Monday, April 4, 2022

As Putin’s War in Ukraine Continues, Moscow Orthodox Church There Faces Collapse

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 26 – Yet another basis of Vladimir Putin’s claim that Ukraine is part of “the Russian world” is collapsing because of his war there: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is losing more structures to the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine and may even be banned by the Ukrainian government.

            The leadership of the OCU has won new support in Ukraine because it like the Ukrainian government and people opposes Russian aggression, and even many in the UOC MP have already broken in various ways with Moscow lest they lose the support of their parishioners (

            But it appears as the war grinds on that, the UOC MP has not been able to move fast enough or far enough to avoid what looks to be a complete disaster for the second largest Orthodox church in the world. Ukrainian Orthodox sources report that more than two dozen UOC MP parishes have just changed sides (

            That piecemeal form of collapse of the Moscow church in Ukraine has been going on ever since the UOC received autocephaly, but now there are three developments that suggest the UOC MP may be about to suffer far larger losses far more quickly and may even soon disappear as a force in Ukraine.

            First, the synod of the Orthodox Church in America has declared that it views the UOC MP as a church organization independent from Moscow, a position that if it were to spread would mean the loss of Moscow’s control over any religious groups in Ukraine and the appearance of a second autocephalous Orthodox church there.

            It is unlikely that such a church would be recognized by many other Orthodox churches. Instead, most of them should that idea catch on would call for the amalgamation of the Moscow church in Ukraine to the Ukrainian one, establishing a model for the collapse of the influence of the Moscow Patriarchate abroad that would further marginalize the Russian church.

            Second, deputies in the Verkhovna Rada allied with Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky have introduced two bills that if passed would have the effect of prohibiting the operation of the UOC MP on the territory of Ukraine by establishing the principle that a religious group with headquarters abroad like the UOC MP could operate there.

            Such a measure will have to be carefully crafted to avoid sparking a firestorm of criticism inside Ukraine and abroad because many other religious denominations in Ukraine have their central offices abroad such as the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses and thus a ban of this kind would hit them as well as the Russian church.

            And third, the OCU has proposed what it says is “a compromise model” for the departure of UOC MP parishes and bishoprics from Moscow’s control. Under a new proposal, the existing religious organizations would retain their existing structures if they left Moscow’s subordination and would pass not to the OCU but become stavropegion.

            That term refers to the practice within Orthodox in which a parish or bishopric leaves the jurisdiction of one church but does not transfer directly to another. Instead, such groups become subordinate to Orthodoxy as a whole, no longer subordinate to the Moscow church but not yet to the Ukrainian one.

            If that idea spreads, it could lead to the rapid demise of the UOC MP because many of that church’s leadership no longer wants to be subordinate to Moscow but finds it as yet difficult to declare themselves subordinate to Kyiv, even though their departure from the one likely sets the stage for their eventual unity with the other.


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