Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 04.02.2019
The Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was enthroned on Sunday. Held the the ancient Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, the ceremony marked the official inauguration of the Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, Epiphanius (Epifaniy, in Ukrainian), as the head of the renewed, united, canonical Orthodox church in Ukraine.
The ceremony was attended by the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, and his wife Maryna. Saint Sophia Cathedral was the setting for the unification council on December 15 when the Orthodox church in Ukraine made itself autocephalous: they chose their own head.
The Orthodox church is important to Ukrainian life and culture. A plurality of Ukrainians would say that they are Orthodox Christians. Ukraine, though is a modern, multicultural society where people practice many faiths and none. Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution.
Speaking to reporters after the enthronement of Epifany, President Poroshenko was firm about the separation of church and state in Ukraine. “The recently registered Orthodox Church of Ukraine, in accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine, is and will be independent of the state. There will be no state church in Ukraine. This constitutional principle was and remains unshakable,” he said.
Many Ukrainians are able to take patriotic pride in the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine without ever darkening the door of a church. The reason is that autocephaly marks the end of the last “soft power” hold that imperial Muscovy had over Ukraine.
Being a rule-of-law country, Ukraine leaves matters of religious belief and practice to individual conscience. The Russian Federation is not a rule-of-law country and it is at war with Ukraine. On January 31, top Kremlin silovik Putin threatened to interfere in the lives of Ukrainians in a new way when he said he would “defend” Orthodox believers in Ukraine.
Putin said: “In the neighbouring sovereign country … we reserve the right to respond and do everything to protect human rights, including freedom of religion.”
“Protecting” ethnic Russians was one of the after-the-fact excuses the Russian Federation made for invading Ukraine in 2014. Seven percent of Ukrainian territory now suffers under temporary occupation by foreigners from Muscovy – Crimea and part of Donbas. Now Putin is given barely concealed threats to expand his war against the Ukrainian people.
In free Ukraine, citizens are free to choose to belong to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine or not to belong to it. In Russian-occupied Ukraine, the captive population is coerced into adherence to the Moscow Patriarchate. Putin wants to expand what is Russian-occupied Ukraine – “protecting” Orthodox believers my be the latest excuse to do it.