Why do those OCU reps who are "fed up" with hammers and grinders appear?
After the pogrom of the UOC convent in Cherkasy, there appeared some OCU members who expressed discontent with the ongoing lawlessness. Why did they speak up only now?
On 20 November 2023, a group of raiders, many of whom were dressed in military uniforms, seized the UOC convent in Cherkasy. During the seizure, they brutally beat Orthodox believers. For example, a priest serving in the monastery had his jaw broken, a 76-year-old parishioner had his leg broken in two places, and several other people, defenders of the monastery, were taken to hospital with injuries of varying harm. The people identified as representatives of the National Corps blocked the entrance to the hospital, and doctors and visitors were not allowed to visit the beaten believers.
The actions of the raiders were so cynical and cruel that they shocked even experienced OCU representatives. People who had been silent for years, watching the grinder and sledgehammer "mission" of Dumenko's structure, suddenly spoke up.
The "initiative group of the OCU": beating people is unacceptable
Just a day after the brutal beating of Cherkasy believers, a "Statement of the initiative group of the clergy and laity. Ten theses for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine regarding the events in Cherkasy" appeared on the Internet.
This statement contains the usual claims of the OCU members that the UOC is still to blame for any church conflicts, but at the same time the "initiative group" recognises that in Cherkasy it was "activists of the OCU together with unidentified persons who resorted to physical violence". They noted, "Such forceful actions involving the ‘militant wing’, and even more so the soldiers who have passed the front, are unacceptable, no matter how patriotic slogans they may be covered up".
Moreover, the "initiative group" warned their associates that "conscious or unconscious, active or hidden support and emotional approval of such methods can lead to tragic consequences and even armed clashes on religious grounds". Accusing the UOC leadership of unwillingness to "join" the OCU and of a "policy of procrastination", the "initiative group" recalled the Gospel and responsibility to "Ecumenical Orthodoxy", and called for "stopping any attempts at violent seizure of buildings" and asked the leadership of the OCU to "condemn them" and not make people "love them forcefully”.
The authors of the letter have an understanding that "for our unchristian behaviour, the Lord will empty our churches, which were seized from our enemies", and "inaction and irresponsible silence in such cases is equal to approval and complicity in violence".
Immediately after the publication of the position of the "initiative group" one of the most active "preachers" of the independence of the Ukrainian Church, Tetiana Derkach, wrote that "there are people in the OCU who are fed up with this testosterone batter". Responding to her opponents from the same OCU, Derkach bewilderedly notes: "What kind of flock you have brought up is evident from their comments. This is the hellish hell. And this is my Church? Yopta."
The OCU and the sledgehammer – together forever?
However, not everyone in the OCU agreed with the signatories of the "statement". For example, Tetiana Derkach's long-time friend and OCU propagandist Yaroslava Mishchenko wrote that she has been watching for several months how the OCU is being "moulded into a raider".
In Mishchenko's opinion, representatives of the Dumenko structure are white and fluffy kittens who have been undeservedly defamed, and there were no broken jaws and legs in Cherkasy at all, but a "fabricated slander". Proof that there was no seizure of the UOC monastery, according to Mishchenko, can be provided by the fact that "all the publicised data were obtained only from the Moscow Patriarchate resources".
She was modestly silent about the video, where any adequate person could see with their own eyes the wild batter that the OCU "believers" staged during the convent seizure. The video was filmed by a miracle as the raiders took away phones, smashed them on the pavement and did not let the eyewitnesses record the developments. That is, they clearly did not want all that was happening to get into the press, and the press came to the monastery only when the UOC nuns were thrown out into the street, and it was possible to "calmly" enter the territory of the monastery.
One could say that Mishchenko is a laywoman, and her position cannot equally oppose the position of the signatories of the "statement of the initiative group", many of whom are OCU priests. But…
"Priest" of the OCU Roman Hryshchuk fully supported the banditry of the OCU in Cherkasy, saying that cutting the locks on UOC churches is a "holy thing". Finally, Cherkasy "bishop" of the OCU Ivan Yaremenko officially responded at a press conference to the call of the authors of the "10 theses" appeal to the leadership of the OCU to condemn the violent seizures of churches. He stated that there was no beating, and it was the "power wing of the Moscow Church" that beat up peaceful parishioners of the OCU who wanted to get into their church. At the same time, he called 76-year-old parishioner Oleh Slobodianyk, who had his leg broken in two places by "peaceful parishioners of the OCU" and lost sight in one eye, a "power group preventing transitions".
Yaremenko was supported by his colleague, "Metropolitan" Ioasaph Vasylykiv of Ivano-Frankivsk, who wrote on Facebook that the statement of the "so-called" initiative group "denies the right of communities to regain their title right to the temple, which is maintained by some UOC-MP priests with their numerous supporters". Accusing the signatories of the statement of hypocrisy, he advised them "not to destroy the foundations of the Church" and "not to rock the ship".
