DESPITE rumours circulating in Moscow that several rival
candidates were being promoted to further Russian interests, the
Ukrainians themselves have spoken. On 13 August, the Bishops'
Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)
elected the acting Metropolitan Onufri of Chernovtsy and Bukovina
as its leader.
He had been fulfilling this position since 24 February, after
Metropolitan Vladimir resigned for reasons of ill health (Obituary,
18 July), and three days after the flight from Ukraine of
President Viktor Yanukovich. The election does not, therefore,
presage any significant change of policy for his Church. But an
agenda of immense complexity lies ahead for Metropolitan
His immediate tasks are twofold: to secure the integrity of his
own Church, and at the same time to maintain his canonical
allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate. These have all the marks of
being irreconcilable. President Putin and Patriarch Kirill of
Moscow have spoken with a united voice in welcoming the election.
President Putin's message reads in part: "I am convinced that, in
these difficult times for Ukraine, your activities as a spiritual
leader will help to bring reconciliation and mutual understanding
among people, and to restore accord and stability in society".
The basic problem in effecting the reconciliation of which
President Putin speaks is this: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
(Moscow Patriarchate) is riven with division. Metropolitan Onufri's
first public act on his promotion to acting head last February was
to write to Patriarch Kirill, urgently requesting him to intercede
with President Putin to stop threatening the territorial integrity
of Ukraine - a plea that went unanswered. Metropolitan Onufri now
knows that there is a strong element in his Church, not least among
the bishops themselves, urging a break with Moscow and secession to
the Ecumenical Patriarch-ate.
Such an outcome would undermine the authority of Patriarch
Kirill in Russia itself: Ukraine has for decades been the strongest
part of Moscow's jurisdiction. A further imbrogilio is whether the
Orthodox in the Crimea, snatched from Ukraine in a coup, now belong
to Moscow or Kiev.
Quite apart from potential schism within Metropolitan Onufri's
own Church, there is the long-standing one with the other two
Ukrainian Orthodox Churches - the Autocephalous Church and the Kiev
Patriarchate. The former is small, tracing its origin back to the
short-lived period of Ukrainian independence after 1917; the latter
is larger, fiercely patriotic and anti-Moscow, but led by Patriarch
Filaret, who is not recognised by any other Orthodox Church, and
whose past affiliation with the Soviet authorities and present
personal life are deeply controversial.
It may be that the ultimate destiny of the Orthodox in Ukraine
would be unity and independence, but Metropolitan Onufri is not in
a position to work towards these at present.
Canon Michael Bourdeaux is the President of the Keston