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Some more equal than others: Kiev passes law demanding Ukrainian Orthodox Church to change name

Some more equal than others: Kiev passes law demanding Ukrainian Orthodox Church to change name
The Ukrainian parliament has given yet another ‘example’ of how a secular nation should live. It passed a bill that requires the Moscow-tied Ukrainian Orthodox Church to change its name to a Russian one.

The Church is an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was given larger independence from Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In practice the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is self-ruled in pretty much all matters, but considers Patriarch Kirill, the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, its ultimate spiritual head.

But the Ukrainian authorities and many politicians claim its clerics are agents of Russia and had been pushing hard to undermine its role in Ukraine.

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The latest such move came from the Ukrainian parliament on Thursday, when it passed a controversial bill, which basically demands that any religious organization “which has a center” in Russia change its name to reflect this fact. The lawmakers expect the Church to be called something like “Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine” and that the change will be made within four months.

The Church already rejected the demand and asked President Petro Poroshenko to veto the draft law. Archbishop Clement, the spokesman for the organization, also argued that even if the legislation was passed into law, it would not be applicable to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, despite MPs expectations to the contrary.

“Our charter says nothing about some foreign governing center. They may have meant someone else,” he told a Ukrainian public broadcaster. “Our Church has no reasons to change its name.”

Under the charter, the center of the Church is located in Kiev and that it is governed by a ruling council called the Holy Synod.

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Clement’s counterpart in Moscow, Vladimir Legoyda, remarked that the Russian Orthodox Church itself is governed by a council, which regularly gathered in Kiev for sessions before relations between Russia and Ukraine soured in 2014.

The Ukraine bill also imposes some restrictions on the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. For instance, its priests will no longer be allowed to visit Ukrainian military units. The draft law was passed despite the parliament’s own expert body reporting that it would be unconstitutional and recommending the legislature to reject it.

The passage of the controversial document was also marred by a fistfight between MPs of rival factions immediately after. It was however not over the Church but about a poster which one of the legislators tore from the podium and others rushed to forcefully defend. Brawls however are quite regular in the Ukrainian parliament these days.

This week was the last for the parliament before a New Year recess, but when they come back in mid-January they are to take a vote on yet another draft law concerning religion. It establishes a procedure for forcing a change of ownership of church property, a mechanism that some people expect to be used against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The Ukrainian government and President Poroshenko earlier personally spearheaded the unification of two schismatic Orthodox churches in Ukraine, a move that has the backing of the Constantinople Patriarchate and the US government. The newly-created organization is expected to be granted formal independence by Constantinople in January. The Russian Orthodox Church calls Constantinople’s claim, that it has the right to do so, false and has broken ties with it over the involvement.

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