Moscow Patriarchate still has more parishes in Ukraine than its Kyiv counterpart but fewer followers

Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus’-Ukraine Filaret (forth from left) marching among leaders of Ukraine's other religious denominations. Filaret has been the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate since 1995. Until 1992 he was a Metropolitan bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. Moscow Patriarchate excommunicated him in 1997. (Image: Ivan Kovalenko / Kommersant)

Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus’-Ukraine Filaret (forth from left) marching among leaders of Ukraine's other religious denominations. Filaret has been the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate since 1995. Until 1992 he was a Metropolitan bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. Moscow Patriarchate excommunicated him in 1997. (Image: Ivan Kovalenko / Kommersant) 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia, Ukraine

The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church routinely says that it has more parishes in Ukraine than does the Kyiv Patriarchate, a statement that it true but that ignores the fact that it has far fewer followers and parishioners than does the Ukrainian church.

Archbishop Yevstraty Zorya, the secretary of the Holy Synod of the Kyiv Patriarchate, points out to Russian specialist on religion Roman Popkov that there is “a lack of correspondence between the number of registered communities of the two patriarchates and the real quantity of [their] supporters.”

For historical reasons, there are “more than 10,000 communities” registered with the state as subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate,” the churchman says, while the number of communities attached to the Kyiv Patriarchate are only about half as many. But those statistics don’t tell the real story.

“Invoking these statistics,” Archbishop Yevstraty says, “the Moscow Patriarchate asserts that it is ‘the largest church in Ukraine.’” But that is “in part untrue.” It is the case that there are 10,000 “registered” parishes but “a certain part of these communities exist only on paper and are ‘dead souls.’”

The parishes loyal to the Kyiv Patriarchate are more active and larger than the Moscow ones, he continues, a reflection of the fact that Ukrainians identify with the former rather than the latter according to sociological surveys. A recent study found only 17 percent of Ukrainian believers identify with the Moscow Patriarchate while 46 percent do so as part of the Kyiv one. Thus, the archbishop says,

“when those in the Moscow Patriarchate declare that they supposedly are the largest confession [in Ukraine], this isn’t true.” They have the most parishes but “by the number of believers,” they are “at a minimum two or even two and a half times smaller confession than that of the Kyiv Patriarchate.”

It is also the case that many Ukrainians in parishes registered with the state as part of the Moscow Patriarchate would change their affiliation if given the chance and that the Ukrainian government is being entirely reasonable in creating legal means for their making such changes given the Moscow Patriarchate’s opposition to any change without its sanction.

For a discussion of these draft laws and their implications, see “Ukrainian legislation about religion will finalize divorce between Kyiv and Moscow.”

The Kyiv Patriarchate has called on the Moscow Patriarchate to take part in dialogue on how to resolve these problems. But the Moscow church doesn’t want to because it insists that “we have no problems” and therefore have nothing to discuss, the archbishop says. And it has launched a virulent propaganda campaign against the Ukrainian church.

“But in fact,” Yevstraty says, “there is a conflict within the Moscow Patriarchate between those who want to remain in [it] (typically a minority) and those who want to go over to the jurisdiction of the Kyiv Patriarchate.” If a majority in the Moscow parishes wants to remain, he continues, there will be no conflict: the minority who wants to leave will simply have to do so.”

“A conflict will arise inside the communities of the Moscow Patriarchate” only when a majority wants to shift to the Kyiv Patriarchate and a minority does not. “The Moscow Patriarchate does not want to resolve this issue in any ways,” the Ukrainian churchman suggests.

“From my point of view,” Yevstraty concludes, “the Moscow Patriarchate is using this objective reality in order to generate within itself a sense of a besieged fortress. There is such a psychological technology which is used in those structures certain religious specialists call sects: enemies are all around and thus their members must form up ever closer to a single center.”


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Edited by: A. N.

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