It sounds like a joke to speak of “religious freedom” in Ukraine, considering the fact that the man is an American US ambassador. Not that it is bad or good to be from the US. The point is that Ukraine has been swinging overtime between East and West… and North or South. As if “freedom” should be a Western topic and special field of excellence. In the years 1990, we saw tons of Ukrainians rushing back to the Motherland, coming from Canada, the United States and/or South America (as Buenos Aires). The gates had opened and threats were drifting backward, seemingly. It is not that sure. The Ukrainians had been faithful to their faith. It depends which creed you refer to. One of the hierarchs who made a huge pastoral work with much care was the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Venerable Andrii Sheptytsky, Archbishop Major (called “Patriarch) of L’vov, L’viv, Lwów, Lemberg, Leopol and Halych. Nobody refers to him as to the many pastoral letters that he wrote concerning the future of Ukraine with regards to a united caapcity to show the Christian faith. Nothing to do with the twisting of these and those who accuse, deter old sagas, hatred, persecution. Others mention the “communion in blood” shared by the martyres. Good enough. But the martyres have the privilege or the advantage to be in another world.
What happens right now in Ukraine had been anticipated for decades. It looks and sounds like a rush to the East and a field of capturing new and fresh lands, territories, minds, souls, brains and seize them… ruthlessly.This is the scandal. A real shame.
On the day of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of the Rus’, most faithful gathered together and the Saint Vladimir (Volodymyr – Valdemar) memorial together with Metropolitan Onufryi, the present Metropolitan of Kyev and All Ukraine under the omophorion of the Patriarch of Moscow. He is the heir of late Metropolitan Vladimir who passed away some years ago and was much respected. Met. Onufryi is a true Ukrainian from the Bukovina and you can feel this in his speech. On that anniversary he could bring the different faithful and a lot of clergy together to pray and celebrate the feast.
Maybe people did not notice what has been written thereafter… not about Met. Onufryi or anyone else. But that hundreds and hundreds of priests had come, some rather elderly. For hours they stood on the square, at the memorial. No seat, no food, no beverage. As old Slavic soldiers and with a taste of local spirit “slavery heritage and not only obedience”, they stood… They stood whilst a lot of them were hungry, thirsty and would have fallen. They were there. Thereafter, their matushki (wives of priests) wrote that they were totally sick, down, felt unconsidered and some could have even died.
They stood altogether. I am convinced that they had different opinions as regards their hierarchs, their jurisdictions, their metropolitans, bishops or wosoever leaders. They stood because it was a special day, not for the Ukrainians. They are united beyond splits between Eastern and Western Ukraine; those who speak Ukrainian as from Halych, those who have their parlance and special dialects in the South, the Lemko’s, the Russyns, those close to Hungary or Slovakia or Romania or the Tatars of Crimea. And there are those who have Russian. All prayed in Slavolic that is so close to the Ukrainian roots, but Slavonic is not a living language: it maintains the unity of a particular group of different nations that are tied together by the Byzantine heritage received from the Greek traditions born out of the Jerusalem Mother Church of all the Churches.
They stood. They stood put, these brave and courageous priests. They only confessed to their wives that it had been terribly difficult. It was: nnoe of them coul really approach and communicate or at least let’s say that order was lacking on that day and many felt “abandoned”.
In the meanwhile, the Heads of the Churches speculate whether Ukraine “belongs” or “is a territory” of this or that patrairchate. Whether is was granted “self-rule and autocephaly” by these or not. These priests who stood like the “Vieille Garde” are serving Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead. Who should be the first or the last of the patriarchs or archbishops to be mentioned is important. But the mention only makes sense if one understands why “Christ is in our midst… for the ages of ages”. It becomes absurd when it slices down a territory into parcels that move from centuries to centuries because of some privilege. Whilst the Heads speculated, the feet were suffering in the presence of Saint Vladimir. The man was not the kind a tender sweetheart. He was a ruler, a “despotic” one and was quick to slaughter those who did not agree with him.
There is some sort of this crude affect ni the way the Churches are ruled worldwide nowadays. In Ukraine, it is worse, it worsens every day. In some cities, people err from this to that and from that to this parish, follow this or that priest or hierarch as if the clergy could be compared to some virtual ritual shape and creature. In the country-side, in impoverished Ukraine, the priests are getting lost and left apart. How can they live? Some would preach once a week on Sundays during the Divine Liturgies. But they are not sure of their colleagues, they do not know who will turn to this jurisdiction or return to that patriarchate… it is just a “self-service field of spiritual ruins”. Some don’t earn any money. Others think they can go to the places and herald that Jesus Christ is shared in their patriarchate, their parish. Some are to shy or on some kind of burnout.
What autocephaly? For what Ukraine? There are priests in Jerusalem who arrived at Israel for obscure reasons and support Donetzsk or Lugansk (not always both of the “republics”), though they came from Odessa and the vicinity. It could be a joke, it is definitely a pity.
Interestingly, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is the only Orthodox patriarchate or Orthodox independent structure where there is no “external” bishop allowed to serve on the patriarchal territory. It has been a rule for decades now. In 1933, late Patriarch Timotheos of Jerusalem asked the ROCOR (Church Abroad) bishop to consecrate new bishops as he had sent the then-bishops back to Greece. Then, Archbishop Mark of Berlin (Church Abroad) who reconciled the ROCOR and the Patriarchate of Moscow was “tolerated” as supervisor in Jerusalem, but would never stay for too long.
This means that Jerusalem “clutches” to the Orthodox Canons. On the other hand, Jerusalem has crowds of visitors, pilgrims. It is the “Christian Kathmandu”… and this means that there are so many “vagantes” of all sorts: self-appointed priests, bishops, apostolic visitors of all Christian creeds and denominations, tons of passing-by Orthodox “hierarchal or monastics” draykops.
There is no Constantinople exarch, official delegation, Archons. They could only remain “vagantes”.
Nonetheless, the Ecumenical Patriarch did save the patriarchate of Jerusalem by resolving the internal crisis with the deposition of former patriarch Irenaios and the election of new present Patriarch Theophilos. It was a hapax. It was possible by the decision of a special Synod of all the canonical Churches convened at the Phanar in 2005.