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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

For Holy Rus’!

20 February, 2007 - 00:00

A talk show on the Orthodox problem in Ukraine was recently aired on the First National television channel. No particular ways of solving the crisis of Orthodoxy were found, as always. On the Portal-2000 Web site Petro TOLOCHKO, member of Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences and director of its Institute of Archaeology, presented his views on the television show and ways to resolve the problem. A brief review of his ideas is offered to our readers below.

In Tolochko’s view, “many of the guests on the show, especially those who support the idea of establishing a single Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine, do not see how substantially different the three existing Ukrainian Orthodox churches are, and they don’t want to.” The scholar is referring to the infamous problem of canonicity. But he cannot be unaware that the history of world Orthodoxy demonstrates convincing examples of the lengthy “non-canonical” existence of some Orthodox churches, after which they finally became independent and joined the family of canonical churches.

Moreover, organized Christianity initially consisted of five Local Churches. Today their number has increased to 14 universally recognized ones. Some of them began their independent history with non-canonical status. Muscovite Orthodoxy is a classic example of such a church. In the 15th century Constantinople did not recognize its independence for 140 years. As for Ukrainian Orthodoxy, our main problem is not canonical recognition, as Academician Tolochko declares, but the split in Orthodoxy. This is a truism.

In his article Tolochko tries to explain to dull-witted readers what the most important issue is today: “...not the mechanical merger of the three Orthodox churches, but the return of two of them...to the bosom of the Mother-Church (read: the Moscow Patriarchate). As for the dissenters’ repentance, on which the representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC- MP) seem to be insisting, no special procedure is required, of course, since their return will be an “act of repentance.” Interestingly enough, no such declarations have been heard from Moscow or the Kyivan Cave Monastery. On whose behalf, then, is the academician luring Ukrainian bishops “to the bosom of the Mother- Church”? The famous priest Gapon comes to mind here.

Then Tolochko zeroes in on a very important issue and says: “The canonical ties of the UOC with the Moscow Patriarchate are...an insurmountable obstacle on the path to consolidating Ukrainian Orthodoxy.” That is the holy truth. But further on he refers to non-Orthodox churches in Ukraine, which also have their higher instances abroad (the Greek-Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, a number of Protestant congregations, and others). The scholar is astonished by the fact that nobody seems to object to this.

But the academician cannot be unaware of the difference between Ukraine’s relations with Vatican on the one hand and those with the Moscow Patriarchate, on the other. Have emissaries of the Vatican or some international Protestant union ever interfered in Ukrainian political affairs or “recruited” Ukrainian citizens? Have they put up posters defaming the people of Ukraine on the walls of foreign cities, or conducted religious processions in Ukraine, bearing anti-Ukrainian slogans? But Tolochko shouts woefully: “Only Moscow does not leave them in peace!” That is the crux of the issue — it truly doesn’t!

Then the academician declares that the “UOC is the most independent and sovereign church, which essentially is only in prayerful union with the Moscow Patriarchate.” But everybody knows how many church emissaries Moscow sends to Ukraine during critical moments of Ukrainian life to “reinforce” and “direct” its flock, to control it. Thus, it is either naive or “diplomatic,” to put it mildly, to speak about “independence and sovereignty.” Isn’t the author himself playing into the Moscow Patriarchate’s hands? Does he not serve it? Is he not dependent on it?

Also interesting is the fact that for a long time now Moscow and the Muscovite church have not been using clumsy euphemisms in the name of the UOC-MP. This can be verified simply by looking at the headlines of the Orthodox media, which are close to the Moscow Patriarchate. They openly call it “the Muscovite Church in Ukraine” (even though Tolochko considers this “incorrect and not completely true”). All this is happening because the UOC-MP has a weird and absolutely non-canonical status. It is neither autocephalous nor autonomous, but has “independence in its administration.” And Ukrainian Academician Tolochko talks about canons! To tell the truth, in one section of his article he admits that “a single Ukrainian Local Church is much better than today’s three” (Bravo!) But how can this be achieved?

Readers should note the sloppiness of Tolochko’s terminology, the way he juggles inter-church differences, comparing apples and oranges. In their arguments neither clergymen nor theologians would compare Orthodox structures with Catholic or Protestant ones, as he does. For example, it is strange to compare the Universal Patriarchate with the Vatican or with international Protestant structures.

Tolochko organizes his thoughts in the following way: “If one is consistent and links a country’s sovereignty with the sovereignty of its religious confessions, then one should ask how independent from the world’s sacred centers the Orthodox churches as well as all the other Ukrainian churches: Roman Catholic, Greek- Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish and others.” That’s an interesting idea, but even the Moscow Patriarchate has not come up with this idea yet.

Referring to other Christian confessions, Tolochko does not mention the main component of the Ukrainian-Russian Orthodox conflict, even though it is well known — the historical imperial impulse of the Russian Orthodox Church, which impels it to take an active part in building the Russian Empire (whatever name and form of government it may have). In discounting the most essential obstacle, the academician makes the following unsubstantiated remark: “If, by some miracle, we could unite Ukrainian Orthodoxy into a single Local Church, it would not become independent” but would join one of the universal patriarchates, for example the Constantinople one.” Why not the Antiochian one?.

What can I say? Phanar, of course, would be only too glad to have Ukrainian Orthodoxy in its orbit and not Moscow’s. But there are also intelligent enough people there to hope to include the Ukrainian Church in the Constantinople one.

Selecting his arguments all over the world, Tolochko consistently ignores the destructive political role of the UOC-MP in Ukraine. He completely forgets that it is not a small religious group but, without any exaggeration, the most numerous Local Orthodox Church in the world.

In conclusion Mr. Tolochko makes another piteous appeal: “Why can’t we follow the wise church commandment “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”? Why not, indeed? If the strategists of the Moscow Patriarchate observed that New Testament commandment, we wouldn’t be having this problem.

In general, Academician Tolochko did not say anything academic or new, and failed to present any argument that has not been made many times before by the champions of Muscovite Orthodoxy, the likes of Messrs. Kaurov and Frolov. Moreover, the scholar’s thesis clearly smells of frankincense. Why is that?

By Klara GUDZYK, The Day