by Efi Efthimiou
In a move that could prove highly significant, representatives of Ukraine’s two Orthodox Churches (the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) of the Patriarchate of Moscow), met last week in an attempt to find common ground.
The inter-church dialogue, as it was called, took place in St Sophia in Kyiv, and led to a text condemning the war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and was co-signed by clergy and laity (representatives of both Ukrainian jurisdictions).
In the text they came up with at the end of the dialogue, they call on the heads of the two Churches to find common ground and a way to unite the two jurisdictions, for the good of Ukraine.
They also propose the active mediation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, with the creation of an international platform for dialogue.
Condemnation of war, call for unity
The text states, among other things, that “Russia’s armed aggression against the sovereign Ukrainian state was the culmination of centuries of imperial pressure on the spiritual and cultural identity of our people. Guided by imperial chauvinistic ideology, under the slogans of the “Russian world,” Russia has always denied the right of the Local Ukrainian Church to exist. The Russian Orthodox Church invades the canonical territory of Ukrainian Churches and blesses Russia’s occupation and war crimes on the territory of the Ukrainian state.
In this difficult time, it is extremely important to preserve the spiritual unity of the Ukrainian people, which has its origins in the ancient Kyivan Orthodox tradition. “Therefore, we strive to achieve the unification of all Orthodox Ukrainians in one conciliar and local (autocephalous) Ukrainian Orthodox Church, recognized by the entire Orthodox Christian community. We realize that the way may not be easy, but it is our duty to start this movement”, reads the communique.
The participants in the dialogue – clergy and laity, professors representatives of both jurisdictions – still recognize that the state and civil society in Ukraine are important members in the dialogue of unity between the two Churches.
“We consider the prospect of relations between the Orthodox Churches and the state and society based on the principles of the rule of law, mutual respect and cooperation. Therefore, we call for a broad discussion of those legislative initiatives that deal with complex and often painful issues of religious life,” the participants’ appeal states.
The first steps for the rapprochement of the two sides are proposed, and they invite the bishops, clergy and the faithful:
-To cooperate at the level of territorial communities in Christian cultural and educational projects, first of all in caring for the defenders of the homeland and those who have lost loved ones in the war or have been injured or lost their homes.
-To promote the possibility of participation and joint service of representatives of the two churches in events of local and national importance
-to common prayer of clergy and faithful, where possible, especially if it is the burial of a soldier who lost his life defending Ukraine
– To make every effort to overcome the current obstacles that do not allow the main goal of unity – the eucharistic communion of the communities of both Churches.
They call for a direct dialogue and without preconditions, in order to develop models that will make possible the union of the two jurisdictions in one local Church in the future.
For this purpose they propose the creation of a joint working group, in which Bishops and Theologians of the local Orthodox Churches will participate, to develop a detailed unification plan.
It is characteristic that in the letter-appeal, it is recognized that “the resolution of the inter-church conflict in Ukraine is impossible without the active mediation of the representatives of world Orthodoxy, especially the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in cooperation with which an international platform for dialogue should be created”.
Finally, they express the hope that “our voice will be joined by thousands of believers of both Churches who care about the fate of Orthodoxy in Ukraine and seek unity and victory in the struggle for independence. Only through joint efforts can we overcome mutual hostility and unite Orthodoxy in Ukraine and make our society complete, strong and successful. Each of us believes that there are no problems and misunderstandings that cannot be solved in the spirit of Christ’s love.”