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Monday, 19 May 2014

Religious tensions deepen Ukraine splits - Metropolitan Hilarion talking to Reuters

A few notes before reading this fair-minded Reuters report.

1. The Byzantine Church of what is now Ukraine belonged to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and is not intrinsically Russian or dependent on Moscow as either mother or founder. The history is that Moscow is a daughter of Kiev/Kyiv, before its own separate autocephalous status was eventually recognised by Constantinople.
2. In the same turbulent historical period of the sixteenth century (for the Latin west and the Greek east alike), the Byzantine Churches linked with Kyiv/Kiev came under states with Catholic rulers, thus losing contact with other Byzantine churches to the east in Muscovy/Russia or the mother Church in Constantinople, itself now severely constricted by its subjection to the Ottoman Sultanate.
3. Communion with Rome for the Kyivan/Kievan Byzantine Churches (ie the dioceses, bishops, clergy and faithful looking to the leadership of the Metropolitanate of Kyiv/Kiev) restored a situation obtaining at their foundation, when there was no such think as distinct Catholic or Orthodox Churches, but one Church using the Latin Roman and other rites in the West and the Byzantine rite in the patriarchates of the East, and when Rome with its bishop was acknowledged as the Church that presides.
4. Communion with Rome was important to sustain the Kyivan/Kievan Churches lest their integrity and Orthodoxy be undermined because of the influences and proselytical activities of Protestant missionaries.
5. In the same period that the Church of Rome was out of communion with the Church of Constantinople, a division that the subsequent Russian Orthodox Church inherited but the Ukrainian Church cast off, it was not formally out of communion with the Byzantine Patriarchate at Antioch, and it maintained a relationship with the Bulgarian-Byzantine Patriarchate of Ohrid for providing the sacrament and rites of ordination to the Byzantine Catholic priests caring for the faithful of southern Italy, Magna Graecia, which had once formed part of the patriarchate of Constantinople.
6. Thus the narrative of an exclusively Roman Catholic Church on one side and a Byzantine Orthodox Church on the other, with the Greek Catholics as an anomaly "emerging"in the 16th century, is a fable. It is natural for the Byzantine and Latin Churches to be in union, a hope expressed physically and spiritually by Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew's pilgrimage to Jerusalem with their respective fellow patriarchs and cardinals in the company, and advanced theologically and practically by the joint international commission between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches for dialogue.
7. There is no Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, according to the Patriarchate of Moscow's own usual account, but a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in union with the Moscow Patriarchate. In fact it is not autonomous but largely subject to Moscow. Thus it is indeed seen as part of the Russian Orthodox Church. This is why it is in a minority in comparison with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which has declared its own autocephaly with its own Patriarch in Kyiv/Kiev (as Moscow did from Constantinople in the 16th century following the effective political sovereignty of Muscovy). Moscow has prevented Constantinople's recognition of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine itself on the grounds of the decision infringing upon Moscow's supposed patriarchal territory. Constantinople recognises the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches' autocephaly, however, in the diaspora and this is not in dispute from Moscow, which likewise maintains its own jurisdiction around the world outside its own bounds.
8. While it is true that the Moscow Patriarchate indeed has contacts that afford communication with the politicians in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv/Kiev, this is through the local Ukrainian Orthodox Church belonging to its communion, and is not direct. A striking feature of the recent and ongoing crisis in Ukraine is the solidarity and fraternity between the Churches - Ukrainian Orthodox-Kyivan/Kievan Patriarchate, Ukrainian Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and significantly Ukrainian Orthodox-Moscow Patriarchate, which has refused to echo Moscow's baseless characterisation of Greek Catholics as right-wing, schismatic, partisan usurpers. In fact, all Church leaders on the ground, joined by Jewish and Muslim leaders, have been active promoters of peace and of reconciliation for a single, unified Ukraine. In such a situation, it is difficult to see how the intervention of Russian Orthodox from outside the country with their own well-known interest and agenda can usefully serve as mediation.
9. The Orthodox in Ukraine are ethnic Ukrainian who speak Ukrainian, ethnic Ukrainians who speak Russian, and ethnic Russians who speak Russian. There are also ethnic Russians who speak Ukrainians. This is not to mention the various other languages spoken by regional minorities. The Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches use contemporary Ukrainian in their liturgical rites, and occasionally Church Slavonic. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate uses neither modern Russian nor Ukrainian, but only Church Slavonic.
10. There is no evidence whatsoever for Metropolitan Hilarion's oft repeated claim that the aim of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is to subordinate the Orthodox Churches in Ukraine to the Pope. There is ample and express evidence, however, of the Ukrainian Catholic Church serving the process of ecumenism, which means the exclusion of proselytism, so-called Uniatism, and efforts towards unity based on mutual respect.
11. Metropolitan Hilarion's line on the Greek Catholics of Ukraine, which is not based in truth, is poor repayment to the material aid and spiritual fraternity that they offered to the Orthodox in times of terrible trial for them in the twentieth century. If he has a grievance, let it be resolved with clear evidence (so far never produced, despite opportunity and requests for it both in Ukraine and in Rome over many years) and mutual dialogue. The Ukrainian Catholic Church has repeatedly offered this without condition. Moscow has always spurned this, in the same way as it has delayed a fraternal visit from a Pope to the Patriarch of Moscow. Yet Metropolitan Hilarion is keen to visit Rome and to talk to its Bishops, the Popes, by whom he is welcomed generously and often, as though no other Catholics exist. Still, he comes away speaking harshly of others, in a way that he himself is never addressed.
12. For the sake of the Catholic Church as a whole, and for the sake of its dialogue with the Orthodox Church as a whole, it is important to Rome to maintain good diplomatic relations with the hugely significant and influential Patriarchate of Moscow with its clergy and faithful spread across the world and in increasingly regular contact with Roman Catholics. But it is no less important for Rome not to speak just for the Roman Catholic Church, but for the universality of the Church - and not to be cast as the representative of one Church among many, a Catholic Church as opposed to an Orthodox one, on the grounds of either rite or ethnicity. Part of this task for Rome is to guard and respect its existing communion with Byzantine (and other Eastern) Churches, not because this is a matter of rival claims, but out of loyalty to the principle of the One Church's universality and hope for it to be realised, through true mutual respect and reconciliation, in full, visible and organic unity for no other reason than that this is the demand of Christ of His Father. As for Catholic designs on the Orthodoxy, we leave the last word to Pope Benedict: "Rome does not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of the Primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium" - the first era of union between the Latins and the Byzantine Greeks and Slavs. MW.

