Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 85

On April 27, Patriarch Aleksy II of Moscow and All Russia addressed a conference on “Religion and Diplomacy,” organized in the Russian capital by the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Aleksy pledged Orthodox Church support to Russia’s “peacekeeping” efforts in the CIS and resistance to a “unipolar world order.”

Long accustomed to appeal to “all peace-loving forces of the world” on behalf of the Soviet Union, Aleksy now performed an easy terminological transition in stating that “Russia, hand in hand with the people of good will all over the world, shall be able to thwart all attempts at subjugating the nations,” and by the same token to “oppose all attempts at building up a unipolar world.”

The Patriarch declared that the Russian Orthodox Church would “spare no effort” in promoting the settlement of conflicts in Moldova, Karabakh and the Balkans, so as to “guarantee a lasting and fair peace in Europe, Eurasia and on the planet as a whole.” And he expressed the conviction that “the endeavors of Russian diplomacy to guarantee peace [in those areas] fall in line with religious aspirations.”

That same day, the Russian Church’s branch in Ukraine–that is, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate–signaled anew its opposition to the upcoming visit of Pope John Paul II to that country. President Leonid Kuchma and the nationally minded Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate had last year issued the invitation to the Pope for this visit, which is scheduled to take place next month.

The Moscow Patriarchate and its affiliate in Ukraine, having long opposed the issuance of an invitation, now threaten to disrupt the Pope’s visit through demonstrations and pickets. The chief objection concerns the full relegalization of the two Catholic Churches in Ukraine–the Roman Catholic and the Uniate (Eastern-Rite Catholic)–and the restitution of their property. The Soviet authorities had destroyed those churches, forcibly transferring most of their property and all the Uniate parishes to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Moscow Patriarchate continues to view Ukraine as a “canonical space of the Russian Orthodox Church”–an ecclesiastical counterpart to the political concept of a “CIS space,” both centered in Moscow. It refuses to acknowledge the return to the pre-Soviet situation regarding church jurisdictions and property in western Ukraine, where Uniates have reclaimed their rights. And it insists that the Moscow Patriarchate’s branch in Ukraine is the only legitimate Orthodox church in the country. The Russian Synod does not recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and has excommunicated its hierarchy. On April 27, when Aleksy was addressing the Moscow conference, the Moscow Patriarchate’s branch in Ukraine brushed aside a public initiative from the Vatican and the two Ukrainian Catholic churches to hold a conciliation meeting before or during the Pope’s visit.

It was, coincidentally, also on April 27 that Russia’s Security Council secretary, General Vladimir Rushailo, called on the Armenian Patriarch and Catholicos Karekin II at the latter’s see in Etchmiadzin. Rushailo was in Armenia for the meeting of Security Councils’ secretaries of CIS member countries, which discussed CIS “peacekeeping” and also decided to form a Russian-Armenian joint groups of military forces. According to an official announcement, Rushailo and Karekin discussed religious aspects of peacekeeping, Aleksy’s contribution to such efforts, and the historic ties between the Russian and Armenian churches. Karekin, for his part, took the occasion to expound on “the dogmatic differences that exist between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.”

That same day in Moldova, security forces of Transdniester seized the most important Moldovan religious establishment by way of enforcing a recent edict from Aleksy and the Russian Church Synod. The edict ruled that the bishop of Transdniester and Dubasari, Yustinian, shall additionally hold the post of rector of the Chisinau Theological Seminary. That seminary–the only one in Moldova–is located in a monastery outside Chisinau on the right bank of the Dniester, in an area which forms a bridgehead of the secessionist authorities based on the left bank and of the Russian military. Yustinian is a protege of both the Tiraspol leadership and the Russian Patriarchy.

Monks at the monastery and the faculty of the seminar attempted to deny entry to an advance party sent by Yustinian. In response, the Tiraspol authorities sent two truckloads of policemen and soldiers of the “Dniester” spetznaz battalion, who overran and searched the establishment’s premises and installed Yustinian in his post. A veteran KGB officer, Vladimir Antyufeyev, commands all of Transdniester’s security forces and most likely ordered this operation. By now, Russian “peacekeeping” troops and Moldovan soldiers are also patrolling the perimeter in order to prevent a spillover of the confrontation.

The Metropolitanate of Moldova and Chisinau is canonically subordinated to the Russian Orthodox Church, though with a special status of internal autonomy. Metropolitan Vladimir had himself held the rector’s post at the seminary until resigning recently at his own initiative. He had, apparently, not reckoned with the possibility that Aleksy and the Russian Synod would violate the Moldovan Church’s autonomy and assign Yustinian to that post.

Yustinian stated that he would follow the order from Moscow “like a soldier.” Like Transdniester’s leadership–which has awarded him medals and honorary titles–Yustinian is not a native to the area and is a figure of Greater Russian convictions. On April 29, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin made public the texts of letters he has sent to Aleksy and to Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov, asking the former to revise his edict and the latter to withdraw the troops and police from the monastery and seminar.

The incident seems inadvertently to confirm a columnist’s reflection, published only days earlier in a Chisinau weekly. There exist in Moldova–the columnist remarked–three entrenched conduits of Moscow’s influence: the Russian troops, the Transdniester leadership and the local branch of the Russian Orthodox Church (Itar-Tass, April 27, 30; Flux, Basapress, April 26-28; Infotag, April 29-30; Noyan-Tapan, April 27; UNIAN, April 27; see the Monitor, January 10, 26, May 1; Fortnight in Review, January 19, February 2).