Faced with a rising tide of parishes in Ukraine whose members have voted to transfer their allegiance to the Kyiv Patriarchate, the Moscow Patriarchate has issued rules specifying that parishes cannot change from one hierarchy to another without its explicit written permission.
Individuals, of course, can continue to move from one church to another; but the Moscow Patriarchate, by re-writing parish charters in Ukraine so that they specify that the parish buildings and property are controlled by the patriarchate and not by the parishioners, can block parishes from voting to leave collectively and take church buildings and other property with them.
In the words of TSN reporter Sergey Galchenko, this action “completely destroys the Ukrainian structure of the church, transforming it into a reflection of the Russian Orthodox Church” in Russia and thus, “in fact, taking the churches away from their parishioners.”
This is a very big deal for both Moscow and Kyiv. For the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kremlin, the more than 12,000 parishes of the Moscow Patriarchal church in Ukraine not only form more than a third of the religious communities there, allowing enormous opportunities for Russian influence, but also represent almost half of all Moscow Patriarch churches in total and thus an important source of revenue for the patriarchate.
For Kyiv, it represents an equally large challenge. Many Ukrainian political leaders have expressed the hope that moves to autocephaly for the republic’s church could be speeded by having congregations and even bishoprics change sides. Now, if the Ukrainian authorities want to move in that direction, they will have to take more positive actions.
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