Ukrainian faithful of Moscow Patriarchate against Putin's invasion
by Vladimir Rozanskij

65.2% share the position of the autocephalous Church, which supports the government in Kiev. Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev) has so far avoided commenting on the issue, and as early as 2014 had distanced himself from the annexation of Crimea



Moscow (AsiaNews) - A survey by the "Razumkov" centre on the orientations of the Orthodox in Ukraine regarding the conflict with Russia reveals that the Russian agression is not approved even by the majority of the Ukrainian faithful of the Moscow patriarchate. Rather, 65.2% of those surveyed agreed with the position of the autocephalous Church, which supports the government in Kiev.

In spite of all Putin's proclamations about the great Russia, which he says historically also includes Ukraine and Belarus, the Orthodox Church does not seem to support this "imperial" variant of the "sobornost", the universal unity that constitutes the major historical-theological category of Russian religious culture, even in Moscow.

Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev) has so far avoided commenting on the matter, and back in 2014 he had already distanced himself from the annexation of Crimea, which remained under Ukrainian ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Patriarchal spokesman Vladimir Legojda limited himself to stating that "the Church cannot recognise nations, but respects the choices of peoples".

Rather, the "Muscovite" Orthodox complain of the Kiev government's favouritism towards autocephalous Churches, whose size is much smaller than the pro-Russian Churches. However, the survey belies these claims: 47% believe that the authorities do not side with any of the Churches on Ukrainian territory, and only 10% agree with Moscow's accusations, less than a third of the local faithful.

The survey also explains that most Ukrainians also link the Russian military and political invasion with religious dimensions. While previously Ukrainians did not pay much attention to differences in jurisdiction (Muscovites, autocephalous, Greek Catholics, other minor Churches), the liturgical and doctrinal tradition being unique and often shared in mixed families, today the popularity of the pro-Russian Church is rapidly collapsing, despite its proclaimed loyalty to the Ukrainian State.

The faithful of Russian obedience are calculated at around 30% of all Ukrainian Orthodox, but the survey shows approval at around 12%, more than 5% less than last year. It is difficult to verify these percentages directly in church attendance, given the pandemic restrictions, but it seems clear that the "Moscow Patriarchate" sign in front of the church is increasingly becoming an inconvenient warning for parish priests.

However, the respect comanded by the head of the Moscow Orthodox in Ukraine, Kiev Metropolitan Onufryj (Berezovskij), whose estimated population is 33.5%, remains high. Onufryj (see photo) has always held a very balanced position, even in the face of Constantinople's granting of autocephaly in 2019, a dimension of Church life that he himself had declared himself in favour of in the 1990s. His Church retains the denomination "of the Moscow Patriarchate", which the State would like to remove, arousing the anger of Patriarch Kirill, but Onufryj has never tied his authority too closely to that reference, feeling in any case fully autonomous, even though he is part of the Moscow Synod.

Metropolitan Ilarion (Šukalo) of the Donbass has also tried to maintain an open position towards all the faithful and citizens of the region, extolling their deep faith without using it as a partisan argument in the war and political conflict. The patriarch of Moscow, on the other hand, is regarded in Ukraine more as a political leader than a spiritual guide, and the esteem in which he is held has dropped dramatically, to below 20% from almost 50% 10 years ago.

Kirill is also aware that the loss of the Ukrainian Orthodox would mean condemning the patriarchate of Moscow to reduced role in universal Orthodoxy, where today Russians and Ukrainians together account for over 70% of the believers of all 15 autocephalous Churches. Ukraine is the land of the original Baptism of 988, and still today it is the motherland of the Russian Orthodox faith, which survives all wars.