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Moscow-backed Ukrainian Orthodox Church still linked to Russia despite claims – expert committee

Ukrainian Orthodox Church Russia
L-R: Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) primate Metropolitan Onufriy, Russian Orthodox Church primate Patriarch Kirill, prominent financier of UOC MP, Ukrainian oligarch and lawmaker Vadym Novynskyi during a UOC MP visit to Moscow to greet Kirill with the 10th anniversary of his election to primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, 16 June 2019. Photo: Novynskyi’s Facebook
Moscow-backed Ukrainian Orthodox Church still linked to Russia despite claims – expert committee
Article by: Alya Shandra

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchy (UOC MP) that in May 2022 claimed to sever ties with its mother church is in fact still subjugated to the Russian Orthodox Church, an expert committee has found.

The committee, comprised of religious experts and convened by the State Service for Ethnic Policy and Freedom of Conscience, examined the Statute of the UOC MP for the presence of ecclesiastical and canonical ties with the Moscow Patriarchate after a decision of the State Service for Ethnic Policy and Freedom of Conscience.

This check comes amid increased criticism of UOC MP hierarchs for pro-Russian activities and recognition of its role in spreading the ideology of the Russian world, which maintains that Russia is engaged in a battle against the ungodly West and that Ukraine is predetermined to be part of the Russian world by divine destiny.

Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 pushed the UOC MP to distance itself from its mother church, the Moscow Patriarchy, after a conference in May. Following this event, UOC MP clergymen claimed that it had cut ties with the Russian Orthodox Church and thus the UOC MP should not be subject to sanctions and unjustly suffers from criticism and what they claimed as persecution.

A conference of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate on 27 May 2022 in Kyiv claimed to have severed ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. Photo: UOC MP

However, the UOC MP never made public their updated statute where the decision to sever ties with the Moscow Patriarchy should have been clearly delineated. As well, the UOC MP did not communicate to other Orthodox Churches that it had declared its independence (autocephaly in church terminology), which should have been the case if ties had indeed been severed.

As well, its ties with Constantinople remain severed from 2018, when the Russian Orthodox Church unilaterally cut them ahead of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew granting autocephaly (independence) to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Briefly, the conclusions of the expert group are the following:

  • The new UOC MP statute adopted (dated 27.05.2022) and the resolution of the UOC Council did not lead to the severance of ecclesiastical and canonical ties between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The status of the UOC MP as a structural unit of the ROC, which has certain rights of independence but does not form an autocephalous church, remains unchanged.
  • The UOC MP in relation to the ROC has an ecclesiastical canonical connection of a part with a whole.
  • The current activity or inactivity of the highest church authorities and governing bodies of the UOC MP indicates that the UOC MP continues to be in a relationship of subordination to the ROC.

“The members of the expert group did not find any documents or actions indicating the transformation of the UOC MP into a religious organization independent of the ROC,” the statement reads.

Following Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, public criticism of the UOC MP grew and Ukrainian authorities committed to taking action against the Russian-linked denomination that many experts said was long overdue. Namely, they started investigating pro-Russian activities of UOC MP clergymen and raiding its premises to find evidence of support for Russia’s aggression.

Following checks, an official of the UOC MP is to be tried for supporting the Russian invasion. In November and December, Ukraine’s Security Service raided UOC MP monasteries, claiming to have found evidence of support for Russia’s war among some UOC MP hierarchs, as well as spreading materials denying Ukraine’s statehood. As well, in December, some UOC MP leaders were placed under Ukrainian sanctions.

54% of Ukrainians believe the UOC MP should be banned.

In the latest move against the Moscow-linked Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian state had not prolonged its lease agreement for two churches of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, a major historical monastery in the capital Kyiv. Prior to 2023, the UOC MP had held church services in these two churches.

Currently, they remain part of the Lavra’s state museum complex, although the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which emerged after a decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 2018, has held two Christmas services in them in January 2023.

Ukrainian liturgy returns to historical Kyiv monastery after 300 years of ban

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