these words, but now I will say: the time is very disturbing.  Today, we must all recognize our calling and join the fight.  Fight for the Motherland, for the Church. 

    The Bishops’ Conference began in the Great Assembly Hall of the Moscow Theological Academy at the Lavra on 11 a.m. on July 19 and concluded later the same day.  Many photos of the participants in the Conference can be seen at https://foto.patriarchia.ru/news/arkhiereyskoe-soveshchanie-russkoy-pravoslavnoy-tserkvi-2023-07-19/.  The full text of the report by Patriarch Kirill may be accessed at https://mospat.ru/ru/news/90538/.  With respect to statistics, the Patriarch stated that the Patriarchate has: 40,895 churches or other places where the Divine Liturgy is celebrated; 324 dioceses; 490 men’s monasteries and 508 women's monasteries with a total of approximately 16,000 monastics; 402 bishops of which 295 are presently heading dioceses; 36,516 presbyters; and 4,893 deacons.  Based on the size of the numbers, these figures must include the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  The blogger Andrei Kuraev counted, apparently from photos, 250 bishops who were physically present during the presentation by Patriarch Kirill.  https://diak-kuraev.livejournal.com/  This smaller number indicates that the UOC bishops were generally not present at the Conference.  Kuraev lists as present three hierarchs from Crimea, four from the DPR, and two from the LPR.

    An important part of the Patriarch’s report relates to Ukraine.  Statements include the following: “It is clear that the Ukrainian authorities have begun to liquidate the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, paying no attention to the so-called European values, which include, among other things, freedom of religion and respect for human rights.”  “The abbot of the Lavra , Metropolitan Pavel of Vyshgorod and Chernobyl, after a three-month stay under house arrest under far-fetched pretexts and relying on false accusations, was imprisoned in a pre-trial detention center.  Vladyka, who is 62 years old, suffers from serious illnesses, including diabetes.  His life is in danger.”  “If it is possible to go to services in a temple where the clergy remain faithful to the canonical order of the commemoration of the Primate of the Church [Patriarch Kirill], one should go to such a temple.  If there is no such possibility at all, then until the Church has passed a conciliar judgment on the falling away of certain bishops and clergy into schism, the sacraments performed by those who have been the victim of blackmail or who have not had the courage or conscience to preserve this canonical order remain valid.”  According to the Patriarch, the Phanar is a tool in the hands of skilled manipulators, and it has been such a tool for more than a year.  The Patriarch also contends that the Greek Catholics (UGCC) are one of the ultimate beneficiaries of numerous lawless seizures in the past, have fully identified themselves with the nationalistic agenda fostered in Ukraine, and have become accomplices of the Ukrainian authorities in the implementation of their discriminatory policy towards the canonical Orthodox Church.

    During the conference, Metropolitan Hilarion of Hungary and Budapest delivered a report, prepared by the Synodal Biblical and Theological Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate, with the title, On the distortion of the Orthodox teaching about the Church in the deeds of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the speeches of its representatives.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043904.html  Metropolitan Hilarion remains the chairman of this Commission although he was relieved of many other responsibilities when he was demoted to Budapest in June 2022.  The full text of Metropolitan Hilarion’s detailed in-person address can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043879.html   The full text of the report itself can be accessed as a Word document at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043760.html.  Metropolitan Hilarion explained that the report had been prepared and approved by the Commission on September 29, 2021, and then subject to further amendments suggested by Patriarch Kirill.  The plan was to present this report at the future Bishops’ Council, which now continues to be postponed.  Metropolitan Hilarion stated:  “Since the activity of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, damaging Orthodox unity, continued and continues to this day, His Holiness the Patriarch instructed the Synodal Biblical and Theological Commission to finalize the document for this Bishops' Conference, taking into account the latest anti-canonical acts of Patriarch Bartholomew.  Today we present to your attention an updated version of the document.” 

    At the end of the Conference, the bishops adopted a ten-point resolution.  The full text of the resolution can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043699.html.  Paragraphs 6 and 7 read as follows:

    6.  Today, on Ukrainian soil, the state power has shown itself to be the direct heir of the Bolsheviks-theomachists and raises persecution against the Orthodox Church.  Faithful church children are expelled from churches, hierarchs, clergymen and laity are subjected to unjust arrests and dishonorable trials, shrines are defiled and plundered.  Particularly bitter is the news that attempts are being made to force the clergy and laity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to renounce God's truth and push them into schism.  The participants of the Bishops’ Conference call for intense prayer for Orthodox brothers and sisters in Ukraine, for those who, despite threats, slander and persecution, strive to preserve church unity, and especially for those who show a truly confessional feat, courageously raising their voices in defense of this unity .

    7.  The Bishops’ Conference notes with regret that the leaders of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, blinded by the thirst to satisfy private interests and ambitions, have become one of the instruments of political forces hostile to Orthodoxy.  Having considered the conclusion “On the distortion of the Orthodox teaching about the Church in the acts of the hierarchy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the speeches of its representatives” presented by the Synodal Biblical and Theological Commission, the participants in the Bishops’ Conference express their agreement with the conclusions of this document and submit it for approval by the Holy Synod.

    I am sure that all of this will be subject to much future debate and controversy.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 15 July 2023: Patriarch Kirill's letter to primates concerning Lavra & other news

    Patriarch Kirill has sent a letter to the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches concerning the Kyiv Lavra.  It is not clear whether the letter was sent to those primates with whom the Moscow Patriarchate has severed communion.  The full text of the letter can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6042386.html.  The following are some excerpts from the letter:

    The Ukrainian authorities have begun actions using force aimed at the final expulsion of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra.  Violence is used, among other things, against civilians who came to the walls of the monastery to defend their right to pray in the monastery dear to their hearts….

    More than 30 years have passed since the last revival of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra in the late 80s of the XX century, during which the monastery was restored and beautified by the work of many believers from different countries.  The monastery has again become a real pearl of world Orthodoxy.  Now, with great regret, we have to state that a new, yet another attempt is being made to stop the existence of the monastery as a spiritual center for millions of believers.

    All who now put their hand to this lawlessness make themselves the heirs of the theomachists of the 20th century, no matter what pretexts they use to justify their actions.

    The Russian Orthodox Church, as well as Primates and representatives of other Local Orthodox Churches, appealed to international organizations, made statements calling for an end to the persecution of the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  Through respect for the sacred lies the road to peace, no matter how severe the wounds inflicted by the war.  But, as the reaction of the world community shows, the right of Ukrainian citizens to freely practice their faith is of no interest to many of those who publicly declare their commitment to human rights.

    The government’s National Reserve for the Kyiv Lavra has continued its program of gradually evicting the UOC from at least parts of the Lower Lavra.  The National Reserve is taking small steps rather than large steps in the eviction process, presumably to attract less attention from the media and the Orthodox world.  So far the steps seem to be directed at buildings not connected with religious services or with the residences of the monks.  A number of the buildings sealed appear to be commercial in nature.  On July 4 the Reserve’s commission went to seal Building 69 (workshops and church furniture store) and Building 45 (fraternal cells in the Near Caves), but were prevented from doing so by a group of the UOC faithful.  On July 6 the commission came with police and successfully sealed Building 69, Building 70 (primate’s residence), and Building 71 (church store).  https://news.church.ua/2023/07/06/u-kijevo-pecherskij-lavri-predstavniki-zapovidnika-za-dopomogoyu-silovikiv-oplombovuyut-budivli-monastirya-video/#2023-07-13   However, it should be noted that Metropolitan Onufry’s actual home is not at the Lavra but at the St. Panteleimon Women’s Monastery in the Kyiv suburb of Feofania.   On July 11 the commission sealed Building 68 (church shop) and Building 115 (shopping pavilion), apparently without resistance.   https://mkip.gov.ua/news/9464.html  As far as I can determine, the only forceful action taken by police this month has been to carry away certain persons who were physically blocking ingress to Building 69 on July 6.  This can be seen in the following short videos:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2oCWwmt2Y8https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2oCWwmt2Y8&t=149s   

    On July 6 the Reserve gave notice to the UOC to vacate Buildings 57 and 58 by July 10.  https://ria.ru/20230706/lavra-1882694014.html  These buildings are hotels for pilgrims and are now being used by the UOC faithful who have come to the Lavra to protect it.  On July 10 the commission came to these two buildings and were not allowed access by the UOC priests and faithful.  https://spzh.news/en/news/74760-minculture-fails-to-seize-lavra-buildings-57-58-without-security-forces  Being unsuccessful in sealing the buildings, the commission left.  As far as I can determine, no further steps have been taken to seal these two buildings.

    It is very possible that the National Reserve is waiting for a decision on the lawsuit which was filed by the UOC against the National Reserve and which challenges the decision of the National Reserve to end the UOC’s lease relating to the Lower Lavra.  Preliminary proceedings in this lawsuit have now been completed, and the Kyiv Commercial Court will consider the merits of the case on July 19.  https://news.church.ua/2023/07/06/golova-yuridichnogo-viddilu-upc-sud-zhodnogo-rishennya-shhe-ne-prijnyav-zapovidnik-dije-samopravno/#2023-07-14 

    On July 14 the Solomyan District Court in Kyiv granted the government prosecutor’s request to increase the preventative restrain on Metropolitan Pavlo, vicar of the Kyiv Lavra, from house arrest to detention with guard.  With respect to detention, the Metropolitan can alternatively post bail of approximately 33 million hryvnias (approximately $898,661).  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3735990-sud-uzav-pid-vartu-mitropolita-upc-mp-pavla-zmi.html   It is my understanding that if bail is posted, the Metropolitan will no longer be confined to his very nice home in the village of Voronkiv, but will generally have freedom of movement with probably certain limitations.  Pending the posting of bail, Metropolitan Pavlo was taken to pre-trial detention.  https://news.church.ua/2023/07/14/prokuratura-domoglasya-areshtu-namisnika-kijevo-pecherskoji-lavri-mitropolita-pavla/#2023-07-14  Personally, I believe that it is very likely some weathy person will provide the necessary funds for the bail.

    The events at the Lavra have received a great amount of media attention in the Russian Federation.  See, for example, https://ria.ru/religion/  By being the principal champion for the UOC with respect to its serious problems in Ukraine, the Moscow Patriarchate may be hoping to win back the hearts of members of the UOC who were alienated from the Moscow Patriarchate by Patriarch Kirill’s support of the invasion of Ukraine.  On July 7 Viktor Yelensky, head of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), met with UOC Metropolitan Kliment of Nizhyn and Archbishop Sylvester (rector of the Kyiv Theological Academy) at their request.  https://dess.gov.ua/vidbulas-cherhova-zustrich-holovy-dess-z-predstavnykamy-upts-mp/  According to DESS, the two representatives “outlined their vision of the status of the UOC and the prospects for its change,” and Yelensky “emphasized the need for a complete and unconditional break between the UOC and any centers of influence in the country that carries out aggression against Ukraine.”  Yelensky apparently seeks to compel the UOC unambiguously to declare its autocephaly.  However, pressure tactics used by the Ukrainian government against the UOC may in the long run have the opposite effect of driving the UOC back into the arms of the Moscow Patriarchate for protection from these pressures.  In my opinion, the UOC is extremely concerned about being labeled a “schismatic church.”  For years, the UOC has believed and argued that the UOC-KP and now the OCU are “schismatic” and therefore under the church canons have no Grace in their sacraments.   A declaration of autocephaly will force the Moscow Patriarchate to declare the UOC to be a schismatic church.  If the UOC is declared schismatic, the argument used against the OCU with respect to lack of Grace would also apply to the UOC.  In my opinion, the UOC will simply not jeopardize the salvation of its faithful by risking being declared a "schismatic church" and thereby losing all Grace.  It is also very possible that in any future peace negotiations relating to Ukraine, the Russian Federation will demand as a condition of peace the restoration of what the UOC has lost.  

    As previously reported Father Ioann Koval, a priest in the Lublino district of Moscow, was found guilty of disobedience by a diocesan court for repeatedly substituting the word “peace” for the word “victory” in the required Russian prayer relating to the Ukraine war.  In June the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate granted the appeal of Koval and restored him to the priesthood.  In addition, the Ecumenical Patriarch took Koval under his authority to minister in the future within Ecumenical Patriarchate.  Andrei Kuraev has posted on his website two photographs that clearly show that Koval has now arrived in Turkey.  https://diak-kuraev.livejournal.com/?skip=20 ; https://diak-kuraev.livejournal.com/?skip=10   The first photo shows Koval standing next to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the Patriarch’s office in the Phanar.  The second photo shows Koval at a baptism being performed by Metropolitan Job of Pisidia.  The baptism occurred in the large resort city of Antalya, within the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s diocese of Pisidia.   Antalya has recently experienced a great influx of Russians and Ukrainians, many of whom are seeking to avoid the effects of the war in Ukraine.   In December The New York Times described Antalya in a long article entitled “Moscow on the Med.”  https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/29/world/europe/antalya-russia-emigres-war.html  In 2019 the Moscow Patriarchate established two parishes in Antalya in competition with the single preexisting parish of the Agios Alypios which is under the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/dispute-between-orthodox-russians-ukrainians-in-antalya-178041  The website of Agios Alyprios is found at https://antalya-orthodox.com/.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 4 July 2023: Further restrictive steps at the Kyiv Lavra & other news

    On June 22 President Zelensky stated in his nightly address:  “I also held a meeting on the spiritual independence of Ukraine - we continue to work on this, and we will take new steps.  Obviously, there can be no true spiritual ties with a terrorist state and those who justify the murder of Ukrainians and cover up evil.”  https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/potribna-povna-deokupaciya-zaporizkoyi-aes-bud-hto-hto-zaply-83753  On June 30, the National Reserve of the Kyiv Lavra sent a letter to the UOC announcing the taking of certain new steps.  https://lb.ua/society/2023/07/01/563188_minkult_planuie_pripiniti_dostup_upts.html   The letter stated that a commission had been established to seal buildings in the Lower Lavra and that the work of the commission would begin on July 4.  Apparently as a first step, five buildings were designated for sealing.  Four of the buildings (Nos. 54, 57, 69, 71) are used to accommodate pilgrims, and the fifth building (No. 45) contains “fraternal cells” in the Near Caves.  The letter required that the UOC vacate the premises and hand over the keys to the National Reserve.  If the keys are not surrendered, new locks will be installed.  The Ministry of Culture also issued an announcement.  https://mkip.gov.ua/news/9415.html  The announcement includes the following:  “Today, the Reserve does not prevent the religious activities of the Monastery.  At the same time, access to part of the premises that are not involved in the religious activities of the Monastery (commercial/industrial/hotel) is a violation of the intended use of religious buildings and should be limited as a matter of priority.”  The legal department of the UOC responded that the termination of the UOC lease to the Lower Lavra was being challenged in the courts and that it is improper for the National Reserve to take the announced actions before the termination issue is resolved by the courts.  https://news.church.ua/2023/07/01/the-preserve-does-not-have-any-grounds-for-sealing-up-monastery-buildings-a-statement-by-the-uoc-legal-department/?lang=en#2023-07-03

    On July 4 the commission came to seal the buildings.  The commission, headed by the acting general director of the National Reserve, first went to Building 69 and then to Building 45.  They were unable to gain access to the buildings because a crowd of approximately 100 UOC believers, many of them women, blocked their way.  https://spzh.news/en/news/74640-ministry-of-culture-commission-comes-to-the-lavra-to-seal-buildingshttps://religionpravda.com.ua/?p=88359  The National Reserve has now filed a statement with the National Police of Ukraine regarding the interference with the work of the commission.  https://www.facebook.com/kplavra  The attorney for the UOC has appealed to the law enforcement authorities not to contribute to the illegal actions of the National Reserve. https://t.me/s/nikita_chekman  The confrontation is receiving substantial media coverage in Russia.  https://ria.ru/20230704/lavra-1882186542.html 

    The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has now issued its Update on the human rights situation in Ukraine: 1 February — 30 April 2023.  https://ukraine.un.org/sites/default/files/2023-06/HRMMU%20Three-month%20update%20-%20June%202023%20ENG.pdf  On page 5 of the Update, there is a section entitled:  “Situation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”  The Update specifically found that the Ukrainian government and law enforcement authorities did not effectively address incidents of hate speech used by public officials and opinion leaders against clergy and supporters of the UOC.  On June 29, the Solomensky District Court in Kyiv extended the house arrest of Metropolitan Pavlo, vicar of the Kyiv Lavra, for a second time, this time until August 31.  https://spzh.news/en/news/74577-court-extends-house-arrest-for-lavra-abbot-for-another-two-months

    Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna and President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, has now completed his three day visit (June 28-30) to Moscow as an envoy of Pope Francis.  On June 30 the Holy See issued a communiqué summarizing the visit.    https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2023/06/30/230630f.html (English)  The purpose of the visit was to identify “humanitarian initiatives that may open up pathways to achieving peace.”  After the completion of the trip, Cardinal Zuppi stated in Rome that his trip to Moscow had focused on humanitarian issues and had not involved any discussions of a peace plan.  https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/papal-envoy-says-moscow-visit-focused-humanitarian-issues-not-peace-plan-2023-07-02/ 

    Unlike Zuppi’s visit to Kyiv (June 5-6), Zuppi did not meet with the top government officials in Moscow.  He did meet twice with Yuri Ushakov, assistant to President Putin for foreign affairs.  Ushakov was the Russian Ambassador to the United States, 1998 to 2008.  Ushakov told the Russian news agency Interfax after the second visit that there was a "useful exchange of views" but that "no specific ideas were put forward"   https://www.ansa.it/english/news/general_news/2023/06/30/kremlin-says-appreciates-vatican-impartiality_e6ced8e7-73af-4030-839b-ff26507808b4.html  He stated that the Vatican’s efforts are focused on “humanitarian affairs, an exchange of detained civilians, issues related to the relocation of children, and other matters of this kind.”  Cardinal Zuppi also met with Maria Lvova-Belova, commissioner to the President for children’s rights.  Lvova-Belova is a very controversial figure.  On March 17 the International Criminal Court had issued arrest warrants for two Russians – President Putin and Lvova-Belova.  https://www.icc-cpi.int/news/situation-ukraine-icc-judges-issue-arrest-warrants-against-vladimir-vladimirovich-putin-and  Lvova-Belova is accused by the Court of the war crime of unlawfully transferring and deporting children from Ukraine to Russia.

    By far the most important person that Cardinal Zuppi met during his visit was Patriarch Kirill.  The Moscow Patriarchate’s description of this meeting is found at https://mospat.ru/en/news/90496/ (English).  A seven-minute video of the meeting can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjcSIAf9ngo&t=8s.  The Patriarch stressed that “in this very difficult time Christian communities in East and West should participate in the process of reconciliation.”  He also stated: “The situation in Ukraine is utterly unhealthy personally for me.  I head the Orthodox Church whose flock lives both in Russia and Ukraine and other countries.  Therefore, the suffering of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples deeply wounds my heart.  Precisely for this reason, already since 2014 we have lifted up in all our church ardent prayers for peace in Ukraine.  We used and will use all the means to end this terrible conflict as soon as possible so that there can be as few as possible victims.”

    With respect to the Patriarch’s reference to prayers for peace in Ukraine being offered in all of the Patriarchate’s churches in Russia, I have previously reported on the prayer required to be said in all Russian churches since last fall.  Although the prayer uses the word peace, it also requests God to “give us victory” and to “confirm the warriors and all the defenders of our Fatherland.”  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5962654.html  (full text of prayer)  I also reported that Father Ioann Koval, a priest in the Lublino district of Moscow, was found guilty of disobedience by a diocesan court for repeatedly substituting the word “peace” for the word “victory” in the prayer.   https://ria.ru/20230513/svyaschennik-1871542337.html   The diocese court ruled that Koval should be defrocked.  The defrocking will not be effective until confirmed by Patriarch Kirill, and this has not yet occurred.  This delay in confirmation stands in contrast to the immediate confirmation by the Patriarch of the defrocking of the Lithuanian priests who sought to join the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

    The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has not waited for a confirmation by Patriarch Kirill, but has now granted an appeal by Koval.  https://ec-patr.org/%ce%b1%ce%bd%ce%b1%ce%ba%ce%bf%ce%b9%ce%bd%cf%89%ce%b8%ce%ad%ce%bd-%ce%b3%ce%b9%ce%b1-%cf%84%ce%b9%cf%82-%ce%b5%cf%81%ce%b3%ce%b1%cf%83%ce%af%ce%b5%cf%82-%cf%84%ce%b7%cf%82-%ce%b1%ce%b3%ce%af%ce%b1-12/  During the Synod’s session June 27-28, the Synod determined that the reasons for which Koval was punished were not ecclesiastical, but rather his stance on the war against Ukraine.  The Synod accordingly lifted the penalty of defrocking and restored Koval to the priestly ranks.  Also at the request of Koval, the Ecumenical Patriarch took Koval under his authority to minister in the future within Ecumenical Patriarchate.  The deputy head of the Synodal Department for Church Relations with Society and the Media of the Moscow Patriarchate has called the action by the Ecumenical Patriarchate “a propaganda action…that has nothing to do with the canons.”  https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/6071001  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has previously granted appeals by priests of the Moscow Patriarchate, but to my knowledge this is the first time that he has done so for a priest serving in the Russian Federation.

    Professor Theresia Hainthaler, a long-time member of the Coordinating Committee of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, has discussed in an interview with the Pro Oriente Foundation the next topic for the work of the Commission.  https://www.pro-oriente.at/news/oekumene-expertin-wichtiger-schritt-im-katholisch-orthodoxen-dialog-gelungen  The foregoing article states:

    According to Hainthaler, following the adoption of the document "Synodality and Primacy in the Second Millennium and Today", the commission will now turn to the document "Towards Christian Unity".  The document has been available in a comprehensive first version since 2018.  It would collect the fruits of the ecumenical dialogue so far, name the open questions that stand in the way of unity, and show possible solutions.  According to Hainthaler, the coordination committee will work on this draft in 2024 and then present it to the plenary.

    At a meeting of the Coordinating Committee in September 2017, it was decided that two documents would be drafted simultaneously.  https://www.ecupatria.org/2017/09/11/catholic-orthodox-bilateral-dialogue-on-the-way-to-its-next-plenary/  The first document on the second millennium has now been finalized.  The second document on identifying the issues that must be resolved before the establishment of communion will now be the subject of the Committee’s work. 

    From June 21 to 25, the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group met in Balamand (Lebanon) to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Joint International Commission’s Balamand Document.  The Working Group considered “the history of attempts to resolve the schism between Catholics and Orthodox leading up to the Balamand Document, the document itself, as well as its subsequent reception.”  A summary of the findings of the Working Group can be read at http://www.christianunity.va/content/dam/unitacristiani/Altri/2023/Communiqu%C3%A9_Balamand-2023_EN.pdf .

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 27 June 2023: Latest UN report on Ukrainian Orthodox Church

    The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has now issued its  Update on the human rights situation in Ukraine:1 February — 30 April 2023.  https://ukraine.un.org/sites/default/files/2023-06/HRMMU%20Three-month%20update%20-%20June%202023%20ENG.pdf  On page 5 of the Update, there is a section entitled:  “Situation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”  The following is the complete text of that section:

    During the reporting period, the Government and local authorities took several measures targeting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).  Authorities notably searched places of worship and other UOC facilities, 12/ issued notices of suspicions against clergymen, and placed several of them under house arrest, including one of the UOC’s main hierarchs. 13/   In addition, the Ministry of Culture terminated early the rental agreement with the UOC of the State-owned Kyiv Pechersk Lavra.   Following UN advocacy, authorities refrained from taking actions that risked violence and did not forcibly evict the UOC from the Lavra on the stated deadline for leaving the premises of 29 March. 14/

    During the month of April 2023, the city and regional councils in Khmelnytskyi, Rivne, and Volyn banned the “activities of the UOC” in their respective areas, after the regional councils in Lviv, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia and Ternopil had done the same, even though such bans were beyond their authority.  Many local councils also sought to terminate municipal property rental agreements with the UOC.  HRMMU [United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine]  is concerned that the cumulative impact of Government actions targeting the UOC could be discriminatory.

    Moreover, HRMMU documented a surge in hate speech and several incidents of violence against UOC members in April 2023.  Public officials, bloggers and opinion leaders used discriminatory and inflammatory rhetoric and openly incited violence against clergymen and supporters of the UOC.  The Government and law enforcement authorities did not effectively address the incidents of hate speech during the reporting period. 

    12/ See OHCHR periodic report, March 2023, paras. 110-113.

    13/  He was placed under house arrest for 60 days on 1 April 2023 after the SBU issued a notice of suspicion against him for inciting inter-religious divisions and justifying the Russian aggression (articles 161 and 436-2 of the Criminal Code).

    14/  Although the UOC challenged the decision to terminate the lease in court, its request for an injunction halting the eviction was denied by the Kyiv Commercial Court on 30 March 2023.

    On page one of the Update, under the title Summary, there is the following paragraph:

    Incidents of violence against members and supporters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (“UOC”) increased during the reporting period.  Moreover, several regional councils banned the activities of the UOC.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 24 June 2023: Appeals of Kirill and Tikhon in support of Putin

    Google translations of Russian texts:

    http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6037974.html 

    On June 24, 2023, His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus' addressed his compatriots. 

    Dear brothers and sisters!

    Military confrontation is a test in which we, even more than at other times, are called upon to carefully preserve national unity, pray to God, and support the soldiers and each other with all our might. 

    Today, when our brothers fight and die on the fronts, selflessly fulfilling their duty, when the enemies are making every effort to destroy Russia, any attempt to sow discord within the country is the greatest crime that has no justification. 

    Lifting up prayers for a peaceful resolution of the current situation, as the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, I urge those who, having taken up arms in their hands, are ready to direct them against their brethren, to think again. In the face of a common threat, one must maintain unity of mind, overcome grievances and personal ambitions.  No matter how difficult it may sometimes be. 

    I support the efforts of the Head of the Russian State aimed at preventing unrest in our country. 

    I myself pray and call on all hierarchs, clergymen, monastics and laity to lift up solemn prayers that the Lord preserve peace and unity, jeopardized by calls for confusion. 

    May the Lord protect Russia, its people and its army.

    +KIRILL, PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUS

     

    https://ria.ru/religion/

    MOSCOW, June 24 - RIA Novosti. The Russians must rally around President Vladimir Putin in order to prevent a division that is fatal for the country and people, Metropolitan Tikhon of Pskov and Porkhov said in a statement on the page of the Pskov diocese on the VKontakte social network .

    "What is necessary in order to prevent a division that is fatal for the country and people in critical situations? Keeping faith and convictions, put aside strife and discord, no matter how important they may seem to the parties to the conflict, and be in unity with those whom God's Providence has put to rule Russia No matter how this person is called in history: Grand Duke, Tsar, Emperor or Chairman of the State Defense Committee and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the USSR ... Today President Vladimir Putin bears this burden, cross and responsibility," he said.

    Today, without exaggeration, it is a historical choice for everyone and for everyone, the metropolitan added.

     

    MOSCOW, June 24 - RIA Novosti. The head of the Don Metropolis, Metropolitan of Rostov and Novocherkassk Mercury (Ivanov), before the prayer service at 17.00, will address all residents of the Rostov region, including its "uninvited guests," Igor Petrovsky, spokesman for the head of the Don Metropolis, told RIA Novosti.

    It is expected that Metropolitan Mercury at 17.00 will perform in the main church of Rostov-on-Don , the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in the central market, an unplanned prayer service with an akathist at the main shrine of the Don region - the Don Icon of the Mother of God - about giving peace to the people and multiplying love.

    “Before the beginning of the prayer service, the Metropolitan will turn to the residents of the city, the region, including our, relatively speaking, uninvited guests,” Petrovsky said.

    He noted that the appeal and the prayer service will be broadcast on television.

    On Saturday night in Rostov-on-Don, the headquarters of the Southern Military District was captured by the Wagner PMC. Groups of armed people are moving around the city, checkpoints have been set up at the entrances and exits. This happened against the backdrop of statements by Yevgeny Prigozhin about allegedly inflicted by the Russian Armed Forces missile and bomb attacks on the camps of PMC "Wagner" - this was refuted by both the Ministry of Defense and the FSB . A criminal case has been opened against Prigozhin for organizing an armed rebellion.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin called the actions of the rebels a criminal adventure, a stab in the back of Russia and a betrayal, which led to exorbitant ambitions and personal interests. All those who embarked on the path of betrayal, blackmail and terrorist methods will suffer inevitable punishment, the RF Armed Forces have received the necessary orders, the head of state added.

    According to Putin, the situation in Rostov-on-Don remains difficult, the work of civil and military authorities is blocked.

     

    MOSCOW, June 24 - RIA Novosti. Loyalty to the legitimate government is a force, it is now necessary to be its supporter so that the devil does not win, Archpriest Alexander Dobrodeev, chairman of the department for interaction with the armed and law enforcement agencies of the Moscow diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, told RIA Novosti.

    "That's what I would say to people carrying epaulettes and weapons.  Now is the time that determines the fate of mankind for life in paradise.  And if we now succumb to this provocation, to weakness, we will lose, we will exchange birthright for lentil stew ... I heard such an opinion that if we are in a battle, then we should not participate in conflicts within the team, they will not lead to anything good. We must be supporters of legitimate authority. Legitimate authority is strength, loyalty to legitimate authority is strength. When it comes to what "Something opposition is from the evil one, we must not succumb to this. The evil one does not sleep, and when he approaches us, he has the appearance of a sheep, but behind him stands a wolf who wants to devour us.  And our task is to resist," said the priest .

    In prayer, Christians say: "holy God, holy strong, holy immortal," and it is this inner fortress that is now very much needed in order not to succumb to provocations and emotions, he added.

