The history of the split
The split in Ukrainian Orthodoxy began almost simultaneously with the proclamation of the country's independence. At the same time, two Ukrainian Orthodox churches — the Moscow and Kiev Patriarchates — fought for the title of the “real” church (there was also the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which arose during the Ukrainian national revolution of 1917–1920 and survived in the diasporas).
Since 1990, the UOC-MP has been an autonomous branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, has the status of a canonical one in world Orthodoxy, and has ministered to the majority of Ukrainian parishes. Under its control were the main shrines on the territory of Ukraine - the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, the Holy Dormition Pochaev Lavra in Western Ukraine and others. The UOC-MP, in addition to remaining an element of Moscow's soft power, enjoyed the support of the Ukrainian authorities and business. For a long time, the head of the UOC-MP was Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan), an experienced and moderate church politician who counterbalanced the radically pro-Moscow wing of the episcopate. After his death in 2014, the UOC was headed by Metropolitan Onufry (Berezovsky), who continued to maneuver between Kiev and Moscow.
Under the control of the UOC-MP were the main shrines of Ukraine - the Kiev-Pechersk and Pochaev Lavra
The main competitor of the Moscow branch was the UOC-KP, founded in 1992 by part of the Ukrainian clergy, who aspired to independence from the ROC. From the point of view of the Russian Orthodox Church and the UOC-MP, the supporters of the Kyiv Patriarchate were "schismatics" and "self-sanctified nationalists" who were trying to snatch a piece from canonical Orthodoxy. The first primate of the new church was a former OUN-UPA activist, a religious dissident and a prisoner of the Soviet camps Vladimir (Romanyuk), but he was soon replaced by Patriarch Filaret (Denisenko), a native of Donbass, a priest loyal to the Soviet government, and at the same time an intriguer and careerist who saw a chance in the creation of a national church.
The UOC-MP for a long time had the status of a “real church” for the authorities and parishioners, however, as relations between Ukraine and Russia worsened, the situation of “double loyalty” of the UOC-MP ceased to suit both the authorities and society. In 2018, with the serious participation of President Petro Poroshenko, who made the creation of a Ukrainian local church one of the elements of his election campaign, Ukrainian Orthodoxy received Tomos from the Patriarch of Constantinople, a letter granting autocephaly, transferring the Ukrainian church from the jurisdiction of Moscow to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. At the Kiev Council in December 2018, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was created in Kyiv, uniting the UOC-KP, the UAOC and part of the parishes of the UOC-MP.
Poroshenko made the creation of the Ukrainian local church an element of the election campaign
It was assumed that in the course of further peaceful expansion, the remaining parts of the former Moscow church would also be absorbed. The primate of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine was Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), a young 39-year-old clergyman who was already formed in independent Ukraine and had no ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. The process of unification was slow due to the remaining disagreements between the church hierarchs and the overall conservatism of the church institution. However, the Russian invasion in 2022 changed the situation radically.
War and the Orthodox world
Even after the annexation of Crimea and the start of the war in Donbas in 2014, the UOC-MP found itself in an ambiguous situation. On the one hand, she condemned the bloodshed and called for a cessation of hostilities, on the other hand, the actions of the church leadership often played into the hands of Moscow. For example, the UOC-MP refused to withdraw diocesan centers from the annexed and uncontrolled territories of Ukraine, formally based on considerations of the territorial integrity of the country, but in fact creating a situation of cooperation between the church and the Russian occupation authorities and their proxies: for example, Metropolitan Mitrofan of Lugansk and Alchevsk regularly attended the events of the authorities of the “LPR ". And some priests openly supported the Donbass separatists - for example, the former head of the Luhansk diocese of the UOC-MP Ionniky, who is close to the ex-governor of the region under Yanukovych Alexander Efremov, blessed the "inauguration" of the leader of the "LPR" Igor Plotnitsky, and the well-known priest-blogger Alexander Avdyugin from Rovenky Luhansk region campaigned in support of Russian aggression.
