Post-Coup Ukraine Hands Orthodox Churches to Non-Orthodox Clergy
The Ukrainian Government is trying to pass a law which will allow Russian Orthodox churches to be taken over by other faiths, but legislative approval has long remained in doubt; and so the government is instead just standing aside while it lets non-Russian Orthodox believers, and especially Catholic believers, take possession of Russian-Orthodox churches. But this Ukrainian Government is simultaneously propagandizing for the legalization of those church-seizures, the passing of this bill into law; they are anything but neutral about it.
This is happening in a Ukrainian context which is extremely polarized politically, and almost as polarized religiously; so, the political division is even stronger than is the purely religious one, and the government is thus increasing Ukraine’s polarization as a simultaneously political-and-religious divide in which the political and religious hatreds feed off of one another. The public don’t want it; even the clergy don’t want it; but the Government does, and it continues trying to pass this measure into law.
The development and present status of this matter will be summarized here, with links to the sources.
First, however, is the political background.
The election map of the final democratic Ukrainian election — the one in 2010 — showed a political chasm in Ukraine, between the east and the west. This was the last election before the nation split-up in 2014 as a result of the U.S. coup (called by the U.S. a ‘revolution’) that took place in February 2014. This 2010 election-map (like all the ones before it) showed Ukraine to be an extremely polarized country, with the Catholic far-west having voted overwhelmingly for the U.S.-NATO-backed candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, and the Russian Orthodox far-east having voted overwhelmingly for the Russia-backed Viktor Yanukovych. Ukraine’s mid-section, except in the south, is Ukrainian Orthodox, which is “on the fence” regarding the Russia-versus-America divide — or, during WW II, it was the Stalin-versus-Hitler divide.
America’s coup was perpetrated mainly by Catholics against Orthodox believers; and so it was a major victory for The West in the ancient East-West Schism. The main domestic support for the “Maidan ‘revolution’,” and for the actual coup, were the aristocracy and the Catholic clergy of the formerly strongly pro-Hitler area surrounding the far-western city of Lviv. This victory in Ukraine of the U.S.-led fascist west against the pro-Russia east is starting to be felt in the explicitly religious sphere, by the post-coup Ukrainian Government’s allowing Catholic clergy to begin taking over Orthodox (especially Russian Orthodox) congregations.
On 1 March 2016 was headlined in Ukraine, “A BILL ON TRANSFER OF RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES TO ANOTHER JURISDICTION PRESENTED IN PARLIAMENT”. It said:
According to the authors, the bill is designed “to enforce the rights of members of religious communities to informed choice and free and unimpeded change of affiliation with religious centers for satisfying their religious needs and dignified expression of religious feelings.” The proposed changes are intended to “regulate the procedure of changing affiliation of the religious communities and religious centers (leadership) operating in Ukraine and abroad.”
This initiative has provoked criticism of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), whose representative expressed concern about using these changes to simplify the transfer of churches in the course of transitions of Orthodox communities from the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate to that of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate.
“In practice, it will look as follows – the general meeting of faithful (parish meeting) will be attended by other persons who do not belong to the religious community, but nevertheless will have the right to vote and will be entitled to adopt or amend the statute of the religious community,” said Rev Alexander Bakhov, head of the UOC Synodal Legal Department. …
Then, on March 31st, was bannered “Religious confrontation in Ukraine”, and that report opened, “A new bill [bill #4128], registered in the parliament, cannot only legalize church raiding, but also provoke sectarian conflicts.” Furthermore:
As was emphasized by the head of the legal department of the UOC [Ukrainian Orthodox Church — Moscow Patriarchate (Ukraine’s branch of the Russian Orthodox Church)] Archpriest Alexander Bach, representatives of the “Kiev Patriarchate” and authorities have since 2014 taken permanent actions to seize churches belonging to the UOC.
“During this period, 31 seizures of the UOC churches are recorded, 12 are under threat of seizure, 8 changed their affiliation in accordance with the Law of Ukraine ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations’. Moreover, these seizures are passed off as a voluntary transition of believers,” says the priest.
The right to change religious beliefs and religious affiliation is a fundamental human right. As follows from Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, they can be changed either alone or collectively with others. Meanwhile, the problems that Ukrainians had faced for a long time in the implementation of this law, became more severe and obvious with the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine. Orthodox believers, being indignant of the Moscow Patriarchate’s support of aggression, blatant anti-Ukrainian actions of its hierarchy, showed their desire to leave the Russian Church and join the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate.
This is not just a problem of jurisdiction, this is an issue that pertains to the depth of the human conscience.
This article ignored the fact that these “raidings” or “seizures” of church buildings were being carried out by members of other denominations, nominally to favor the “Ukraine Patriarchate” of Orthodox Christianity over the “Moscow Patriarchate” of Orthodox Christianity; but, actually, to weaken the Russian Orthodox Church against all denominations and especially against the two Catholic denominations. It was not being carried out by co-believers of any denomination, but only against them.
