Moscow newspaper spreads rumors of divisions in new Ukrainian church


Campaign of proponents of Kiev patriarchate against PTsU began in Odessa

by Artur Priimak

NG-Religii, 3 April 2019


In the course of the last week before the election of the president of Ukraine, which occurred on 31 March, a special prayer was performed in the churches of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (PTsU). In the text, authorized by the head of the PTsU, Metropolitan of Kiev Epifany, were the words: "Inspire us, Lord, to make the correct choice, for the future of all of us depends on it." By his order, Epifany also commanded: include in the daily ektenias (petitions to God read by a deacon) the following ritual: "We pray that the Lord God may give us a spirit of reason to make the correct choice of head of the Ukrainian state and have mercy on us."


While Epifany was calling believers to prayerful unity, in Odessa an uprising of the former flock of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UPTsKP) against the leadership of the PTsU was taking shape. The discontent of Odessans is being stirred up by the priest Vitaly Senik, the former rector of the church of the Nativity of Christ. This is the cathedral church of the Kiev patriarchate in Odessa, created about 20 years ago on the ruins of a hospital church of the early 19th century. The dispute arising in the 1990s between the UPTsKP and the UPTs of the Moscow Patriarchate (UPTsMP) was resolved by the mayor of Odessa in favor of the Kiev pariarchate.


In late March of this year, Ukrainian news media reported: Senik, who has served more than 17 years in the UPTsKP, does not want to be a cleric of the PTsU. "I see in the eyes of my priest friends only slavery, fear, and groveling, and in those of higher ranks, imperialism. I did not want such a church," Senik told Ukrainian journalists.


A spiritual daughter of Senik, the movie actress Galina Sulima, described in a report to Ukrainian news media why Senik broke off relations with the PTsU. She said that it began in 2018, when Bishop Pavel was appointed to the Odessa-Balta see of the UPTsKP. "The Vladyka did not join a dialogue with the parish," Sulima explained. "He did not accept that, according to the charter, the parish makes decisions on many important matters. He was very irritated by the enormous level of trust and respect that the parish has for our Father Vitaly. And the first thing that the Vladyka did was to illegally appoint himself the rector of the church."


The actress, like other parishioners also, was upset that in the current year Pavel, as rector of the church and ruling bishop, forbade the commemoration in the divine liturgy of the honorary patriarch of Kiev, Filaret: "This evoked a protest from Father Vitaly, who had traveled a difficult path of persecution of our church along with Patriarch Filaret, and it was he who in that time long ago was the first priest in the Odessa oblast whose parish transferred into the Kiev patriarchate, more than 18 years ago." Sulima said that around Pavel "there began to circle dubious characters who stirred up his passionate wish for individual power." "One of them in his time was inhibited from ministry by Patriarch Filaret for a very ugly act.  Another is well known in Odessa as a man who seized our church in the name of the Moscow patriarchate. It is not at all clear how a third person wound up near the Valdyka. All of them had a very dubious reputation and an enormous thirst to gain a foothold in the church at all costs," Sulima declared.


In the spring, Pavel changed the charter of the parish of the church as a result of which he made a claim to the sole disposition of church property. When the parish acted against this, Sulema says, Pavel summoned the Titushki militants. The Titushki threatened Senik and "recalcitrant" parishioners right during the liturgy and forced open the doors and broke windows. By Pavel's order, Vitaly Senik was transferred to the church of the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God in the village of Radostnoe in Odessa oblast. As Senik explained in his press conference in the offices of Interfax-Ukraine, he has to serve in the literal sense in an open field, near a lone standing tree. "The field is a private plot of one of our clergymen. There never was either a church building or a parish there. I serve there every week, completely alone, and I will show a video in order to confirm how I serve." But Pavel believed that Senik did not perform the divine liturgy, and by his order he deprived the priest of the right to wear a cassock and pectoral cross. Senik filed a report with the head of the PTsU about his withdrawing his submission to the bishop of Odessa-Balta. Senik's former parishioners complained about the actions of the bishop of Odessa to the administration of the president of Ukraine. Galina Sulima says: "Epifany is silent; the administration of the president is silent." Meanwhile, Senik claims, he has already been accused by Bishop Pavel of "spying for Moscow."


