Mourners carry a large wooden crucifix past a barricade during a memorial procession in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Feb. 25. Dozens of protesters have been killed since November. (CNS photo/Yannis Behrakisi, Reuters)
map of Ukraine on the eve of the protests that began in November 2013 looked like a mosaic of military camps. The troops did not conduct
active maneuvers nor openly attack each other. They just stayed in
their tranches, while their generals occasionally met on the neutral
ground to imitate negotiations on truce, which none of them really
wanted. The situation changed, however, when the civil protests began in
November 2013 at the central square of Kiev, the Maidan of
Independence. The civil awakening urged the Ukrainian churches to
reconsider their relationship to each other. This followed the
reconsideration of their relationship with the Ukrainian state and the
society. The common fight for restoration of social justice and later on
against the aggression of Russia provide the Ukrainian Churches a
chance for reconciliation.
is religiously diverse. No one Church has a monopoly. The largest is
the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) in communion with the Patriarchate
of Moscow. According to the official statistics,
in January 2013 it had 12,485 registered communities. This is the only
Ukrainian church recognised by the fellowship of the Orthodox Churches
worldwide. For 22 years the Primate of this Church was Metropolitan of
Kiev Volodymyr Sabodan. In recent months, however, his health condition
has dramatically deteriorated. For this reason on February 24, the Synod
of this Church elected as Locum Tenens of the Kievan See Metropolitan Onufry.
second largest Church is the Patriarchate of Kiev (UOC KP), which was
founded in 1992 by the former exarch of Ukraine Filaret Denisenko, who
was anathematised for this by the Patriarchate of Moscow. This Church,
according to the same statistics, counted 4,536 registered communities
in the beginning of 2013.
The third is the Ukrainian Autocephalous
Orthodox Church (UAOC) with 1,205 registered communities. It originates
from the Autocephalous movement that started in 1918, then moved into
the emigration, mostly Canada and the US, and after Ukraine became
independent, returned to its motherland as a UAOC.
There is also a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC), a Catholic Church sui iuris,
which follows the eastern rite. In January 2013, this Church counted
3,734 registered communities, mostly in the western Ukrainian region of
Galicia. It nevertheless developed a distinct social teaching and has a
powerful voice recognised throughout the whole country. The rest of the
Ukrainian Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church with 919
communities, act publicly mostly through the All-Ukrainian Council of
the Churches and Religious Organisations. This Council is the most
effective platform of cooperation between different religious groups in
Ukraine, including Jewish and Muslim communities.
major Ukrainian Churches, including the Greek-Catholic Church, belong
to the eastern Christian tradition. According to this tradition, the
Church gives priority to relations with the state, and not so much with
the society. The Maidan, however, urged the Ukrainian Churches to begin
realising that the unilateral relationship of the Church with the state
is insufficient. There exists a society, which has its own interests
that can be very different from the state.
In Ukraine, the
society opposed the kleptocratic and violent state and articulated its
own agenda. Under the pressure of the conflict between the state and the
society in Ukraine, the Churches realised that society is distinct from
the state and equally important for them, if not more important. They
had to choose between the two, and all of them eventually chose the side
of the society. Some of them earlier, like the Greek Catholic Church,
and some later, like the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in unity with the
The Ukrainian Churches “discovered” for
themselves the society with its distinct agenda owing to the Maidan. Why
did the Maidan become a power that made the Ukrainian Churches change
their orientation from the state to the society? The Maidan was a
community, which can be interpreted as a classic instance of the civil
society. This community understood itself on the basis of shared values,
including dignity, honesty, non-violence, solidarity, and readiness for
self-sacrifice. Civil society in the form demonstrated by the Maidan
can hardly be found even in the modern Europe, where for the most part
people nowadays are united on the basis of common interests, but not
The Ukrainians saw how the European politicians
betrayed the European Maidan, but the Ukrainians did not betray the
values that Europe, historically, stood for. The Churches realised how
close these values are to the values of Christianity, including
altruism, readiness for self-sacrifice, and solidarity. The Maidan
pushed the Churches to rise above the status quo that dominated
their relationship with the state for years, and to take the side of
the society in its struggle with the violent regime.
effort of the Ukrainian Churches in addressing the issues of social
justice and human dignity raised by the Maidan gave a clue to the
solution of another problem that has been plaguing the Churches in
Ukraine since the country’s independence: the ecclesial schisms. The
Orthodox Churches in Ukraine are divided not for ecclesial or
theological reasons, but for social and political ones. The social
divide in the Ukrainian society is the real reason of the schisms. By
helping bridging this divide, the Churches help themselves; they thus
pave a way to reconciliation and the overcoming of schism.
Condemnation of intervention
more the divided Churches became united in dealing with the challenges,
which Ukraine faced immediately after the victory of the Maidan, of
separatism in the east and south of the country, and Russian military
aggression. They've began actingnot with separate efforts, as often
happened during the protests at the Maidanbut with more unity. They
chose the platform of the All-Ukrainian Council of the Churches and
Religious Organisations to voice their concerns. First, on February 22,
2014the same day that President Yanukovych was effectively oustedthe
members of the Council, presided over by the representative of the OUC
Metropolitan Antony, signed a statement concerning the threat of
On February 25, the members of the Council met with the speaker of the
Ukrainian Parliament and the acting President of the country, Olexandr
Turchynov, who is a Baptist pastor. After this meeting, the members of
the Council issued a statement, which confirmed legitimacy of the new
government in Kiev.
