"Expertise" of UOC Statute from State Ethnopolitics: to see the non-existent

02 February 2023 13:32
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Did the State Ethnopolitics give the green light to outlaw the UOC? Photo: UOJ Did the State Ethnopolitics give the green light to outlaw the UOC? Photo: UOJ

The State Ethnopolitics "proved" the subordination of the UOC to Moscow after "examination" of the UOC Statute. Why are these words in quotation marks, and what’s next?

On February 1, 2023, the State Ethnopolitics published the results of its “expert examination” and concluded that the UOC is an integral part of the ROC and is subordinate to it.

The final conclusions of the "expertise" are worded as follows:

“A generalized conclusion of the religious expert examination of the Statute on the governance of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in terms of its ecclesiastical-canonical relation with the Moscow Patriarchate (Russian Orthodox Church)

The expert group came to the following conclusions:

  1. The adoption of a new version of the Statute on the governance of the UOC (dated May 27, 2022) and the resolution of the Council of the UOC did not result in the rupture of the ecclesiastical-canonical relation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church. The status of the UOC as a structural division of the ROC, enjoying certain rights of independence but not forming an autocephalous Church, remains unchanged.
  2. The UOC vis-à-vis the ROC has an ecclesiastical canonical relation between the part and the whole. The relations of the UOC with the ROC are not those of one independent (autocephalous) church with another independent autocephalous church. The UOC also does not have the status of an autonomous Church, which would be recognized by other churches, hence from the point of view of ecclesiology and canon law, it is a structural subdivision of the ROC, having separate rights of independent formation without its own canonical subjectivity.
  3. The current activity or inaction of the highest bodies of church authority and administration of the UOC indicates that the UOC continues to be in relation to the ROC in a relationship of subordination. It does not act as an independent (autocephalous) Church and does not proclaim its own independence (autocephaly). No documents or actions indicating the transformation of the UOC into an independent religious organization in relation to the ROC were found by the members of the Expert Group.”

What is wrong and speculative in these conclusions? Let’s consider only the main points.

State Ethnic Policy Service relies on the documents of the Russian Federation

Most of the SEFC commission study is devoted by its experts to the examination of the Charter of the ROC, rather than that of the UOC. This means that the State Ethnopolitics believes that the normative act of corporate law, which is the Charter of the Russian Orthodox Church registered in the Russian Federation, is valid on the territory of Ukraine. And this is not only a question of patriotism / non-patriotism of the State Ethnic Policy Service. The SBU is simply obliged to respond to this fact, since any research based on the documents of the aggressor country has obvious signs of collaborationism. In addition, the State Ethnopolitics has clearly gone beyond the limits of its powers. In the corresponding Decision of the National Security and Defense Council of December 1, 2022, approved by Decree of the President of Ukraine No. 820/2022, it is written in black and white:

"The State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience has to deliver, within two months, in accordance with the Law of Ukraine ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations,’ a religious expert examination of the Statute on the Administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in terms of its ecclesiastical-canonical relation with the Moscow Patriarchate, and to take the legally prescribed steps if necessary."

That is, the State Ethnopolitics had no right to conduct an examination of any other documents, except for the Statute of the UOC and documents that are directly mentioned in this Statute. If we discard the Charter of the Russian Orthodox Church, then the conclusions of the "experts" turn out to be unfounded. The link of the State Ethnopolitics to the ROC website looks particularly funny: “On the official website of the ROC, the biographies of all the bishops of the UOC are presented as biographies of the bishops of the ROC.”

It's like going to the official websites of the Russian Federation, seeing a map of Russia with Crimea and four southeastern regions of Ukraine as part of it and exclaiming – "here's the proof!"

“Who are the judges?”

