Thursday, January 28, 2016

Moscow Patriarchate Losing Parishes to Kyiv Church and Its Dominance of Ukraine’s Religious Life

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 28 – The Moscow Patriachate may have succeeded in intimidating the Universal Patriarch of Constantinople not to grant autocephaly to its rival in Ukraine, the Kyiv Patriarchate; but as a result of the war and the attitude of the two churches to it, an increasing number of parishes are shifting their allegiance from Moscow to Kyiv.

            The Moscow Patriarchate still has far more parishes in Ukraine than does the Ukrainian Patriarchate, 12,515 to 4877 respectively, but the shift of some 60 parishes on their own volition from the first to the last is “unprecedented,” according to Ukrainian analyst Ivan Verstyuk (

            Never before have so many parishes transferred allegiance in this way; and this shift, while still relatively small calls attention to two important developments: the growing strength of Ukrainian identity and opposition to Moscow, and the fact that in Ukraine, Moscow parishes are now vastly outnumbered by those of the Kyiv Patriarchate and other Christian denominations.

            According to Ukraine’s culture ministry, there are now approximately 16,000 Christian church parishes in that country not subordinate to Moscow, compared to only 12,500 that are. As a result, Moscow Patriarch Kirill’s talk about Ukraine as “the canonical territory” of the Russian Orthodox Church has ever less of a foundation in reality.

            Most of the shifts in subordination have taken place in Western Ukraine, although intriguingly some have occurred near the front lines.  And more are in prospect given a shift in popular attitudes. In 2011, 31.1 percent of Ukrainians said they supported the Kyiv Patriarchate while 25.9 percent said they supported the Moscow one.

            Now, those figures have shifted, with 44.2 percent of Ukrainians declaring that they support the Kyiv Patriarchate and only 20.8 percent supporting the Moscow church.  If Constantinople recognizes the Kyiv Patriarchate as independent, the number of churches which will change size will rise dramatically.

            Given that, Moscow, both the church and the state, is doing everything it can to block such a move.  At present, the Moscow Patriarchate’s 12,500 parishes in Ukraine constitute more than a third of all its parishes in the world. If it loses them to Kyiv, the Moscow Patriarchate will be marginalized not only internationally but at home as well.

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