Ever since the Anti-Terrorist Operation/Joint Forces Operations (ATO/JFO), there have been reports in the news and on social media that priests of the UOC-MP refuse to perform funeral services for fallen defenders, calling them fratricidal murderers unworthy of Christian remembrance. On the other hand, now the official pages of the UOC are literally full of posts about how in one of their deaneries it was their fathers who conducted the last rites of a fallen soldier. Of course, no one has abolished freedom of conscience in Ukraine, and the relatives of the victims have the right to invite a priest of any denomination to perform the burial rite. But this does not remove the moral problem and painful questions: why, even now, during a full-scale war, do relatives of Ukrainians who died at the hands of Russian invaders call for agents of influence of the "Russian world" to accompany them on their last journey? Is this a kind of Stockholm syndrome, mental infantilism of believers, or a tribute to ritual without faith?
"THE MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE EXISTS BECAUSE PEOPLE GO AND DON'T CARE"
In fact, in the second year of the war, Ukrainians should have no doubts about the real role of the UOC-MP in Russian-Ukrainian relations. There is ample information about the openly collaborative activities of the clergy of this church both in the temporarily occupied territories and in the territories controlled by Ukraine. There is also a lot of news about odious representatives of the UOC, such as Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed), known as Pasha Mercedes, and lower-ranking "figures". But even today, those who have lost their loved ones in the war with Russia, in the most terrible moments of their farewell, deliberately or not so deliberately legitimize pro-Moscow clergymen: for some reason, they are invited to perform the burial rite.
"Recently, I read a story in a news feed about the mother of a fallen Ukrainian soldier who was refused a memorial service by a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate because he was a 'fratricide' and 'unworthy of Christian remembrance'. There are many stories like this on the Internet, and when I hear them, I want to ask: why did you go to the Moscow Patriarchate church in the first place? It's simple: most people don't care which church they go to. Then everyone wonders why the Moscow Patriarchate still exists in Ukraine, and here is the answer: because people go and they don't care," Archimandrite Sofroniy Chupryna, a clergyman of Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior, spokesman for the Vinnytsia-Bar Diocese of the OCU, wrote on Facebook.
He notes that the "propagandists of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine" constantly post photos of soldiers' funerals, where the rite of passage is performed by priests of the Moscow Patriarchate, both in cities and villages.
"Do people really not know which patriarchate the church in their village belongs to? Is it so difficult to clarify and ask where you pray and to whom, whom you feed and sponsor? Why dishonor the memory of your relatives, especially Ukrainian heroes, because it is a shame to perform funeral services for Ukrainians killed by Russians in churches where they pray for the Moscow Patriarch, who blessed the killing of Ukrainians?" he asks.
Indeed, photos and posts about the funeral services of fallen soldiers by priests of the UOC-MP can be seen on social media in any of the dioceses. And even if the deceased was not a parishioner of this church, at almost all funerals the burial rite is also used for ideological preaching about the persecution of the UOC-MP. And if someone hints that they are under the control of the Russian Orthodox Church, they can be hit with a cross at the funeral.
Such an incident occurred in the Vinnytsia region last year, on July 22, in the village of Ialanets, Tulchyn district, during the funeral of the fallen soldier Oleksandr Ziniv. The OCU priest, who also came to the funeral, began to reproach the UOC-MP fathers for speaking Russian and called for a ban on the activities of "Russian priests." After the argument, the UOC-MP priest attacked his colleague from another denomination and hit him with a metal cross, causing bodily harm.
The Tomashpil District Court then found the attacker guilty of committing a criminal offense under Part 1 of Article 125 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine: inflicting light bodily harm, and sentenced him to a fine of 45 tax-free minimum incomes, which is UAH 765. He also ordered the injured OCU priest to pay UAH 5,000 in non-pecuniary damage.
But Ukrainians continue to call for funerals of Moscow priests.
"Some say they are not going to the patriarchate, but to God. Others say that the church of the Moscow Patriarchate is closer to home, others that they did not know, did not hear, and so everyone has their own excuse. But all of them continue to sponsor the Moscow Patriarchate, carry money, buy, order, and maintain collaborating priests who are waiting for Putin's arrival.
Even the example I mentioned. If that priest had not refused the grieving mother of a soldier and performed a memorial service, she would have continued to go to the church of the Moscow Patriarchate. She probably did it before, praying there, lighting candles, writing notes so that the Lord would save her son. And he was killed. And not just anyone, but Russians who came to kill, rob, capture, rape, abuse, and destroy with the blessing of the very Moscow Patriarch for whom they pray and whom they consider their "master and father" in the church where the mother prayed for her son. I do not understand this," Archimandrite Chupryna said.
PRO-RUSSIAN CHURCH AS AN INHERITANCE
It would seem that the Vinnytsia region is less Russified than some regions of the South and East of Ukraine, and the clergy of the UOC-MP should not have such influence here. However, it was here that, before the creation of the Single Local Church in Ukraine, there were the most pro-Russian religious communities.
- We are an agricultural region, and therefore we had the largest number of rural settlements. In each of those where there was no church, one was built. And where there was a church, but there was not enough space, there were often patrons who built a new one "on behalf of their family." When the Law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" was adopted in the 1990s, the state began to officially register the statutes of religious communities and thereby grant legal entity status to religious organizations. Therefore, historically, the region had the largest number of UOC-MP communities. And, accordingly, the largest number of priests of this denomination," says Ihor Saletskyi, head of the Department for Nationalities and Religions of the Vinnytsia Regional Military Administration.
However, according to the official, after the Unification Council of Ukrainian Orthodox Churches and the receipt of the Tomos of Autocephaly, the Verkhovna Rada legislated a mechanism and procedure for changing the subordination of religious communities. This allowed the UOC-MP communities, which saw themselves as part of the OCU, to make decisions to change their confessional affiliation and submit documents to the state authorities that registered it.
