Russian Orthodox Church About To Undergo A Split Over Ukraine

Orthodox Christians in the Ukraine are preparing to split from the Russian Orthodox Church the anger of the Russians at a time when Ukraine as a nation is politically divided according to a report:

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko says top clerics in the Orthodox Church are now ready to grant independence to the Kiev Church, defying Moscow.

If the Constantinople Patriarch, Bartholomew, grants Kiev autocephaly (independence) he will be recognising its split with the Moscow Patriarchate.

On Friday Russia’s Patriarch Kirill met Bartholomew in Istanbul. They did not resolve the Kiev Church’s status.

Russia sees Kiev as the historic cradle of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a staunch ally of Patriarch Kirill, is bitterly opposed to President Poroshenko. There is a tense standoff in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government troops and Russian-backed rebels.

In a tweet on Monday Mr Poroshenko said Bartholomew’s Ecumenical Patriarchate had “decided that, without taking account of Moscow’s opinion, it can give all states the right to establish a local church.

“And first of all it is the right for Ukraine to set up a Local Congregation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”

On Facebook a spokesman for the Kiev Patriarchate said the move to grant independence was going ahead.

“The Ecumenical Patriarch explained to the Russian delegation that the decision had been taken and that the relevant procedures were under way,” Archbishop Yevstratiy Zorya wrote.

What is the dispute all about?

Tensions within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church mounted after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ukraine won independence, and with communism discredited there was a huge revival in Christian worship.

For centuries, before the Soviet period, the Russian Orthodox Church had been identified with the Russian state, allying its interests with those of the tsar.

The Russian nationalist revival under Boris Yeltsin, then under Vladimir Putin, boosted the Church’s authority and determination to stay in charge of the Ukrainian churches.

In the early Middle Ages Christianity spread to the rest of Russia from Kievan Rus, which was the origin of the Russian state.

Today there are three Orthodox Church branches based in Kiev:

the Kiev Patriarchate, headed by Metropolitan Filaret, which does not recognise Moscow’s authority
the Ukrainian Orthodox Church loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate
and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which broke away from Moscow’s control during World War Two.
The branch loyal to Kirill remains the biggest, but a formal schism could lead many of its followers to join the Kiev Patriarchate.

The Moscow Patriarchate’s position is that the Ukrainian “schismatics” should repent and return to the Russian Orthodox fold.

But there is also rivalry between Kirill’s powerful Moscow Patriarchate – which has an estimated 150 million followers – and the Ecumenical Patriarchate under Bartholomew, who is seen as first among equals in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The rivalry has been there for centuries, dating back to the Byzantine and Russian empires. Ukraine was part of the Russian empire, but many of its worshippers looked to Constantinople (later Istanbul), rather than Moscow for spiritual guidance.

Speaking after his talks in Istanbul, Patriarch Kirill said he and Patriarch Bartholomew had discussed “all the problems on the agenda” and it was “a dialogue between two brothers”.

“There was nothing secret at the meeting, nothing that could sort of explode one’s conscience,” he said, without giving any specifics. Their talks lasted nearly three hours. (source)

I don’t want to focus on the theological issues between the Catholic and the Orthodox, as comparatively speaking most issues are minor, being one of cultural emphasis within the liturgy that while being different do not mean a theological error and hence, the issues that exist being those of schism but not heresy.

The source of schism is ultimately a specter which the Orthodox cannot shake as their schism is bound with its presence, and that is the different forms and tendencies of the churches to phyletism, which is another word for nationalism.

Nationalism has always been a problem in Christianity and for that matter, is a problem which affects all religions. This is not to say that one cannot love one’s country, but rather it is the co-mingling of the two that creates problems, often of which is related to the equivocation of patriotism with religious piety. This problem affects the Orthodox more than the Catholics because while the problem can be found in both, the Catholic Church emphasizes the universality of Christian brotherhood first (hence the word “catholicos,” meaning “universal”) in its relationship with a government so that identity is understood to transcend race, time, and tribe. This was also one of the major issues with the Catholic-Protestant split, as while there were theological issues, it was driven by nationalism and a desire to subjugate the Church to the will of the government and national identity.

This is contrasted to the Orthodox and much of the Christian east, that while also it teaches the same, has historically been identified with the particular races that it has converted. As such there is an Orthodox Church for many different ethnic groups- Bulgarians, Greeks, Romanians and Russians to name a few among the many. However, the emphasis on the ethnicity within the identity of the Church naturally paces a tribal identity with the practice of the religion. This is exacerbated by the rejection of the primacy of St. Peter as articulated in Matthew’s Gospel, and in so doing allows for the Church not per se to reject tradition, but to bind oneself to it in such a way as to be unable to articulate clear, consistent, and defined answers to issues of faith and morals outside of that which has already been discussed in the past. The result is that the ensuing autocephaly, which the Orthodox Church promotes, leads to a tribalized version of Christianity that unintentionally perpetuates the very identitarianism that Christ came to fight among the many evils he confronted, but with a Christian flavor that leaves itself open to the possible influence of heresy.

It is to be noted that the Orthodox officially condemned phyletism in 1872, and rightly so. However, it is a problem that will never disappear because of the tribal identities bound up with each Church. One can see this in the Russian Orthodox Church, which for all of the good that it has done, was embraced by the Russian population specifically as a form of national identity and, far from being something that brought Russia into communion with the peoples of the world as with the Catholic Church (one only needs to look at the evangelical effort of the Spanish and Portuguese throughout the Americas and Asia ti see this), Orthodoxy tended to serve as a measure of one’s patriotism and as such was a form of chosen isolationism.

The issue of Ukraine splitting from the Russian Orthodox Church becomes even more serious because it is compounded by an inseparable nationalism bound to the tribal destiny of the nation itself. Ukraine is the ethnic homeland of the Russian people, as the formal Christianization of the Rus’ tribe took place in Kiev in 988, and for centuries Ukraine was considered an extension of Russia because of the shared history and tribal affinity. This was likewise the great danger of the American and “European” (read: German) backed invasion of Ukraine through the support of neo-Nazi terrorist groups, because the splitting of Ukraine is a split among the Russian people itself between “Russia” as a nation and the “Western” world. The recognition of Ukraine as having their own autocephalous branch of the Orthodox Church reinforces this division of tribal identity that is ultimately intended to be an attack on Russia as an extension of Operation Gladio, as this comes at a time when Islam is rising in Russia due to migration and birthrates of Muslims, while Christianity in general has declined not only over issues of practice, but the refusal to reproduce as evidenced by the abortion rates, prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and the below-replacement fertility rates.

It is good for nations to dedicate themselves to God. However, national identity and Faith are not, cannot be, and never will be synonymous, and if one must choose between the two, it must always be for God over tribe, race, or other affiliation regardless of what that affiliation may be. For anything less than emphasizing the universality of Christ’s saving mission to all men of all nations is to place oneself on the road to tribalism.