Staunton, May 25 – The politics of Orthodox churches in Russia and Ukraine is invariably more complicated than it appears to outsiders, with leaders and laity having traditions that mean that what looks like one thing may be something quite different, according to Archdeacon Andrey Kurayev.
The current drive in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to declare its independence from Moscow is an example of this, the Russian church commentator says. It may look like a first step toward autocephaly or amalgamation with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, but it may be about its own salvation (rosbalt.ru/moscow/2022/05/25/1959571.html).
In recent months and especially since the Russian invasion began, the UOC MP has been losing several congregations a week and thus is at risk in time of ceasing to exist as a powerful independent body. One reason that these departures are so critical for the UOC MP is that under Ukrainian law in contrast to Russian law, the congregations own their own church buildings.
Thus, the departure of congregations strikes not just at the dignity of the church but at its wealth as well. By declaring independence, the leaders of the UOC MP hope to save the situation and their own position, which could ultimately be Moscow’s as well, rather than see everything slip away.
They may not succeed, Kurayev concedes; but he points to various precedents in Orthodox history that suggest such a strategy is consistent with at least some of them. (On the current situation of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, see my article at jamestown.org/program/moscow-patriarchate-in-retreat-everywhere-except-africa/.)