Russia, Ukraine, and the battle for faith – European Council on International Relations


Independence for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been such a very long time coming, it appeared as if it will by no means really occur. There have been many makes an attempt to arrange such a church – in 1921, 1942, 1990, and 1992 – however none have but gained recognition as ‘canonical’ (formally recognised beneath Orthodox Church legislation). However in Istanbul in August, the Russian Patriarch got here out of a gathering with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (head of all of the Orthodox Church buildings) livid and unable to forestall the information {that a} ‘Tomos’ (official decree) was certainly to be granted. In September Bartholomew appointed two exarchs to journey to Kyiv to arrange for autocephaly (Greek for ‘self-headed’ or impartial), which they described to President Petro Poroshenko as a “fait accompli”. The ultimate choice got here tantalisingly shut after a bishops’ meeting in Istanbul (a Synaxis) on 11th of September October, which condemned the method whereby the Ukrainian Church misplaced its independence again in 1686.

That is an occasion of doubtless big historic significance. It’s going to add faith to language, battle, and patriotism as elements consolidating Ukrainian nationwide identification since 2014. Poroshenko thinks it’ll assist sway his re-election in 2019. Greater than 12,000 of the Russian church’s virtually 35,000 parishes are in Ukraine, and shedding even a small variety of these can be a terrific blow to Russia and to Vladimir Putin’s idea of a ‘Russian world’. So catastrophic, in truth, that the Russian church is hardly more likely to acquiesce quietly within the loss.

Divisions earlier than 2014

There aren’t any fewer than three major Orthodox church buildings in Ukraine. Why so many? Considered one of these, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), was arrange in 1921 however banned beneath Stalin in 1930. It survived within the diaspora and returned to Ukraine in 1990. The present trio derives from an unsuccessful try in 1992, simply after Ukraine’s political independence in 1991, to dealer a merger between the UAOC and the present Orthodox hierarchy in Ukraine. The merger created a brand new church, dubbed the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kievan Patriarchate (OUC-KP). However there was resistance on either side: many within the UAOC refused to affix, as a result of they noticed the present Orthodox hierarchy as compromised by the KGB. Whereas most of that compromised hierarchy refused to affix the Kievan Patriarchate, for extra causes of ‘canonicity’, traditionalism, and Russian nationalism. They remained beneath the Russian church, however relabelled it because the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (OUC-MP). Only for good measure, there’s a fourth church, the Greek Catholic Church – half-Orthodox and half-Catholic – banned in 1946, however revived in 1989, largely based mostly in western Ukraine.

The Moscow Patriarchate has historically been strongest in japanese and southern Ukraine. Based on RISU (the Faith Data Service of Ukraine), the OUC-MP nonetheless has most parishes, with 12,251, the OUC-KP solely has 4,508. The UAOC has 1,227 and the Greek Catholic Church 3,825. Quick-growing Protestant church buildings have a number of thousand, there are conventional Roman Catholic communities, and Sunni Islam is the religion of the Crimean Tatars. However the OUC-MP’s benefit is illusory; many parishes in japanese and southern Ukraine have fewer believers whereas religiosity is way larger within the west and centre.

Through the EuroMaidan, all of the church buildings backed the protests bar the OUC-MP, apart from only some monks. Many Moscow Patriarchate clergy backed the Crimean annexation and separatist battle within the east. A number of parishes due to this fact defected from the OUC-MP after 2014. Furthermore, in August 2014 the Russian Patriarch changed the church’s aged chief, Volodymyr, with the extra hardline Onufriy. The OUC-MP continued to organise pro-Russian demonstrations and ‘unity marches’ in Ukraine, and so many Ukrainians known as for it to be banned. However a marketing campaign for autocephaly and for all of the Orthodox factions to unite beneath that banner additionally started with renewed vigour in 2014, led by churchmen, nationalist teams, veterans. The final severe try was beneath Viktor Yushchenko in 2008, whereas Viktor Yanukovych favoured the OUC-MP.

The ‘Tomos’

Russia has campaigned tenaciously for the unity of the ‘Russian world’. It refused to attend a Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete in 2016 that deliberate to debate independence for the Ukrainian church, however this will likely have alienated Bartholomew. He has since stopped dragging his ft and has linked the difficulty to comparable points in Macedonia. By backing autocephaly for Ukraine and Macedonia, Bartholomew has discovered a strategy to revive his personal authority inside the Orthodox world. Furthermore, the rumoured wording of his official decree (in Orthodox terminology a ‘Tomos’) mandating Ukrainian independence reopens big historic points referring to the canonical authority of the Moscow Church, after the Ecumenical Patriarch ceded authority to it in 1686, and even presumably when the Moscow church proclaimed its Patriarchal standing in 1589. Again within the seventeenth century, Kyiv was a part of a semi-independent polity, the ‘Hetmanate’. Again within the sixteenth century, it was a part of the Polish-led ‘Commonwealth’ whose japanese borders had been round Smolensk, now in western Russia.

Ukrainian opinion

Public opinion in Ukraine appears contradictory. Solely 30 p.c are in favour of a brand new autocephalous standing, with 20 p.c opposed, and half the inhabitants detached. However Poroshenko thinks it’ll hearth up his political base (58 p.c within the west favour autocephaly, whereas solely 10 p.c within the east do).

The OUC-KP has extra sympathisers than it does parishes. In a distinct ballot, taken in August 2018, 68.8 p.c of Ukrainians stated they had been Orthodox. However a excessive and rising quantity, 45.2 p.c, of Orthodox Christians now establish themselves with the OUC-KP, and solely 16.9 p.c with the OUC-MP. Solely 2.1 p.c of these polled belonged to the UAOC. Apparently, nevertheless, 33.9 p.c known as themselves ‘common Orthodox’.

