Update on ROCOR-A Church Seizure in Ukraine

The following is from a ROCANA source (ROCANA is an acronym for what is for convenience sake labelled ‘ROCOR-A’ on NFTU; it refers to the North American branch)



 The MP “representatives” who seized the ROCA church in Malin, Ukraine  by force on July 1 (twisting the arm of our parish priest there,  throwing him on the ground and dragging him out of the church) left the  church the evening of July 3, unable to withstand the “siege” that  ensued after they took control of the church. This occurred thanks to  the large number of residents of Malin who arrived at the church after the seizure by the MP in order to support our pastor, Archpriest Vasily  Demchenko, who enjoys great authority and love among the people of  Malin. People surrounded the cathedral and would not permit the MP  representatives inside the church to receive food and pampers from  outside. The police maintained strict order. In the second half of the  day, the organizer of this criminal act, Metropolitan of Ovruch  Vissarion (MP) arrived; but instead of the expected warm welcome, those at the scene simultaneously condemned his actions. Seeing the reaction,  the organizer of this criminal act fled in disgrace. Later, seeing their  position as hopeless, the MP representatives left the church. In this  way, with the help of God and His All Pure Mother, and also thanks to the friendly support of the citizens of Malin, the Holy Protection  Church was again able to withstand the attempted seizure by the MP.  Glory be to God!

 The good news from Malin is only the latest turn in a long story that  began over a decade ago,when Father Vasily and his flock began to use a  rundown, abandoned church in the center of Malin. Using their own  resources, the parish began to restore the church. The author of these lines was a regular visitor to the parish from 2003 until 2006 and  remembers his first visit, when the “floor” of the church was dirt, and  how the parish gradually put in a makeshift floor, repaired the walls,  and built an ever more beautiful iconostasis. As soon as Father  Vasily’s parish restored the exterior of the church by raising a cupola  and painting, the Moscow Patriarchate began its efforts to take the  church. Initially the MP sought the help of powerful politicians in  Malin and Zhytomyr (the oblast capital). While the MP enjoys  considerable influence in Ukraine, and ROCA very little, this tactic did  not work for two reasons. First, Father Vasily had early established an  excellent reputation in Malin for serving his flock faithfully and  without charge (including for services such as baptisms, molbens,  panikhida, etc, for which MP priests often charge a fee). Second,  Father Vasiliy’s parish had paperwork confirming their title to the  church. When the MP could not persuade local authorities to hand over  the church, it resorted to force. (The events of this past week have a  precedent.) In 2003, MP supporters seized the church by force on a  Sunday during the Liturgy, but were compelled to leave by local  authorities when our parishioners rallied at the church. After that  first effort to seize the church, Father Vasily sought to register the  church as a ROCA parish. The legal proceedings for this take place in  Zhytomyr. While the papers establish the parish’s s claim to the  church, the legal authorities in Zhytomyr have yet to confirm this,  presumably because of their unwillingness to offend the MP. Father  Vasily has been working at this for almost a decade. One year the MP  had Father Vasily in court on Good Friday.

 So it is likely that the standoff in Malin will continue for some time. The good news is that our parish remains in control of the church,  thanks to the good Orthodox witnessing of Father Vasily and the trust  that he has earned among our parishioners and others in Malin. But the  strength of the MP in Ukraine will likewise continue to prevent the  registration of the church as a ROCA parish. While our parishes in  Ukraine are vulnerable to political manipulation, their circumstances  are far less precarious than in Russia. At least two reasons explain  this. In Russia, the sway of the Moscow Patriarchate is unchallenged.  All other Orthodox jurisdictions (including ROCA) are small and under  siege. In Ukraine, the situation of Orthodoxy is complex. The Moscow  Patriarchate and the Kiev Patriarchate (KP) are competing for  preeminence and using their political allies to advance their interests.  There is also the Autonomous Orthodox Church, not nearly as large as  the two Patriarchates, but enjoying prestige due to its role as an  underground church during the Soviet period, and to its presence in the  Ukrainian diaspora. In this environment, there is more leeway for ROCA and other small Orthodox jurisdictions.

 The second reason concerns the nature of politics and society in Russia  and Ukraine. In Russia President Putin years ago reestablished the  “vertical of power,” which is another way of saying that Russia is an  authoritarian state. And as ROCA in particular understands, there is an  alliance between the Kremlin and Moscow Patriarchate leaders. The MP  can and does use the coercive power of the state against both MP  dissenters (eg Bishop Diomed of Chukotska) and other Orthodox  jurisdictions. Ukraine is a country with competing democratic and  authoritarian tendencies and factions. The media are freer. Even when  the authoritarians come to power, their power runs up against real  limits. So it is harder, though not impossible, for the MP (or the KP)  to use the Ukrainian state for its own purposes.

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