Ukrainian Orthodox Church breaks with Moscow over invasion

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For nearly 350 years, the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow has exercised jurisdiction over the Ukrainian Church. Not anymore.

A branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox community had begun to drift away from Moscow after Russia annexed Crimea and backed Donbass separatists in 2014. But on Friday loyalists also declared a schism, with leaders officially renouncing to their allegiance to Patriarch Kirill in Moscow.

Why we wrote this

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, angered by Moscow Patriarch Cyril’s support of the Russian invasion, has embarked on an independent path after nearly 350 years.

The patriarch strongly supported Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine, seeing it as an attempt to restore the “Russian world”, Mr. Putin’s project to bring together the Russian-speaking peoples. And Kyiv is the spiritual and historical home of Russian Orthodoxy.

But his stance has sparked deep anger among Ukrainian Orthodox worshipers and has now caused an ecclesiastical earthquake – the breakaway of Moscow’s largest satellite church. The head of this church, Metropolitan Onufriy, who has until now been loyal to Patriarch Kirill and to Moscow, denounced the invasion as “a repetition of the sin of Cain, who killed his own brother out of envy”.

An attempt to bring Ukrainian believers closer to the Orthodox fold of Moscow seems to have failed.

Irpine, Ukraine

Beneath the gilded domes of his ornate Orthodox Christian church, the Reverend Andriy Kliushev had for years sought to convince his small Ukrainian congregation to end their centuries-old loyalty to Moscow.

Little did he know it would be the Russians themselves, in the form of brutal occupying forces who stationed a sniper on the roof of his church in Kyiv’s leafy suburb of Irpin, and detained and beat church volunteers for days, which would eventually push her away from the Moscow-based church.

In mid-May, Father Andriy’s congregation, after witnessing various atrocities, voted to break with the Russian Orthodox Church and its Moscow Patriarch Kirill, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had staunchly supported the war in Ukraine as “metaphysical struggle.

Why we wrote this

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, angered by Moscow Patriarch Cyril’s support of the Russian invasion, has embarked on an independent path after nearly 350 years.

And last week, in an ecclesiastical earthquake that shook the Orthodox world, the leadership of the loyalist Ukrainian church in Moscow followed suit en masse, declaring the war “a violation of God’s command” You don’t not kill” and officially breaking his allegiance to Patriarch Kiril.

The schism is a stark result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which eroded the age-old bond between the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church – which has 100 million believers in its ranks – and its adherents in Ukraine and elsewhere, who have been pushed back by the war.

Get rid of Stockholm Syndrome

For the faithful of the Saint-Mikolay church of Father Andriy, where a painting of the saint above the door of the church is disfigured by a bullet hole in the eye, the choice of independence vis-à-vis Moscow screw was not easy to do.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor

Reverend Andriy Kliushev stands for a portrait in his St. Mikolay Church in Irpin, Ukraine on April 23, 2022, as he prepares to celebrate Easter. He has long advocated the independence of the Moscow Patriarchate.

“Some people have Stockholm syndrome. They are beaten, their homes are destroyed, and they still support Kirill; I am shocked,” says Father Andriy, a high priest with a welcoming smile, speaking in his church amid burning candles and incense.

It took weeks of debate, even after the extent of the destruction wrought by the Russians became clear, before church members took the plunge, turning their backs on the Moscow church that had jurisdiction over them since 1686.

In doing so, they turned their backs on a whole vision of the world.

In making the case for war, Moscow says Ukraine is an integral and brotherly part of a greater Russkii Mir, or “Russian world,” the historical and spiritual center of a neo-imperial project to bring Russian-speaking peoples together and to reunite the former Soviet Union. lands.

For President Putin – who proclaims a personal post-Soviet religious revival – the loss of Ukrainian believers will be a particularly painful casualty of the Russian war, says Reverend Anton Fomenko, a historian at Kyiv National Pedagogical University and a Roman Catholic priest , who wrote his Ph.D. on the Russian Orthodox Church.

“They really want to have communication with Kyiv, because Kyiv is … the homeland of Russian Orthodoxy,” Fomenko said. “Here in Kyiv took place the baptism of the Slavic tribes who became Christian. It is like when you have a tree; this tree has roots. If you cut the roots, the tree will die.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor

An Orthodox church is destroyed by Russian shelling of nearby Ukrainian positions in Irpin, Ukraine, April 23, 2022.

