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According to the Ukrainian Constitution, the country is secular, where its churches and all religious organisations are separated from the state and the legislative process. According to theologian Gennadiy Druzenko, in the regional scope, Ukraine
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  THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH - A POWERFUL PEACE ACTOR? According to the Ukrainian Constitution, the country is secular, where its churches and all religious organisations are separated from the state and the legislative process. According to theologian Gennadiy Druzenko, in the regional scope, Ukraine might be described as one of the most religious countries in Europe. 1  Demonstrated by the history of the Ukrainian Church, dating  back to the time of the Kyivan Rus, when its Prince Volodymyr the Great received Christianity from Constantinople in 988. It was one of the most remarkable events in the creation of the Ukrainian state, that united the Ukrainian people spiritually. However, it further served as an instrument of manipulation and basis for lies from the Russian side so as to justify its right to exert control over Ukraine. Further centuries are marked by a constant fight of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC KP), Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP), one of the most pivotal soft instruments of the Russian hybrid warfare and Russian foreign policy in promoting ideas of the so- called “Russian World”, in an attempt to become a powerful actor in t he international arena and win the hearts and minds of Ukrainians. During the “Ukraine crisis”, which broke out in 2014 after the illegal annexation of Crimea and the manifestations of Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine, the question of the religious independence from Russia has become more  pressing than ever. Finally, on January 9th, 2019, a historical event took place  –   the Ecumenical Patriarchate Bartholomew signed the Tomos (a decree), as a result the newly-established Orthodox Church of Ukraine was granted its canonical independence. The long history of the Ukrainian Church and recent events illustrate the high importance of this institution in the life of the Ukraine’s civil society and political/geopolitical spheres. According to the Razumkov Cent re’s surveys –   70.4% of Ukrainians declare a trust in God regardless of church attendance. 2  Moreover, 74.1% of Ukrainians believe that religious leaders have to defend the interests of the poorest groups of citizens;, 71% suppose that religion strengthens  people’s morality and spirituality;, 64% perceive religion as an important way to revive national identity and culture; and , more than 50% regard religion as an element of a democratic society and a  political life. 3  The poll, which was conducted in March 2019, once again underscores the fact 1 Gennadiy Druzenko, “Religion and the Secular State in Ukraine”, in J Martinez -Torron and W C Durham, Jr. (eds) , 2010, p. 719. Available at: 2  Razumkov Center: Majority in Ukraine Believe in God, May 26, 2016, (consulted on 3.02.2019) 3  Myk  hailo Mischenko, “The Society’s expectations of Church and Interchurch Relations (public opinion survey)”, Razumkov Centre, November 13, 2018, (consulted on 3.02.2019)  that people do not trust state institutions but express their highest level of trust to civil organizations and the Church: 68% trust volunteer organisations;, 61% - trust Ukraine’s Armed Forces and the church;, 57% - trust the State Emergency Service;, 56% - trust volunteer  battalions. 4  All these figures vividly show that Ukrainian civil society perceives the role of the Church as one of the most important in social and also political life, especially in the context of Russian aggression and socio-political turmoil inside the country. So, on the background of the Russian hybrid war and the negative influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the whole EaP (Eastern Partnership Region), the role of the Church in peace-mediation seems to be decisive and to some extent, underestimated. This current paper aims to analyse the role of the Church in peace mediation versus conflict  promotion in the case of Ukraine, addressing such issues as: -   Official relations between and within different churches in the country and show impacts of this in reality;   -   The official position of the UOC KP and UAOC towards the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the illegal annexation of Crimea, possible future reconciliation and current geopolitical challenges, reactions to fake news and disinformation;   -   The official position of the Church, position on the ground and the reaction on the discrimination against LGBT, religious and ethnic minorities;   -   Based on these points we will analyse whether the Church promotes peace or encourages conflicts in Ukraine, trying to answer whether the Church as an institution could serve as a powerful peace actor or not.   Regarding the multifaceted and philosophical nature of religion, the methodology of the current study will be based on qualitative and interpretive approaches, so as to comprehend deeper the relationship between religion and conflict/peacemaking. The particular case-study of Ukraine will help us grasp whether religion is driver of peace or violence in this country. 