02/22/2019, 10.16
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Autocephaly effect: almost 300 Ukrainian parishes pass from Moscow to Kiev

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Despite the worst fears, the transition is taking place in a non-violent way. The exodus is decided by the parish assembly. But there are attempts at state interference. The question of monasteries and places of pilgrimage, a reference point for Orthodox and Catholics. So far in 10 dioceses, only two have passed to Kiev: Vinnitsa and Odessa.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - One month after the delivery of the autochthonous Tomos, it is estimated that around 300 Russian parishes have passed to the jurisdiction of the new Ukrainian autocephalous Church.

At first glance this is a limited percentage: 2.5% of all the infrastructures of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine, counting also the monasteries, the dioceses and the synodal administrations. But considering the long times of ecclesiastical structures, it is a rather high percentage: in just one month the passage was four times higher than the previous five years, that is, starting from the anti-Russian "revolution" of Majdan, with calls for change.

Although fears of violence were widespread, the process appears to be rather peaceful. According to the Ukrainian legislation, the general assembly of each individual parish is the one that decides the status of the community: it is the meeting of the actual members of the local church, not a generic gathering of the inhabitants of a village or a neighborhood.

Over the years, the Ukrainian government has also been criticized for the desire to unify the laws regulating the internal life of religious communities, without distinguishing the different confessions and memberships.

Even the European Community - of which the new Ukraine aspires to become a member - has criticized this, and many local communities have announced that they will in future present appeals to the European Court against these rules.

Among Protestants, the community assembly meets according to a rigid classification of members, while in the statutes of the Orthodox parishes the criteria of belonging appear more elastic. There are the parishioners aged 18 and over, who profess to be Orthodox and who have never been convicted of civil or ecclesiastical crimes.

Some statutes include regular attendance of liturgical celebrations, or the declaration of approval by the parish priest. These variable formulas often allow the inclusion among the assembly so-called "tourists", external to the community of believers, who according to the circumstances vote in favor or against the passage of the community to another jurisdiction.

In many statutes there is the rule that the assembly is valid if the majority (50% + 1) of the members of the community participate in it, and the passage of jurisdiction requires two thirds of the votes; based on these percentages, the number of "tourists" needed is calculated.

The functioning of the ecclesiastical structure, the autocephalous and the Russians is not limited to the parish administration: the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" foresees the existence of other structures such as monasteries, synodal districts, missions and dioceses. Even these can decide the passage of jurisdiction between the various orthodox obediences.  Before the Tomos there were at least four, today there are substantially two, but with various small dissident organizations, especially at the local level.

The most delicate and significant structures are the monasteries, which gather large numbers of faithful and pilgrims, starting from the two Lavre (sets of several monasteries) of the Kiev and Pochaevsk Caves. These have masses of devotees from both the competing jurisdictions, and even the Greek Catholics, who leave considerable offers for rites and souvenirs.

Both the patriarch emeritus Filaret (Denisenko) and the new metropolitan of Kiev Epifanyj (Dumenko) have declared on several occasions that they expect the passage of the Lavre and the monasteries to the autocephalous Church, for which the assembly of the monks or the permission of the higher authorities is necessary. There is also the possibility of a state intervention, since the land is owned by the Ukrainian state: it could dissolve the leases and usufruct contracts and requisition the monasteries, to assign them to another jurisdiction.

However, the most desirable objects are the dioceses, whose administrations enjoy ample tax exemptions. In this case the passage is decided by the bishop, with the permission of the metropolitan and the meeting of the diocesan clergy, but here the legislation is very imprecise. So far, of the 10 dioceses that had announced they want to move to Kiev, only two have passed, those of Vinnitsa with metropolitan Simeon and Odessa, and in a personal capacity Metropolitan Aleksandr (Drabinko), who was vicar of Metropolitan Onufrij (head of Russian jurisdiction). The metropolitan diocese of Vinnitsa is now under legal dispute, as Onufrij has appointed a substitute for the "traitor" Simeon.

The pressures and reciprocal manipulations between Russian Orthodox and Ukrainians are taking place in various forms, but so far there have been no striking cases of mutual violence, as was feared. In many parishes, the faithful are waiting to see the outcome of the neighbors' assemblies, before deciding to organize their passage, and even the priests use different orientation tactics of their parishioners. The new Ukrainian Church will have to try to avoid the monopolistic temptations, sustained by local administrations, really leaving to the people the decision on such an important issue for the future of the country and of the whole Orthodox Church.

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