Fri, May 16 11:53 AM EDT

By Tom Heneghan

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Religious tensions are deepening dividing lines in Ukraine's crisis, with rival churches taking political sides and Kiev slighting the Russian Orthodox Church, a senior official of the Moscow-based church said on Friday.

Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian Church's foreign relations department, said other churches had clearly lined up behind the Kiev government and he cited religious differences for its decision to refuse him entry to Ukraine last week.

Hilarion told Reuters his Church, which has broad support in the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, did not take sides and wanted to play a mediating role in the crisis. But he doubted the others would see it as impartial.

"This lack of sympathy, unfortunately, is mutual," he said in an interview at his office in Moscow's Danilov Monastery.

The Russian church's critics certainly do not see it as neutral in the crisis. Its head, Patriarch Kirill, is close to President Vladimir Putin and has supported his drive to forge closer ties with former Soviet regions outside Russia.

However, Hilarion said his Church had contacts in Ukraine that the Kremlin lacked, including between Patriarch Kirill and Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchinov. But he said the government did not appear interested in the offer of mediation.

Kiev's sensitivity to the activities of Russian church leaders was clearly on display on May 9 when Hilarion was barred entry after flying into the city of Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine to give a local bishop an award on his 75th birthday.

After being detained for more than two hours, Hilarion was told he could not pass the border control and had to give the waiting bishop his award at the airport. He described this as a political decision with religious overtones.

"The people who are now running Ukraine do not belong to the Russian Orthodox Church," he said, noting that acting Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk is a Greek Catholic and that acting President Turchinov is a Baptist.


Ukraine has a chequered religious landscape. Alongside the Moscow-backed Ukrainian Orthodox Church are a breakaway Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church and another local Orthodox movement - both of them deemed schismatic by Moscow - and the Greek Catholic Church, which is linked to Rome.

The Moscow-backed church is spread across Ukraine but strongest in the east, while the local Orthodox churches and the Greek Catholics are found more in the centre and west, where the Ukrainian language and national sentiment are stronger.

Priests from the local Orthodox churches and especially the Greek Catholics, who follow Orthodox-style liturgies but are in communion with the Vatican, played a visible role, conducting prayers and masses, during the protests in Kiev that led to the ousting of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich in February.

Hilarion said Ukraine's crisis was not religious in nature, but added: "The situation with religious communities in Ukraine somewhat reflects the division within the Ukrainian nation".

"The Greek Catholic Church and the schismatic groups (rival Orthodox churches) have clearly identified themselves with the current regime," he said.

Greek Catholics "always go against the Russian Orthodox Church" and their ultimate goal is "to subordinate all Ukrainian churches to the pope", Hilarion added.

Eastern Catholic churches such as the Ukrainian Greek Catholics emerged in the 16th century. The Orthodox have long accused them of trying to win over souls for Rome.

Hilarion's Church issued a statement on Friday offering its services as a moderator in Ukraine's conflict, in response to a suggestion from Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn that religious communities play a part in seeking a solution.

It echoed the tensions Hilarion mentioned, accusing other churches of exploiting "the sincere religious feelings of deeply pious Ukrainian people as a tool in a political struggle".

(Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Writing By Tom Heneghan; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Religious tensions deepen Ukraine splits - Russian Orthodox official
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