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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Metropolitan Onufrii: what to expect

Ukrainian Orthodox Church is losing authority for two reasons. Firstly, it is not Ukrainian enough. Secondly, it is far from the ideal of the Church
18 August, 2014 - 18:37

In the second round of the new Kyiv Metropolitan election, the traditionalist conservatism of Metropolitan Onufrii won 48 votes while the creative conservatism of Metropolitan Antonii received 25 votes. The radical and adventurous projects of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church development, represented by the party of Metropolitans Simeon and Oleksandr, suffered a crushing defeat: 9 votes in the first round. Thus, tremendous efforts applied by some UOC bishops to discredit competitors produced the opposite result, which is an unprecedented case of a smear campaign failure. Not just the majority of the UOC bishops consolidated with the party of Metropolitans Onufrii and Antonii, but virtually all of them did. The greater the pressure became, the more bishops decided to vote for stability, which Metropolitan Onufrii personified for them.

A large part of the society was disappointed by the UOC choice. But it must be understood that the Moscow Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is similar in many things to China and it is irrational to expect radical changes from such an organization. Voting for Metropolitan Onufrii is not just an attempt to set reforms at a slower pace than the one demanded by life. It is a desire to see a church equivalent of Andropov leading Kyiv Metropolitans, who will bring everything to a relative order.

Today the UOC is losing authority for two main reasons. Firstly, it is not Ukrainian enough, and society demands Ukrainization. Secondly, the UOC is far from the ideal of the Church. It is far from people’s needs. It tries to play a role of a funeral service bureau instead of a Christian community of like-minded people. A bureau in which you have to pay for everything and cannot receive anything for free. Meanwhile, the very essence of Christianity is not in an endless row of prayers for money. It is rather pagan thinking that is reorienting towards the endless performance of rituals.

Metropolitan Onufrii sees this double crisis clearly: the lack of the Ukrainian element and deficiency of Christianity in the UOC MP life. How to Ukrainize the Church – Metropolitan Onufrii obviously does not have an answer to this challenge. So far, all his statements on the subject can be understood in this way: the UOC is diverse. But it has a right to such diversity if it reflects the diversity of the society itself. There is a big mistake in this. In reality, the Church is one step behind Ukrainization of the society, while it should have been at least one step ahead. It is hard to imagine our children studying Soviet history textbooks at school. But something similar is happening to the UOC MP. The very connection with Moscow, this rudiment of imperial and Soviet era, does not give the UOC MP freedom for full transformation. And while this connection lasts, Metropolitan Onufrii will not  dare to implement broad Ukrainization. And again, this primate is too conservative to cut the ties with Moscow. However, various historic miracles may happen: Patriarch Filaret used to be among the pillars of Sovietism once.

Though there is no hope for Ukrainization, we have another inspiring prospect. Metropolitan Onufrii tries to revive the Christian spirit of Orthodoxy in the UOC, bringing the Church to order, rooting out tendencies towards commercialization of religion, gradual lustration of the most odious entrepreneuring bishops, activizing of social service, youth movements, and volunteering. And if the Church becomes more Christian, it will be ready for Ukrainization too, because it is impossible to serve people and ignore their national consciousness completely. It is impossible to serve the society and neglect its new national patriotism.

Internal renewal of the UOC MP under Metropolitan Onufrii is possible, since the new Primate has indisputable authority among members of this Church. A lot of parishioners addressed him with requests for advice and prayers back when he was a bishop in Chernivtsi. His authority in the eyes of believers often rose to that level of trust which Saint John of Kronstadt once evoked. So, if such a leader undertakes the task of the UOC spiritual renewal, all believers will support him in these reforms.

It is especially important that Metropolitan Onufrii’s voice can be heard in eastern Ukraine. Of course, the majority of militants who have religious motivation (and there is about a third of them) are from Russia. But Metropolitan Onufrii’s voice proclaiming the needlessness and harmfulness of armed struggle actually has authority among them. It is hard to reach the consciousness of these people, who have been brainwashed more than members of totalitarian sects or Islamic terrorists. And it would be completely impossible for some progressive or pro-Ukrainian Kyiv Metropolitan to influence these fanatics at all. And Metropolitan Onufrii actually has a chance to be heard. Especially if he personally decides to repeatedly address Ukrainians and Russians who are in the east of our country with appeals to lay down arms. It should be said that such appeals have already been voiced at the beginning of March and on July 6, but terrorists have not heard them so far. However, there is hope that if the temporarily acting as head of the UOC was ignored, the Primate’s appeal will be heard.

The election of Metropolitan Onufrii will also have obvious negative consequences. The UOC KP will be trying to cash in on a historically advantageous opportunity. All spokespersons of the UOC KP are already waging an open information war on the UOC MP. The episcopacy of the UOC MP is labeled as pro-Russian forces, mouthpieces of the so-called “Russian World” and accomplices to terrorism. The speeches of the UOC MP leaders are distorted and presented as if having a meaning opposite to what has been said. On basis of such interpretations Svoboda MPs file complaints about the UOC MP in general, and Metropolitan Onufrii in particular, to the prosecutor’s office. The UOC KP has a simple plan: to use these waves of information campaign against the UOC MP to its advantage and deprive it of thousands of parishes, best with priests and bishops. However, these are just miscalculations, resembling Iryna Farion’s good intentions to Ukrainize everyone indiscriminately, which only played in Putin’s hands. One should remember that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that devil begins with froth on the lips of an angel, as Grigorii Pomerants said. On August 14 we saw the first fruits of such a campaign. For instance, in the village of Motovylivka, Kyiv oblast, the parishioners of the UOC KP, together with members of Liashko’s party, interrupted and stopped the liturgy (an incident unheard of since Tatar raids in the Middle Ages!), tore the priest’s chasuble off, beat him up and splashed with tomato juice demanding that he vacate the church within three days. Does this bring us anywhere nearer Europe, or conversely, just wipes out our prospects?

In a confrontation with the Kremlin one must not label a Ukrainian who is different in one or another aspect as an enemy and Putin’s accomplice. In the religious sphere this is particularly dangerous, for persistent indoctrination of division could bear fruit. Currently, all sociological surveys show a higher level of tolerance, often higher than in Europe. Destruction of this tolerance would mean something more than just pushing Ukraine into a religious war. It would also mean destruction of any chance for national reconciliation.

However, not all political forces in Ukraine are as radical as Svoboda. Likewise, not all of the churches are as radically patriotic as the UOC KP. And since we do not consider Poroshenko and Yatseniuk traitors only because they are not Tiahnybok and Farion, we must not consider Metropolitans Onufrii and Antonii Russia’s agents.

The more the UOC KP wages a discrediting campaign against the UOC MP, the less chances it leaves for peace in church. Meanwhile, unlike the deceased Metropolitan Volodymyr, his successor Onufrii could launch an offensive. Does Ukraine need anything of this? The answer is no.

That is why it is better to put up with the “Chinese reforms” within the UOC MP and develop some rules of coexistence. Let history, society, and the very spirit of our new national renaissance pressurize the UOC MP.

By Yurii CHORNOMORETS, Doctor of Philosophy