Conference on “Where Are you Heading, Ukraine?”

Conference and Discussion on “Orthodoxy in Ukraine: A Far-Reaching Conflict?”

In early April at a conference hosted by the Protestant Academy in Loccum, Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth of the Institute presented a short lecture in which she sketched out the historical situation of the church in Ukraine today. Orthodox priest Bohdan Ogulchanskyi of the Open Orthodox University Sophia/Kiev, who originally belonged to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) and then switched to the newly founded Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), presented the current ecclesiastical situation and emphasized the right of Ukraine to its own Orthodox church independent of Moscow.

As representative of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), influential principally in western Ukraine, priest and professor Dr. Thomas Nemeth of the Eastern Church Institute in Würzburg, Germany, shed light on the possibilities for rapprochement between the various churches in the Ukraine through the founding of a new Orthodox church, which in fact would be a merger of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

The difficulties, which have resulted through the bestowal of the tomos (recognition of autocephaly) on the OCU by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the associated recognition of it, were emphasized by Dr. Václav Ježek of the University of Prešov in a lecture on “Orthodox Churches of the Czech Lands and Slovakia,” who pointed out the ways in which the conflict in Ukraine is simply a reflection of the need for clarification of Orthodox ecclesiology and a decision regarding an already long-standing conflict. Dr. Dagmar Heller of the Konfessionskundliches Institut in Bensheim, Germany, laid out the significant consequences that a supposedly only local conflict between the churches in Ukraine might pose for worldwide ecumenism.

Through intensive discussion the lectures drew up the following sets of questions for further reflection:

1. Regarding the developments that affect all the churches in Ukraine: How will the established as well as the new churches relate to one another in the future? Will the majority of the congregations of the UOC-MP end up crossing over to the OCU? Or will, as it now appears, two concurrent Orthodox churches remain, of which the UOC-MP will probably be the dominant one? Will the new foundation of the OCU end up cementing a division in the nation, that will end up being solved in the same way? And how do things stand with the UGCC and the OCU? Will the two draw near to one another? Will it perhaps set a precedent that will be meaningful for worldwide Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism? Or are these only hopes that come out of current events but will be of no real consequence for dealings with the Catholic church?

2. Possibilities and Boundaries of the Establishment of the OCU: Will the OCU succeed in being the “Church of Ukraine”? A national church that can contribute to reconciliation? What does the new church stand for? For a modern, open, Western-oriented Orthodoxy? Or maybe, to the contrary, a church whose values are even more traditional than those of the UOC-MP? What dangers lie in the establishment of a Moscow-independent church? Will the OCU, in these circumstances, perhaps be instrumentalized by the Ukrainian government for its own political ends? Or will the church, for its own reasons, allow itself to be thus instrumentalized?

At the end of the forum there emerged altogether the impression of a situation that, at the moment, could turn in any direction, and requires ongoing observation of developments in the country.