Who owns the church?
Throughout the years of Ukraine's independence, hundreds of new temples were built across the country for the Orthodox, Jewish, Protestant, Catholic believers and representatives of other denominations. In fact, the construction and restoration of churches, synagogues, kirkhs, prayer houses, etc. had begun in the last years of the Soviet era.
Many mistakenly believe that religious buildings belong to the clerics. They don't. According to the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, the church is not a legal entity. Such entity can be a religious community, a brotherhood, a monastery, a mission, and so on. Correspondingly, religious buildings belong to religious communities, except for those that are of cultural value and host museums, such as the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra or the St Volodymyr's Cathedral.
Any religious community can freely change its affiliation from one church to another
The same law states that any religious community can freely change its affiliation from one church to another. However, the procedure is not laid down clearly. The legislation only says that the decision shall be made by community members.
Ukraine has seen more than one precedent when the community of the Church of the UOC of Moscow Patriarchate made a decision on their transition to the Kyiv Patriarchate, while in western Ukraine there were cases of the return of the temples to Catholic and Greek Catholic religious communities. Actually, the first such transitions took place at the turn of the 1980-1980s, and re-emerged with the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Moscow has for the past 30 years branded such transitions as "seizure." Today, when we see that Constantinople is set to recognize the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Russia is predicting religious wars and battles for temples across Ukraine.
So is it possible to divide churches?
It is unlikely that Moscow will simply give up its position. Rather, on the contrary: the clergy of the UOC-MP will carry out, and is already doing it, active propaganda among the faithful against the transition to "schismatics"
Perhaps, but not without some difficulties. The process will be simplest in communities where both the majority of its members and the priest, who is the head of the community, will have the same position - that is, they will stand for the transition from the Moscow church to the Ukrainian one.
However, It is unlikely that Moscow will simply give up its position. Rather, on the contrary: the clergy of the UOC-MP will carry out, and is already doing it, active propaganda among the faithful against the transition to "schismatics." It is also significant that the statutory documents of the community, the seal, the permit for the use of land, the papers for the church building itself, as a rule, are at a priest's disposal. And having an instruction to resist to the end, he will not simply give away all those papers to the community.
In a situation where the pries and community stand on opposite positions, there is another problem – no clear definition is provided for determining who are "community members." The Church is not a state institution, it's not a register of voters or taxpayers, therefore, the law does not provide for any paperwork that would certify a believer's affiliation with a particular community. And if the problem is not too serious in a village where everyone knows each other, identifying and counting religious community members in big cities is a real challenge because often, those living in apartment blocks don't even know their own neighbors.
It is precisely in cities where there are far larger churches and richer parishioners, and where the political weight of the temples is much heavier, and there is room for manipulation. The technique has already been worked out in secular circles through public hearings, and even earlier – at national elections. The group of "Orthodox thugs" and "canonical grandmothers," brought in by several buses from the nearest towns, could act as if they are local parishioners to hinder the holding of a community assembly to take a decision on moving from one church to another. And neither the police nor the court will be able to interfere simply because no kind of document could identify someone's affiliation to a certain religious community.
The Verkhovna Rada registered Bill No 4128 authored by an MP and religious scholar Viktor Yelensky to amend Art. 8 of the aforementioned law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations." The draft states that any religious community's decision to change the church shall be taken at a general meeting by a majority of votes. There is no clear definition of who is a community member, but there is a certain specificity: individuals must identify with the community and also participate in community life.
Pro-Ukrainian religious communities that are now part of the Moscow church will obviously have to bureaucratize their activities to some extent
The bill's author, MP Yelensky, said that during the discussion of the document at the Rada's profile committee with the participation of clerics, two clarifications were put forward that the committee approved: those community members who decide to move to another church, certify their intentions with the notary. The second clarification is that the community's governing body must decide on the scope of authority of the community assembly. At the same time, Yelensky observes that the "governing body" is not necessarily a priest and parishioners from his closest entourage. It can also consist of regular people – the church committee of the faithful, and a parish assembly.
However, this bill, even if adopted into law, will still be unable to block falsifications of community decisions on the transition from the Moscow church to the Ukrainian one.
Therefore, pro-Ukrainian religious communities that are now part of the Moscow church will obviously have to bureaucratize their activities to some extent. For example, they should introduce a register of community members, at least to prevent "Orthodox thugs" from influencing their decisions, to work out the conditions for the admission of new members to their community – at least throughout the period when the united Ukrainian Orthodox Church is formed.
In any case, regardless of whether the changes to the legislation are adopted, the process of the new Church formation will be neither easy nor quick.