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Christianity at the heart of passionate Ukraine resistance by Angela Shanahan for The Australian

Updated: Mar 14, 2022

The role religion plays in the background to the Ukraine/Russia war is vital. No one trying to untangle the historical and the cultural baggage behind this conflict can ignore it.

Last week, a Russian Orthodox priest was ­arrested after giving a sermon that was critical of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Father Ioann Burdin of the Resurrection Church in Russia’s ­Kostroma region was detained shortly after his Sunday sermon. According to the Media Zona website, and reports in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Father Ioann faces charges of committing “a public offence aimed at discrediting Russian armed forces conducting a special military operation” in Ukraine. In his sermon he had told parishioners about “Russian troops shelling Kyiv, Odessa and Kharkiv and killing citizens of Ukraine, brothers and sisters in Christ”.

What is more, his parish had an online petition with a statement condemning the invasion: “We Christians cannot stand idly by when a brother kills brother, a Christian kills Christian. Let us not repeat the crimes of those who hailed Hitler’s deeds in 1939.”

The patriarch of the Moscow-based Orthodox Church, ­Kirill, has supported the invasion. Kirill has even claimed Russia’s war in Ukraine has a “metaphysical meaning”. Most other senior Russian Orthodox clerics have been silent on the invasion.

So what is the significance of just one priest breaking ranks with the official line of the Moscow hierarchy?

To understand the reaction of the authorities who arrested ­Father Ioann, one has to understand the part religion plays in eastern European, and specifically Russian and Ukrainian nationalism. Orthodox Christianity is a vital part of the entire cultural mindset of both Ukraine and Russia, and the two churches have always been very close.

Historically, Russia was spiritually joined to Ukraine. Monasteries and churches in Ukraine are as splendid and as culturally important as anything in Russia. The ancient Christian heart of Russia is in Ukraine. Kyiv was its spiritual and cultural centre. It is a much older city than Moscow, and the Kyiv Collegium (later the Kyivan Mohyla Academy) was a major Orthodox centre of learning in the East Slavic world.

But despite the strong link between the Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian churches, over time, and particularly during the Soviet period, the Moscow-based patriarchy prevailed.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, there seemed to be a flowering of Orthodox Christianity in Russia where state-sponsored atheism was the norm and the church had been paralysed spiritually and materially. Since then, many in the West have been very confused, even shocked, to see Putin himself and Russians from oligarchs to opposition leaders participating in Orthodox ritual and making the sign of the cross. So, what is going on?

The fact is the old Moscow patriarchy was, to a certain extent, a tool of the former Soviet ­regime. Now it is being used by post-Soviet nationalists, especially Putin, in a totemic way to prop up Russian nationalism.

There is a deep sense of brotherhood between the Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian churches. But, and this is crucial, the church, along with its adherents in Ukraine, does not want to be under Moscow’s thumb.

In struggling out from Moscow’s hegemony, the Ukraine Orthodox Church is turning to the West, as is the country itself. The church is still a Ukrainian nationalist symbol, but it is also now being seen more by today’s Ukrainians as part of civil society, rather than primarily a nationalist symbol. In a decisive move after the 2014 annexation of Crimea, part of the Orthodox Ukrainian church changed its patriarchy to reflect a move away from Moscow.

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine was recognised in 2019 by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople – and Putin was furious.

One might well ask why is ­religion so important to a despot like Putin? It is because Putin needs a legitimising element in Russian society now that communism and the Soviet Union is gone. Communism was never more than a mirage, but he needs an alternative ideology. It’s Putinism, with an Orthodox face.

The Moscow-based Orthodox Church has thrown in its lot with Putin because it was never really de-Sovietised. It is well known the patriarch Kirill had a close relationship with the KGB, so what passes itself off as Russian Christian Orthodoxy has become a highly politicised civil religion to the detriment of good Russian Christians such as Father Ioann. No matter how often and ostentatiously he blesses himself, Putin uses Christianity and its symbols as an ethno-nationalist totem.