    “A cold mind, clean hands and a warm heart are very important for us in this life, and no matter what arguments this evil spirit appeals to, our task is to resist, to keep peace, order, our traditional values from attack.  Because if discord starts, strife, it will not end just like that, it will be complete annihilation.  This is the new weapon of Satan, which he uses, since neither the atomic bomb, nor any super-modern weapons help. confrontation.  This is our weakness and the strength of Satan, we need to resist this," concluded Dobrodeev.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 23 June 2023: Latest developments on WCC roundtable & other news

    The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) is meeting in Geneva, June 21-27.  The Central Committee consists of 150 members and 8 presidents who were elected at the WCC Assembly held in Karlsruhe last year.  The Moscow Patriarchate now has three priests and one lay woman on the Central Committee, but no bishops.  Although not a member of the Central Committee, Metropolitan Anthony, head of the DECR, is leading the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate to the meeting.  https://mospat.ru/en/news/90465/   This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the WCC in 1948.  On the morning of June 21, the Opening Prayer included a homily and prayer by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.   The full text of his homily can be read at  https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/homily-of-his-all-holiness-ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew .  The homily includes the following reference to the Moscow Patriarchate:

    We express our gratitude to the World Council of Churches for standing in the court of the Prince of Peace and for supporting the nascent democracy of Ukraine and the pious and noble Ukrainian people.  Even now, the ecclesiastical presence of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine seeks ways to disambiguate itself from the aggressor State Church under Patriarch Kirill.  We say “State” Church, because the proof is in the alignment, not the self-assertion.  This sharp and grievous reality has already caused generational harm to the future of Orthodox Christianity in the Slavic Lands.  We all pray for a swift and righteous conclusion to this unnecessary imperialist campaign and an end to the needless and heedless politicization of the Church in Russia.  We cannot, and we must not allow the weaponization of our Christian faith to become the norm.

    In the foregoing remarks, the Ecumenical Patriarch clearly condemns the existing relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Putin administration and also implies that the UOC is still a part of the Moscow Patriarchate.  Interestingly, by the altar and speaker’s podium in the WCC chapel, there was a copy of Rublev’s famous Trinity icon.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hd-b4wurQKs&t=156s (at 0.15)  The original icon has been very much in the news recently.  In May it was given by President Putin to the Moscow Patriarchate, and the icon is now until July 18 in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

    Later in the morning of June 21, WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay gave his report. 

    https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/report-of-the-general-secretary-to-the-wcc-central-committee-june-2023 (full text).  Sections 29 to 32 of the report relate to the roundtable which is being organized by the WCC in connection with Ukraine.  The encouraging news is the following: 

    I am pleased to report that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Russian Orthodox Church have given a positive response to participate in the roundtable.  The ROC stated that they will consult with the UOC and, in the meantime, the WCC should work on the concept note for the roundtable.  We have subsequently completed a draft concept note, parts of which are mentioned above, and sent it to the respective churches for comment and commitment to the process, we are anticipating a positive response.  All the churches concerned have affirmed the WCC`s long standing role in peacemaking in conflict situations and see the WCC as a valuable and formidable forum to assist in the Ukraine situation.  It is our sincere hope and prayer that, given their views and support for the WCC intervention, they will maintain their stance of full participation.

    Dr. Pillay described the objectives of this roundtable as follows:

    Objective 1: Promote unity/peaceful co-existence between the majority Orthodox Churches of Ukraine[OCU and UOC], in the interests of consolidation and unity in Ukrainian society.

    Activities:

    • Negotiate with the Ukrainian government for assistance in creating conditions conducive to dialogue between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).
    • Convene confidential dialogue encounter/s in Geneva between senior representatives of the UOC , OCU, and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), to discuss current tensions and conflicts between them and to define measures to reduce tensions and promote peaceful co-existence.

    Dr. Pillay also described other future WCC roundtables with additional parties to discuss means of contributing to a just peace in Ukraine (“Objective 2”).  How the three churches can contribute to achieving this peace could also be a subject of the first roundtable. 

    During the lunch break on June 21, a press conference with Dr. Pillay and Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm (Moderator of the Central Committee) was held.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvK3pHqM94A&list=PLI22eVXX9FYmz7o_E2n4Rr-cjVgq8WVH1&index=2 (video of entire press conference)  The most interesting questions and answers begin at 11:08 in the video and relate to the roundtable.  The Bishop stated that if the WCC believed that the proposed dialogue could not lead to progress, the WCC would not attempt it.  Dr. Pillay stressed that unlike many other organizations, the WCC has access to the Moscow Patriarchate because the Moscow Patriarchate is a member of the WCC.  He hopes that the roundtable will occur in October.  The WCC is currently suggesting that Geneva be the location of the roundtable although there are some concerns about members of the UOC not being allowed to return to Ukraine if they travel to Geneva.  The WCC is proposing that each of the three churches appoint a delegation of five to participate in the roundtable and that they be people who are likely to have a positive influence on navigating a way forward.

    In the afternoon of June 21, there was a “prolonged conversation” between leaders of the WCC and Metropolitan Anthony together with two members of the Moscow delegation. https://mospat.ru/en/news/90476/  The WCC leaders included Dr. Pillay, Bishop Bedford-Strohm, Peter Prove, and Dr. Vasile-Octavian Mihoc.  All four of these individuals were part of the WCC delegation which visited Kyiv in May to discuss the proposed roundtable.  Doubtlessly, the WCC roundtable initiative was one of the primary subjects in this private meeting.

    In my opinion, the initiative involving the three churches is the one ray of hope to establish peaceful co-existence between the UOC and the OCU.  Although the three churches have made a “positive response” to participate in the roundtable, it appears that they have not yet made a final commitment to do so.

    On a different subject, Patriarch Porfirije made a visit to Austria from June 8 to 12.  Although Serbs have lived in Austria for centuries, they now comprise the third largest group of immigrants.  Aside from Serbian Bishop Andrej (Cilerdzic), the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) has approximately 350,000 members, 25 parishes, and 30 priests in Austria.  On June 9 the Patriarch met with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn at the offices of the Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna.  The official website of the SOC has summarized the remarks of the Patriarch to the Cardinal.  https://spc.rs/patrijarh-srpski-porfirije-razgovarao-sa-nadbiskupom-beckim-kristofom-senbornom/  The summary included the following:

    In a more than cordial and friendly conversation, Patriarch Porfirije expressed, on behalf of himself and the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, his great gratitude to Cardinal Schönborn for everything he does for the good of the Serbian Orthodox Church and its faithful people in Austria.  The Patriarch reminded that with the commitment and love of Cardinal Schönborn, an enviable level of inter-church and inter-religious cooperation was achieved in Vienna and throughout Austria.  His Holiness particularly highlighted the extraordinary fraternal feat and gift of the Archbishop of Vienna, which made the Serbian Orthodox Church in Vienna richer by two more magnificent churches, which made the church life of the increasingly numerous Serbian community in the Austrian capital much easier.

    On June 12 in a ceremony at Vienna’s Belvedere Palace, Patriarch Porfirije presented to Cardinal Schönborn the Order of Saint Sava, First Class, the highest award of the SOC.  https://spc.rs/nadbiskupu-beckom-kristofu-senbornu-orden-svetog-save/  

    On the same day the Pro Oriente Foundation sponsored an event which included a major address by Patriarch Porfirije.  The full text of the address can be read at https://spc.rs/svecano-obracanje-patrijarha-porfirija-u-nadbiskupiji-u-becu/.   Much of the address relates to peace, including the situation in Ukraine where the SOC recognizes only the UOC.  However, the first part of the address is devoted to the ecumenical dialogue.  The Patriarch stated that the SOC “has been participating in the ecumenical dialogue almost from its very beginning” and that some of its hierarchs and theologians “held important positions in ecumenical institutions.”  He praised dialogue as “one of the essential manifestations of the Church's way of being.”  He remarked:

    Dialogue, on the other hand, does not exist if the freedom and dignity of the Other is not respected and if we do not have love for him.  In this case, it loses the character of Christian dialogue and acquires utilitarian outlines.  On the other hand, narrow-minded introspection and self-sufficiency, even when they hide behind supposedly justified reasons, do not correspond to the nature of the Church and, at the very least, neglect the words of Christ's prayer addressed to the Father that all may be one (John 17:21).  If for us Christians there is no higher principle than the Gospel, then we should not allow fears and prejudices to hinder us on the way to unity, and let their destructive effect triumph over Gospel freedom.

    To those advocating greater understanding between churches, Patriarch Porfirije is a sign of hope.  In his seven years as Metropolitan of Zagreb, he developed very good relations with Catholics, and Catholics acquired a great respect for him.  However, his views do not correspond with the views of a considerable number of SOC bishops.  For example, of the 14 Local Orthodox Churches whose autocephaly is recognized by all, the SOC remains the only church where its primate has not met with a pope.  As Metropolitan of Zagreb, Porfirije met Pope Francis on three occasions but never as Patriarch.  At the Council in Crete in 2016, there are indications that 17 of the 24 Serbian bishops refused to sign as individuals the document on relations with other Christian churches.  In May 2023, the Holy Synod of the SOC notified the Council of European Churches (CEC) of its decision to suspend the membership of the SOC in the CEC indefinitely because the CEC has accepted the application of the OCU to join the CEC.  https://orthochristian.com/154325.html  Earlier this month, the SOC failed to appear at the plenary of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.  Hopefully, the views of Porfirije will eventually become the majority views of the SOC.

    In Ukraine the major battles relating to the Kyiv Lavra continue to be fought in the courts.  On June 13, the Economic Court of Kyiv rejected the challenge of the UOC to its eviction from the Upper Lavra (Dormition Cathedral and Trapeza Church).  https://orthochristian.com/154293.html  The UOC had not appeared at the hearing but rather requested a postponement because of conflicting commitments.  The court rejected the request and ruled against the UOC on the merits of the case.  In my opinion as a retired attorney, the UOC made a huge gamble on its hope that the judge would grant the postponement.  If one cannot appear, one should at least have another attorney appear for the UOC or else submit a written argument to the court.  Apparently neither was done.  The UOC has stated that it will appeal the case.  In the lawsuit of the UOC against the National Reserve for termination of the lease on the Lower Lavra, the hearing on the case has been postponed to July 5 with the National Reserve being required to present actual evidence of the violations of the lease by the UOC.  https://news.church.ua/2023/06/14/sud-zobovyazav-minkult-nadati-dokumenti-na-osnovi-yakix-bulo-rozirvano-dogovir-z-kijevo-pecherskoyu-lavroyu-ta-vidklav-sudove-zasidannya-na-5-lipnya/#2023-06-22 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 22 June 2023: UOC, OCU, and ROC have given "positive response" to WCC Roundtable

    Today, June 21, was the first day of the meeting of the WCC Central Committee in Geneva.  The following is the full text of the report given by WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay. 

    https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/report-of-the-general-secretary-to-the-wcc-central-committee-june-2023  Sections 29 to 32 relate to the roundtable which is being organized by the WCC in connection with Ukraine.  The encouraging news is the following: 

    I am pleased to report that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Russian Orthodox Church have given a positive response to participate in the roundtable. The ROC stated that they will consult with the UOC and, in the meantime, the WCC should work on the concept note for the roundtable. We have subsequently completed a draft concept note, parts of which are mentioned above, and sent it to the respective churches for comment and commitment to the process, we are anticipating a positive response. All the churches concerned have affirmed the WCC`s longstanding role in peacemaking in conflict situations and see the WCC as a valuable and formidable forum to assist in the Ukraine situation. It is our sincere hope and prayer that, given their views and support for the WCC intervention, they will maintain their stance of full participation. The unity of churches and of the human race is important for the sustenance and flourishing of life for all people and creation. Please continue to keep this matter constantly in your prayers.

    The objectives of the roundtable are described as follows;

    Objective 1: Promote unity/peaceful co-existence between the majority Orthodox Churches of Ukraine[OCU and UOC], in the interests of consolidation and unity in Ukrainian society.

    Activities:

    • Negotiate with Ukrainian government for assistance in creating conditions conducive to dialogue between Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).
    • Convene confidential dialogue encounter/s in Geneva between senior representatives of the UOC , OCU, and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), to discuss current tensions and conflicts between them and to define measures to reduce tensions and promote peaceful co-existence.

    Objective 2: Contribute to a just peace in Ukraine – meeting in Geneva and/or elsewhere – and to the reduction of tensions and confrontation in the wider world due to this conflict, through multilateral dialogue among the churches as representatives of significant social sectors globally.

    Activities:

    • Convene roundtable dialogue encounters among senior representatives of WCC member churches and partners from Russia, Ukraine, and all regions of the world to address key ethical issues arising in this context, such as:
    • The Christian role and responsibility in relation to armed conflict and threats of armed force, the biblical calling to be peacemakers, and concerns regarding the misuse of religious language and authority to justify or support armed violence and invasion.
    • Implications for the current conflict in Ukraine.
    • The principle of humanitarian neutrality, and the Christian responsibility and responses in relation to the humanitarian consequences of the conflict.
    • Moral and legal accountability for crimes committed during this conflict.
    • The global consequences of the conflict, and the implications for humanity and the environment.

    In my opinion, this initiative is the one ray of hope to establish peaceful co-existence between the UOC and the OCU.  The reference to “positive response” is very encouraging.  However, it appears that the three churches have not yet made a final commitment to participate.  This is evident from the sentence:  “It is our sincere hope and prayer that, given their views and support for the WCC intervention, they will maintain their stance of full participation.”

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 10 June 2023: Agreed document in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue & other news

    The Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity posted on June 9 the communique issued at the conclusion of the 15th plenary session of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church (“Commission”).  The session was held from 1-7 June 2023 in Alexandria, Egypt and was hosted by the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa.  The communique can be read in English at http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/dialoghi/sezione-orientale/chiese-ortodosse-di-tradizione-bizantina/commissione-mista-internazionale-per-il-dialogo-teologico-tra-la/sessioni-plenarie/2023-session-pleniere.html.   During the session, the Commission produced and finalized a document entitled Synodality and Primacy in the Second Millennium and Today.  The full text of the Alexandria document can be read in English at http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/dialoghi/sezione-orientale/chiese-ortodosse-di-tradizione-bizantina/commissione-mista-internazionale-per-il-dialogo-teologico-tra-la/documenti-di-dialogo/document-d-alexandrie---synodalite-et-primaute-au-deuxieme-mille.html

    The finalization of this document by the Commission is cause for celebration.  Not every plenary session results in a finalized document.  Since the inception of the Commission in 1980, a total of seven documents have now been finalized.  All seven documents can be read at  http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/dialoghi/sezione-orientale/chiese-ortodosse-di-tradizione-bizantina/commissione-mista-internazionale-per-il-dialogo-teologico-tra-la/documenti-di-dialogo.html  The Alexandria document takes a historical approach and builds upon the prior Commission document entitled Synodality and Primacy During the First Millennium. Towards a Common Understanding in Service to the Unity of the Church, adopted at the plenary session at Chieti, Italy on 21 September 2016.  The issue of synodality and primacy, especially at the universal level of the Church, is extremely important and difficult.  Primacy includes the questions relating to the authority of the pope, the greatest issue separating Orthodox from Catholics.  However, the issues of primacy at the universal level also relate to the question of whether the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople holds a position involving only honor or whether he also has certain authority over the other Local Orthodox Churches.  The latter is the greatest issue now dividing the various Local Orthodox Churches, with the Ecumenical Patriarchate contending that its patriarch has some authority over the Orthodox Church as a whole and the Moscow Patriarchate contending that the Ecumenical Patriarch is only first in honor but not authority.  Thus, not only does the issue of primacy at the universal level divide the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, but it also divides the various Local Orthodox Churches from one another.  With this in mind, it is interesting to examine some of the conclusions made at the end of the Alexandria document.  The conclusions include the following:

    Major issues complicate an authentic understanding of synodality and primacy in the Church.  The Church is not properly understood as a pyramid, with a primate governing from the top, but neither is it properly understood as a federation of self-sufficient Churches.  Our historical study of synodality and primacy in the second millennium has shown the inadequacy of both of these views.  Similarly, it is clear that for Roman Catholics synodality is not merely consultative, and for Orthodox primacy is not merely honorific….The Second Vatican Council opened new perspectives by fundamentally interpreting the mystery of the Church as one of communion.  Today, there is an increasing effort to promote synodality at all levels in the Roman Catholic Church.  There is also a willingness to distinguish what might be termed the patriarchal ministry of the pope within the Western or Latin Church from his primatial service with regard to the communion of all the Churches, offering new opportunities for the future.  In the Orthodox Church, synodality and primacy are practised at the panorthodox level, according to the canonical tradition, by the holding of holy and great councils.  Synodality and primacy need to be seen as ‘interrelated, complementary and inseparable realities’ (Chieti, 5) from a theological point of view (Chieti, 4, 17).  Purely historical discussions are not enough.  The Church is deeply rooted in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and a eucharistic ecclesiology of communion is the key to articulating a sound theology of synodality and primacy.  The interdependence of synodality and primacy is a fundamental principle in the life of the Church.  It is intrinsically related to the service of the unity of the Church at the local, regional and universal levels.  However, principles must be applied in specific historical settings, and the first millennium offers valuable guidance for the application of the principle just mentioned (Chieti, 21).  What is required in new circumstances is a new and proper application of the same governing principle….

    The Alexandria document is much longer than the Chieti document.  Reading the entire document is an excellent review of church history.  However, the Moscow Patriarchate is likely to disagree with parts of it.

    The Patriarchate of Alexandria has posted the names of all of the Catholic and Orthodox delegates at the plenary.  https://www.patriarchateofalexandria.com/peratosi-ton-ergasion-tis-miktis-theologikis-epitropis-dialogoy-metaxy-orthodoxoy-kai-r-katholikis-ekklisias-stin-alexandreia/.  In terms of the names, one interesting development is that the new Orthodox co-secretary of the Commission is Protopresbyter Alexis Torrance.  He is a graduate of Oxford University and is now Archbishop Demetrios Associate Professor of Byzantine Theology at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend USA.  https://theology.nd.edu/people/alexis-torrance/   Ten of the Local Orthodox Churches attended the plenary session.  The remaining four Local Orthodox Churches did not participate, namely Bulgaria, Moscow, Antioch, and Serbia.  The first two are not a surprise.  The Patriarchate of Bulgaria has not participated in the work of the Commission for decades.  There are two obvious reasons why the Moscow Patriarchate did not participate: (1) because of the actions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukraine and the establishment of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), the Moscow Patriarchate has decided not participate in any church body which is chaired or co-chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarchate;  and (2) because the Patriarch of Alexandria has recognized the OCU, the Moscow Patriarchate has severed communion with Alexandria.  This makes the holding of the plenary in Alexandria especially objectionable to Moscow.  With respect to Antioch and Serbia, neither have severed communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate or with the Patriarchate of Alexandria.  However, both churches are close to the Moscow Patriarchate, and their absences may be intended as signs of solidarity with Moscow.  The well-known Bishop Irinej of Bačka, who has headed the Serbian delegation to the Commission for many years, has a particularly close relationship with the Moscow Patriarchate.  It is my sense that if the plenary session had been held in some other location, Antioch and Serbia may well have attended.

    The Church of Poland and the Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia, both of which are generally supportive of the Moscow Patriarchate’s position with respect to the OCU, did attend.  At the plenary, Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria presented to the Polish delegation a special letter to Metropolitan Sawa, primate of the Church of Poland, and praised the primate.  https://www.romfea.gr/patriarxeia-ts/patriarxeio-alexandreias/57206-efxes-patriarxi-aleksandreias-pros-ton-polonias-savva  To the head of the Czech delegation, he gave part of the relics of Sts. Gabriel and Kyrmidoli, who were martyred in Egypt in 1522.  https://orthodoxia.info/news/paradosi-ieron-leipsanon-ton-patri/  With respect to the Alexandria document, the communique stated that the Patriarchate of Georgia disagreed with “some paragraphs of the document.”  Generally, the Orthodox side of the Commission requires unanimous approval of all of the present Local Orthodox Churches in formulating its position in the dialogue.  However, it appears that Georgia probably stated that its disagreement in this case should not be a basis for rejecting the Alexandria document.  At the plenary session at Chieti in 2016, the Georgian Patriarchate likewise disagreed with certain parts of the Chieti document but gave its consent to the other churches approving the document.

    With respect to the next step to be taken by the Commission, the communique states that the Commission “expressed the desire to hold a meeting of the Coordinating Committee next year to continue the Commission’s work.”  The Coordinating Committee, headed by the two co-presidents, has primary responsibility for the work of the Commission between plenary sessions, including drafting documents to be submitted to the plenary.  The Coordinating Committee will doubtlessly determine at its meeting in 2024 the subject for the next plenary which the Catholic side will host at some future date.  Now that the historical review of synodality and primacy has been completed, I suspect that the next subject for the Commission will relate to some of the theological aspects of synodality and primacy.

    In other news, the situation on the ground at the Kyiv Lavra remains relatively quiet.  On June 7 the UOC’s Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary in the Lower Lavra celebrated as usual the end of its 2022/2023 academic year.  https://news.church.ua/2023/06/07/predstoyatel-ocholiv-urochistosti-z-nagodi-vipusku-u-kdais/#2023-06-09  Instead, the battle between the government and the UOC is being fought in the courts.  A court has extended the house arrest of Metropolitan Pavlo, vicar of the Lavra, until July 1.  https://risu.ua/sud-prodovzhiv-mitropolitu-pavlu-lebidyu-domashnij-aresht-do-1-lipnya_n139786  The next court hearing on the lawsuit of the UOC against the National Reserve challenging the termination of the UOC lease on the Lower Lavra is scheduled for June 14.  https://t.me/s/nikita_chekman  With respect to the National Reserve’s lawsuit against the UOC, the hearing has been postponed to July 6.  https://news.church.ua/2023/06/05/sud-vchergove-vidklav-rozglyad-spravi-za-pozovom-minkultu-proti-lavri/#2023-06-05  The National Reserve’s lawsuit was originally brought to prohibit obstruction of the National Reserve’s property inventory relating to the transfer of the structures of the Lower Lavra to the National Reserve.  That inventory has now been completed so that this obstruction issue is no longer relevant.  Apparently to provide an up-to-date basis for the National Reserve’s lawsuit, the National Reserve issued an order on June 5 requiring the UOC to vacate the Lower Lavra within three days.   This raises the issue for the court as to whether the UOC must agree to the transfer of the property to the National Reserve and must vacate the Lower Lavra.  The UOC contends that the order to vacate the Lower Lavra is unlawful, and the UOC and refuses to comply.  https://news.church.ua/2023/06/06/zayavi-pro-vidselennya-monaxiv-z-lavri-nezakonni-ta-bezpidstavni-rozyasnennya-yuridichnogo-viddilu-upc/#2023-06-09   Whatever the courts decide in these cases, there will inevitably be appeals to higher courts.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 28 May 2023: Will the Moscow Patriarchate participate in the WCC roundtable & other news

    The website of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has posted additional information concerning the meeting between the WCC’s general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay and Patriarch Kirill, held in Moscow on May 17.  First, there is a May 18 news release from the WCC describing the meeting.  https://www.oikoumene.org/news/wcc-general-secretary-after-the-visit-to-moscow-wcc-to-be-an-instrument-of-dialogue  Second, there is an interview of Dr. Pillay conducted by the WCC director of communications.  A video of the entire interview in English can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vif1UsLtBYw  A slightly shorted and edited transcript of the interview can be read at https://www.oikoumene.org/news/wcc-general-secretary-to-patriarch-kirill-the-war-in-ukraine-must-come-to-an-end-0 .  The Moscow Patriarchate has now posted an official English translation of its Russian-language report relating to the meeting.   http://www.patriarchia.ru/en/db/text/6029939.html  It has also posted a 21-minute video of the first part of the meeting – primarily the opening remarks of Patriarch Kirill.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaTt9Xelpho&t=251s  (including the voice of the English translator)  At the end of the video, there is less than one minute of the beginning of the general secretary’s introductory remarks.  In the video, one can also see Archpriest Mikhail Gundyaev, who is the Moscow Patriarchate’s long-time representative to the WCC and to international organizations in Geneva and who is also the rector of the Patriarchate’s parish in Geneva.  He is the nephew of Patriarch Kirill.

    According to Dr. Pillay, his meeting with the Patriarch lasted for two and one-half hours of which the last hour was during dinner.  Pillay described the meeting as “tough, very engaging, and very challenging but in a very cordial spirit.”   A major purpose of the General Secretary’s trip to Moscow was to discuss the roundtable proposed by the WCC.  The Secretary General in his interview described the idea of the roundtable as follows:  “The idea of the roundtable is to get the Ukrainian churches [the UOC and the OCU] to a discussion on the first day, and on the second day to have discussions with the Russian Orthodox Church, and on the third day to bring them all together to be able to discuss the issues of the war and to work together to restore the unity of the Orthodox family.”  The interview also describes the WCC’s future plans with respect to the roundtable as follows:  “We have spoken to them about engaging in dialogue, and I will now, as general secretary, be in touch with these respective churches to seek a final commitment toward the process of dialogue.  Once we get that, then we will set up a dialogue—a roundtable.  We are working on a concept paper that will integrate the different views that we have encountered in different visits.  We will put that together and see if there’s an agreement on where it will take place, who will be part of it, and the actual agenda in terms of the discussion.  We will process this.  We are hoping to have the roundtable possibly in October this year—but it will take place as soon as possible.  We have put together these measures.  We are hoping, in a short space of time, that there will be consensus among us concerning the roundtable, and from that, we will start the initial process of dialogue.  We understand it’s not going to be one event.  It’s going to be a continued discussion.”

    The prior week Dr. Pillay and a WCC delegation had met in Kyiv with the primate of the OCU and with representatives of the UOC headed by Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and discussed with the two churches the subject of the proposed roundtable.  The WCC news release described the reaction of the two churches as follows: “A WCC leadership delegation that visited Ukraine the preceding week had received confirmation from both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) of their in-principle willingness to engage in dialogue processes convened by the WCC.”  In the interview, Dr. Pillay stated:  “We met with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.  We put forth the idea of a roundtable and they were showing very keen interest in taking part.”  As far as I can determine, neither the UOC nor the OCU has made any public statements relating to the roundtable.

    With respect the reaction of the Moscow Patriarchate to the proposed roundtable, the posted report by the Moscow Patriarchate refers to the roundtable in only one sentence:  “He [Patriarch Kirill] also emphasized that the Russian Orthodox Church values the desire of the World Council of Churches to enable the cause of peace and proposed discussing the idea put forward by the WWC general secretary Dr Jerry Pillay of organizing a round table to be attended by representatives of the Churches from both Russia and Ukraine.”  The WCC news report states:  “While expressing concerns about the feasibility of a roundtable dialogue because of entrenched external influences, Patriarch Kirill expressed pleasure at the proposal and commended the WCC for working towards peace and unity.  He expressed a willingness to participate in the roundtable dialogue but indicated the need first to consult internally within the ROC.”  With respect to internal consultations, it should be noted that the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate met the day prior to the meeting with Dr. Pillay.  At the time of the meeting of the Holy Synod, the intention of Dr. Pillay to raise the subject of the roundtable was well known.  Presumably, the subject of the roundtable was discussed at this Synod meeting, although it is not reflected in the minutes.  Also, a “conference” (not a “council”) of the bishops located in the Russian Federation is scheduled for July 19, 2023.  https://mospat.ru/ru/news/89905/  It is possible that the idea of a roundtable could be discussed at this conference. 

    With respect to participation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the roundtable, the remarks by Dr. Pillay in the interview appear to be somewhat more guarded than the news release.  He stated: “The response, as I said, from the Ukraine churches is very good so we put the same to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Patriarch—while affirming the potential of the WCC and acknowledging its role as bridge builder—did express concerns about the possibility of a roundtable, and his focus was specifically on the issue of other external influences—and particularly he mentioned the issue of the USA.  He said unless we resolve those kinds of issues and influences, it would be difficult to come to a roundtable.  But, as I put it to the Patriarch, the task of the WCC is not to get involved in politics even though this is necessary for peaceful solutions to real problems.  We do not have a political agenda, and we believe that the Bible calls us to peace.  Our mandate is to fulfill the will of the Triune God to bring peace to the world.  Jesus Christ is the prince of peace, and he calls us to work for peace and live in peace with each other, so we have to put the scriptures in front of us to be able to put politics aside, to put nationalism aside.  These, important as they are, are not our starting points.  How do we actually understand what the scripture calls us to do?  Let us start thinking spiritually.  Let us start thinking religiously.  Let us open the scriptures and ask what God is calling us to do, before we get influenced by these other forces.  We serve a just God who calls all believers to work for just peace.  WCC wants and calls for a just peace!  In the end, the discussion came to the stage where the Patriarch was able to say that the Russian Orthodox Church will have some internal dialogue while we as the WCC will continue to work on the concept paper of bringing the roundtable together.  That’s a positive indication in terms of the way forward.  I expect and hope that all these things will come together in the end to achieve the purposes we are trying to actually bring together.”  

    If the Moscow Patriarchate follows its own self-interests, it would probably decline to attend the roundtable and hope that a WCC roundtable between the UOC and the OCU would not occur.  It is not in the interests of Moscow that relations between the UOC and the OCU improve because improved relations is the first and indispensable step toward creating an united autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of Moscow.  In fact the Moscow Patriarchate has sought to avoid discussions of improved relations between the UOC and the OCU.  For example, at the meeting of certain primates at Amman in February 2020, Patriarch Kirill specified six issues that should be the subject of inter-Orthodox discussions.   https://mospat.ru/en/news/45658/  All of these issues relate to questioning the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch with respect to his actions regarding Ukraine.  Not a word was said about finding ways to improve relations between the UOC and the OCU.  Still it can be hoped that the Moscow Patriarchate will find peace between churches, as expressed by Dr. Pillay, a higher goal than pursuing its own self-interests and will therefore agree to participate in the WCC roundtable.  Also the third day of the proposed WCC roundtable will  involve the higher goal of exploring how the three churches can contribute to a peaceful and just resolution of the Ukraine war.

    In other news, it appears that the fears that the UOC will be immediately evicted from the Lower Lavra have dissipated in view of repeated government assurances that violence will not be used and that the dispute involving the lease will instead be resolved by the courts.  A degree of normalcy has returned.  For example, on May 24, thirty fourth-year students at the Theological Seminary located in the Lower Lavra took their bachelor’s examinations.  http://kdais.kiev.ua/event/24052023-bakalavry/?fbclid=IwAR0khCEVL60yQJK-F-le4ciFte_OrNAVweHaJp1Jkb2KvkEBEm0iycKPHRE   With respect to the court litigation, the next hearing on the lawsuit brought by the Lavra Reserve against the UOC is scheduled for June 5.  The next hearing on the lawsuit brought by the UOC against the Lavra Reserve is scheduled for June 7.  On May 29, a court will consider the request of the SBU to extend the house arrest of Metropolitan Pavlo, the vicar of the Lavra monastery.  Whatever the decisions will be in these cases, they will almost certainly be appealed by the losing party.