5  Media interviews, blogs, official documents, and interviews on the ground present the main sources for the current case-study. Before reflecting upon official positions of churches towards various issues, it is worth elucidating which churches exist in Ukraine and what are their official relations, especially after Ukraine received Tomos (a decree that granted autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church); and what consequences it has in reality. As mentioned, Ukraine enjoys a diverse religious 4 Razumkov Centre, “ Riven doviry do suspilnykh instytutiv ta elektoralni oriyentatsiyi hromadyan Ukrayiny ” , 27 March, 2019, (consulted on 30.03.2019)   5  The British Academy, The Role of Religion in Conflict and Peacebuilding  , London, September 2015, p. 11  landscape and the UOC has a long history and its own path towards its independence with strong national associations. 6  According to Nicholas Denysenko, a professor of theology at Valparaiso University and an ordained deacon of the Orthodo x Church in America, “throughout the Soviet and post-Soviet period, autocephalous Ukrainian churches have existed, both in Ukraine and outside of it. While these churches had not yet received formal recognition from their sister Orthodox churches throughout the world, their existence through Soviet persecution and the Cold War demonstrates the Ukrainian determination to renew the Kyivan Metropolia as an autocephalous church”. 7  The UAOC was established in 1919 but then integrated into the MP in 1930. 8  This church emerged between 1942 and 1989 without any canonical recognition from the family of other Orthodox churches worldwide. Finally, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the UOC resumed its efforts to gain independence in 1990, when the Moscow Patriarchate “granted greater ecclesial autonomy to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and they became known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church”. 9  Filaret tried to form the autocephalous UOC without the Patriarch Mstyslav that led to “a split within the autocephalous  church between those loyal to Mstyslav and those linked to Filaret, who now call themselves the Ukrainian Orthodox Church- Kiev Patriarchate.” 10  The UOC KP managed to announce its ecclesiastical independence from Moscow in 1992, having elected its own head  –   Patriarch Volodymyr (Sabodan) during a council of bishops in Kharkiv, who was replaced by Filaret in 1995. The UAOC has elected Volodymyr Jarema as its Patriarch. As a result, such divisions led to the existence of three separate  jurisdictions in Ukraine  –   UAOC, UOC KP, UOC MP which divide rather than unite the civil society. It is worth mentioning that the UAOC and UOC KP present themselves as soft instruments of Ukrainian nationalism, trying to cut all links with the pro-Russian UOC MP, that has recognised the Patriarch of Moscow as its head. Until 2018, the UOC MP was the only church in Ukraine recognised canonically by the whole Orthodox community. 11  The major  prerequisites for the Ukrainian Church to finally gain independence from the powerful Kremlin influence became more visible than ever during the next deterioration of relations between 6  Nicholas E. Denysenko, “Chaos in Ukraine: the churches and the search for leadership”, in:  International journal  for the Study of the Christian Church , June 2014, p. 5 7 Olena Goncharova, “Honest History: Ukraine’s Orthodox Church battles for independence”, Kyiv Post, June 15, 2018, (consulted on 3.02.2019) 8   Ronald G. Roberson, “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church –   Kiev Patriarchate and Ukrainian Autocephalous Church”, July 2007,, (consulted on 3.02.2019) 9    Nicholas E. Denysenko, “Chaos in Ukraine: the churches and the search for leadership”, in:  International journal  for the Study of the Christian Church , June 2014, p. 3 10  Ronald G. Roberson, op.cit. 11   Irina du Quenoy, “Church and State in Ukraine and the Power of Politics of Orthodox Christianity”, February 14, 2019,, (consulted on 1.04.2019)    Ukraine and Russia, in the background of great geopolitical events that clearly espouse with ecclesial claims. In 2014, former Ukrainian, often called pro-Russian, President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the European Union. An ordinary act, at first sight, that led to bloody clashes between Ukrainian people and security forces, and the fleeing of Yanukovych to Russia. What beca me known as “The Revolution of Dignity” has truly shown the aspiration of Ukrainians for a better life. Despite the people’s protest, the political turmoil in Ukraine led to the swift actions by Russian President Vladimir Putin, namely: - the illegal annexation of Crimea;, - the unannounced war in Eastern Ukraine;, - Russian hybrid aggression, - the persecution of Ukrainians in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, which turned many of them into  political prisoners etc. In such harsh times, the role of the Church seems to be more important and relevant, taking