Creation of the Unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church: who wins and who loses?

In Ukrainian church and political circles, it is expected that Tomos will be proclaimed on the eve of the Feast of Intercessionon on October 14. In this regard, the missionaries of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Archbishop Daniel from the United States and Bishop Hilarion of Edmonton from Canada arrived in Kyiv for preparing for the provision of autocephaly.

The most likely candidate for the position of Patriarch of the Local Church is Patriarch of the UOC KP Filaret. However, he needs to withdraw or invalidate the anathema (excommunication) imposed on him by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1997. The Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew can withdraw anathema.

One of the possible risks after Tomos is the surge of religious extremism from the side of nationalists and Russian provocateurs, conflicts in the territorial communities at the lower level, problems with the division of property and the jurisdiction of religious buildings.

Religious neutrality works in Yuliia Tymoshenko’s favor as she is focused on economic problems, high tariffs, low pensions and poverty. Other politicians (Poroshenko, Boiko, Novynskyi), who actively use religious issues in political competition, risk being drawn into religious conflicts.


The procedure for the formation of the Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Step 1. Proclamation of Tomos on autocephaly

Tomos is a special document of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, launching the process of obtaining an autocephalous status by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In the event of the proclamation of Tomos, the Ukrainian Local Church would enter the five largest Orthodox churches in the world. Legally, the Ukrainian church would come out of the subordination of the Russian Orthodox Church, and directly subordinate to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

In practice, this subordination would be formally manifested only in the fact that in all liturgies in the churches of the Local Ukrainian Church, the name of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew would be mentioned. The Ukrainian church circles hope that Tomos will be proclaimed on the eve of the Feast of Intercessionon on October 14.


Step 2. The recognition of Tomos at the Council of the 15 autonomous Orthodox churches

Providing autocephaly is a canonical right of the Patriarch of Constantinople being the first among the equal hierarchs of the Orthodox world. However, in order to preserve the unity of the Orthodox world, other churches shall recognize the decision of the Patriarch about autocephaly. Patriarch Filaret suggested in the commentary to the media that Tomos for Ukraine might be recognized by 12 out of 15 Orthodox churches (except for Russian, Serbian and Syrian churches).

In the future, the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church may lead to severe reputational and financial losses of the Russian Orthodox Church (according to various sources, Ukrainian parishes represent 30% of the total number of the ROC and bring about 50% of the financial revenues). In addition, it may strike an ideological concept of the “Russian world”, according to which Kyiv is the mother of Russian cities and the cradle of Orthodoxy in Russia. Thus, an independent Ukrainian local church may be an important step towards true independence and overcoming Russia’s influence. The Kyiv Metropolitanate was founded in 988, while the Moscow Metropolitanate – in 1448.


Step 3. Conducting the Unity Council in Kyiv

This is the final stage at which a new patriarch of the Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church would be elected. Only those bishops who have addressed a letter on autocephaly to Bartholomew may take part in such a Council. However, there is a technical problem – the presence of anathema of Filaret, which was announced in 1997 by the Russian Orthodox Church. The problem of withdrawing anathema may be resolved by Patriarch Bartholomew in parallel with the proclamation of Tomos. Patriarch Filaret declared that after the Unity Council, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate would be forced to change its name to the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine. At the same time, Russian mass media spread information that those dioceses that decide not to enter the Local Ukrainian Church will be united into the Russian Orthodox Church abroad. The process of creating a Local Church should be evolutionary and minimized from political interference. The most likely candidate for the post of Patriarch of the Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church is Filaret.


How Tomos may affect political competition in Ukraine?

According to the results of sociological surveys of the “Rating” group (results published on August 22), 39% of respondents support autocephaly, 32% – have not decided, 29% – do not support Tomos for the Ukrainian Church. More or less similar results appear in other surveys. The number of supporters of autocephaly is constantly increasing (e.g. in April it was 30%). The President’s election strategy rests on the “language-army-church” triangle.

The headquarters of Petro Poroshenko building the campaign on the “language-army-church” triangle expect to regain positive electoral dynamics precisely at the expense of supporters of autocephaly. According to available information, before the start of the election campaign on January 1, 2019, the headquarters shall pull out the President’s ratings to the 2nd place and consolidate them at the level of 15%. In addition, new laws on language and army will be considered in the parliament in the near future, enabling voters to be mobilized. It is important for Petro Poroshenko to dwell on the use of a religious theme in political competition in a timely manner in order not to exacerbate social tension.

Excessive influence in religious life is also limited by the Constitution, because according to it, the state and the church are separated.  Pro-Russian politicians (Boiko, Novinskyi, Rabinovych, Vilkul, Medvedchuk) oppose autocephaly, and may try to enlist the support of Moscow to mobilize the voter. It is possible that the protest against Tomos will be a central point in their political rhetoric.

Religious neutrality works in Yuliia Tymoshenko’s favor as she is focused on economic problems, high tariffs, low pensions and poverty.

Yuliia Tymoshenko distances herself from sensitive ideological issues, and appeals to empty refrigerators, cold apartments and lack of prospects. Many voters like the fact thatTymoshenko does not interfere in the church and does not push on religious hierarchs, unlike Poroshenko, Boiko and Novinskyi. It should be noted, that the Tymoshenko’s support ratings reached 20%, and the key task for her headquarters now is to save the results and prepare the field for the increase of indicators during the active phase of the campaign.

However, the main burden of solving religious problems will lie on the shoulders of local territorial communities, which will decide on the status of religious communities, the affiliation of churches and church property.


Possible risks after Tomos:


  1. Conflicts in communities due to changes in the jurisdiction of churches and the distribution of church property.
  2. Sanctions of local councils against the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate (legal termination of lease agreements of religious buildings, land plots, cancellation of supplies of preferential gas, water, electricity, etc.).
  3. The upsurge of religious extremism on the part of Ukrainian Nationalists and Russian provocateurs (arsons, seizure of temples, pressure and eviction of priests).
  4. Smuggling of unique monuments, icons, antiquities from the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate to Russia and Belarus.
  5. Excessive exploitation of a religious issue in an election campaign by Ukrainian politicians may lead to deep polarization of society.
  6. Russia’s not predictable and aggressive reaction to Ukrainian autocephaly.