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Euromaidan Press | 10Jan2016 | Petro Kraliuk

Is the Moscow Patriarchate Russia’s agent in Ukraine?

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is actually an agent of another state.

Recently the hybrid war in Ukraine has become not so much external as internal. After all, if not for the internal factors, especially the active development of the “Russian world,” the external war might not have occurred. It is quite another thing that many of us do not understand this fact. Or do not wish to understand.

In this war a significant role is played by religious formations, or, as we often call them, churches. The activities of these formations have never consisted simply of religious activities. Politics, culture, economics and so forth have occupied and continue to occupy an important place. Therefore, it is only natural that the state should regulate the activities of these formations one way or another

Should the state intervene in church affairs?

In Ukraine the idea that the state should not interfere in church affairs is widely held by politicians and experts on religion. Ukrainian legislation reflects that view, which appears to follow existing practices in the developed countries in the West, especially the United States. However, what is overlooked is that many Western countries arrived at their current position only after prolonged religious conflicts where the interests of the different faiths had to be balanced. As for the United States, it was formed as a multi-religious state from the very beginning. This is why the state’s non-interference in matters of religion was the only possible policy.  But even so, the various U.S. denominations demonstrate loyalty to their state.

In Ukraine there is another situation and different traditions. Despite the existence of different faiths, the dominant one is Orthodoxy, which in turn is fragmented in its affiliations. Furthermore, the largest denomination is the so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which in reality is a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, under the direction of the Moscow Patriarchate. This denomination is actually an agent of another country. Furthermore, it is the agent of a country that has invaded and occupied our territory and is waging a war against us. What is paradoxical is that, according to various surveys, most of the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine support an independent church. For many of them, this church is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP).

How this situation came about

Let us begin with the fact that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) is the result of our colonial dependence on Russia. In the beginning of the Ukrainian state there was the possibility of creating an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Moreover, this was supported by the Kyiv Metropolitan Filaret (Denysenko) (now officially His Holiness, the Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus’ (Ukraine -- Ed.)) and the president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk. But they were not able to withstand the pressure of the Russian church and government circles as well as the numerous Russian agents in Ukraine. As a result, we ended up with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that is independent from Russia. At the same time, the former communist bureaucracy, which generally remained in place and assumed positions in government, generally supported the UOC-MP. This fact, as well as Russia’s financial and political support, allowed this denomination to expand its presence significantly. It got to the point that churches and monasteries were being forcefully seized. For example, the former prior at the Pochayiv Lavra, Yakiv (Panchuk), supported Metropolitan Filaret of the UOC-KP. However so-called “monks” sent from Russia kicked him out and seized the monastery.

In reality, ever since Ukraine’s independence the government authorities have supported and continue to support the UOC-MP. This was especially evident during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych. On major religious holidays he demonstrably visited only the churches of the UOC-MP and performed his official “pilgrimages” only at “canonical” monasteries. However, support for the UOC-MP came not only from political powers that openly demonstrated their pro-Russian position. Often this support also came from representatives who claimed to be pro-Ukrainian. Why did they do this? Some hoped that the UOC-MP would provide electoral resources. Others, under the guise of Ukrainian patriotism, worked for Moscow. And some were simply “useful idiots.”

A succession of ordeals

Of course, such an abnormal situation has and will provoke resistance. For example, after the Orange Revolution there were cases where individual parishes of the UOC-MP expressed the desire to transfer to the UOC-KP. I had the opportunity the witness one such transfer. Exactly 10 years ago, the faithful of the Resurrection Church in Ostroh expressed such a wish, which was supported by their priest. Events then developed as follows. A small group of people appeared who opposed this move. Most of them did not attend this church, but they supposedly represented the “legal,” legally registered community of the UOC-MP. The “canonical” priests began to bring their “combat brigades” from all directions -- not only from nearby parishes but also from Pochayiv Monastery and even from Crimea. Then the matter went to court. And the court ruled in favor of the fictitious UOC-MP community while referring to the laws of the Russian Empire. Absurd you will say. But we have plenty of such absurdities. Especially when very real interests are involved, including financial ones. The position taken by the pro-Ukrainian political forces in this conflict is revealing. In fact, they have washed their hands of the matter and sometimes even played along with the “canonicals.” Five years after this conflict,the Ostroh Resurrection Church, which ended up in the hands of the UOC-MP, celebrated its 100th anniversary. And lo and behold this anniversary was attended not only by representatives of the administration, who represented the Party of the Regions at the time (which was quite understandable) but also by representatives of the Ostroh city and district councils, who represented the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Our Ukraine political parties.

We have many similar situations in Ukraine today. Ever since Russia occupied Crimea and launched the war in the Donbas, the UOC-MP has made no secret of its pro-Russian position and some of its clergy have openly supported the pro-Russian separatists. Law-abiding, patriotic faithful do not want to continue to stay in this church. The greatest number of parishes that expressed the desire to transfer from the UOC-MP to UOC-KP are located in the Rivne Oblast as well as in other regions of Greater Volyn. It is here that the greatest percentage of the supporters of an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine are located.

But events are developing according to an established scenario. It looks something like this. A church community wants to move from the UOC-MP to the UOC-KP. A few “opponents” (usually people set up by the “canonical” priests) are found. Suddenly a group appears from outside to support these “dissenters.” For example, various “canonical titushkys” (mercenaries -- Ed.) are often used for this purpose -- seminarians, so-called “monks.” An interdenominational conflict is provoked. Then “Orthodox journalists” appear who specifically enflame the conflict and present it in a suitable light. This is followed by statements by senior hierarchs. For example, Patriarch Kirill (Gundyaev) of the Russian Orthodox Church, no less, spoke of the conflict in the village of Ptycha in the Dubno raion (district) of the Rivne Oblast (another instance where the faithful wanted to transfer from the UOC-MP to UOC-KP -- Ed.).

The Ukrainian government generally tries to maintain neutrality. And the “patriotic parties” in power traditionally wash their hands of the matter. There are also the “useful idiots” (if not Kremlin agents) who begin to discuss religion and tolerance, non-interference in church affairs, and other “correct” matters. Law enforcement agencies get involved as well. And then the situation generally “comes to a dead end” or is decided in favor of the so-called “canonical” minority.

Will there be UOC-MP communities who want to move to the UOC-KP after observing similar situations? I think the answer is obvious. Unfortunately, in Ukraine there are no clear legal mechanisms for the transition of religious communities from one denomination to another. There is no desire on the part of political parties and the government either, especially the judiciary, to settle these issues fairly. After all, there is no understanding that in the religious life of our country there are glaring disparities in the denominational disproportion that must be addressed. But which are not being addressed.

Historian Petro Kraliuk is vice-rector at the National University of Ostroh Academy