Priests become prominent in Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s march towards independence

While most bishops have tended to be cautious regarding the issue of their connections with the Moscow Patriarchate, priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) have been the driving force behind the church’s recent move towards affirming independence from Russian supervision, writes Andriy Fert (National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy) in Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West (July). The author notes, however, that only a minority of clergy would be willing to unite at this point with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which received its autocephalous status from the Patriarch of Constantinople in 2019. The UOC had insisted for years that it wanted to stay away from politics, but the war made it more difficult to support the continuation of a “spiritual unity” with Moscow. Priests took the initiative in asking to suspend the commemoration of Patriarch Kirill, and more than 400 of them—without consulting their bishops—went as far as signing a petition to leaders of Orthodox churches around the world asking them to accuse Patriarch Kirill of heresy. According to Fert, the war has opened the way to a new assertiveness by priests in relation to bishops. This has created alarm among hierarchs and may explain how swiftly the May assembly of the UOC moved toward an affirmation of its independence while refraining from using the word “autocephaly.”

Source: Orthodox Christianity.

Nevertheless, most priests remain reluctant to join ranks with the OCU for a variety of reasons. Due to years of conflict between their respective organizations, they feel that the OCU remains hostile to them and see any reunion as being a sheer capitulation of the UOC and victory for the OCU. Painful experiences of parishes being pressured to join the OCU also play a role. They also stress that loyalty to Ukraine does not permit them to ignore canonical order. While most bishops had opted to select clergy to be sent to the May assembly in order to keep control, the UOC leader, Metropolitan Onuphry, surprised many by choosing to open the assembly with a presentation of letters from priests asking for a break with Moscow. This finally led bishops to accept a statement about an independent and self-administered church. Since each community is directly facing the consequences of war, the role of priests in dealing with that situation is becoming more important. Meanwhile, the Catholic newsletter The Pillar (August 1) reports that UOC priests are also taking the lead in ecumenical efforts with the OCU. “In a hall at the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv, a symbolic place for all Ukrainian Christians, 21 Orthodox priests sat down July 5 to talk—11 of the OCU and 10 of the UOC-MP. That kind of dialogue among the Orthodox Churches of Ukraine is rare.” The priests discussed local pastoral issues, but also raised questions about the relationship between churches. While participants called on hierarchs of both churches “to begin an official dialogue,” the UOC-MP immediately distanced itself from its priests who took part.

(Religion und Gesellschaft in Ost und West, Institut G2W, Bederstrasse 76, 8002 Zürich, Switzerland –; The Pillar,