Kiev, February 22, 2019 – The Ministry of Culture of Ukraine has set April 26, Great and Holy Friday, as the deadline for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) to rename itself, reports the Ukrainian site Strana.
According to bill No. 5309 passed by the Rada and signed into law by President Poroshenko in December, all religious organizations having governing bodies in an aggressor country must include the name of their parent organization in their titles. Russia is officially considered an aggressor country by the Ukrainian state.
The law is widely acknowledged as a thinly-veiled attack on the canonical Church, facilitating the seizure of its parishes and monasteries. Philaret Denisenko, the “honorary Patriarch” of the Ukrainian schismatic church has openly stated how the law will be used to take the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras away from the UOC.
According to the legislators’ logic, the UOC must rename itself to “the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.” However, Church representatives have continually pointed out that, although the Ukrainian Church is an autonomous body within the Russian Orthodox Church, there is no legal relationship between the two outlined in the Ukrainian Church’s ruling documents.
Therefore, the Church has said that it will not change its name.
“To day, there are no legal grounds for the UOC changing its name or the Ministry of Culture doing it. It’s said that for religious organizations that don’t reregister or submit documents for changing their name, their statutes will lose force in terms of the name of the religious organization. But it doesn’t forbid its activity, it’s not liquidated, it doesn’t disappear, it will continue to exist,” the head of the Synodal Legal Department Fr. Alexander Bakhov said at a press conference yesterday.
However, the Ministry of Culture counters that because Ukrainian hierarchs participate in the Bishops’ Councils of the Russian Orthodox Church and implement the decisions of these councils, the UOC is therefore legally part of the Russian Church, reports Ukrainian News, which has published the relevant text from the Ministry of Culture.
The Ministry has also said that any organization not complying with the law could have its activities terminated by court decision, despite that the given law does not allow for such punishment.
Having examined the UOC’s statutes, the Ministry notes that the governing body of the UOC operates on the basis of the sacred canons of the Church and the decisions of the Bishops’ and Local Councils of the UOC and the Russian Church.
Despite the Ministry’s reasoning, the governing body of the UOC remains its own Holy Synod and Bishops’ Council, administratively centered in Kiev. The UOC also adheres to decisions made at the Ecumenical Councils in Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus, but is not therefore a Turkish Church. Meanwhile, the tomos of autocephaly granted to the so-called “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” does, in fact, stipulate its submission to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The Ministry also notes that the UOC is listed on the Russian Church’s site as part of the Russian Church. Thus, the Ministry says the law fully applies to the UOC.
The Ministry of Culture has also pinpointed the “Russian True Orthodox Church” and several Old Believer churches as falling under the purview of the law.