The Ukrainian media space has rather clearly outlined at least a few figures – candidates for primacy.
When you read some press comments, you gain an impression that the coming elections of the UOC primate will leave no alternative and the church will be headed by either Metropolitan Antonii or Metropolitan Onufrii. Both hierarchs are media figures, judging by the monitoring of their appearances in the press and TV. But will they be able to adequately advance the cause of Metropolitan Volodymyr, of blessed memory, and, in general, to keep the UOC’s Ukrainian spiritual linchpin intact?
To find out and give at least a hypothetic answer to these questions, I had to do independent research into the life record of the abovementioned clergymen. I will say immediately that I am only going to analyze their actions rather than criticize their personalities.
Metropolitan Antonii (Pakanych) of Boryspil and Brovary graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy which invited him to teach there and work as assistant to the rector. The hierarch’s biography says nothing about service in parishes – it only mentions administrative work. Later, owing to a talent for theology and at the invitation of His Beatitude and his team, the hierarch began to teach at and then became the rector of the Kyiv Theological Academy and was promoted to bishop. But one unpleasant fact that puts me on my guard – the education system at the academy is a copy of the Moscow tradition of theological education. Ukrainian students are trained as Russian priests and loyal Russian World adepts. We gained this impression from Kyiv theological schools’ graduates themselves. The academy constantly hinders the translation of the Holy Writ and liturgical texts into the Ukrainian language. I came to know from private sources that, instead of developing their intellect, the academy’s students are busy rewriting the Psalter by hand and learning the Russian version of the Orthodox Church’s history. Besides, students are forced to show obedience, which in fact deprives them of a personal opinion and suppresses their talents. Talented teachers, who have an opinion of their own and teach students to impartially interpret history or the Holy Writ, are immediately dismissed. There is another unpleasant fact taken from the media: 1+1 channel journalists carried out an investigation shortly before the demise of Metropolitan Volodymyr, which concludes that ex-president Viktor Yanukovych chose none other than Metropolitan Antonii as the next UOC primate, after which it was decided to speed up the death of the then primate Metropolitan Volodymyr. After all, the UOC confirms the information that Antonii was a spiritual advisor to Yanukovych and ex-prosecutor general Viktor Pshonka. Besides, the statements Metropolitan Antonii made to the media during the Revolution of Dignity comprised no clear indication of support for the Maidan, which, undoubtedly, raises some doubts. The same applies to some myths connected with the metropolitan’s personality. The first myth is that the UOC episcopate is allegedly divided into two parties, “monks” and “businessmen,” with Metropolitan Antonii belonging to the “party of monks.” To conclude whether or not this is true, it is enough to recall that the hierarch flew last year to Chersonesus to celebrate the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’ on a private airplane rented by Yanukovych for 10,000 dollars.
Another myth is an attempt to present Antonii as a “beloved son” of Metropolitan Volodymyr who allegedly saw him as his successor. Firstly, if he had really wished this, he would have seen to it that this fact became known to the broad public from reliable sources rather than from the mouths of spin masters. Secondly, spin masters often describe Antonii as “defender” of Metropolitan Volodymyr. Suffice it to recall a string of Synod sessions in the winter of 2011, when Metropolitans Antonii, Onufrii, and Mytrofan simply betrayed His Beatitude and his team by obediently surrendering almost the whole power in the UOC to the Russian World tandem of Ahatanhel-Illarion plus Pavlo who joined them later.
One more candidate for primacy is Metropolitan Onufrii of Chernivtsi and Bukovyna, the locum tenens of the Kyiv Metropolitan’s chair. The general opinion in the UOC, which even Onufrii’s adversaries share, is that he is a sinless person. But, to tell the truth, this sanctity is of a typically Russian World nature, much in the spirit of the slogan “For Holy Rus’!” There is no question of Ukraine here. It is for this reason that, when Onufrii headed the UOC Court, he did not even manage to draw up its statute. For sees no reason why there should be any self-sufficient UOC organizations because he only considers this church as an integral part of the Russian Orthodox Church. Secondly, it is again neutrality and some passivity in the media comments that do not literally support Ukraine in the current war with Russia. This applies to a somewhat reverent letter to Patriarch Kirill at the beginning of the armed conflict (“we have accomplished our mission with respect to parishioners by writing a letter and the answer to it does not depend on us”) as well as to a recent address to the President of Ukraine about violations of the believers’ rights in the Donetsk region by Donbas battalion soldiers. Thirdly, it is the metropolitan’s age. He considers himself an “elder,” so his life should be focused on prayers and fasts. Therefore, the election of Onufrii will mean that the abovementioned Metropolitan Antonii will in fact rule the roost, while Onufrii will formally be the primate.
It has also become known from private sources that there is the so-called pro-Ukrainian wing inside the UOC MP. It is the clergy that do not want to obey Moscow, strive to further implement the ideas of the late Metropolitan Volodymyr, and really try to achieve unity in Orthodoxy. What is more, this wing’s bishops are true Ukrainians. The candidate from this wing is Metropolitan Simeon of Vinnytsia and Bar. The figure of this hierarch in fact came up in the media after the death of Metropolitan Volodymyr. Simeon was a close friend of His Beatitude from the time they were children, for he was born in a neighboring village. Metropolitan Simeon studied at the Moscow Theological Academy and was a monk at the Moscow-based St. Daniel’s Monastery. As His Beatitude Volodymyr personally knew the metropolitan, he invited him to the Kyiv Caves Monastery (Lavra). At the Lavra, the hierarch was a sacristan, i.e. a person in charge of the sacred vessels, vestments, and other church furnishings. In 1996 His Beatitude entrusted the hierarch with the Volodymyr-Volynsky eparchy which had to be recreated almost from scratch. Now it is one of the most developed UOC MP eparchies. In 2007 the hierarch was transferred to Vinnytsia, where the eparchy was also in far from the best condition. According to the local clergy, the hierarch managed to revive – in a very short time – the old traditions of pilgrimage and launched some social programs. What excited me personally is that Metropolitan Simeon is perhaps the only UOC archpriest who has expressed unconditional support for Ukraine. He said in a recent interview with the Vinnytsia-based publication 33 Kanal: “Ukraine is our home and our land in which we were born, which we love and must defend from any enemies no matter where they may come from.”
As the author of this article, I do not intend to vilify anybody. Besides, as a believer, I do not belong to the UOC MP. And I only wish the UOC to become Ukrainian de facto, not only by name, at last. The Maidan events and the armed conflict in the east do not give us the right to be indifferent. And to say that there is no choice is tantamount to what Pontius Pilate did. Today we must win Ukraine back not only politically, but also spiritually. If we miss this chance, this will bring to naught not only the efforts of the late Metropolitan Volodymyr, but also all the difficult stages in the history of the Ukrainian religious environment which prove that we, Ukrainians, are direct successors to those whom Volodymyr baptized.