Moscow using the Orthodox Church to expand its influence?
- Moscow using the Orthodox Church to expand its influence?
Instability in the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches
Following the creation of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church split in two branches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchy (UOC-MP) and the autonomous Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC). After the fall of the Soviet Union, another schism created a third church, called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kievian Patriarchy (UOC-KP). Currently, the UOC-MP is the dominant church, accounting for 75 percent of the Orthodox communities. The UOC-KP accounts for a little more the 15 percent and the UAOC a little less than 10 percent of the Orthodox communities in Ukraine.
Over the past month, the UOC-MP has witnessed much infighting. The head of the UOC-MP, Metropolitan Vladimir, is in poor health and expected to step down soon, and there is fierce competition among those who would replace him. Concurrently, the bishops and archbishops are also debating the degree of autonomy their church has from Moscow. None wants to break with Moscow; rather, they are debating the laws regarding that autonomy. UOC-MP already elects its own bishops and primate, but it does so under the framework of the Moscow Patriarchate Statutes. The disagreement is over whether to continue elections under Moscow Statutes, to create separate statutes or to simply not hold elections and let the Moscow Patriarchate decide. The last of the options all but eliminates any autonomy of the church in Ukraine. The discussion has become so serious that the UOC-MP held a council on the issue on July 8, the second such high-level meeting since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The debate comes at the same time there are some major shifts in the UOC-KP. The UOC-KP began to strengthen after the Orange Revolution, as the new pro-Western leadership under then-President Viktor Yushchenko wanted the church to encroach on the UOC-MP's turf. Yushchenko even had installed his own brother as the political power player behind the UOC-KP's moves. But as the pro-Orangist government fell in 2010,the UOC-KP's influence has begun to dwindle, leaving an opportunity for the UOC-MP to start siphoning off its members and possibly even its churches.
The Russian Orthodox Church is fully behind UOC-MP and is ready to assistin any way. Kirill has increased his trips to Ukraine, touring many parts of the country to gather support for the move. Patriarch Kirill also has proclaimed Kiev as the heart of the Russian Orthodox Church. Historically, this is true as the Patriarchy was located there until 1325. But the declaration is intended to show how bonded the two countries' churches are.