- While in 2019 there were almost 1,000 UOC-MP communities and about 200 UOC-KP communities in the Vinnytsia region, today we have just over 500 registered religious communities of the UOC-MP and just under 500 communities of the OCU. That is, the balance has almost leveled off. In addition, there are about 300 religious communities of the UOC-MP in the region that operate without registration, do not have the status of a legal entity and civil legal capacity. In addition, our department is currently a participant, both as a defendant and a third party, in seven lawsuits related to religious communities changing their jurisdiction.
As for believers, in this segment, we can see both visually and through sociological research that the majority of Orthodox Christians are parishioners of the OCU, about 57% of them. And from 4 to 7% are believers of the UOC-MP. There are not many people who stubbornly hold on to the UOC-MP, but they are organized. If there are 10-15 of them in each locality, then this is, in fact, the priest, his family, and the clergy around him. But when they come from five villages to one, it seems that there are a lot of them," the official says.
As for why believers ask priests affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate to perform funeral services for fallen soldiers, he believes that this is done primarily by those who have close relations or are relatives of these priests.
- There is a category of believers and priests who have the "Russian world" in their minds, and you cannot convince them. There are those who are fundamentally in favor of a funeral service by a priest of the UOC-MP. And there are those who turn to them only because a priest must be present at the funeral. If there is no one from the OCU, then let this one perform the funeral service. There are also such inert people. It seems to me that they will realize the difference, but it is a matter of time," the official says.
GETTING RID OF INTOXICATION WITH THE "RUSSIAN WORLD"
According to Yuriy Chornomorets, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the Drahomanov National Pedagogical University, the "infantilism" of Ukrainians toward the UOC-MP can be explained by the long intoxication with the "Russian world." And they invite priests of this church to the memorial service for their dead relatives because they see them not as clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate, but simply as their priests.
- The fact is that for many years people have gotten used to the fact that this is a local church. They have been told a thousand times that it is simply the Church of Christ, simply the Orthodox Church. They are used to it and do not associate it directly with Moscow. And they don't even notice how much they are influenced by Moscow's narratives. People live in this as in a natural environment. There is a principle: if you throw a frog into boiling water, it will be saved because it will immediately swim out. And if you put it in water and gradually raise the temperature, it will be boiled. So it works in the same way here - there is an imperceptible intoxication.
In addition, we need to understand that the parents of these fallen soldiers may belong to two completely different types of believers in the Moscow Patriarchate. There is a large number of believers who go to church, take communion, and are in favor of breaking with Moscow, 72% of them. Half of the priests also support breaking with Moscow and are putting a lot of pressure on the bishops, on Metropolitan Onufriy, to make this happen. And there are 28% of those who are fanatics who believe that only their church is correct and, accordingly, there is no need to break with Moscow, we must maintain this connection. They are people who have a sectarian type of worldview and will always and everywhere belong to the Moscow Patriarchate," says Chornomorets.
The scholar believes that the main task of the state is to adopt legislation that would make it impossible to preserve the canonical unity of the church with Moscow.
- For us, it is strange that more than 500 days of the great war have passed, and the Russian religious organization is not banned on our territory. This passivity of the state is very surprising. After all, because of this passivity, it will lose again and again, rise from the ashes again and again and think, for example, why did we lose the 1917 Liberation War? They lost because they did not adopt the necessary legislation in time. And we thought: how can we explain this to the people so that they finally understand something?
Our task is not to educate individuals, individual believers and priests, to explain something to them, etc. This is a very strange way, in my opinion. There are specific crimes of the hierarchy, there is a specific economic situation of this religious organization. Accordingly, it is necessary to draw specific legislative and legal conclusions," Chornomorets is sure.
COURT AND THE CASE
Meanwhile, in the Vinnytsia region, in April 2023, the regional council terminated lease agreements for real estate and land plots and prohibited any use of property that is jointly owned by the territorial communities of the region with religious organizations of the UOC-MP. A similar decision was made by the Vinnytsia City Council.
A lawsuit is still pending between the Vinnytsia City Council and the religious community of the Holy Exaltation Church in Vinnytsia (UOC-MP) over the right to permanently use municipal property. It is about 2 hectares of land that the city council had allocated.
The second lawsuit, in which the UOC-MP is suing for property, concerns the religious community of the Church of the Great Martyr George the Victorious. It is located on the land of the Ministry of Defense, next to the Vinnytsia Officers' House, which was destroyed by Russian "Kalibr" in July last year. The court of first instance ruled in favor of the UOC-MP religious community. However, the Northwest Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the Vinnytsia Commercial Court and issued a new one, recognizing that the Vinnytsia City Council had used the land plot illegally and had no right to grant it for permanent use to the UOC religious community.
And finally. On August 7, the Vinnytsia City Court found the head of the Tulchyn Diocese of the UOC, Metropolitan Jonathan (in the world - Anatoly Yeleckykh), guilty under four articles of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. Namely: Part 2 of Art. 109 (actions aimed at the violent change or overthrow of the constitutional order or the seizure of state power); Part 1 of Art. 110 (encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine); Part 2 of Art. 161 (violation of the equality of citizens based on their race, nationality, region, religious beliefs, disability and other grounds); Part 3 of Article 436-2 (justification, recognition as lawful, denial of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, glorification of its participants). According to the report, following the trial, the Metropolitan was sentenced to 5 years in prison with confiscation of property. However, the verdict had not yet entered into force at the time of writing.
Antonina Mnich, Vinnytsia
Photos by the newspaper "33 Channel" and from social networks