Sunday, August 17, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Pyrrhic Victory in Ukrainian Church Vote Weakens Patriarch Kirill

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 17 – The pro-Russia faction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate succeeded in electing Metropolitan Onufriy to be its new head, but that victory is likely to be a Pyrrhic one both for the UOC MP, which will now lose even more of its parishes, and for Patriarch Kirill who will have to deal with a new and far more conservative challenger to his own position.


That is the judgment of Andrey Yurash, a specialist on religious issues who teachers at Lviv University as expressed in an interview he gave to Vladimir Oyvin of (


Onufriy’s election was not a surprise, he said, but neither was it inevitable nor the product of only one group, Yurash said. Instead, the churchman got the 48 votes he needed from the pro-Moscow party, those who were afraid of any change, and younger hierarchs who felt he would be a short-term transitional figures.


Many in the first group were given instructions or promises from Moscow, but neither they nor Patriarch Kirill behind them are likely to be entirely happy with the results. By installing such a conservative churchman in Kyiv, the UOC MP will lose parishes and won’t be able to find common ground with the UOC Kyiv Patriarchate.


Four such parishes have already announced their intention to transfer affiliation and there will be more. “Not thousands,” of course, “but the symbolic significance of these transitions will be great” because they “will demonstrate to other communities and even possibly certain hierarchs that this path of development is the only possible one” for Ukrainian Orthodox.


But there is an even larger problem that has emerged because of Onufriy’s election. He is “conservative not only in Ukrainian terms but even in terms of the entire Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.”  That presents problems for Patriarch Kirill for whom “Onufriy is a more radical traditionalist than some figures even in Russia.”


As a result, neither within Ukraine nor in relations between the Ukrainian church and Moscow is there any reason to “hope for a more or less constructive policy” from Onufriy.



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