into account the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church is one of the most powerful soft tools of Russian hybrid warfare, which is used to win hearts and minds of civil societies of its target countries. As such we must ask, what are the official positions of the UOC KP and UOC towards the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the illegal annexation of Crimea, possible future reconciliation and current geopolitical challenges? Does the Church truly help unite the Ukrainian people in such times of war or not? How will the Ukrainian Tomos impact the geopolitical situation in the EaP region versus Russia? What could Church do to help resolve/trespass the Donbas conflict? Lastly, what could the Church do to h elp the country’s growing number of internally displaced  persons (IDPS)? Before the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, the general religious situation was fairly stable as the Ukrainian model of the church-state relations presupposes the separation of church and state enshrined in the Constitution. 12  According to the American sociologist of religion Jose Casanova, the Ukrainian model of church-state relations implies the equality of all religions  before the Constitution and ensures their development on the basis of free competition. 13  The reasons for such Ukrainian church-state relations have been identified by the Ukrainian religious studies scholar and president of the Ukrainian Association of Religious Freedom Victor Yelensky. First, due to the presence of multiple centres of power, none of the religious organisations have a dominant position and all of them are interested in maintaining high legal standards of religious freedom. Second, religion is not a key element of Ukrainian statehood. Third, a high level of religious freedom has never been a threat to the positions of power. Finally, there is a high level of tolerance towards people of other religions that developed 12  Iuliia Korniichuk, The Impact of the Russian-Ukrainian Military Conflict on Religious Life in Ukraine, National Pedagogical Dragomanov University Ukraine, 2016, p. 1. 13  Ibid, p. 2  through Ukraine’s history. Moreover, the idea to obtain canonical independence for the sing le UOC was on the political agenda since Ukraine’s independence per se, but due to the huge influence of the UOC-MP and inter-church feuds could not have been fully realised. 14  The pre-Maidan period could be characterized by such a well-known proverb  –    “whe re there are two Ukrainians, there are three hetmans”. 15  The religious situation began to deteriorate since the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych in 2010. His reign was marked by his pro-Russian position and attempts to give preferences to certain churches. E ven at the legislative level, there was an attempt to inscribe into law the “Declaration on the dignity, freedom and human rights”, where the government had to abandon equal treatment of all religious organisations and build relationships with them “depend ing on their size, level of conformism with the country or region, their contribution to the history and culture and their civic position”. 16  The Revolution of Dignity led not only to deep polarisation among the civil society, but also to  polarisation in official positions of various churches in Ukraine, regarding the issue of the European integration. The UOC KP fully supported the aspirations of people who fought and died on the Maidan Square, whereas the UOC MP rejected any ideas of Ukrainian rapprochement with the EU. The UAOC openly proclaimed that they fully supported the rapprochement with the so- called “Christian” Europe. During the revolt, St. Michael’s Cathedral became a shelter and a kind of a symbol to the  protesters. One of the witnesses of thos e events said: “The carpets are laid for the protesters, they are fed and given tea”. 17  Other cathedrals followed this example and worked around-the-clock for all who needed to rest. 18  Cathedrals were also used to mobilize people, for instance during another attempt to assault Maidan on the night of December 2013, the monks of the Cathedral sounded the bells, as they always mobilised people in hard times. Father Agafiy remembers  people who phoned and begged him to ring the bells of the St. Michael Cathedral on the night of 10 to 11 December, so as to awaken the Kievans who could come to Maidan and help. 19  During all violent clashes between civic protesters and the police on the street Grushevskiy, the priests 14  Jose Casanova,  Between Nation and Civil Society: Ethnolinguistic and religious Pluralism in Independent Ukraine, in: Democratic Civility: The History and Cross-Cultural Possibility of a Modern Political Ideal, ed. by R.Hefner, 1998, p. 215   15  Geraldine Fagan and Aleksandr Shchipkov, Rome is not our Father, but neither is Moscow our Mother: Will there  be a Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church?, in: Religion, State and Society, August 2010, p. 3. Hetman - head of state 16  Ibid. 17  Vladislav M altsev, “ Tserkvy vyshly na Maydan ”, Relihiya v Ukrayini і, 2013,, (consulted on 3.02.2019) 18  Ibid. 19  Ibid.
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