    A Council of Bishops of the OCU was held in the Tabernacle Church of the Upper Lavra on May 24.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/vidbuvsya-arhiyerejskyj-sobor-pravoslavnoyi-tserkvy-ukrayiny-2/  At the Council, Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the OCU, gave a report on the activities of the OCU during the last 12 months.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/dopovid-predstoyatelya-na-arhiyerejskomu-sobori/   According to the report the OCU now has the following:  approximately 5,300 clerics, 8,500 communities, 45 dioceses, 61 bishops, 80 men’s and women’s monasteries, 9 institutions of higher religious education, and 1,200 students.  Although these figures have grown in recent years, they are still less than the comparable figures for the UOC.  For latest report by the UOC on its numbers, see https://news.church.ua/2022/12/24/zvit-keruyuchogo-spravami-ukrajinskoji-pravoslavnoji-cerkvi-za-2022-rik/#2023-05-27 (Section VIII, Statistics).  The OCU Council of Bishops also decided to adopt the New Julian Calendar for immovable feast days beginning September 1, 2023.  The days on the New Julian Calendar coincide with the Gregorian Calendar but differ beginning in the 28th century.  The New Julian Calendar has been adopted by a majority of the Local Orthodox Churches (namely Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Albania, and Czech Lands and Slovakia) for immovable feast days, such as Christmas.  Like all of the Local Orthodox Churches (except for the autonomous Church of Finland), the OCU will continue to use the Julian Calendar for the calculation of Pascha (using the Paschalion) and for the feast days and periods dependent on the Pascha date.  A OCU parish can opt to retain the Julian Calendar for immovable feast days by a two-thirds vote of its parishioners.  The decision by the Council of Bishops will be submitted for approval to the next Local Council.  Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko has stated that proposals to amend the observance days by the state will be submitted to the Ukrainian parliament in the near future.  https://interfax.com.ua/news/general/912349.html   

    The world famous icon of the Holy Trinity by St. Andrei Rublev has been subject to a confusing series of recent events.  The most recent is that on May 27, Patriarch Kirill signed a decree removing Archpriest Leonid Kalinin from his position as chairman of the Expert Council on Church Art, Architecture and Restoration, removing him from his position as rector of St. Clement parish in Moscow, and banning him from serving.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6031163.html  The reason given for this action was obstruction of the bringing of the icon of the Holy Trinity to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior for a prayer worship on the feast of Pentecost (June 4).  The news agency RIA Novosti has reported that Ministry of Culture now says that the icon will be placed in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior for two weeks being June 4, experts will then carry out its planned restoration and conservation, and the icon would then be moved to its historic location at the Holy Trinity – St. Sergius Lavra.  https://ria.ru/20230527/ikona-1874532029.html  On May 15, President Putin made a decision to return the icon to the Church where it will be exhibited for public worship for a year and will then be transfer to its historic place at the Lavra.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6026913.html  For many years, the icon has been located in a special chapel which is part of the Tretyakov Gallery and has been under the care of experts.  In response to the announced departure of the icon from the Gallery, experts at the Gallery and elsewhere stated that because of the “fragile condition” of the icon, the icon “must not leave” the Galley for its announced public exhibition.  Archpriest Leonid supported the conclusion of the experts that the icon should not be brought to the Cathedral on June 4 and that a miraculous copy should be used instead.   Archpriest Leonid subsequently recanted this position and stated that management decisions are not to be discussed but are to be carried out by the professional community “with dignity.”  https://parlonsorthodoxie.wordpress.com/2023/05/26/licone-de-la-sainte-trinite-restera-au-musee-tretiakov/  Apparently, this was not enough to save him from discipline.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 18 May 2023: UOC fights back on Moscow's absorbing Berdyansk diocese & WCC in Moscow

    On May 11 it was announced that a majority of the clergy of the Berdyansk and Primorsky diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) had asked Patriarch Kirill to accept them under his jurisdiction.  https://www.rbc.ru/society/11/05/2023/645cafb79a79472cae3b93bd  Berdyansk is a diocese located in a portion of the Zaprozhsky region occupied by the Russian Federation.  A media report stated:  It [TASS] says that the Metropolitan of Berdyansk and Primorsky Ephraim, “leaving his flock, fled to the territory controlled by Ukraine,” and without the head of the diocese will not be able to exist. The absolute majority of the clergy voted in favor of accepting the diocese "into the bosom of the Moscow Patriarchate." The corresponding request was sent to Moscow.

    The Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate met on May 16.  The minutes of the entire meeting can be read at https://mospat.ru/ru/news/90345/ .  Journal Entry 30 provides in relevant part as follows:

    On May 1, 2023, a meeting of the clergy of the Berdyansk diocese (76 out of 86 clerics, with 5 absent and 5 against) addressed a letter to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, in which, announcing the departure from the diocese of the diocesan bishop, His Grace Metropolitan Ephraim of Berdyansk and Primorsky, such de facto refusing to further fulfill his archpastoral duties, they ask His Holiness the Patriarch "to accept them under his primatial paternal omophorion" in order to "establish a full-fledged life of the diocese."

    Earlier, Metropolitan Ephraim confirmed in a telephone conversation with the head of the affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, His Grace Metropolitan Dionysius of the Resurrection, that he was leaving the Zaporozhye region for the far abroad.

    The precedent for resolving such a situation is Decree No. 362 of November 7/20, 1920 of St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, the Holy Synod and the Supreme Church Council. In accordance with paragraph 7 of this decree, the diocesan council or the clergy and laity of a diocese deprived of a bishop due to a shift in the front line or a change in the state border, turn to the nearest or most easily accessible diocesan bishop. Such a person enters into the administration of this diocese himself or sends his vicar to govern this diocese.

    RESOLVED:

    In connection with the fact that His Grace Metropolitan Ephraim of Berdyansk and Primorsky left his see and the lack of an opportunity for an unhindered settlement of the situation of the Berdyansk diocese by the Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in response to the appeal of the clergy of the Berdyansk diocese:

    1. Accept the diocese of Berdyansk into direct canonical and administrative subordination to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus' and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, with the subsequent submission of this decision to the Council of Bishops for consideration.

    2. To state that the Berdyansk diocese, due to the above circumstances, was deprived of a diocesan bishop.

    3. His Grace Bronnitsky, Vicar of His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus', to be Bishop of Iskitim and Cherepanov Luka with his release from the administration of the Iskitim diocese, expressing gratitude for the labors incurred and entrusting him with the administration of the Berdyansk diocese.

    4. To raise up in the Berdyansk diocese at divine services the names of His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus' and His Grace Bronnitsky.

    The following day, May 17, a notice was posted on the website of the UOC.  https://news.church.ua/2023/05/17/svyashhenniki-berdyanskoj-eparxii-samovolno-sdelavshie-provokacionnye-zayavleniya-vopreki-oficialnoj-pozicii-upc-narushili-kanony-pravoslavnoj-cerkvi/?lang=ru#2023-05-17  The notice states as follows:

    The priests of the Berdyansk diocese, who arbitrarily made provocative statements contrary to the official position of the UOC, violated the canons of the Orthodox Church.

    In connection with the situation around the Berdyansk diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the judgment regarding further administrative actions in it should take place exclusively in the plane of the canon law of the Orthodox Church.

    Metropolitan Ephraim of Berdyansk and Primorsky received the blessing of the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry of Kyiv and All Ukraine, for treatment abroad due to his state of health. He said that during the treatment, the diocese headed by him would be managed by telephone. A full assessment of the current situation is possible after Metropolitan Ephraim provides his detailed explanations after his recovery.

    The clergy of the Berdyansk diocese repeatedly and openly expressed their full support and words of confidence to their ruling bishop. Therefore, the opposite statements voiced by individual priests are sharply dissonant with the previous ones and raise doubts about their sincerity and the absence of coercion to proclaim them.

    The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has constantly and consistently declared its strong support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and expressed its condemnation of Russia's aggression, which is an undisguised violation of God's commandment "Thou shalt not kill!"

    The priests of the Berdyansk diocese, who arbitrarily voiced provocative statements in the media that do not correspond to the official position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, sow confusion and temptation in the hearts of the flock, and in accordance with the canons of the Orthodox Church, they will be banned from serving by their ruling bishop, Metropolitan Ephraim of Berdyansk and Primorsky.

    This is not the first time that Moscow has absorbed a Ukrainian diocese since the war began.  See https://df.news/2022/10/14/rpts-vyznala-okupatsiiu-terytorij-ukrainy-vslid-za-putinym-i-zabrala-ieparkhiiu-vid-upts-mp-shcho-tse-oznachaie/  However, in those earlier cases the ruling hierarch of each diocese asked to come under Patriarch Kirill, and a new ruling hierarch was not appointed by Moscow.

    On May 17, WCC General Secretary Dr. Jerry Pillay met in Moscow with Patriarch Kirill.  The Moscow Patriarchate’s report on the meeting can be read at https://mospat.ru/ru/news/90349/ .  In this report it is not clear whether the Russian Church is prepared to participate in the roundtable proposed by the WCC.  The WCC has not yet issued its report with respect to the meeting.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 15 May 2023: Productive WCC visit to Ukraine & other news

    A small delegation of the World Council of Churches (WCC), including its new general secretary, Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, has now returned from Ukraine after visiting with senior church representatives and government officials there.  The WCC delegation was in Ukraine from May 10 to 13.  The delegation traveled to  Kyiv on a minibus from the Romanian border.  On May 11, the delegation met with representatives of the OCU, including its primate Metropolitan Epifany.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/predstoyatel-zustrivsya-z-delegatsiyeyu-vsesvitnoyi-rady-tserkov/  On the same day the WCC delegation met with representatives of the UOC including Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil.  https://news.church.ua/2023/05/12/keruyuchij-spravami-upc-zustrivsya-z-delegacijeyu-vsesvitnoji-radi-cerkov/#2023-05-15  Metropolitan Onufry, primate of the UOC, was not present.  The WCC delegation did meet with certain members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations on May 11.  https://vrciro.org.ua/ua/events/uccro-met-with-wcc-delegation-in-kyiv  However, I did not see in the photos of the Council meeting any representatives of the OCU or the UOC.  The WCC delegation also visited the Kyiv Pechersky Lavra and Bucha.  At Bucha the WCC delegation met with Viktor Yelensky, head of the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS).  https://dess.gov.ua/my-vidchuvaiemo-vash-bil/  There was also a meeting with Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko, but there was nothing in the Ukrainian media about this meeting.

    The most interesting information about the visit comes from the WCC itself. https://www.oikoumene.org/news/wcc-leadership-delegation-meets-with-churches-in-ukraine  The WCC website includes the following information:

    The visiting delegation confirmed the WCC’s readiness to host discussions among the two churches for the resolution of the issues between them.  Both Metropolitan Anthony, Chancellor of the UOC, and Metropolitan Epifaniy, Primate of the OCU, have given clear signs of their willingness to engage in dialogue.  This openness to dialogue offers a sign of hope of healing one of the many wounds and divisions which this tragic conflict has deepened…. Harmony among the religious communities of Ukraine is an essential element for the national unity that this crisis demands. The WCC looks forward to working with the churches and with the government of Ukraine to foster this unity, and  to reduce divisions and disunity among the faithful.  In this regard, WCC general secretary Pillay expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the in principle agreement indicated by the UOC and OCU representatives with whom the WCC delegation met to participate in roundtable dialogue meetings to be convened by the WCC.  The WCC will now proceed with work towards an initial roundtable dialogue meeting later this year.

    More details concerning the visit can be found on the Facebook page of a member of the WCC delegation, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm of the Evangelical Church of Germany.  https://www.facebook.com/landesbischof  His comments include the following:  In our conversation, Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko stressed that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will not be removed by force from the cave monastery. This is an important assurance.  The bishop also stated:  Discussions with the Ukrainian churches, specifically to prepare a round table, which will then include the Russian Orthodox Church.  An important prerequisite for this is to bring the two Orthodox churches of Ukraine, which are in conflict with each other, the "Ukrainian Orthodox Church" and the "Orthodox Church of Ukraine" to the table.  Our conversations about this have been very encouraging.  Another observation by the Bishop:  A point of conflict between the two churches, besides theological differences, is the question of how the transfer of monasteries and congregations is handled from one church to the other and what is the role of the government or the security forces are playing.  Here it is also the question, who owns the buildings and assets.  We have seen our role as the World Church Council in bringing the two churches into dialogue about this and looking for solutions.  Only if we act together and on that basis the Russian Orthodox Church can also be involved, maybe the churches can also play a role in ending the war.  It also appears that the WCC delegation traveled to ChernivtsI.  The Bishop states:  We had a conversation with Metropolitan Meletius of Chernivtsi, the "Foreign Minister" of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, today in ChernivtsI, a city in southern Ukraine.  Once again, a great openness for our round table initiative has become clear.

    It is also reported that the Bishop stated that “General Secretary Jerry Pillay will be leaving for another trip to Moscow this Wednesday” to meet with Patriarch Kirill.  In this regard, he stated that although the official position of the Russian Orthodox Church does not currently point in the direction of reconciliation, "but it's clear to me that we have to try it." https://www.evangelisch.de/inhalte/215832/15-05-2023/friedensinitiative-der-oekumene-oerk-will-versoehnung-orthodoxer-kirchen  In March 2023 after meeting with Pope Francis, Dr. Pillay stated in an interview that a three-day meeting was planned in Geneva.  It appears that the first day would involve the UOC and the OCU.  The second day would involve the Moscow Patriarchate.  The third day would involve all participants.  https://www.ncronline.org/vatican/vatican-news/world-council-churches-head-says-pope-backs-plan-russian-ukrainian-orthodox 

    On May 13, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that a diocesan church court in Moscow had decided to defrock Ioann Koval, who is an ethnic Ukrainian and was an assistant priest serving at a church in the Lublino district of Moscow.  https://ria.ru/20230513/svyaschennik-1871542337.html   The defrocking will go into effect when approved by Patriarch Kirill.  The offense was that Koval had repeatedly substituted the word “peace” for the word “victory” in the Prayer for Holy Rus’ composed by Patriarch Kirill in September 2022 and made a mandatory prayer for all Orthodox parishes in Russia.  The full text of the prayer can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5962654.html .  Sergei Chapnin, a Russian who is now at Fordham University, has written a very detailed account of the Lublino events leading up to the decision of the church court.  https://publicorthodoxy.org/2023/05/12/act-of-lighthearted-betrayal/   Chapnin’s account describes how a majority of the parishioners supported Koval and how only a small number brought the matter to the attention of church authorities.  When one reads Chapnin’s account, one is left with the impression that Koval was very unfairly treated.

    The Novosti article described the justifications given by the Moscow Patriarchate for the decision.  The primary justification is that changing one word in the prayer was in itself an act of disobedience with respect to the instructions received from Patriarch Kirill – “not directly” that Koval changed the word “victory” to “peace.”  However, it is difficult to believe that Koval would still have been defrocked if he had changed in the prayer another word that was far less important than the word “victory.”  As another justification, the article pointed out that Ukrainians were a part of the peoples of historic Rus’  and that the prayer thus includes the Ukrainian people.   However,  the prayer also refers to the “the warriors and all the defenders of our Fatherland,” which is obviously a reference to Russia and not Ukraine.  In spite of the technical argument that the offense was simply disobedience, the defrocking still sends a chilling message to other priests in Russia of the consequences of publicly disagreeing with the positions of President Putin and Patriarch Kirill with respect to Ukraine.  This is especially true as the Russian clergy have most likely heard about other Russian clerics who have received adverse personnel actions from the Church as a result of deviating from the official position of the Putin administration with respect to Ukraine.

    At approximately the same time as Koval’s conviction, an Ukrainian court convicted Metropolitan Ioasaf, who was the head of the UOC diocese of Kirovohrad until November 2022, for violating the equality of citizens based on their religious beliefs.  Ioasaf is the first UOC metropolitan to be convicted at least in recent times.  He admitted his guilt and was given a prison sentence of three years with two of those years suspended.  He was also banned from holding senior church positions for one year.  A well-known religious website in Moscow stated that his “crime” was “reading and sharing information on Orthodox canonical norms and violations.”  https://orthochristian.com/153569.html  On the other hand, websites in Ukraine specify a broader basis for the conviction including the allegation that the Metropolitan was in constant contact with Patriarch Kirill and carried out his instructions regarding the justification of Russian aggression in the eastern and southern territories and Crimea.  https://religionpravda.com.ua/?p=87667https://www.facebook.com/SecurSerUkraine/?locale=ru_RU (website of the SBU).  It appears that no disciplinary action has been imposed on Ioasaf by the UOC.  The UOC has been greatly criticized in Ukraine for not taking disciplinary actions against hierarchs who support certain positions or arguments advanced by Russia.

    The examples involving Koval and Ioasaf both involve situations where the members of the clergy are punished because they publicly expressed views that are inconsistent with the government’s view on the war in Ukraine or on the nature of the relationship between Ukraine and Russia.  The difference is that in Russia the Church actively supports the government’s position by imposing punishment, while in Ukraine the UOC has done nothing or very little in this regard.

    For the millions of people who watched through the media the coronation of King Charles, the Orthodox involvement was very apparent.  Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain (Ecumenical Patriarchate) was one of church leaders at the coronation to give the blessing https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-archbishop-of-thyateira-will-be-present-at-the-coronation-service-of-king-charles-iii/   A Greek Orthodox ensemble chanted Psalm 71 during the exchange of swords ritual.  https://greekreporter.com/2023/05/07/greek-orthodox-chant-king-charles-coronation/  This was an acknowledgement that the father of King Charles was a member of the Greek royal family.  Less obvious to the viewers was the source of the chrism used to anoint the King.  The chrism came from olive oil obtained from the olive groves next to the Monastery of Mary Magdalene and the Monastery of the Ascension (both belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.  The grandmother of King Charles is buried in the Monastery of Mary Magdalene.   The oil was consecrated first by Patriarch Theopilos of Jerusalem and then by Anglican Archbishop for Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum, at the church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Patriarch Theopilos was also present at the coronation ceremony.   https://en.jerusalem-patriarchate.info/blog/2023/05/06/hb-patriarch-theophilos-iii-participates-as-guest-in-the-coronation-of-king-charles-iii-and-queen-camila/

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA  

  • 2 May 2023: Observations on the Pope Francis - Hilarion meeting & other news

    Pope Francis has now completed his second visit to Hungary, April 28-30.  Prior to the trip, there was speculation as to whether Pope Francis would meet with Metropolitan Hilarion, who in June 2022 had been suddenly and unexpectedly demoted by the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate and assigned to Budapest.  The official program of the visit did not include such a meeting.  In a press briefing before the visit, Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni had stated that he could not say anything about meetings that were not on the official program, but he acknowledged that a meeting with the Metropolitan was possible.   On April 29, the second day of the Pope’s stay in Budapest, a meeting between the Pope and the Metropolitan did in fact take place.  The Vatican News report gave few details about the meeting.  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2023-04/the-pope-meets-metropolitan-hilarion-in-budapest.html  It stated:  “As reported by the Holy See, the audience, which took place with the help of an interpreter, was cordial and lasted about 20 minutes.  The Holy Father greeted the Metropolitan with a hug and kissed his Panagia, the enkolpion worn by Eastern Orthodox bishops.”   The website of the Metropolitan’s diocese gave further information.  http://hungary.orthodoxia.org/2023/04/29/ferenc-romai-papa-magyarorszagi-latogatasa-alkalmaval-talalkozott-hilarion-budapesti-es-magyarorszagi-metropolitaval/  It included the following:  “The venue of the meeting was the Apostolic Nunciature in Budapest.  Michael Wallace Banach, Titular Archbishop of Memphis, Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See, took part in the discussion.  During the conversation, Metropolitan Hilarion explained to Pope Francis the life of the Hungarian Orthodox Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate, its social and educational activities, as well as its cooperation with the Esztergom-Budapest Archdiocese and representatives of other Christian denominations.  In memory of the meeting, Metropolitan Hilarion presented Pope Francis with four volumes of his six-volume monograph ’Jesus Christ. Life and Teaching,’ translated into Italian.”  I assume that Archbishop Banach, an American, acted as the interpreter, with Metropolitan Hilarion speaking English and the Pope Italian.

    On the Pope’s return flight to Rome on April 30, the Pope followed his usual practice of meeting with journalists.  The official transcript of the questions by journalists and the Pope’s answers in Italian may be read at  https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/speeches/2023/april/documents/20230430-ungheria-voloritorno.html.   An unofficial English transcript is found at  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2023-04/pope-francis-apostolic-journey-hungary-inflight-press-conference.html.  A video of the Pope’s remarks can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOGYXW-1ZCs .   The meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion was raised in two questions by Eliana Ruggiero, a journalist for the Italian news agency AGI.  The following are excerpts from the transcript:

    [Eliana Ruggiero, AGI]: ….Then, in recent days, you also met Metropolitan Hilarion: Can Hilarion and Orbán himself become channels of openness towards Moscow to accelerate a peace process for Ukraine, or to make a meeting between you and President Putin possible?  Thank you.

    [Holy Father]….Ah, yes, Hilarion: Hilarion is someone I respect very much, and we have always had a good relationship.  And he was kind enough to come and see me, then he came to the Mass, and I saw him here at the airport as well.  Hilarion is an intelligent person with whom one can talk, and these relationships need to be maintained, because if we talk about ecumenism - I like this, I don't like this - we must have an outstretched hand with everyone, even receive their hand.

    With Patriarch Kirill I have spoken only once since the war began, 40 minutes via zoom, then through Anthony, who is in Hilarion's place now, who comes to see me.  He is a bishop who was a parish priest in Rome and knows the environment well, and always through him I am in connection with Kirill.

    There was a meeting that we were to have in Jerusalem in July or June last year, but it was suspended because of the war: that will have to take place.  And then, with the Russians I have a good relationship with the ambassador who is now leaving; he has been the ambassador in the Vatican for seven years, he is a great man, a man comme il faut, a serious, cultured and balanced person.  My relationship with the Russians is mainly with this ambassador…..

    [Eliana Ruggiero]: If somehow Hilarion and also Orbán could accelerate the peace process in Ukraine and also make a meeting between you and Putin possible, if they could act “as intermediaries”?

    [Holy Father]:  You can imagine that in this meeting we not only talked about Little Red Riding Hood, right?  We talked about all these things.  We talked about this because everyone is interested in the road to peace.  I am willing.  I am willing to do whatever needs to be done.  Also, there is a mission going on now, but it is not public yet.  Let's see how ... When it is public I will talk about it.

    In other answers given to journalists, Pope Francis confirmed that he will be visiting Mongolia.  He also stated that the Holy See is willing to be an intermediary in bringing back to Ukraine children taken to Russia.

    Some media have connected the meeting between Pope Francis and Metropolitan Hilarion with the Pope’s remarks about a yet undisclosed peace mission and about a meeting between the Pope and Patriarch Kirill “that will have to take place.”  Perhaps in response to such speculation, the Jesus-Portal, with which Metropolitan Hilarion is closely connected, posted on May 1 a 8-minute YouTube video entitled “What I told the Pope yesterday.”   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3Ghlnlqelw  The Metropolitan speaks in the video in Russian, but the Rome website Il Sismografo has provided an Italian translation at https://ilsismografo.blogspot.com/2023/05/ungheria-metropolita-ilarion-con-papa.html (for English, use the Google translation tool).  The address by the Metropolitan includes the following:  “I answer for those who are interested: there was nothing [at the meeting] concerning bilateral relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.  No political issues were discussed. The meeting was of a personal nature between two old friends."

    Other facts support what the Metropolitan stated.  First, in the mere 20 minutes of the meeting, it would be very difficult to cover not only the various subjects mentioned on the website of the Hungarian Diocese, but also the complex Ukrainian situation, considering also the time needed for translation.   Second, in the last answer quoted above relating to a discussion of the peace process in Ukraine, the Pope referred to “this meeting” – in the singular and not in the plural.  It would appear that the reference to “we talked about all these things” relates to the Pope’s meeting with Orbán and not Hilarion.   Third, Hilarion has avoided the subject of Ukraine since his arrival in Budapest.  His sermons and communications, as far as I can determine, relate to strictly religious subjects.  As far as I know, Hilarion has given no media interviews since his arrival in Budapest, perhaps due to his desire to avoid questions relating to Ukraine and the reason for his exile.  As time goes on, I have become more and more convinced that Metropolitan Hilarion suffered his humiliating demotion and exile precisely because he opposed the invasion of Ukraine.  As an exile, he is not a good conduit to the leadership in Moscow, and I do not believe that he would desire to assume that role.

    The reason that Pope Francis met with Metropolitan Hilarion is because, in the Pope’s words, Hilarion “is someone that I respect very much.”  In this regard, the Pope’s action may be similar to those of Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia, who also respects Metropolitan Hilarion and who invited the Metropolitan to be with him for a number of days last fall.  Although assigned to a very minor position far from the power centers in Moscow, Hilarion has not faded into oblivion as the Budapest meeting with Pope Francis demonstrates.  The most-read Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera has expressed an interesting thought with respect to the meeting between the Pope and the Metropolitan.  https://www.corriere.it/esteri/vaticano-news/23_aprile_29/francesco-l-incontro-hilarion-piano-b-se-cade-putiniano-kirill-1060de44-e6a0-11ed-9136-d5229c509a57.shtml?refresh_ce   The article states that Hilarion was “sent to Hungary for his anti-war positions while Patriarch Kirill blessed the invasion of Ukraine.”  It also states:  “Hilarion [before his demotion] was the most likely candidate to succeed Kirill.  And it could still be so in the future , if in the end Putin, and with him the current patriarch, end up in disgrace.”  I have also commented in the past that the demotion of Hilarion not only had the effect of greatly decreasing the likelihood of his becoming patriarch, but also greatly enhanced the chances of Metropolitan Tikhon of Pskov, who has a very close personal relationship with President Putin, to be the next patriarch.

    In other news, there continues to be great uncertainty as to how the situation involving the Kyiv Lavra will be resolved.  The Zelensky administration appears to be reluctant to evict the UOC from the Lower Lavra without judicial approval.  The court’s consideration of the UOC’s lawsuit challenging the termination of its lease to the Lower Lavra has been postponed until May 19.  https://news.church.ua/2023/04/26/sud-vidklav-rozglyad-spravi-za-pozovom-lavri-zapovidnika-na-19-travnya/#2023-05-01  The court has also postponed the hearing on the lawsuit brought by the Reserve against the UOC until June 5.  Whatever the result, the court’s decisions in these two cases will almost certainly be appealed by one of the parties.  The inspection of the property by the Reserve commission is continuing without violent confrontations.  Although it appeared initially that the commission was sealing all structures after their inspection, it now appears that at least churches and living quarters are not being sealed after inspection.  See, for example, https://spzh.news/en/news/73454-ministry-of-culture-reclaims-lavras-all-pechersk-saints-temple   On May 1 the commission examined the two dormitory buildings (Nos. 55 and 60) of the UOC Theological Academy, found them in good condition, and apparently did not seal them.  http://kdais.kiev.ua/event/01052023/  The acting director of the Reserve has indicated that the Reserve may have difficulty paying for the cost of maintaining returned structures due to limited funds caused by the war.  https://news.church.ua/2023/04/28/minkult-shhe-ne-znaje-yak-utrimuvati-nizhnyu-lavru/#2023-04-30    

    With respect to North Macedonia, Metropolitan Petar of the Orthodox Church in that country commented on the negotiations between the Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate concerning the issuance of a tomos of autocephaly.  https://orthochristian.com/153342.html   It appears that two major issues are the insistence of the Phanar that the word “Macedonia” not be used in the title of the Church even internally and that the Church’s jurisdiction be limited to the country of North Macedonia.  On April 27, Patriarch Kirill spoke to Archbishop Stefan, the primate of the Church, by telephone.  https://mospat.ru/en/news/90287/  In Africa, Archbishop Makarios of Nairobi returned to Kenya after a very long period of medical absence in Cyprus.  https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100071385668601  On April 27, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch “expressed their solidarity with the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church who are suffering from the scourge of war and the injustice of religious persecution.”  https://www.facebook.com/Antiochpatriarchate.org/posts/pfbid0xHmWBPD8NqBvh6RL95X7z4sMoHwnoHEXbg8AVtfNowCsEqhVnxa2JwmG8GgtKi1hl 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 22 April 2023: Interview of Rada Chairman on Draft Law 8371 & other news

    On April 21, Ruslan Stefanchuk, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament), gave a long interview to Ukrinform (the Ukrainian state news agency).  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-polytics/3698464-ruslan-stefancuk-golova-verhovnoi-radi.html  I have pasted after the end of this newletter a Google translation of that part of the interview relating to Stefanchuk’s meeting with representatives of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) on April 11, 2023.  In the interview, Stefanchuk stated that the first reading of Draft Law 8371 may occur in the near future.  (The text of the current draft law is found at  https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/pubFile/1622350)  With respect to amendments proposed by churches and religious organizations, Stefanchuk stated that these proposals will be considered in the second reading of the Draft Law. 

    Stefanchuk also stated that the two representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) at the April 11 meeting “supported everything that I said.”   The two representatives of the UOC at the April 11 meeting were Archbishop Viktor of Khmelnytskyi (previously the representative of the UOC to international organizations) and the head of the Legal Department of the UOC, Archpriest Oleksandr Bakhov.  On April 12, the UCCRO posted on its website a statement concerning the meeting.  The official English version of the statement is found at https://vrciro.org.ua/en/events/rada-tserkov-zasudzhue-zlovzhivannya-rosiyskoyu-federatsieyu-religiynimi-pochuttyami-v-agresivniy-i-nespravedliviy-viyni-proti-ukraini  In terms of making any statements, it is clear that the charter of UCCRO requires a consensus of all of its members for any of its decision and statements.

    On April 13, the Legal Department of the UOC issued a “Comment” relating to “manipulations” based on the results of the April 11 meeting.  The Comment can be read at https://law.church.ua/2023/04/13/komentar-yuridichnogo-viddilu-upc-shhodo-manipulyacij-za-rezultatami-zustrichi-vrciro-z-golovoyu-verxovnoji-radi-ukrajini/ It includes that following statement: “The representative of the UOC not only did not support draft law No. 8371, but also criticized other draft laws.  Noting that today 11 draft laws are registered in the VRU [Rada], which are aimed at banning or restricting the activities of the UOC, and none of them will bring unity to our country, but will divide Ukraine along religious lines.”   From this it would seem clear that the representatives of the UOC did not support everything said by Stefanchuk.

