Orwellian Doublethink of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Context of Ukrainian Church Autocephaly

Ukraine Church

The reactions of many hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to the question of autocephaly for the Church in Ukraine are an excellent illustration of George Orwell's "1984." It is so vivid that, if turned into quotes, it could be staged in theaters as a new interpretation of the brilliant work.

In Orwell's novel "1984," there is a concept called doublethink, defined as "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously." Today, we will unveil two examples of doublethink among ROC clergy, who have filled our information space for a long time.

  • "We unanimously support the autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine," but... we are against autocephaly.
  • "Autocephaly breaks the unity of the Church, tears Christ's seamless robe," but... the ROC itself is autocephalous and doesn't reject it.

Until now, none of the opponents have been able to explain what exactly is wrong with autocephaly for the Church in Ukraine. For someone even slightly familiar with Orthodox doctrine and church history, their "arguments" seem quite comical and often fall apart upon basic fact-checking. In this and upcoming blogs, I suggest examining these arguments in the context of the phenomenon of doublethink, which has long become the "soul of the ROC," analogous to how in Orwell's novel doublethink was the soul of the Party.

"We unanimously support the autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine," but... we are against autocephaly.

For a long time, hierarchies of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) claimed they were not against autocephaly or even favoring it. As far back as 1991, the UOC-MP's Hierarchical Synod in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra supported the idea of autocephaly and decided to convene a Local Council of the UOC-MP, with the participation of bishops, clergy, and laity. They unanimously endorsed autocephaly, describing it as highly beneficial. In 1992, a bishop's council in Kyiv issued an appeal to the ROC's Patriarch and Synod, urging them to expedite the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The ROC's Hierarchical Council 1992 considered this request and postponed the discussion to the next ROC Local Council. While this never happened, at that time, both Patriarch Alexy and Metropolitan Kirill stated that they were not against autocephaly. Consequently, the request for autocephaly was neither revoked nor annulled.

In 2009, after another ROC Local Council, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Volodymyr (Sabodan), was asked, "Do you still need autocephalous status?" He replied directly, "This status should crown all our efforts."

Even in 2018, Mykola Danylevych, the Deputy Head of the External Church Relations Department of the UOC-MP, emphasized: "From the very beginning of the church division, the UOC has always stated that we are for overcoming the church division and for a united Church... And if there is a certain church agreement – for the autocephalous structure of this church because autocephaly is only the structure, the form of the church's existence under certain historical conditions."

However, all of this began to crumble when the real possibility of autocephaly emerged. The rhetoric shifted to the opposite, and strong statements against autocephaly became regular. After Ukraine received the Tomos, representatives of the ROC turned to staunch opposition, labeling supporters of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as schismatics and effectively sowing religious hostility.

So, when are our hierarchs being deceitful: when they spoke of desiring and strengthening the unity of Orthodoxy in Ukraine through autocephaly, promising to defend it, OR when they assert the opposite, viewing it as a path to hell?

"Autocephaly disrupts the unity of the Church, tears Christ's seamless robe," but... the ROC itself is autocephalous and doesn't reject it.

The perception of autocephaly changes among our hierarchs in the best traditions of "Hottentot morality": "Evil is when a neighbor attacks me, takes away my cattle, my wife..." — "And what about good?" — "Good is when I take my neighbor's cattle and wife." For instance, Metropolitan Agafangel, when asked about the structure of the Orthodox Church, explains: "We believe and confess: 'One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. The 15 autocephalous Orthodox Churches constitute the One Orthodox Church.' However, when it comes to the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church, it strangely transforms into an apocalyptic evil. And the same hierarchy then states that the canonical autocephaly of the UOC is the 'construction of a Church without a Church' and 'the tearing of the seamless church robe, an attempt to dismember the age-old spiritual foundation of being.' Within the interchurch community, there is often the assertion that autocephaly is a betrayal of Orthodoxy. This cliché has become the anthem of the fight against autocephaly, which began to resonate loudly when the Ecumenical Patriarchate restored the Kyiv Metropolis. It's worth emphasizing that the Moscow Patriarchate unlawfully seized the Kyiv Metropolis in 1686, notably when the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) received the Tomos. In reality, this assertion is nothing more than an admission of confessing heresy, an acknowledgment that the person making it is not Orthodox, whether they are a layperson or a hierarch.

Let's remind ourselves that Autocephaly (Greek: Αὐτοκεφαλία — "self-headship") is by no means a "path to hell" and cannot inherently rupture unity; it is merely the "status of a local church that entails its administrative independence from other local Churches. The Universal Church consists of autocephalous local Churches. An autocephalous local Church is entirely independent, not subject to any other local Church, although all autocephalous Churches, as parts of the Universal Church, are interdependent" (Orthodox Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 199-202).

What's the real reason behind the circulation of this heresy? Is it the drowsy ignorance of our hierarchs, or their blatant cynicism, counting on the complete ignorance of the flock? But, over the decades, the church hasn't even attempted to enlighten its community on elementary matters. It's odd that for many laypeople of the ROC, the fact that the church itself is autocephalous is a genuine revelation and is received as if it's a joke, given that "everyone knows that autocephaly is a path to hell." Church history teaches us that the "path to hell" is the absolutization of the status of church governance, which has often led to tragic consequences. "Unity in Christ" was sacrificed for the unity of church governance, resulting in the alienation of entire nations.

Metropolitan Agafangel (Savin) explains that the desire for autocephaly is a "destructive phenomenon, a misunderstanding of the fact that millennia-old ties of unity are being severed," he notes that it's preaching a rupture from the Mother Church. But it turns out that the ROC itself fragmented the Constantinopolitan Church. Incidentally, in connection with this, one can recall the personal tragedy of the venerable Maxim the Greek, who directly and sharply spoke out against the separation of the Moscow Church from the Constantinopolitan Mother Church. In 1525, he was condemned by Moscow clergy for... refusing to recognize autocephaly. So, we await the ROC's repentance for the "dismemberment of the Church," the "tearing of Christ's seamless robe," and its return to the Constantinopolitan Church in the name of "Church unity," following the appeals of the ROC hierarchs!

So, when are our hierarchs being deceitful: when they assert that the existence of 15 Autocephalous Local Churches in no way disturbs the church's unity and that the ROC's autocephaly is not a rupture with the Constantinopolitan Church, OR when they claim that the autocephaly of the OCU is a "rupture of the Church's unity" and "the tearing of the seamless robe"? Or perhaps, it's just the same "well-intentioned willingness to call black white if party discipline requires it?"

In the upcoming columns, we will analyze other instances of doublethink in the ROC.


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