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Who will lead Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and where?

27 February, 11:01

A meeting of the Synod of the UOC (MP), held in Kyiv on February 24, 2014, elected metropolitan of Chernivtsi and Bukovyna Onufrii as the locum tenens of Kyivan metropolitan see. The Episcopal synod’s decision was caused by the critical health condition of the church’s primate metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan).


Locum tenens Onufrii will perform his duties only until Volodymyr departs this world. As we have learned from a source close to the metropolitan office, head of the church is in serious condition. Doctors have additionally diagnosed him with cancer. Chemotherapy is not possible at this stage, they said.

Metropolitan of Odesa and Izmail Agafangel presided over the meeting in accordance with the Charter of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as the senior most permanent member of the synod by the date of ordination.

Agafangel, known for his anti-Ukrainian stance, intended to become a locum tenens himself. This is nothing new. Two years ago, Agafangel-led pro-Russian wing of the UOC tried to make a revolution in the church and remove metropolitan Volodymyr. For various reasons, it was not possible. He failed again, to some extent due to some politicians’ actions.

“Agafangel began to rage,” said a source in the church. “He said that he would block the entire process, if he did not get elected locum tenens, although the statute does nor require the church to elect the senior most bishop by the date of ordination to this position. Every permanent synod member is a qualified candidate. According to some, the UOC’s faithful, including Petro Poroshenko and Andrii Derkach, intervened and allegedly told Agafangel that now was not his time...”


There is no clear opinion on Onufrii. Some say he is a pro-Moscow hardliner, while others call him a moderate Russophile, but he is definitely not as notorious as Agafangel.

“Most importantly,” our source stressed, “Onufrii does not belong to the so-called blue [supporting the Party of Regions. – Ed.] lobby, represented by bishop Pavel, the scandalous abbot of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. Onufrii is a sort of pious monk. Actually, patriarch of Moscow Kirill dislikes him for that. Onufrii also belongs to Russophiles in the UOC, but patriarch Kirill will find it hard to work with him because he is too independent...”

“Onufrii’s candidacy is bad for the Ukrainian nation in general, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyivan Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church in particular,” religions scholar Professor Dmytro Stepovyk maintained. “I would not say it is very bad, because it could be worse, if they elected metropolitan Agafangel from Odesa as the locum tenens.”

According to Stepovyk’s observations, metropolitan Onufrii is guilty of separatist sentiments.

“People from Chernivtsi oblast say when they speak of the UOC’s independence from Moscow, he replies that Ukraine is not yet mature enough to be an independent Orthodox country with its own church in the Orthodox family. He also asks Bukovynians to emphasize that they are Bukovynians, not Ukrainians,” the professor said.

In his opinion, Russia will find Onufrii an acceptable partner, for though he comes from western Ukraine and speaks Ukrainian, he does not accept it.

At the same time, religions scholar Yurii Chornomorets calls metropolitan Onufrii “a moderate Ukrainophile.”

However, his statements and opinions sometimes go beyond the proper clerical vocabulary. He spoke about the Holodomor in a less than fully adequate manner and spoke of the UOC (Kyiv Patriarchate) rather harshly, calling it “a hellish fiend.”

In any case, Onufrii finds topics of ecumenism and interchurch reconciliation alien.

However, we must bear in mind that although the bishops of the UOC hold pro-Moscow views, they do not always act in the interests of Moscow, and locum tenens is no primate.

“When the ruling metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan) departs this world, the church will hold its council that will propose several candidates, one of whom will be elected to the metropolitan,” Stepovyk reminded us.


Bishop Antonii (Pakanych) is seen as a possible candidate.

“Middle-aged, bishop Antonii (Pakanych) is now manager of the UOC and also rector of the Kyiv Theological Academy, housed in the Lavra. He has a good education and would suit the pro-Ukrainian faction in the UOC’s hierarchy. He would also suit most pro-Russian bishops because he is considered ‘a man of peace.’ He never criticized Orthodox who do not belong to the Moscow Patriarchate. I think Antonii is the best candidate for the metropolitan,” Stepovyk maintained.

Oleksandr (Drabynko)’s candidature is also a reasonable one in his opinion. Oleksandr is another young, energetic, Ukrainophone bishop with a good education.

Chornomorets considers the newly elected locum tenens Onufrii and manager of the metropolitan Antonii to be likely candidates.

“The hierarchy contains a Russophile minority who would like to have metropolitan Ilarion of Donetsk or bishop Pavel as the head of the church, but it is unrealistic because the country’s situation has changed. Currently, most bishops support metropolitan Onufrii or metropolitan Antonii. Antonii is younger, open, more modern and politically literate. The church is now facing huge challenges, and Antonii can respond promptly to them. The fact that the pro-Moscow wing of the episcopate has failed to seize power in the UOC so far, is to a great extent the result of metropolitan Antonii’s work. He should also be credited for the lack of the church’s support for the government’s actions over the past three months,” the expert said.

According to Chornomorets, the future of the UOC (MP) will be determined by its “moderate Ukrainophile majority which is smarter than Russophile bishops of the UOC and which has a very good leadership today.”

“This Ukrainophile majority has the ability to modernize the church,” Chornomorets maintained.

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