Staunton, May 17 – The idea of a “Russian world” which Vladimir Putin has referred to so often and invoked as the basis of his policies in Ukraine and elsewhere was developed by Moscow Patriarch Kirill who may have “underestimated all its consequences,” including the status of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, according to Andrey Yurash.
Yurash, a religious specialist in the journalism faculty of Lviv University, said that some observers had failed to recognize this because Kirill has been so quiet about Ukrainian events in recent weeks. But the patriarch’s silence appears to reflect his dawning recognition of what the implementation of his idea is leading to.
Specifically, he continues, the Moscow patriarch has not changed his mind about the idea itself. Instead, Kirill is worried about “the further escalation of the conflict and the separation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate from Moscow” and that this “situation can come back like a boomerang and hit the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole.
Kirill’s fears are justified. Were the Moscow patriarchate’s sees and parishes to break with Moscow or, what would be even worse from his point of view, combine with the Kyiv Patriarchate into a Ukrainian autocephalous church, Kirill would lose much of his power, influence and income.
Indeed, without the Ukrainian parishes now under his control, the Moscow patriarch would be reduced to almost half of its current size in terms of bishoprics and parishes, and Kirill’s credibility in the Kremlin as someone who could promote the center’s interests in non-Russian countries would largely evaporate.
That puts Kirill in a very difficult position, Yurash says. “In Ukraine, everyone understands the logical chain which connects the situation in the country with the position of Patriarch Kirill.” The Russia world is his idea, and he has pushed it, although churchmen in Ukraine subordinate to him have avoided using these words.
Putin has used Kirill’s idea as the basis of his policy to try to keep Kyiv in Moscow’s orbit. That sparked the Maidan, and now Moscow is promoting “separatism in the framework of which the clergy of the Moscow Patriarch in certain regions and bishoprics of the east and south of Ukraine openly stand on the side of those in revolt and their foreign protectors.”
From this it follows that “the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and its leaders, including Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Ilarion are introducing politics into the religious sphere.” And now that is generating a reaction among the Ukrainian faithful who want to keep faith and politics separate, Yurash says.
That is why it is entirely appropriate for Ukrainian officials to block the entrance into Ukraine of Moscow Patriarchate officials and why it is entirely natural that many Ukrainian priests are leaving the Moscow Patriarchate church in Ukraine and joining the one subordinate to the Kyiv patriarchate.
“Everyone understands that the further presence of the Russian Church in such a position in Ukraine is in fact impossible,” Yurash concludes, an unintended consequence of Kirill’s ideas and one that is going to lead to the reordering of Orthodox and religious life more generally in Ukraine.