Vladimir Putin and Moscow Patriarch Kirill presiding over a meeting with the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate on July 27, 2013 in Kyiv, Ukraine, less than a year before the Russian annexation of Crimea and the occupation of the Donbas. The head of this Moscow exarchate in Ukraine, Metropolitan Onufriy, is seated in the middle of the front row. (Photo: kremlin.ru)
Petro Poroshenko made autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church a centerpiece of national strategy, used the power of the state to promote it by making it easier for parishes to shift from the Moscow church to the Ukrainian one, and has pledged to continue to fight for the independence of the national church even after he leaves office.
His successor Volodymyr Zelenskyi will not seek to reverse autocephaly, but he is clearly less interested in using government power to promote it, a position that some including Poroshenko will see as a retreat from autocephaly but that others are already saying will make the rise of a truly popular national church slower but more firmly rooted.
In a first assessment of what will happen next, religious affairs specialist Aleksandr Soldatov says that Poroshenko’s achievement of autocephaly was one of his most important “successes” but his efforts to promote it as a means of weakening the Moscow church in Ukraine are already being curtailed.
The key feature of those efforts was the renaming of the Moscow church from the current “Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate” (UOC MP) to “the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” a change that the Verkhovna Rada backed and that was intended to speed the shift of Orthodox parishes in Ukraine from a church that has often served as the Kremlin’s ally to a truly national Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Kyiv.
While many parishes have shifted – the exact number is a matter of dispute – “over the months since the tomos was granted, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate not only hasn’t lost its leading passion on the confessional map of Ukraine but even has begun a legal revenge,” Soldatov says.
A Kyiv court ruled that a Ukrainian law requiring the renaming of the UOC MP and establishing a deadline of April 22 violates the rights of that congregation, an action its leader, Metropolitan Onufriy views as a great victory – and perhaps one of the reasons he was the first religious leader to greet Zelenskyi’s election.
Consequently, both Poroshenko and the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada have pledged to defend not just autocephaly but the state-supported means by which they believe it can best be implemented (see risu.org.ua and risu.org.ua).
That sets up a fight between the former president and his allies and Zelenskyi and his, and it may mean that the shift of parishes from the Moscow church to the Ukrainian church will slow for a time, although it is unlikely to be reversed. Indeed, Soldatov in his assessment suggests that in his view, the prospects for Ukrainian autocephaly remain “very bright.”
That is because further separation of religion from politics likely to occur under Zelenskyi’s presidency may “breathe new life into the Ukrainian church rebirth. And the more successful and convincing this rebirth will prove, the fewer chances the Moscow Patriarchate will have to ‘hold Ukraine.’”
- Germany delivers Tsar Peter I’s Manifesto on Ukrainian Church to Kyiv
- Kyiv says 506 parishes have shifted from Moscow Church; Moscow claims only 61 have
- Donbas occupiers doing to Ukrainian Church what they accuse Kyiv of doing to Moscow one
- Russian Orthodox Church: Performance of song about nuking US in St. Isaac’s Cathedral ‘in bad taste’
- Rash of arson attacks on Moscow Churches in Ukraine directed from Russia – SBU
- 38 of the 46 Ukrainian Orthodox churches in Crimea forced to close by Russian occupiers
- Despite official harassment, OCU’s only church in Russia holds on
- Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses continues in Russia despite Putin’s statements
- ‘3 million people fled from Russia-occupied Donbas’ and other neglected Russian stories
- Russification through the church
- Religious persecution continues in occupied Donbas
- Pro-Russia Militants in Occupied East Ukraine Torture Protestant Pastor To Convert To Russian Orthodox Church
- Chronicle of terror: Religious persecution by pro-Russian militants in east Ukraine
- Mercenaries in Donbas persecute “non-Orthodox” Christians
- Four evangelical Christians executed by pro-Russian terrorists for ‘sectarianism and treason’
- STATEMENT of Heads of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine on religious persecution in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts
- Crimea and religious freedom