Friday, July 08, 2011

Russian and Ukrainian Churches – friends or foes?

A Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchy, started in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, on July 8. The last similar council took place some 20 years ago.

Some people are afraid that the present council, in fact, means a revival of the activity of those people who want to separate the Ukrainian Church from the Russian Church and make it self-governing. However, the council’s organizers say that these fears are groundless. The council is convoked because there are some problems of the Ukrainian Church which need immediate solution, they say.

A representative of the Ukrainian Church Archbishop Mitrofan says:

“In the last few years, many changes have taken place in the Ukrainian Church. The number of dioceses and monasteries has grown. Church life has become more active. The state laws which have to do with the Church have changed, and the Church has to outline its policy in the new circumstances. That’s why we convoked the council.”

However, some observers doubt that this is the real aim of the council. The news about the coming council was announced only a few days before its start. Some people suspect that the council, in fact, has been convoked to increase the role of the Ukrainian Patriarch’s locum tenens, and, thus, make the Ukrainian Church less dependant from the Russian Patriarchy. Usually, a locum tenens is appointed if the patriarch is ill or too old to perform his duties. Rumors that the Ukrainian Patriarch Vladimir is seriously ill have long been circulating in Ukraine. It is believed that these rumors are being spread by those who want to separate the Ukrainian Church from the Russian one. Another thing that raises many eyebrows is the fact that, though the council is set on the eve of the Russian patriarch’s visit to Ukraine, Russian bishops have not been invited to the council. (The Russian Patriarch Kirill will come to Kiev on July 28 to take part in celebrations of the Day of Russia’s Christianization, for it was from Kiev that the Christianization of Russia started in the year 988.)

Still, leaders of the Russian Church are not afraid that separatist moods will prevail at the Ukrainian council.

“Most probably, the council will not move the Ukrainian Church away from the Russian one,” says Igor Gaslov, an expert in church politics. “On the contrary, it will only make them closer to each other.”

“The main event of this council will be the adoption of a new charter of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The current charter was adopted in 1990, and in 1992, a split took place in the Ukrainian Church. Thus, some points of the existing charter do not reflect the current situation. Moreover, some points in the charter run counter to Orthodox Christianity, how it is understood by the Russian Church. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is under the auspices of the Russian Patriarchy, and there must be no theological disagreements between the two Churches.”

At present, there are three religious organizations in Ukraine, each of which claims to be the only real Ukrainian Orthodox Church. However, only one of them – the one which is under the Russian Patriarchy – is recognized by all Orthodox Churches of the world. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the then Ukrainian political leaders supported the separation of the Ukrainian Church from the Russian one. Now – to a great extent, thanks to the efforts of the Russian Patriarch Kirill, who often visits Ukraine, - separatist moods ceased to prevail in the Ukrainian Church. Now, more and more former “apostates” in Ukraine are returning to the Church which is part of the Russian Patriarchy.


Anonymous said...

The title of Vladimir (Sabodan) is not Patriarch but Metropolitan of Kiev. In the entire Russian Orthodox hierarchy the Metropolitan of Kiev has precedence over all other prelates save the Patriarch himself.

The only character who currently uses the title of "Patriarch of Kyiv" is the defrocked and anathemized Michael "Filaret" Denisenko.

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, is Major-Archbishop of Kyiv. Most of his flock calls him "Patriarch" but he officially doesn't use it himself as Rome has never approved the use of the title.

David said...

This is what makes people scoff at the claim to be the one true church.

The young fogey said...

At least ecclesiastically and probably more, the Ukraine is part of Russia. (The people I know from Kiev and of course Kharkov and Simferopol, near the Russian border, feel that way.) I don't think the Kiev metropolia will ever be spun off from the Russian Church. The churchgoers don't want it!

The Greek Catholics are in old Galicia and Ruthenia, which had been under Western rule since the 1300s, so they're right when they say they're not Russian (they pretty much invented Ukrainianism) and their stand against the Soviets was heroic. How a traditional Catholic church can survive underground in modern times. The first Byzantine East Slavs I met were WWII exiles from there, and they definitely gave one the impression that the Ukraine is a non-Russian, Greek Catholic country.

But they're just a literal small corner of the Ukraine that Stalin grabbed from Poland and Slovakia during WWII.

(Galicia and Ruthenia are 80% Greek Catholic; I wonder how many practise. The rest of the Ukraine is like Russia proper, an unchurched majority with lots of nominal Orthodox but few churchgoers, the Soviets having done their damage.)

I can see how outsiders see the nationalist fights/splits but those fights/splits don't faze the Orthodox, showing the one real difference with Rome: rather than a central high command, they're happy with a one true church that's a loose confederation of ethnic-based conservative churches remarkably alike but little to do with each other. This communion has its blurry edges like the Filaret schism: technically outside Orthodoxy but organically from it and retaining its beliefs and practices so obviously still 'part of the family' that can be received back economically (no do-over baptisms, chrismations or ordinations), no problem.

Anonymous is right about titles.