Sunday, October 6, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Anger at Ukrainian Church Support for EU Integration Proving Counterproductive

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 6 – The Moscow Patriarchate and pro-Russian groups in Ukraine have lashed out at Metropolitan Vladimir, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox of the Moscow Patriarchate, for his support of the Ukrainian government’s plan to seek greater integration with Europe even at the cost of ties with Moscow.

            But these outbursts are unlikely to bring the Ukrainian churchman or his church to heel. Instead, they almost certainly will further exacerbate tensions between Kyiv and Moscow religiously and politically and likely lead to more active consideration of a single and nationally independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

            If that happens, it will seriously weaken the Moscow Patriarchate, nearly half of whose sees and congregations are in Ukraine, and it will undermine the influence of Patriarch Kirill, who has won preferment from the Kremlin largely on the basis of his abiity to be useful to the Russian government both at home and abroad.

            (For background on this case, see “Window on Eurasia: Ukrainian Branch of Moscow Patriarchate Back’s Kyiv’s European Course,” October 2, 2013, available online at

            Russian media in Ukraine and in the Russian Federation have reported numerous instances of criticism by hierarchs, priests, and parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox metropolitan’s decision to sign the declaration in support of Kyiv’s European policy (,, and

            But perhaps the most interesting and instructive comment on this case comes from a Russian journalist who has frequently followed Moscow’s line with regard to non-Russian religious organizations and nationalities, Gleb Plotnikov, in a comment to (

            Noting that Metropolitan Vladimir’s signature on the churchmen’s declaration supporting the pursuit of European integration, Plotnikov says that many are asking whether this constitutes “betrayal” or “a split” in the church given that Moscow Patriarch Kiril has declared that Ukraine exists within the Russian world.

            But what people should be asking are two simple questions “how could such a thing happen?” and what answer is the Moscow Patriarchate likely to give?

            On the one hand, he says, “there is a mass of internal contradictions in the ranks of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church o the Moscow Patriarchate.  There is a pro-Moscow party there, the leaders of which exploiting the illness of the head, attempted to remove their competitors from key posts in the church hierarchy.”

            The voices of such people aren’t going away, but Metropolitan Vladimir has made it clear where he stands. Thus, when some Ukrainians picking up on Moscow’s campaign against homosexuality attempted to emulate that effort in Ukraine, “supporters of Vladimir inside the church publically declared that there are more important social problems in the country than the truggle with single-sex relations.”

            And “on the other hand, the Ukrainian church is supporting European intengration not because cunnning independence types are sitting in its offices. It is doing so instead for the same reasons that make it similar to the Russian Orthodo Church, namely, a readiness always and in everything to support the authorities.”

            “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate iin Ukraine like the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia is part of the state achine. The Ukrainian machine is now going West. From this point of view, the declaration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate ought not to be a media event.”

            But what is does mean, Plotnikov says, is that “soon there will be one additional Orthodox church in Europe.”

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