National Church Controversy in Ukraine

Interfax-Religion brings news from Ukraine:

Ukrainian MP Leonid Grach accused President Victor Yuschenko of arranging a ‘fifth column’ – the Movement for Local (ecclesiastically independent – IF) Ukraine aiming at a union between the canonical Orthodox Church with the schismatics.

‘It is obvious that Ukrainian president as a politician who follows the Euro-Atlantic plan aimed at destroying our single Russian-Ukrainian national entity, feels anxious about the influence that the Moscow Patriarchate has in Ukraine. All Russia’s enemies are anxious about that too,’ the MP said in his statement published on Friday.

The Communist Grach is keen for the Russian Orthodox Church to maintain influence in the country. Lawrence Uzzell, head of International Religious Freedom Watch, explained how the ROC operates in the country to the Moscow Times in summer 2005:

“Members of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine acted as agents of secular Russian political interests” during the 2004 elections, Uzzell said. “There were many instances of members of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine using their influence with their parishioners to get them to vote” for Viktor Yanukovych, the candidate favored by the Kremlin.

Political tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the wake of the Orange Revolution have also fueled Ukrainian desires for a church that is fully independent of Moscow. Currently, Ukraine’s main Orthodox church comes under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate.

“The Moscow Patriarchate is the last surviving Soviet institution both in terms of its statist mentality and its imperialist mentality,” Uzzell said. “In a sense it is an empire-restoring institution that is used by the Russian state as a vehicle for political interference in the affairs of countries like Ukraine.”

President Yuschenko, unsurprisingly, favours a rival national church. ForUm reported a couple of weeks ago:

Victor Yushchenko has met with Metropolitan Mefodiy, head of the Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox Church, President’s press office informs.

…Although the President believes “the unification of Ukraine’s Orthodox churches will contribute to the nation’s spiritual unity,” he said the government should not interfere with this process. He expressed hopes the country’s religious leaders would compromise without any “preliminary demands.”

Although “the government” is supposedly not directing the drive for unity, it just so happens that Yuschenko’s brother is the person taking the initiative:

Ukrainian National Deputy Petro Yushchenko, brother of President Viktor Yushchenko, will head the civic organization A National Church for Ukraine, created on 3 March 2007. The goal of the group is to contribute to the development of the unification process of Ukrainian Orthodoxy and the creation of a single national church.

Grach’s complaints about all this follow complaints from pro-ROC groups, including the Union of Orthodox Citizens:

Valery Kaurov, leader of the Union of Orthodox Citizens in Ukraine, believes the idea of Ukraine’s joining NATO has been actively used by Ukrainian nationalist groups who would like to propagate their Russophobic ideology through the bloc.

‘The ideologists of Ukraine’s membership in NATO have thrown in the slogan ‘Independent Church to independent Ukraine!’ They intend to make the Ukrainian Orthodox Church a national church fully separated from the Russian Orthodox Church…’

Kaurov discusses his organisation in more depth here, where he tells us that:

…The main tasks of the organizations headed by Kaurov include the struggle against “schismatics” (the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church), “Catholic-Uniate proselytism” (the Ukrainian Greek and Roman Catholic churches), and the “Orange regime that fights against God.” They believe they are following the directions of the church fathers, who taught to struggle against the enemies of the faith and church. In Kaurov’s opinion, “only traditional denominations should operate within the territory of Ukraine and a law restricting the activity of totalitarian sects should be passed.”

…The leader of the UOCU considers all the other denominations to be “religious formations brought to the country from abroad by order of the Washington Regional Committee [“Obkom,” which traditionally in the USSR was understood as being part of the Communist Party]. According to Kaurov, the objective of non-traditional denominations is “destruction of the spirituality and historic memory of the people of our country, elimination of Orthodoxy and separation from the Russian Orthodox Church.”

The Union is an offshoot of a Russian body which I blogged on a few days ago in relation to a nationalist take-over of the sociology department at Moscow State University.

Grach, meanwhile, goes on to make an odd complaint for a Communist:

‘The president who uses TV to actively pose himself a believer and likes being filmed near Orthodox icons, in practice follows the worst antireligious traditions,’ the deputy added.

Grach is a rather contradictory character, and a recent article on human rights in Ukraine gives a bit of background:

…We will leave Mr Grach’s political views as between him and his maker (-?). However as Head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on HUMAN RIGHTS, one would hardly expect to hear that “the State should protect people from such evil as homosexuality, lesbianism and suchlike”.

…Mr Grach’s comments have been coming thick and fast over the last few months (cf [here] for about as much detail as can be stomached in one sitting).

Grach also rails against the Tatar minority of his native Crimea, accusing them (falsely) of harbouring wahabis, Chechen terrorists, and “CIA-supported insurgents” (1).

However, Yuschenko’s supporters are not shy at bringing in religion to back their man; Interfax recently showed the following remarkable picture, painted by a Greek-Catholic priest:

Apparently, it depicts

…Ukrainian President Victor Yuschenko sitting on clouds, with the Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir and Princess Olga standing on his right and left.


…a little lower on the same icon-like canvas there is another image of Yuschenko sitting now on a throne and holding a club in one hand and a vessel with a poison in the other, believed to be used to poison him during his presidential election campaign.

Spread above the throne is the revolutionary ‘orange’ Maidan square, picturing in the forefront the self-proclaimed Patriarch of Kiev, Philaret Denisenko, together with leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics Lyubomir Husar, as well as Yulia Timoshenko, Anatoly Kinakh, Alexander Moroz and other Ukrainian politicians.

One is inevitably reminded of this:


(1) See Arno Tanner, The Forgotten Minorities of Eastern Europe: The History and Today of Selected Ethnic Groups in Five Countries, p. 50.