August 21, 2015

The Kremlin’s “New Church Strategy” against Ukraine

At the end of last year, we reported on the Kremlin and its loyal ally Kirill’s plans to mobilize and support the “defenders of the Russian world and Russian Orthodoxy” in the East of Ukraine.

The analysis of the current activity of the Celebrant and the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate indicates that the ROC of the MP is one of the main “pillars” of the Kremlin in implementation of its imperial policy towards Ukraine. Among Kirill's most important tasks (determined by the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation) is counteracting the constituting of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC).

Aware of the large-scale threat to Russian state and church interests from the possible unification of the UOC KP, UAOC, UOC MP, the UOC in Canada and the US, leaders of the ROC have orientated the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) to work with the ruling Eparches of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church to persuade them to give up the union with the UOC of the KP.

It was the presence at the June joint meeting of the Commission on a Dialogue between the UOC (KP) and the UAOC of representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States (which are canonical Churches and are under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which significantly enhances the legitimacy of this unification process in the eyes of the world Orthodoxy), that caused strong dissatisfaction of the higher clergy of the ROC and the UOC (MP) and became the reason for intensified actions of the Kremlin and Kirill's confidants in the church life of Ukraine.

The generated in Moscow instructions for the clergy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, first of all impose the idea that the union is useless and not needed, because allegedly the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, as a weak structure, would be absorbed by the UOC (KP), and then its Head Filaret would hold a mass replacement of Hierarches of the Autocephalous Church with “his own” ones.

At the same time, the Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate conducts the necessary “explanatory” work with sympathetic to it representatives of Ukrainian business to provide financial assistance to the “poor” Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church thus making the latter dependent on donors. Moreover, the President of the Russian Federation V. Putin is said to have ordered to give 3 million US dollars to the current Head of the UAOC in order to block the unification process between the UAOC and the UOC (KP). And although Macarius, because of the participation in the “transaction” of representatives of the “Ukrainian Orthodox political establishment” has received only half of this sum, the above-mentioned steps of the Russian side have largely caused changes in the position of the Primate, who, based on the results of the conducted in Kyiv July 9, 2015, Archbishops' Council of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, has officially declared that his church suspends the process of association with the UOC (KP).

According to the Kremlin's plan, acting in unison with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate should also focus on self-interest in overcoming the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy and willingness to launch talks in a trilateral format — the UOC (MP), UOC (KP) and UAOC. In Moscow and in Kirill's environment it is believed that the UAOC's refusal to participate in the “three-sided talks” can be used to accuse it of non-constructive position and to promote in the Ukrainian society the idea of exclusive “constructivism” of the UOC (MP).

The current personnel changes in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) also show seriousness of the Kremlin's intentions to continue its influencing the uniting processes in the Ukrainian Orthodoxy. In particular, Moscow hopes for the ability of the elected by the Synod of the UOC MP to the post of Chairman of the Commission for the dialogue with representatives of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Kamianets-Podilskyi Feodor to refocus the clergy of the UAOC onto negotiations with the UOC (MP) on the union.

The Russian Orthodox Church hierarchs will not leave alone the clergy of the UOC of the Kyiv Patriarchate. At this, Moscow Patriarchate count on growing of the split in the Bishopric of the UOC (KP), one part of which is allegedly committed to full independence, with the Patriarch at head, while the other believes that to get independence is enough to agree to the status of the Archdiocese under the Ecumenical Patriarch's omophorion.

Aware of the lack of internal Ukrainian efforts due to the significant loss of confidence in the UOC (MP) on the part of the Ukrainian community, the ROC at the same time is trying to block the process of unification between the Ukrainian Orthodox confessions by pressure on the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, whose support can result in the constituting of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Informed sources say that the Messenger of Moscow, the Head of the Department for External Church Relations of the ROC, Metropolitan Ilarion, during his recent meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch gave him a letter from Kirill, in which the latter harshly criticized Constantinople's participation in unification talks between the UOC (KP) and UAOC, and even afford himself to threaten Bartholomew with possible ROC's to participate in the scheduled for the first half of 2016 Pan-Orthodox Council. Besides, in contrast Bartholomew's position about holding the Council on the historic site of the Mother Church (in Istanbul), Kirill insists on Greek Thessaloniki, which is controlled by the ROC. Moreover, the Head of the ROC shows intransigence about avoiding the Pan-Orthodox Council's considering of the Ukrainian question.

Aware of undesirable at this stage, significant deterioration of relations with Moscow, the Ecumenical Patriarch after the aforementioned meeting agreed to weaken his support for integration processes between the Ukrainian churches, giving a signal to understand that he will be able to grant autocephalous status to the newly formed church not before 2016.

According to experts in religious studies, in such a way the Ecumenical Patriarchate has reached results acceptable for itself, because in fact “responsible” for the failure of the unification process was the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which allowed Constantinople not to aggravate relations with the ROC, to avoid criticism by advocates of early establishment of the UPOC, postponing the question of resuming unification negotiations for the period after the Pan-Orthodox Council.

For the purpose of the indirect influence on the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Kremlin has not given up its attempts to talk the Turkey's leadership into taking of certain beneficial for Ankara restrictive measures, such as non-recognition of the legal personality of Constantinople, and its registration as a legal entity, saving time limits on staying in Turkey of representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who do not have Turkish citizenship and so on.

It is clear that in the Kremlin's arsenal there is room for blackmail, as well as for indirect bribery. We are talking about the announced intentions to construct (at the cost of “Gazprom”) in resort cities of Turkey, where in summer there are a lot of Russian tourists, of temples of the ROC with simultaneous dual subordination of the parishes to Moscow and Constantinople and complete transmission to the latter of all their income.

In the “battle for Ukraine” with Constantinople, the ROC is also trying to make interested through financial support and other benefits a number of loyal to it local Orthodox Churches (Polish, Czechoslovak, Serbian, of Greece, Cyprus, Alexandria and Bulgarian) in exchange for their bringing to the Ecumenical Patriarch messages about the so-called “uncanonicity of the uniting of UOC (KP) and UAOC and uselessness of supporting integration processes in the Ukrainian Orthodoxy without the participation of the ROC/UOC (MP)”.

No less important part of the Kremlin's strategy in the context of preventing the unification processes in Ukrainian Orthodoxy is preservation of the necessary level of dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), which remains one of the major players on the European continent and in the religious life of our country. At this, the Russian hierarchs are promoting the idea of ​​the feasibility of the final distribution of spheres of influence in Ukraine between the ROC and RCC and mutual interest in blocking the unification processes in Ukrainian Orthodoxy.

The Apostolic capital judiciously answers to V. Putin and Kirill's pieces of propaganda:

- Firstly, the process of consolidation of the churches of the Eastern rite in Ukraine will be long (around 10-15 years);

- Secondly, the Vatican's attitude to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's position on solving the UAOC's question is that of understanding but without any overt support and approval.

Having made an express-analysis of the new elements in the Russian Federation's strategy on the “church-Ukrainian” issue, we invite our readers to estimate for themselves the reality and depth of the threat of the Kremlin's cynical plans to socio-political stability in our country and recruiting new “ideological defenders of the Russian world and Orthodoxy” both in Russia itself and in the East of Ukraine.