There are approximately 30,000 organizations in Ukraine that belong to various religions and denominations and which exercise freedom of religion that the Constitution of Ukraine guarantees them according to their holy books, teachings, and traditions. Among them are very small religious associations as well as immense ecclesiastical communities, such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches of the Kyiv and Moscow Patriarchates. Almost all these religious organizations have secular problems that more often than not are caused by the lack of premises and land, inter-church rivalry, rivalry among clergymen of the same church or different churches, etc. This cannot be helped. Humans are prone to make a “vanity fair” or even a “battle on ice” out of church life, too.
Fortunately, such problems rarely lead to excesses. Most religious figures are well educated, uphold their spiritual doctrines, and resolve their problems in a decent manner, without washing their dirty linen in public or tarnishing the ethical canons of their religions. If a certain problem requires the intervention of the lay authorities, people resort to diplomacy, persistence, reconciliation, reciprocal concessions, law abidance, and tolerance. A general level of culture is very helpful here. One should give Ukrainian churches their due: in most cases they behave this way, or at least they try to. A church (any church) should be a model of civic behavior. Take our large Protestant communities, for example. Although each of them has internal and external problems, they do not rush to put them on public display. The same applies to the Catholic Church of Ukraine and, with some exceptions, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. As for the so- called “new” religious communities, very little has been heard of them since the carnival-like story of the White Brotherhood, which projects a rather positive public image. (The Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to have quieted down too, although they have never done any harm.)
However, not all churches are capable of achieving their goals in a dignified manner. The reader must have guessed that this article is about some figures of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which does not seem to obey Ukraine’s national laws and is always laying claim, for some reason, to a special place in our society, in which case the law is not written in the literal sense of the word.
This especially applies to the so- called “Orthodox fraternities” whose proper place is in the dock, for the question today is not so much about, say, the ridiculous cult of Nicholas II as about regular and distinctly political actions that are undoubtedly directed against the Ukrainian state.
This was convincingly proved by the attempts of Valerii Kaurov, chairman of the Union of Ukraine’s Orthodox Citizens and the Undivided Fatherland civic organization, and his followers to foil an international Black Sea naval exercise. On July 18 Odesa policemen detained Kaurov after a Procession of the Cross in memory of Russian Emperor Nicholas II, with him at the head, deviated from the projected route and headed for the naval base, where the ships participating in Sea Breeze 2007 were berthed. This paralyzed traffic on several streets.
Another latter-day fad of the pro- Moscow “Orthodox” militants is to construct chapels, especially in Ukraine’s capital. Wherever you look, you can see spanking new Ukrainian Orthodox chapels of the Moscow Patriarchate — as garish as Matrioshka dolls and identical as chess pawns — built in spite of protests from the residents of neighboring buildings, in stark contrast to the existing urban landscape, and sometimes even by cutting down trees in priceless squares. In addition to unscrupulous architects, who are ready — for money — to have even the buildings on the sacred Kyiv Hills demolished and replaced with new structures, we now see the church doing the same thing. Can the following “wonder” be seen anywhere else in the world? In a marvelous city park, next to a beautiful palace and the parliament building, a certain priest has built an ugly “handmade” (in the literal sense) “chapel” to live in. He has been living there for many years, but the hierarchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) is keeping silent, like the Verkhovna Rada leadership. But this park belongs to all Kyivites.
Through the fault of those same people from the Moscow Patriarchate another historic (so to speak) scandal has erupted at the sacred Ukrainian spot where St. Volodymyr’s Palace and the majestic stone Church of the Tithes, dedicated to the Holy Virgin, used to tower. The point is that, although scholarly disputes about reconstructing this church show no signs of abating, the pro- Moscow church has set up a modern- style monstrous chapel on the site of an old fortress, which is in dire disharmony with the surrounding scene. Even a priest has been appointed to it.
It was soon learned that this was a “foreign installation” because none of the recognized organizations had sanctioned its construction. Although the builders and the priest claim the opposite, Kyiv City Hall admitted that the construction of the chapel is illegal. “No land was allotted for the chapel construction, no authorizing documentation was drawn up, and officials did not examine the chapel project,” says Vasyl Prysiazhniuk, chief of Kyiv’s architecture department. Moreover, experts say that no construction, except for restoration, is allowed on this site. This raises an interesting question: How could the city authorities fail to notice unsanctioned construction in the very center of the city? If they had, they could have nipped this construction in the bud.
I have a few more questions. Will the decisions of influential officials change the situation? Will the completed chapel, which looks like a nobleman’s summer house, be torn down? Who is the boss in the city — City Hall or the hierarchy of one of the numerous churches, or maybe one of the “Kaurovs?” There is little hope for a legal resolution of the matter. Many such lawsuits have vanished into the abyss of Ukrainian jurisprudence. But the eyesore is still there.