Did authorities start telling the truth about UOC and the church situation?
The head of the State Service for Ethnopolitics made a speech about the church situation in Ukraine, telling the truth about the UOC, the OCU, church seizures, etc.
On September 10, 2022, during the conference "Resilience after Victory: Measurements of Security of Public Life of Ukrainians", the head of the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience of Ukraine Olena Bohdan made several theses about the UOC very unusual for the Ukrainian society. In short, Bohdan spoke the truth about the UOC and the church situation in Ukraine, she voiced all the things that are not supposed to be voiced.
We should note that the conference was organized by the Uniate Ukrainian Catholic University and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, which can in no way be called friends of the UOC. The speakers were also people, to put it mildly, opposed to the Church. It is not difficult to guess that the organizers planned to address the questions of the "war of civilizations" specifically against the UOC, which was clearly hinted at by the moderator of the "discussion" who asked the question: "Where to evict the Moscow priests? However, things did not go according to plan from the very beginning.
Speaker Georgiy Kovalenko, the former priest of the UOC, speculating about the document "Ukraine after the Victory: The Vision for Ukraine 2030", asked how exactly the authors of this project intend to minimize the influence of the UOC: "How do you imagine that? Should it evaporate like dew in the sun? What should happen to it?". In addition, Kovalenko stressed that, from the point of view of the Constitution of Ukraine, solving the "problem of the UOC" will be very difficult.
But the real surprise was the speech of the head of the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience of Ukraine Olena Bohdan. At the very beginning, she stressed that representatives of nationalities that live on the territory of Ukraine perceive our country as a space of freedom and self-actualization. Thus, she made it clear that freedom, including religious freedom, is a necessary component of Ukrainian public policy, its future and present. And then the head of the civil service spoke about what "is unpleasant to hear but exists in reality”, that is, the real state of affairs in the religious field of Ukraine.
At the very beginning of her speech, Olena Bohdan stressed that her structure operates within the Ministry of Culture and is accountable to it. Therefore, the words of the head of the State Ethnopolitics Service should not be perceived only as a private opinion. So, what is going on?
The media are not telling the truth about the UOC
According to Olena Bohdan, what the media say about the UOC is radically different from what happens in reality. Journalists keep quiet that the UOC believers are fighting at the front, that the UOC is engaged in charity, and that its temples are full of prayers. According to Bohdan, this all remains "behind the scenes".
We would like to add that the media not only fail to report the truth about the UOC, they tell a lot of lies. Over the past few years, the media have done everything possible to discredit the image of our Сhurch in society. All these legends about "money to Moscow," "weapons in churches," and "collaborators in cassocks" are taken for granted by many. Such a "policy" is bearing its negative fruit, turning the largest religious confession into a marginal group that they want to "ban and destroy".
It is safe to say that if we stop modeling the Church as the enemy, very soon many people will realize how different the real picture is from the virtual one.
Olena Bohdan said that the Statute of the Kyiv Metropolis does not contain any references to the ROC, as well as the statutes of the eparchies, and after the UOC Council of May 27, there are no such references in the main Statute of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The only question that remains in the state structure is the question of the third paragraph of the Letter by Patriarch Alexy which the Statute refers to. This clause says that the UOC is connected to other Local Orthodox Churches through the ROC. the State Service for Ethnopolitics sent a written request to the Metropolitanate Office to explain whether this connection is coordinating or only spiritual. Apparently, after the answer to this question the state will have no more claims to the UOC?
The UOC is Ukraine's largest religious denomination
Olena Bohdan said several times that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the largest religious denomination in the country. She stressed that she has objective information about the number of churches in the UOC and the OCU, as well as their occupancy at services, so she can speak objectively. Furthermore, she gave specific figures. According to her, the UOC has almost twice as many priests as the OCU, many more temples (it is logical to assume that the ratio is approximately the same as with the number of priests), and about 2 million parishioners.
Olena Bohdan said several times that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the largest religious denomination in the country.
Filaret also used to say that his Kyiv Patriarchate is bigger than the UOC. And the head of the OCU Dumenko and his associates make such statements regularly. Of course, against the background of the UOC's processions that gather hundreds of thousands of believers, such statements look comical, yet the OCU continues to replicate them, citing various opinion polls. Therefore, the official statement of the head of the State Service for Ethnopolitics (for all its obviousness) is very important and puts an end to this absurd discussion.
Bohdan lamented that so far representatives of her structure have not been able to monitor the situation in the regions, but what she sees in Kyiv speaks for itself: "Kyiv has a superior number of Orthodox temples in the UOC, and they are not empty. They were not empty in April, and they are not empty now. They are filled with believers." And in the Orthodox churches of the OCU, according to her, there are people too, but “there is no situation there that the temples are overcrowded, no. They have some room, you can go more.”
Who to transfer the UOC lavras to when the OCU has neither monks nor parishioners?