The composition of the "Expert Group for the Religious Expertise of the Statute on the Administration of the UOC" consists of persons who for many years publicly and constantly expressed hostility to the UOC, as well as sympathy for the OCU. Actually, on this basis, even before the start of the work of the commission, the UOC voiced distrust of its members and demanded that international experts be involved in its work (of course, no one did this). They cannot ensure professional and unbiased expertise (without quotation marks), the fact they are perfectly aware of. In the full text of the “expertise”, one fig leaf is very striking, with which they tried to cover up their bias: among the documents they studied, two letters of Metropolitan Onuphry are mentioned:

“– Letter of Metropolitan Onuphry to the Head of the SEFC dated June 1, 2022 No. 0464 with official interpretations of the provisions of the Statute on the governance of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (as amended by the Council of the UOC on May, 27, 2022) (K. 27).

– Letter from Metropolitan Onuphry to the Head of the State Ethnopolitics Service dated September 28, 2022 No. 0838 with official clarifications of certain provisions of the Statute on the governance of the UOC (in the version adopted at the Council of the UOC on May 27, 2022) (Appendix 5).”

What they do is they equate these letters with the full participation of representatives of the UOC in the "Expert Group".

Quote: “According to the law, the religious examination of the charters of religious organizations is carried out with the participation of representatives of these religious organizations, and these letters exhaustively reflect the current official position of the UOC regarding the regulations of the Statute on the governance of the UOC.”

Can you think of something more absurd?

The "illegitimacy" of the Cathedral in Feofaniya

It is no secret that for the "experts" of the commission, it was necessary to somehow "reset" the decisions of the Council in Feofaniya, at which it was declared complete independence from the ROC. To do this, they are trying to question the legitimacy of the Council. They argue that this event was initially convened not as a Council of the UOC, but as a “meeting” and that, they say, the delegates of the meeting did not receive powers from their dioceses, which would match the status of participants in the Council of the UOC.

This attempt testifies precisely to the complete misunderstanding and ignorance by the "experts" of how Church Councils are held, and how their decisions become legitimate.

Quote: “The decision of the Synod and the Council of Bishops to consider delegates to the ‘church meeting’ as delegates to the Council is doubtful as to its legitimacy. Therefore, the decision to convene the Council in such a composition is illegitimate from the point of view of the provisions of the then current version of the Statute on the governance of the UOC and the established tradition upon the election of delegates to the Council.”

Any person who is even slightly familiar with the history of Ecumenical and Local Councils knows that the principles for the formation of their composition were different every time, as was the procedure for convening and holding them. But what made the decisions of these Councils universally recognized was their acceptance by the fullness of the Church. In legal terms, this is called reception. So, the decisions of the Council of the UOC on May 27, 2022 were recognized, and this is absolutely clear. All the fullness of the UOC accepted them and lives in accordance with them. Moreover, other Local Churches also recognized them. Not a single Local Church expressed protest or disagreement with them. Even the ROC, by the way.

Independence and autocephaly

In order to prove that the independence of the UOC is “invalid,” the commission argues long and tediously that only the status of autocephaly can testify to true independence. And since the UOC did not announce it, it means that it is part of the ROC.

Quote: “The UOC was granted the status of ‘independent and self-governing.’ However, Orthodox canon law does not operate with such a concept, in contrast to the concepts of ‘autocephalous’ or ‘autonomous’ church. Only an autocephalous church is completely "self-governing", which, in confirmation of its status, receives an appropriate document (tomos). All the rest, except for the autocephalous church, ... are structural divisions of their parent church with varying degrees of independence in their activities."

Let's see some of the provisions of the Tomos of the OCU, which, as an "autocephalous Church", is obliged, according to the State Ethnopolitics, to be "completely self-governing":

  • the OCU recognizes the Church of Constantinople as its head;
  • to resolve important issues, the OCU is obliged to contact the Phanar;
  • it is not allowed to change the title of the head of the OCU without the permission of the Phanar;
  • the OCU does not have the right to open parishes abroad;
  • the OCU is obliged to take myrrh from the Phanar;
  • the charter of the OCU must comply with the provisions of the Tomos.

Do you see the status of independence here? We cannot. That's all you need to know about the arguments of the "experts" on the matter.

