Dispute erupts over use of Ukrainian language in worship


Religiia v Ukraine, 29 December 2015


On 28 December, in the Kiev caves lavra, the diocesan meeting of the clergy of the Kiev diocese was held. During the meeting, Metropolitan of Kiev and all-Ukraine Onufrey spoke out sharply against performing the divine liturgy in the Ukrainian language, a correspondent of the portal Religiia v Ukraine reports.


After issuing his report, Metropolitan Onufrey answered questions from the audience. In one of the notes coming from the auditorium a question was posed about what steps the leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [UPTs] was intending to take for the "Ukrainization" of the divine liturgy. Were new translations of liturgical texts into the Ukrainian language being planned and will liturgical editions of the Gospel and Epistles be published in the Ukrainian language?


Responding to the question, Metropolitan Onufrey declared that "one must not mix God's gift with a scrambled egg." In his opinion, the Church Slavonic language is "our native tongue," just as much as modern languages. In the metropolitan's opinion, in church it is permitted to deliver only sermons in Ukrainian, but as far as the liturgy is concerned, it must be performed in Church Slavonic.


In addition Metropolitan Onufrey declared that "old languages" are used in services "everywhere." According to his information, both Greeks and Georgians and Romanians and Anglicans perform the worship service not in modern languages but in old languages. Metropolitan Onufrey's conclusion was categorical: "The liturgical language of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is Church Slavonic. We will not change anything." Whoever wishes "to work out" his salvation is advised to learn Church Slavonic.


The position that Metropolitan Onufrey stated is in sharp contradiction with official church documents of previous years.


The performance of the divine liturgy in Ukrainian was sanctioned back on 6 June (24 May, old style) 1921 by a synod of Orthodox bishops of Ukraine. At the time the synod determined that in places where two-thirds of parishioners desire it, the liturgy may be performed in Ukrainian. This decision was approved in the same year by Patriarch of Moscow Tikhon, who acknowledged that it corresponds entirely with the "spirit of the Orthodox Church." In 1922 the decision permitting performing the liturgy in Ukrainian was confirmed by a Kiev conference of Orthodox bishops of Ukraine. The local sobor of the UPTsMP, held from 1 to 3 November 1991, again confirmed the permission for performing a Ukrainian liturgy in places where two-thirds of parishioners desire it.


In 2012, the head of the UPTs, Metropolitan Vladimir, in his report to the conference of the "Ukrainian Orthodox Church at the turn of millennia" completely approved the practice of performing the liturgy in Ukrainian and declared the necessity of activating translation activity within the UPTs.


In February 2012, the chancellor of the UPTs, Metropolitan Antony, in an interview emphasized that "if 2/3 of parishioners want a service in Ukrainian or another language, no questions will arise. . . . On Ukrainian territory there are parishes where the services are conducted in Hungarian, Romanian, Church Slavonic, and Ukrainian. The issue of choice of liturgical language is not a problem for church consciousness."


It is known that in the UPTs there are dozens and hundreds of parishes (mainly in west Ukraine) where worship services are conducted in Ukrainian. In Kiev the Ukrainian language is used in services at the Transfiguration of the Savior cathedral, whose rector is Metropolitan Alexander Drabinko.


Metropolitan Onufrey made no mention of all this in his statement at the diocesan meeting. Instead, leaflets produced for mass distribution to parishioners and residents of nearby places have been dumped in an organized manner into parishes of the UPTs in which the inadequacy of the Ukrainian language is demonstrated: it is "obscene" and "theologically seriously mistaken" when used in divine worship. The ideas published in the anonymous booklets correspond completely with Metropolitan Onufrey's statements.

(tr. by PDS, posted 30 December 2015)

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