INTERVIEW WITH ANNA GLEW concerning the main debate of the moment in Ukraine: Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church

    Bisericii Ortodoxe

    Amid current international debate related to the imminence of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartolomeu I, we have been seeking the opinion of a Ukrainian researcher who is willing to share with us her opinion not only as a researcher, but from the angle of a Ukrainian citizen. The comments were provided by Anna Glew and on this way, we deeply thank to her.

    *Anna Glew is a PhD candidate at the University of Manchester, within the Department of Russian and East European Studies. Anna was born, grew up, studied and worked in Ukraine, before moving to UK several years ago. Even though, nowadays, she lives in Manchester, she regularly visits her parents and friends, also conducts a fieldwork in the area of historical memory in Ukraine as a PhD candidate.

    How do you perceive the initiative of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to ask Patriarch Bartolomeu I to bless the creation of Ukrainian National Church? On the one hand, for the Ukrainian Orthodox people and, secondly, from a political point of view.

    It would be naive to think that Poroshenko took this step purely for religious or nation-related reasons. I would expect some political calculations behind this step, especially in view of the upcoming elections. However, it does look like a risky step and the calculations behind it are not particularly clear to me. After all, since 2014 the Ukrainian society has already had to endure many changes, and additional changes will fatigue the already exhausted population. As for the Orthodox people, it seems to me that Ukrainian Orthodox people do favour the idea of autocephaly, although I am not an expert in that and it’s purely my subjective observation.    

    Is the Autocephaly legitimate from a historical point of view?

    Legitimacy is a very flexible term – are we looking at the rules of the wider Orthodox church? From a historical point of view autocephaly can be seen as justifiable and even necessary.

    Do you think that obtaining the Tomos, this could deepen, divide the society more that it is now, at least from the perspective of the clerical authorities they have chosen to follow: Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) vs. Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate)?

    From what I understand, currently it is suggested that a section of the Moscow Patriarchate would join the Ukrainian National Church. However, it is unclear to me what will happen with the remaining Moscow Patriarchate churches. Presumably, they will continue to be a part of the Russian Church, and thus it is possible to suggest that this could cause a division and heated debates within a certain part of the Moscow congregation. However, from my observations, the war in Ukraine, which has been going on for four years, has given the congregations enough time to identify the political bias of their individual local priests. The war in Ukraine has already stirred up divisions and often Orthodox followers had to choose which priest and which branch (Moscow or Kyiv) they prefer, which possibly could mean that the idea of Tomos will be brought into a society where most people have already made their mind up about their position within the Ukrainian church. From what I understand, the Orthodox congregations have the right to vote and decide on whether their church would join the Ukrainian National Church. We should carefully look at who, according to the church’s rules, is considered to be a member of the congregation and has the right to decide on the church’s affiliation.  I think that this question could potentially cause disputes and heated debates.   

    Do you think that (or how) preachers political bias will influence the decision of people to accept or not the new (unified) Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), if the Patriarch Bartolomeu will give his last consent on Autocephaly?

    I think that on the ground people have already decided which church they want to go to. If their church will stay with the Moscow Patriarchate, I personally wouldn’t expect many changes in this church. But if a church decides to join the Ukrainian National Church, I would assume that its congregation was already aware of the political stance of their priest and chose this church based on that.  As I mentioned earlier, I personally think that people have had enough time to see which priest they prefer. Moreover, I see that many people do not simply go to one particular church – they often happily visit different churches in their city or town, and sometimes they pay more attention to the personal characteristics of the priest. Thus, pro-Ukrainian (those whose affiliation is to Kiev) believers also go to Moscow churches, if the priest is careful with what he preaches and doesn’t demonstrate an openly pro-Russian position. I should note that I observed that in Central Ukraine, the situation in Western Ukraine can be different. Moreover, I would think that the Tomos could create more tension is small villages than in big cities; in cities people often have a variety of churches to choose from, whereas in small villages usually there is only one church, and if the local people don’t agree with the priest’s position, this could create divisions and disputes.      

    If UOC obtain its independence, realistically speaking, how long do you think this process will take until the two head of churches, UOC (KP) and UOC (MP), will reach a consent? Or, the Tomos will, actually, cause a harsh dispute among them which will lead in the near future to instability?

    The heated debates between UOC (KP) and UOC (MP) have been observed for a long time, I don’t think that the idea of Tomos will make them worse; however, these debates will definitely come to the fore and become more visible to the public. Ultimately, I think that the conflict between these two branches is ongoing, and maybe the Tomos will, actually, give a chance to bring this tension to some clear and easy to understand solution.    

    Do you think that, by UOC’s independence, it is possible to be removed the influence of Russian Patriarchate in Ukraine?

    That will massively depend on how many churches in Ukraine will stay with the Moscow Patriarchate. We shall see. However, I think that the process around the Tomos will make people discuss the issues associated with the presence and the activity of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine, especially in relation to its role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

    How the idea of autocephaly is seen/perceived among Orthodox Ukrainians of the region you were born?

    I come from Central Ukraine, specifically the Poltava oblast. Although I haven’t discussed the topic of Tomos with many friends, those people who I know mostly support this idea.    

    As a curiosity, what is the opinion of your family about the Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine? Have you shared opinions with them on this topic? Do they think Ukraine needs this change?

    My sister and mother are both Orthodox and they both support the idea of Tomos, and they think that’s it a necessary and justifiable step.


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