Priest-blogger Alexander Avdyugin campaigned in support of Russian aggression
Yes, and the head of the UOC-MP Onufry himself, despite the desire for neutrality, allowed conflicting assessments. In 2015, he called the conflict in Donbas a “civil war” in the spirit of Kremlin propaganda. The church leadership accused the new authorities of Ukraine of supporting the "schismatics" from the UOC-KP, there were rumors that the rector of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra Pavel imposed an anathema on the mayor of Kiev Vitali Klitschko.
It is worth mentioning that in the territories controlled by Russian proxies in the Donbass, the religious diversity characteristic of the pre-war Donbass was suppressed in every possible way. The communities of the UOC-KP were liquidated, its cathedral in Lugansk was captured by the Don Cossacks. Representatives of Protestant churches were subjected to persecution; there is a known case of the execution of a Protestant pastor and his sons in Slavyansk by militants of the "Russian Orthodox Army" as part of the "DPR militia". In the Lugansk region, the community of local Buddhists was also destroyed .
There is a known case of the execution of a Protestant pastor and his sons by militants of the "Russian Orthodox Army"
After a full-scale Russian invasion, the situation became even more aggravated. The UOC tried to disown the aggressor country as much as possible. Metropolitan Onufry condemned the actions of Russia and its army (while the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill openly spoke out in support of Putin's "SVO"). The UOC was actively involved in helping the Armed Forces of Ukraine and refugees, participated in the creation of humanitarian corridors in Mariupol. And in May 2022, the UOC Council decided on complete independence from the Moscow Patriarchate and expressed disagreement with the position of Patriarch Kirill.
However, the scale of collaborationism on the part of the priesthood of this church blocked all its patriotic initiatives. With the beginning of the invasion, on the side of the authorities of the Russian Federation, the leadership of the dioceses of the UOC-MP located on the territory of Crimea and Donbass openly came out. In June 2022, the Crimean dioceses of the UOC came under direct subordination to Patriarch Kirill. The annexation ceremony of four Ukrainian regions, held in the Kremlin on September 30, 2022, was attended by Bishop Panteleimon (Povoroznyuk) of Lugansk and Alchevsk, rector of the Melitopol St. ), and the latter was sitting in the hall next to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Two metropolitans of the UOC, who found themselves on the territory of the Sumy and Kharkiv regions temporarily occupied by the RF Armed Forces, greeted the invaders and left with them when they retreated. There were also absolutely outrageous stories: the priest of the UOC-MP Mikhail Pavlushenko from the Zhytomyr region was detained near Gostomel for adjusting the fire of Russian artillery.
Priest Mikhail Pavlushenko was detained for adjusting the fire of Russian artillery
The church's image was hit hardest by the hypocrisy of its leadership. The entire church cannot be held responsible for the actions of its individual representatives, but its leadership did not try to condemn collaborating priests, as, for example, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Sergius, did during the Second World War against the clergy who collaborated with the Nazis. The hierarchs who fled in the convoy of the occupying troops were simply taken out of the leading church bodies with vague wording. The same story happened with the Crimean Metropolitan Lazar (Shvets), who since 2014 cooperated with the Russian authorities, and only in 2022, after an open transfer to the subordination of the Russian Orthodox Church, he was withdrawn from the Synod of the UOC "due to the inability to participate in meetings ".
All this has led to a situation where both the authorities and the society turned out to be equally intolerant of the church, which, despite all the declarations, retains dual loyalty in the conditions of war. In addition, the informal leaders of the pro-Moscow party still play a large role in the leadership of the UOC - the head of external church relations Meletiy (Egorenko) and the manager of the affairs of the UOC Anthony (Pakanich), the latter is also a member of the Inter-Council Presence of the ROC (both were under the sanctions of the National Security and Defense Council).
Power and Church
Until recently, President Volodymyr Zelensky has been indifferent to church issues, preferring to keep an equidistant distance from all confessions. During the war, the situation changed: Zelensky finally saw in the church an important tool for patriotic consolidation. The new head of the State Service for Ethno-Confessional Affairs and Freedom of Conscience was the Kiev religious scholar Viktor Yelensky, a supporter of a single local church and autocephaly (his predecessor, Elena Bogdan, was considered a supporter of the UOC).
