Patriarch Kirill and political orthodoxy
30 July, 20:03
According to Zenon Wasyliw, Putin, Medvedev and Kirill are a powerful Russian troika engaged in joint political and religious manipulations.
His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan), leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarch), addressed representatives of local Orthodox churches under the presidency and invitation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew last October.
He cited the vibrancy, growth and strong structure of his church. He noted continued dialogues striving toward church unity with representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church that are not canonically recognized. The three combined jurisdictions would number over 17,000 Ukrainian parish communities.
Despite these impressive statistics and sincere efforts toward unity, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarch) is not officially recognized as a particular church. It is not accorded the same status as that of the world's 15 autocephalous Orthodox churches. Metropolitan Volodymyr was only a guest speaker at the Phanar. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is officially a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
An article on Patriarch Kirill's enthronement, published in the Orthodox Church of America's official publication, The Orthodox Church, cites Metropolitan Vladimir (or Volodymyr) of Kyiv as one of the Russian Church's two senior hierarchs. There is never any mention of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This status evolved politically under Russian tsarist expansive imperialism and Soviet control of and collaboration with the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. We now live in post-colonial and post-Soviet times that call for an honest acceptance of autocephalous self-governance for Orthodox Christians in Ukraine.
Patriarch Kirill opposes "political orthodoxy," yet the Russian Orthodox Church closely collaborates with Russian leaders Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in spreading a Russian nationalist (some say proto-fascist) message in Russia and the "near abroad."
Putin, Medvedev and Kirill, a powerful Russian troika, engage in joint political and religious commemorations of the White General Anton Denikin, supporting and echoing Denikin's denigration of Ukrainians, the political canonization into sainthood of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife and five children, in support of a reactionary Russian imperial ideological foundation of Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Russian Nationality with its legacy of chauvinistic policies and pogroms.
Many other examples bring to question whether Patriarch Kirill's visit is a political mission to re-engage a reactionary past of a revived vision of Russian imperial control over Ukraine.
The Russian Orthodox Church remains silent on many recent and current human rights abuses by the Russian state, such as the suspicious deaths of journalists critical of the government, the assault upon the human rights group Memorial, the censorship and political control of history, among many others.
The Russian troika should accept that Ukrainians have their own identities and values in a post-colonial and post-Soviet space. Good relations between Ukraine and Russia are important and should be based on mutual respect and equality, not spheres of influence through ecclesiastical control. Only a self-governing, autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church can spiritually respond to Ukrainians' unique and varied identities, developments and issues. The Russian Orthodox Church in Russia has its own issues and concerns it needs to attend.
Serge Schmemann, son of the famous Orthodox theologian, notes in the April 2009 National Geographic the catastrophically low level of monthly church attendance in Russia, estimated at 10 percent to less than 1 percent. Ukraine, on the other hand has a far higher level of belief and liturgical participation. Metropolitan Volodymyr has stated that over 70 percent of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church membership is found in the nationally conscious and linguistically Ukrainian European oriented western half of Ukraine, in contrast to the Eurasian orientation of Russian Orthodoxy.
The only true realizable path toward self-governance is the return of a Kyivan-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Metropolitan in union with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as was the case prior to its political assimilation into the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686. Those of Russian nationalist orientations in Ukraine can be served by Russian patriarchal clergy, as is done in the United States. But it is evident that Patriarch Kirill, with the political influence of Putin and Medvedev, will not acknowledge this right.
An Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, with its primate in Kyiv and not Moscow, will best serve the spiritual needs of its faithful and the realities of daily life. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church would then join world Orthodoxy as an equal to the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches of Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia and the four ancient patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Autocephaly is not a myth reality.
Zenon V. Wasyliw is a professor of history at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. He can be reached by email at wasyliw@...