Moscow-affiliated Orthodoxy faces uncertain future in Ukraine

Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox parishes are defecting to an autonomous Ukrainian Church. By the dozen.

During most of April and May, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) has been losing four or five Ukrainian parishes a day.

Most individuals and parishes leaving the UOC-MP are affiliating with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).

The OCU is recognised by the Patriarch of Constantinople and many other Orthodox communion Churches.

Besides defection, the UOC-MP is facing legal prohibitions in some parts of Ukraine and a bill that would restrict the Church over the entire country.

It’s predicted today’s summit of the UOC-MP may call for a definitive break from Russia.

A war of words between its bishops and leaders of the autonomous OCU is taking place.

Since February, clergy and laity in the UOC-MP have been split over whether Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill is complicit in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Intelligence reports indicate some UOC-MP priests have collaborated with occupying Russian troops.

Amid growing suspicion of the UOC-MP, a bill that would ban the Moscow patriarchate from the country was submitted to the Ukrainian legislature in late March.

While polling suggests it had the support of 51 percent of Ukrainians, Ukraine’s parliamentary president, Ruslan Stefanchuk, says the bill will not come under consideration during the war.

Permanently banning UOC-MP activities in Ukraine will be complex as registration documents at UOC-MP parishes do not actually mention the Moscow patriarchate.

“They can exist without registration; they can re-register as independent Orthodox communities. Our legislation allows such communities. It is not about the name. A ban won’t solve the problem,” says Taras Antoshevsky, director of the Religious Information Service of Ukraine.

Even in places where the UOC-MP is not banned, observers have expected that Orthodox parishes will continue to migrate to the OCU, a move with both theological and political significance.

Antoshevsky expects the pace of that migration to increase in the weeks to come.

“The mood of people is radical and the more Ukrainian soldiers who defend Ukrainian territory are killed, the more people become intolerant of the presence of the Church affiliated with the Moscow centre.

“Going forward, it will be less and less dependent on whether priests want to cross over or not. People do not want to be in a Church that blesses the murder of their relatives and loved ones.”

Viktor Yelensky, a Ukrainian expert in religious studies, notes within the UOC-MP there are differing views.

“They confuse the Church of Christ with the Moscow patriarchate and therefore are willing to endure persecution and suffer.

“On the other hand priests, especially in the cities, do not depend on their flock and can therefore ignore their opinions.”


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