Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created a division within the Orthodox Church. Now, some members have been given permission by the ecumenical patriarch to form an independent Ukrainian church independent from Moscow.
Moscow has suffered a major setback and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, an important spiritual leader for Eastern Orthodox Christians, has scored a major victory. But how long will this break last?
Autocephaly, or the grant of independence to a church, is an Orthodox concept developed over time. While not part of the Church’s founding charter, it can be achieved through local councils and church-approved processes.
Geopolitical actions have the potential to drastically affect power relations. Not only is it a matter of prestige and authority, but it also determines how much influence churches have in ecumenical politics.
Ukraine is a complex and intricate issue. It involves multiple factors and has political repercussions for all sides involved in the conflict, including Russia and Ukraine.
Russian Orthodox Church leaders consider the decision to recognize Ukrainian autocephaly an infringement on their jurisdiction and authority. Furthermore, this will create a schism within the Orthodox community as well as weaken its influence in secular politics.
Ukraine is home to approximately 30 million Orthodox Christians, divided between the Moscow Patriarchate and two other churches: UOC-MP (Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church) and independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
But for some reason, the UOC-MP is seeking to distance itself from its Russian counterpart. Its bishops refuse to commemorate Patriarch Kirill and issue appeals for global Orthodox leaders to intervene.
According to a poll conducted before the conflict started, 40 per cent of Ukrainian believers supported the UOC-MP and 20 per cent identified themselves as “just Orthodox.” Now however, only 11 per cent still back the party.
Once the war ends, Russia could potentially make things easier for the Ukrainian Church. Patriarch Kirill has publicly supported Russia in this conflict, echoing Putin’s language of Ukrainian-Russian unity on Russian terms. However, for now, Russia continues to make life for Christians in Ukraine difficult.
The bitter rift between Ukraine and the Russian Orthodox church is just one of many manifestations of Ukraine’s desire to break away from Russian influence. It reinforces a sense of national identity which had been built during the years following independence.
In a larger context, this issue raises questions about Russia’s involvement in international affairs and its relationship with Orthodox churches. Additionally, it indicates tensions within the Orthodox world which could serve as a spark for further rifts.
Politics is an expansive concept, encompassing activities which affect others as well as institutions (government, legal system, military and police) which govern based on these decisions. Examples include anti-war protests or boycott campaigns in addition to many others.
The Russian Orthodox Church, or ROC, is divided into 17 autonomous jurisdictions that care for a global population estimated to number in the hundreds of millions.
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is structured hierarchically, with parishes (Russian: prikhod) and eparchies (Russian: eparkhiia) administered by bishops. Typically, only some of these eparchies may be canonized as “holy” or even venerated by all members of ROC – such as when Ivan IV, Russia’s first Tsar, praised St Basil.
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is the world’s largest and most influential Christian denomination, boasting an estimated 150 million followers in Russia alone. As such, its influence over politics is profound – priests blessing tanks, Kalashnikovs and Russian cathedrals serve as symbols of imperial ambition.