Poroshenko’s Orthodoxy-Split Gambit – What does Western Media say?

By Alexandra Kharchenko


By Alexandra Kharchenko – Ukraine has created an independent Orthodox church, the  Orthodox Church of Ukraine, at the height of the conflict with Russia, but President Poroshenko is trying to use the religious issue in his election campaign to save the rating, which collapsed because of corruption and poverty in the country.

On the one hand, the newly created OCU is freedom from Moscow, on the other – a major interchurch split in Christianity for the first time in a thousand years, which threatens massacres at temples and bloodshed in Ukraine.

This is how the Western media described the “unifying council” and the election of the colleague of Filaret, 39-year-old Epiphanius, as the head of the OCU.

Presidential Campaign Center

“The president, who accused the church (Moscow Patriarchate – Ed. ) of being an agent of Kremlin influence, hopes that the leading role he played in forming an independent church will increase his chances of re-election in March 2019″ , – writes the Financial Times in an article “The Ukrainian Church Splits From Moscow.”

“Mr. Poroshenko placed the church’s problem at the center of his re-election campaign, but public opinion polls put him in third place amid anger over corruption and economic inequality,” echoes the  Wall Street Journal .

In general, the West predictably welcomes the creation of the OCU which is commonly referred to as Poroshenko’s quote  “church without Putin,” calling it his “significant victory” and failure for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who “used the countries’ common cultures and past to justify a Ukraine in the sphere of influence of the Kremlin. ” 

In the West, in the creation of a new church, they see “real independence from Russia.”

“The Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, has long been a supporter of close ties with Russia, supporting politicians supported by Moscow, and in recent years has made mostly vague statements calling for peace without condemning Mr. Putin,” writes Wall Street Journal.

“Certainly, the path of the new church is fraught with obstacles: Russia opposed its creation, and the Ukrainian church will face the battle to attract clergy and parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate,” the Wall Street Journal writes, and also about possible bloodshed if the Ukrainian government and the new church try to take control of the religious buildings that the Moscow Patriarchate uses.

ABC News  also notes increasing property disputes.

“The new Ukrainian church seeks to take control of the church, currently controlled by the Moscow Patriarchate,” writes the publication.

“The Security Service of Ukraine has searched several religious buildings of the church in recent weeks as part of an investigation into the spread of religious hatred. The Moscow Patriarchate called it an unreasonable pressure campaign,” reports Wall Street Journal.

The Financial Times quotes Patriarch Cyril, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who called the OCU  “a false church serving as the devil.”


“You serve the devil, and I serve God”

On the government backed raids on the church of the UOC-MP (as it is called directly – a raid), Reuters  wrote a whole story. According to journalists, the situation in the city of Korosten of the Zhytomyr region illustrates the prelude to the battle for churches and parishes that threatens Ukraine.

“Archpriest Anatoly, the senior priest in the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ, viewed this raid as a hostile act in the battle between the two main Orthodox branches of Ukraine, which is part of a wider political conflict between Ukraine and Russia,” writes Reuters.

“I told them: you have your own methods, you have your own strength, and we have our own strength. You serve the devil, and I serve God,” the agency quotes the priest Anatoly (UOC MP).

“These are their usual methods: intimidation, intimidation, terror,” he said, rejecting the allegations of the SBU security service (which accuses the MP church of spreading religious hatred, – Ed. )

Anatoly said he did not recognize the decision of Istanbul and the creation of a new church.

“This is not a council – this is a meeting of bandits who have gathered to do their job – to seize the temples and destroy the church,” said the priest to Reuters.

The church, the agency recalls, was held in a period of heightened tension between Kiev and Moscow, and the Russian Orthodox Church calls it the greatest schism in Christianity in 1000 years.

“The Moscow Patriarchate considers itself the only true church, but the authorities accuse him of being a Kremlin puppet helping to spread Russian propaganda. The Moscow Patriarchate denies this and calls the independent church a trick of Poroshenko to raise his ratings before the presidential elections in March,” Reuters writes .

Do not become a division of the Presidential Administration

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Despite the general tone of “peremoga” in the foreign media, the idea that the new church runs the risk of becoming a branch of the government is pretty obvious to many.