On 7 June 2016 was reported that, “The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine bill #4128 is not acceptable to the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, which represents the religious community of Ukraine.” So, this maneuver was being pushed upon Ukraine’s clergies by the U.S.-installed regime, not being pushed upon that regime by the clergies.
The U.S.-installed regime thus continued its religious assault unimpeded, even despite the resistance to it from both the Ukrainian public and the Ukrainian clergies; and so, on the day before the bill was to be voted upon in the Rada for the first time, was headlined on 5 October 2016, “Ukrainian believers protest against the laws of religious discrimination”, and the article reported that, “thousands of people have gathered near the building of Ukrainian Parliament. The clergy have ministered the solemn prayer for peace in Ukraine.” On that same day appeared also a headline, “Despite a barrage of criticism from experts and the religious community, highly controversial Draft Law No. 4128 will still be considered in Verkhovna Rada”. The latter noted:
It has been reported earlier that this bill received a negative reaction from the representatives of World Church Council, members of Secretariat of All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious organizations, Scientific and Expert department of Verkhovna Rada, Religious Freedom Institute, the lawyers of International human rights protection Institute of Eastern Europe, and religion scientists.
Both of those news reports came from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — its clergy, too, weren’t supporting the U.S.-imposed regime’s objective of one denomination “raiding” the churches of another.
So the regime tried also another legal assault against the Orthodox churches. On 26 October 2016 was introduced in the Rada bill # 5309. Here is what Andrei Vlasov of the Union of Orthodox Journalists said on 14 July 2017 under the headline “Bill No. 5309: the Church is swung but not yet struck”:
The essence of the bill is reduced to two points:
• legally bind one single religious organization in Ukraine to change its name: from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church into the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine;
• prohibit the clergy of the UOC to provide spiritual guidance for servicemen. …
This seems most likely – endeavors to pass bills No.№ 4128 and 4511 have failed. Both ordinary believers and international organizations rebelled against them, as well as all the Local Orthodox Churches and even the Vatican. In these circumstances, the adoption of bill No. 5309 is still unlikely. But the threat of its adoption can become a bargaining chip in the political game. After all, the authorities must adopt very ambiguous laws on Donbass, on medical and pension reforms, etc.
And now the pace of illegal church-seizures has sped up. Here are a few of the recent reports (some of them autotranslated into English):
Clarification on the attempt to illegally transfer the Orthodox community from Old Gvizdets in the Kyiv Patriarchate in the ministry of the bishop. Main Events / Legal Department. Protection of Faith – by osadmin -10/18/2017
The press service of the Ivano-Frankivsk diocese reports that on October 15, 2017, in the village council building with. The old Guys of the Kolomyia district hosted a meeting of the village residents headed by the village head Dyakiv MP and with the participation of the priests of the Kyivan Patriarchate.
At the meeting of the territorial community, the villages, which were not actually parishioners, raised the question of the confessional subordination of the temple in honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Just like in the village of Ostrivets, villagers who are not parishioners of the temple have taken responsibility for changing the confessional belongings of the religious community. The rector and church faithful at the meeting were not invited, and the opinion of those present was not taken into account. Moreover, they were forced to leave the assembly room. …
Radicals announce the date of Orthodox church seizure in the village of Ostrovets
Author: UOJ editorial
On October 18, the rector of the St. George the Victorious Church in the village of Ostrovets, Fr. Nikolai Bogachenko, was called to the village council to demand that the priest give the keys to the church. As reported by a UOJ source, Fr. Nikolai said that “otherwise bloodshed is possible”.
In the Gorodenka district of the Ivano-Frankivsk region, remained the only temple of the UOC not seized by schismatics – St. George’s Church in the village of Ostrovets.
Local authorities decided that there should not be a canonical church in the village. On October 14, a community meeting was held, and, allegedly, the majority demanded a transfer to the Kyiv Patriarchate.
According to the UOJ source, representatives of the Kyiv Patriarchate took their people to the polls by buses. Such a “meeting” took into account even the voices of minors.
Rector of the church Fr. Nikolai Bogachenko said that he did not recognize the legality of such a meeting. Only the church community has the right to decide the fate of the church.
The priest refused to give the keys to the church. He was threatened that on Sunday, October 22, the temple would be taken by force.
A UOC temple taken over in Ivano-Frankivsk region
Author: UOJ editorial
In the village of Stary Gvozdets, Kolomyia district, there was a meeting of the territorial community at the village council. Reрresentatives of the Kyiv Patriarchate agitated the villagers to transfer the UOC rural temple to schismatics. Parishioners of the temple and members of the religious community of the UOC were not invited to the meeting. It is reported by the press-service of Ivano-Frankivsk eparchy.
The fate of the temple of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in the village of Stary Gvozdets was decided by people who attend the church only several times a year.
Supporters of the Kyiv Patriarchate took the keys from the church from the believers and already hung new locks.
Rector of the church, Protopriest Nikolai Kushnir and the Orthodox community of the village are forced to perform divine services on the street.
The Ivano-Frankovsk eparchy has already applied to law enforcement agencies, government officials and international organizations with a request to protect the rights of the UOC community in the village of Stary Gvozdets.
