Staunton, 3 June – A petition calling for a ban on the operations of the Moscow Patriarchate on Ukrainian territory highlights in the religious sphere a dilemma Ukrainians face elsewhere as well: If Kyiv moves to protect itself, it will be criticized for violating human rights; if it doesn’t, it may be allowing Moscow institutions to continue subverting Ukraine.
Last week, Ukrainian activists who identify themselves as the Initiative Group of Orthodox Believers in Ukraine began collecting signatures on petitions to the Verkhovna Rada to ban the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate on the territory of Ukraine.
The group’s appeal, the text of which Joinfo.ua has not provided, said that the ban was necessary because “there is no place on our land for criminals and occupiers.”
Such negative attitudes toward the Moscow Patriarchate “toward any sources of imperial ambitions from Russia are nothing new,” the Russian religious affairs portal, Reliopolis.org commented, but it added that “such a sharp expression of antipathy” to the Moscow Church does not correspond “to Ukraine’s declared commitment to freedom of conscience and belief.”
The Ukrainian parliament is thus likely to reject the petition, the portal continued, “since in the civilized world such cases can be resolved only in the courts. Moreover, it pointed out, this appeal is likely to provoke supporters of the Moscow Patriarchate to respond with petitions of their own.
Indeed, the situation regarding the various Orthodox Churches in Ukraine is so murky that it is even entirely possible that the petition now being circulated is a provocation by the Russian side to embarrass Ukraine and to force Kyiv to slow the process of the formation of a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
That process is very much ongoing with some hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine having declared their support for Ukraine against Russian secessionist actions and some of the priests of that denomination already transferred their allegiance to one or another of the Ukrainian Orthodox groups.
As many in the Orthodox world are aware, the Moscow Patriarchate may be the biggest loser as a result of the Kremlin’s Anschluss of Crimea and subversion of eastern Ukraine. Almost half of all its parishes are in Ukraine, and the absorption of many or all of them in a single autocephalous Ukrainian church would reduce the Moscow body’s influence in two ways.
On the one hand, it would reduce the ROC MP’s size and income, depriving it of its predominant position in Eastern Christianity especially on the territory of the former Soviet Union. And on the other, the formation of a consolidated Ukraine ROC would likely trigger a “parade of sovereignties” among Orthodox groups elsewhere.
That would strengthen the statehood of countries where the Orthodox form a majority of the population and reduce the threat that the Moscow Patriarchate would interfere. And perhaps even more immediately important, it would mean that Patriarch Kirill’s stock in the halls of the Kremlin would fall precipitously because he would no longer be able to offer as much.