UKRAINIAN AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CHURCH
OF NORTH & SOUTH AMERICA
Archeparchy of the United States & the Americas
ARCHBISHOP-METROPOLITAN RESPONDS TO THE PRESENT QUESTION
OF THE UKRAINIAN AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CHURCH IN UKRAINE
IN SOLIDARITY WITH HIS BEATITUDE, METROPOLITAN MEFODIY
Recently, there has been much criticism noted in the press, regarding the efforts of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine at re-occupying its chancery offices and the Cathedral of St. Andriy in Kyiv. The elected head and presiding hierarch of the UAOC, Metropolitan Mefodiy Kudryakov has been verbally chastised for various supposed, as well as un-related incidents or opinions. The fact of the matter, which those who freely chose to follow a different and unique faction of the UAOC can't seem to admit, is that His Beatitude, Metropolitan Mefodiy heads the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church that emerged historically from the underground, at the end of the Soviet period.
Everyone knows that there have been several resurrections of the UAOC, since the time that it was "demoted" to a subservient division of the Moscow Patriarchate. These centered around the years 1921, 1924, 1942 and 1991. For most of its history, the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church was forbidden to legally exist on Ukrainian territory. This fact is the main contributor to the existence of more than one "jurisdiction" of the UAOC in the Diaspora over the years.
However, following the fall of the Soviet Union and the "independence" of Ukraine, there emerged one Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, with the departure of hierarchy, clergy and faithful from the jurisdiction of the Russian Church, to resurrect a self-governing and indigenously Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The first priest to do so was of course, Volodymyr Yarema, who later became Patriarch Dymyrti. The first patriarch of this newly-resurrected church was none other than Vladyka Mystyslav Skripnyk, who himself was one of the hierarchy consecrated in 1942 and fled to Western Europe and finally to North America after the Soviet dissolution of the UAOC. Nor can we forget the fruitful ministry of Metropolitan Ioan Bodnarchuk and others who served the church faithfully during this brave new awakening.
A parallel course of events was characteristic of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which, besides other periods, was also outlawed by the Soviet Russian government in 1944 and forced underground. Following the collapse of communism, bishops and priests emerged from anonymity and began to fulfill their ministries in public. Other clergy and faithful returned to the church after having served or attended Russian Orthodox parishes, which were the only Byzantine-Orthodox churches allowed to function during the previous generation.
Many were raised with only the Russian churches operating, but still opted return to the free Ukrainian entities of their ancestors, once they were able to. The blood of our martyrs of the Soviet period, both Orthodox and Greek Catholic Ukrainians, bore fruit in the seeds which they planted in the face of horrific persecution.
Why this brief review of Ukrainian post-modern church history? Precisely because it only makes sense that, given the resurrection of the UAOC under Patriarch Mystyslav and then Patriarch Yarema, and the election and elevation of Metropolitan Mefodiy of Ternopil, senior hierarch, to the position of "predstoyatel" - "presiding hierarch" or "primate," it is he who must be seen as the visible head of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine and throughout the world. Not everyone must like him or agree with his views, but he deserves their respect for the position that the fulfills. His Beatitude Metropolitan Mefodiy is a visionary. Such leadership often causes angst among the spiritually insecure. Metropolitan Mefodiy's leadership unsettles those who talk of God, but are unable to embrace Him.
We live in a free society and we pray to God that Ukraine itself is now finally free. That means that whoever wishes to worship and believe in a certain way or with a particular group, has the right of conscience to do so. It does not change the facts of the historical UAOC or its evolution over time to the present day. Other churches have evolved as well, and a new face is appearing on the ecclesiastical scene in Ukraine. There are contemporary issues and situations, as well as practical considerations that we all must face. In a free world order, individuals can interpret what that image should be according to their own consciences. However, it is important to note that during the recent blessing given to newly-elected Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko on inauguration day, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was represented by Metropolitan Mefodiy, as the UOC-KP was represented by Patriarch Filaret and the UGCC by His Beatitude, Cardinal Husar.
Unfortunately, much harm was done by the Soviet regime, in the taking of properties of Greek Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox churches and handing it over to the whims of the Moscow Patriarchate. Even more sad are the battles these matters have created between our own people in modern times. The use of reason would dictate that it is only right to return those churches and institutions which were confiscated and/or designate appropriate alternatives in those cases where it is not possible to recover lost or destroyed edifices. The UAOC should have every right to its patriarchal church and complex in Kyiv, just as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was fortunate to have the patriarchal cathedral of St. George and some accompanying buildings restored to them.
