Anonymous expert compilation, analysis, and reporting.
The Vozhd makes overt threats, and attributes Russian behaviours to others. In regional Russia, Orthodox religious studies being made compulsory in schools, violating the Russian constitution. Russia provides more funding for Orthodox church groups. In Ukraine, Russia smears Orthodox clerics who refuse to support the Russian mandated schism – this will guarantee eventually a mass defection to the new Ukrainian church. WashPost comments on the schism.
It is interesting to observe the argumentation by authors in the Western media – frequently authors of ethnic Russian extraction appear to be arguing the Russian position, or taking a very soft line on Russia’s improper exploitation of its church as a political tool. This echoes political commentary following the invasion of Crimea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned of “the most serious consequences” over splits in the Orthodox Church after the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople earlier this month announced the decision to proceed to recognize Ukraine’s request for an autocephalous church. The October 11 announcement by Bartholomew, who is considered the leader of the 300-million-strong worldwide Orthodox community, came amid a deepening dispute over the Ukrainian church’s bid to formally break away from Russia’s orbit. It also prompted the Russian Orthodox Church to announce four days later that it was ending its relationship with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in protest. “I want to stress one thing: Political maneuvering in this sensitive area will always lead to the most serious of consequences, especially for those who do it,” Putin said, in his first public comments following the Russian Orthodox Church cutting ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. “Our common duty, above all for the people, is to preserve spiritual and historical unity,” Putin said at a forum gathering representatives of the Russian diaspora in Moscow on October 31. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople’s move has also added to tensions between Kyiv and Moscow, already high since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a stark warning over the religious split driven by political tension between Kiev and Moscow Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday warned of “the most serious consequences” over splits in the Orthodox church after Ukraine was granted the right to form an independent church, enraging Russia. For the first time, Putin commented on the unprecedented religious feud that saw the Russian Orthodox Church break ties with the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul. “I want to stress one thing: politicking such a sensitive sphere always leads to the most serious consequences, especially for those who do it,” he said, speaking at a forum gathering representatives of the Russian diaspora in Moscow, as reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP). Putin, who has overseen the growing authority of the Orthodox church in Russia and who has close ties to Russian Patriarch Kirill, said there are “attempts to break the bonds” between the Russian church and believers abroad. “Our common duty, above all for the people, is to preserve spiritual and historical unity,” he added.
Paul Goble Staunton, October 31 – The Moscow Patriarchate may be on the defensive because of its obvious losses in Ukraine and elsewhere, but it is very much on the offensive in the predominantly Russian regions of the Russian Federation where it is moving to make the study of Orthodoxy compulsory in the schools. Under Russian law, parents are supposed to be able to choose which course on religion or civic ethics they would like their children to be exposed to; but in Pskov Oblast – and likely elsewhere as well – students are being compelled to study “Foundations of Orthodox Culture” (zen.yandex.ru/media/mbkhmedia/mama-na-menia-bog-rasserdilsia-v-pskovskih-shkolah-pervoklashek-obiazali-izuchat-osnovy-pravoslavnoi-kultury). In the first and second classes, it is no longer an elective as the law specifies but a required subject children and their parents have no choice but to follow, according to Boris Kiryukhin, one of the parents of a pupil in Pskov’s School No. 3. He learned his son was being forced to study Orthodoxy only by chance when he saw his boy’s notebook. The school administration had demanded that parents sign a consent form, but Kiryukhin says that he didn’t sign it. Nonetheless, his son is in the class. In his view, the father says, his son is “too young” to be exposed to religion. But the education authorities in Pskov Oblast disagree and are compelling pupils to take the class. Pskov administrators say that the inclusion of Orthodoxy as a required course reflects “the regional, national and ethno-cultural characteristics” of the region. Since Pskov is predominantly ethnic Russian and Orthodox, students must study that faith (znak.com/2018-10-31/v_pskovskih_shkolah_uchenikov_1_i_2_klassov_obyazyvayut_izuchat_pravoslavie). The textbook used in these courses is anything but neutral about Orthodoxy. It blames all of Russia’s problems today on the lack of historical-cultural education and “religious enlightenment” and says that God’s law must be learned and implemented by Russians in order to save their country from disaster. Many parents may have no problem with this or fear what might happen to them or their children if they disagree. But anyone concerned about the provisions of the Russian Constitution which guarantee the separation of church and state should be worried about this stealth introduction of religious propaganda in schools far away from the glare of the Moscow media.
At least 47 organizations (monasteries, parishes, and so on) affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church won federal money in the second contest of the year held by the Presidential Grants Foundation, according to the newspaper Vedomosti. The groups received a total of 55.3 million rubles ($840,000) for dozens of different small projects. The foundation’s general director told reporters that the religious groups’ success is no mystery, given their experience in the “Orthodox Initiative” competition.
