Russia’s Cossacks form their own autocephalous church, one in which they won’t be ‘slaves of God’

Hetman Ivan Mazepa (1639-1709) by Alexii Shtanko (Image: arts.in.ua)

Hetman Ivan Mazepa (1639-1709) by Alexii Shtanko (Image: arts.in.ua) 

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In what may become one of the most significant echoes of Ukrainian autocephaly in Russia, the All-Cossack Social Center in Russia has formed its own Cossack Orthodox Apostolic Church, seeks the tomos of autocephaly from Constantinople and declares that its members will not be “slaves of God” as members of the Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP) are.

Cossacks have never been anyone’s “slaves,” the organizers say; and they point to the existence of a separate and distinct Cossack church since the 18th century when Russian rulers “completely destroyed the sovereignty of this special people,” Artur Priymak of NG-Religii says.

The Cossack church, the journalist continues, view Ivan Mazepa as a hero, want to canonize Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, and insist on the rehabilitation of Hryhoriy Semenov, Herasym Vdovenko, Petr and Semen Krasnov, Andrii Shkuro, Gelmut von Pannwitz and “many other Cossack heroes killed by the Bolsheviks.”

Rebellious Cossacks before execution by the Red Army

Rebellious Cossacks before execution by the Red Army

The Cossack church expects to receive autocephaly “on the model of Ukraine via Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew. “The main population of Ukraine consists of ethnic Cossacks,” the leaders of this church movement say. “The Cossack church will not interfere in Ukrainian affairs,” they add.

They say that the Cossacks of the Russian Federation are now ready “to conclude an alliance with any political force which calls for the recognition of the rights of the Cossack people,” a nation which some estimate to include as many as five million in all. That makes the Cossacks the third largest nation in Russia, after the ethnic Russians and the Tatars.

The Cossack church does not yet have its own building but plans to erect one in Podolsk “not far from the private Museum of the Anti-Bolshevik Resistance,” which is largely devoted to the efforts of the Cossacks to defeat Stalin during World War II. “The first Cossack liturgy is planned for the evening of January 6, on the eve of Christmas 2019,” Priymak says.

For many in Russia and the West, this may seem an ethnographic curiosity, amusing but not terribly important. However, it is anything but. This is almost certainly the most likely and powerful way that the independence of the Ukrainian Church will undermine the unity of the ROC MP within the Russian Federation.

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Edited by: A. N.

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