Patriarch Alexy’s Letter

"Experts" quite arbitrarily interpret the provision of the Letter issued by Patriarch Alexy II that the UOC is united with Ecumenical Orthodoxy through the ROC. Quote:

“There is a sign of the dependence of the UOC in the fact that it is ‘united’ with the ‘One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,’ that is, with Ecumenical Orthodoxy, ‘through the Russian Orthodox Church.’ it implies not only the doctrinal unity of the UOC with Ecumenical Orthodoxy through the ROC, but also the dependence in conducting inter-church and inter-religious policy on its religious center, as well as a direct indication that the UOC has a ‘canonical’ status only through and thanks to the Moscow Patriarchate.”

In general, the very wording of Patriarch Alexy II's Letter on such communion, which was then reflected in the Charter of the Russian Orthodox Church and which was canceled by the decision of the Council of the UOC in Feofaniya, is rather strange. Orthodox ecclesiology says that any canonical bishop is automatically united to the Church simply by virtue of his episcopacy. The relation of the UOC with world Orthodoxy through yet another Local Church is not entirely clear. What is the point in the wording about “unity” in the Letter of Patriarch Alexy II? Does it make any Eucharistic and ecclesiological sense?

Anyway, this wording does not suggest “dependence in the conduct of inter-church and inter-religious policy” whatsoever. For that matter, there are no absolutely independent structures in the Church at all. All Local Churches are united and dependent on each other. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).

We do not believe the UOC, nor do we believe Metropolitan Onuphry. We believe only the Russian Orthodox Church

It should be especially noted that the “experts” find Metropolitan Onuphry’s official letter to the State Ethnopolitics, where he explains the break with the ROC and the termination of membership in the Synod of the ROC, unconvincing: “All provisions about the relation of the UOC with the ROC were excluded from the Statute on the governance of the UOC. In particular, this concerns the point where it was stated that the UOC is a self-governing part of the ROC. Since that time, the decisions of the Councils of the ROC are not the basis for the activities of the Council of Bishops of the UOC. The Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine terminated his membership in the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. The primate of the UOC is elected for life by the episcopate of the UOC without further blessing.”

And now the citation of the SEFC commission: “The statement of Metropolitan Onuphry in letters to the Head of the State Ethnopolitcs Service about the termination of membership in the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church has no documentary evidence. There are no documents (orders, decisions, statements, letters, reports, appeals, decrees, arguments of the Synod of the UOC, etc.) on this subject. It is also unknown whether the UOC addressed the ROC with a message about the withdrawal of Metropolitan Onuphry from the Synod of the ROC.”

In other words, the “experts” allegorically accused the Primate of the UOC of lying; an official letter to the state agency is not “documentary evidence”.

Сonclusions

The “expert group” did not do what the National Security and Defense Council and the President of Ukraine instructed it to do. It examined the wrong documents and for the wrong purposes. Its conclusions are based not on the teachings of the Church, but on what these "experts" think about it.

Most importantly, the "expert group" could not find evidence that the UOC has a "leading center" in the Russian Federation. Probably, they themselves understand this very well, since they came up with another fig leaf in the text of their “expertise” so that they might say in case of emergency that they express their point of view as religious experts, since they are authorized to do so.

Quote: "The expertise is carried out as part of the religious studies, but is not of a legal nature."

Legal! It is of a specifically legal nature! Based on your "expertise", the authorities are going to ban the Church, i.e. to commit an act of the legal nature!

It can be therefore stated that everything is going according to plan of the enemies of the UOC, and everything is moving towards making an attempt to outlaw the UOC. We will do everything possible and legal to make this attempt unsuccessful. As the head of the Legal Department of the UOC, Prot. Alexander Bakhov said, "If a decision is made on the basis of this conclusion, we will defend ourselves by all legal means, both at the national and international levels."

However, the most effective protection is that every bishop, priest, monk and layman remains faithful to the Church and does not leave Her in difficult times. Then there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it.

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