What in Reality Is Behind the Ukrainian Government’s Fight Against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



If the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate; UOC-MP – ed] separated from the Russian Orthodox Church, it wouldn’t change the attitude of the authorities and other foes of the Church in relation to it.

While looking at events surrounding the UOC-MP, many ask themselves a question: Why wouldn’t the episcopate of the UOC-MP join in full strength the project of the independent autocephalous Church that the secular authorities very much want to achieve? After all, in this case all problems would be solved: all pretensions to the UOC-MP would disappear, the persecution would stop, anti-church laws wouldn’t be adopted, temples wouldn’t be seized, the clergy wouldn’t be defamed in the media, etc. So why does the UOC-MP persist?

Orthodox Church in Ukraine for “Moscow priests”

The main pretension to the UOC-MP voiced by the Ukrainian authorities, pseudo-patriotic public figures, and the media that is hostile to the Church is its ties with the “Russian world”, Russia, Moscow, the FSB, the Kremlin, and Putin personally. Everybody has heard the allegations that the UOC-MP receives instructions from the neighbouring state, and according to these instructions it undermines the independence of Ukraine, and that all priests – or at least bishops – of the UOC-MP are nothing less than the recruits of the Kremlin, “Moscow priests”, etc.

But in reality even those who voice these accusations don’t believe that this is the truth. It is very simple to prove it. Let’s imagine that indeed all 92 bishops of the UOC-MP are agents of the Kremlin and the “fifth column” of Moscow. So why did the head of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko invite all of them to enter the Orthodox Church in Ukraine (OCU)? After all, in this case the episcopate of the UOC-MP would have a majority at the unifying Sobor that took place on December 15th. Metropolitan Onufry could’ve headed the OUC, and the bishops of the UOC-MP could’ve held the majority of the main posts.

“Agents of the Kremlin” and “Moscow priests” would’ve obtained power in the OCU. This would’ve been one of the most successful operations of the FSB of Russia! And the Kremlin would now control the united Church of the state of Ukraine. So why did the “agents of the Kremlin” renounce this? Simply because they aren’t agents of the Kremlin. And this is well understood by the President and the speaker of the parliament Andriy Parubiy, and all other persecutors of the UOC-MP.

But it turns out that the Ukrainian authorities aren’t fighting against an “aggressor state” represented by the UOC-MP – so against who then?

Maidan, Europe, and Uniates

In order to answer this question it is necessary to glance at Ukraine’s history. “History is a lantern that illuminates the future from the past”. This is correct, even despite the fact that this was said by the Russian historian V. O. Klyuchevsky.

But to start with let’s focus on three points that form the reality of today’s Ukrainian life.

  1. Ukraine is being integrated into Europe;
  2. In Ukraine the influence of Greek-Catholics is growing, including (or first of all) in the government;
  3. The government said that the Orthodox Church is a structure of the “aggressor state”.

Trying to prove the first thesis isn’t necessary. The course on European integration is enshrined at the legislative level, and the President and other politicians don’t stop reminding the population about it.

The second statement was sounded by the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church Svyatoslav Shevchuk: “Now the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church develops powerfully. Such prompt development of our Church that we have had over the past 5 years, we, perhaps, haven’t seen since the moment the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church exited the underground in the early 90’s. Now, perhaps, there is no large city in Ukraine where a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church isn’t being built”. Shevchuk said these words during a recent visit to the US.

It is possible to have a different attitude towards Euromaidan and what it brought to Ukraine, but it is impossible to deny that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was one of the main forces of Maidan, and in respect of ideology – it was unambiguously the main one. As is known, the Kiev Maidan started with the appeal of the journalist Mustafa Nayyem to come and discuss the fact that the-then president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych decided to postpone the signing of the contract on association with the European Union.

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But a year before this Nayyem was closely connected to the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU). On the official website of the UCU he was mentioned as an “expert of the Master program of journalism of the UCU”. And on the first evening another several employees of UCU came for a discussion on Maidan.

And soon afterwards “Maidan” appeared in Lvov, from where the youth was purposefully sent to Kiev. And Lvov’s “Maidan” was organised by UCU students. And the head of UCU, the Greek-Catholic bishop Boris Gudzyak, organised support from abroad for Maidan. Moreover, the majority of meetings of support were organised by Uniate communities directly from the doors of temples.

At the same time, Gudzyak declared that half of all protesters on the Kiev Maidan are parishioners of the Greek Catholic Church. And on December 8th the former head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Lyubomir Guzar, speaking on Maidan, urged protesters to “earn changes for, and by, themselves”. Listening to this appeal, on the same day on Maidan a campaign for the governmental quarter was proclaimed. Everybody knows how this ended.