Five months of confrontation: why Uniates take over a temple in Kolomyia
Author: Kirill Alexandrov
A stand-off around the temple of the Annunciation of the Holy Virgin in Kolomyia has continued for nearly five months now. With five months gone there are even more questions, the main of which being if the Uniate raiders actually need so badly a small church in the inner area, or their real goal is to sparkle an international conflict?
Question one: why do Greek-Catholics need the Annunciation Church?
Absolutely definitely, they need it not for praying and spiritual guidance of people. Not at all. The purpose was directly pointed to by Uniate priest Nikolay Medinsky on his Facebook page: “Say no to the ROTTEN STUFF of the Russian world in my DECORATED Kolomyia.”
The fight against the “Russian world” in Ukraine now justifies anything: pogroms of banks and TV channels, attacks on business structures, absurd bills. So why not use this fight as an excuse for church raiding as well? But what is quite clear: motives for the illegal seizure of temples are not religious, but exclusively political.
Question two: how come it is Uniates?
Why did Greek Catholics suddenly take over the Orthodox temple? For all post-Maidan years, church raiding has been associated namely with the UOC-KP. On its account there are more than 40 captured temples. UGCC had never seized temples before that and constantly stressed it at an official level. What an exceptionally peace-loving confession! And then, out of the blue – Kolomiya! In fact, the Uniates have clung to this temple like grim death. Why did it happen? …
UGCC chaplain targets another UOC temple in Kolomyia
Author: UOJ editorial
Uniate chaplain Nikolai Medinsky, organizer of the raider attack of the Annunciation temple, feels outraged by another UOC temple in Kolomyia. This time Greek-Catholics are not happy about the fact the church is located too close to the aerodrome. This is written by Medinsky on his Facebook page.
“Within 500 meters from the strategic site, another wasp nest of the Moscow Church is located (actually a division of the FSB),” writes Medinsky.
The chaplain appeals to the patriots to somehow react to this “outrageous fact.”
Raiding proponents, who committed an illegal seizure of the Annunciation temple of the UOC, threatened the believers ”to cut their throats”.
Police help schismatics take over the UOC temple in vlg. Stary Gvozdets (VIDEO)
Author: UOJ editorial
On November 4 there was a forced seizure of the Holy Annunciation temple in Stary Gvozdets village and, despite the court decision, the police took the side of raiders from the Kyiv Patriarchate, reports the press-service of Ivano-Frankovsk eparchy of the UOC.
At 9 o’clock in the morning supporters of the Kyiv Patriarchate opened the church and held their divine service there. About 30 policemen pushed aside the believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and did not allow them to enter the worship building. It is noted that on the eve of November 3, the Kolomyia District Court issued a decision that satisfied the complaint of the religious community of Stary Gvozdets village about the inaction of the Kolomyia police department and ordered the law enforcers to bring information to the Single Register of Pre-trial Investigations concerning the events that occurred in Stary Gvozdets in October 2017.
Ostap Bileychuk, head of the Kolomyia department of the police of the State Unitary Enterprise in Ivano-Frankivsk region, personally banned Orthodox believers from entering the church, which was transferred to them for use in 1991, and noted that if believers are dissatisfied with something, they can go to court. The UOC eparchy specifies that namely this official in June facilitated raiding of the Holy Annunciation church of the UOC of Kolomyia by the so called “chaplains” from the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. Bileychuk was also present during the bashing of the Orthodox priest in the court session hall n 29 June 2017, after the court hearing on the inaction of law enforcement and illegal seizure of the temple in Kolomyia. …
Modern Polish strategy can lead to war. I ask the Lord for enlightenment and intelligence at. Justin Boyko, Replica, Monday, November 06, 2017, 23:03
The modern strategy of Poland – the return of the eastern christs [churches]? If so, then this is the road to the war between Ukraine and Poland!
If I had someone else 10 or 15 years ago saying that Poland would again begin to disrespect and [be] hostile to Ukrainians, I would never believe it. Now the current Polish political elite, which is in power, frankly propagandizes hatred for Ukraine and Ukrainians by the example of Sinkevich “Fire and sword”. The method that justifies everything is “ku pokrzepieniu serc”.
Obviously, the goal of the ruling political elite is to stay in power. But they woke a long [time] ago buried hatred between Ukrainians and Poles, which at one time grew into the notorious events before the Second World War, which I do not want to mention. In the light of everything, it seems that Churchill was right when he said that “the main lesson of history is that mankind does not learn anything.” It is a pity to admit, but it is a reality in which we live.
Why am I writing this? Because I am terribly sorry about this, because I spent 6 beautiful years in Poland, learned wonderful people, got a lot of friends. And now, the impression is that everything is falling, because the mood in Poland between Ukrainians and Poles really changes to the worst when to take propaganda. Local leaders and some intellectuals are trying to resist this, but unsuccessfully.
It’s scary that these moods are supported by a large part of the Catholic clergy in Poland. I ask the Lord for enlightenment and intelligence, and I myself hope that common sense and sense of duty will rise to the future generations.
About the author
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.