    Even more disturbing is Stefanchuk’s two statements (underlined below) that no Ukrainian religious organization should be “linked with” [“пов’язана”] the Russian Church.  The critical language in the current draft of 8371 provides as follows:  “Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed.”   At least under one interpretation of this ambiguous provision, a Ukrainian church could only have its activities prohibited if its “governing center (control)” is located in the aggressor country.  The language used by Stefanchuk would seem to apply to a Ukrainian church which has any link to the Russian Church even if the actual management and control of the Ukrainian church does not in fact come from the Russian Church.  In my opinion, prohibiting activities of a church organization simply because of a “link” to a church in an aggressor country would be a gross violation of the international norms relating to freedom of religion.

    In terms of international norms, prohibition of the religious activities of a church can only be justified if it is shown that the religious activities constitute an actual threat to the security of Ukraine.  A link does not in itself constitute a genuine security threat to Ukraine.   Interestingly, in the current version of Draft Law 8371, there is absolutely no requirement that the government prove an actual security threat in order to prohibit church activities.  With respect to a country seeking to convince the international community that right is on its side, the adoption of Stefanchuk’s proposal, in my opinion, would leave a big black mark.

    In other news, Father Mykola Danylevych, deputy head of the UOC's Department of External Church Relations, reported that Pascha services were performed in more than 40 parishes of the UOC in 15 European countries (Austria, Belgium, UK, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Portugal, Hungary, France, Switzerland, Sweden).  https://t.me/s/MykolayDanylevych  On April 19, Metropolitan Pavlo (Lebed), the vicar of the Kyiv Lavra, celebrated his 62nd birthday at his very elegant home in Voronkiv, approximately 40 km southeast of Kyiv.  This home is the location where the Metropolitan has been spending his 60 days of house arrest.  On his birthday, a 23-minute video was made at his home.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAFHbhOghQY  In the first part of the video the Metropolitan addresses his viewers from the garden of his home with spring blossoms in the background.  At 8:40 in the video, one can see his preparations for the Liturgy at his home and then the Liturgy with a considerable number of clergy and sisters present.  Aside from being away from the Kyiv Lavra, it appears that the Metropolitan has been living well in very nice surroundings.  The judge has allowed the Metropolitan to make public addresses through videos, and the Metropolitan has done so a number of times each week.  The other videos can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/@lavra.path_to_salvation .  

    On April 21 Metropolitan Pavlo traveled to Kyiv in connection with his appeal to the Kyiv Court of Appeals.  A panel of judges ruled in favor of the Metropolitan on certain points, but continued to impose the house arrest until May 30.  The press release issued by the court can be read at https://www.kas.gov.ua/?p=32039.  Pavel also made a video while traveling in a very nice vehicle to the hearing in Kyiv.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74pQ653B4Ks

    Speaking of videos, Metropolitan Hilarion in Budapest continues to attract a very large number of viewers for his strictly religious sermons and presentations.  For example, a 10-minute sermon given in February has had 262,000 views.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SLVXeQvCF8  Because of his worldwide audience, JesusPortal has now established an English-language website covering the Metropolitan's sermons and presentations and providing English subtitles.  https://www.youtube.com/@JesusPortalEng  If you are interested, you can subscribe to it.

    With respect to the Kyiv Lavra, Father Andriy Pinchuk, an UOC priest who is a member of the Sophia dialogue between the UOC and the OCU, has made the following assessment relating to the views of the Lavra monks:  "According to the testimony of those who know the inner kitchen of the monastery, no less than a third of the inhabitants of the Lavra are aggressively pro-Moscow.   Another part supports them."   https://t.me/s/veseliy_pip   On April 22, Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko gave the latest update on the work of the Reserve commission which is inspecting the various buildings in the Lower Lavra.  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3699269-komisia-mkip-viavila-organizacii-aki-divnim-cinom-otrimali-v-upravlinna-primisenna-v-lavri.html   The commission has been successful in inspecting some of the buidings and will be continuing its work next week.  As far as I can determine, the buildings inspected so far have not included the really important structures in the Lower Lavra.  It also appears that the commission has been locking the buildings after the inspection to prevent continued use by the UOC.  If this continues, it would allow the Reserve to expel the UOC building by building.

       

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA  

     

    Excerpt from the interview of Ruslan Stefanchuk, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada:

    REPRESENTATIVES OF ALL RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS, INCLUDING THE UOC MP, AGREE THAT THE RUSSIA IS AN AGGRESSOR

    - We will discuss individual legislative initiatives.  In January, the Cabinet of Ministers registered in the parliament a draft law on banning the activities of religious organizations whose actual leadership is located in the Russian Federation.  You held a meeting with representatives of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations regarding this matter. Share your views on this high-profile topic.

    - This is a very difficult topic. It is difficult not only because, according to the Constitution, the state and the church are separated, and the relationship between them can be exclusively partnership, but also because now we are observing many moments that are impossible in a normal society.  For example, when some representatives of certain faiths openly work for the enemy, they create a high level of danger for Ukraine.  This is already a matter of national security.

    Our special services work very efficiently and professionally, revealing these facts.  However, the issue has gained a lot of publicity and has a high temperature in society.  Of course, the state must react.  That is why I held a meeting with representatives of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.  We discussed all these issues in private. For approximately 2.5-3 hours, they talked about the real situation in Ukraine, discussed specific cases...

    In the end, I proposed to agree with certain fundamental theses. First, the Russian Federation is an aggressor and is waging war against Ukraine. Secondly, Russia has no right to influence the minds and hearts of Ukrainians. Third, no religious organization, regardless of denomination, should be linked [пов’язана] with the Russian Church or any other Russian religious organizations. Fourthly, legal responsibility is equal for every citizen, so it must come regardless of whether a person is wearing a cassock, with incense and covering himself with a Bible. Everyone agreed with this.

    It was a very frank conversation. The very next day, I received a letter with the decision of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations to approve all these statements. I emphasize that they make decisions only by consensus, that is, all denominations must support.

    The letter also states that the most suitable for further consideration in the parliament is the government bill "On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine Regarding the Activity of Religious Organizations in Ukraine" (No. 8371).  Of course, they will provide their suggestions regarding various directions of the document, but, in my opinion, this is a very important step to start regulating relations between the state and the church in a civilized way.  We are waiting for proposals for the draft law.  And I think that in the near future we will be able to proceed to the consideration of this document in the Verkhovna Rada.

    - Were representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UPC MP) present at this meeting?

    - Yes of course.

    - And they supported all your theses?

    - Two representatives of the UOC MP were present at the meeting. They expressed all their arguments. I gave them the opportunity to speak without any restrictions in the regulations. We listened to everything, and then expressed our counterarguments. They supported everything I said.

    - This draft law will be submitted to the parliament hall for consideration after submission of proposals by churches and religious organizations, do I understand correctly?

    - Consideration in the first reading may appear in the near future.  And for the second reading, we are ready to consider the proposals of churches and religious organizations, but they should be universal for any religious organization in Ukraine.

    The principles should be laid down as follows: Russia is an aggressor, Russia has no right to influence Ukrainians, there cannot be religious organizations linked through affiliation [афілійовано пов’язані] with the Russian Church in Ukraine, legal responsibility should apply to everyone, regardless of what religion or the person represents the church. Now is the time to work and pray for Ukraine. 

  • 18 April 2023: Consecration of chrism in Kyiv & the flawed "expert report"

    On April 17, the City Council of Ternopil in Western Ukrainian voted unanimously at an extraordinary session to terminate the right of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) to use the plot of land on which stands the cathedral of the UOC 's Ternopil Eparchy.  https://suspilne.media/447771-ternopilskij-eparhii-upc-zaboronili-koristuvatisa-zemelnou-dilankou/   In announcing the decision, the mayor of Ternopil, Sergii Nadal, stated:  “The Moscow Church has no place in Ternopil!”  The impressive cathedral and the headquarters of the eparchy are located on a lot which covers .5484 hectares [1.3 acres].  The cathedral was built with the funds donated by UOC parishioners.  It is now the only UOC church in the city of Ternopil.  The announcement of the decision on the website of the City Council can be read at https://ternopilcity.gov.ua/news/66966.html .  The website refers to the “decision to deprive the church of land, which today is governed by Moscow.“  It is not clear what will happen to the church structure now that the City has revoked the use of the land on which the structure stands.  An attorney for the UOC has stated that the City's actions were illegal.  https://spzh.news/en/news/73274-lawyer-comments-on-city-councils-trying-to-take-the-land-for-uoc-temples

    On April 10, the Rivne City Council unanimously voted at an extraordinary session to suspend the right of the UOC to use plots of land in the city.  https://risu.ua/u-rivnomu-pripinili-pravo-koristuvatisya-zemelnimi-dilyankami-upc-mp_n138371  The mayor of Rivne, Oleksandr Tretyak, stated: "It is inadmissible for a Church to function in the country during the war, which blesses Russian soldiers for killing Ukrainians.”  https://www.facebook.com/tretyak.rivne  With respect to blessing Russian soldiers, the mayor is clearly referring to actions taken by the Moscow Patriarchate in Russia.  For him, the Moscow Patriarchate in Russia and the UOC are one single church and not separate churches.

    The actions taken against the UOC by the local governments in Western Ukraine are based on a rationale which has its genesis in a document entitled: “Conclusion of the religious examination of the Statute on the Administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for the existence of a church-canonical connection with the Moscow Patriarchate” (hereinafter “Conclusion”).  The Conclusion was issued on February 1, 2023, by an “expert group” which had been appointed by the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS).  The group had been formed as a result of the decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, dated December 1, 2022.  The complete text of the “Conclusion” by the “expert group” can be read at https://dess.gov.ua/vysnovok-relihiieznavchoi-ekspertyzy-statutu-pro-upravlinnia-ukrainskoi-pravoslavnoi-tserkvy/.   The Conclusion found, inter alia, that the “UOC relative to the Russian Orthodox Church has an ecclesiastical-canonical connection of the part with the whole” and that “the UOC continues to be subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church.”   This conclusion by “experts” provides local governments with a supposed justification to label the UOC churches in their areas as the “Moscow Church” and to claim that the UOC and the church of Patriarch Kirill are one and the same.  This in turn leads to severe actions against the UOC such have occurred in Ternopil, Rivne, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and other cities in Western Ukraine.  However, the Conclusion should not be considered as a justification as it is, in my opinion, a flawed document.

    One example of the flaws in the Conclusion relates to the preparation of holy chrism.  Discussion of this aspect is very timely.  On May 27, 2022, the council held by the UOC decided to “consider” the resumption of chrism-making by the UOC.  However, last week the making of chrism by the UOC in fact occurred.  On April 10, Metropolitan Onufry, primate of the UOC, began the process of “brewing” the holy chrism at the St. Panteleimon Monastery in Feofania, located in the southwestern part of Kyiv. https://news.church.ua/2023/04/13/pochatok-mirovarinnya-u-velikij-ponedilok-fotoreportazh/#2023-04-17  The Monastery is the residence of Metropolitan Onufry and is the location where the UOC Council of May 27, 2022, was held.  On April 13, Holy Thursday, Metropolitan Onufry performed the Liturgy and consecrated the holy chrism.  https://news.church.ua/2023/04/13/blazhennishij-mitropolit-onufrij-zvershiv-osvyachennya-mira-u-feofaniji/#2023-04-17  From the photos, it appears that approximately 50 bishops of the UOC attended the service and obtained the holy chrism for their dioceses.

    The “expert group” considered the intention of the UOC to make its own holy chrism at several points in its Conclusion.  For example, it states at 7.4.5:  “The restoration of chrism-making in Kyiv is not a sign of an ‘independent’ or even ‘autocephalous’ church.”    However, there is an aspect of this issue which the “expert group” chose to ignore.   In reaching this conclusion, the “expert group” did not even mention or discuss the fact that chrism-making in Kyiv is in direct conflict with Chapter 10, Article 13 of the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church which provides: “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church receives holy chrism from the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus'”.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5082273.html  Is not the fact that the UOC violates a clear and express mandate in the statute of the Russian Orthodox Church a strong indication that the UOC is actually independent and not subordinate to Moscow?  The “expert group” was obviously aware of this provision as it quoted Chapter 10 in its entirety at the beginning of its Conclusion.  Faced with the strength of this argument and not having a good answer to it, the ”expert group” chose simply to ignore article Chapter 10, Article 13 in its discussion of chrism-making.  In my opinion, this is not intellectual honesty on the part of the “expert group” and demonstrates an intention to reach a certain result in spite of the facts.  There are also other serious flaws in the Conclusion as I have discussed in two earlier reports.  See https://www.unifr.ch/orthodoxia/de/dokumentation/anderson/ (2 & 12 Feb. 2023)  Unfortunately, the flawed Conclusion has had, in my opinion, unfortunate effects.  The flawed Conclusion may well have been the match that has ignited the religious fires that are now burning in Western Ukraine.

    Some influential voices in Russia view the chrism-making and other actions by the UOC very differently from the “expert group.”  On April 13, Metropolitan Leonid, the Moscow Patriarchate’s Exarch for Africa, expressed his displeasure at the latest action of the UOC – the making of chrism.  https://t.me/s/exarchleonid (April 13)   On Facebook,  he stated:

    1. Termination of the commemoration of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, according to the canons.

    2. Declaring itself a completely independent Church.

    3. Unilateral unauthorized change of the Charter with reference to the severing of ties with the Russian Church.

    4. Replacement of antimins with new ones, without the name of the Patriarch.

    5. Unauthorized preparation and consecration of chrism.

    6. Independent creation of parishes abroad.

    De facto, these are all signs of a schism.  De jure - the legal canonical assessment will be given by the Holy Synod and the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    Metropolitan Leonid also quotes Father Georgy Maximov, who is the principal representative of the Exarchate working in Africa.  Father Georgy stated:  “Even in my student years, I was taught that this [brewing and consecrating chrism] is one of the key signs of autocephaly.  Autonomous Churches do not brew myrrh themselves."

    One must wait and see what, if anything, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate will say with respect to these latest events at Feofania.  However, the Holy Synod may do nothing.  Stating that the UOC is now in schism would be a painful admission by Patriarch Kirill that the Moscow Patriarchate is now much smaller than it was previously.  It would also reflect very adversely on President Putin as it would mean that his decision to invade Ukraine has resulted in a huge loss for the Russian Orthodox Church.  Still, the action by the UOC in preparing and consecrating its own holy chrism, in direct violation of Chapter 10, Article 13 of the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church, clearly shows the independence of the UOC from Moscow.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 13 April 2023 (2): Disturbing use of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches

    On April 12, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations posted a statement entitled: “ The Council of Churches condemns Russia's abuse of religious sentiments in its aggressive and unjust war against Ukraine.”  https://vrciro.org.ua/ua/events/rada-tserkov-zasudzhue-zlovzhivannya-rosiyskoyu-federatsieyu-religiynimi-pochuttyami-v-agresivniy-i-nespravedliviy-viyni-proti-ukraini  After the title, there is an introductory sentence which reads: “On April 11, 2023, the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Ruslan Stefanchuk, met with the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (VRCiRO), during which a number of issues of state-church relations in the context of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine were discussed.”   Following this, there is the “unanimous” declaration of the Council of Churches.  Quite frankly, I found parts of the declaration astonishing.  The first part of the declaration reads:

    “VRCiRO unanimously declared:

    o   the inadmissibility of the activities of any organizations in Ukraine, including religious ones, whose centers and leadership are located in the Russian Federation;”

    This language is very similar to the most important provision found in Draft Law 8371.  An English translation of this provision in 8371 is as follows:

    “Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed.”

    Ukrinform (state news agency) posted an article on April 12 relating to the declaration by the Council of Churches.  (https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3695085-vseukrainska-rada-cerkov-pidtrimue-zakonoproekt-pro-zaboronu-religijnih-organizacij-povazanih-iz-rf.html) .   This article has the title:  “The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches supports the bill banning religious organizations associated with the Russian Federation.”

    The first sentence of the article reads:

    “The Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, Ruslan Stefanchuk, announced that the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (VRCiRO) supported consideration in the parliament of a draft law that would prevent the activities of any religious organizations with centers of influence in Russia.”

    This obviously is a reference to Draft Law 8371.  The Ukrinform article also includes a photocopy of a letter from the current chairman of the Council of Churches.  Unfortunately, the Google translation tool does not translate this photocopy into English.  However, the letter does contain several references of 8371.

    The declaration by the Council of Churches also states:  “The meeting was attended by the Head of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (SESS) Viktor Yelensky ,…”  I have a strong suspicion that the drafter of Draft Law 8371 was Viktor Yelensky.  At the present time, Draft Law 8371 has had little progress in the Rada.  See https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/Card/41219   I have a suspicion that the meeting, which was apparently requested by the Chairman of the Rada, was intended to cause the Council of Churches to adopt a statement which could be said to reflect the support of the Council of Churches for Draft Law 8371.  With this supposed support, the promoters of Draft Law 8371 could perhaps get more support for Draft Law 8371 in the Rada.

    As can be seen above, the statement provides that it was the “unanimous” declaration of the Council of Churches.  The Council of Churches includes the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).  Later in the statement, there is a provision that states:  “in Ukraine, there are no religious persecutions.”   The actual position of the UOC, stated repeatedly, is that there have been persecutions against it.  To contend that the UOC agreed in the statement that there are “no persecutions” is absolutely preposterous.   The UOC has also strenuously opposed Draft Law 8371.

    On April 13, the Legal Department of the UOC issued a commentary calling the letter a “manipulation.”  https://law.church.ua/2023/04/13/komentar-yuridichnogo-viddilu-upc-shhodo-manipulyacij-za-rezultatami-zustrichi-vrciro-z-golovoyu-verxovnoji-radi-ukrajini/  The head of the Legal Department of the UOC was actually present during the meeting of the Council of Churches.  Because I believe that this commentary is very relevant, I have pasted a Google translation of the commentary below:

    Comment of the Legal Department of the UOC regarding manipulations based on the results of the meeting of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine

    On April 11, 2023, a meeting of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (VRCiRO) was held with the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (VRU) R. O. Stefanchuk at his request. The meeting was attended by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Archbishop Viktor of Khmelnytskyi and Starokostyantynivskyi and Head of the Legal Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Archpriest Oleksandr Bakhov.

    The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the issue of the current religious situation and the attitude of VRCIRO to the government bill No. 8371 dated 19.01.2023. "On Amendments to Some Laws of Ukraine Regarding the Activities of Religious Organizations in Ukraine," which, under the pretext of banning the ROC, propose to ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

    VRCiRO includes 16 churches and religious organizations, but during the meeting only 6 participants expressed their views on the specified issues, of which only OCU and UGCC supported the adoption of the government draft law No. 8371.

    The representative of the UOC not only did not support draft law No. 8371, but also criticized other draft laws. Noting that today 11 draft laws are registered in the VRU, which are aimed at banning or restricting the activities of the UOC, and none of them will bring unity to our country, but will divide Ukraine along religious lines. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church remains the largest religious association in Ukraine and, despite the seizure of churches, the total number of religious communities is over 12,000. Members of religious communities are citizens of Ukraine who were born, studied and live here with their families. 

    During the meeting, the head of the UGCC, Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk, announced the principles on which state-denominational relations should be based. The Chairman of the VRU supplemented these principles and suggested that the Council of Churches support them in the following version: "1. Religious freedom; 2. Partnership relations between the state and religious organizations; 3. Individual responsibility for everyone for crimes (it was not specified for which crimes); 4. No Russia in Ukraine. No Russian influence on any religious organizations." These principles were supported by the representatives of VRCiRO with a proposal for further discussion at the next meeting to form a position regarding draft law No. 8371.

    However, despite this, on April 12, 2023, news appeared on the VRCiRO website, and the Chairman of the VRU published in his social networks  a letter from the chairman of the VRCiRO No. 121-23 dated April 12, 2023, in which the position of the VRCiRO on the allegedly unanimous support for the adoption of draft law No. 8371. At the same time, the letter contains a request to take into account the provisions of draft law No. 8262 (on the simplified seizure of temples) when preparing for the second reading of draft law No. 8371.

    Thus, in this case, there is a manipulation, where the support of the UOC representatives of the principles of state-confessional relations with an agreement on further discussion at the meeting of the VRCiRO is passed off as support for the government bill No. 8371 and other bills. 

    It should be noted that  the VRCiRO did not hold meetings during which it would discuss draft law No. 8371 or other draft laws and proposals based on the results of the meeting with the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada. In addition,  VRCiRO letter  No. 121-23 dated April 12, 2023, which allegedly certifies the position of VRCiRO regarding support for the adoption of the draft law,  did not agree with representatives of the UOC .

    According to Clause 11 of the Regulations on the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, all decisions of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations are made by consensus. Thus, the position expressed in letter No. 121-23 dated April 12, 2023, signed by the Chairman of the VRCiRO, Bishop of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church Vyacheslav Horpinchuk, addressed to the Chairman of the VRU, cannot be considered the position of the VRCiRO.

    One gets the impression that this meeting was initiated by the leadership of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine in order to present its results in such a way as to cover up or justify before the world community the illegal actions that are being taken against the UOC today, as well as to use the authority of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in order to provide the public with information that allegedly, religious figures of Ukraine support a draft law that plans to ban the activities of one of the religious organizations in Ukraine.

    It is obvious that all the illegal actions that are being committed today against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by various activists, supporters of certain political parties, with the support of representatives of the authorities, do not bring any benefit to the objective interests of the state, but only play into the hands of the propaganda of the Russian Federation.

    In my opinion, the posting of the declaration and the use of it to support Draft Law 8371 is a very disturbing development. 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 13 April 2023 (1): Letter from Kyiv Theological Academy to Ecumenical Patriarch

    Archbishop Sylvester, the rector of the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary (UOC), has written a letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  The official English translation can be read at  http://kdais.kiev.ua/event/an-open-letter-12042023/.  The letter protests the actions taken by the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).  In discussing the OCU, the letter specifically refers to events relating to three churches: (1) the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Ivano-Frankivsk; (2) the Intercession Cathedral in Khmelnytsky,; and (3) and the Church of St. Prince Volodymyr in Lviv.  In my prior two newsletters, I have discussed each of these three events.  See https://www.unifr.ch/orthodoxia/de/dokumentation/anderson/  Archbishop Sylvester has some good points to make in his letter.  However, his letter does have the defect of oversimplifying complex situations.   As one example, his description of the events in Lviv is very misleading.  With respect to Lviv, the Archbishop stated:

    An even more egregious event occurred in Lviv. In March 2023, the Lviv City Council transferred to the use of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine a land plot on which the church of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in honor of St. Prince Volodymyr, the Equal-to-the-Apostles, had been located for many years. On April 6, 2023, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine initiated the demolition of this church. The Deputy Mayor of Lviv for Urban Development, Lubomyr Zubach, released photos and videos of the demolition process (https://www.facebook.com/LubomyrZubach/posts/pfbid02ExhkDh14L6d1h5GDTjYaYatDnRhG38R4cV2kmc12dNEYJ2fSzAxWgRvKqLQbF5Yol).  These photos and videos clearly show that before the demolition of the church, a priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine read some prayers near the church, after which he gave his blessing for the destruction of the church. Thus, the priest explicitly approved the destruction of the church, where for many years a prayer to God was heard and a Bloodless Sacrifice was offered!  This was probably the only case in all the years of Ukraine’s independence when the church was not built but destroyed… The leadership of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine did not react in any way to this sad fact.

    It is interesting to compare the description of the same event made by Metropolitan Filaret of Lviv (UOC) on his Facebook page.  https://t.me/s/church_galicia.  The description includes the following:

    Based on the fact that by the decision of the City Council, the land plot on which the church is located was transferred to the OCU for the construction of the cathedral, a decision was made to demolish the church as an illegal building.   Since the time of the post-Soviet totalitarian regime, it has not happened that Orthodox churches were demolished in Galicia.  A temple is a place where a bloodless sacrifice is made, a place that is a sanctuary.  Unfortunately, this did not stop the radical people and the temple on Sikhov was demolished.  The community left the temple.  In our opinion, it could continue to exist and be used by the OCU community, because the construction of the cathedral will not be started for a long time.

    Archbishop Sylvester does not mention that the simple log church was destroyed so that a cathedral (presumably a much nicer religious structure) could be erected in its place.  Metropolitan Filaret acknowledges that the UOC community previously had “left the temple.”   In fact, the church was officially transferred on June 7 of last year from the UOC to the OCU as the result of an election.  The official document reflecting the transfer can be seen at https://loda.gov.ua/documents/34178 (see paragraph 2).   With respect to the destruction of the church, Metropolitan Filaret expresses the sadness that if the church had been allowed to stand for a longer period of time, the church could have continued to have been “used by the OCU [emphasis added] community, because the construction of the cathedral will not be started for a long time.”  Thus, the OCU priest was blessing a small wooden church, which had belonged to the OCU since June of last year, so as to allow the construction of a cathedral in its place.  The blessing by the priest would seem to be a sign of respect for the small wooden church, rather a reprehensible act for which the leadership of the OCU should have taken action.

    There are also other examples in the letter where the descriptions of events relating to the three churches omit important facts and are misleading.   Presumably, the description presented by Archbishop Sylvester reflects his good faith understanding of the situations involving these three churches.  However, the reality is that there is so much “news” in the conflict between the UOC and the OCU which is very slanted and omit completely very relevant facts.  In my opinion, both the UOC and the OCU have been guilty in this regard.  The lesson to be learned is not to accept such reports at face value, but to check the facts carefully.  A fine academic institution, such as the Kyiv Theological Academy, should know that alleged facts should be researched carefully.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA 

  • 11 April 2023: Plight of the UOC in Western Ukraine & other news

    The Kyiv Lavra is not the only location in Ukraine where the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) is now being required to defend itself.  Most of the other adverse actions against the UOC are occurring in Western Ukraine and involve UOC cathedrals and churches.  An example is the city of Lviv.  On April 6, Andriy Sadovyi, who has been mayor of Lviv since 2006, made an announcement on his Telegram page stating:  “Thank you to everyone who participated, and in a very dignified manner, without provocations, in the completion of the history of the Moscow Patriarchate in our city in these two days."  https://t.me/s/andriysadovyi    The mayor was referring to three events.  The first involved the UOC Cathedral of St. George the Great Martyr, located on Taras Bobanych Street near the center of Lviv.  On April 5, a vote was held at the Cathedral in which it was decided to transfer the Cathedral parish from the UOC to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).  The meeting is described at https://portal.lviv.ua/news/2023/04/05/l-vivs-kyy-svyato-heorhiyivs-kyy-kafedral-nyy-sobor-perekhodyt-do-ptsu  (includes a video)  On April 9, Palm Sunday, the OCU Liturgy at the cathedral was broadcast on NTA TV.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsmximiVXtE   After the Liturgy, the congregation went to a cemetery and placed 550 willow branches on the graves of fallen Ukrainian soldiers.  https://portal.lviv.ua/news/2023/04/09/u-verbnu-nediliu-ptsu-provela-sluzhbu-u-kolyshnomu-khrami-upts-mp  As in many cases, the OCU stressed prayers for the Ukrainian armed forces and for the use of the Ukrainian language in the Liturgy.

    UOC Metropolitan Filaret of Lviv has contested the vote and has stated that the religious community of St. George has not made any decision with respect to transferring to the OCU.  https://t.me/s/church_galicia  Metropolitan Filaret describes the people who voted on April 5 as “unknown.”  In my viewing of the video of the election meeting, it seemed to me that the voters were almost all men and were not the variety of people that one would normally expect to see at a Sunday Liturgy.  As is frequently the case, this transfer raises questions as to who should be eligible to vote and whether adequate notice of the election was given.  I am sure that the entire controversy involving the Cathedral will end up in the courts.

    The second event also occurred on April 5.  It was announced in Lviv that the private party who owns the property occupied by the UOC Church of the Holy Trinity on Antonovych Street in Lviv had decided to cancel the Church’s lease.  https://portal.lviv.ua/news/2023/04/05/khram-upm-mp-vyseliaiut-iz-prymishchennia-na-antonovycha  The UOC must therefore leave.  The third event occurred on April 6.  The Church of Volodymyr in Sikhov, a suburb southeast of Lviv, was demolished.  It was a small wooden structure.  It was previously a parish of the UOC, but had been in the possession of the OCU since last June.  The OCU plans to build a cathedral at the site.  Saddened by the event, UOC Metropolitan Filaret stated that a church has not been destroyed in Galicia since Soviet times.  He said that “it could have continued to exist and be used by the OCU community, because the construction of the cathedral will not be started for a long time.”  https://t.me/s/church_galicia  If the transfer of St. George is upheld legally, the UOC will no longer have a church within the city of Lviv.  However, the UOC still has more than 40 parishes in the Lviv Oblast.

    On April 1, Ruslan Marcinkiv, the mayor of city of Ivano-Frankivsk, encouraged citizens to attend the OCU Liturgy on April 2 at the Church of the Nativity of Christ on Dovzhenka Street in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk.   https://davniyhalych.if.ua/v-nedilu-v-ivano-frankivsky-vidbydetsia-slyjba-y-hrami-rizdva-hristovogo-pcy-meshkanciv-zaklikaut-prihoditi/  He thanked the people of the city “for the fact that we became the first oblast [not only the city but also the entire region] in Ukraine that is free from the Moscow Patriarchate.”  On the prior Sunday, the Church of the Nativity had been under the control of the UOC.  However, the Church has been subject to a complex controversy since February 2022, at which time the parishioners supposedly voted to transfer to the OCU.  Supporters of the UOC then held a second election with a vote in favor of the UOC, and possession of the church returned to the UOC.  On March 8, 2023, a court ruled in favor of the OCU. https://risu.ua/viryani-pcu-v-ivano-frankivsku-cherez-sud-domagayutsya-potrapiti-do-vlasnoyi-cerkvi_n137386   On March 28, 2023, clergy of the OCU and a very large crowd came to the church to hold a service for fallen Ukrainian soldiers. Their entrance into the church was blocked by a much smaller group of UOC clergy and faithful.  The two groups faced each other for approximately 40 minutes without any violence.  Then suddenly there was tear gas.  One version it that the tear gas was used by “one of the Moscow cohort.”   https://www.kyivpost.com/post/15073  The UOC contends that the tear gas was used by “raiders.”  https://news.church.ua/2023/03/28/slozoginnij-gaz-ta-bijka-rejderi-v-balaklavax-shturmom-zaxopili-xram-upc-u-frankivsku-video/#2023-04-10 (includes videos)  After a period of chaos and after the tear gas had cleared, the service for the fallen soldiers was held, and the OCU retained possession of the church.  Subsequently, the Sophia dialogue group, which includes clergy of both the OCU and UOC, issued a joint statement condemning “any forceful means of resolving this and other conflicts.”  https://www.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid02D8URL5YHf6SS1zoobMBdQ8LQyTkpTjDn5haGz9U8KMVZjG9eLub4KLgh4c1HKJ7l&id=100083228414144

    One factor which probably weakened the position of the UOC in Ivano-Frankivsk is that its head, Metropolitan Serafim (Zaliznytskyi), left for Russia after the invasion, then served with Patriarch Kirill in Moscow, and has never returned to Ukraine.  https://gk-press.if.ua/mytropolyt-upts-mp-iz-frankivska-poyihav-pid-moskvu-na-molytvu-z-kirilom/  In November, the Holy Synod of the UOC replaced Serafim with Bishop Nikita.   Shortly before his appointment, Nikita, then an archimandrite, was involved in alleged sexual conduct involving a young man.  https://glavcom.ua/country/society/shokujuchi-detali-obshuku-foto-891430.html

    Aside from Lviv and Ivano­-Frankivsk, events have occurred in other cities in Western Ukraine.  These are described from the perspective of the UOC on its website at https://news.church.ua/.  In my opinion, most of these events do not involve simple situations where “raiders” suddenly “capture” UOC churches, but are often complex situations with long histories where it is difficult for me to determine who is right and wrong.  Some of the recent situations in Western Ukraine involve local governments cancelling leases to properties on which UOC churches are located.   

