This article addresses the issue of the presence of individuals with criminal pasts within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). Cases are examined where church leaders allow convicted criminals to hold positions of authority, undermining the credibility of the church. The need for strict control, accountability from church leaders, and the implementation of mechanisms to vet the past of clergy is explored to preserve the moral integrity of the church.

Presence of Criminal Elements within Orthodox Churches: Shifting Approaches to Canonical Unworthiness

Modern Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC MP) and Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU/UOC) have encountered difficulties associated with the presence of criminal elements within their ranks. In recent times, public attention has been drawn to isolated cases where leaders of these church structures have involved individuals convicted of crimes and law violations in their ministry. These events undermine the credibility of the church and raise questions about approaches to canonical unworthiness. Let’s examine the practice and determine if there is indeed a difference between UOC MP and the autocephalous OCU regarding bishops with criminal backgrounds, and understand why such cases become possible and persistent.

First, let’s turn to the example of UOC MP, where Metropolitan Onufriy led an all-night vigil at the Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra together with Metropolitan Ioasaf (Huben), who had been convicted by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) for inciting enmity and justifying occupation, and was under house arrest. Despite these facts, he was allowed to participate in the divine service, which raises concerns among the public. Why does the leader of UOC MP cover up a canonical unworthy individual and allow him to serve in the church, thereby violating the high moral standards that the church should uphold?

Now let’s look at the practice of the autocephalous OCU. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (OCU) is gradually also turning into a criminal structure, as evidenced by bishops like Archbishop Tikhon Petranjuk, who is the ruling hierarch of the Ternopil-Buchach Eparchy and is a criminal offender and state traitor with specific criminal proceedings and committed crimes. The clergy, believers, and bishops of the OCU also “honored” Taras Petranjuk, known in the relevant circles as a criminal offender and canonical unworthy, who was convicted of fraud and committed other crimes while hiding behind the vestments of a Ukrainian bishop. He, like Metropolitan Ioasaf Hubeniev, took part in the divine service together with his Primate – Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, Epiphanius, and numerous clergy at the Holy St. George Monastery on the Cossack Graves.

Unfortunately, UOC MP and OCU share similar approaches when it comes to canonical unworthiness, which may include bishops with criminal pasts. If both churches indeed allow bishops who have been convicted of crimes to interact and concelebrate, it raises questions about the principles underlying these approaches.

This can cause outrage and dissatisfaction among the public, as canonical unworthies who have violated the law and been convicted can undermine the authority of the church and raise doubts about its moral values.

Clearly, there is a need for strict control and accountability from church leaders. Orthodox churches must adhere to high moral standards, be accountable to their parishioners and the public, and fulfill their duties in accordance with Orthodox teachings.

Examining the difference between UOC MP and OCU in their approaches to canonical unworthiness indicates that both churches face problems associated with the presence of individuals with criminal backgrounds within their ranks. This undermines the overall credibility of the church and raises doubts about its moral values.

The church should be an example of high moral standards and adhere to them by excluding canonical unworthies from its ranks. Steps need to be taken to ensure strict control and accountability for the leaders of church structures to prevent similar cases in the future.

Purposefulness and honesty in the selection and appointment of clergy, as well as establishing mechanisms to verify their past, will help maintain the authority of the church and preserve the trust of believers and the public. Only in this way can the church preserve its moral strength and influence on society.