Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Ukrainian Branch of Moscow Patriarchate Backs Kyiv’s European Course

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 2 – The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate backs Ukraine’s decision to pursue closer ties with the European Union even at the expense of links with Moscow, yet another indication of how deep Ukraine’s commitment to Europe is and how Patriarch Kirill is alienating Orthodox leaders outside of the Russian Federation.

            On Monday, Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, Metropolitan Vladimir of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, and Supreme Archbishop Svyatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, along with other Ukrainian religious leaders, issued an appeal to the Ukrainian people supporting Ukraine’s European choice ( and

            “From ancient times, the Ukrainian people has been part of the European civilizational space,” the appeal says, and as part of Europe, “our social and government live has been constructed in connection with Europe and its spiritual, cultural, educational and legal traditions. Now, Ukraine stands before a choice of its further development. In our opinion,” the Ukrainian churchmen say, “the future of Ukraine as naturally conditioned by our historical roots is to be an independent state among the free European peoples.”

            They say they are “convinced that this is not and cannot be considered a form of opposition by Ukraine to our historical neighbor, Russia.  For its statehood, history and culture are also closely linked with Europe. Let us hope the Russian people and government will recognize and respect the right of Ukraine as an independent state to choose its own path to the future just as Ukraine recognizes and respects the independence and sovereignty of the Russian Federation.”

            For the leader of what the Moscow patriarchate views as a branch of its own church and one that the current patriarchate has often presented as the basis for the re-unification of Russia and its Slavic neighbors, including Ukraine, to say this both reflects the depth of Ukraine’s commitment to Europe and anger at Moscow and its church for their opposition.

            As such, it constitutes at a minimum a stinging rebuke to Patriarch Kirill and his support for the idea of the continuing relevance of “’Holy Rus’” and calls into question his role as a co-author and executor of Vladimir Putin’s push to draw the former Soviet republics into a tighter union with Moscow.

And over the longer term, the appearance of such attitudes among the Orthodox in Ukraine who have remained part of the Russian church up to now may even point to a split with Moscow and ultimately the formation of a broader autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine that would include the various Orthodox hierarchies there.

            An article in today’s “NG-Religii” by culturologist Roman Bagdasarov suggests that such possibilities are rooted in Kirill’s “combination of ‘Russianness’ and Orthodoxy,” a combination that when pushed as far as he does is both isolationist and offensive to other Orthodox peoples, including Ukrainians (

            The Russian Orthodox conception of Russia as a “god-bearing people” is inevitably “an isolating force,” one that makes it extremely difficult for Moscow to present itself as an attractive option to others, Bagdasarov says.  The USSR, he notes, was successful internationally precisely because it did not advertise that view but rather presented itself as an internationalist enterprise.

            But “the strengthening of Russian Orthodoxy [over the last decade] has been accompanied by the growth of isolationist attitudes in society and authoritarianism in the government. Today, the Russian Orthodox Church has become” the chief arbiter and defender of “’Russianness’ as  a chauvinist ideology,” something that inevitably offends others.

            Bagdasarov adds that historically, “Russian Orthodox identity has allowed for only two statuses – it can be in a position of ‘domination’ or it can be ‘persecuted.’ But both the one and the other differ with the legal nature of the Russian Federation, which [constitutionally] is a secular and multi-national state.”

            “These qualities of [the Russian] state do not satisfy those who are accustomed to use the ‘God-bearing people’ archetype,” the scholar says. “The pretensions of Russian Orthodoxy to ideological rule must thus be driven out of any public discussions just as were at one time driven out discussions of the utility of a fascist dictatorship or the benefits of racism.”

            The actions of the Orthodox churchmen in Ukraine underscore why this is important for Russia not only for the successful development of its own country but also for the development of good relations with those of its neighbors many in Moscow have not yet truly accepted as fully independent.

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