The Ukrainians are extra spiritual than the Russians. As much as 76 p.c declare to imagine in God, and 37 p.c attend church frequently. In Russia the corresponding figures are 56 p.c and seven p.c. Ukraine is presumably distinctive in having a brand new Christian vacation, ‘Pokrova’, on 14 October. The day of the Holy Protectress or Theotokos was made a vacation in 2015, and can be ‘The Day of Defenders of Ukraine’ – those that declare its safety. There’s a persistent fable that the wartime Ukrainian Rebel Military was based on at the present time in 1942.

A brand new Church synod

The brand new church shall be correctly pomesna – which implies localised and legit. Supporters of church independence hope is that it’ll appeal to sufficient believers from the opposite Orthodox church buildings and the ‘common Orthodox’ to grow to be Ukraine’s largest Church, institutionally in addition to in public sympathy. But it surely might want to maintain a brand new synod to reinvent itself, set new guidelines, and elect a brand new chief. The veteran head of the OUC-KP, Patriarch Filaret, was born in 1929. He has hinted he would possibly stand, however it might really assist dialogue between church buildings if he didn’t, given Filaret’s lengthy and Machiavellian profession linked to the KGB. The OUC-KP and UAOC historically use the Ukrainian language in church, however with a view to appeal to recruits from the Moscow church they might should compromise on language and permit using Church Slavonic and even Russian. The brand new church shall be extra European and extra open to dialogue with different church buildings than the Russian Orthodox Church is, however will nonetheless be fairly conservative when it comes to social values.

The break up will add faith to language, battle, and patriotism as elements consolidating Ukrainian nationwide identification since 2014

The symbolic energy of a Ukrainian church based mostly in Kyiv shall be monumental. The symbolic energy of Kievan Christianity, courting again even to 988 AD, will give an enormous enhance to Ukrainian identification, particularly if the brand new Church can achieve management of the Pechersk Cave complicated within the centre of Kyiv, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The higher half of the complicated belongs to the state, which might allocate it to whomever it needs. However many supporters of autocephaly additionally wish to see the older decrease half, the positioning of the particular caves, switch from the UOC-MP.

The impact on the Greek Catholics, the opposite ‘nationwide’ Ukrainian church, is tough to guage. It could drive them again into being a extra regional church, based mostly in western Ukraine. Or the Vatican would possibly lastly give them Patriarchal standing with a view to compete with the brand new Ukrainian church.

Penalties for Russia

The eventualities for Russia all appear unhealthy. The ‘Russia world’ thought will undergo a extreme blow. Russia might break with Constantinople to try to create a second centre of world Orthodoxy, in Moscow. Throughout a gathering of its Holy Synod on 14 September the Russian church made threats to “break the Eucharistic communion” with Bartholomew, which might imply not attending conferences beneath his authority and eradicating his title from the liturgy. The Russian church has despatched a letter to all 14 recognised Orthodox church buildings urging a ‘Pan-Orthodox dialogue’ of the Ukrainian difficulty. It might push another Orthodox Church buildings to oppose Ukrainian autocephaly, however Russia would additionally lose out from a broader break up inside world Orthodoxy. For the second, the Kremlin is stressing church unity.

However the Russian church will solely stay the world’s largest Orthodox church if it retains most of its parishes in Ukraine. It’s arduous to think about that Russia would surrender simply, although, or retreat in the direction of the sort of inward-looking, ‘pure Russian’ Orthodoxy favoured by Tikhon, Metropolitan of Pskov, even when they’ve had Putin’s ear prior to now. Russia will hold on to the parable of origin in Kiev. And Crimea, the place up until now it has left native orthodox parishes beneath the OUC-MP. It might soak up them into the Russian church correct. An identical scenario exists in Abkhazia, the place Moscow has left native parishes as a part of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Orthodox church in Belarus is way much less impartial and far more loyal, however even it might be affected by any choice conceding the shifting borders between 1589 and 1686, when what’s now Belarus was a part of the Lithuanian (to be extra precise, ‘Litva’) territories of the previous Commonwealth state, not Muscovite Russia.

Coming battle?

The problem will intensify throughout the upcoming Ukrainian election marketing campaign. Poroshenko’s most up-to-date marketing campaign posters proclaim ‘Military! Language! Religion! We’re going our personal method! WE – ARE UKRAINE!’.

Kyiv has promised to respect spiritual pluralism, saying there shall be no forcible conversion; the 1996 structure separates church and state. However some civil strife appears doubtless. Ukrainian nationalists deeply resent the position the Russian church has performed within the battle within the east. In infamous instances the UOC-MP has gave the impression to be a conduit for Russian operatives, as with Sexton Romashka, who was accountable for a separatist unit in Sloviansk in 2014. Within the ‘Donetsk Individuals’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk Individuals’s Republic’ a militant model of Russian Orthodoxy largely imported from Russia has presided over the extreme persecution of all rival faiths. In Crimea, the UOC-MP is squeezing out its smaller Orthodox rivals.


Whether or not or not the Ukrainian Church will assist Poroshenko along with his election marketing campaign, earlier than the vote due in March 2019, the potential ramifications are monumental. Ukraine turned politically however not culturally impartial in 1991. The battle that started in 2014 has already pushed a wedge between Russia and Ukraine; correct autocephaly for Ukraine will now widen the hole. Putin’s repeated declare that Russia and Ukraine are “virtually one nation” will lose much more credibility. A extra pluralistic Orthodox world, not dominated by Russia, is of monumental significance.

The European Council on International Relations doesn’t take collective positions. ECFR publications solely signify the views of their particular person authors.


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