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Πέμπτη, 29 Φεβρουαρίου, 2024

Περί της Ουκρανικής Εκκλησίας του Πατριαρχείου Μόσχας

Distinguish Professor Bremer,

Dear Thomas,

Although you do not believe that we are capable of convincing each other of anything, I hope that the very fact of our correspondence is aimed at finding common ground rather than the other way around. As far as the content is concerned, it seems to me that you have not listened to my arguments. This concerns, first of all, the central issue of the conclusion of the religious expertise that you are analysing. Let me repeat: the UOC was part of the Russian Orthodox Church; after the Council of May 2022 it began to move away from Moscow, but did not complete it. The hierarchy of the UOC does not want to leave the episcopate of the Russian Church, its Synod, its Interconciliar Presence and its Synodal commissions. This is not because there is no proof that the UOC is a part of the ROC (there are such proofs), but rather because there is no proof that it is not a part.  The experts were looking for the latter. Similarly, hundreds of UOC priests have asked and continue to ask their leadership: if we are not part of the ROC, what are our bishops doing in its governing bodies? Why do they synchronise their policies on inter-Orthodox relations with Moscow? If we use your metaphor of a German passport, which indicates that you are German, then the UOC has a passport of belonging to the ROC. And if we try to take your metaphor literally, it turns out that a number of UOC hierarchs, including its Primate, have Russian passports, but there is no evidence that they have renounced such passports or that their passports have lost their validity.

The question of why the UOC does not want to withdraw from the Russian Orthodox Church and send a clear and understandable signal to the state and society  hung in the air. I can only guess why, instead, the UOC leadership prefers to wage a campaign to discredit Ukraine in the international arena, spread obvious fabrications and pay $1,400 an hour to US lobbyists who resort to outright lies, cite non-existent documents and fervently refute postulates that they themselves have invented. I will repeat it once again just in case.

The State of Ukraine does not want to ban either the UOC or any other Church. But it needs to be sure that no religious organisation in Ukraine is tied by “earthly ties” to centres that are involved in military aggression against Ukraine. The state does not demand that the UOC renounce Orthodox faith, revise its own doctrine, become part of another Church, or declare autocephaly on its own.  Likewise, the State has never demanded that the UOC abandon the Church Slavonic language and the Julian calendar (as some well-paid lawyers have recently fantasised about).

When the leadership of the UOC says that it needs to wait until the end of the war to take any decisive steps, it raises suspicions that the leadership is delaying in anticipation of who will prevail in the Russian-Ukrainian war. When the hierarchy says that the issue should be resolved by a pan-Orthodox consensus, it is well aware that such a consensus is impossible in the foreseeable future.

At the same time, I completely agree with you: lack of taste is not punishable under Ukrainian law. If a Metropolitan decorates himself with a Luis Vuitton scarf, monogrammed shoes, and furnishes his residence with luxury that would be more appropriate for a mafia character in a gangster movie, and invites the “king of Russian chanson” to sing at his anniversary, this is a matter of his personal taste. And it is not the state’s business to monitor how strictly he keeps his monastic vows of poverty and chastity, how he overcomes his voluptuousness or covetousness.

But when a hierarch consecrates weapons of mass destruction, or participates in the ceremony of territorial conquest, or calls on the faithful to disrupt mobilisation, it is, I’m sorry, not in good taste at all. I don’t think that a state that tolerates such behaviour, especially during such a bloody war, will meet with the understanding of its own citizens. And it is unlikely that the argument about the presence of collaborators in the police or other state bodies will be relevant here. I can hardly imagine a situation where the leadership of, for example, the SBU would refuse to punish a traitor or quietly send him or her to early retirement.

It also seems to me that you have to some extent fallen under the influence of an information cliché spread by the UOC leadership and their lobbyists. The state of Ukraine has never banned religious organisations. According to the survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre, approximately one in five countries in the world bans at least one religious organisation. But you won’t find Ukraine .among these 43 countries. And, as mentioned above, Ukraine has no intention of doing so in the future and banning certain religious organisations. It seeks, I repeat, to ensure that religious organisations on its territory are not part of or under the influence of religious centres in the country that are aimed at destroying Ukraine. By the way, the same goal is pursued by the Law of the Republic of Latvia adopted this year, according to which the Orthodox Church in this country cannot be subordinated to any centre outside Latvia.

It is noteworthy that its critics almost never consider the relevant draft law 8371 on its substance, limiting themselves to accusatory rhetoric. Moreover, they resort to falsifications, claiming that the draft law was rejected by the Chief Scientific and Expert Department of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. This argument, for lack of others, is so favoured by the campaign organisers that they cite it in a letter to the leaders of international organisations and the G7 countries. In fact, the Chief Department’s devastating criticism was directed at a completely different draft law while what concerns Draft Law 8371 Department formulated  its wishes regarding greater legal certainty and judicial technique. However, critics of the draft law shamefully overlook several important circumstances. First of all, the fact that it is non-discriminatory – it is not aimed specifically at any of the churches, and does not allow the activities of religious organisations associated with centres of influence in the country that is carrying out aggression against Ukraine. In other words, a religious organisation has the right and the possibility, as the example of, say, the Old Believers Orthodox Church in Ukraine has shown, to break this connection. Subordination to the Moscow Patriarchate is not part of the Orthodox faith.

The fighters against the “ban” also fail to mention that the last word in terminating the activities of a religious organisation, as it should be in a democratic society, will belong to the court. So, in my opinion, the draft law is not discriminatory (because it’s not directed against any particular church), does not impose a burden on the conscience of believers and pursues a completely legitimate goal. You would have to agree that the Ukrainian government has at least as much reason to prevent a religious institution from having ties with those religious organisations involved in the war against Ukraine as a number of European governments have to prevent the wearing of the burqa or hijab in public places.

Now, about the broader context that you touch on in your letter. You wrote about the election of the new Speaker of the US House of Representatives, who, as you say, “has always been against military aid to Ukraine”. If he has “always been against” it is unlikely that this is related to the UOC. But if this statesman, who has devoted much time and effort to defending religious freedom and Christian values, were to ask me under this perspective why we should help Ukraine, I have a pretty clear idea of my answer. I would tell him about the real persecution that Christians are experiencing in the Russian-occupied territories; I would show him photos of clergy who have been killed, shot, tortured, including his fellow believers. He would also show photos of nearly five hundred destroyed churches and houses of worship. I would introduce him to the believers who, even before the large-scale invasion, fled in whole communities from the Russian-occupied Crimea and Donbas to mainland Ukraine. I would offer him to write words of support to those imprisoned in Ukraine solely for their religious beliefs, who have been sentenced to 6, 8, 12 and even 19,5 years in prison and are now being held in Russian colonies.  I would also provide him with evidences from priests, pastors, imams, rabbis, from the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations, and with the testimonies of this Council members about religious freedom in Ukraine and its enemies.

I hope that Mr Speaker would then better understand why all defenders of religious liberty have to help Ukraine.

With best regards,

Viktor Yelenskyi




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