As more Ukrainians choose Kyiv Patriarchate, push intensifies for unified national Orthodox church

24 June 2016, 11:51 | Society-digest | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Alexandra Markovich

23 June 2016 KyivPost

Archbishop Yevstratiy Zoria’s long red hair is tied back, and a gold chain is draped over his black robe. At the end of the chain hangs an oval, jeweled medallion with an icon bearing an image of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus in the center. Zoria says his medallion, called a Panagia, was a gift from Metropolitan Volodymyr, the late former head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.


But for Zoria to be wearing this Panagia seems incongruous. The archbishop belongs to the Kyiv Patriarchate, an Orthodox Church that rivals the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. The two patriarchates, both claiming to represent the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, have been in conflict since the Kyiv Patriarchate split off from the Moscow one in 1992. Zoria said that when the Metropolitan gave him the gift in 2005, the relationship between the two churches was not so hostile. But at this point, the medallion looks like a gift from behind enemy lines.

If the Kyiv Patriarchate is the Russian church’s prodigal son, claiming independence, then the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine is its obedient one. The Kyiv Patriarchate is considered a schismatic church, illegitimate in the eyes of the international Orthodox community. But in June, the Ukrainian parliament urged Bartholomew I, the head of the Pan-Orthodox Council, to consider creating a unified Ukrainian national church and grant canonical legitimacy to the Kyiv Patriarchate.

Hybrid holy war

The popularity of the Moscow Patriarchate has been waning in recent years, while support for the Kyiv Patriarchate is only growing. Allegiance to the Kyiv Patriarchate has grown steadily, from 12 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2016, while allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate fell to 15 percent of the country this year, according to a survey by the Razumkov Center.

Support for the Kyiv Patriarchate is especially high in western Ukraine, where nationalism is at an all time high—36 percent in the west associate themselves with the Kyiv Patriarchate, compared to only 10 percent with the Moscow Patriarchate. The west is especially polarized, with just five percent saying that they are “just Orthodox” without taking sides, compared to 21 percent throughout the country.

At a time when the Ukrainian people are becoming increasingly politicized and estranged from one another, the Orthodox church might have united them. Nearly 60 percent of Ukrainians trust the church, compared to a dismal 6 percent who trust the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, according to a 2015 survey. But the church itself is sharply divided along political lines, and the divide has only heightened since Russia started its war against Ukraine in the east.

The percentage of people who are Orthodox but do not associate with either patriarchate fell from 39 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2016. The Ukrainian people have increasingly been forced to choose sides—first in politics, and now in their religion.

“Moscow is using its influence over Ukraine in the church as an instrument of hybrid warfare against Ukraine,” Zoria said, painting the Moscow Patriarchate in Kyiv as a pro-Russian weapon.

Establishing a national Ukrainian Orthodox Church is just one way Ukraine is trying to rid itself of Russia’s influence. Verkhovna Rada speaker Andriy Parubiy, who pushed for the request to Bartholomew I to pass, argued that the creation of a national church independent from Russia’s influence is a matter of national security.

“There is economic aggression, which we have seen for many years, but there is also political meddling in the spiritual life of Ukraine,” Parubiy said in a parliament press release. “Ukraine as a nation must do everything possible to not allow outside powers to provoke division among the Ukrainian people for any reason, especially religious.”

Political persecution

However, the Ukrainian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate sees parliament’s request for an autonomous national church as the latest in a long series of aggressive measures aimed at dismantling its church.

The head of the church’s information department, Bishop Kliment of Irpin, goes as far as to say his church is under attack.

It is by the grace of God that the Moscow Patriarchate has survived amidst political persecution, Kliment said. He went on to accuse the Kyiv Patriarchate of seizing its churches throughout Ukraine. In June, the Moscow Patriarchate website published photos of militants from the Right Sector ultranationalist organization in army uniform taking control of a church in a village in Ternopil, one of many such posts by the site.

Though the Ukrainian question will not be considered at the historic Orthodox council, Kliment still described the move by legislators as violation of the separation of church and state and an infringement on religious freedom in the country.

“If the canon changed every time the politics changed, the church would change its laws every two to three years,” he said, speaking in his office on the territory of Kyiv’s famous Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery after returning from evening services on the Day of the Holy Spirit.

The Moscow Patriarchate denies all claims of Russian influence. “We are not administratively or economically dependent on Moscow,” Kliment said. In 1990, the Moscow Patriarchate granted its church in Ukraine maximum autonomy, giving it the power to appoint its own bishops and manage its own financial and economic affairs.

Kliment also denied allegations of its pro-Russian stance. “We are accused of supporting separatists. In official documents, we always say that Crimea is Ukraine, that the war in the Donbas must stop immediately.”

But a press release by the Moscow Patriarchate on the eve of the Russian invasion in Crimea in 2014 casts doubt on the church’s pro-Ukrainian stance. “Let us hope that the mission of the Russian warriors defending freedom and the identity of those people and their very life will not meet staunch resistance leading to large-scale clashes,” the press release read.

Spiritual aid

For Father Sergii Dmytriev, head of the Kyiv Patriarchate’s social policy department, the fact that the Ukrainian Church does not have its own Patriarch is enough to prove its lack of autonomy. On the other hand, the Kyiv Patriarchate has made itself out to be the people’s church, supporting first the protesters during the EuroMaidan Revolution, and now the Ukrainian soldiers fighting against Russian-backed separatists.

During the revolution, the patriarchate opened the doors of its golden-domed Mikhailovsky Monastery to protesters as a safe haven and later, as a hospital. In a dramatic moment, when Berkut police began attacking protesters on the eleventh night of the revolution, Mikhailovsky rung its alarm bells for the first time in 800 years. The bells continued to ring for eight hours, until the police retreated.

“The Kyiv Patriarchate is the spiritual aid of any person fighting for the interests of the country,” Dmytriev said.

“It is not about a difference in faith. We are of one faith,” Zoria said of the two patriarchates. The difference is purely political. Zoria went on to say that the Kyiv Patriarchate welcomes all political parties - except “anti-Ukrainian” ones.

“A person should not see the church as a continuation of politics. It is only anti-Ukrainian parties that we do not associate with. We welcome all the other parties, and keep up relationships with all of them,” Zoria said.


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    • bopa | 8 June 2020, 11:43

      То перераховані факти ви називаєте "фантазиями и ночными кошмарами"? Чому викладену інформацію ви "Очередная статья нижайшего интеллектуального уровня"? У вас

    • Slava43 | 4 June 2020, 13:46

      Це жодна агітація. На Буковині казали :»Мойше герехт, Сури герехт».

    • Slava43 | 4 June 2020, 13:39

      За часів союза, УПЦ підлягала моіковському патріярхату, примусово. Від незалежності УПЦ старалась отримати незалежність від Москви. Тепер, коли Україна має ТОМОС та незалежність то Лавру потрібно

    • Стефан | 2 June 2020, 15:54

      Последние события показали глубокий кризис РПЦ МП, где только отдельные редкие священнослужители твёрдо исповедуют Православную Веру, как схиигумен отец Сергий Романов, которого сейчас травят

    • Рокитне | 2 June 2020, 12:34

      Це добре було б.

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