After forcing the reversal of Ukraine's political course and offering President Yanukovych a financial and economic bailout last year, Russia is apparently now planning to intervene directly in Ukraine’s church affairs.
surrounding the EuroMaidan over the last sixty days have shown just
how important the church remains to Ukrainians.
primarily the three main confessions that trace their roots to the
Kyiv Metropolitanate created by the Patriarchate of Constantinople
during the times of Prince Volodymyr the Great: the Ukrainian
Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC KP), the Ukrainian Orthodox
Church subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) and the
Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC), which remains in union with
the Pope of Rome.
The Kremlin plans to
suborn Ukraine politically, economically and culturally. Support for
separatist movements, coupled with the December 2013 economic accords
signed in Moscow, form part of the first two pillars of this
As a serious instrument to advance Russian political
interests in Ukraine, the Moscow Patriarchate is indispensable to the
construction of the third pillar.
The leader of the
UOC MP, Metropolitan Volodymyr, is in grave health;
uncharachacteristically he was absent from any Christmas-related
celebrations this year, even in the hospital.
Volodymyr, an ethnic Ukrainian, has maintained a measure of balance
of power within the UOC MP and allowed the church to retain relative
independence from Moscow.
His successor will determine whether this
church continues on its Ukrainian path, or will fall into complete
dependency on Russia, fulfilling the dreams of the Patriarch of
Moscow, Kirill, and the Kremlin.
There are several
potential candidates among the church's bishops to replace
Metropolitan Volodymyr. Most often mentioned as a successor is
Metropolitan Antoniy (Pakanych), but the candidacies of metropolitans
Onufriy of Bukovyna, and Ilarion from Donetsk are also under
However, none of
these hierarchs enjoy Moscow’s full trust.
Therefore, since 2011
there is a plan to appoint the head of the UOC MP from Moscow, in
particular, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev), a Russian citizen, the
Russian Orthodox Church’s (ROC) chief diplomat and Patriarch
Kirill’s closest adviser.
An appointment like this
would be akin to President Vladimir Putin sending someone from his
inner circle to run Ukraine's economy as prime minister.
To implement this
strategy, Patriarch Kirill might come to
the council that elects the new Metropolitan of Kyiv, where either he
or his loyal bishops in Ukraine will propose to elect Hilarion
(Alfeev). To ensure the desired result, the voting procedure will be
made open and not by secret ballot.
This appears to be a
plausible scenario, especially after we witnessed how, under Kremlin
pressure, Ukraine's leadership changed its political orientation on
the eve of signing a civilizational pact with the European Union.
scenario falls into the bigger picture of a long-standing conflict
between the Moscow Patriarchate and Constantinople, which has
traditionally been acknowledged as the first among the Orthodox
Churches, as well as the arbiter of disputes and the protector of the
Since the start of
the Cold War, from the late 1940s, the Moscow Patriarch has through
various means tried to force the Patriarch of Constantinople from his
place of primacy, and to occupy this position himself.
argument is based on power – the Russian Orthodox Church currently
has more bishops and faithful than all of the other Orthodox Churches
But there is a
nuance – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church led by Metropolitan
Volodymyr represents about half of the structure of the Moscow
Patriarchate. Thus, without its control over Ukraine, the Russian
church loses its principal argument regarding Orthodox primacy and a
major lever for implementing its neo-imperial ambitions.
The Patriarchate of
Constantinople is not the mere representative of a Greek minority
residing in Turkey, as the Russians claim. It is true that not much
is left on Turkish soil of the once-mighty Patriarchate, the
religious mirror image of the Byzantine Empire.
But the Patriarch of
Constantinople, also known as the Ecumenical Patriarch, by virtue of
overwhelming universal moral authority and espousal of Christian
values influences churches and people across the Orthodox tradition
and around the world, something the Patriarch of Moscow has never
been able to achieve.
the conflict between Moscow and Constantinople is to a large extent a
reflection of the conflict of values between Russia and the West. The
latest step in this battle was the decision of the Synod of the
Russian Orthodox Church on December 25 to challenge the primacy of
Constantinople as the first-throne in Orthodoxy.
One of the
Constantinople Patriarchate’s leading theologians, Metropolitan
Elpidophoros, delivered the Patriarchate’s reply on Jan. 7 on the
Church’s official website; he severely criticised not just the
Moscow church’s document, but its entire policy of world hegemony,
described as “wherever there is a Russian, there too the
jurisdiction of the Russian Church extends.”
ambition poses an existential threat to the stability and unity of
Ukraine: the appointment of Hilarion (Alfeev) (or another Russian
hierarch) as Metropolitan of Kyiv will give the ROC total control
over the UOC MP, and will become a serious instrument of Kremlin
pressure over Ukrainian society and state authority, especially in
the year before presidential elections.
Metropolitan from Russia under the control of Patriarch Kirill and
the Kremlin will obviously also destroy those threads of compromise
that have been recently weaved between the Moscow Patriarchate, the
Kyiv Patriarchate and Greek Catholic churches in Ukraine.
In all of this there
is also a colossal opportunity – if the UOC MP doesn’t just
preserve its autonomy, but elects a Metropolitan capable of dialogue
and continuing the line of Metropolitan Volodymyr in church
reconciliation, it could open the path to overcome the current
divisions in the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
Orthodox unity, along with recognition of autocephaly from the
Patriarch of Constantinople, will not just secure Ukraine’s
independence, it will put an end to Moscow’s global ambition to
primacy among Orthodox Churches.