Just recently, the Rada registered a bill on the transfer of the Pochaiv and Kyiv-Pechersk Lavras to the OCU. A similar call was made by former MP Oleksandr Bryhynets. In May, the OCU announced the creation of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra religious organization and demanded the transfer of one of the Lavra's churches to it. In other words, active provocative work is taking place to prepare a raider seizure of the shrines of the UOC.
Olena Bohdan responded, in fact, to all these people. In short, there is simply no one to transfer the monasteries. There are no monks in the OCU.
"Has anyone wondered how many monks of the OCU there are in Kyiv? Fewer than 50. There are more than 200 monks in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra alone, which is the UOC. And with seminarians and academy teachers there are more than 600," said Bohdan.
So, she hinted that if we transfer the monastery to the OCU, even all monks of Kyiv from this structure will not be able to fill at least a small part of it. And there are millions in utility bills and the cost of restoration - "these are very large sums, and they are paid not by the state, but by the religious association – the UOC”.
Another important point is that the St. Theodosius Monastery is located directly across the street from the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. The quote: "If you go there on a Sunday for a service, you will see how many people there are. And you can imagine how many monks there are, knowing that there are fewer than 50 in the whole Kyiv". The hint of the head of the State Service for Ethnopolitics is more than transparent: if the OCU has neither monks nor parishioners near the Lavra, what will change if they are given the Kyiv-Pechersk Monastery? What would be the point of that? I think Olena Bogdan explained very clearly why giving the Lavra to the OCU is a very bad idea.
The hint of the head of the State Service for Ethnopolitics is more than transparent: if the OCU has neither monks, nor parishioners near the Lavra, what will change if they are given the Kyiv-Pechersk Monastery?
2 million believers in the UOC: a lot or a little?
Olena Bohdan announced the figure of 2 million UOC believers. These calculations are likely to be "minimal," especially if we remember that only the Great Procession of the UOC in 2021 brought together 350 thousand believers at one time. But even this "modest" number of 2 million cannot but impress. After all, as Olena Bohdan noted, these people are "religiously active”.
In this case, we are not simply talking about supporters of the UOC, but about those whom we call churched people. In other words, if now 35-37 million people live in Ukraine, 2 million is about 6%, which is a lot (for example, in the ROC people who go to church and observe fasts, according to representatives of the Church, are 3%-4%).
OCU seizes churches from UOC but they stand empty
OCU members and "patriots" try to tell us that there are no seizures in Ukraine, and that all this is an invention of the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. And now suddenly this thesis is refuted in the State Ethnopolitics. It turns out that all this is here. And the consequences of the seizures are sad. UOC believers are kicked out of their churches, and no one goes there instead.
Olena Bohdan said that many people say to her that mass "religious conflicts" have already happened in the history of Ukraine, and therefore there is no need to be dramatic about it now. The head of the State Service for Ethnopolitics does not agree with such people. Why?
Because previously such conflicts were related to the situation when the UGCC, which has been underground for a long time, legalized itself after the fall of the Soviet Union and returned the churches seized by the Soviet authorities. On the other hand, Dumenko’s followers have no underground, and there is no place for them to take believers. Bohdan confirmed this thesis by the fact that more than 100 churches, already seized by the OCU, stand empty: "I don't know how to reach out to everyone, to the two metropolises, to Ukrainian society, because this situation is getting more dangerous every day. Here should have the courage to acknowledge the facts, even if they are uncomfortable, and then have the wisdom to adequately get out of this situation.”
Well, the call for an acknowledgment of the facts is very timely. All that remains is to take concrete steps to "get out of the situation".
Attempts to ban the UOC will destabilize Ukraine
Olena Bohdan said that the conflicts around the seizures of UOC churches harm the image of Ukraine in the international arena and also create a "picture" that completely, in her words, fits into the narrative of the Russian Federation. And this is dangerous "because it can lead to the idea that Russia is right in some way.”
But it is especially dangerous that religious conflicts will definitely lead to destabilization inside Ukraine.
"Many people think that there are very few UOC believers left and it is only necessary to push and there will be no such phenomenon as the UOC in Ukrainian society," said Olena Bohdan. But given that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has over 10,000 religious organizations and 2 million believers, attempts to ban the UOC are a direct way to destabilize the country: "This is a very simple way to destabilize the situation in society and create opposition among citizens, a very serious fight of citizens against law enforcement agencies, to create resentment and distrust in the state authorities because someone has to come and remove people from temples, and new people will not take their place".
The speech by Olena Bohdan can be seen as a certain evolution (or even revolution) in the position of the authorities regarding the UOC. It is unclear how events will develop further and whether the authorities will stop the lawlessness that is occurring in the religious sphere of Ukraine. But it is obvious that the situation is being monitored there and they are well aware of it. This fact alone should sober up many officials and "activists" who violate the Constitution and fight against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Once again, it should be noted that Bohdan's words cannot be viewed only as her personal position, because quite recently the Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko has said that that he does not know "ROCU" in Ukraine and knows only the UOC. And one would hope that from now on this position of the authorities will become official and will be implemented in practice as required by the Constitution of Ukraine.