How the war changed the Ukrainian ecumenical landscape

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Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which has now lasted for more than 100 days, has already significantly changed the Ukrainian religious landscape. The changes are also redefining the contours of ecumenical engagement in the country – as the country’s Orthodox churches aim to find the right way to engage with each other, the Ukrainian Catholic Church is also struggling to find fruitful relations with each of the Christian communions. in the country.

The most fruitful ecumenical engagement, according to an expert The pillaris at the level of pastoral care and social support for refugees and victims of the Russian invasion.

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The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) saw a number of parishes transition to the Independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), gradually equalizing the size of the country’s two Orthodox jurisdictions.

Last week, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, held in Moscow on June 7, announced the direct subordination of three UOC-MP dioceses in Crimea to Moscow. Two other dioceses in the occupied regions of eastern Ukraine announced that they had ceased to commemorate the local Metropolitan Onufriy of the UOC-MP during the services and de facto transferred to fall under the direct jurisdiction of Patriarch Cyril of Moscow.

Experts are now inclined to believe that if the UOC-MP continues to distance itself from the Russian Church, the latter will continue to nibble dioceses from it, bringing them directly under Moscow, and may even create an alternative ecclesiastical center in Ukraine, declaring her the former “daughter” of the UOC-MP to be in schism.

Today, the UOC-MP remains in a canonical gray area, and its updated bylaws have yet to be officially released. The unofficial version of the document, which is currently under active discussion, states that all references to ties to the Moscow Patriarchate have been removed, while a reference to a decree issued by Moscow Patriarch Alexy II in 1990 has been added.

This decree granted the UOC-MP “independence and self-determination” in its management; he also claimed that the UOC-MP had an independent character within the wider Orthodox community and was only related to other Orthodox Churches through the Russian Church.

With the continuous transfers of parishes from the UOC-MP to the OCU, and the gradual subordination to Moscow of the UOC-MP dioceses in Russian-occupied territory shows that after the Sobor of the UOC-MP the May 27, the future of the UOC-MP remains uncertain.

But amid the internal uncertainty of the UOC-MP, there are persistent offers from the OCU to start a formal dialogue, which would aim to unite the institutions into one Church.

While this is unfolding, the other Eastern Church in Ukraine – the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), which is in communion with Rome – is trying to maintain good relations with both Churches.

All of this now leaves some experts expressing cautious optimism that reshaping the religious landscape in Ukraine could have a positive impact on ecumenical dialogue, both within the country and globally.

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According to Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, an Orthodox theologian and professor at Loyola Marymount University, who in 2008 and 2009 headed the Department of External Church Relations of the UOC-MP, what is currently happening in his Church n is just the beginning.

“How this Church will move forward depends on the will of its faithful and its clergy and also on the position and even the pressure of the Ukrainian society on the UOC not to go off the rails and not back down. This which is entirely possible,” he added. Told The pillar.

Prof. Hovorun said that the probability of UOC-MP decaying is relatively high.

“As this Church becomes more and more independent from Moscow, these parts of the occupied territories will separate from the UOC-MP,” he said. “Either we may soon be dealing with a restored exarchate of the Russian Church in Ukraine, which existed in Soviet times from 1921 to 1990, or other dioceses will be directly subordinate to Moscow.”

At the same time, Hovorun warned that if relations between the UOC-MP and the OCU were to develop constructively, the two churches should adjust their positions. The UOC-MP, he said, has long emphasized that the basis of its identity is Eucharistic communion with other Orthodox Churches.

But that situation has changed since the Patriarch of Constantinople recognized the UOC as an independent Church in 2019, and has since been similarly recognized by the Churches of Alexandria, Greece and Cyprus.

“After 2019, the UOC-MP took up the challenge of finding a new identity, and the worst course was chosen: they decided to come together around the confrontation with the OCU. It has become part of the identity, and it is a negative thing that hinders relations with the OCU today. But it has to be overcome,” Hovorun said.

“Luckily it didn’t last too long, only three years, and there is an opportunity to change it. I see that within the OCU itself, this work has begun. But he needs help from the UOC-MP. On the one hand, there are some good statements, but there are other signals that are not very encouraging.

Hovorun said the task now was “for the entire religious community in Ukraine” to work for “the common good”.

“The May 27 Sobor demonstrated the dynamics of a rapprochement between Ukrainian Orthodoxy and the Ukrainian religious community in general, but the UOC needs help,” he added.

At the same time, Fr. Hovorun noted that Ukraine is already an example of interfaith and interreligious cooperation, and this experience could make it an example for others to follow.

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The current situation between the two Orthodox Churches in the country can still contribute to the revival of ecumenical relations in Ukraine, he said, because “even the presence of two Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine has its advantages; they learn to tolerate each other, and when the Orthodox first learn to tolerate each other, they will also treat other religious traditions in the same way.”

Meanwhile, representatives of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church say that while they see no serious changes in relations with the Orthodox since the start of the war, there is cautious optimism about how the he general ecumenical atmosphere in Ukraine may change as a result of the change in Orthodoxy.

Taras Kurylets from the Institute of Ecumenical Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University said The pillar that he does not expect to see a significant breakthrough in relations at the official level, but that changes are already perceptible on the ground in areas such as social ministry and chaplaincy, where the cohesion of Ukrainian society in general, after the invasion, has been reflected among the Ukrainian Churches as they serve.

“There is a tendency in Ukrainian society, especially among Ukrainian Christians, at the local level, to find ways to understand each other more quickly and to be ahead of the hierarchy, as happened in the case of the Dignity Revolution in 2013-2014,” says Kurylets.

“Bishops are much more cautious, inertial.”

Kurylets said that despite the drastic measures taken by the UOC-MP away from Moscow, there remains a huge wall of distrust and mutual rejection between the OCU and the UOC-MP, and that more time is needed to start a dialogue. Despite the rapidly changing ecclesiastical landscape, he predicted that the two Orthodox Churches “will continue to live their separate lives for some time to come.”

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For his part, Fr. Ihor Shaban, head of the UGCC Commission for Promoting Christian Unity, said The pillar that the UGCC will not change its ecumenical approaches and also remains committed to engagement and dialogue with both Orthodox jurisdictions. But, he warned, this dialogue implies a will on both sides, which is not yet evident.

“We do not comment on the decisions of the Sobor of the UOC-MP; it is their internal affair,” Shaban said. “We can only watch and pray that everything will turn out as God intends. Of course, Russia has hindered the establishment of normal relations between the Churches in Ukraine, but these processes (in the UOC-MP), if they change the situation, it would be good.

“We look at this with optimism and hope that over time we will start a formal dialogue with the UOC-MP as well as with the OCU. Recently, delegations of Roman Catholic bishops from Poland and Germany came in Ukraine, and we visited representatives of the OCU and the UOC-MP.

Shaban said that while “each church is living its vision for the future”, he heard during the visit “significantly fewer accusations against the OCU from UOC-MP representatives, and we have more talked about Sobor’s decisions”.

Although there is no official Catholic-Orthodox dialogue in Ukraine, Shaban stressed that the UGCC is trying to actively participate in the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Church. Eastern Orthodox.

“Our representative, Reverend Iwan Dacko, represents our Church there. We try to speak with the voice of all Ukraine in this Commission because there is only one representative from Ukraine. The OCU has not been invited to these meetings, and it is unclear what the trends are within Orthodoxy regarding its inclusion in this dialogue,” Shaban said.

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