“Poroshenko fulfilled his historic mission. Now it is very important that he, as the informal founder of the united Orthodox Church of Ukraine, does not turn it into one of the divisions of the Presidential Administration,” writes journalist Sergei Rudenko in a column in the Deutsche Welle publication .

The journalist admits that Poroshenko really interfered in the affairs of the church, but this supposedly has an excuse – he did it in the context of “undisguised aggression of Russia.” At this moment, the presence of a single Orthodox church is a question “no less important for the country than the existence of a strong army,” writes Rudenko.

At the same time, the creation of the OCU threatens to further aggravate relations with Russia, which, naturally, will postpone the onset of peace in the Donbas.

Epiphania’s election, Bloomberg writes , reinforced the split with the Russian church, which “further aggravated the relations between the two former allies.”

“Shadow of Philaret” with the knowledge of Greek

Epiphany himself in the West is praised for his knowledge of Greek, spoken by the leaders of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

“The religious studies of Metropolitan Epiphanius in Athens and knowledge of the Greek language are expected to help improve relations with the leadership of world Orthodoxy,” writes the Financial Times.

“His knowledge of the Greek language can be a significant plus in the light of active cooperation with Constantinople, since the language of communication will be Greek,” agrees the BBC.

But there is wariness towards Epiphanius. Cautions causes both his young age for such a position and rapid career growth. And also its proximity to Filaret, which may cause questions for Fanar (a district in Istanbul, where the Ecumenical Patriarchate is located).

“Metropolitan Epiphanius’s youth is compensated for by his swift career and five years of work as Deputy Patriarch for Philaret. Epiphania is considered remote from the main groups of influence in the church and close to the patriarch”, it continued, “which Constantinople probably didn’t particularly like. The Ecumenical Patriarchate long ago made it clear that Philaret’s election was undesirable and would slow down the process of recognizing the new church in the Orthodox world and may hurt the consolidation of Ukrainian Orthodoxy in the local church. Therefore, the 89-year-old patriarch of the UOC-KP was practically told not to run for office,” writes the  BBC .

Also, the interlocutors of the BBC insist that with his behavior in recent years, Epiphanius has spoiled relations with part of the hierarchs of the UOC-MP.

At the same time, the expert on religious studies, Lyudmila Filipovich, in a conversation with the BBC, noted that Epiphanius had gone through all the necessary steps to become a primate – he was a monk, engaged in educational issues and had management experience.

Despite this activity, he was a rather closed figure for journalists and did not give big interviews.

He talks reluctantly about his habits or preferences. Back in 2013, he told reporters that among his favorite authors is Henryk Sienkiewicz. And from the books of Gregory Skovoroda he draws “a lot of Christian wisdom.”

Certain conclusions about the worldview of Epiphany can be drawn from his program article published in December 2015 under the eloquent title “How Long will Moscow Cleanse itself in Ukrainian Souls?”

Although some interlocutors of the BBC suggest that this material could inform his thinking, and his real attitude to the Russian church is not so categorical.

In the article, Epiphanius described the “anti-Ukrainian joint actions of the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate church, the political leadership of Russia with the involvement of representatives of the main clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate church in Ukraine.”

“One example of a joint information special operation of these forces to destabilize the situation in Ukraine, he then said “the conflict around the church in the village of Ptichya, Rivne region” was critical to the implementation of their own domestic and foreign policy.” Epiphanius pointed to the tremendous influence of the Russian special services on the Orthodox Church and the existence of special agents in its ranks. The result of this policy by Russia, Epiphanius explains was “the separation of Ukrainian Orthodoxy since the beginning of the 90s,” according to the BBC, on the article by Epiphanius.

The Russian Orthodox Church has the opposite position, which is also presented in publications about the creation of the OCU.

“Kiev is considered the birthplace of Russian Orthodoxy, and Russia called this split the largest schism since 1054, when Western and Eastern Christian churches collapsed. The Russian Orthodox Church condemned the separatist efforts as imposed by politicians. Last week, the head of the Russian Church, Patriarch Kirill, wrote an open letter to the UN and European leaders, complaining about the “widespread persecution” of the clergy in Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned on Monday Poroshenko’s announcement about the church, calling it a dangerous stunt, and accusing him of preparing new  provocations” on the border with the Crimea”, says ABC News.

From Strana.UA, translated by and for FRN

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