Priests like Metropolitan Oleksandr face a choice: join Ukraine’s new independent church and be labeled a renegade by supporters of his own church, or stay away, and risk being branded a Russian agent. It is a decision facing thousands of clerics as Ukraine prepares to sever ties to the Russian Orthodox Church going back to 1686. For the Ukrainian authorities it is an essential step to tackling Russia’s malign influence on its soil, four years after Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people. It may also help President Petro Poroshenko, who championed the split, shore up support in a tight election race next year. But the move is opposed by the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church, which compared it to the Great Schism of 1054 that split western and eastern Christianity. Metropolitan Oleksandr, a member of the traditionally dominant Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), wants to join the new church because of what he calls its poisonous association with the Russian state. “We love Russians, we love Russia, but we don’t love those who have unleashed a war on the part of Russia and who are feeding it today,” he said in an interview. He echoes critics who call his church a tool used by Moscow to justify Russian expansionism and support the separatists. Oleksandr compares setting up the new church to removing a diseased body part by surgery. “The surgical method is painful, but it must be done in the end in order for the body to begin to recover,” the 41-year-old said. His stance comes at a price. The Moscow Patriarchate has labeled those wanting to join the new church as “schismatics”. A high-ranking official, Metropolitan Antoniy, said joining the new church would be a betrayal. In May, the Moscow Patriarchate censured Oleksandr for “obscene” behavior and told him to stop making public statements that could lead his followers into temptation. Separately a video, watched more than 100,000 times on YouTube, called him a “traitor” and portrayed him as corrupt, soft on gay rights and involved in the abduction of two nuns.
President Poroshenko hopes to win votes from the issue of church autonomy. But it is a risky strategy, and some commentators are warning about potential violence. The story of the emergence of an independent, recognized Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been cloaked in impenetrable ecclesiastical language and talk of the Byzantine Empire. We hear about the “Tomos” (decree) issued by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople earlier this month recognizing Ukraine’s “autocephalous” (independent) church. If you are short of time, don’t worry about Byzantium. This is all about contemporary politics. Though hardly an unexpected move, it is also a risky one. There are some 12,000 churches in Ukraine that could become a new Russian-Ukrainian battleground. For more than 300 years, the church in Ukraine has been part of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. After independence in 1991, Ukraine could have followed the route taken by many other East European nations and announced the formation of an autocephalous church, such as that of Bulgaria or Romania. Indeed, if in the early 1990s the Russian church had declared it would accept Ukrainian autocephaly, nothing much might have happened, and it could all have been managed peacefully. After all, Ukraine’s new church will have the same doctrine and quite possibly the same language as the Russian church. Why is it happening now? The split is obviously one more consequence of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict that began in 2014. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who initiated the move, openly says it is a matter of national security and “global geopolitics,” likening it to Ukraine’s ambition to join NATO and the EU.
Things could get violent.
It’s not hard to imagine the Kremlin using religious tensions to further sow division, incite violence, and spread misinformation in Ukraine.
PARIS (RNS) — The head of the world’s Orthodox churches has thrown down the gauntlet to Moscow, risking a split in eastern Christianity after its rich and powerful Russian branch repeatedly supported controversial Kremlin policies and blocked church unity in Ukraine. Faced with a stalemate among three rival churches there, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has declared all three of them valid and urged them to create one independent body for all Ukrainian Orthodox believers. This step, an unusually decisive act in a very slow-moving church, promptly brought accusations of heresy from the Russian Orthodox Church, which has overseen Orthodoxy in Ukraine since 1686. Its Moscow Patriarchate also took the unusual step of breaking communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch. The Moscow Patriarchate, which claims over half of the world’s estimated 250 million to 300 million Orthodox believers, warned that Bartholomew’s step could lead to the biggest division in Christianity since the Great Schism of 1054 separated the Greek-speaking East based in Constantinople from Rome’s Latin-speaking West. On its face, the dispute is about who can decide whether Ukraine can have its own “autocephalous” or autonomous church — the Orthodox world’s spiritual leader in Constantinople (the name the Orthodox still use for the city that became Istanbul in 1453) or Russian Patriarch Kirill in Moscow. The dispute is fueled by a long-simmering political power struggle that challenges a key element of Kremlin influence. The Ukrainian church is so important to Moscow that computer hackers linked to the Kremlin reportedly tapped into the email accounts of Bartholomew’s closest aides to find out what they planned to do about it. “Moscow has created this problem — they shot themselves in the foot by supporting (Russian President) Vladimir Putin, the proxy war in eastern Ukraine and the seizure of Crimea,” said Brandon Gallaher, an Orthodox theologian at the University of Exeter in Britain. “If these things had not happened, this problem probably would have rumbled on for a long time more,” he told RNS.