    Fortunately, the current situation at the Kyiv Lavra appears to be peaceful.  On Sunday, April 9, the feast of the Lord's Entry into Jerusalem, thousands attended the outdoor Liturgy (in good weather) lead by Metropolitan Onufy (primate of the UOC) in the Lower Lavra.  https://news.church.ua/2023/04/09/u-verbnu-nedilyu-predstoyatel-ocholiv-svyatkove-bogosluzhinnya-na-ploshhi-u-kijevo-pecherskij-lavri/#2023-04-10 (includes video).  On the same day in the Upper Lavra, Metropolitan Epifany (primate of the OCU) led the Liturgy in a very crowded Tabernacle Church.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/v-den-svyata-vhodu-gospodnogo-v-yerusalym-predstoyatel-zvershyv-u-lavri-bozhestvennu-liturgiyu/  On April 7, Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko reaffirmed that the government will act in a peaceful way and will await the decision of the courts with respect to the presence of the UOC in the Lower Lavra after the lease termination.  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3693034-tkacenko-pro-situaciu-z-lavrou-pisla-risenna-sudu-budemo-diati-za-zakonom.html  It appears that with perhaps a few exceptions, the monks have physically remained at the Lavra.  Archimandrite Avraamiy, a Lavra monk who was appointed by the OCU to be the temporary head of a future group of OCU monks at the Lavra, celebrated the Liturgy in the Dormition Cathedral of the Upper Lavra on April 7, the feast of the Annunciation.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/arhimandryt-avraamij-ocholyv-bozhestvennu-liturgiyu-v-uspenskomu-sobori-lavry/  So far, none of the Lavra monks have publicly joined Avraamiy.  However, some may be waiting to see how future events turn out before making such an important decision.

    Professor Sergii Bortnyk, who teaches at the Academy located in the Lower Lavra and whom I consider a very reliable source, has given an interview concerning the current situation at the Academy.  https://www.domradio.de/artikel/ukrainischer-theologe-berichtet-aus-kiewer-hoehlenkloster?fbclid=IwAR3pIEXGFGGVWyTU83ZPGt6LWl3pHU3SmIO5S_U1yoOwPVHNiOZaD5hR-qk (German)  He stated: “I have already cleared out my closet and books and now only work from home.  There were no lectures last week.”   In viewing videos and photos of church services relating to the Academy, I see relatively few seminarians present.  See, for example, https://www.facebook.com/www.kdais.kiev.ua.  With no classes being held, many are probably not present at the Academy for the time being.

    The 60-day house arrest of Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed), the UOC vicar for the Lavra, on April 2 was big news.  It was reported by news services across the world, including a photo and article in the Seattle Times.  The appeal by the Metropolitan challenging his house arrest will be heard by an appellate court on April 21.  https://lb.ua/society/2023/04/10/551567_rozglyad_apelyatsii_mitropolita_pavla.html   Metropolitan Pavel is serving his 60 days of house arrest in the village of Voronkiv, approximately 40 km southeast of Kyiv.  https://lb.ua/society/2023/04/01/550731_sud_vidpraviv_mitropolita_upts_mp.html  The village is Pavel’s legal residence, and one of his several homes is located there.  The following is a drone video of his Voronkiv home:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0PUcG1KQYE&t=4s   He also has a luxurious home at 10a Zemlianska Street, bordering on the  M. M. Hryshko National Botanical Garden, 2 km south of the Lavra.   It appears that he is being fairly treated during his house arrest at Voronkiv.  Since April 3, he has been allowed to record three videos there.  See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hODyuoH6GYY ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNdmXHlsr24https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1oKL9de8Vw&t=59s  As shown in the last link, he was allowed to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation at the residence.  His attorney has been present during interviews.

    There has been much publicity in the Ukrainian internet concerning the expensive tastes of Metropolitan Pavel – which stand in contrast to Metropolitan Onufry’s far more humble style of living.  For example, the following video is entitled:  “Pasha Mercedes: houses, business and faith in expensive cars.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1bCLI0HAK4&t=663s The video has now been posted for five days and has had over 700,000 views.      https://lb.ua/society/2023/04/01/550700_sbu_pokazala_foto_z_obshukiv.html   The Security Services of Ukraine has also posted a video with English translations of certain telephone calls made by Pavel and intercepted by the Service.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvGISLQ9MGQ  The video includes such statements by Metropolitan Pavel as: “And already today Kherson is to proclaim the great joy, there are Russian flags everywhere…”

    In other news, certain monks and priests of the Orthodox church in North Macedonia were awarded titles from the Ecumenical Patriarchate at a service on the island of Imvros on April 10.   http://religija.mk/vselenskiot-patrijarh-dodeeli-tituli-na-makedonski-klirici-i-najavi-tomos-za-ohridskata-arhiepiskopija/ ;  https://orthodoxtimes.com/ecumenical-patriarch-we-are-in-the-stage-of-preparing-for-the-granting-of-autocephaly-to-the-ohrid-archdiocese/ (English)  This was done with the blessing of Metropolitan Stefan.  At the service, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated: “And now we are at the stage of preparing the attribution to this Church, under certain conditions, of the status of Autocephaly.  We are on the right track, negotiations are continuing.” 

    Lastly, in the traditional stations of the cross held at the Roman Colosseum on Good Friday, there was at the tenth station a reading written by a young Russian.   https://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/2023/documents/ns_lit_doc_20230407_via-crucis-meditazioni_en.html  The reading was as follows:  “I, on the other hand, am from Russia… as I say it, I almost feel a sense of guilt, yet at the same time I do not understand why and I feel doubly bad.  I feel stripped of happiness and of dreams for the future.  I have seen my grandmother and mother cry for two years.  A letter informed us that my oldest brother was dead; I still remember him on his eighteenth birthday, smiling and bright like the sun, and all this just a few weeks before leaving for a long journey.   Everyone told us we should be proud, but at home there was only much suffering and sadness.  The same thing happened also to my father and grandfather: they too left and we know nothing more.  Some of my classmates, with great fear, whispered in my ear that there was war.  When I returned home, I wrote a prayer: Jesus, please, let there be peace in the whole world and let us all be brothers and sisters.”

    At this holy time, let us all pray for peace.  For those of you who celebrated Easter last Sunday and for those of you who will be celebrating Pascha next Sunday, I wish you a very blessed feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord!

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 4 April 2023: UOC reaction to Khmelnytskyi crisis -- a double standard?

    Khmelnytskyi (Хмельницький) is a city of 275,000 in Western Ukraine, located approximately 105 km east of Ternopil.   Unlike many other cities of Western Ukraine, the UOC has been the predominant faith here, although there have been a substantial number of transitions to the OCU recently.  The oldest existing building in Khmelnytskyi and the largest church in the city is the UOC’s Cathedral of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos.   The head of the UOC in the city and the surrounding area has been Metropolitan Antony (Fialko) of Khmelnytskyi and Starokostantynivskyi (age 76).

    On Sunday, April 2, a 26-year-old man, Artur Ananiev, entered the Cathedral in military clothes.  After the invasion of Ukraine, Ananiev had volunteered and served in the 2nd company of the 19th rifle battalion.  During the war, he received a contusion and a craniocerebral injury.  He was discharged from the Ukrainian Armed Forces for medical reasons.  At 10:20 a.m., Ananiev had a confrontation in the Cathedral with the person who was doing a reading during the Liturgy.  Ananiev shouted, “How many more people have to die for you to stop going to the Moscow Patriarchate?” According to witnesses in the cathedral, he also threw to the ground the gospel book which was on a table.  https://vsim.ua/Podii/u-tserkvi-hmelnitskogo-prihilniki-mospatriarhatu-pobili-viyskovogo-vid-11782755.html;  https://uainfo.org/blognews/1680455137-u-hmelnitskomu-popi-upts-mp-pobili-v-hrami-travmovanogo.html.  There followed a physical confrontation in which a husky subdeacon (?) and others expelled Ananiev from the cathedral.  A video was taken of much of this.  The video can be watched at the last link.  A video showing an interview of Ananiev following the incident can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeEw4XnBOqc&t=7s.  Among other things, Ananiev claims that he was thrown to the ground and could not breathe.  From the video, it appears that excessive force was used against Ananiev.

    The video of Ananiev being expelled from the cathedral was put on Facebook by Viktor Burlyk, a deputy of the Khmelnytskyi Regional Council.  By late afternoon, a large crowd gathered in front of the cathedral.  They formed an assembly, and  1,235 signatures, allegedly from parishioners of the cathedral, were collected in favor of the transition of the cathedral from the UOC to the OCU.  The assembly voted to form an audit committee under the chairmanship of Yury Smal.  The audit committee then requested Metropolitan Anthony for the keys, and the Metropolitan gave the keys to the committee.  That evening some clergy from the OCU conducted a prayer service in the cathedral in the Ukrainian language.  The cathedral has now been sealed by the police and will not be opened until Pascha.  https://uainfo.org/blognews/1680465343-u-hmelnitskomu-pislya-pobittya-viyskovogo-u-hrami-popami.html   Hopefully, between now and Pascha, a more reasonable and legal approach will be adopted to resolve this local crisis.  In my opinion, both Ananiev and the subdeacon were at fault.

    On Monday, April 3, the television channel TCH posted a very significant 4-minute video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTnebKyry2o&t=13s   It included another interview of Ananiev.  It also included an interview of Metropolitan Anthony of Khmelnytskyi.  Anthony strongly condemned the actions of his subordinate who expelled Ananiev so forcefully.  He also stated: “They [his priests] were thinking of staying at the OCU, asking to be with them somehow.  I'm ready, I'll take my things, but they're silent, they ran away, I'm looking for them, let's decide with you. I am the only one left, a hostage.”  https://tsn.ua/exclusive/gotoviy-yogo-vbiti-sam-mitropolit-syavyaschennik-yakogo-pobiv-viyskovogo-ociniv-diyi-pidleglogo-i-prositsya-u-pcu-2299804.html 

    The Holy Synod of the UOC has now acted very promptly.  A remote meeting of the Synod was specially called on the morning of the next day, April 3.  According to the website of the UOC:  “the Holy Synod released His Eminence Metropolitan Antony of Khmelnytskyi and Starokostantynivskyi from the administration of the Khmelnytskyi Diocese and retired him.  His Eminence Archbishop Victor of Baryshiv, who was the vicar of the Kyiv Metropolis, was appointed as the new head of the Khmelnytskyi diocese.”  https://news.church.ua/2023/04/03/svyashhennij-sinod-priznachiv-keruyuchogo-xmelnickoyu-jeparxijeyu/#2023-04-03  Archbishop Victor is a young and very well-know hierarch and has been the representative of the UOC to international organizations.  As far as I can determine, the video of the Anthony interview was first posted after the Synod meeting.  If the Synod believed that Anthony was planning to transfer to the OCU, it is understandable that the Synod replaced him.

    Some will probably argue that the extremely prompt action of the Holy Synod shows how quickly the Holy Synod can act to remove a metropolitan and retire him.  On the other hand, Metropolitan Panteleimon of Luhansk (UOC) in October 2022 attended the formal ceremony at the Kremlin when President Putin signed the “annexation” of Ukrainian territories to Russia.  For this, the Holy Synod took no action against Panteleimon.  Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun in his recent interview (https://euromaidanpress.com/2023/04/02/moscow-patriarchates-war-in-the-kyiv-pechersk-lavra-church-turmoil-in-ukraine-explained/?swcfpc=1&fbclid=IwAR29AC8mHwhziV5uYOQPx_rpa9IoZ02Oub_y9MfWzEONVWWGzQOW1zz18pI) expressed the belief that the more aggressive actions by the Ukrainian government against the UOC which began in late fall and continues to date were triggered by the active participation by UOC hierarchs in the Russian actions to annex portions of Ukraine.  Hovorun also believes that Metropolitan Onufry, primate of the UOC, gave assurances to Zelensky that he would deal with this situation, and Onufry failed to follow through on these assurances.  In any event, the UOC seems to believe that handing over the keys to a cathedral and showing sympathies to the OCU is a far more serious offense than participating in the annexation ceremony at the Kremlin.  Is this a double standard?  In my opinion, this is a problem for the UOC.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 2 April 2023: Detailed interview of Hovorun on current situation

    This is a very interesting interview today of Father Cyril Hovorun with respect to the current crisis.  https://euromaidanpress.com/2023/04/02/moscow-patriarchates-war-in-the-kyiv-pechersk-lavra-church-turmoil-in-ukraine-explained/?swcfpc=1&fbclid=IwAR29AC8mHwhziV5uYOQPx_rpa9IoZ02Oub_y9MfWzEONVWWGzQOW1zz18pI  (English transcript)  The interview is in English.  The following is a video of the interview.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIC1C4kwI4k   I thought that Father Cyril was very candid in his remarks.  He criticized both the government and the UOC.  For example, he stated:  “I agree that the violation of the Lavra’s status as a UNESCO site by communities residing on its territory is not the reason but a pretext.  The main reason likely stems from the UOC MP’s leadership being unable to address the issue of the Church’s active or passive collaboration with the Russian aggressor in various ways.”   He also stated:  “The decision to evict all church structures from the Lavra seemed to be the easiest way—a shortcut to solving the problem. However, it may be the most challenging regarding outcomes and results for the common good of Ukrainian society and Ukraine’s international standing. Criticism is growing internationally, coming not only from religious leaders like Pope Francis but also from secular international bodies and institutions. This serves as a warning signal for the Ukrainian state and society, as they need to maintain unanimous international support. Unwise steps and choosing shortcuts instead of lawful ways may prove too costly for Ukraine.”  There are also other interesting observations made by Father Cyril.  I found that his observations helped me to understand a very complicated situation. 

     

    Peter Anderson

  • 1 Avril 2023: The standoff at the Lavra & other news

    On March 30, the commission of the Reserve, whose responsibilities include the inventory of the property to determine what belongs to the Reserve and what belongs to private persons or organizations such as the UOC, attempted to enter the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God, located in the area of the Far Caves.  See map at https://dayting.com.ua/en/excursion-to-kiev-pechersk-lavra.  This is the church used by the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary (UOC).  The commission was not able to enter the church due to a large crowd with Archbishop Sylvester, the rector of the Academy, in the front.  Later in the day, the Academy posted an official statement concerning the event as well as a video.  http://kdais.kiev.ua/event/yziavlenye-30032023/  The statement includes the following:

    Today, March 30, 2023, at about 10:30 a.m., people came to the church in honor of the Nativity of the Mother of God on the territory of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.  The people, in communications with representatives of the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary, called themselves the Commission for the National Historical - Cultural Reserve "Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra."  The mentioned persons declared their intention to visit the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God. This church today functions as an academic church and is directly subordinate to the rector of the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary.  That is why the rector of the Academy, Archbishop Sylvester of  Bilogorodka , came to the church to communicate with the representatives of the Reserve.  The rector asked the representatives of the Reserve to introduce themselves and present the documents on the basis of which they act. The named persons refused to disclose their names and positions. They also did not submit documents certifying their right to act.  For this reason, the representatives of the Reserve were not allowed to enter the temple.  The Kyiv Theological Academy does not deny the right to employees of the Reserve to fulfill their official duties.  However, all actions must be carried out within the legal framework and without violation of the current legislation.

    On the evening of March 30, Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko commented on these events on Facebook.  https://www.facebook.com/oleksandr.tkachenko.ua  He stated:

    We have to state that due to physical obstacles on the part of the UOC-MP, the commission for receiving-transfer of state property of the National Reserve "Kiev-Pechersk Lavra" could not start work today.  Representatives of the Monastery from the Holy Assumption Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, who are part of the Commission, could not explain who had the keys to the building that was scheduled to be inspected.  In addition, many unknown persons prevented the members of the Commission from entering the building.  On the fact of obstructing the work of the commission, a statement was filed to the police.  The rude behavior of the representatives of the UOC-MP towards the representatives of the Commission is greatly inconsistent with their calls to God.  Tomorrow the Commission will continue its work in any case.

    It appears that the commission on March 31 did not return to the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God, but rather went at 9:30 a.m. to Lavra Building  No. 111 by the Church of St. Agapit in the Lower Lavra.  It was reported that the keys given by the Monastery to the building did not work and that approximately 20 unknown persons in monks' robes blocked passage to the building.  Water was also used against the commission members.  The commission left and plans to resume its work on Monday.  https://informator.ua/uk/boji-za-lavru-rosiyski-chenci-z-viryanami-zirvali-perevirku-minkultu-2https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3689845-do-cerkvi-u-kievopecerskij-lavri-komisiu-mkip-ne-puskali-nevidomi-v-cernecih-rasah.html  So far, the websites of the UOC and of the Academy have been silent on this latest inability of the commission to do its work.

    Tkachenko has addressed this latest incident on Facebook.  https://www.facebook.com/oleksandr.tkachenko.ua   He stated on March 31:

    Today, the Commission for Acceptance-Transfer of State Property of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra National Reserve failed to start its work again due to resistance to the UOC-MP.  Because of this, the Reserve turned to the Commercial Court of Kyiv to remove the numerous obstacles that the UOC-MP is putting in the way of the legal transfer of the property of the Lavra to the rightful owner – the state.  In accordance with Article 381 of the Civil Code of Ukraine, the owner of the property has the right to claim the elimination of obstacles in its implementation of the right to use and dispose of its property.  We will solve the situation in a legal way.

    From this it appears that the Zelensky government is proceeding cautiously in obtaining possession of the Lower Lavra.  Presumably, it is aware that many are concerned about the Lavra situation and that the Russian media is giving great coverage to the Lavra events.  The government is therefore seeking to obtain possession through the courts and legal processes, where the UOC has the right to argue its case, rather than invoking immediate police intervention (except to keep the peace).  The commission will probably attempt each day to continue its efforts to access property and will back off for the day if it is blocked.  To the extent there is continuing self-help to prevent the work of the commission, this will simply provide more evidence for the government attorneys to present to the court and to support its arguments that judicial intervention is needed.  In this sense, future blockage by monks and others may actually be helping the government.

    With respect to the courts, the UOC has filed a lawsuit in the Commercial Court of Kyiv challenging the Reserve’s termination of the UOC rent-free lease to the Lower Lavra.  In connection with the lawsuit, the UOC sought a court order preventing the Reserve from taking action with respect to the termination until the court has an opportunity to consider the case on its merits.  In American law, this is called a preliminary injunction.  On March 28, the court denied the UOC’s request for this type of order.  The full decision of the court can be read at https://opendatabot.ua/court/109840891-ee0a77f5ff6e4c6c1e779e11e9d9e98b (the Google translation tool works on this order).   The legal department of the UOC has stated that the UOC will appeal this denial.   https://news.church.ua/2023/03/30/yuridichnij-viddil-upc-poyasniv-perebig-sudovogo-procesu-shhodo-kijevo-pecherskoji-lavri/#2023-03-31  The legal department also points out that this is not a decision on the merits and that the merits will be considered by the court on April 26. https://news.church.ua/2023/03/30/yuridichnij-viddil-upc-poyasniv-perebig-sudovogo-procesu-shhodo-kijevo-pecherskoji-lavri/#2023-03-31  Although this is correct, the denial is not a good sign that the court will favor the UOC in deciding the merits.

    On March 30, the Council of Ministers of Ukraine decided that the order of the Council of Ministers (Order No. 519) issued during the Yanukovych administration on July 11, 2013, was no longer valid.  https://www.kmu.gov.ua/news/uriad-skasuvav-rozporiadzhennia-chasiv-ianukovycha-zavdiaky-iakomu-upts-mp-bezkoshtovno-korystuvalasia-derzhavnymy-budivliamy-i-mainom-u-kyievo-pecherskii-lavri  This earlier order had provided for the rent-free use of the Lavra by the UOC and was silent on a termination date.  This Council’s action on March 30 counters an argument by the UOC that the termination of the lease by the Reserve is not valid as it is contrary to a 2013 decision by a higher authority, namely the Council of Ministers.

    In my opinion, the UOC has a weak argument that the State cannot terminate the lease without the approval of UOC and that the UOC has a rent-free lease to the end of time – namely the absence of a termination date means that the lease lasts forever.  A far better argument is based not on contract law, but rather on the guarantees of freedom of religion.  The argument would be:  Even if the Reserve has a legal right to terminate the lease, that right cannot be used as a pretext to discriminate against the UOC and to cause monks to change their affiliation from the UOC to the OCU.  With respect to the buildings built by the UOC in the Lower Lavra without approval, this must have been known by the Reserve for years and still the Reserve did nothing.  Now when great pressure is being exerted against the UOC, the Reserve takes action.

    On March 31, the DECR  of the UOC sent a letter to all foreign embassies in Ukraine relating to the “situation surrounding the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.”   The letter discusses the position of the UOC with respect to the March 30 decision of the Council of Ministers and also the March 28 decision by the Commercial Court.  A memo from the legal department of the UOC is also attached.

    Metropolitan Sawa, primate of the Orthodox Church of Poland, now joins other primates who have expressed their support for the UOC in the current controversy.   On March 31, the primate sent a letter to Archbishop Sylvester, rector of the Kyiv Academy.  https://news.church.ua/2023/03/31/predstoyatel-polskoji-pravoslavnoji-cerkvi-visloviv-pidtrimku-kijivskij-duxovnij-akademiji/#2023-03-31 (includes photocopy of English letter)    Metropolitan Sawa stated in part:

    The Polish Orthodox Church has always been and is in favor of the canonicity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  What is happening today with the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, other monastic centers, churches and Your Academy is an expression of great enslavement and persecution of the Church.  For this we express our regrets, raise our prayers and join all those who raise prayers and suffer persecution.

    This letter has not  yet been posted on the official website of the Orthodox Church of Poland.  It may never be.  An earlier letter from Metropolitan Sawa to Patriarch Kirill caused an uproar in Poland, and Sawa subsequently issued an apology.  However, a letter from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Metropolitan Sawa has been posted by the Polish Church.  https://www.orthodox.pl/komunikat-kancelarii-metropolity-50/  In the letter, dated March 24, Ecumenical Patriarch expresses his great sadness “that we have been informed that once again your precious health has deteriorated and you have been admitted to the hospital and in addition to the intensive care unit for therapy and convalescence.”  He also states that “although we differ in our approach to certain current church issues, we love you as a brother and a concelebrant in Christ and we appreciate your long-term contribution to His Church and your struggles for the spiritual uplifting and prosperity of the Orthodox flock in the noble country – Poland….”

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 30 March 2023: Rival Vicar for Kyiv Lavra & other news

    March 29, the day for the demanded departure of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) from the Lower Lavra of the famous Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, has now passed.  It was a peaceful day at the Lavra.  Although certain individuals may have left on their own accord, the main institutions of the UOC in the Lower Lavra – the Monastery, the Theological Academy and Seminary, and the national headquarters of the UOC – are still there and apparently have no intention to depart until their legal recourse to the courts has been exhausted.  There was no effort by the government to remove people from the Lower Larva and apparently no unusual police presence at the Lavra.  Hundreds of people were allowed to enter the Lavra grounds to pray that the UOC be allowed to remain in the Lower Lavra.   Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko, the government official who has primary responsibility for the Lavra, was not even in Kyiv, but was rather far away on a planned visit to Kharkiv.  https://www.facebook.com/oleksandr.tkachenko.ua 

    On March 11, the day after the notice of termination of the UOC lease for the Lavra, Tkachenko had given assurance that force would not be used if the UOC monks refused to leave the Lavra.  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3681265-tkacenko-nazvav-umovi-za-akih-monahi-zmozut-zalisitis-u-kiivskij-lavri.html   However, one never knows, and many are probably breathing a sigh of relief that peace prevailed today.  However, the government has not abandoned its efforts with respect to the UOC presence at the Lavra.  On March 28 the National Reserve for the Lavra (a department under the Ministry of Culture) sent a letter to the UOC at the Lavra informing it in part:  “From March 29, contract No. 2 dated July 19, 2013 is considered to be terminated unilaterally.  The commission on the acceptance and transfer of property of a state institution, created by the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, will begin work on March 30 according to the plan for the acceptance and transfer of objects in use at the Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.”    https://ria.ru/20230328/lavra-1861383134.html  Presumably, it will take some time to inventory all of the property. 

    The surprising news on March 29 was that one of the UOC brothers at the Lavra has joined the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and has been appointed by Metropolitan Epifany (primate of the OCU) to be the vicar (acting governor) of the Monastery of the Caves.  The new vicar is Archimandrite Avraamiy (Latish) [архімандрит Авраамій (Лотиш)], a member of the Spiritual Council of the Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.  Archimandrite Avraamiy (Abraham in English) has made a video and written an appeal to the other brothers at the Monastery.  It can be read and seen at https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/vykonuyuchyj-obov-yazky-namisnyka-lavry-arhimandryt-avraamij-zvernuvsya-do-bratiyi-video/.   The video plus comments can also be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OippygMLkh4&t=25s .  I tried to find some background information concerning Archimandrite Avraamiy.  The only article that I found was at https://cherkasy.church.ua/ru/news/mitropolit-feodosij-sovershil-kreshhenie-docheri-blagotvoritelnogo/.  This article states that Archimandrite Avraamiy is the sacristan at the Lavra.  It also appears that Avraamiy is probably from the Cherkasy diocese (160 km. southeast of Kyiv).   It did not take the UOC long to react to this news.  A few hours after the news of the appointment of the vicar, Metropolitan Onufry, primate of the UOC, issued a decree that “ Archimandrite Avraamiy (Latish) is prohibited from religious service without the right to receive the Holy Mysteries of Christ.”  https://news.church.ua/2023/03/29/za-uxilennya-v-rozkol-zaboronenij-u-svyashhennosluzhinni-kolishnij-naselnik-kijevo-pecherskoji-lavri/#2023-03-29 

    As vicar, the OCU has given Avraamiy the same title as held by Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed).  Metropolitan Pavel has been vicar since 1994.  He was not elected by the brothers but rather appointed.  A biography for him can be found in the Ukraine Wikipedia at https://uk.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9F%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%BB%D0%BE_(%D0%9B%D0%B5%D0%B1%D1%96%D0%B4%D1%8C)  Wikipedia describes various reasons why Pavel is considered controversial by much of the Ukrainian media.  Some of the criticism relates to his high living style and behavior toward others.  Recently, Metropolitan Pavel was one of the individuals sanctioned by the Ukrainian government.  It now remains to be seen if the other monks at the Lavra are unhappy with the leadership of Pavel and whether they will remain loyal to Pavel and the UOC.

    On March 26, Father Georgy Kovalenko gave a long interview to Lb.ua with respect to the Lavra situation.  https://lb.ua/society/2023/03/26/550014_georgiy_kovalenko_upts_mp_plot_vid.html  Father Georgy was the official spokesperson for the UOC for many years prior to the time that Metropolitan Onufry became primate.  Father Georgy subsequently founded the “Open Orthodox University” in Kyiv and joined the OCU.   He was also involved in organizing the recent meetings at St. Sophia between the OCU and UOC clergy.  In the interview, Kovalenko was very critical of Metropolitan Pavel.  Among other criticisms, Kovalenko claims that Pavel has established his own “business empire” at the Lavra -- private businesses which caters to the needs of the pilgrims and visitors.  With respect to the monks at the Lavra, Kovalenko states:  “The majority is not subjective [несуб’єктна] even from the point of view of the desire to express one's position.  We know about a certain extreme percentage of sincere lovers of the "Russian world" - it is, I think, 10-15%.  And about 10-15% of people who would like changes and are ready for unity with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.  But again, the Lavra is a dormitory monastery.  They lived together for many years.  And they will pay attention to each other.”   In my opinion, Archimandrite Avraamiy would not have accepted his new position unless he felt confident that at least some of the monks would join him.  However, in this very dynamic situation, it is difficult to predict how all of this will end.

    The Holy Synod of the OCU held a meeting on March 28.  The results of the meeting can be read at https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/ofitsijne-povidomlennya-pro-zasidannya-svyashhennogo-synodu-28-bereznya-2023-r/ .  The results included the following: “While supporting the state decision to terminate the contract, according to which the structures of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine used part of the complex of the Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, at the same time, the Synod considers it necessary to emphasize the importance of preserving monastic life in the Lavra and the continuity of worship.   In this regard, the request sent to the Ukrainian state earlier to provide a religious organization for the monastic life, liturgical and other religious activities of the religious organization ‘Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (men's monastery) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church of Ukraine)’ premises on the territory of the Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra complex was confirmed.”  In this regard, the OCU has a practical problem.  At the present time there are approximately 200 UOC monks and novices at the Monastery of the Caves.   According to official data as of November 2021, the OCU only had a total of 233 monks in Ukraine while the UOC had 4,620 monks at the end of 2022.  The OCU simply does not have the number of monks available to staff the Monastery at the present levels.  This is why the OCU needs to recruit UOC monks from the Monastery.

