Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 7

Ukraine’s political independence from Russia has yet to be reflected in the ecclesiastical sphere, where the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate continues holding sway over a majority of Ukraine’s believers. Historically identified with Russian state expansionism, and–in that same tradition–supportive of the Soviet atheist state’s expansion, the Moscow Patriarchate holds fast to a patrimonial-territorial concept, which defines the lands of the former Soviet Union as parts of a single “canonical space of the Russian Orthodox Church” and claims exclusive jurisdiction over the Orthodox Churches there. While rooted in the Orthodox church tradition, the concept of a “canonical space” coterminous with the former Soviet Union is being used today as an ecclesiastical equivalent to the political vision of a Moscow-dominated, “integrated CIS space,” entertained by Russian state officials.

The Moscow Patriarchate’s policy has splintered Ukraine’s Orthodox clergy and flock, which are currently divided into three rival churches. The largest of them, led by Patriarch Vladimir (Volodymyr Sabodan) accepts subordination to the Moscow Patriarchate and tends to be lukewarm about Ukraine’s political independence and cultural distinctiveness. The second largest, led by Patriarch Filaret (Denisenko), stems from that part of the clergy which seceded from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991-92 as a corollary of Ukraine’s state independence. It functions to all intents and purposes as an autocephalous church and supports Ukraine’s political and cultural rebirth. The Moscow Patriarchate has reacted by casting its anathema upon Filaret and other prelates of that church and officially classifying the Kyiv Patriarchate as an “assemblage of schismatics,” ruling out any contact with it. The smallest of the three is titled the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and has a long record of anti-Soviet resistance underground and abroad.

The Kyiv Patriarchate and the Autocephalous Church currently seek to unite into an Orthodox Church of Ukraine fully independent of Moscow and in canonical association with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. Ukraine’s presidency and government are encouraging this aspiration in a cautious way, designed to avoid an exacerbation of strife with the pro-Moscow church. A sizeable part of the Verkhovna Rada actively supports the aspiration toward ecclesiastical independence from the Russian Church. Orthodox laymen among those parliamentary deputies have recently joined the talks between the Kyiv and Constantinople patriarchates toward that goal (see below).

On January 9 in Kyiv, a Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate appealed to the believers of all three Orthodox churches in Ukraine, to the Ukrainian state, and to the Patriarch Bartolomeos of Constantinople to achieve during the course of this year the goal of a unified, independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The appeal to three churches’ clergy and believers suggests that the differences with the Moscow-affiliated church in Ukraine can be settled with due patience through an “evolutionary process.” The implication is that the other two churches ought to proceed with their unification under the Constantinople Patriarchate’s auspices at this time, instead of holding that aspiration hostage to a highly problematic consent from the Russian Church and its branch in Ukraine. The appeal to the state leadership contains expressions of support by the Kyiv Patriarchate for nation-building efforts in Ukraine and the rebirth of its language and culture.

The message to Patriarch Bartolomeos invites him to visit Ukraine this coming May and lend an impetus to the effort toward ecclesiastical unification under the aegis of the Constantinople Patriarchate. The document expresses gratitude to Bartolomeos for supporting the view that the incorporation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church into the Russian Church lacked validity from its outset in 1686. In that year, the Kyiv Metropolitanate was forcibly separated from the Constantinople Patriarchate to be placed under the Moscow Patriarchate. The Kyiv Synod further stated in its appeal that “the rule of a foreign, atheist and totalitarian state over Ukraine” served to perpetuate that state of affairs, which is high time to rectify.

Last month in Constantinople, a delegation of the Verkhovna Rada handed to Bartolomeos an invitation–signed by 240 of 450 deputies–to visit Kyiv at his earliest convenience. The Patriarch has standing invitations from President Leonid Kuchma and the government of Viktor Yushchenko (UNIAN, January 9; Den, December 26, 2000, January 3; see the Monitor, November 2, 2000; Fortnight in Review, November 3, 2000).

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