Obituary: Patriarch Volodymyr Romanyuk

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The Independent Online
Volodymyr Romanyuk was for the last two years of his life the Patriarch of one of the competing Orthodox factions in his native Ukraine. A veteran of Stalin's and Brezhnev's labour camps, he had long worked for a Ukrainian church free of control from Moscow but, when it came, it can hardly have been as he desired. By the time he was elected as Patriarch in 1993, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine had descended into chaos and unseemly bickering between the factions.

He was born Vasyl Romanyuk in 1925 into a family of Ukrainian peasants, in Galicia (then part of Poland), growing up in the turbulent times of the 1930s and the Second World War. During the Nazi occupation of his homeland he joined insurgents fighting the invaders. When the Soviets invaded with the retreat of the Nazis and annexed the territory, Romanyuk continued the fight, but was arrested - aged just 18 - in 1944 and sentenced by a military tribunal in Stanyslaviv.

His parents were also arrested and exiled to Siberia, where his father died from overwork and hunger. His 13-year-old brother Tanasy fled as the rest of the family was arrested, and was killed. In labour camp in Poltava in 1946, Romanyuk was rearrested and given a further sentence, spending in all 10 years in prison. It was during this time that he met and married Maria Antonyuk, who was also serving a 10-year sentence.

It was soon after his release in 1954 that Romanyuk decided to take up studies for the priesthood, although he had no choice but to do so within the Russian Orthodox Church. After taking short diocesan courses (it was impossible for him to enter a seminary) he became a deacon in 1959, the year he was rehabilitated for his prison sentence, but had to work as a cinema technician as he failed to get permission for religious work. He could not be ordained priest until 1964, after a local official who had blocked his ordination had died. By now the Romanyuks had a son, Taras.

Romanyuk's growing involvement in the Ukrainian nationalist movements, in close collaboration with his friend the historian Valentyn Moroz, soon brought him into conflict with the authorities. As priest of the village of Kosmach, he wrote numerous appeals in the wake of the arrest of Moroz in 1970. Romanyuk himself was arrested in March 1972 and put on trial in June, where he was sentenced on charges of ''anti-Soviet agitation'' to two years in prison, five years in special regime labour camp and three years in exile. After serving the prison term in Vladimir, he was sent to labour camp in Mordovia, where he was assigned to a workshop polishing glass crystal. The damp and hunger seriously damaged his health. At the end of this part of the sentence he was despatched to Yakutia in Siberia to serve his term of exile.

While in camp he conducted several hunger strikes in a vain plea to be allowed a Bible. "What would Communists do," he wrote from camp, ''if in some place or other they were thrown into jail for their beliefs, and were compelled to undertake debilitating hunger strikes demanding the works of Marx or Lenin?''

In 1976 he wrote from camp to declare his renunciation of Soviet citizenship and appealed to be granted American citizenship. His son Taras was expelled from the medical faculty of Lviv university in retaliation.

On his release from exile, he returned to Ukraine, where his wife died in 1985. He had been obliged to write a letter renouncing his desire to emigrate, which was published in a propaganda paper for Ukrainian emigres in April 1983, in order to be allowed to return to the priesthood. But in 1987 Romanyuk renewed his campaign, eventually leaving with his son for Canada in July 1988.

The liberalisation under Gorbachev allowed the Ukrainian Autocephalous (independent) Orthodox Church, independent of the Moscow Patriarchate, to be formed once more, although without the international Orthodox recognition its members craved. Now back in his homeland and with the monastic name Volodymyr, Romanyuk became Bishop of Uzhhorod and Khust in April 1990, with missionary responsibility in Eastern Ukraine. He became Archbishop of Bila Tserkva in 1991 and in March 1993 Archbishop of Lviv.

By now the Autocephalous Church had descended into chaos, with ambitious clerics competing with one another for rank and factions fighting to gain possession of churches and their congregations. Nominally in charge of the Autocephalous Church was Patriarch Mstyslav, based in New York. Scandal was added to confusion in 1992 when Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev, the long-standing head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, changed his tune overnight and joined the anti-Muscovites. But by then Filaret was thoroughly disgraced, his secret wife and KGB collaboration already in the public domain.

With the death of Mstyslav in June 1993, Filaret arranged to have himself reaffirmed as deputy patriarch, with the enthusiastic backing of Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk. This provoked a further schism in the fledgling church, but Romanyuk stuck by Filaret. In the same month he was rewarded by being named acting patriarch, and in December was elected patriarch. With bishops and parishes constantly defecting to the Ukrainian branch of the Moscow Patriarchate (by far the largest Orthodox group in Ukraine) or to the rival Autocephalous Church, Romanyuk presided over a declining rump.

The election last year of Leonid Kuchma as Ukrainian president in place of Kravchuk deprived Romanyuk's church of further support.

Felix Corley

Vasyl Omelyanovych Romanyuk, priest: born Galicia, Poland 9 December 1925; imprisoned 1944-54, 1972-82; priest of Kosmach 1964; Bishop of Uzhhorod and Khust 1990-91; Archbishop of Bila Tsorkva 1991-93; Archbishop of Lviv 1993; Patriarch of Kiev and Ukraine 1993-95; married Maria Antonyuk (died 1985; one son); died Kiev 14 July 1995.

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