The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), led by Patriarch Kirill, has been a crucial element in President Putin’s subversive hybrid war against Ukraine. It serves as an instrument of Russian propaganda and serves as an agent for its intelligence services.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, led by Metropolitan Onufriy, has publicly condemned the conflict and severed ties with Moscow. Nonetheless, authorities are conducting a search of its premises for links to pro-Russian materials. As a result, several leaders have been sanctioned and legislation banning religious organizations with Russian connections was passed.
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The Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Ukraine’s Orthodox Church, a national religion, is closely connected to the country’s political life. About 50% of Ukrainians (51%) say being Orthodox is essential for being truly Ukrainian compared to 52% among Russians (52%).
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, numerous disputes have arisen regarding the Church’s involvement. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, or UOC, has been criticised for its links to Moscow-affiliated Russian Patriarchate.
The UOC has attempted to cut ties with Moscow, but has been unsuccessful. Its church has been searched by authorities and dozens of its senior clergy have been placed under investigation or on sanctions lists.
The Ukrainian government views the Church as a threat to its security and relationship with Russia, so they are considering legislation that would ban religious organizations with Russian connections. But the church’s leadership has resisted these calls.
The Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest church in Russia and one of its most influential worldwide. It consists of numerous constituent entities that are overseen by different leaders, creating a complex organization with many moving parts.
But the ROC is based in Moscow, and President Vladimir Putin has used it to rally support for his war against Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill is a key Putin ally and backer of the invasion.
For nearly a year, he has publicly supported the war and appeared at Kremlin events to legitimize murder and aggression. He even declared that dying in battle would cleanse Russian soldiers of all their sins.
The Patriarch of Moscow
Patriarch Kirill is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has a significant number of believers in Ukraine. Additionally, he has been an ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has publicly supported Russia’s involvement in Ukraine’s conflict.
In spite of the conflict, many of Kirill’s followers in Ukraine remain loyal to him. Additionally, he has maintained that the earliest Russians and Ukrainians shared a historical unity since the grand duke of Kievan Rus’ was baptized in 988 and Christianity became state religion there shortly thereafter.
However, the Patriarch’s unwavering support for the war has caused a severe rift within Orthodox Christianity, especially among Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians. Some churches that remain loyal to Moscow have instructed their priests to omit Kirill’s name from liturgy while others have severed ties altogether.
This division has grave repercussions not only for Ukraine’s Orthodox faithful, but also the global Orthodox Christian community. It raises serious questions about loyalty and territory within the Orthodox Church as Moscow attempts to claim more territory for itself among Orthodox Christian communities around the world.
The Ukrainian Church
For centuries, the Ukrainian Church has been an integral part of Ukrainian culture and identity. Therefore, the current conflict in Ukraine has had a profound effect on religious communities on both sides of the border.
As the war progresses, it has become evident that many priests within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have been complicit in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As a result, they are under investigation and may face prison time.
Viktor Yelensky, a researcher at the Kuras Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies, believes some UOC priests have indoctrinated their flocks with ideas of Russian supremacy.
President Zelenskyy’s government is working on legislation that would prohibit church organisations affiliated with the Moscow Patriarch from operating in Ukraine. While this move has been difficult for them as they do not want to hurt their own citizens, this step serves to uphold Ukraine’s’spiritual independence’ and guarantee that the Orthodox Church remains independent from Moscow.