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In Ukraine, on 12 December 2020, after 11 years of restoration, St. Andrew’s Church was opened. The architectural monument was transferred to the Mission of Stauropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukraine after a co-operation agreement was signed by Patriarch Bartholomew and Petro Poroshenko on November 2, 2018, writes Andriy Pochtar, member of the Ukrainian Orthodox community, Dusseldorf, Germany.
The official opening ceremony was held online on 12 December. The Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine Alexander Tkachenko and Ukraine President Vladimir Zelensky appreciated the restoration work and recovery of the historical appearance of the 18th century monument of architecture and painting.
The church was opened to visitors on 15 December – the second anniversary of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine’s establishment. However, on 13 December – the day of St. Andrew the First-Called according to the Julian calendar, which is still adhered to by the majority of Orthodox Ukrainians, – the first liturgy in St. Andrew’s Church was led by the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Metropolitan Emmanuel (Adamakis) of France, who expressly came to the celebrations.
Until the restoration work was completed, services were mostly held in the stylobate, the lower part of the church, not often, however, because of the pandemic.
In the future, services should be held on weekends and holidays, and on other days the historical church will function as a museum. This was announced after the December 13 liturgy by the head of the Stauropegion and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Kyiv, Bishop Mikhail (Anishchenko) of Koman.
Meanwhile, the long-awaited completion of restoration works will not change so much in the functioning of the stauropegion as it is expected, because many issues related to the transfer of St. Andrew’s Church to the Mission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have not yet been resolved. And the celebrations in honor of the opening of the historic church for visitors highlighted issues in the relationship between the religious organization and the Ukrainian authorities.
First, none of the officials of Ukraine considered it necessary to hold a meeting with the hierarch of the Mother Church, who came to the celebrations in Ukraine on behalf of Patriarch Bartholomew, and also played a major role in the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Secondly, believers were allowed to the December 13 service only according to the lists, and many people failed to attend it.
Third, the entrance to St. Andrew’s Church is possible only for a fee. Although it is very small, it still takes a bite out of the poorest Ukrainians’ wallets. And, of course, this money is not collected by the Stauropegion.
Finally, most outrageous of all, Bishop Mikhail (Anishchenko) of Koman, the head of Stauropegion and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Kyiv, must always obtain permission from Ukrainian officials to hold divine services. Even on the Patron Saint’s Day of the Stauropegion! And it is up to Nelya Kukovalska – the General Director of the National Sanctuary “Sophia of Kyiv”, which includes St. Andrew’s Church – to provide her resolution on the possibility of holding services.
How come the head of the organization, which the temple was transferred to, cannot on his own determine on which weekends he can serve and on which weekends he can not? And this is despite the fact that according to a decree of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, not only the stylobate, but the entire St. Andrew’s Church was transferred to the Stauropegion.
For comparison, when an architectural monument of national significance in Kyiv is shared between a cultural institution and a Catholic religious organization, everything is exactly the opposite. This year, after the February visit of President Zelensky to Pope Francis, the Ukrainian government ordered to transfer the building of the Church of St. Nicholas in Kyiv, which also houses the National House of Organ and Chamber Music of Ukraine, for free use to the community of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the Ministry of Culture, until the new building for the House of Music is built, “the rehearsal process and concert activities will be carried out according to the schedule.” That is, the rest of the time the church can be used by the religious community. Moreover, even when the temple was not yet handed over to the church, it was open for prayer all Sunday and all the faithful could come to the service.
The building of St. Andrew’s Church, two years after its transfer to the free use of the Stauropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in fact, cannot be freely used for its intended purpose, although the head of the religious organization accepted all the memorial protection obligations as early as April 26, 2019, when he signed a contract with the National Sanctuary “Sophia of Kyiv”.
It turns out that St. Andrew’s Church was transferred to the Mission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate only on paper, and in fact, the head of this church is not Bishop Mikhail, but Mrs. Kukovalska, and only with her one-time permission divine services can be held. The Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch can serve in the basement, if no museum events are held there – and he should be grateful to the Ukrainian authorities for this.
How many loud words are spoken – both by officials and hierarchs – about gratitude to Patriarch Bartholomew, support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, about how Ukraine appreciates its ties with the Mother Church… But in fact, all these words are worthless. There is fraud after fraud – with Filaret’s (Denysenko) withdrawal of his own candidacy for the post of Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and with the transfer of Ukrainian parishes in the diaspora to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and in terms of transferring the building and promoting the activities of the stauropegion. They simply pool the wool over the eyes of His All-Holiness and high-ranking hierarchs who represent him – no better than the Russians.
In general, unfortunately, the oppression of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is no longer something surprising: it is happening both on behalf of Turkey and on behalf of some churches, in which ethnophyletism is dominating. However, it remains unclear why for so long Patriarch Bartholomew tolerates all this – constant distrust, discrimination, violations of promises and blatant lies.
Did the departure of Archbishop Elpidophoros overseas have such a detrimental effect, and there are no people left by Patriarch Bartholomew who could advise, protect from another deception, help defend the legitimate rights of the Mother Church’s Primate?
In the end, the stauropegion in Kyiv is no fee, no reciprocal gesture of Ukraine for the gracious gift of autocephaly. Historically, the Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome had not a single, but many stauropegions in Ukraine. Not one, but all of them belonged to the Ecumenical Patriarch by right! And, in theory, they should belong now.