After Maidan, in the corridors of Ukrainian government many Uniates appeared and started to define the domestic and foreign policy of the state. And in 2015 the professor of UCU Yaroslav Gritsak designated the main enemy that it is possible and necessary to fight against, using the presented historical chance. It wasn’t Russia, the Kremlin, or Putin who appeared to be this enemy. It is the Byzantine and orthodox heritage that appeared to be the enemy…

Gritsak published an article in the “Novoye Vremya” magazine in which he firstly referred to his colleague: “The late Harvard professor Igor Shevchenko warned at the beginning of 1990’s: ‘Overcoming the Soviet past is relatively easy, but what to do with Byzantine and orthodox heritage?” And then said: it is for this reason that the crisis that Ukraine now experiences was necessary in order to overcome this Byzantine and orthodox heritage: “In order to radically overcome history, there is a need for a large-scale crisis. For example, like the one at the time of the falling of communism. Or similar to the one that we experience now”.

The third thesis, the announcement of the UOC-MP as a structure of the “aggressor state”, like the first thesis, doesn’t need confirmation. The president, in every one of his speeches, practically doesn’t forget to mention it. Just like how he doesn’t forget to say that there is no place in Ukraine for this structure, i.e., the UOC-MP.

From the history of Ukrainian “cattle”

And now we will remember when in the history of Ukraine the three factors mentioned above already converged: integration into Europe, Uniates in power, and accusations of Orthodox Christians working for the “aggressor state”?

17th century. Ukraine isn’t simply on the way to Europe, it is a part of Europe, it is a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. However, not just as a younger brother, but as the poor stepdaughter. Ukrainians – both peasants and noblemen – were considered to be second grade people. The Poles pursued a policy of the Polonisation and Catholicisation of the population of our country.

Peasants pined under the oppression of serfdom, which was introduced in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1447 according to the privilegium of the Grand Duke Casimir and was definitively enshrined in 1588 in the Third Lithuanian statute. Concerning how difficult this serfdom in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was, the French historian Daniel Beauvois writes: “The Lithuanian statute that arose in the 16th century was extremely cruel, it allowed to treat peasants as slaves, as cattle“. Among Polish gentry, according to D. Beauvois, there was the widespread belief that Ukrainian peasants have no soul.

And the Polish law of 1590 declared that the territory to the South and the Southeast from Belaya Tserkov, i.e. the largest part of Ukraine, is a “desert” and granted the King the right to distribute these lands together with the population to Polish magnates and gentry. “The life and property of the peasant were at the full disposal of the feudal lord. The Frenchman Beauplan, who lived in Ukraine for 17 years, noted that peasants there are extremely poor, they are obliged to give to their sir everything that they will want; their situation is worse than the situation of galley slaves. Gentry and magnates called Ukrainian peasants ‘cattle’, i.e. beasts. For the slightest disobedience the peasant could be subjected cruel torture. Sirs ordered to hang and impale those who rebel” (World history. Encyclopedia. Vol. 5).

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Concerning Ukrainian nobility, we will present the testimony of the Canadian historian of Ukrainian origin Orest Subtelny: “The Ukrainian nobility was presented with a difficult choice. On the one hand – there was the native, but exhausted soil of spiritual tradition and Ukrainian culture, which was almost deprived of the possibility to develop normally. On the other hand – there was the externally attractive and bursting forth cultural life of Catholic Poland. Should one be surprised that the large majority of Ukrainian noblemen made their choice in favour of Catholicism and Polonisation, which didn’t keep itself waiting long. And this loss of natural elite had epoch-making value for all the subsequent history of Ukraine”.

I.e., the Ukrainian gentry, through its desire to be involved in power and to have privileges in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in its majority, betrayed Orthodoxy without a second thought. And the Union of Brest from 1596 gave the opportunity to do it whilst preserving the external likeness of the orthodox faith.

The betrayal of Orthodoxy in 1596 was motivated by political reasons, a love for power, ambition, thirst for money, honours, and privileges. I.e., the same things that today motivate the betrayal of the UOC-MP and its accession to the OCU. It wasn’t about any religious motives neither then, nor is it now.

