Saturday, December 1, 2018

Moscow Patriarchate,Kremlin Increasingly at Odds on Response to Ukrainian Autocephaly, Lunkin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 1 – As the process of autocephaly for a unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church has proceeded, Roman Lunkin says, it is becoming ever more obvious that the interests of the Moscow Patriarchate and those of the Kremlin as far as Ukraine is concerned are diverging, although the church has not felt free to express this openly. 

            That is because the situation of Orthodox faith in Ukraine is very different from the situation of the Orthodox church in Russia, although on some issues, the head of the Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society of the Moscow Institute of Europe, the hierarchs and the politicians are fellow travelers (

            In Ukraine, the religious specialist says, Orthodoxy is a mass phenomenon and “people go to various churches without making distinctions about jurisdictions,” all the more so because “there are no visible distinctions in religious services and behavior in the Moscow Patriarchate as opposed to the Kyiv Patriarchate.

            Despite occasional clashes, “people in Ukraine have become accustomed to the existence of several jurisdictions which have been arguing among themselves since the start of the 1990s,” Lunkin continues.  Most view these debates and even the shift of priests or hierarchs from one jurisdiction to another as distant from the life of faith.

            But in Russia, the situation is quite different. There, “the Church is viewed as a structure closely connected with the government and its ideology and to a lesser extent with genuinely religious issues. The involvement of the ROC in political conflict in the eyes of society shows that this is a political structure, which has little relationship to Christianity.”

            “This alienates from the Church people who do not know the Christian life,” Lunkin continues. “This is the task for the ROC: to be less involved in politics and to show more humanity and openness to people.” 

            And that in turn raises the question: Is the ROC independent?  Or if not, can it be?  The Ukrainian crisis has forced more and more Russians to ask that question because “objectively the interests of the ROC and the Russian foreign ministry are ever less the same.”

            To protect its bureaucratic interests, the ROC MP “supports good relations with any government beyond the borders of Russia. Patriarch Kirill to the maximum extent possible has tried to hold on to the status quo in that regard. After 2014, Lunkin says, “he simply did not have any other option.”

            The increasing divide in worldwide Orthodoxy over the Ukrainian question of autocephaly gives the ROC MP in general and Patriarch Kirill in particular “the chance to show the position of the Church? Will it do so or not?” That may be more important for the ROC MP not only in Ukraine but in the Russian Federation as well than many now think.

            The ROC MP could live with a situation in Ukraine where there were multiple Orthodox jurisdictions, especially if by trying to prevent the formation of a national church, Moscow would lose many hierarchs and parishes.  But it seems clear that the Kremlin isn’t prepared for that and plans to go for broke to block autocephaly even at the risk of losses for the ROC MP.

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