Putin saw the Ukraine break with the Moscow patriarchy as a very big deal. He saw it as part of the ideological move away from Russian-centric Ukraine to European-centric Ukraine. Also, because Ukraine has always been religiously diverse, the Ukrainian church has evolved a more ecumenical outlook than in the past. At least 10 per cent of Ukrainians are Catholics, and there are very close ties forming between the Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholics which have developed to encourage modern civil society. The Greek Catholic church, aligned with Rome, has a very close relationship with the Kyiv Orthodox patriarchy. For Putin, this relationship was far too close for comfort because it meant the Orthodox Church in Ukraine simply ceased to be a symbol of the hegemony of Moscow.

For the ful article, please click on this link:

Christianity at the heart of passionate Ukraine resistance by Angela Shanahan for The Aust
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A Christian Orthodox church in Kyiv, Ukraine. Picture Getty


As an addendum to the above we include the following article by U.S. author and former National Security Agency analyst John Schindler on the religious schism lying at the heart of the dispute between Russia and Ukraine, a knowledge of which is critical to our understanding of what’s going on, but which is almost entirely absent in the Western media’s coverage of events.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, argues Schindler. To Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich Democratic minds (WEIRDs),

“Putin represents an atavism whose motivations they cannot understand. His wholehearted embrace of religiously-infused nationalism, which boasts a venerable history in Russia, leaves WEIRDs befuddled yet has real resonance among average Russians. Western doubts that the former KGB man has “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” miss the point, but then the West has never understood Russian Orthodoxy very well.

No matter what Putin really believes, his public embrace of religiously-grounded national conservatism provides his regime with an ideological anchor, one which happens to view Ukraine’s subservience to Russia as a spiritual as well as geostrategic necessity.”

In that respect therefore

“Russian Orthodoxy provides a sort of glue for the Putin regime, and the ROC supports the Kremlin on a wide range of issues”

Which is why any schism within the Orthodox Church is regarded by Putin as an attack on the Russian state itself and why

the separation of much of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) from Russia in early 2019 with the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU)” was seen as a red rag to a bull rendering Moscow “white hot with rage.”

“A few weeks later, Sergei Lavrov added fuel to the fire by castigating the OCU as "this travesty of history, and pursuing the objective of sowing discord between Russia and Ukraine in addition to preventing our peoples from being friends are essentially a crime [by the current Ukrainian regime] against their citizens.”

To make matters worse, the US Embassy in Kyiv

“congratulated the OCU for its birth and the selection of its first primate, then the State Department in Washington amplified the same. Celebrating Constantinople’s grant of autocephaly, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed it as a “historic achievement for Ukraine” which represented America’s “strong support for religious freedom.”

Pompeo’s statement left no doubt about America’s backing the OCU against the UOC. Pompeo’s position in the worldwide Orthodox schism was made clear by his subsequent meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch, whom the Secretary of State hailed as “a key partner as we continue to champion religious freedom around the globe.”

Neither was this a partisan project, since the position of the Biden administration on this issue is identical to its predecessor’s. Four months ago, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also met with the Ecumenical Patriarch, reaffirming U.S. commitment to religious freedom, which in Moscow unsurprisingly looked like support for the OCU.”

Moscow’s anger

“has now taken the form of air strikes, missile barrages, and advancing tank battalions. Just last month, Lavrov restated his government’s position that the United States stands behind the “current crisis in Orthodoxy.”

Put simply, American support for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is regarded by the Kremlin as

a nefarious US plot to divide world Orthodoxy at Russia’s expense. Clearly Putin has decided that reclaiming Ukraine and its capital, “the mother of Russian cities,” for Russian Orthodoxy is worth a major war. Make no mistake, this is a religious war, even if almost nobody in the West realizes it.”

The full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it:

Putin’s Attack on Ukraine Is a Religious War - article for Top Secret Umbra by John Schind
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