Here is how Subtelny describes the Union of Brest. “In 1590 the orthodox bishop of Lvov Gideon Balaban – enraged by continuous skirmishes with the brotherhood and, most of all, by the tactless, in his opinion, interference of the Constantinople Patriarchate in these ‘house squabbles’ – raised a question of a union with Rome at a secret congress of orthodox bishops in Belz. There were three more bishops who agreed with Balaban. <…> These three bishops were Kirilo Terletsky from Lutsk, Dionisiy Zbiruysky from Chełm, and Leontiy Pelchitsky from Turov. Later the conspirators were joined by Ipatiy Potiy from Volodimir – an adventurer from a noble family who was only recently ordained as an orthodox priest, and who before succeeded to be a Calvinist. It is precisely he and Terletsky who headed the plot of bishops. <…> They declared to their congregation that, having become a part of the Catholic Church, it will at last acquire equal rights with everyone in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; that the residents of the city won’t be offended anymore by anyone in their cities, and noblemen won’t be deprived of favourable places in service; that the career of bishops won’t be slow to sharply ascend – in the event of the equalisation of their rights with Catholic hierarches they received places in the Senate and could really influence not only church, but also state affairs. Inspired by such a bright prospect, the conspirators, in conditions of strict conspiracy, held a series of negotiations with royal officials, Catholic bishops, and the papal nuncio. At last, in June 1595, four orthodox bishops officially gave their consent to lead their Church towards a union with Rome. They undertook to unconditionally recognise the authority of the Pope concerning all questions of faith and dogma – in exchange for a guarantee of the preservation of traditional orthodox liturgy and church ceremonies, and also the traditional rights of priests such as the right to have a family. And at the end of 1595 Terletsky and Potiy went to Rome, where Pope Clement VIII proclaimed the official recognition of the Union”.

Agents, who do you belong to?

The similarities between this and the description of today’s Ukrainian situation: the same secret negotiations of Poroshenko with Patriarch Bartholomew, the same careerism, the same hiding of true intentions from the congregation, and the same unconditional (and lawless) recognition of the authority of Fener over Ukraine.

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After the conclusion of the Union with Rome, Uniate bishops received a representation in the Polish Sejm, gentry – broader access to power, etc. And persecution fell upon Orthodox Christians.

And now let’s focus on the fact that in the 17th century the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth waged an almost endless war with the Ottoman Empire. Historiography totals a whole five large conflicts, which it calls “wars“, but in addition there many local conflicts and skirmishes that happened almost annually. These wars happened either directly between Poland and Turkey or were a part of more global conflicts. For example, the First Polish-Turkish war (1620-1621) was a part of the 30 years’ war (1618-1648), and the Fifth Polish-Turkish war (1683-1699) was a part of the Great Turkish war (1683-1699). Anyway, in the 17th century the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire were geopolitical opponents.

And now a rhetorical question: the agents of which state were considered to be Orthodox Christians in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth if the Kiev Metropolitanate back then was a part of the Constantinople Patriarchate? Moreover, Fener was very deeply and officially integrated into the government of the Ottoman Empire.

But as we know, the Union of Brest, like all historical unions concluded by certain orthodox hierarches or even local Churches with Rome, aimed to destroy the Orthodox Church as such. That’s why today it is also necessary to understand that in Ukraine there is a fight against Christ’s Church, and not against the mythical influence of Russia through it. They want to destroy the church as such. And if our bishops chose a policy of conciliation and compromises, then it would only accelerate its destruction. But, thank God, the Most Blessed Primate Onufry, archbishops, the clergy, and all believers don’t try to buy a quiet life through treason, but firmly stand up for faith and the truth.

About the heavenly and terrestrial

It is necessary to understand that if now the UOC-MP separated from the Russian Orthodox Church by itself, it wouldn’t at all change the attitude of the secular authorities, nationalist radicals, and all other enemies of the Church towards it. They simply would find other accusations to use against it.

It is necessary to understand: in order to avoid persecution by the state in today’s conditions, the UOC-MP should stop being Christ’s Church and turn into a political and public institute that responds to the requests of society and shares “European values”. This is the price that should be paid for a quiet life. And the “Russian world” has no business here. The authorities fight against the Church represented by the UOC-MP. This is how it was in the 17th century, and today it is the same.

Let’s focus on today’s Uniates. We already spoke about the unprecedented growth of influence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, which its leader Svyatoslav Shevchuk declared. And after the “unifying Sobor” on December 15th he was one of the first to express his joy concerning the unification of schismatics and the election of Epifany Dumenko as the head of the OCU. In his welcome address Shevchuk clearly and unambiguously hoped for the absorption of the newly formed OCU by its structure: “At this historical moment I want to extend a brotherly hand on behalf of our Church to the newly elected head and to all orthodox brothers, saying that from now on we go together into history, towards unity and the truth. Because the future of the Church, the people, and the Ukrainian free, independent, and European state depends from to what extent we today cherish unity and overcome what separates us”. Shevchuk also mentioned that he considers this event to be “God’s gift” on the journey to the “full unification of Churches of the Baptism of Vladimir”.

History repeats itself. The church survived the persecution of pagans in the first three centuries of Christianity, it survived the persecution of Uniates in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, it survived the persecution of the USSR – from communists, and it will survive now too. It is only necessary to remain faithful to it and to not change the heavenly for the terrestrial.

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