    Several primates have expressed their support for the UOC in the present Lavra crisis.  Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia has issued an extremely strong statement (“In light of these facts, the decision of the current state leadership of Ukraine to expel Metropolitan Onuphry, the monastic brotherhood and the Spiritual Academy from the Lavra is nothing but a synonym for horrifying state terror against the Church, as well as the grossest violation of her fundamental rights, religious freedom and freedom of conscience in general.”)   https://spc.rs/en/press-release-regarding-state-terror-against-the-ukrainian-orthodox-church/ (official English translation).  The Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, has also expressed his strong support for Metropolitan Onufry (“We once again assure Metropolitan Onufriy, his clergy, and the Ukrainian faithful, who are beset by troubles on all sides, that the Orthodox Church in America stands ready to support the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, both with our prayers and by any other means at our disposal.”)  https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/his-beatitude-metropolitan-tikhon-issues-statement-on-kiev-caves-lavra  Patriarch Ilia of Georgia has taken a somewhat different approach in his support of the UOC.  He addressed a letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  https://patriarchate.ge/news/3160  The Patriarch’s letter included the following appeal:  “Your All Holiness, everyone remembers numerous steps you have taken with the mission of peace and therefore we presume that in this case also, if it is possible, you might help ease the tension, which, in our opinion, implies the creation of conditions for peaceful coexistence at the first stage, and then, a peaceful move towards mutual rapprochement.”

    The lease termination also affects the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary, the main educational institution of the UOC.  The rector of the Academy has posted a very well-written appeal at https://news.church.ua/2023/03/25/an-open-address-of-the-rector-of-the-kyiv-theological-academy-archbishop-sylvester-of-bilogorodka-to-the-ukrainian-public/?lang=en#2023-03-25  (English).  Students whose family members are fighting with the Ukrainian Armed Forces each made short individual appeals in an interesting video with English subtitles at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KesXHKkBMFQ  (a 11-minute video).

    All of this is a very difficult situation which, of course, needs many prayers.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 25 March 2023: Important statement by rector of Kyiv Academy at Lavra

    The following is a statement in English from the rector of the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary (UOC).  https://news.church.ua/2023/03/25/an-open-address-of-the-rector-of-the-kyiv-theological-academy-archbishop-sylvester-of-bilogorodka-to-the-ukrainian-public/?lang=en#2023-03-25   It was just posted this afternoon.  The controversy relating to the Kyiv Lavra has focused primarily on the monks at the monastery.  However, the termination of the UOC lease to the Lower Lavra also affects the Academy, which is located on the grounds of the Lower Lavra.  The abbot (vicar of the primate) of the monastery, Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed), is a very controversial figure.  On the other hand, the rector of the Academy,  Archbishop Sylvester, is reasonable and balanced -- in my opinion.  I believe that his statement is entitled to considerable weight. 

     

    Peter Anderson

  • 24 March 2023: Planned WCC roundtable with UOC, OCU, and Moscow Patriarchate & other news

    On the morning of March 23, Pope Francis met with a delegation of the World Council of Churches.  https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2023/03/23/230323b.html  The delegation was led by the new General Secretary of the WCC, Reverend Professor Jerry Pillay, and also included Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, WCC central committee moderator, and Prof. Dr Vasile-Octavian Mihoc, WCC program executive for Ecumenical Relations and Faith and Order.  

    During the meeting, the WCC discussed with Pope Francis the WCC’s intention to convene a roundtable with Orthodox Church leaders from Ukraine and also from the Moscow Patriarchate.   The tentative plans are as follows:  Day One – meeting between UOC and OCU leaders; Day Two – meeting with Moscow Patriarchate leaders; Day Three – meeting of all three together.  Other church leaders from Ukraine may also participate. The meeting is to take place in Geneva.  It appears that the roundtable will explore how to put “Christ in the center” with respect to Ukraine.  Presumably, the roundtable would not be an attempt to solve the many issues between the three church organizations.  Because this planned roundtable has just been made public, one does not know now whether the UOC, the OCU, and the Moscow Patriarchate would even agree to meet at the same table.  Hopefully, they will.

    A  description of the WCC’s meeting with the Pope is found at the WCC’s website.   https://www.oikoumene.org/news/wcc-roman-catholic-church-underscore-commitment-to-walking-praying-working-together  The following is a quotation from the description:

    ”It was a wonderful, cordial conversation,” said WCC general secretary Pillay. “We shared with him the aspects of current collaboration we have with the WCC. We expressed the need for continuity of our work together and expressed our appreciation for the participation of the Roman Catholic Church in the work of the WCC, and also now possibly further with the commissions that we are to appoint.”

    The conversation also highlighted very important points, Pillay noted. “The first one was to deal with the Ukraine situation.  We shared with the Holy Father our views about the dynamics of what is happening and expressed our concern. and we shared that we are planning a new roundtable, in which we will bring the Ukraine churches, Orthodox churches, and other church leaders together—and also together with the Russian Orthodox Church.  The idea is to bring them all together into a conversation about what it means, in terms of Christian unity, to deal with the context of the war,” he said. 

    Pillay added that all those present [including Pope Francis] expressed concern about how churches are actually becoming disunited because of other factors, including political and economic ones. “We recognized that some of these aspects are certainly finding their way into churches and into church relationships and affecting them in a negative way,” he said.  “We affirmed the centrality of Christ in our conversations, and how we can focus together on the Gospel, and how that actually helps us in our relationships in the world.” [My emphasis]

    Christopher White, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, interviewed Rev. Dr. Pillay after the meeting.  https://www.ncronline.org/vatican/vatican-news/world-council-churches-head-says-pope-backs-plan-russian-ukrainian-orthodox   The following are some quotations from his interesting article:

    The tentative plans, according to Pillay, are for a one-day meeting of Ukrainian Orthodox Church leaders, followed by a one-day meeting of Russian Orthodox leaders, and then a roundtable discussion with all of the participants on the concluding day.  To date, no participants have been announced, though plans are for the meeting to take place in Geneva, where the World Council of Churches is headquartered.

    According to its general secretary, the Rev. Jerry Pillay — who met with Francis at the Vatican on March 23 — the pope gave his blessing to the proposed encounter and reiterated the need to put "Christ in the center" of the conversation ahead of political or national divisions.

    In Kyiv, the appeal to the Ukrainian faithful, adopted by the Holy Synod of the UOC on March 20, has now been posted in English.  https://news.church.ua/2023/03/23/an-address-of-the-holy-synod-of-the-ukrainian-orthodox-church-to-faithful-children-of-the-ukrainian-orthodox-church-and-to-the-people-of-ukraine/?lang=en#2023-03-23  A separate appeal to President Zelensky was posted earlier.  Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed), who is the head (vicar of the primate) of the UOC monastic community at the Lavra, has stated that it is physically impossible for the UOC to leave the Lavra by March 29.  He commented: “Today we don't know if they will extend the time for us at least to stay through Pascha and take out our property, but I call everyone to pray, come to the territory of the Lavra.”  https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3686382-namisnik-kievopecerskoi-lavri-vid-upc-mp-zaaviv-so-jogo-cenci-ne-viselatsa-do-29-berezna.html

    Lastly, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has completed his stay in Lithuania.  On March 22, he gave a major address at the seminar, “Reaction of Churches and Religious Communities to War and Conflict.”  The entire text of the address can be read in English at https://ec-patr.org/address-by-his-all-holiness-ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-at-the-seminar-reaction-of-churches-and-religious-communities-to-war-and-conflict-lit/  Much of the address focuses on the Moscow Patriarchate and Ukraine.  On March 22, the Ecumenical Patriarch together with the Catholic Archbishop of Vilnius visited the famous Marian shrine of Aušros Vartai (Dawn Gate) and the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights (located in the former KGB building in Vilnius).  https://fosfanariou.gr/index.php/2023/03/23/stathmoi-tis-patriarxikis-episkepsis-stin-lithouania/ (includes photos).  On his departure on March 23, the Ecumenical Patriarch commented briefly on the invitation posted on the website of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) for him to come to the Holy Spirit Monastery (Moscow Patriarchate) and venerate the relics of the martyrs of Vilnius there. The Monastery is located less than 150 meters from the Dawn Gate shrine.  The Ecumenical Patriarch stated that he never received an invitation from Metropolitan Innokenty (head of the Lithuanian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate) to visit the Monastery and never saw the Metropolitan at any of the events related to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s visit to Lithuania.  https://www.romfea.gr/oikoumeniko-patriarxeio/55761-dilosi-oikoumenikoy-patriarxou-kata-tin-oloklirosi-tis-episkepseos-tou-sti-lithouania  https://www.romfea.gr/oikoumeniko-patriarxeio/55761-dilosi-oikoumenikoy-patriarxou-kata-tin-oloklirosi-tis-episkepseos-tou-sti-lithouania

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 22 March 2023: Outrageous demand & other news

    On the afternoon of March 21, Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture and Information Policy (MCIP) posted on its official website a notice entitled: “The MCIP established a number of violations by the UOC men's monastery on the territory of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.”  https://mkip.gov.ua/news/8822.html   This notice includes the following:

    "During the inspection, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine found a number of violations on the part of the Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (men's monastery) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. 

    These violations may be grounds for terminating the lease agreement for the free use of religious buildings and other state-owned property by a religious organization. 

    Among the established violations:

    ·        arbitrary reconstruction, extension, re-planning of monuments of cultural heritage and construction of new buildings on the territory of the Reserve. This is a violation of the requirements of Part 14 of Article 5, Article 141, Clause 1 of Article 24, Clauses 2, 3 of Article 25, Article 26, Article 32, Clause 4 of Article 33 of the Law of Ukraine "On Protection of Cultural Heritage", part four of Article 26 of the Law of Ukraine "On regulation of urban planning activities", Article 5 of the Law of Ukraine "On the Basics of Urban Planning", Article 28 of the Law of Ukraine "On Architectural Activity", as well as clauses 2.2.3, 2.2.6, 2.2.7 of the Security Agreements.

    ·        inappropriate use of a state-owned object, in particular, it refers to the basement of 1914;

    ·        improper maintenance of an architectural monument of local importance - book warehouse, building 113;

    ·        violation of the terms of sub-clause 4 of clause 3.2 of the agreement No. 2 dated 19.07.2013 regarding the obligation not to transfer property to third parties without the permission of the reserve (state institution) (buildings were subleased to the Metropolis of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary; 20 third-party legal entities were registered).

    As a reminder, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) must leave the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra by March 29."  [Emphasis added]

    The foregoing sentence in bold is not limited to certain parts of the Lower Lavra.  Instead its broad language demonstrates that the requirement of the UOC to leave applies to the entire Lavra.  This would include: (1) the monastery with approximately 200 monks and novices who actually live at the monastery; (2) the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary with approximately 300 students, most of whom live at dormitories at the Lavra; and (3) the administrative offices of the UOC, including the office of the primate and various departments including the Department of External Church Relations. 

    As a Catholic who has reported on events in the Orthodox world for many years, I am not affiliated with any Local Orthodox Church.  In that sense, I am an “outsider.”   Although I may not always have been successful, I have tried to be balanced and not emotional in my reporting.  In my opinion the demand that a major monastic community, a major educational institution, and the equivalent of the UOC “Vatican” be totally removed from the Lavra grounds by March 29 (a week from now) is simply outrageous.  With such an unreasonable time schedule, perhaps the Zelensky administration is seeking to impose maximum pressure on the UOC monks at the Lavra to switch their affiliation from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).  In this regard, Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the OCU, made a written appeal to the Lavra monks last Saturday asking for them to do just that.  See https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/en-gr-address-of-the-hiero-archimandrite-of-the-kyiv-pechersk-holy-dormition-lavra-epiphaniy-to-the-brothers-of-the-lavra-and-the-public-video/.  In my opinion, use of a threatened eviction as a means of causing the monks to change their religious affiliation is a gross violation of the religious rights of the monks.   

    Prior to the notice above, I had hope that an eviction effective March 29 would not actually occur.  The March 10 letter from the National Reserve of the Lavra terminating the current UOC lease effective March 29 did not expressly state that the UOC must physically leave the Lavra by that date.  On March 11 Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko stated: “No one is saying that the life of the monks in the Lavra will end after the audit is completed.”   https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3681265-tkacenko-nazvav-umovi-za-akih-monahi-zmozut-zalisitis-u-kiivskij-lavri.html  Furthermore, I believed that evicting the entire presence of the UOC in the Lower Lavra by March 29 was so unreasonable that it was not really the intention of the Zelensky administration to require that.  Sadly, the notice above leads me now to believe that the Zelensky administration intends to do just that.

    Pope Francis and Dr Jerry Pillay, the new general secretary of the World Council of Churches, have both raised their concerns about what is happening at the Lavra.  See https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/audiences/2023/documents/20230315-udienza-generale.htmlhttps://www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/wcc-concerned-over-dormition-kiev-caves-lavra-plans-to-convene-roundtable-for-peace  It will now be interesting to see whether the various Local Orthodox Churches and various international organizations and governments will also express their concerns before the March 29 eviction deadline.  This should not hinge on whether one is a supporter of the UOC or the OCU.  If the March 29 deadline is a great unfairness, both sides should be concerned.  With more time, perhaps a solution can be negotiated which would be fair to the UOC but would also provide the OCU with some presence in this great Ukrainian national shrine.

    There is some good religious news from Ukraine today.  The Ukraine Rada held plenary sessions on March 20 and 21.  No action was taken by the Rada on draft bill 8371.  See https://www.rada.gov.ua/news/Top-novyna/234550.htmlhttps://mkip.gov.ua/news/8825.html.   As you recall, this bill provides in part: Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed.”

    Finally, in Lithuania on March 21, an agreement was signed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė governing the relations between Lithuania and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  The entire agreement may be read in English at https://lrv.lt/uploads/main/documents/files/Lithuanian_Ecumenical_Patriarchate_agreement_EN%2B20230320%2BLT%2Balternate%2Bfinal(1).docx.pdf .  The text of the addresses made by the Ecumenical Patriarch and by the Prime Minister can be read at https://ec-patr.org/his-all-holiness-ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-s-t-a-t-e-m-e-n-t-after-the-meeting-with-the-prime-minister-of-lithuania-he-ms-ingrida-simonyte-and-the-signing-of-the-agreement-of-cooperation/?fbclid=IwAR1Kmp1z8QWlTLcWJF3ANRMm43uqSzYVVUW-WsEEJY9-EwVwOZql8TOFnuY.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 21 March 2023: Meeting of UOC Synod & Lithuanian visit of Bartholomew

    The Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) met on Monday, March 20.  The official communique describing the results of the meeting can be read at https://news.church.ua/2023/03/20/results-of-the-meeting-of-the-holy-synod-of-the-ukrainian-orthodox-church-on-20-march-2023/?lang=en#2023-03-20 (English).  During the course of the day, Metropolitan Onufry and members of the Synod traveled to the Office of President Zelensky to present personally to the President a written address and “to explain to him in person what the situation really is.”  https://news.church.ua/2023/03/20/the-primate-and-the-members-of-the-holy-synod-of-the-uoc-have-arrived-at-the-office-of-the-president-of-ukraine-live-broadcast-updated/?lang=en#2023-03-20 (English)  They waited in the street in front of the office for approximately two hours until an air raid siren caused them to seek shelter.  A video of their entire wait can be seen at the foregoing link.  A representative of the President’s Office had come to receive the written appeal, but the Synod members insisted on meeting with the President in person.  https://spzh.news/en/news/72472-uoc-synod-members-arrive-at-op-to-meet-with-zelensky  The Office of the President had noted that the President had not planned a meeting with the UOC on this day.  Of the ten members of the UOC present, three (Metropolitans Pavel, Anthony, and Luke) had recently been individually sanctioned by the Ukrainian government.  Personally, I believe that the chances of meeting with the President would have been much greater if only Metropolitan Onufry and a few others (not sanctioned individuals) had sought a private meeting with the President.  Instead, the UOC had broadcast the entire wait in front of the President’s office live on Facebook from the very beginning of the wait --  an indication that they sought to make a show of the entire event.  It appears that the group refused to give the written address to the representatives of the President's Office, but had rather posted it immediately on the UOC website. 

    Later the same day in Moscow, RIA Novosti gave major coverage to these events.  See  https://ria.ru/20230320/upts-1859248100.html   ("Members of the synod of the UOC were demanded to leave the territory of Zelensky's office"); https://ria.ru/20230321/zelenskiy-1859328147.html (Patriarch's spokesperson states that "Zelensky, refusing to meet with members of the Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, once again demonstrated disrespect and contempt for millions of Ukrainian believers'').  One wonders what would have happened if a group of religious leaders had gathered unannounced in Red Square and requested to see President Putin immediately.

    The full text of the written appeal to President Zelensky can be read at https://news.church.ua/2023/03/20/zvernennya-svyashhennogo-sinodu-upc-do-prezidenta-ukrajini-volodimira-zelenskogo-20-bereznya-2023-roku/#2023-03-20 .  In the appeal, the UOC reaffirms: “we defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our State and strongly condemn Russian military aggression against Ukraine.”  The appeal points out that many parishioners of the UOC are now serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and that the UOC has done much to provide humanitarian and other aid.  The appeal then states that the UOC is experiencing “how the flames of opposition on religious grounds are being fanned in Ukraine.”  Specifically, the “illegal re-registration” of parishes, the bills pending in the Rada targeting the UOC, and finally the intent to evict the UOC community from the Kyiv Larva are mentioned.  With respect to the Kyiv Lavra, the appeal includes the following statement:

    A special place among the revived shrines is occupied by the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.  Today, the Kyiv Lavra is a powerful religious, educational and administrative center, because more than two hundred monks perform their ministry on its territory, almost three hundred students of the academy and seminary study, and the administrative center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is also located on its territory.  In addition, powerful work is constantly being carried out in the Lavra to provide humanitarian aid to everyone who needs it.  For every clergyman, monk and believer of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra is a priceless shrine nurtured with love.  That is why the news about the unjustified deprivation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's right to stay in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra caused a great wave of indignation among our believers.  Every day we receive an increasing number of appeals about the need to protect our sanctuaries and our legal right to continue to protect them.

    Lastly, there is an appeal to the President to protect religious freedom in Ukraine.  In general the appeal is conciliatory and does not contain such statements as the UOC will never leave the Kyiv Lavra.  The Synod also approved a letter “addressed faithful children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the people of Ukraine.”  This letter has apparently not yet been posted.

    The Synod at its meeting also removed Metropolitan Lazar of Simferopol and Crimea as a member of the Holy Synod.  As you recall, the Moscow Patriarchate assumed jurisdiction over his diocese (metropolia) last June.  President Zelensky suspended the Ukrainian citizenship of Lazar last December.  The reason given by the Synod for removing Lazar was “the absence of the possibility to take part in meetings of the Holy Synod.”

    On Saturday, March 18, Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), made a written address to the brothers of the Kyiv Lavra and to the public.  The full text of the address in English can be read at https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/en-gr-address-of-the-hiero-archimandrite-of-the-kyiv-pechersk-holy-dormition-lavra-epiphaniy-to-the-brothers-of-the-lavra-and-the-public-video/ .  The address is essentially an appeal to the monks of the Lavra to reject the current leader of the Lavra and to accept Epifany as their head.  In the letter, Epifany uses the title, “Hiero-Archimandrite of the Kyiv-Pechersk Holy Dormition Lavra.”  Epifany apparently justifies the use of that title because the OCU legally registered several months ago a monastic community for the Lavra with an address across the street from the Lavra.  Technically, the current UOC head of the Lavra is Metropolitan Onufry.  However, as a practical matter, Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed) is the primate's vicar and the abbot of the Lavra.  Pavel is appointed to this position and has held it since 1994.  He is not elected by the monastic community.  He has been a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the UOC since 2011. https://lavra.ua/uk/hierarchy/pavel-uk/  With respect to the current leader of the Lavra, Epifany states:

    Both society in general and the brothers in particular are well aware of numerous examples of how, under the leadership of the current head of the monastery, the Lavra was consistently and deliberately turned into a center for promoting the ideology of “Russkiy Mir – Russian World”, the ideology that became the foundation and now serves as the justification for Russia’s war against Ukraine.  For this, that leader received and accepted an award from the Kremlin dictator, and the Russian leadership is now employing all its resources to prevent the liberation of the Ukrainian shrine from Moscow’s spiritual occupation…. We will use all our authority and all our resources to protect you from intimidation by the current head of the Lavra.

    Epifany asserts that under him, the new abbot of the monastery will be one of its brothers who possesses appropriate abilities and has not tarnished himself by devotion to the Russian World.  He gives assurance that the brothers can retain their traditions and continue the use of the ancient Slavic language.  The brothers have previously expressed their support for the UOC, but no one really knows what each monk feels in his heart-of-hearts.  Metropolitan Pavel has been a very controversial figure, at least in the Ukrainian media.  Among the UOC metropolitans, he is one of those who has been closest to Moscow. 

    Later on the same day, March 18, the DECR of the UOC issued a “commentary” on the address by Metropolitan Epifany.  The full text in English can be read at https://vzcz.church.ua/2023/03/18/commentary-of-the-decr-of-the-uoc-concerning-the-address-of-the-primate-of-the-ocu-to-the-monks-of-the-kyiv-pechersk-lavra/?lang=en .  The commentary points out that the monks in January expressed their support for the UOC and its primate, Metropolitan Onufry.  It asserts that there was not and is not the “power of the Moscow Patriarchate” at the Lavra.  The commentary also discusses other points made by Epifany, but does mention the person of the current abbot.  It makes the following interesting observation:

    The eviction of the monks from the Lavra provokes the Russians to further “protect the Orthodox,” giving them more and more arguments to justify their aggression against Ukraine, as the press secretary of the Russian president Dmitry Peskov recently stated.  He made it clear that “eviction of the monks from the Lavra justifies the goals of the special operation.”  Therefore, when Epifany declares that “the enemy is using this historical event to split Ukrainian unity and sow misunderstandings between us,” the question arises, who is actually giving the enemy reasons for this by such decisions and actions?

    On March 18, Metropolitan Pavel stated in a video (110,000 views): “ We will not be evicted from the Lavra.”  https://spzh.news/en/news/72443-abbot-we-will-not-be-evicted-from-the-lavra-and-no-one-will-force-us  Instructions have been distributed to the monks as to how to respond to a forceful eviction.  https://risu.ua/u-lavri-instuktuyut-chenciv-yak-povoditi-sebe-na-vipadok-primusovogo-viselennya_n137637  On the other hand, representatives of the government have stated that force will not be used.  In my opinion, it would be a complete public relations disaster for Zelensky if news programs throughout the world showed videos of monks being dragged from the Lavra by police.

    On March 17, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) released a statement relating to the Lavra.  https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/wcc-concerned-over-dormition-kiev-caves-lavra-plans-to-convene-roundtable-for-peace  The statement reads in part: “It is unfortunate that such actions – including with regard to the UOC’s monastic community of the ancient Dormition Kiev Caves Lavra – appear to target the church itself.  The actions being taken against the UOC do appear to raise genuine questions with regard to respect for freedom of religion or belief.”  The General Secretary expresses the intention of the WCC to convene a roundtable of church leaders “to encourage dialogue for peace, including among its member churches and ecumenical partners in Russia, Ukraine and around the world.”

    On a completely different subject, it has been announced that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will travel to Lithuania and will meet with Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė on Tuesday, March 21.  https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1940850/constantinople-patriarch-to-visit-lithuania-next-week  A very interesting article on the background of this visit can be read at  https://lithuaniatribune.com/lithuanian-authorities-and-the-ecumenical-patriarch-another-example-of-a-joint-response-to-the-war-in-ukraine/   From the article, it appears that only a part of the visit relates to the five Lithuanian priests who were defrocked by the Moscow Patriarchate, who appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch, and who were then reinstated and brought under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.   A more important part relates to the pastoral care of 40,000 Ukrainian refugees in Lithuania.  Many are Orthodox and do not wish to attend services of the Moscow Patriarchate in Lithuania.  It appears that an agreement between Lithuania and the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be signed.  It will provide for the use by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the church of St. Nicholas in the former Lukiškės prison, now a cultural center and concert venue.  The Ecumenical Patriarchate will also be provided a location in Vilnius for an administration office.  Interestingly, Metropolitan Innokenty of Lithuania (Moscow Patriarchate) has not objected to the visit but has in fact welcomed the Ecumenical Patriarch to come to the Holy Spirit Monastery to venerate the holy martyrs of Vilnius. https://www.orthodoxy.lt/novosti/4165-regarding-the-stay-of-his-holiness-patriarch-bartholomew-i-of-constantinople-in-lithuania  According to Metropolitan Innokenty, his "welcome is a sign of honor and reverence for the elevated rank of the Head of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Orthodox faith of the members of His delegation.”

    Metropolitan Innokenty has also made a statement that “the process of gaining greater independence by the Lithuanian Orthodox Church is developing positively and consistently, in accordance with church canons.”  https://www.orthodoxy.lt/novosti/4154-mitropolit-innokentii-my-chestny-i-otkryty-kak-pered-bogom-i-ego-cerkovyu-tak-i-pered-litovskim-gosudarstvom  Referring to the decision of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate (session of March 16, 2023; Journal Entry 2), the Metropolitan stated that “another step has been overcome on the way to our common goal” of becoming a “Self-Governing Church” of the Moscow Patriarchate.  At its March session, the Holy Synod decided that the appeal of the Lithuanian Church would be considered by the next Bishops’ Council which in turn would decide whether the appeal should be considered by the next Local Council.  The fact of the matter is that the next Bishops’ Council will probably not be held until after the end of the war in Ukraine and the next Local Council will probably not be held until it is necessary to elect a new patriarch.  Prior to 2013, a Bishops’ Council had the authority to grant “self-governing” status.  During this earlier period, the Orthodox Churches of Latvia and Estonia had obtained their “self-governing” status.  However, in 2013 the statute of the Russian Orthodox Church was amended so that only a Local Council could grant this status.  This greatly raised the bar to be surmounted and made it extremely difficult for a church to receive greater independence from Moscow.   Metropolitan Innokenty in giving his optimistic report did not mention this harsh reality.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 16 March 2023: Moscow Synod, the Kyiv Lavra & other news

    On March 16, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate held its first meeting of the year.  The minutes of the meeting can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6010341.html .  In Journal Entry 2, the Synod considered the appeal of the Latvian Orthodox Church for greater independence.  With respect to this appeal, the Synod stated:  “According to the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church, decisions relating to the granting of autocephaly, autonomy or self-government to parts of the Russian Orthodox Church fall within the competence of the Local Council (Article 1 of Chapter II; paragraph b of Article 5 of Chapter II). The Council of Bishops is responsible for the preparation of the Local Council (Article 4 of Chapter II), whose duties include, among other things, making proposals on the agenda of the Local Council (paragraph m of Article 5 of Chapter III).”  The Synod then resolved that the appeal from Latvia will be considered by the Bishops’ Council.  The next Bishops’ Council has been repeatedly postponed with the last Synod resolution simply stating that it will be held in “due time” due to the current international situation.  https://mospat.ru/ru/news/89905/   The Synod has scheduled a “Bishops’ Conference” for July 19, 2023, but this is not a Bishops’ Council.  It should also be noted that the holding of a Local Council is an extraordinary event.  The last Local Council was held in 2009 and was convened to elect a new patriarch.  In Journal Entry  3, the Holy Synod considered the appeal from Metropolitan Innokenty for greater independence for the Lithuanian Church.  As in the case for Latvia, the Synod referred to the Statute provision that a change in status can only be granted by a Local Council.  The appeal was therefore referred to the next Bishops’ Council.  All of this means that the likelihood of the Latvian and Lithuanian Churches receiving greater autonomy in the near future approaches zero.

    In Journal Entry 14, the Holy Synod considered the commemoration of Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the OCU, by the newly elected Archbishop Georgios, primate of Cyprus.  The Synod decided that it was impossible to commemorate Georgios “in the diptychs, prayerful and Eucharistic communion with him, as well as with those hierarchs of the Cypriot Orthodox Church who have entered or will enter into church communion with schismatics.” 

    On March 16, Patriarch Kirill issued an appeal “over the situation around the Kiev Lavra of the Caves.”  https://mospat.ru/en/news/90125/ (official English translation).  The appeal includes the following:

    The ultimatum presented by the state authorities to the Kiev Lavra of the Caves constitutes a monstrous deed comparable with the persecutions against the faith at the times of atheism.  As they did at that time, the authorities openly ignore law, not to mention a minimal respect for the rights of fellow citizens.  The work of a certain commission for searching violations in the monastery’s accounting were non-transparent.  Its repressive aim is the full banishment of monks from the Lavra.  This aim was not concealed by public officials and representatives of other religious organizations in Ukraine influenced by the secular authorities.  It is regrettable that while the Ukrainian state leaders declare their commitment to democratic norms, the European way of development and respect for human rights and freedoms, these rights and freedoms are trampled upon today in the most glaring way.

    Unlike the Patriarch’s letter of March 11 (http://www.patriarchia.ru/en/db/text/6010382.html), the appeal says nothing about the Ukrainian authorities demanding that the community of the Lavra leave the territory of the Larva by March 29.  As I stated in my last report, the letter from the Lavra Reserve did in fact give notice to terminate the existing lease on March 29, but it did not constitute a notice of eviction.  In my opinion, a termination of the lease by the state is not necessarily improper.  A copy of the existing lease was obtained by the website Lb.ua.  https://lb.ua/society/2018/12/06/414308_lbua_poluchil_tekst_dogovora.html  The lease provides for the “free use” of state-owned property, but is completely silent as to the time period in which the lease in effect.  The UOC may contend that this silence means that the UOC has a right to use the property without any rent until the end of time.  However, it is inconceivable that a court would ever hold that an absence of an expiration date in a lease means that the lease runs for eternity.  The lease was signed in 2013 and has been in effect for ten years.  It is therefore not unreasonable, in my opinion, that a new legal document be negotiated.  This new document may specify a definite term, may provide for the payment of some rent, and may require the specific authorization by the state for any new buildings or modifications on this UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

    Although there has been no official announcements, there are indications that some confidential dialogue between the state and the UOC is occurring.  The Holy Synod of the UOC will be meeting on March 20 to discuss the Lavra situation.  https://strana.today/news/428210-v-upts-provedut-sinod-iz-za-prizyva-vlastej-pokinut-kievo-pecherskuju-lavru-do-29-marta.html  In the meantime, there have been many accusations from both sides.  An example of this is a posting by the UOC on March 16.  https://news.church.ua/2023/03/16/vlada-priznachila-upc-vorogami-analitichnij-material-zmi/#2023-03-16  With respect to the authorities, there is an important interview of Minister of Culture, Oleksandr Tkachenko, which can be watched at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_d8ba-VK7Q.  See also https://religionpravda.com.ua/?p=86609  There is also a very long interview of Viktor Yelensky, the new head of the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS).  Until December 1, DESS was a part of the Ministry of Culture, but it now reports directly to the Cabinet of Ministers.   The entire interview can be read at https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-ato/3681725-viktor-elenskij-golova-derzavnoi-sluzbi-z-etnopolitiki-ta-svobodi-sovisti.html .  In my opinion, if the state is using the lease termination to coerce the monks to change their affiliation to the OCU, it would be a gross violation of the freedom of religion.  The actual facts may be clearer by the time of the Synod meeting on March 20.

