Bill to ban Russian-oriented church from Ukraine


Eastern Europe


Churchgoers in the Orthodox church in Odesa, in the south of Ukraine. Some lawmakers in Kyiv want this church to close or to move to another patriarchate. Photo EPA, Sedat Suna

Members of the Ukrainian parliament have tabled a bill to ban activities of the Moscow Patriarchate from the country. The Russian-oriented part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) still has 12,000 parishes in Ukraine and is the largest religious community.

This is reported by news media from both Russia and Ukraine. According to the Union of Orthodox Journalists, the bill provides for a ban, not only on the activities of the Patriarchate but also on the property.

The text of the proposed law in the Verkhovna Rada leaves parishes and organisations some time to move to the leadership in Kyiv. This must be done within 14 days after the regulation comes into force. The autonomous Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) stays in contact with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, where the so-called Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is the head. This church has no more than 7,000 parishes.

As soon as an institute changes from the Moscow-oriented Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) to Kyiv, the Ukrainian state will check on "anti-Ukrainian or any anti-state activities or collaboration with the Russian aggressor". If there is something wrong, this will be seen as a crime, according to the Union of Orthodox Journalists.

The remarkable monuments and monasteries in Ukraine that Moscow owns will become the property of the Ukrainian state.

The proposal is a private member's bill by several initiators from the parties "Holos" and the ruling party of the president, "Servant of the People": Inna Sovsun, Natalia Pipa, Georgy Mazurashu, Roman Lozinsky, Solomiya Borovska, Kira Rudik and Yaroslav Yurchishin, reports the Union of Orthodox Journalists.

"A cynical ban"

The legal department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church responded to this bill on Thursday. According to a statement, the church calls this "a cynical ban" that could "deprive millions of Ukrainians of the right to freedom of religion".

The statement reminds that the "religious centre" of the UCO is not in Moscow but in Kyiv. The Metropolitan of Kyiv has always worked "in accordance with the Ukrainian law". Metropolitan Onufriy has been very loyal to Ukraine as well, calling "to defend our state and defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty." On the first day of the war, he spoke about the "war of brothers".

Metropolitan Onufry is very loyal to Ukraine, but there is an initiative to outlaw his Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), because this is connected to Moscow. Photo news.church.ua

There is no reason for this, the church says, since there are no complaints that the church caused any violation of national security. The church says that the members of parliament make "false allegations" against the church "in an attempt to mislead the Ukrainian MPs."

The church sees here the "continuation of the religious policy of Poroshenko's time", referring to the former Ukrainian president. The statement from the UOC says this policy was "one of the reasons for the terrible times we are experiencing now."

The conclusion from the church is clear: "Banning people from belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church violates their right to freedom of religion, which is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Constitution of Ukraine."

An adviser of the President's Office in Ukraine, Mykhailo Podoliak, said on Ukraine 24 that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has a different position than the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). He stressed the "unity" of the nation and warned against an "internal conflict" because of outlawing religious communities.

"Hope on prudence"

A spokesperson of the Patriarchate in Moscow, Vladimir Legoyda, has very strongly warned against such a step by the Ukrainian parliament. "With the adoption of any of the bills banning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, we should expect even more violent reprisals against representatives of the clergy and believers of the canonical Church. I hope that the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada and representatives of the Ukrainian authorities will show prudence, realise the harm that the possible approval of such bills will cause to the people of Ukraine", Legoyda said, according to Interfax.

The Russian press agency Ria Novosti predicts that a law like this will only fuel the crisis between Russia and Ukraine. The church's legal department says such a law would contradict the freedom of religion, says Ria Novost. The other press agency, Interfax, speaks about a "mass confrontation with unpredictable consequences" of such a law. Also, the Kremlin responded very negatively.

In the past few weeks, many churches in the west of Ukraine already have changed from Moscow to Kyiv. Also, the Orthodox Church in Amsterdam, Holland, moved from Moscow to Constantinople. In some provinces in the area of Lviv, the activities of the Moscow Patriarchate have already been forbidden. But if this proposal is accepted, this will be the law for all of Ukraine.



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