At the same time, Vasylykiv emphasised that defectors from the UOC initiated the "10 theses" appeal. "Fellows, the fact that you moved from the UOC to the OCU does not mean that you are selected and did us a favour with this transition," he said.
"Archimandrite" Serhiy Yarovyi objected to him, reminding the "dear Metropolitan" that he himself once served in Russia and moved to the Kyiv Patriarchate from the Russian Orthodox Church.
In any case, the forceful seizure in Cherkasy exposed internal problems within the OCU. This beating of the UOC believers became a certain rubicon, having crossed which a group of representatives of the Dumenko structure decided to break the silence. The question is, why did they speak only now? The second question is what's next? Let's try to answer them.
Who and why in the OCU is against violence?
Serhiy Bortnyk, an employee of the UOC DECR, in his comments on the text of the statement of the "initiative group" on Tetiana Derkach's Facebook page, actually confirmed Vasylykiv's words, noting that more than half of the signatories were former clerics of the UOC. Thus, among the first authors of the statement were Archimandrite Kirill Hovorun, Andriy Dudchenko, Georgiy Kovalenko, and Andriy Shymanovych. Why did these people decide that the seizure of the Cherkasy convent was the moment when it was no longer possible to keep silent?
Here we can make two assumptions. The first one is expressed by the signatories themselves. They say that breaking jaws is not a Christian thing. No arguments, it is not Christian. Is it Christian to demolish a church with a tractor as in Lviv and to use tear gas as in Ivano-Frankivsk? And dragging parishioners by their hands out of the cathedral in Shepetivka? The answer is obvious. But why do we only talk about violence and banditry during seizures now?
Religious scholars working with sects know that the more a person gives their time, labour and money to a sect, the harder it is for them to part with it and admit their mistake. At a specific stage, he/she realises that everything in the sect is not as rosy as it seemed from the beginning. But the person involved can't take the decisive step of breaking up with it. A powerful trigger is needed. Cherkasy turned out to be such a trigger in the case of defectors from the UOC. No, we do not believe that any of them will immediately return to the canonical Church, leaving Dumenko with a grinder in his hands. But we can say for sure that many have had an insight.
For example, the "priest" of the OCU Volodymyr Koskin, commenting on the situation in Cherkasy writes: "As for the church, my personal position is a total and absolute disappointment. We do not have and will not have any much-needed reforms. As the first people who do not want change are the clergy and the bishops. There is no serious catechesis. There is no educational reform. There is no liturgical reform... We will not change the situation until there are serious internal reforms. As for empty churches... People are not interested in our theology if it remains dead and only able to fill the pages of books with letters."
In other words, a veneer of fluffiness that was still present on the OCU in 2019 has been washed away today with the tears of the UOC believers. Moreover, it is washed away in such a way that the same Derkach in a discussion with Hryshchuk calls to "honestly stop those sentimentalities like "we love everyone, we wait, our doors are open, blah blah". She believes that crowbar-and-grinder supporters should simply announce to UOC believers: "I will come unto you". And if the latter do not want to go to the OCU, then "tell them directly: you do not want to move, do not agree to the transition and do not give the temple (damn, how then in that bloody temple to pray, someone thought???) – you will eat dirt so that we either do not have illusions that we are still in the Church".
Another reason, besides the disappointment with the OCU, is the upbringing in the UOC. Kovalenko, Dudchenko, Drabinko and others will never become theirs for the mature OCU members, brought up by Filaret Denisenko. They are strangers, they have a completely different mentality than the "chicks of Denisenko's nest". Those grew up on hatred, envy and anger. For them, such phrases as "love for enemies" are as distant as the words "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner". That is why the collective Hryshchuk looks at the defectors from the UOC as a foreign body inside the fully formed organism of the "Orthodox Church of Ukraine".
Yes, having betrayed their native Church, these defectors tried to join the team of Dumenko, denigrating bishops and believers with whom they had communion from the same Cup. And they did not immediately realise that they had "sinned by betraying the innocent blood" (Matthew 27:4). Now, hopefully, they understand, and that's why they have spoken out.
The UOC faithful understood this a long time ago – back in 1992. However, as the UOC priest Oleksandr Klimenko rightly noted, 'For a similar but consistent and long-term position, we are constantly criticized and threatened to be impaled. We have just had a closer look at what some are only beginning to see today much earlier.' People who lie, beat, maim and seize are not the Church.
It remains only to feel sorry for those who have spent many years of their lives, health, and strength to establish the OCU and now write that they 'lose the desire to support the intelligent image of the OCU and, in general, have any connection with its PR.'
Because, as the aforementioned 'priest' of the OCU, Volodymyr Koskin, says, “We have no future in the modern world as a church.”
And you can't argue with that.