August 17, 2018

The Orthodox Church in Ukraine in numbers


Nikolaos Manginas

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

This article begins with an overview of the struggle for an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church since the declaration of Ukrainian independence and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Second, it aims to shed light on the current situation by examining survey data from a nationwide poll carried out in Ukraine in June of this year. Several of the questions in the survey asked about religious affiliations and practices. The survey also contained information regarding the level of religiosity among adherents of the major faiths. In short, the survey painted a statistical picture of how the people of Ukraine relate to various religions and their branches in Ukraine. 

Since 1992 the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) in Ukraine has been divided into several branches, of which two – the UOC–Kyiv Patriarchate (KP) and UOC–Moscow Patriarchate (MP) – were dominant. The UOC-MP remained attached to Moscow while the UOC- KP, born after the fall of the Soviet Union, reflected the desire of the Ukrainian people embodied in the August 24, 1991, declaration of independence, reinforced by a nationwide referendum on December 1, 1991, where over 90 percent of the population voted for independence. 

Nikolaos Manginas

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

For the next 23 years the situation, although at times confrontational, remained relatively unchanged. After the 2014-2015 Maidan Revolution, relations between the two branches began to turn acrimonious. As in the political sphere, Ukrainians have expressed a strong desire to be free from Moscow’s interference in religious matters. 

Against this background, on April 23, two weeks after President Petro Poroshenko’s meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Fanar, a section of Istanbul (Constantinople), the patriarch expressed the desire to issue a “Tomos” (a decree or an official church document) granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church autocephaly. Seemingly Ukraine had regained what it had for seven centuries, from 988, when Kyivan Rus’ was first Christianized to 1686, when the Russian Orthodox Church usurped the Metropolitanate of Kyiv. 

The Tomos of autocephaly would unite the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), which means that the Moscow Patriarchate would no longer be able to call itself the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Bartholomew made it clear that the control of the Moscow Patriarchate over Ukraine was illegitimate. By uniting the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, the patriarch would be righting a historical wrong. 

“The implications of Ukrainian autocephaly,” wrote Andrew Sorokowski on the pages of this newspaper in June, “might also affect ecumenism, perhaps even prompting a re-orientation of the Vatican’s Ostpolitik from a Russo-centric to a more multipolar view of Orthodoxy. And together with other independent Orthodox Churches,” noted Dr. Sorokowski, “an autocephalous Ukrainian Church could, as Patriarch Filaret has said, contribute to a revival of European Christianity.”

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Furthermore, Dr. Sorokowski ventured “if we imagine the community of Ukrainian Orthodox Churches to include those ‘Orthodox in communion with Rome,’ otherwise known as Ukrainian Greco-Catholics, with each Church free to seek ties with Constantinople, Rome, or both – the ecumenical implications are astounding.” 

On the question of church property, Patriarch Filaret remarked that “land, churches and monasteries illegitimately held under the name of the UOC–MP will be returned to its true owner, the autocephalous Church recognized by Constantinople. Moscow-controlled shrines such as the Kyiv Pecherska Lavra – a jewel in the heart of the city – will be transferred to the local Orthodox Church in due time,” he said. On June 28, Metropolitan  Ilarion, the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations and a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow, reacted with hostility to Bartholomew’s announcement, calling Filaret an illegitimate usurper who had created a schism in the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and warning that it will lead to bloodshed and tragic consequences. 

The archbishop of Chernihiv and Nizhyn, Yevstratiy, countered that “hysteria emanating from the Moscow Patriarchate is not unexpected but will not stop the move towards autocephaly.” 

“The creation of a new unified UOC uniting all branches not attached to Moscow, the already majoritarian KP will become even more powerful, and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) will lose its zone of influence. Autocephaly for the UOC will also mean that the ROC, cut off from its Kyiv roots, will no longer be the cradle of Slav Orthodoxy” wrote Constance Vilanova in La Croix, the daily French Catholic newspaper. 

Andriy Dubchak, RFE/RL

Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate.

According to Gazeta UA, Patriarch Filaret said that, even though the MP has twice as many churches as the KP in Ukraine, the KP has twice as many adherents. To help shed light on the complicated religious situation in Ukraine and add credence to Patriarch Filaret’s claim, in May I commissioned the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) to include several questions regarding Ukrainian citizens’ religious affiliation. 

The omnibus survey was carried out in all oblasts of Ukraine, save for the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, where interviews were conducted only in areas controlled by Ukraine. It was not conducted in Crimea. In all, 2,025 interviews were conducted. Fieldwork took place from May 18 to June 5. KIIS had conducted similar surveys in the past, and the present survey reflects the situation as of June 2018. 

By asking respondents about their religious affiliation, level of religiosity and support of President Poroshenko’s initiative, the poll clarified the attitudes of Ukrainians to all religions. The specific question asked was: “Which of the following religious groups are you a member of or feel closest to?” Along with this question the respondents were asked to indicate their attitude toward religion. The table below summarizes responses to these questions. 

The most important takeaway from the table is that at least two-and-a-half times as many respondents (43 percent) identified with the UOC-KP or the UAOC as with the UOC-MP (17 percent). Earlier surveys have shown that an approximate 3 to 1 ratio in favor of the KP has been consistent throughout the preceding 20 years. 

In addition, similar surveys conducted in Ukraine and Russia suggest that, in general, Ukrainians have always been more active and religious than their counterparts in Russia. One in six (16 percent) Ukrainians does not associate with any religion; most of that 16 percent of respondents live in regions east of western Ukraine. 

Respondents were also asked: “How often do you attend religious services?” Data show that members of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) and UAOC attended services more regularly than the two main branches of the UOC. Nearly half of the Greek-Catholics said they attended services once a week, 20 percent once a month and 29 percent only on holidays. In comparison, only around 10 percent of the Orthodox said they attended services once a week, 12 percent once a month and nearly 70 percent only on religious holidays. Three-quarters of those who identified themselves as Protestant, however, attended services at least once a week. 

Regional breakdown of the data also showed that, as expected, 95 percent of the UGCC adherents lived in western Ukraine, while 46 percent of those belonging to the UOC-KP resided in central Ukraine. Curiously, slightly over a third of those who identified themselves as UOC-MP lived in western Ukraine, while the remainder were spread out more or less evenly throughout the central, southern and eastern oblasts of Ukraine. Interestingly, the largest portion of those who said they belong to or feel closest to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, nearly 40 percent, lived in eastern Ukrainian oblasts and the majority of Protestants (66 percent) lived in western Ukraine. 

Finally, respondents were asked to what extent they supported President Poroshenko’s April initiative to create a unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church – i.e., completely support, generally support, generally do not support, do not support at all. Over all, 42 percent said they supported such an initiative, while 31 percent did not. Significantly, over one-fourth said they had difficulty in deciding whether to support the initiative.

The highest level of support for the president’s initiative was in western Ukraine, where 56 percent supported it, followed by the central region with 45 percent. Support for the initiative was only 25 percent in the south and 22 percent in the east. Nearly 40 percent of the respondents in the southern and eastern oblasts said it’s difficult to say. 

Jaroslaw Martyniuk is a retired researcher living in Washington. From 1979 to 1991 he worked in Paris, first as an energy economist for the International Energy Agency, and later as a researcher for the Soviet Area Audience and Opinion Research, a unit of Radio Liberty. He is the author of the recently released book “Monte Rosa: Memoir of an Accidental Spy.”