Voices from Russia

Monday, 30 November 2009

The Schism in Orthodoxy in the Ukraine Distresses the Entire Orthodox Church: An Official Appeal of the Holy Synod of the UOC/MP

Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan (1935- ) of Kiev and all the Ukraine, First Hierarch of the UOC/MP. Pray for him… he is under attack by Uniates on the one hand and schismatics on the other.


Reverend fathers, dear brothers and sisters in Christ!

The schism in Orthodoxy in the Ukraine distresses the entire Orthodox Church. Today, we see those of our blood and those who believe as we do outside of the saving limits of the Church. Some of these people went into schism consciously; they selfishly separated from the Mother Church due to errors in their own spiritual life such as pride, ambition, wrongly-understood patriotism, and other things. However, we know that many Orthodox believers who are now in schism didn’t end there by conscious choice, but only because of the press of circumstance. The false patriotic rhetoric of the schismatics seduced many, some wandered away because they lacked reliable information, and some of the younger people were born in the schism. One thing is clear… the path in which they are going doesn’t lead to salvation, but all it does is more and more confirm them in their false views. Our goal and pastoral duty is to point out these errors and bring the erring back into the bosom of the Church.

These people profess our common Orthodox faith, amongst them there are many sincerely church-minded people who wish to foster genuine Orthodox spirituality. However, because they’re outside the borders of the Canonical Local Churches and are out of communion with World Orthodoxy, these schismatics lack the fullness of churchliness {editor: the original is tserkovnost, a particularly hard concept to English}, which mankind receives through the gracious gifts of the Holy Spirit. A tragic situation arises. People strive for union with Christ, but as the sacraments they accept lack saving grace, He isn’t truly present. Holy Mother Church condemns this secession as sinful, for their desire to move away means that they shall fall away from the fullness of the Assembled Church. However, at the same time, we sincerely sympathise with those who’re outside the Church, and pray for their speedy return to a saving unity with the fullness of Orthodoxy in the bosom of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC/MP).

Following the commandment of the Saviour, “that all may be one” (St John 17. 21), and in response to a request from the non-canonical religious communities, the Holy Synod of the UOC/MP established a working group to prepare for a possible dialogue with representatives of the UOC/KP. {editor: the so-called “Patriarchate of Kiev”, a schismatical group headed by the deposed cleric Philaret Denisenko.} On 2 October of this year, the working group met with representatives of the non-canonical church groups. These initiatives of the UOC/MP are pastoral in nature. We created our working group due to our awareness of the need to overcome the church schism in the Ukraine. On 14 December 2007, the Holy Synod of the UOC/MP committed our Church to seek such a constructive dialogue. The Archpastoral Council of the MP held in Moscow under the chairmanship of the late His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei Ridiger on 24-29 June 2008 approved the actions of the hierarchy of the UOC/MP.

Section 25.

The Holy Synod [of the MP], in assessing the sacrificial service of Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and all the Ukraine of the UOC/MP, as well as of his bishops and clergy, now bearing their obedience in difficult conditions because of the religious and political instability in the Ukraine, with gratitude to God, there’s been vigorous growth and development in the UOC/MP, which unites Orthodox people in Christ regardless of their political and ideological sentiments and views.

Section 26.

This council gives its pastoral thanks to the faithful children of our Church in the Ukraine, which keeps the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and love. This council endorses the work of the hierarchy of the UOC/MP to find a canonical way to restore a Churchly peace and unity in Ukrainian Orthodoxy.

Section 27.

This council states that Our Holy Mother Church sighs with sorrow over our brothers and sisters in the Ukraine that are outside the limits of the Orthodox Church, patiently waiting for everyone who left her life-saving fold. There’s no sin that we cannot take to the Lord; there’s no guilt that the Church wouldn’t cover as a loving parent”.

The idea of restoring the unity of the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine was a common thread seen in all the speeches and sermons of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill during his recent visit to the Ukraine. He said, “As Patriarch, here in the Ukraine, I’ll do everything possible to reunite our people, to make our political and national conflicts disappear in a single Church of Christ. A Church of martyrs and confessors, faithful to Christ even unto death, sharing the fate of its people, has the power and opportunity to bring all of our faithful children back into the embrace of their mother’s arms. I’m not only speak my loving words to you, the people of the Donbass, but also, to those of our brothers and sisters who are in schism. We’ll pray for you, even if you don’t want our prayer. We’ll be on our knees to ask God for His mercy, that He’ll be gracious to the Ukraine. We’ll ask Him to unite the Church, and to unite the people, so that all of us together can say, ‘We’ll all share, share the same bread, and share the same chalice, so that we can be united in the communion of the Holy Spirit’”.