    In any event the UOC has stated that it will not leave the Lavra.  The state authorities have stated that force will not be used to evict the monks.  This means that the fight will probably end up in the courts.  Vadym Novinsky, the billionaire supporter of the UOC, has stated that if the Ukrainian courts do not provide relief, the matter will be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.  https://spzh.news/en/news/72392-novinsky-uoc-to-file-an-appeal-to-echr-on-the-lavra-and-will-surely-win-it  Apparently in response to the letter of Patriarch Kirill of March 11, Pope Francis referred to Lavra situation in his general audience on March 15.  He stated:  “And I think of the Orthodox nuns of the Kyiv Lavra: I ask the warring parties to respect religious places.  Consecrated nuns, people consecrated to prayer – be they of any denomination – are in support of God's people.”  https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/audiences/2023/documents/20230315-udienza-generale.html  (actual remarks in Italian)  The letter from Patriarch Kirill referred only to “monks.”  It remains a mystery how the word “nuns” ended up in the written remarks which the Pope read.

    There has been no recent action by the Ukrainian Rada on draft bill 8371.  This controversial bill provides in part: “Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed.”   The status of the bill can be seen at  https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/Card/41219 .  The bill was initially referred to the Rada Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy.  This committee in turn referred the bill to the scientific – expert department of the Rada for an opinion.  The resulting opinion of the department can be read at  https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/pubFile/1658255.  The most important conclusions of the department were that the language quoted above is ambiguous, does not satisfy the requirements of legal certainty, and needs definitions.  After receiving this report of the department, the Committee referred the matter to the plenary session of the Rada with the suggestion that the matter be referred back to the Committee after amendments are made.  https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/pubFile/1659324  The date for the next plenary meeting of the Rada has not yet been set.  https://www.rada.gov.ua/meeting/awt

    Lastly, President Stevo Pendarovski of North Macedonia met at the Phanar with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  At the meeting, the President expressed his gratitude to the Ecumenical Patriarch for the special role that he has played in overcoming the church dispute, and the President expressed his expectation that the tomos for the autocephaly of the Ohrid Archdiocese will soon be received.  https://religija.mk/pendarovski-na-sredba-so-vartolomej-go-ochekuvame-legitimniot-tomos-za-ohridskata-arhiepiskopija/  This meeting gives further support for the speculation that the Ecumenical Patriarch will grant the tomos later this year.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 12 March 2023: Eviction of the monks from the Kyiv Lower Lavra???

    On March 11, Patriarch Kirill sent a letter to Pope Francis, to the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches, and to other religious and world leaders.  This was reported by the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate.   http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6009356.html  The website stated in part: “As you know, on March 10 of this year, the leadership of the National Reserve "Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra" of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine informed the community of the Dormition Kiev-Pechersk Lavra of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church about the termination of the agreement on the use of temples and buildings of the monastery and the requirement to leave the territory of the monastery before 29 March.”  

    A photocopy of the entire letter from the National Reserve can be seen at https://lb.ua/society/2023/03/10/548511_monastir_upts_mp_viselyayut_iz.html .  An English translation is provided at https://orthochristian.com/151405.html and reads as follows: 

    The “Kiev Caves Lavra” National Reserve (hereinafter referred to as the Reserve) and the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra (male monastery) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (hereinafter referred to as the monastery) signed agreement No. 2 of July 19, 2013 on the free use by a religious organization of religious buildings and other property that is state property (hereinafter referred to as the agreement).

    According to the decree of the president of Ukraine No. 820/2022 “On the decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine of December 1, 2022 ‘on certain aspects of the activities of religious organizations in Ukraine and the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions),” the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine of December 23, 2022 No. 1416 established an interdepartmental working group to prepare proposals and recommendations for organizing the implementation of certain tasks related to the activities of religious organizations in Ukraine, which, during its work, found that the monastery violated the terms of the contract for the use of state property.

    Taking into account the conclusions of the interdepartmental working group and the letter of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine dated 03.09.2023 No. 06/34/2234-23, on the basis of clause 8.1. of the agreement, the Reserve informs of the termination of the agreement starting 03.29.2023.

    In order to carry out the procedure of acceptance and transfer of state property, the monastery must take measures to release buildings and structures (property) that are state property and are on the balance sheet of the Reserve, at the address: Kiev, Lavrskaya St., 11, Kiev, Lavrskaya St., 15 by 03.29.2023.

    Please provide by 03.14.2023 a list of representatives from the monastery (full name) in the amount of two or three people for inclusion in the commission for the acceptance and transfer of state property, which will be formed by order of the management body of the state institution.

    As a retired attorney, it is my personal belief that the foregoing language constitutes a notice of termination of the existing lease but is not an eviction notice.  Thus, the statement on the Moscow Patriarchate’s website that the National Reserve informed the UOC Lavra of the requirement “to leave the territory of the monastery before 29 March” is not correct.  It appears that the source of the contention that the letter requires eviction comes from the website of the UOC Lavra.  https://lavra.ua/uk/zapovidnik-nadislav-kiyevo-pecherskij-lavri-chergovij-ultimatum/  The UOC Lavra's website stated:  “On March 10, 2023, knowledge was obtained about a letter from the management of the National Reserve ‘Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra’ to the address of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra with a demand to move out of the monastery by March 29.”   Again, I do not see in the letter “a demand to move out of the monastery by March 29.”

    In interpreting the letter, I found useful the Facebook entry of March 10 by the Minister of Culture, Oleksandr Tkachenko.  https://www.facebook.com/oleksandr.tkachenko.ua  The National Reserve is under his supervision.  In Facebook, Tkachenko states:  

    “The agreement for the use of the UOC Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra is terminated on March 29, 2023.  This applies to all premises rented by the UOC in Lavra.  Today, 10.03.2023, the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra National Reserve sent to the Holy Dormition Kyiv Pechersky Lavra (Men's Monastery) of the UOC a warning of the termination of the contract on the free use by the religious organization of the cult buildings and other property that is state property.”

    From this, it is important to note that the National Reserve letter applies to all of the premises used by the UOC in the Lavra.  This property includes not only the monastery itself, but also the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary with its hundreds of students and also the national administrative offices of the UOC.  It is difficult to believe that the letter is requiring the Academy (an important educational institution) with all of its students, faculty, books, files, and personal property to leave the Lavra grounds by March 29.  That would be absurd.  I therefore find it very difficult to believe that the letter from the National Reserve is actually requiring this.  Also the Facebook entry as well as the letter itself refers to the current “free use” of the property.  This may imply that it will be possible for the UOC to negotiate with the National Reserve a lease agreement providing for the payment of rent.

    On the evening of March 11, Minister of Culture Tkachenko provided more insights on the purpose of the letter from the National Reserve. https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-society/3681265-tkacenko-nazvav-umovi-za-akih-monahi-zmozut-zalisitis-u-kiivskij-lavri.html  The Ukrinform news agency reported this as follows: 

    According to the correspondent of Ukrinform, the Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, Oleksandr Tkachenko, said this on the air of the telethon.  "No one is saying that the life of the monks in the Lavra will end after the audit is completed.  But this is a reason for the monks to be able to decide how they can stay in the Lavra," he said.  The minister noted that the monks are aware of what options they have for continuing their life in the Lavra.  Tkachenko emphasized that no one will resort to violent actions if the monks refuse to fulfill the conditions and do not want to leave the territory of the Lavra, but the authorities will act within the limits of the law.  According to the head of the Ministry of Culture, the Lavra will remain a place of worship and religious ceremonies. "But at the same time, we must be convinced that the state controls the preservation of all values and renews and revitalizes the life of the Upper and Lower Lavras, which, unfortunately, has been neglected for many years," he emphasized.

    We must now wait and see what will actually happen.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 10 March 2023: Ukraine's fractured Orthodox churches & other news

    The Orthodox faithful in Ukraine are not only divided between the rival Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), but there also are serious divisions within each of these churches between the “doves” and the “hawks.”  As I previously reported, a group of clergy and laity from the UOC and the OCU met at Sophia National Sanctuary Complex in Kyiv on February 16 to discuss ways to improve relations between the two churches and to take steps leading to eventual unification.  In my opinion, these participants reflect the views of the “doves” of each church.  One of the participants from the UOC has now written a detailed account of the meeting with some very interesting observations.  His article is available in English and in Russian at https://publicorthodoxy.org/2023/03/09/on-the-way-to-a-unified-orthodox-church-in-ukraine/ (this website is blocked in Russia; if you are in Russia and wish to read the article, I can copy it and send it to you by email).  I found the article extremely interesting.  The following are a few of the author’s observations:

    The option to discuss the question of dialogue is limited by the absence of internal dialogue within the UOC, between clergy and laity on the one hand and the episcopate on the other, and also between the episcopate and the Primate.  The paradox of the situation is that different groups interpret the decisions of the UOC Council in May 2022 in a variety of ways (whether the UOC has already separated from the Russian Orthodox Church or not, whether this is the beginning of separation, or a diversionary maneuver to restore previous relations over time), and almost no one exactly knows what Metropolitan Onufry thinks about these decisions and what his vision for the future of the UOC is.   At the same time, he remains the only person in the UOC able to consolidate the majority of its faithful around a particular task (whether a proclamation of autocephaly or the need for an official dialogue with the OCU).

    The episcopate of both Churches is heterogeneous; I do not know exactly their fears of unification, but I know that for part of the OCU episcopate, it is a fear of being absorbed by the will of the larger UOC episcopate in the conciliar process.  The OCU seems to be more open to dialogue, and the Primate of the OCU has expressed his willingness to engage in dialogue without preconditions.  However, in my opinion, the internal level of unwillingness for unification in it is higher than in the UOC. 

    The case at the annual meeting of the Kyiv diocese, where one of the oldest clergymen, addressing Metropolitan Onufry, called for the proclamation of autocephaly, to seek recognition from the local Churches, and to proclaim Blessed Onufry as patriarch, is telling.  The overwhelming majority of the clergy in the hall met the proposal with thunderous applause and shouts of support.  Among the apolitical part of the UOC and the part for which it is important to preserve the canonical connection with Moscow (these are the followers of a peculiar ecclesiology that equates “proper canonical status” with “grace” and fear breaking with Moscow and non-recognition by the other local Churches, or those who believe in a special Russian messianism, that Russia is “the last outpost of Orthodoxy, resisting the morally decaying West”) most often see the OCU as “schismatics” and “renovationists”….

    From all of this, it appears that only a part of the OCU is interested in pursuing a unification council.  In contrast, there are those in the OCU who advocate calling the UOC a “Moscow church,” obtaining as many churches and monasteries of the UOC as possible, and supporting legislation against the interests of the UOC –- actions that make reconciliation between the two churches extremely difficult.  With respect to the UOC, there are divisions between those seeking reconciliation and unification, those seeking an autocephalous UOC without the OCU, and those wishing to maintain a canonical bond with Moscow.  The article ends:  “The overall background to the dialogue that the Churches have begun is extremely challenging.  However, many participants believe that “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Lk. 27, 18), and there are many people in both Churches who are depressed by this mutual hostility and division.”

    Pinchas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi of Moscow from 1993 – 2022, has written an article entitled, “I Was Moscow’s Chief Rabbi.  Russia Forced Me to Flee.”  https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/02/28/moscow-chief-rabbi-putin-fsb-religion-patriarch-kirill/  He describes the attempts of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) to intimidate Jewish organizations and the heads of religious organizations, including himself.  He also discusses the relationship between the Russian State and the Russian Orthodox Church.  Some of his observations are as follows:

    James Billington, the librarian of the U.S. Library of Congress and expert on the Russian Orthodox Church, wrote in the early 1990s that the Church had two options.  It could choose to become a vehicle of democratization as the Catholic and Protestant churches were in Western Europe, supporting their constituencies in their struggle for a better life; or it could side with the authoritarian strains of the government and reap the benefits coming with it, such as the building of magnificent churches all over the country.  Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Church in Putin’s Russia, chose the second option.  In a country devoid of ideology, the Church paired with the state to provide a new ideology for the regime’s anti-Western propaganda and, to some extent, replaced the Communist party in its creation of culture and values.  The Church’s mandate evolved to provide ideological backing for the regime’s lack of support for human rights, democracy, and free elections, directing it to attack the West’s support for gay rights and sexual permissiveness….And while the practice of KGB recruiting clergy did abate somewhat in the Yeltsin years, with the new FSB secret service—with the ascent of Putin the old tactics returned in full force, and the FSB once again started to hire clergy representatives from every religion, using threats, blackmail, and manipulation to control all religious groups.  It has not stopped at securing the subservience of the Russian Orthodox Church and infiltrating of the Jewish community.  The FSB has also made sure to plant its representatives within Muslim religious leadership….All religious leaders should remember one fundamental principle: Their main asset is the people, not the cathedrals.  And there is a heavy price to pay for a total merger with the state.  Once the state and the church become one, one of them emerges as dangerously, ominously, superfluous.

    When the FSB Public Relations Center was subsequently contacted by the Russian media concerning Goldschmidt’s claim, the Center replied that the press secretary of the Moscow Jewish community had announced that Goldschmidt’s contract had been completed and that he went to Israel to care for his ill father.  https://www.rbc.ru/politics/02/03/2023/640069ad9a794748e7435017  I made a Google search of the Russian Internet for the last month to find any references to this article.  Of the few references that I found, all mentioned the FSB contacts with the Jewish community, but I found none that mentioned the criticism in the article directed against the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill.

    On March 5, Archbishop Georgios celebrated the Sunday of Orthodoxy with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar.  It was the Archbishop’s first “peace visit” as the newly elected primate of the Church of Cyprus.  https://churchofcyprus.org.cy/85181  The full text of the remarks by Archbishop Georgios can be read at https://churchofcyprus.org.cy/85178  He praised the close relationship between the Churches of Cyprus and Constantinople through the centuries.  He also stated:  “In our opinion, the sad situation observed today within Orthodoxy is also due to this wrong perception of things.  Some felt mighty and self-sufficient.  And they wanted to tear apart the woven tunic of the Lord, erasing from the diptychs others, their brothers.”   The various remarks make clear that Georgios is in the “camp” of Constantinople and not Moscow.

    Also on March 5, Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the OCU, made a “peace visit” to Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria and celebrated the Divine Liturgy with the Patriarch in the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Annunciation in Alexandria.  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/u-nedilyu-torzhestva-pravoslav-ya-vidbulasya-spilna-liturgiya-predstoyateliv-oleksandrijskogo-patriarhatu-ta-ptsu/  The official English translation of the Patriarch’s address can be found at https://www.patriarchateofalexandria.com/homily-of-the-patriarch-of-alexandria-theodoros-ii-at-the-liturgical-concelebration-with-the-metropolitan-of-kiev-epiphanios/?lang=en  The Patriarch described the great contribution of the Patriarchate to the early church and also the important role played by the Patriarchate in the granting of autocephaly and the creating of a patriarchate for the Russian Church.  Patriarch Theodoros condemns in the strongest words the “punitive reprisals” taken by Moscow against Alexandria and the “blasphemous invasion” of Alexandria’s jurisdiction.  He also states: “No Synodal Decision of a Senior Church gives the right to another Church – and especially a chronologically younger one – to develop innovative ecclesiological-political ‘theories’ about spreading the Russian world around the globe based on nationality, completely unknown in Orthodox ecclesiology, which has already been condemned by the Synod of our Patriarchate.”

    As previously reported, the Romanian Patriarchate issued on February 13 a clarification that provides in part as follows: “After recognising the initial synodal tomos issued on June 5, 2022, by the Patriarchate of Serbia granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in the Republic of North Macedonia, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church expects the Ecumenical Patriarchate to initiate (consultations) and issue a final tomos of autocephaly to express a pan-Orthodox consensus on this topic of autocephaly recognition.”  https://basilica.ro/en/clarification-regarding-the-decision-of-the-holy-synod-of-the-romanian-patriarchate-to-recognise-the-autocephaly-of-the-church-in-north-macedonia/  A video has now been posted showing Romanian Patriarch Daniel commemorating “Stefan of Ohrid, Skopje, and North Macedonia” at a Liturgy on March 5 in the Patriarchal Cathedral.  https://orthochristian.com/151334.html   Thus, the Romanian Patriarchate appears now to be implementing its decision to recognize the Church in North Macedonia, at least in the diptychs, and does not feel a need to wait for a “final tomos” to be granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

    With respect to a possible tomos to be issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, two hierarchs of the Church of North Macedonia were at the Phanar on March 2 and 3 at the invitation of Patriarch Bartholomew.  The hierarchs were Metropolitan Timotej of Debar-Kichevo and Metropolitan Naum of Strumica.  The metropolitans had several meetings with the Ecumenical Patriarch and attended the reception for Archbishop Georgios.  http://religija.mk/vladicite-timotej-i-naum-bile-vo-fanar-na-pokana-od-vartolomej/https://orthodoxtimes.com/warm-reception-of-the-archbishop-of-cyprus-by-the-ecumenical-patriarch-in-the-phanar/  It is reported that Metropolitan Kyrillos of Imbros and Tenedos (two Turkish islands west of the Dardanelles and part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) also attended a meeting with the two hierarchs.   https://www.romfea.gr/epikairotita-xronika/55483-antiprosopeia-tis-arxiepiskopis-axridos-sto-fanari-anamenetai-tomos-aftokefalias  Metropolitan Kyrillos was in North Macedonia in the latter part of February and is reported to have said during a service that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will visit North Macedonia and Archbishop Stefan this year and will personally hand him the tomos of autocephaly for the Church in North Macedonia.  https://novamakedonija.com.mk/makedonija/politika/vselenskiot-patrijarh-vartolomej-godinava-lichno-kje-go-donese-tomosot-za-avtokefalnosta-na-mpc-oa-2/   However, it has now been confirmed that this statement was not made by Kyrillos, but rather by Metropolitan Timotej who expressed the hope that this would happen.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/patriarch-bartholomew-will-not-visit-skopje-what-do-sources-from-bigorski-monastery-say-to-orthodoxtimes/ 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 4 March 2023: Article by former Chief Rabbi of Moscow

    https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/02/28/moscow-chief-rabbi-putin-fsb-religion-patriarch-kirill/  This is a very interesting article by Pinchas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi of Moscow from 1993 – 2022.  It is largely based on his own experiences.  In my opinion, it is definitely worth reading. 

  • 28 February 2023: Decisions by Albanian and Bulgarian Orthodox Churches & other news

    The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Albania on February 24 issued a communique relating to the Orthodox church in North Macedonia.  https://orthodoxalbania.org/2020/en/2023/02/24/communique-the-holy-synod-orthodox-autocephalous-church-of-albania/  The official English translation is as follows:

    The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, during her session of February 23, 2023 under the presidency of His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios, reiterated that she gladly welcomes the decision of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, of last May 2022, that “She accepts into Eucharistic communion the Hierarchy, the clergy, and laity of the Church under Archbishop Stefan… She recognizes as the name of this Church “Ahridos” (meaning the area of her jurisdiction lies only within the boundaries of the territory of the state of North Macedonia)”.

    During the intervening period the Orthodox Church in Albania did not proceed with any public statements, awaiting the fulfillment of the required ecclesiastical procedures.  Fully agreeing that by the aforementioned decision, widely acceptable,  the wound of the existing schism is healed and that the peace and the unity of the entire pleroma are secured, She awaits the definite regulation of the status of autocephaly and the exact name of the new local Church granted properly by the Revered Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

    Significantly, the communique does not mention the “tomos” of autocephaly granted by the Serbian Patriarchate and clearly states that any grant of autocephaly must come from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

    Also on February 24, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Patriarchate “considered a letter received from Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria, in which he gave notice concerning the non-canonical actions of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’ in the canonical (geographical) territories of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, concerning the imposition of ecclesiastical punishment on Metropolitan Leonid Gorbachev of Klin ( Moscow Patriarchate) and his return to the ranks of monks, as well as to suspend for an indefinite period of time the commemoration of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’.”   https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news/reshenia-na-sv-sinod-na-bpts-bp-ot-zasedanieto-na-24-fevruar  The Bulgarian Holy Synod unanimously decided:  “The letter should be sent to the Canon Law Commission of the Holy Synod, which will investigate in detail the problem that has arisen on the territory of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, then meet with the Holy Synod in full composition.”  By an 8-3 vote, the Holy Synod also decided: “The clergy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church - Bulgarian Patriarchate is to refrain from divine services with Metropolitan Leonid Gorbachev of Klin until the final decision of the Holy Synod.”  The names of the Synod members voting for or against the latter decision are given in the announcement.  Of particular interest, Patriarch Neofit voted yes, and Metropolitan Gavriil of Lovech (a well-known friend of the Moscow Patriarchate) voted no.  A very recent RT interview of Metropolitan Leonid, with simultaneous English translation, can be viewed at https://odysee.com/@RT:fd/metropolitan_leonid_2502:2 .

    A good English translation of the appeal made at the meeting on February 16 by priests and lay persons from the UOC and from the OCU is now available.  https://publicorthodoxy.org/2023/02/23/st-sophia-oco-uoc-appeal/  The meeting was held at the National Sanctuary Complex Kyiv Sophia and was hosted by Viktor Yelensky, head of Ukraine’s State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), and by certain other organizations.   The purpose of the meeting was to create greater understanding between the UOC and the OCU.  Professor Sergii Bortnyk, who is a professor of theology at the Kyiv Theological Academy (UOC) and is a member of the DECR of the UOC, was a participant in the meeting.  He has given an interesting interview concerning the meeting.  https://www.dialogtut.org/na-zustrichi-v-sofiyi-ya-pobachyv-inshi-nastroyi-sergij-bortnyk-pro-dialog-upcz-ta-pczu/?fbclid=IwAR3jUffFElwzqdwiF3RfFQ-9aCaikDR8-DDQKpdu2sOOxuZOC4LbpTiVedQ  Some of his observations are as follows:

    I think that in the communication between representatives of our two Churches, it is important for both sides to understand that the opposite side is not a monolith.  That among "them" there are not only "hawks," but also quite constructively disposed and truly Christian motivated people.  I saw exactly such people from the OCU side at this meeting….I saw representatives of the OCU who were constructive.  At the same time, I had a completely positive impression of the prayer that preceded the communication -- it was a prayer of pious Christians.  For me personally, knowing and seeing with my own eyes that there are such believers in the OCU was psychologically important.  Speaking theologically, I saw the real action of grace among these people….

    I think we need spot actions that destroy common stereotypes.  By the way, when at the beginning of the meeting in Sofia those present briefly spoke about their wishes and expectations, several UOC priests made it quite clear: they are here to destroy myths, break stereotypes, etc…. Regarding the settlement of church conflicts, I think a fair parallel to the search for understanding between the UOC and the OCU is the reconciliation that took place in 2007 between the two branches of Russian Orthodoxy - the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad.  Let me remind you that they have been at enmity for decades, there were mutual accusations of collaboration with the enemy, statements about the ingratitude of the structures, etc.  This example is important to me because there was a reconciliation of jurisdictions without a merger of structures….

    In fact, I have already formulated my vision: gradual rapprochement and destruction of stereotypes.  Such a path, by the way, is laid out in the Address of the participants of the inter-church dialogue in Sophia of Kyiv, published on Monday, three days after the meeting itself.  On the one hand, a wish is formulated  — the unification of all Orthodox Ukrainians into one church structure.  But on the other hand, there is an awareness that "the path may not be easy, but it is our duty to start this movement."

    On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, the DECR of the UOC has issued a “commentary.”  The official English translation of the commentary can be read at https://vzcz.church.ua/2023/02/24/commentary-of-the-decr-of-the-uoc-on-the-occasion-of-the-anniversary-of-russias-full-scale-invasion-of-ukraine/?lang=en .  The commentary describes the immediate condemnation of the invasion by the primate of the UOC and the additional condemnations by the Holy Synod, individual bishops, clergy, and laity.  It points out that members of the UOC are engaged in fighting on the front lines, collecting humanitarian aid, and caring for the wounded as well as praying for Ukraine.  On the other hand, the commentary criticizes the current “rhetoric” of politicians and the mass media against the UOC and refers to the “capture” of its churches.  The commentary also states:

    That is why today, more than ever, it is important for us to preserve the unity of the Ukrainian people through supporting inter-confessional peace in Ukraine.  The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is open to dialogue with the state authorities, condemns any attempts to incite enmity on religious grounds, as well as facts of collaboration with the enemies.  It is a pity, but one should recognize that certain members of our Church have committed such violations.  We believe that such cases should be thoroughly investigated and treated impartially in the courts.  At the same time, we emphasize that in a legal democratic state, which Ukraine aspires to be, it is unacceptable to baselessly accuse millions of faithful of our Church of collaborationism or treason.

    Interestingly, the above quotation refers to “dialogue with the state authorities” to support inter-confessional peace, but fails to mention the possibility of dialogue with other churches such as the OCU or the UGCC for the purpose of promoting inter-confessional peace.  The general refusal of the UOC to meet with the OCU or the UGCC (except for meetings of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches) is one of the reasons why the meeting of priests and others on February 16 at the Sophia represents a ray of hope.

    On February 25, Father Georgy Kovalenko gave a long interview which expressed his perspective on the present state of the UOC.  https://gazeta.ua/articles/life/_moskovskij-patriarhat-stvoryuvali-za-nakazom-stalina--georgij-kovalenko-pro-stan-rpc-v-ukrayini-pislya-roku-vijni/1134341  Father Georgy has been the rector of the Open Orthodox University of Saint Sophia-Wisdom in Kyiv since 2016 and is now a member of the OCU.  From 2008 to 2014, he was the press secretary for the primate of the UOC, Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan), and was the official spokesperson of the UOC.  Father Georgy also had a major role in the February 16 meeting at the Sophia.  In view of his role in trying to improve relations between the OCU and the UOC, I was surprised how negatively he assessed the UOC.  One of his factual statements which I found interesting is the following:

    Even in Kyiv, there are priests who continue to commemorate the Russian patriarch and promote the narrative of the "Russian world."  The clergy of this church speak about it.  Perhaps this is a minority among believers.  Among the clergy - not the majority, but the percentage is noticeable.  But I have doubts that the overwhelming majority of bishops support Ukraine.

    On February 23, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch elected Metropolitan Saba as the new Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.  https://antiochian.org/dashboard?name=MetSaba  Metropolitan Saba has been the head of the diocese of Bosra, Hauran and Jabal Al-Arab (located in the most southern part of Syria) since 1999.  He speaks fluent English.  He was chosen from a list of three candidates nominated at a special convention of the Archdiocese of North America, held in Dallas in January.  https://orthochristian.com/150491.html  Aside from Metropolitan Saba, the list included two American bishops.  Perhaps in selecting Metropolitan Saba, the Holy Synod was motivated, at least in part, by a desire to assure that the head of this very important Archdiocese has very strong roots in the mother church in Syria.

    Lastly, the Vatican announced on February 27 that Pope Francis will visit Budapest, April 28-30.  https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2023/02/27/0168/00364.html 

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 21 February 2023: Ecumenical Patriarchate in Lithuania & other news

    The confrontations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate which have so influenced the Orthodox world in recent decades have now spread to a new country – Lithuania.   On February 17, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a “Communique on the Petition of Appeal by Clergymen from Lithuania.”  https://ec-patr.org/communique-on-the-petition-of-appeal-by-clergymen-from-lithuania/ (official English translation)   The communique reports the decision on appeals by five Orthodox priests from Lithuania who had been removed from the priesthood by a final decision of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’.  The communique contains the following three important paragraphs:

    Our Patriarch, who exclusively bears the responsibility of receiving appeals, in accordance with the Holy and Sacred Canons (namely, Canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council) and the sanctified practice of the Church, received these submitted petitions.

    Following thorough study of the relevant circumstances, it was ascertained on the one hand that these cases were made final before the ecclesiastical authority that imposed these penalties, and on the other hand that the reasons for which the penalties were imposed do not at all derive from ecclesiastical criteria, but from the justified opposition of these clergymen to the war in Ukraine.  Wherefore, irrevocably adjudicating these petitions of appeal, His All-Holiness recommended to the Holy and Sacred Synod that the imposed deposition from the priesthood be lifted and that they be restored to their former ecclesiastical rank of priesthood, which was unanimously decided.

    Moreover, after the above-mentioned restoration, upon their request, the Ecumenical Patriarch received these clergymen under His venerable omophorion, taking into consideration the long-established right of the Ecumenical Throne, as it is also indicatively reported in the interpretation by Theodore Balsamon of Antioch to Canons 17 and 18 of the Council in Trullo and Canon 10 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (namely: “From this canon, note explicitly that only the Patriarch of Constantinople is allowed to receive foreign clergy, even without a letter of release from their ordaining hierarch”).

    Some idea of the facts giving rise to these removals from the priesthood may be ascertained from the official website of the Orthodox Metropolis of Vilnius and Lithuania (https://www.orthodoxy.lt/) and from the websites of Gintaras Sungaila, one of the priests involved (http://ortodoksas.lt/;  https://www.facebook.com/gintaras.sungaila/ ).  On March 17, 2022, Metropolitan  Innokenty of Vilnius and Lithuania (Moscow Patriarchate) had issued a statement that “we strongly condemn Russia's war against Ukraine” and that the views of Patriarch Kirill are “his personal opinion” with which “we in Lithuania do not agree.”  https://www.orthodoxy.lt/novosti/3615-obrashenie-mitropolita-vilenskogo-i-litovskogo-innokentiya  On April 18, Metropolitan Innokenty issued another statement which denied the assertion that his priests actually support the war.  The Metropolitan also stated that a group of priests has “plans to move to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.”   https://www.orthodoxy.lt/novosti/3639-zayavlenie-mitropolita-vilenskogo-i-litovskogo-innokentiya  The next day seven clergy members published a rebuttal.  It included the following:  “It is very sad, but we have real material evidence to the contrary - there are those among the Lithuanian clergy who justify this aggression.  We do not plan to create a new Church - we want to move from subordination to one Orthodox bishop to another Orthodox bishop so that believers and we do not feel a conflict of conscience.”  Thus, this small group appears to contend that in spite of the official pronouncements condemning the Russian invasion, the opinions in many of the parishes favor Russia.  Last month, one of the priests removed from the priesthood, Vitalis Dauparas, gave an interview.  https://www.15min.lt/gyvenimas/naujiena/pokalbiai/pavezeju-tapes-kunigas-v-dauparas-skelbimai-apie-mus-buvo-iskabinti-ant-visu-baznyciu-duru-1040-1996674?fbclid=IwAR1RgRyxCxjNPKiUcHXxEJ_okUnLoz2BuhCNa-B_jU58rcThrGWRAbPjmhY  He made the following observation:  “And the way of thinking, both among the majority of the clergy (it's true, not all) and among a large part of the community, is very similar to that of Moscow.  A conflict of conscience prevents me from participating in such services, as I would feel like betraying what I believe in.”  Dauparas denied the allegation that the priests had been planning to go to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for a long time and only used the war as an excuse.

