The former Ukrainian exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate, which now styles itself as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), has continued to flourish when other “survivals of post-Soviet Russian imperialism” have not, Aleksandr Soldatov says. But its own nature means that it is caught in an ultimately unsustainable situation, he notes.
The UOC-MP, the Russian religious affairs expert says, is caught between its own caesaro-papist traditions of at least implicit deference to the government of the country where it is located and the aspirations of the Moscow Patriarchate to reduce it to a set of bishoprics within the Moscow Church itself (risu.org.ua/ru/index/expert_thought/open_theme/71875/).
Consequently, Mr. Soldatov continues, the UOC-MP’s repeated declarations that it is the only institution that represents Ukrainians on both sides of the conflict in the Donbas ring hollow given how the Moscow Patriarchate – that is, the Russian Orthodox Church – has behaved with respect to the UOC-MP’s parishes in Russian-occupied Crimea and towards the UOC-MP as a whole.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Moscow Patriarchate not only liquidated all churches on the Ukrainian peninsula that were loyal to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) but took over all their property and imposed control over the appointment of all religious leaders there, Mr. Soldatov says, thus completely undermining the still-existing statutes of the UOC-MP.
The Moscow Patriarchate has been even more active in the Donbas, seeking to gain direct control over all Orthodox churches there – a step that violates Russian Patriarch Kirill’s talk about “canonical territories” whose defense has gotten him into trouble with the Kremlin but negates the UOC-MP’s efforts to present itself as a defender of the faith in Ukraine.
“Among the bishops, clergy and laity of the UOC-MP,” Mr. Soldatov says, “there are patriots of Ukraine; and their number is gradually growing. But the collective identity of this Church up to now is based on an imperial, or if you prefer post-imperial, model with its center in Moscow.”
According to the analyst, “the ideologues of the UOC-MP really are offering a certain program for overcoming ‘the contradictions’ of East and West, but they all are infected by ‘Moscow-centrism,’ on a return to the ‘Great Russian’ type of church relationship and to the Moscow historical myth.”
There are many reasons for the vitality of this approach – psychological, cultural, political and financial – Mr. Soldatov says; but its ultimate duplicity is on display in the double standards applied to Orthodoxy in Ukraine and to Orthodoxy in Russian-occupied territories where the Church supports Moscow’s position in all things even as the UOC-MP attacks Kyiv policies.
That is gradually becoming increasingly obvious to Ukrainians in the UOC-MP and diminishing its flock precisely because its hierarchs toe Moscow’s line.