Regarding the church schism in the Ukraine, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill emphasised that the continuing schism amongst Orthodox believers was a constant worry for him. This schism, on the one hand, is a painful wound on the body of the Church, on the other, it has a negative impact on the state of Ukrainian society, provoking instability and giving rise to conflict. His Holiness pointed up, “The definition of the best ways to overcome the schism is in the hands of the self-governing UOC/MP. We believe that the unity of Orthodoxy in the Ukraine shall be restored through dialogue between the UOC/MP and those who seceded from it, provided that this dialogue is built on the basis of recognition by all the participants of the inviolability of the canonical norms and practises of the Church”.

* * * * * *

Ukrainian faithful of the UOC/MP


Whilst expressing its willingness to begin a constructive dialogue with non-canonical church structures, the UOC/MP, however, maintains a principled position on the historical facts of the schism and its initiators. Our position remains unchanged. We believe that, from the standpoint of Orthodox ecclesiology and canon law, the only acceptable model for the resumption of church unity is the unity of all Orthodox Christians in the bosom of the canonical UOC/MP, that is, the return of the rebels from whence they departed. We haven’t changed our position on who, in fact, seceded from the fullness of the Church, and the terms on how they can reunite with her. The only path to the restoration of unity lies through repentance, that is, through grace, a change of mind, and a shift in one’s way of life. Repentance, to which the Holy Church calls schismatics, isn’t a humiliating procedure of begging for forgiveness, as some may think. Repentance of the laity [amongst the schismatics] would consist in a confession to God of the recognition of the imperfections that caused alienation from God and His Church. The repentance of the leading schismatics would lie in a confession before the whole Church, especially to their followers, of their guilt as “blind guides” (St Matthew 15. 14). The UOC/MP is ready to forget the wounds inflicted by the schismatics. However, although we sincerely wish the return of our brothers and sisters who are in schism, we don’t have the right to deviate from the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church. The Church is ready to show mercy and to manifest the Gospel witness of loving the sinner. However, we can’t accept sin as such, that is, a schism actually exists. In order to destroy sin, one doesn’t engage in diplomatic efforts or go to meetings. Only repentance heals sin, and we sincerely hope that our brothers and sisters in the non-canonical church structures, and, especially, their leaders, will find the courage to bring a sincere repentance.

* * * * * *

However, the position of the UOC/MP regarding the issue of its canonical status remains as before, as the Charter of the Local Council of the MP on 28 January 2009 indicates. We believe that the revision of the existing status of the canonical UOC/MP isn’t conducive to a healthy Church life. We remind our congregation that the UOC/MP is part of the Patriarchate of Moscow and all the Russias with rights of broad autonomy; it’s self-governing, as stated in the Charter of the MP. The Patriarchate of Moscow and all the Russias connects it to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Our unity with the fullness of the Orthodox Church is through our canonical and prayerful relationship with the MP. The present status of our Church is optimal. It allows it to carry out its mission of bringing salvation to the modern Ukrainian state; it sanctifies God’s people who’re citizens of the Ukraine, making them citizens of heaven as well.

The ancient Metropolia of Kiev is the continuer of the great spiritual traditions of Kievan Rus, a heritage that unites the fraternal Orthodox Slavic peoples. Aware of our historic responsibility for the fate of this common heritage, we aspire to the unity of our Church, as strife isn’t at the heart of the land of Holy Kiev. It should be a place of unity and dedication, as it was in princely times, and as is inherent in the very soul of the Ukrainian people. The aim of our dialogue with non-canonical church groups isn’t to secede from the canonical completeness of the MP; we wish to restore the unity of the church. Dialogue doesn’t justify schism and it isn’t a concession to those who now insist on it, but it testifies to the fullness of the grace in the Church life of canonical Orthodoxy. The commandments of the Holy Fathers enjoin us to love the sinner and hate the sin. Therefore, we believe, on the one hand, that we should express sincere and unfeigned love for schismatics; on the other, we must to bring to their attention the malignancy and futility of their chosen anti-canonical way of building a “Local Church”.

We must realise that this tragic schism amongst Orthodox Christians in the Ukraine will doom the Orthodox mission in contemporary Ukrainian society until we end it. The wounds of the schism weaken the UOC/MP; it makes the Church easy prey for outside critics who wish to discredit her in the eyes of society. Christ’s Church lives by the law of the fullness of love… a law that commands us to forgive, to show mercy, and pray for the repentance of sinners. The aim of our dialogue with non-canonical structures is the beneficial transformation of the minds and lives of those who today temporarily live in schism from us. Starting a dialogue with non-canonical communities, the UOC/MP follows Christ’s love, as witnessed in the parable of the prodigal son, and in the words of the Saviour of the Good Shepherd, who left the ninety-nine sheep in order to save one (cf. St Luke 15. 4). There’s more joy in heaven over the conversion of a sinner than over ninety and nine just persons. We strive not for victory or superiority over our brothers. We wish only to return them to the saving grace and bosom of the Church. Addressing the faithful children of the UOC/MP, we ask that you daily pray for the return of the schismatics to the Church, so that we have one voice and one heart to glorify the Lord.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you!

24 November 2009

Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Moscow and all the Russias




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