    The Church Court of the Vilnius-Lithuania Metropolis found the five priests guilty of certain canonical offenses, and on June 23 and 29, Metropolitan Innokenty decreed that the five be deprived of their priesthood.  https://orthodoxy.lt/novosti/3790-za-tyazhkie-kanonicheskie-prestupleniya-chetvero-klirikov-pravoslavnoi-cerkvi-v-litve-izvergnuty-iz-svyashennogo-sana-presvitera   It appears that the priests did not appear in the court proceedings. The next day, June 30, Patriarch Kirill approved and finalized the decision to defrock the five priests.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5947775.html  The church court had stated that it had considered the case “exclusively in the plane of ecclesiastical canon law, without touching on issues of politics and attitudes towards current international events.”  Apparently, the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not consider this statement to be true as it found the actions had in fact been taken against the priests because of their “justified opposition” to the war in Ukraine.  The specific grounds used by the Moscow Patriarchate for its decision are the following: “violation of the priestly oath and perjury (canon 25 of the Holy Apostles), disobedience to the ruling bishop and conducting public activities without the blessing of his bishop (canon 39 of the Holy Apostles), conspiracy against his bishop and fellow clergymen, as well as the destruction of the church peace (canon 18 of the IV Ecumenical Council and canon 34 of the V-VI Council of Trullo), schismatic activities, the intention and organization of a transfer to another church jurisdiction without the blessing of their bishop (canon 16 of the First Ecumenical Council), as well as the participation of clergy in a campaign to discredit the Church and its bishops (canon 55 of the Holy Apostles), as well as fellow clergymen.”

    Immediately after the announcement by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on February 17, the Vilnius-Lithuania Metropolis issued a communique that it does not accept the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s decision with respect to the five priests.  https://orthodoxy.lt/novosti/4106-kommentarii-kancelyarii-litovskoi-pravoslavnoi-arkhiepiskopii-otnositelno-opublikovannoi-na-saite-konstantinopolskogo-patriarkhata-informacii-o-vosstanovlenii-izvergnutykh-iz-svyashennogo-sana-klirikov-litovskoi-pravoslavnoi-cerkvi-v-svyashennom-sanehttps://orthochristian.com/151109.html  The communique states that defrocking is “a mystical act” which cannot be reversed.  It also states that the decision by Patriarch Bartholomew must be based on information that is “neither complete, nor reliable, nor objective” because “the attitude of the former priests to the war in Ukraine is no different from the position of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church.”  The communique then lists the various announcements and appeals by the Metropolis condemning the aggression and war.  Bishop Ambrose, vicar bishop of the Metropolis, also gave a news conference explaining the position of the Metropolis on the decision from Constantinople.  https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/lietuvoje/2/1917859/ambrosijus-del-lietuvos-kunigu-baltramiejus-buvo-klaidingai-informuotas  On the other hand, Mantas Adomėnas, the deputy foreign minister of Lithuania, has stated:  “I congratulate the Orthodox priest brothers who won this extraordinary victory thanks to their humble and unwavering faith in what is right.”  https://m.kauno.diena.lt/naujienos/lietuva/politika/urm-viceministras-sveikina-i-luoma-grazintus-staciatikiu-kunigus-su-nepaprasta-pergale-1114448  On  February 19, the “Initiative Group of Orthodox Laity” issued an appeal to the people of Lithuania.  https://www.facebook.com/mind.misiunas  The group “supports our respected priests and contributes in other ways so that parishes of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will take root in Lithuania by the grace of the Lord.”

    The Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in Lithuania is small.  Although the 2021 census shows that there are 105,326 Orthodox in Lithuania, Metropolitan Innokenty states that the total number of active parishioners in Lithuania is just over 3,000.  https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1647975/lithuanian-orthodox-church-condemns-russia-s-war-on-ukraine  In Lithuania, there are now one metropolitan, one vicar bishop, 49 Orthodox priests, and 6 deacons.  There are one male monastery (Holy Spirit), one female monastery (Mary Magdalene), and no seminary.   At the present time, the Metropolis is simply a diocese, like any diocese in Russia, and has no special status such as Latvia and Estonia which are “self-governing churches” under Chapter XII of the charter of the Moscow Patriarchate (http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/133132.html).   On May 27, 2022, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate considered the request by Metropolitan Innokenty to change the status of the Metropolis to a self-governing church.  The Synod established a commission to study the matter.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5930293.html (Journal No. 36).  At the Synod’s meeting on August 25, 2022, the Synod received an interim report from the commission and directed the commission to continue its work.   http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5952955.html (Journal No. 75)  On December 17, 2022, an assembly of the Metropolis consisting of representatives, clergy and lay, from all the parishes sent an appeal to the Synod expressing support for the granting of self-governing status.  https://www.orthodoxy.lt/novosti/4023-litovskaya-pravoslavnaya-cerkov-osuzhdaem-voinu-i-schitaem-neobkhodimym-uskorit-process-obreteniya-statusa-samoupravlyaemoi-cerkvi  A decision has not yet been made by the Moscow Synod.

    The Lithuanian government has taken an active interest in the situation involving the five priests.  In May 2022, the Lithuanian Prime Minister acknowledged that she had written a letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch in which she stated that the government is ready to restore the activities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Lithuania.  https://cne.news/artikel/1211-lithuanian-prime-minister-orthodox-church-lithuania-should-secede-from-moscow-patriarchate  Mantas Adomėnas, the deputy foreign minister of Lithuania, personally met with the Ecumenical Patriarch on September 19, 2022.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/the-ecumenical-patriarch-met-with-the-lithuanian-vice-minister-of-foreign-affairs/  

    It now appears likely that there will be a few parishes of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Lithuania in the future.  The priests who are now under the Ecumenical Patriarchate seem to acknowledge that the majority of the priests and laity of the Metropolis do not share their views and do not object to the Moscow connection.  Thus, a relatively small percentage of the 3,000 active parishioners in Lithuania may join the five priests.  One factor which may change this is the recent influx of Ukrainian refugees in Lithuania.  At the invitation of the priests, Father Georgy Kovalenko of the OCU was in Lithuania to celebrate Christmas with Ukrainian refugees.  https://www.facebook.com/kovalenkogeorge  

    On February 14, the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church met, and the decisions of the Holy Synod were posted on the Church's website.  https://patriarchate.ge/news/3146  One of the decisions is as follows:

    4. The issue of the Macedonian Orthodox Church was discussed at the synod session.  The chairman of the foreign department of the Patriarchate of Georgia, His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasim (Sharashenidze) of Zugdidi and Tsaishi made a report.  He introduced the members of the Synod to the letter written to us by the head of the Serbian Church, His Holiness Patriarch Porfirije (Peric), in which it is said that the schism has been healed and the Eucharistic connection with the Orthodox Church of North Macedonia has been restored, and that the Patriarch of Serbia has given the tomos of autocephaly to the mentioned church.  The autocephaly of the Macedonian Church, in addition to the Serbian Church, was also recognized by the churches of Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  However, without recognizing the autocephaly, the following churches of Constantinople, Antioch, Hellas and Poland joined the Eucharistic union with it.
    The Holy Synod decided: the Church of Georgia should enter into a Eucharistic union with the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia, headed by His Beatitude Archbishop Stephen (Velianovski).

    From this, it is quite clear that the Church of Georgia enters into Eucharist communion with the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia but has refrained from recognizing the autocephaly of the North Macedonia Church, at least for now.

    On February 16, 2023, a meeting of priests from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) met to discuss dialogue and cooperation between the two churches.  https://dess.gov.ua/yak-khto-skazhe-ya-boha-liubliu-ta-nenavydyt-brata-svoho-toy-nepravdomovets/  A similar meeting had been held on July 5, 2022.  https://df.news/en/2022/07/06/we-will-overcome-everything-together-with-christ-ukrainian-orthodox-churches-start-informal-dialogue/  An online meeting was then held on January 20, 2023.  https://risu.ua/ruh-za-dialog-cerkov-duhovenstvo-i-miryani-upc-ta-pcu-proveli-drugu-zustrich_n136096   A video of some of the presentations at the February 16 meeting, including an address by Viktor Yelensky, head of Ukraine’s State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), can be watched at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kh0o-fnYXCM  A short English summary of his remarks is found at https://spzh.news/en/news/71956-yelensky-the-countrys-leadership-is-very-interested-in-uniting-ocu-and-uoc.  Father Andriy Pinchuk, a participant from the UOC, described those present at the February meeting as follows:  “Present clergy from different dioceses of the UOC and the OCU, the head and staff of the DESS, the representative of the department of external church relations of the UOC, public organizations that take care of the church problem, teachers of the Volyn Academy of the OCU, Kyiv Seminary and Academy of the UOC.”  https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001981718431  Some of these individuals may have been present simply as observers.

    On February 20, an appeal made by the participants in the February 16 meeting was posted.  https://dess.gov.ua/zvernennia-uchasnykiv-dialohu-upc-ta-pcu-v-sofii-kyivskiy-16-02-2023/  In my opinion the appeal is an important document that should be read in its entirety.  The appeal includes the following:

    We call without any preconditions to start a direct dialogue for the development of models that would make it possible to unite the UOC and the OCU into a single Local Church in the future.  For this purpose, we propose to create a joint working group, which will include bishops, professional theologians of local Orthodox Churches, to develop a step-by-step plan for unification.  We also expect the leadership of the UOC and OCU to publish a clearer position on inter-Orthodox dialogue.  We express the hope that the unification process will begin in the near future and will take on noticeable outlines already this year.   We are aware that the resolution of the inter-church conflict in Ukraine is impossible without the active mediation of representatives of world Orthodoxy, in particular the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in cooperation with which an international platform for dialogue should be created.

    Finally, President Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv for a few hours on February 20 after a ten-hour secret train trip from Poland.  During this time, he visited St. Michael’s Cathedral which included a brief meeting with Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the OCU, and a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial wall by the Cathedral for Ukrainian soldiers who died during the current war.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/us-president-biden-visited-st-michael-cathedral-in-kyiv-met-with-metropolitan-epiphaniy-photos/;  https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/photos-president-biden-visit-ukraine-rcna71494  

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 14 February 2023: Clarification by Romania on grant of autocephaly & Ukrainian news

    On February 13, the Romanian Patriarchate’s news agency, Basilica.ro, issued a clarification relating to the decision of its Holy Synod on February 9 “to approve the recognition of the autocephaly granted to the Church in the Republic of North Macedonia under the name of ‘Archdiocese of Ohrid and North Macedonia, with headquarters in Skopje’ by the Patriarchate of Serbia by its Synodal Tomos issued on June 5, 2022.”   The original decision by the Romanian Patriarchate is reported at https://basilica.ro/en/romanian-orthodox-churchs-holy-synod-meets-for-first-time-this-year-decisions/.  Its clarification is found at https://basilica.ro/en/clarification-regarding-the-decision-of-the-holy-synod-of-the-romanian-patriarchate-to-recognise-the-autocephaly-of-the-church-in-north-macedonia/.  The original statement by the news agency was very significant in that it assigned no special role to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the granting of autocephaly.  Earlier, the Moscow Patriarchate in recognizing the autocephaly of the church in North Macedonia had also not mentioned the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5952955.html  The clarification on February 13 by the Romanian Patriarchate now expressly acknowledges an important role played by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.   The clarification is as follows:

    On February 9, 2023, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church approved the recognition of the autocephaly granted to the Orthodox Church in the Republic of North Macedonia by the Patriarchate of Serbia through its synodal tomos issued on June 5, 2022.

    During the synodal session, the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of May 9, 2022, to restore canonical and Eucharistic communion with the Orthodox Church of the Republic of North Macedonia, led by Archbishop Stefan, was taken into account.  Furthermore, the Ecumenical Patriarchate entrusted the Church of Serbia with the regulation of administrative aspects concerning the organisation of the new Church in North Macedonia.

    Another topic considered by the Romanian hierarchs was the issue of autocephaly and the means by which it is granted and recognised, which was analysed during several working meetings of the Inter-Orthodox Committee for the preparation of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church.

    The point of view of the Romanian Orthodox Church regarding autocephaly, which was also presented at the Meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the Holy and Great Council in Chambesy (2011), is as follows:

    “The Holy Synod of the mother Church is the canonical authority that can grant autocephaly to a daughter Church through a synodal tomos signed by the Primate of the mother Church together with all the bishops of that Holy Synod. The recognition of the new autocephaly belongs to the entire Orthodox Church, achieved through a tomos of recognition of autocephaly signed, without any distinction, by all the Primates of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, in the order of the Diptychs, within the Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches.”

    Given this information, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church respected the decisions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to receive into Eucharistic communion the hierarchs, clerics, monastics and believers pastored by Archbishop Stefan and to leave it to the Patriarchate of Serbia to regulate the administrative aspects between the two Churches.

    After recognising the initial synodal tomos issued on June 5, 2022, by the Patriarchate of Serbia granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in the Republic of North Macedonia, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church expects the Ecumenical Patriarchate to initiate (consultations) and issue a final tomos of autocephaly to express a pan-Orthodox consensus on this topic of autocephaly recognition.

    The clarification thus makes clear that the “synodal tomos” issued by the Serbian Patriarchate is only the first step and that the process of granting autocephaly will be concluded by a “final tomos” issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate based on a pan-Orthodox consensus.  The last sentence of the clarification appears to be more favorable to the Ecumenical Patriarchate than the Romanian statement at the Chambesy meeting in 2011 because the last sentence specifically provides that the “final tomos” expressing a consensus would be issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.   

    On February 7, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia made its decision with respect to the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia.  https://orthochristian.com/150985.htmlhttp://www.eparchiapo.sk/sk/dokumenty/aktuality/spravodajstvo/v-presove-zasadala-posvatna-synoda-pravoslavnej-cirkvi-v-ceskych-krajinach-a-na-slovensku  The decision was as follows:

    The Holy Synod took note of the letters of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the restoration of Eucharistic communion with the dioceses in North Macedonia, as well as the letters of the Serbian Patriarch Porfirije on the reintegration of the Church in North Macedonia into the canonical structure of the Serbian Orthodox Church and on the granting of the autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia by the Patriarchal and Synodal Tomos of May 20, 2022.  These canonical decisions of the sister Orthodox Churches were adopted with thanks to God for the elimination of the long-standing schism.

    This statement is cautiously worded.  It appears to give equal weight to the letters from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Serbian Patriarch Porfirije.  Unlike Moscow’s statement, it does not directly say that the Holy Synod recognizes the church in North Macedonia “as an autocephalous” church nor does it say that the name of the church’s primate is inscribed “in the sacred diptychs.”  Rather, the Holy Synod “took note” of the letters from Bartholomew and Porfirije and “adopted” the “canonical decisions of the sister Orthodox Churches.”

    In Ukraine, Archbishop Sylvester of Bilogorod, rector of the UOC’s Kyiv Theological Academy, has now given a third interview.  https://www.dialogtut.org/arhiyepyskop-sylvestr-stojchev-ya-viryu-v-peremogu-ukrayiny/?fbclid=IwAR3t-8lhs49xEmZ_eBykEizmpqfDjsp7glSdeqtqnijokFyTFDaylpLplvs  His first two interviews were discussed in my last report.  In the third interview, the Archbishop acknowledges that there were “shameful cases” of collaborationism by members of the UOC.  He states:

    And these are shameful cases.  But these are cases, not a systemic phenomenon.  However, they are presented in the mass media according to a simple principle: "If there is one traitor among them, then the others are the same."  But this simply contradicts logic, it is an outright manipulation.   The vast majority of our priests have been helping the Ukrainian army in every possible way since the first days of the war, going to the front line with humanitarian missions, supporting those who suffered during the hostilities.   And let's not forget that it was His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry who condemned the Russian invasion on the very first day of the war!  If I am not mistaken, he was the first religious leader of Ukraine to make a statement condemning Russian aggression.  If we return to the issue of collaborationism, I believe that the Church should openly recognize such cases.  At the same time, responsibility must be individual.  If the priest's guilt is proven, he must be held accountable according to the law.  But this guilt cannot be made collective and put on the whole Church.  This, by the way, is another of the basic principles of European justice.

    The Archbishop acknowledged that public opinion in Ukraine is now generally negative against the UOC.  He stated:

    Yes, public opinion is generally negative.  But how can it be otherwise, when a negative image of our Church is being strongly created?  Of course, there are some things to criticize us.  And there are shameful cases of the behavior of clergymen in the temporarily occupied territories.  But there are also thousands of completely opposite examples.  Have you often seen the news, say, on the leading TV channels, about how our priests took people out of shelling?  How did they distribute food, transfer vehicles and funds to the front, provide churches and church premises for the accommodation of refugees?  You don’t see?   And you won't see.  And you will be told about one priest-collaborator ten times a day on all channels.  And after that, what will be the attitude towards us?

    The entire candid interview is worth reading.

     

    Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

  • 12 February 2023: Romania recognizes N. Macedonian autocephaly & other news

    The Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church met on February 9, 2023.  The Press Office of the Romanian Patriarchate has issued an English-language communique summarizing the results of the meeting.  https://basilica.ro/en/romanian-orthodox-churchs-holy-synod-meets-for-first-time-this-year-decisions/  Among the resolutions made by the Holy Synod was the following:

    To approve the recognition of the autocephaly granted to the Church in the Republic of North Macedonia under the name of “Archdiocese of Ohrid and North Macedonia, with headquarters in Skopje” by the Patriarchate of Serbia by its Synodal Tomos issued on June 5, 2022.  Its Primate will be commemorated with the title “His Beatitude Archbishop Stefan of Ohrid, Skopje and North Macedonia”;

    This resolution is extremely important because it clearly indicates that the Romanian Patriarchate supports the position that an autocephalous church (in this case the Serbian Patriarchate) can grant a tomos of autocephaly to a church (in this case the church in North Macedonia) which was part of the church granting the tomos.  This is contrary to the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which maintains that only the Ecumenical Patriarch has the power to issue a tomos of autocephaly.  Whether the Ecumenical Patriarch has the exclusive right to grant a tomos of autocephaly is part of the larger issue of whether the Ecumenical Patriarch has greater powers than those held by a primate of a Local Orthodox Church.  The Moscow Patriarchate contends that the Ecumenical Patriarch is only first in honor among the primates and not in authority.  The issue of the greater authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch is at the heart of the great tensions that exist between Moscow and Constantinople in recent decades.

    The decision by the Romanian Patriarchate is particularly significant in that the Romanian Orthodox Church is one of the largest Local Orthodox Churches and is not closely identified with either the Moscow or Constantinople “camps.”  The Romanian Patriarchate is also not an “ally” of the Serbian Patriarchate, which granted the tomos.  As recently as 2019, the Serbian bishops had strongly attacked the Romanian Patriarchate because of the latter’s pastoral care of the Vlach population living within Serbia.  Rather, some may argue that as one of the largest Orthodox churches, Romania, like Moscow, is reluctant to acknowledge a superior authority in Constantinople.  On August 25, 2022, the Moscow Patriarchate became the first Local Orthodox Church to recognize the Serbian tomos and the resulting autocephaly.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5952955.html (journal entry 62).  On October 25, 2022, the Polish Orthodox Church issued a very cautious statement which stated: “The information from the Serbian Patriarch about the independence of the Orthodox Church in North Macedonia was read.  The Holy Council of Bishops joyfully took note of this information and confirmed the prayerful communion with the above-mentioned Church.”  https://www.orthodox.pl/komunikat-kancelarii-sw-soboru-biskupow-15/  In so doing, the Polish bishops avoided the use of the term autocephaly, which in Polish is “autokefalia.”   Rather, they used the general Polish word for becoming independent, “usamodzielnieniu.”  On December 13, 2022, the Bulgarian Patriarchate “accepted with spiritual joy the Tomos given by the Serbian Patriarchate to the Church in the Republic of North Macedonia” and added its primate Stefan to the diptychs of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.  https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news/reshenie-na-sv-sinod-vav-vrazka-s-dadenata-avtokefalia-na-pr   On the other hand, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece at its meeting on June 8-9, 2022, had expressed “its serious objections and reservations… for the possible granting of autocephaly by the Patriarchate of Serbia, given that the most venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate is the only one competent to grant autocephaly.”    https://www.romfea.gr/epikairotita-xronika/50545-apofaseis-tis-ieras-synodou-gia-ti-moe-aa 

    There have been a number of recent developments relating to Ukraine.  As I previously reported, the Prime Minister of Ukraine has introduced in the Ukrainian parliament  Draft Law 8371.  https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/Card/41219  It provides in part: “Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization (association), the governing center (control) of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed.”  The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) at its meeting on February 2 issued a statement that it “supports the need to introduce a legislative ban on subordination (affiliation) of religious organizations in Ukraine to religious associations in the aggressor country - the Russian Federation.”  https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/zayava-svyashhennogo-synodu/  After a general discussion, the statement focused on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and clearly implies that the UOC should be subject to the ban.  This can be seen in the final three sentences of its statement:

    However, as established by the religious examination, the religious association "UOC" actually remains a part of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Its leadership, in concert with the aggressor country, spreads slander against Ukraine regarding alleged "persecutions", while at the same time almost completely ignoring numerous and systematic real facts of violation of the right to freedom of conscience, as well as other human rights and freedoms, in the Ukrainian territories occupied by the Russian Federation. Taking into account all the above, the Holy Synod calls on the Ukrainian state to continue its work aimed at protecting national security in the religious sphere, and the international community to take an understanding and adequate approach to the measures taken by Ukraine in its resistance to Russian hybrid aggression.

    The first sentence quoted above refers to the February 1 decision of the “expert group” appointed by Ukraine’s State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience.  This decision was discussed in detail in my last report posted at http://ilsismografo.blogspot.com/2023/02/ucraina-government-panel-finds.html.  In simplified terms, the expert group concluded that the UOC following its council on May 27, 2022, was neither an “autocephalous” nor an “autonomous” church under Orthodox ecclesiology.   Therefore, it must be “a structural subdivision” of the Moscow Patriarchate.  However, the fallacy in this reasoning is that the facts since May 27 are totally inconsistent with the UOC being a “subdivision.”  The UOC has made decisions since May 27 which are totally inconsistent with the provisions in Chapter X (entitled “Ukrainian Orthodox Church”) found in the charter of the Moscow Patriarchate.  This includes the requirements that amendments to the charter of the UOC be approved by the patriarch (Article 3), that the patriarch be commemorated in “all churches” of the UOC (Article 6), and that the UOC “receives holy chrism from the Patriarch of Moscow” (Article 13).  Furthermore, the UOC has announced that it is now completely independent from the Moscow Patriarchate, and there is no evidence that the UOC has been following orders from Moscow since May 27.  Thus, the UOC does not fall neatly into any of the three boxes – autocephalous, autonomous, subdivision.  Rather, the actual facts show that the UOC has created a new and ingenious concept – a de facto independent church in transition to autocephaly.

    Archbishop Sylvester of Bilogorod, rector of the UOC’s Kyiv Theological Academy, has recently given two interviews with respect to the present status of the UOC.  At the end of the first interview, the Archbishop was directly asked: “What is the current status of the UOC?”  He responded that “this is a difficult question” and that it can only be resolved in the future “at the pan-Orthodox level.”  https://www.dialogtut.org/ukrayinske-czerkovne-pytannya-mozhe-buty-vyrishene-lyshe-na-vsepravoslavnomu-rivni/  He concluded:  “the UOC is a de facto independent Church, but the final registration of this status is still a matter for the future.”  In the second interview, the Archbishop stated that the UOC has the same degree of independence as an autocephalous church but has refrained from declaring its own autocephaly.  https://www.dialogtut.org/czerkovni-pytannya-vymagayut-spokijnogo-ta-vdumlyvogo-obgovorennya/   According to the Archbishop, the unilateral declaration of autocephaly would create “complications,” and the benefits arising from such a declaration would be “questionable.”  He also pointed out that “there is no universal mechanism for the creation of new autocephalous Churches recognized by all local Churches in the Orthodox world.”  He emphasized that the UOC is not in schism and that no Local Orthodox Church has severed communion with the UOC as a result of the May 27 council.

    The creation of this “de facto independent church” by the UOC was dictated by the present harsh realities.  Certain Local Orthodox Churches would probably now support autocephaly for the UOC.  However, it is almost certain that the Moscow Patriarchate would vigorously object to autocephaly for the UOC as it would violate Moscow’s view of a united church for historic Rus’.  The Ecumenical Patriarch would not consent because it has already recognized the OCU as the autocephalous church for Ukraine.  Thus, a pan-Orthodox consensus on the autocephaly of the UOC will not occur in the near future.  Also, it is almost certain that if the UOC unilaterally declared autocephaly, the Moscow Patriarchate would label the UOC as “schismatic.”  For conservative Orthodox, there is no Divine Grace in a schismatic church, which in turn jeopardizes the eternal salvation of the faithful of that church.  Therefore, the approach advocated by Archbishop Sylvester seems to be the wisest course of action at the present time.

    With respect to Draft Law 8371, this proposed law restricting the religious activity of a church can only be justified in a situation where the church poses a genuine security risk to Ukraine.  The justification cannot be determined by an academic discussion relating to the forms of churches under Orthodox ecclesiology, but only by the actual facts relating to the church.  The decision of the expert group did not discuss or demonstrate an actual security risk on the part of the UOC.  Thus, it would seem that the decision of the expert group does not constitute a proper basis for the decision of the Holy Synod to support Draft Law 8371.  The Holy Synod of the OCU had three options at its meeting on February 2.  It could have expressed reservations concerning the proposed legislative ban as did Major Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk, primate of the UGCC.  https://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2023/01/19/7385485/  It could have remained neutral.  However, it instead chose to support a proposed law aimed at the UOC.  Sergei Chapnin, former editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate and now a senior fellow at Fordham University, has commented on the decision of the OCU on his Facebook page.  https://www.facebook.com/chapnin  He stated:  “It is a pity that instead of being delicately silent, the OCU is also fully involved in the fight against the UOC.  It is quite possible that Metropolitan Epiphany and his synod really believes that the dividends in case of victory will be huge.  I'm afraid it's the other way around.  By doing so, they only make the wound of separation deeper and more painful.   And in the Christian world, the OCU will gain the reputation of the Church, which advocates religious freedom only in words, and in fact participates in the attempt to destroy the UOC.”

    The famous Orthodox theologian Elder Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas of Pergamon died on February 2 at the age of 92.  Among his many responsibilities, he was Co-Chairman of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches from 2005 to 2016.  In a letter of condolences, Patriarch Daniel of Romania referred to the deceased metropolitan as “an old friend of our Church and of ours, personally, and a tireless promoter of inter-Orthodox unity and communion and of the Orthodox values in the inter-Christian dialogue.”  The Patriarch also stated: “ We remember him as the erudite hierarch and an outstanding academic personality, professor of Dogmatic Theology, in particular, in the realm of ecclesiology and that of the theology of the person.”  https://basilica.ro/en/patriarch-of-romania-sends-condolences-after-repose-of-metropolitan-john-of-pergamon/ 

    On February 1, Patriarch Kirill celebrated the 14th anniversary of his enthronement as patriarch.  The Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior with many metropolitans of the Moscow Patriarchate.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6001536.html  The Moscow representatives of the Bulgarian Patriarchate and the Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia also participated.  In his address at the end of the Liturgy, Patriarch Kirill stated that in contrast to political changes, “the Church remains, as I always say, an island of freedom.”  He contrasted the present freedom of the Church to the past when “the Church was not only under the influence, but also had to carefully listen to what the state was saying.”   The Patriarch also thanked God that there are no divisions in the Church.  “There are different people among you - from the highest in position, from the most wise in life experience and education, to simple people - but we are all of one mind.”

    In connection with the enthronement anniversary, the official website of the Patriarch posted one letter of congratulations from a primate of a Local Orthodox Church.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6001192.html  The letter was from Metropolitan Sawa, primate of the Orthodox Church of Poland.  The letter included the following: 

    During your Patriarchal service, the Russian Orthodox Church shone with the labors of Your Holiness with spiritual revival, serving as an example for others.  The enemy of faith does not like church stability, he tries to destroy it.  What happened in Ukraine vividly testifies to this.  However, the Power of God is great, It is invincible.  We deeply believe that the evil that breaks the Divine church organism will be destroyed by the Conqueror of death and hell, Christ.  We pray about this to the Chief Shepherd our Savior.

    The foregoing remarks by Metropolitan Sawa were strongly criticized in the Polish media and elsewhere.   See https://wiadomosci.wp.pl/metropolita-sawa-niczym-przyjaciel-putina-szkoda-prawoslawia-opinia-6862225723026016a   Metropolitan Sawa has now taken the unusual step of issuing a long written apology.  https://www.orthodox.pl/komunikat-kancelarii-metropolity-47/   The Metropolitan affirms his prior condemnation of “the criminal invasion of independent Ukraine by the Russian Federation” and his “amazement and embarrassment at Patriarch Kirill's words about the war in Ukraine.”  He states in bold print, “we supported and continue to support the need for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine to become independent.”  He explains:  “my cable was sent only to meet the requirements of the protocol, without taking into account the difficult geo-political situation.  The perspective of the last few days and the interpretation by many of my intentions and words in a way contrary to my intentions shows that I was wrong and the situation required more caution.”  In closing, the Metropolitan asks for forgiveness.

    In other news, the UGCC has announced that in Ukraine it will switch to a new style for immovable holidays beginning September 1, 2023, while preserving the current Pascha.  https://risu.ua/ugkc-v-ukrayini-perehodit-na-novij-kalendar_n136496  In adopting the new style, the UGCC apparently did not decide whether the new style will be the Gregorian calendar or the “revised Julian calendar” used by the many of the Local Orthodox Churches.  However, this should not be an issue as the two calendars are the same until the year 2800!  A meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches was held at the Saint Bishoy Monastery, Egy