The complication in the present dilemma of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church lies in the ambitions of the one time "keruyuchjy spravamy" or daily administrator of the UAOC, who since has abandoned the principles of the church for a different, subordinate interpretation of ecclesiology. The Archbishop of Poltava has repeatedly promoted an agenda which is neither in the best interests of the UAOC, nor ecclesiastically feasible, given the circumstances and jurisdictions involved. We have said from the beginning, that this theory of the Archbishop, in which the UAOC in Ukraine could commemorate Metropolitan Konstantyn Bahan of the UOC in the USA, a church which is subordinate to the Constantinople patriarch and one who is himself a titular bishop of the "ecumenical throne" in the Divine Services, and to look to him as their "spiritual head," simply cannot exist ecclesiastically. Our UAOC, which is considered by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other members of so-called "world-Orthodoxy" as un-canonical, cannot be headed by a bishop of a church of that entity. It simply can't be and Constantinople has never recognized a connection between the Metropolitan of Irienopolis, Konstantyn and the UAOC in Ukraine.
Although it may have been an attractive dream of Archbishop Ishchenko to use this method as a means of placing the Ukrainian church under the wing of Istanbul (EP), and thus gaining the coveted status of "canonical," it was simply an impossible and naive modus operandi. The Archbishop, who gains notoriety from the support of some of our "Ukrainian Brotherhoods" is plainly just one bishop in one eparchy that had been a part of the larger Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, but chose to abandon its ideals.
If the brotherhoods have the real good of the self-governing Ukrainian church at heart, they would not be promoting an effort to dissolve it into a mere "subdivision" of the already centralized Ecumenical Patriarchate. They would realize, as should most Ukrainians, that we already have a church, that is indigenous to our people and faithful to our rich history and culture, that is the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church which is currently led by Metropolitan Mefodiy.
We need not look after the approval of others to be ourselves. If others decide to "recognize" us in their circle of ecclesiastical elites, than praise be to God, if not, it won't deter us from fulfilling our mission to preach the Gospel and carry on the religious tradition and customs of our people. By reducing the UAOC to a wandering child, desperately searching for a mother or father, Archbishop Ishchenko has removed himself from the fullness of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, as was confirmed by the UAOC hierarchy in 2003. By freely choosing to submit to the authority of one not part of the indigenous Ukrainian Church, he placed himself out of communion with it. Therefore, despite what good qualities or intellect there may be on the part of the Archbishop and his supporters, reason tells us that patriarchal premises belong to the church of Metropolitan Mefodiy.
The true UAOC, not those who seek to politically exploit it, need not ask permission of non-Ukrainian religious leadership to be canonical. The UAOC will not seek to be canonical with a flawed, political organization. It seeks to be canonical with God and humankind. God expects nothing less of the UAOC. The UAOC is canonical with God because it loves, accepts and forgives all.
In the spirit of Jesus himself, who had a great love for the Temple and for the local synagogues where he prayed and preached, let us admit the rightful place of Metropolitan Mefodiy in the leadership of the UAOC and affirm his concern that the church once again has complete use of its patriarchal facilities in Kyiv. It is already evident that with the advent of democracy in Ukraine, this church has already made some major leaps in both community leadership and the proclamation of the Word through modern media. Together, members clergy and laity alike, can and will work together for the furtherance of a united but free church in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of North & South America, represented throughout the Diaspora and historically descended from the UAOC in Ukraine, both before the Soviet period and after it, fully and wholeheartedly recognizes and supports His Beatitude, Metropolitan Mefodiy Kudryakov as the visible and unifying head of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church worldwide. We pray that His Beatitude, along with the other members of the hierarchy - the metropolitans, archbishops, bishops and all the clergy and faithful, will show a united, Christ-centered front, in the furtherance of the good of the indigenous, free Ukrainian Church and Ukrainian people both in the homeland and throughout the globe.
God bless you all and may God bless Ukraine
The Most Rev. Michael Javchak Champion, DD., MA Th.
Archbishop-Metropolitan of the United States & the Americas
UAOC of North & South America
Condensed Ukrainian Version (RISU)
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