DEATH OF SMALL CHILD REVEALS SPLIT IN UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH by Lilia Rzheutska ~ Translated by Olena Chemodanova

Father Cyril Hovorun, interviewed below, recommended this article and the translator to Orthodoxy in Dialogue.

caves (3)The refusal of a priest to conduct the funeral service for a killed child reveals the split of the Churches in Ukraine

The refusal of UOC-MP priests in Zaporizhia to conduct the funeral service for the killed 2-year old boy, who was baptized in the “schismatic” UOC-KP, has shown the depth of the chasm between the Churches in Ukraine. How does society react?

Representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) from the outset consider the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) to be “schismatic,” thus they do not recognize sacraments administered by the UOC-KP, including baptism and chrismation. The Churches now demonstrate “mutual understanding” and “peaceful coexistence” outwardly. But the case of  the refusal to conduct a child’s funeral service has proven the deep split between the Churches and their faithful.

The course of the events

For several days, people have been bringing dolls and toys to the walls of UOC-MP churches to protest the actions of the UOC-MP priest in Zaporizhia, who refused to conduct the funeral service for the tragically killed 2-year old boy because he had been baptized in the UOC-KP. Metropolitan Luka of Zaporizhia and Melitopol of the UOC-MP stated that the priest had acted in accordance with the church canons.

In the words of Archbishop Yevstratii (Zoria) of the UOC-KP, the refusal of UOC-MP priests to perform church services and ceremonies for the faithful of his Church is common practice, although there is no document that officially prohibits the clergy from doing this. At the same time, there is no official statement of the UOC-MP regarding the refusal of their priest to serve the funeral for the killed child. Instead, it is only mentioned on the Church’s website that Metropolitan Luka of Zaporizhia and Melitopol has blessed the clergy of his eparchy to pray for the tragically killed child.

There is no unity inside UOC-MP

However, the clergy of the UOC-MP have different opinions regarding this tragic case. Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, the former Head of the Office for External Relations of the Church, in an interview with DW [Deutsche Welle], said that actually there were no canonical or theological grounds to refuse the funeral service to the parents of the killed boy. “In the history of the Orthodox Church, the practice of affirming the mystery of baptism of even more divergent traditions was acceptable, not to mention the Orthodox Churches in Ukraine which are virtually identical and differ only in the fact that one of them is not recognized by world Orthodoxy,” said Cyril Hovorun.

Instead, he acknowledges that the refusal to perform church services for the faithful of other Orthodox jurisdictions extends beyond a single incident in Ukraine. “It happens in Ukraine often and for many years, because the problem of the disunity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy has not been resolved yet. If the Maidan in 2014 brought the Churches closer to each other, the war in the East widened the gap again. The goal of the aggression against Ukraine was to divide Ukrainian society, which had received the impulse of unification,” observed the archimandrite. In his opinion, some clergymen contribute to the disunity intentionally, inventing narratives that are constructed “outside of Ukraine,” while the Church itself suffers the consequences in the first place. He points out that, since the beginning of the military conflict in the Donbas, the UOC-MP has been losing its flock because some clerics do not admit the fact of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Namely this was identified as a danger by representatives of the civil society organization “Union of the Veterans of War with Russia,” who on January 8 blocked one of the entrances to the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra [Kyiv Monastery of the Caves], calling it “the center of the spreading of the ‘Russian world’ [Русский мир, Russkyi mir] in Ukraine.” One of the action’s organizers, Serhii Bondar, told DW that the blockade would last until there would be acknowledged on the state level that “the UOC-MP is just a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church,” and until representatives of all Orthodox jurisdictions would be admitted to the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra without restrictions. “Ukrainian society has too many questions for the representatives of the UOC-MP. They do not allow candles to be lit in the churches in memory of the killed ATO soldiers and ‘The Heaven Hundred’ victims, they do not conduct funeral services for our defenders and now for a child. That is why our actions will last,” said Serhii Bondar.

Appeal for unity

According to Taras Antoshevsky, the Director of the Religious Information Service of Ukraine, although the UOC-MP embraces many clergymen who carry out humanitarian missions to Eastern Ukraine, help the victims of conflict, and facilitate the exchange of prisoners, the split between the Churches and their flocks will become deeper, and the attitudes will develop toward radicalization, if the head of the Church and the bishops continue to deny reality. “This is not just a schism between the Churches. This is much deeper. Many faithful of the UOC-MP do not share the position of its leadership and are not afraid to express this openly anymore. The higher church officials for some reason ignore this,” he noted.

The UOC-MP faithful agree with that. Journalist and observer of religious issues, Lana Samokhvalova, belongs to this Church. In her opinion, the problem of misunderstanding between the Churches and between the leadership of the UOC-MP and its believers is getting even worse. “The problem should be conceded. We have been listening to Moscow’s intimidation for decades. It is high time to stop it. We should launch a theological and educational campaign in order to persuade the clergy and the faithful that Moscow’s orders are worth less than the Gospel,” believes Samokhvalova. In her view, representatives of the Ukrainian Churches should sit at the negotiating table and seek opportunities for dialogue as society appeals for unity.

This article appeared in Ukrainian on January 9 on DW Ukraïna.

Olena Chemodanova is a PhD student in history at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. She serves as a proofreader on the editorial board of Kyiv-Mohyla Journals. 

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