Before he joined the UPTsKP, Vitaly Senik had been a full-time cleric of the Odessa diocese of the UPTsMP, a former secretary of this diocese, Archpriest Andrei Novikov, told NG-R, who from 2014 has been the rector of the Moscow church of the Life-Giving Trinity on Sparrow Hills. "We served in the same church in Odessa. This man always dreamed of serving in rich parishes and of having a good income. People of exactly the same stock direct the Odessa diocese of the UPTsKP, now the PTsU. Conflict arose over real estate and income from it. These people are united by hatred for the UPTsMP and for Russia, but the financial issue made them enemies. Conflicts over mercenary interest will get ever greater in the PTsU. Especially in Odessa. The "feeding base," as they call the parishioners, there for the PTsU is very small. Odessans do not attend there. Epifany's opponents will follow anybody who gives them the most favorable offer. It is possible they will now flock around Filaret," the clergyman suggests.


What Novikov said was partially confirmed in an interview by Filaret with the Ukrainian internet publication Glavkom on 15 March of this year. The honorary patriarch of Kiev said: the PTsU was supposed to receive a tomos as a patriarchate and not as a metropolitanate of the Constantinople (ecumenical) patriarchate. This is how Filaret explains why Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew did not summon him in January of this year to Istanbul for handing over the tomos—the order giving autocephaly to the PTsU. "I am a patriarch, even if it is not recognized. If I had been present, that would have meant that the ecumenical patriarch recognizes the Ukrainian church in the status of a patriarchate. The procedure (making the PTsU a metropolitanate of Constantinople—NG-R), which was proposed by the Greeks, does not suit us," Filaret said.


Filared has gathered around himself a fronde of members of the PTsU against his former disciple, Epifany, Liudmila Filippovich, a professor of the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, told NG-R. "In his interview, Filaret suggested that he will oppose whoever heads the autocephalous Ukrainian church. In the PTsU there is not the unity everyone desires, for which we hoped when we received the tomos. There are the malcontents whom the 90-year-old honorary patriarch of Kiev has pulled over to his side. He feels that he is not likely to see the desired model of an independent Ukrainian patriarchate that he created in the early 90s," Filippovich says. The expert says that part of the PTsU and Ukrainian society supports Filaret. "At the head of this wing stand distinguished church hierarchs. They received from Filaret all the benefits and they are satisfied and any church reform distresses them. The opposing portion of Ukrainian society is united around Metropolitan Epifany. The people want, by means of reforms, to bring the Ukrainian church closer to civilized European models of church organization. A coordinating council is working under Metropolitan Epifany which includes priests, laity, and the artistic and scientific intelligentsia of Ukraine and believers and clergy of other religions and confessions. The goal of this council is fundamental reform of Orthodoxy in Ukraine. It seems that Filaret opposes this. He thinks like a typical soviet man; he cannot imagine a church without a strict hierarchy and power vertical."


"The Ukrainian church cannot but be autocephalous, and an autocephalous church of Ukraine is unthinkable without Patriarch Filaret," Vladimir Yavorivsky, a Ukrainian politician who is an associate of presidential candidate Yulia Timoshenko, told NG-R. "Back in the early 20th century, an autocephalous church was recognized by Constantinople, which was headed by Patriarch Vasily Lipkovsky. The receipt of a tomos did not start the history of Ukrainian church independence, but was one of its episodes. When in mid-2018 there began talk about asking Patriarch Filaret to retire, I warned that this could turn into a schism."


"Is Filaret's fronde connected with the election of a Ukrainian president? No. Filaret, like Epifany also, did not participate in the election. And I did not see among Ukrainian politicians anybody who would benefit from the friction between Filaret and Epifany," Vladimir Fesenko, the director of the Kievan Penta Center of Applied Political Studies, told NG-R.


Meanwhile, on the Facebook pages of the PTsU commuity, during the election campaign there was only agitation in favor of Petro Poroshenko. The other candidates—except for the candidate of the Opposition Bloc, Yury Boiko—expressed support for Ukrainian autocephaly. It is notable that the honorary patriarch overshadows the head of the PTsU in the mind of the Ukrainian electorate. (tr. by PDS, posted 4 April 2019)


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