Statement of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) in connection with events surrounding the Holy-Annunciation church of UOC in the city of Kolomyia, Ivano-Frankivska oblast
June 4, 2017, on the Day of Holy Pentecost, in the city of Kolomiya 13 priests of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) together with their faithful and supported by “Chorna Sotnia” (“the Black Hundred”) fighters, entered the Holy-Annunciation church, which belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and celebrated a liturgy there. After that, the church was illegally locked, and since then religious community of the UOC has been unable to pray in their own church. Negotiations regarding the future of the church are currently in progress.
In addition to their attempt to seize the above-mentioned church, the clergy and faithful of the UGCC have also been heard issuing threats to capture another UOC church in Kolomyia – namely, the Holy Dormition Cathedral. Also threats were levelled at the Parish Rector – Archpriest Mykolay Smetaniuk. The faithful of the Church are facing intimidation, slander, threats of violence, and mostly coming from the mouths of Uniate chaplains, one of whom is Fr. Michael Arsenych. Leaflets with false information and with incitement against our church are being distributed among the residents of Kolomyia.
The UOC religious community has been using the building of the Holy-Annunciation church since 1990 on a legal basis. At the present time, the Kolomyia-Chernivtsi Diocese of the UGCC has not presented any legal proof that in any way whatsoever confirms the fact that the said church was transferred for use to the UOC religious community with the proviso that the said church has to be given to the UGCC in future. In the case that the UGCC diocese considers the Holy-Annunciation church as its own, then it should prove that allegation in a civilized way, i.e. via court.
Despite the peaceable position declared in the official statement of Kolomyisko-Chernivetska diocese of the UGCC with that regard and all assurances that “the incidents mentioned were not initiated by the UGCC”, the diocese does not explain participation of UGCC priests in the conflict, especially those who provoked and called to capturing of the church that belongs to a religious community of the UOC.
Also, we find calls to renewal of historical justice that were set forth in the UGCC Statement, inadvisable and inopportune for the present time. According to the Statement, the UOC community must return a church that allegedly belonged to the UGCC. In such approach we see danger of further interconfessional confrontations based on the principle of historical justice renewal.
For example, St. Mykolay church on Askoldova Mohyla in Kyiv as well St. Mykolay the Good church at Podol and other historic churches that are currently being used by Greek-Catholic communities, were originally built as Orthodox churches and had historically belonged to the Orthodox Church. For instance, St. Mykolay the Good church at Podol was a place of pastoral ministry for famous orthodox theologian Archpriest Oleksandr Glagolev (1872-1937).
Thus, according to the logic in the Statement made by Kolomyisko-Chernivetska diocese of the UGCC, the UGCC in its turn also have to return to the UOC those churches, which the UGCC is currently using, and which should have been given up, by the logic of the Statement, “in favour of other religious confessions”, because the UOC also does not have “any moral or legal right” not to return them. The situation by the Holy-Annunciation church in Kolomyia may cause some reciprocal actions towards Greek-Catholic churches in other regions of Ukraine. We are convinced, that such an approach will not bring more peace and stability into interconfessional relationships. The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church stands on the positions of interconfessional peace and avoidance of any posiible religious confrontation.
Besides, it is a known fact that in the city of Kolomyia the UGCC has about 20 churches at its disposal, while the UOC only has 2. So, it is very unlikely that the attempt of seizing the Holy-Annunciation church was caused by a deficiency of churches for UGCC faithful.
Having studied a number of videos that were filmed at the location of the incident, we can state that Uniate priests, who came to the Holy-Annunciation church in order to urge a UOC community to change their confessional jurisdiction, used hostile rhetoric and explicitly hounded their fellow citizens for their confessional affiliation.
We are convinced that such actions of the UGCC clergy contradict with the general vector of Orthodox-Catholic relations. Since, according to the Havana Joint Declaration, “Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co-existence” (Havana Joint Declaration, p. 25).
We are calling upon the leadership of the UGCC as well as leaders of Kolomyisko-Chernivetska diocese of the UGCC to approach this issue calmly and carefully, in the spirit of Christian love and respect to religious beliefs of other people, and with awareness of full responsibility.