Within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, an internal struggle is currently unfolding between rival groups that purport to represent Ukrainian patriotism but have deep-seated ties to Russia. Their divisions have caused frictions which are spreading to ecclesiastical relationships throughout Ukraine.
Kirill of Moscow, an individual closely aligned with Putin and the Russian regime, is supporting this war and actively participating in Kremlin events by showing up and giving his blessing for murders or justifying aggressions.
Ukrainian Orthodox Christianity has endured much turmoil and controversy throughout its history, being subjected to political manipulation and abuse while remaining an influential part of Ukraine’s religious landscape.
Ukraine was first founded as a Christian nation in 988 when Volodymyr I, King of Kievan Rus, adopted Christianity as its official religion and handed over his bishops for baptism to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.
At a time when Russia attempted to dominate Ukraine, some Ukrainian clergy formed an autonomous Orthodox church structure in Ukraine that sought autonomy or autocephaly from Moscow. Over time this church became the largest religious group within Ukraine and today is recognized as an official member of the worldwide Orthodox Church.
Since 2014, Ukraine has been at war with Russia. Many residents in Ukraine have become disillusioned with their faith; according to one survey only 4% claimed affiliation with UOC while 54% joined OCU; another 14% refused to pick between either option.
One factor contributing to the discord is how closely associated the church has become with Russia in recent years, with its leaders often perceived as pro-Moscow or supporting Russia’s repressive ideology. Although its support of soldiers, IDPs, and needy Ukrainians during Ukraine’s conflict against Russia remains invaluable, its followers have grown disillusioned over time.
As such, efforts have intensified to move away from Russian-affiliated churches and establish an entirely new Ukrainian national church. President Poroshenko has shown support for this initiative, with religious leaders gathering this week in Kiev to discuss creating the new church.
One of the primary challenges for the newly founded Ukrainian Orthodox church has been its inability to gain independence from Constantinople’s Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which holds the highest position within Orthodox Christian hierarchy and serves as “first among equals.” Constantinople has thus far declined to grant independence to this new church but Ukrainian religious leaders hope that an upcoming visit of Patriarch Filaret Denysenko (leader of UOC) might make that possible in January.
Since the collapse of Soviet Russia, Ukrainian Orthodoxy Churches have been divided into three main factions. Of these three main sects, one can find Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church founded in 1917 that is predominantly found in western Ukraine.
The largest is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP), with hundreds of thousands of parishioners throughout Ukraine and a close connection with Russia’s Orthodox church leadership and Vladimir Putin’s administration. Their presence can be found throughout media coverage in Ukraine as they have millions of parishioners supporting them.
But in recent months, it has come under increasing scrutiny as Ukraine faces Russian invasion and its leaders try to figure out how best to manage its growing crisis. Furthermore, it faces government bans and raids by security services; additionally dozens of senior clergy are currently facing criminal investigations or are on Ukraine’s sanctions list.
As it seeks to survive, the UOC has made every effort to establish relationships with other churches and revise its outreach strategies. Bishops and priests have been actively searching for ways to engage people living in some of the country’s poorest regions.
Some efforts have failed, yet various new strategies have been put in place to keep the UOC afloat. These include providing financial aid to those in need and offering food and medical aid to civilians in besieged cities as well as creating humanitarian corridors into these places.
Successful strategies, while not without controversy. For instance, UOC MP has earned itself a reputation of supporting Russia in its fight against Ukraine; however, some church leaders claim this to not actually be the case.
Similar to their priest counterparts at UOC MPs, UOC priests from MP’s have both supported President Poroshenko and advocated for peaceful solutions to Ukraine’s ongoing war, while some have been accused of working with pro-Russian armed groups.
As it tries to adapt to these challenges, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church faces the possibility of schism and division between itself and other orthodox churches. There has been some progress toward unifying its various factions into an independent entity from Russian orthodox church but much work remains before this can happen.
Under the mounting tension between Russia and Ukraine, clergy members from Ukraine’s Orthodox Church have been forced to evaluate their spiritual identity with Moscow. For many of them, this question goes beyond religious faith and practice into ideological territory.
Orthodox leaders generally support Ukraine’s independence and denounced Russia’s invasion, though some clerics were accused of supporting Moscow despite its nine-month war against Ukraine. A search conducted by security agents at Kyiv’s revered Pechersk Lavra monastery, considered to be an epicenter for Orthodox monasticism in Kyiv, provided evidence that government agents view such sites as sources of pro-Moscow sentiment.
Last week, in an unusual and potentially significant step, representatives from both Orthodox churches met together in an attempt to find common ground and draft a text condemning Russia’s military action and calling on both jurisdictions’ heads to find ways of unifying for the sake of Ukrainian society.
Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, an expert on the history of ecumenism and international relations at Sankt Ignatios College at University College Stockholm said many clergy have been accused of supporting Russia’s war effort through various means such as providing aid or permitting Russian priests to hold services at church locations. Most of these accusations, however, were made on anecdotal evidence alone.
He noted that it would be preferable for individual clerics not to make declarations regarding their status, since such statements often fall short. Instead, leaders and hierarchs, including His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, can issue authoritative statements that are more meaningful.
In May 2022, the UOC’s main council officially cut ties with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), declaring itself no longer part of it; however, parts of ROC still operate in Crimea and eastern Ukraine where some clergy may remain active.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) is the second-largest church in Ukraine with the second-highest number of priests and bishops. Its membership comprises mostly ethnic Ukrainians who remain faithful to Ukraine while rejecting any Russian influence in its ranks. Furthermore, this denomination provides extensive assistance to Ukrainian soldiers, IDPs, and others in need – an estimated contribution to army aid of nearly one million dollars and 180 tons in humanitarian assistance by UOC alone is believed to have occurred over time.
An Orthodox social ethos affirms the dignity and rights of every human person; their freedom is inviolable, and their rights inseparable from one another. Furthermore, its roots can be found in Christ’s teachings which require our compassion towards the poor and marginalized.
The Orthodox Church is an inclusive and non-sectarian faith founded on biblical doctrine interpreted by early church fathers. Its membership, known as Christians, represents many cultures and languages.
Diversity presents Church leaders with some challenges. It can be challenging for all members to express their faith in an accessible and meaningful manner that resonates with them; an ethos must exist which acknowledges and celebrates this rich cultural variety of our time.
As such, several different theological views have developed within the Orthodox church regarding how to foster a more just society. Some are more conservative than others but all share an emphasis on human life being unipolar and upholding human rights as necessary.
These values are expressed through the Divine Liturgy of Orthodox Church, which emphasizes a communal aspect. Additionally, prayer and Eucharist serve as spiritual forms of communion within this religion.
At Liturgy, all members of the Church must participate fully. They should be able to read and comprehend Scripture as well as say their prayers fluently and reverently during Liturgy.
Focus is placed upon family relationships as central elements of Orthodox Christian faith, from interactions between parent and siblings to marriage and its importance within this religion. Marriage itself is seen as an eternal bond between man and woman that God plays an essential part in upholding.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church can be traced back to its roots in the Russian Orthodox Church, which serves as the main religious authority for most Ukrainians. There are, however, other independent churches within Ukraine – most prominently among these is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate which closely associates itself with its Russian counterpart and boasts over 11,000 parishes.