There is no question that the Moscow Patriarchate has alienated many Ukrainians because of its support for Kremlin policy, but a Kyiv analyst suggests that its decline in Ukraine and more generally also reflects the dependence its hierarchy has on state power, something it no longer can count on having in Ukraine.
Because of Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine, Kyiv has blocked Patriarch Kirill from entering the country, clear confirmation that “for a long time [he and his Church] have lost the Ukrainian state as a partner of church relations, religious affairs expert Tetyana Derkach argues.
“The symphony with its own state has become for the Russian Orthodox Church almost the capstone of church construction, one that has already been converted into a kind of paradigmatic dogma of Russian ecclesiology,” the Kyiv commentator points out, something that works within one country but not across international boundaries.
As she points out, “it is difficult to imagine a ‘ruling’ Church in Russia without Russia itself, outside the boundaries of its bureaucratic apparatus and oligarchic circles whose leaders” are deferred to and even called supporters of the Church itself. Thus, the Russian Church has become part of “’a single fist.’”
But beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, the situation is different, and “the longer the battle lasts” between Russia and Ukraine, “the clearer it will become that Ukraine is not Russia and will not be.” Consequently, “the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate cannot be the governing Church,” integrated as in Russia with the state bureaucracy.
In short, “cloning Russian ways of doing things and thus equating the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine with the status of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia already is not the case.”
The ROC MP’s inability to work with the Ukrainian state the way it does with the Russian one is reinforced by its ideological position. Ukrainian schools aren’t interested in its obscurantist position, and Ukrainian military units don’t share its view that they should be struggling for a common “Rus’.”
More generally, Derkach says, Ukrainians are increasingly offended by the messages of priests and bishops of the ROC MP that “Ukraine doesn’t exist and can’t,” that the Church should be supporting anti-Ukrainian Cossack units, and that the Church leaders should be openly lying about what Moscow is doing and clearly indifferent to what Ukrainians are suffering.
Not allowing Patriarch Kirill to visit Ukraine is not “interference” in the internal affairs of the Church, she continues. His church sees itself as part of a state but not of Ukraine, and consequently, keeping him out is just as appropriate as keeping anyone trying to invade and conquer it.
Ukrainian laws are very clear on this point, starting with the law “on freedom of conscience and religious organizations” adopted on April 23, 1991. That act specifies that the government has the right to decide whether to admit religious activists who are citizens of foreign states. Kirill is clearly in that category, and Ukraine is obeying the law.
But this decision points to another more far-reaching consequence. Because the ROC MP is so thoroughly part of the Russian state, Derkach concludes, its structures in Ukraine are unlikely to be able to survive. Ukraine is not Russia, and its government won’t play in the kind of “symphony” Patriarch Kirill and the ROC MP believe they must have, one in which the state and church are fused together.
While Derkach does not say so here, Kyiv’s refusal to have that kind of relationship with the ROC MP or any other church shows that Ukraine unlike Russia is on the way to arrangements typical in Europe, arrangements that open the way for greater religious freedom not just for the Orthodox but for all believers as well.