08/09/2014, 00.00
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Russian-Ukrainian tensions slide towards religious intolerance

by Vladimir Rozanskij
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.

Religious differences

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 Ukrainian politics.

Moscow's claims

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 ecumenical.

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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See also
Pope Francis' Prayer for Ukraine
26/01/2022 09:40
Moscow Patriarchate: "Uniates" too aggressive, threaten dialogue with the Catholic Church
08/08/2016 15:33
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Ukraine, a land scorched by history
Pope expresses “deep gratitude for the loyalty” of the Ukrainian Church, which remembers its martyrdom
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