voice of the Churches became particularly strong and unified in their
condemnation of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. A relevant
statement was promulgated on March 2, the day after the Upper Chamber of
the Russian Parliament gave its permission to President Putin for
deployment of the Russian troops in Ukraine:
On March 1, 2014 the Russian Federation Soviet of the Federation of the Federal Sobranie
on request of the President of Russia has given its permission to
employ Russian troops in Ukraine. The military engagement of another
country on the territory of Ukraine is a threat not only for our country
but also for peace and stability on the European continent in general.
call the authorities of Russia to give up the military or any other
interference into internal affairs of Ukraine that are not provided by
the international law and bilateral agreements. The Russian authorities
ought to realize their responsibility before God and mankind for
possible irrecoverable consequences of the military conflict on the
Ukrainian people have friendly, fraternal feelings toward the Russian
people. Citizens of Ukraine do not wish to enflame hostility. We want to
continue to build fraternal relations with Russia as a sovereign,
again we testify to the recognition of the legitimacy of the state
authorities formed by the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine and the
officials appointed by the acting President Oleksandr Turchynov and the
Government of Ukraine.
appeal to the international community with the request to do all the
things possible to keep peace in Ukraine and keep the territorial
integrity, sovereignty and inviolability of the borders of the Ukrainian
state. Undermining of peace and stability in Ukraine threatens to ruin
all the modern system of the world safety. Therefore all the measures
should be used to keep Ukraine from war resulting from the employment of
the foreign troops.
and religious communities of Ukraine are with the Ukrainian nation. We
call all to more fervent prayers for our Motherland.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church in connection with the Moscow Patriarchate
has special ties with the Russian ecclesial and political leadership.
Therefore, it has more possibilities than the rest of the Ukrainian
Churches to influence Russia. This Church was hesitant in supporting the
protests against the regime of Yanukovych, and until that regime fell
it tried to remain neutral.
After the fall of the Yanukovych
regime, however, this Church became more active in supporting the
aspirations of the society. It offered its mediation with Russia beyond
the statement of the All-Ukrainian Council of the Churches and Religious
Organisations. The Locum Tenens of the Church, Metropolitan Onufry sent a letter to the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill
and President of Russia Vladimir Putin calling on them to avoid a
military conflict with Ukraine and to preserve the territorial integrity
of the country. In his letter to President Putin, Metropolitan Onufry,
in particular, said:
our suffering Motherland, which we all equally love and wish it peace
and prosperity, faced one of the biggest challenges in its history.
After a long internal crisis and loss of life, a new serious cause for
concern became the fact that the Federation Council of the Federal
Assembly of the Russian Federation empowered you with the right to use
the Armed Forces of Russia in Ukraine. Very little separates us from
slipping into the abyss. It will take more than a decade to get out of
the visit of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill to Crimea, he uttered wise
words that the two fleets of the fraternal peoples should never look at
each other through the sights of guns.
judged you to lead a great country. Knowing you as an Orthodox
Christian, I ask you: stop human suffering, prevent division of the
Ukrainian state and of our holy Church.
official rhetoric today is far from being able to calm down the people
of God, both living on the peninsula and in all other parts of Ukraine. A
careless word can lead to unpredictable consequences, and God forbid
turn into a disaster. I urge you as a guardian of the laws of the great
country to stand in the way of division, to prevent bloodshed and
fratricide of the peoples who came from the same baptismal font of
Patriarch Kirill answered the appeal of Metropolitan Onufry on the same
day. He in particular promised to “do everything possible to convince
all those in whose hands is the power, that they should not allow the
death of innocent people.”
An answer has not yet been received from Mr. Putin as of this writing.
The synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that was convened immediately after the change of the government and which elected a Locum Tenens,
made another important decision: it set up a commission on the dialogue
with the Patriarchate of Kiev. This was a bold step, given that
previously any attempt to proceed to an official dialogue was blocked.
is an indication that the religious map of Ukraine can change. The
Churches will not be looking at each other from the trenches through the
sight of guns. Now that they find themselves in the same trenches
fighting the occupation of Ukraine, they feel that they have become
brothers in arms. Hopefully, one day they will find that they are also
brothers in Christ. Today this day has become close as never before.
The data provided by the Department of the religious and national affairs of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine. Available on http://risu.org.ua/ua/index/resourses/statistics/ukr2013/51768/ [accessed February 2, 2014].
Published on the website of the All-Ukrainian Council of the Churches and Religious Organizations: http://vrciro.org.ua/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=218&Itemid=1 [accessed February 3, 2014].
Published on the website of the All-Ukrainian Council of the Churches and Religious Organizations: http://vrciro.org.ua/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=219&Itemid=1 [accessed February 3, 2014].
Published on the website of the All-Ukrainian Council of the Churches and Religious Organizations: http://vrciro.org.ua/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=220&Itemid=1 English translation by the Institute of Religious Freedom in Ukraine: http://www.irf.in.ua/eng/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=387%3A1&catid=34%3Aua&Itemid=61 [accessed February 2, 2014].
Published in the website of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church: http://news.church.ua/2014/03/01/misceblyustitel-kijivskoji-mitropolichoji-kafedri-nadislav-list-svyatishomu-patriarxu-kirilu/ [accessed February 3, 2014].
Published in the website of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church: http://news.church.ua/2014/03/02/misceblyustitel-kijivskoji-mitropolichoji-kafedri-nadislav-list-prezidentu-rosijskoji-federaciji-v-v-putinu/ [accessed February 3, 2014].
Published in the website of the Moscow Patriarchate: http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/3588256.html [accessed February 3, 2014].