Every second Saturday of the month, Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ.
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Every Sunday - 9am Divine Liturgy in English (fully or mostly) at the Holy Family Cathedral

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Friday, 28 February 2014

Ukraine's changing churches: Moscow's (religious) reply to Kiev | The Economist -Erasmus

BC, 26 February 2014

LAST week, I explained in a posting that Ukraine's religious scene is in some ways quite uniform—most people adhere to some form of eastern Christianity—but in other ways complex. I also mentioned that the largest Christian institution is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which is under the broad aegis of the Patriarchate of Moscow but has enjoyed a measure of independence during Ukraine's two decades of political sovereignty. One of the open questions, I said, was whether the church authorities in Moscow would attempt to reassert control of religious affairs in Ukraine.

Things have moved even quicker than anybody expected, though there may be different interpretations of what has happened. On Monday, the ruling synod of the UOC met and named a "locum tenens" to run the institution's headquarters in Kiev because of the incapacity of its elderly leader, Metropolitan Volodymyr (pictured). The synod said it had ascertained that Metropolitan Volodymyr was definitely too ill to carry out his duties. The new acting leader, a certain Metropolitan Onufry from the southwest of Ukraine, certainly looks, from his biography, like a man who will remain in step with Moscow.

Such is his standing in Russian church circles that he was considered at least an outside candidate to be Patriarch of Moscow when the job fell vacant in 2009. The man who did get the top Muscovite job, Patriarch Kirill, signalled his approval of the appointment in Ukraine with a call of congratulations. Furthermore, Metropolitan Onufry has form as a friend of Russia. Back in the early 1990s, when some Ukrainian bishops were calling for a total break with Moscow, he was among those who opposed the move. And in 2008, when Ukraine solemnly commemorated the famine of the 1930s in which millions died as a result of the Kremlin's policy of collectivisation, Metropolitan Onufry said the event should not be allowed to divide Russians and Ukrainians.

On the face of things, Monday's decision amounts to an artful move by the powers-that-be in Moscow to bring a semi-independent daughter church back under control. But maybe it's not quite so simple. Perhaps surprisingly, the synod also signalled that it was accepting a proposal from a rival church organisation, the Kiev Patriarchate, for a dialogue between Ukraine's Orthodox church bodies. The Kiev Patriarchate (unrecognised by global Orthodoxy but respected by patriotic Ukrainians, including unchurched ones) had spoken a couple of days earlier, as the protestors' cause was triumphing on the streets, of "the urgent need to overcome the divisions in the Orthodox church in the country".

Few would have been surprised if the Moscow-aligned UOC had refused even to respond to the Kiev Patriarchate's proposal. The UOC might simply have said: "We are canonical, you are uncanonical, why should we talk to you?" But think about it for a moment. If the new order in Ukraine prevails, and Ukrainian statehood is consolidated, pressure for the creation of a single national church may become almost unstoppable. A new Ukrainian government may shift its powers of patronage in favour of the Kiev Patriarchate. If moves towards a national church are happening, the Moscow-aligned UOC would certainly not want to be frozen out of the process. However Metropolitan Onufry was quick to dismiss the likelihood of rapid progress: "Nothing good will be established in a troubled time," he said. Some will say the UOC is joining the national-church discussions not to promote the agreed goal but mainly to have a veto over the process.

God moves in mysterious ways, and so do His Ukrainian children.

Read online etc.:
Ukraine's changing churches: Moscow's (religious) reply to Kiev | The Economist

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