Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 20.04.2018
Another legacy of the long, brutal occupation of Ukraine by Russia may be coming to an end: the church founded 1,030 years ago in Kyiv is set to return from its temporary 332 year visit to Moscow.
Current Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been going on for over four years. In the face of Russian aggression, the Ukrainian nation is more united than at any time in its modern history. Ukrainians chose a European path by the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-2014. The invasion by foreign armies from Muscovy in Crimea and Donbas has accelerated Ukraine’s movement down that Western path. Ukraine is separating itself from Russia and from the remnants of the Soviet Union and of the Russian Empire at a headlong pace.
Ukraine is truly regaining its independence with the Revolution of Dignity and with the fight against foreign invasion from Russia. Being rid of the “Russian World” is a physical reoccupation and a spiritual one as well. The idea of Ukraine, in itself, is becoming the sustaining life-blood of the nation. Ukrainians are “Maîtres chez nous” (“Masters of our own house”) and no longer dwellers on the borderlands. Part of regaining spiritual sovereignty for the nation is correcting a 332 year old injustice, and returning the metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to Ukraine, to Kyiv.
The Kyiv Metropolitanate was a component part of the Constantinople Patriarchate from 988 to 1686 when it was withdrawn from Constantinople (today Istanbul) to become part of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople never recognized this move of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Kyiv to Moscow. Nor did many Ukrainian believers recognize it. After 1991, when independence and democracy were restored to Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Partriarchate was formed, as well as the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Neither church was recognized by the Moscow Patriarchate, which continued to call itself the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”
In Ukraine, about 70 percent of the population identifies with Eastern Orthodox Christianity. A substantial number of Ukrainians regard the Moscow Patriarchate as not being a church at all, but a creation of Stalin during the Second World War as an instrument of Soviet Union state policy. The current prelate, Vladimir Gundyayev who goes by “Patriarch Kirill of Moscow,” is an ex-KGB man and long-time friend of Putin. When Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014, Gundyayev directed his organization in Ukraine, which goes by the name “Ukrainian Orthodox Church (of the Moscow Patriarchate),” to support Russia, Russia’s so-called ‘annexation’ of Crimea, and Russia’s terrorist organizations in Donbas, the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic.” Giving aid and comfort to the enemy Russia caused bitter resentment among many Orthodox believers. Seeing their priests pray for people who are shelling and shooting them and refusing to pray for defenders of the homeland does not sit will with most Ukrainians. Around 60 parishes have switched to the Kyiv-centred church since 2014.
On April 19, the Verkhovna Rada approved a measure to appeal to the head of the global Orthodox church to recognize a united autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox church. The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, had met days earlier with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul, Turkey, and his diplomatic efforts showed that the time was right for such a move. President Poroshenko met with prelates of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Partriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and got an appeal letter signed by all of them to take to the Verkhovna Rada and then to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. If the head of the worldwide Orthodox church approves autocephalous status for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church then the two existing non-Moscow Orthodox churches will unite and there will be a single Kyiv Metropolitan. A 332 year wrong will be righted.
Recovering the church from foreign domination is an essential stage of nation-building for Ukraine. The break with Russia that was brought about by the insanity of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will become even more irrevocable with the establishment of an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Moscow Patriarchate will no longer be recognized as a “Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and will have to go by its true name: the Russian Orthodox Church. Orthodox parishioners in Ukraine will look to Kyiv as the metropolitan of their churches, and will shun Moscow – the capital of the invaders.
The Moscow Patriarchate is an arm of the Russian state in the guise of a church: an agent of Putin and Gundyayev for the prosecution of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Because of this, creating a united and autocephalous church in Ukraine for Orthodox Ukrainian believers is primarily about winning the war, and only secondarily a matter of religion or faith. What Ukrainians demand is real freedom and real independence, with associations that are chosen and not forced. That is why Ukraine is choosing NATO. That is why Ukraine is choosing the European Union. That is why Ukraine is choosing genuine democracy with contested elections and a vibrant civil society. That is why Ukraine is choosing a united and autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church with a Kyiv Metropolitan under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.