Putin recalls Cain

The invasion was a “catastrophe” for Moscow loyalists, he said. These believers “felt after the start of the war that their whole view of the world had been shattered. They don’t know what to do now.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church was granted semi-autonomy from Moscow and was renamed the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate.

However, since Russia seized Crimea and backed separatists in the Donbass in 2014, there has been a growing movement in Ukraine for a separate ecclesiastical body. In 2019, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was formed and granted “autocephaly” by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodoxy – a decision dismissed as illegal by Moscow.

The invasion of Ukraine reignited a desire for full independence. When the war started, the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphanius, said that “the spirit of the Antichrist operates in the head of Russia” and compared President Putin to Hitler.

Even Metropolitan Onufriy, the head of the loyalist Moscow church in Ukraine, denounced the invasion as a “repetition of the sin of Cain, who killed his own brother out of envy”.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor

Reverend Petro Pavlenko stands for a portrait next to his Russian Orthodox Svyato-Pokrovska Church, which was damaged by an electrical fire, he says, as Orthodox priests prepare to celebrate Easter in Hostomel, Ukraine, April 23 2022.

Blessing on both sides

Navigating this minefield, parish priests, often caught between the weight of Orthodox canonical tradition and the incendiary politics of war. A man who exemplifies this dilemma is the Reverend Petro Pavlenko, a gray-bearded Orthodox priest still loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate, who has big hands and wears a large cross around his neck.

“This war is a big mistake. It shouldn’t happen – it’s a sin,” he said, speaking in his icon-adorned church in Hostomel, the northern suburb of Kyiv where Russian paratroopers landed at the military airport at the start of the war. war.

Father Petro says he supported and blessed the Ukrainian troops before they were forced to withdraw, and even spray-painted the words “never give up” on a nearby shop, to encourage them.

But he then risked controversy by also blessing the advancing Russian tanks and troops, an action he said was aimed at bringing peace, so that they “return to their homes and their fatherland”, but instead aroused local suspicion.

“I have blessed [the Russians] and I asked for an end to the war,” says Father Petro. “I told them, ‘You don’t have to kill Ukrainians. We are brothers.'”

Father Petro says he received threats after the withdrawal of Russian forces. He spray-painted anti-war messages on the buildings around his church in Sviato-Pokrovska, and on a side door wrote the words “We are peaceful Orthodox. Hands off our church.

“We are Ukrainians. We love Ukraine. We pray for victory,” Father Petro said, adding that war “breaks the laws of God.” Yet he avoided criticizing Patriarch Kirill’s support for the war as a battle against “sin” and his sympathy for President Putin’s concept of a “Russian world”.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor

A church door reading “Peace be with you.” Reverend Petro Pavlenko prepares his Russian Orthodox Svyato-Pokrovska Church to celebrate Easter in Hostomel, Ukraine on April 23, 2022. Father Petro courted controversy by blessing invading Russian troops, which he says he also did to defend Ukrainian forces, in an attempt to end the war.

A war for existence

“Russia has imperial nationalism and there is no place for Ukrainians as a nation,” says Archpriest Andriy Dudchenko, a doctor of theology at the Kyiv Orthodox Theological Academy. “According to them, the Ukrainian people and their land are part of Russia.

Yet the war has backfired on all of the Kremlin’s aims to bring Ukrainian believers closer together.

“What I see from my fellow priests… now they understand that it is impossible to be under the Moscow Patriarchate since the beginning of the war,” Fr. Andriy says. “Now they understand that Russkii Mir is not the reality; it is a mental construct to enslave Ukrainians.

This message was clear at Easter, when Ukrainian Orthodox priests blessed soldiers on the front lines, buried the dead and accused Russia of breaking divine law.

In Kyiv, dozens of Ukrainians lined up outside St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, waiting to be sprinkled with holy water.

“Russia has chosen not to develop, but to kill its neighbours,” Reverend Oleksandr Shmurygin of the Ukrainian church told believers as he sprinkled them. “This suffering we go through will be like gold going through fire. This is caused by the freedom we have chosen to follow.

“It’s a war for the existence of all of us. Don’t forget that.

Reporting of this story was supported by Oleksandr Naselenko.

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