Vladimir Zelensky until recently was indifferent to church issues
The reaction of the authorities to the collaborationism of churchmen was harsh: on December 1, 2022, the National Security and Defense Council imposed sanctions against 10 UOC figures, including its sponsor, oligarch Vadim Novinsky (who has been a deacon since 2020) and the governor of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra Pavel (Lebed). On December 11, seven more representatives of the UOC-MP were sanctioned. 23 criminal cases were initiated against church ministers on the facts of treason and inciting religious hatred. An attack on the property of the UOC-MP, which controls the main Orthodox shrines of Ukraine, has also begun. The Ministry of Culture initiated the return to the state of the complex of religious buildings of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, which was under the control of the UOC-MP, as well as the Pochaev Lavra in the Ternopil region.
In Western Ukraine, the struggle against the pro-Moscow branch of Orthodoxy takes on a special urgency. This is not a new phenomenon: the struggle for churches in the western regions has been going on since the beginning of the 90s and the emergence of the UOC-KP, in war conditions, excesses are inevitable with the participation of the patriotic public, which does not want to put up with the presence of the MP. For example, in Khmelnytskyi, the conflict around the temple occurred after a clash between a veteran of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and a local priest of the UOC-MP, opponents of the Moscow Patriarchate blocked the cathedral, and the local authorities (the mayor of the city represents the nationalist Svoboda party) supported the demands of the public to transfer the temple to the OCU. And in Chernivtsi, a local bishop of the UOC-MP was beaten .
In Western Ukraine, the struggle against the pro-Moscow branch of Orthodoxy takes on a special urgency
Of course, the forceful solution of the church issue cannot be considered acceptable in a democratic and secular society (as well as excessive state interference in the affairs of the church). If such actions in Western Ukraine are more or less supported by the majority of believers, then the farther to the east, where the position of the OCU is weaker, the higher the risk of polarization and clashes on religious grounds (although polls show a decrease in loyalty to the UOC-MP throughout the country). The most acceptable way could be a compromise on the basis of the recognition by the UOC of the results of the Unification Council of 2018 and the autocephaly of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. If the UOC-MP is truly breaking with Moscow, then the main obstacle to its unification with the OCU can be the ambitions of the church authorities and the subtleties of church law.
There is also a risk that excessive pressure on the clergy from the UOC may lead to the emergence of an aura of martyrs around them and the emergence of a religious underground hostile to the state (and, therefore, open infiltration by enemy agents). Religious scholar Nikolai Mitrokhin describes this process as follows:
“Church life will move to some sketes, small temples, where all this Lavra brethren will disperse ... There is a fairly high level of mysticism: visions, dreams, predictions. What liberal theology considers to be superstitions, relics, but for the general public it is suitable.
Religious strife in a country at war is also dangerous because Russian propaganda seeks to take advantage of them. The State Duma of the Russian Federation has already adopted a resolution on "repressions against the canonical church." Condemning the “pogroms of churches” in Ukraine, the Russian authorities do not notice their own actions: as a result of the Russian invasion, 68 churches and places of worship of the same UOC-MP were destroyed or badly damaged in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions alone. (Not to mention the fact that in the Russian Federation there are repressions against religious dissidents, for example, belonging to the church of Jehovah's Witnesses is criminalized.)
For the Putin regime and Patriarch Kirill, who supports him, the price of the issue is high: the parishes of the UOC-MP make up almost a third of the total number of parishes of the ROC in the world. With the loss of control over the Ukrainian church, Moscow will cease to occupy a dominant position in world Orthodoxy, so it will do everything to prevent this by inciting religious hatred ( the news about the arson of the Greek Catholic Church in Lvov looks alarming). The task of Ukraine is not to succumb to provocations and to bring the process of unification of the national church to the end in a peaceful and civilized way.