» 08/09/2014, 00.00
Russian-Ukrainian tensions slide towards religious intolerance
Priests and faithful of the different Churches are attacked by pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian groups. The Greek-catholic accused of fomenting Ukrainian separatism. The religious and political hegemonic aims of the Patriarchate and Moscow.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - One of the most insidious and difficult
to understand aspects of the conflict in Ukraine, which has lasted for many
months, is the religious intolerance of the parties involved, which has
recently resulted in serious incidents of violence and intimidation against the
faithful and religious themselves. The current leader of the Metropolia of
Kiev, bishop Onufrij (Berezovsky), expressed his outrage in recent days
following unspeakable actions carried out by military government troops in the
Ukrainian Donbass, in the province of Donetsk, in the district of Amvrosiev and
other "hotbeds" in the country.
Since the very beginning of the Majdan riots, Onufrij - who has
been in charge of the Ukrainian Metropolian see loyal to Moscow for several
months, because of illness and death of Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan) - to
avoid the confessional differences becoming weapons of war. Yet his statements seem to voice the defeat
of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which has been forced to take sides between
the warring parties. Even Greek-catholic hierarchies have begun to raise their
voices in defence of their trampled upon rights.
Considering the particular fragmentation of the Ukrainian
religious milieu, the distance taken by the individual Churches during of the
most acute phases of the upheaval seemed like a miracle. The effort to maintain
balance and mutual respect, despite the difficulty of bridging an incurable
distrust, has thus far been undertaken and shared by all members of the clergy
and of the nations' spiritual leaders. The religious background of the conflict
in Ukraine is deeply imbedded, precisely because it has always developed the
very identity of the various factions of the Ukrainian people; the inhabitants
of the country are not separated by race - belonging as they do to the peoples
of the "Great Russia" be they in Moscow, Kiev or Minsk - nor by
language, which ranges from contiguity to Polish an Russian and Turkish-Caucasian
dialects, but is actually the same for everyone. The linguistic motivations in
favor of Russian or Ukrainian, which were used as formal reasons for the various
local revolts, in truth hid the only real reason for the divisions: Religious
differences. The Ukrainians are divided into pro-Russian Orthodox, Orthodox
Ukrainian nationalists, Catholic "Uniates" and Latin-rite Catholics,
and the war of religion has always developed among these denominations of the one
Christian religion, given the fact that as a people they have always been very
refractory to other denominations, including Protestantism; the Jews, who in
the last century formed a rather significant community, were literally removed,
forming the original base of the new state of Israel after World War II, so anti-Semitism
is not a part of this entire feud that is internal to Christianity.
The "day of reckoning" after the USSR
The recent episodes of intolerance, moreover, closely
resemble and are related to those of twenty years ago, when the collapse of the
USSR in 1991 caused an immediate "showdown" between the Christians:
The Orthodox Church split into several parts: the Greek-catholics came out of
hiding to re-take, often by force, churches confiscated under Stalin, even
among Uniate and Latin Catholics there were moments of great tension. The
parishes and churches, the few remaining from Soviet times and the many
recently rebuilt, are a constant source of contention, depending on the
changing orientation of the priests and their faithful, whose families are
often made up of members belonging to different confessional and
ecclesiastical realities. The propaganda of both sides, material or spiritual
advantages, and today unfortunately, weapons, are tipping the scales in
different directions each day, in a frenzied search for identity, which also plagues
Beyond all ideological, historical and theological motivations,
lies the great claim of the Moscow Patriarchate, which since the collapse of
the Soviet empire has reiterated the theory of the "integrity of canonical
territory", in short, the power of Moscow's jurisdiction over all Orthodox
faithful of the ex-Soviet republics, including Ukraine. The question has actually
been ongoing for centuries, when Moscow proclaimed patriarchal autocephaly in
the late sixteenth century, and at the same time many Ukrainian diocese joined
the Union with the Pope of Rome. The two different interpretations of
Christianity by Russia and Ukraine, the Russian-centric and the Roman-centric,
have generated endless and unresolved conflicts have, now compounded by the
national autonomist variant, in reaction to Soviet imperialist oppression. It
is no small coincidence that Moscow almost immediately laid the blame at the
door of the Greek-Catholics, accusing them of being the instigators of the Majdan
revolt, using the infamous appellative of banderovtsy,
followers of Stepan Bandera, the duplicitous politician during the conflict
between the Soviets and the Nazis , who was Greek-Catholic. The Vatican, in
turn has been accused by Moscow of being unable to control the Uniates, is in
obvious difficulty and does not know which path to take the confessional or
The chickens are coming home to roost, and even if the Ukrainian
military and political puzzle is ever solved, the question of "canonical
territory" of the "Russian world" as Putin himself calls it,
will remain: it is the last religious war of Europe's Christians before they
disappear altogether from the "old continent" and give in to the cynical
indifference of the West, a mankind without roots. In Russian lands people are
still fighting for the Gospel, over who should represent it in today's world
(and not just in Ukraine).
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