Orthodox Church of Ukraine slams ‘Russian world’ theology | Terry Mattingly


Close observers of Eastern Orthodox Christianity were not surprised when the recent World Russian People’s Council bluntly rejected “abortion propaganda,” efforts to promote LGBTQ+ rights and this age of “sexual licentiousness and debauchery.”

It wasn’t surprising when that Moscow conference urged the defense of traditional families, “strong with many children,” during an era where birth rates are falling.

Then there was this proclamation ‒ both theological and political ‒ about the war in Ukraine: “From a spiritual and moral point of view, the special military operation is a Holy War, in which Russia and its people, defending the single spiritual space of Holy Rus, fulfill the mission of the Restrainer, protecting the world from the onslaught of globalism and the victory of the West, which has fallen into Satanism.”

In response, a World Council of Churches statement noted that Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill only a year ago stressed that his controversial “Holy War” references were about the “metaphysical realm,” not about warfare in Ukraine. WCC General Secretary Jerry Pillay claimed that the Moscow patriarch agreed that armed warfare cannot be “holy.”

But the most striking rejection of the “Russian World” document came from the Department for External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which for centuries had been linked to the Russian Orthodox Church.

“The Church should care about the proper preaching of the Gospel, which Christ commanded her to do, and not of the formation of geopolitical and geo-spiritual concepts,” said its public statement. The “Russian World” text ignored the reality that “Ukraine has her own history, and Ukrainians have the right to their national identity and independence, which we are ready to keep defending. …

“Instead of providing ideological support and justification for Russia’s military aggression and intervention in Ukraine, we believe that the Orthodox Church in Russia should have raised her voice against this war. … Calls for the destruction of Ukraine and the justification of a military aggression are inconsistent with the Gospel teaching.”

Quoting its leader, Metropolitan Onuphry of Kyiv, the statement stressed: “We do not build any Russian world, we build God’s world.”

That statement echoed a Metropolitan Onuphry proclamation made immediately after the 2022 Russian invasion, which included: “We appeal to the President of Russia and ask him to immediately stop the fratricidal war. The Ukrainian and Russian peoples came out of the Dnieper Baptismal font, and the war between these peoples is a repetition of the sin of Cain, who killed his own brother out of envy.”

The “fratricidal war” reference affirmed ties binding Orthodox churches in that region, which date to the 988 conversion of Prince Vladimir and the creation of the Holy Rus. Caught between Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin and the current Ukrainian government, the leaders of this church embrace the Rus as a historical reality but insist that this only makes the Russian invasion even worse, with Orthodox brothers killing brothers.

In 2022, the UOC synod declared itself independent, doing everything it could under centuries of Orthodox canon law to cut remaining ties to Moscow, while waiting for Orthodox leaders around the world to intervene in this schism.

Meanwhile, the leader of the rival Orthodox Church of Ukraine ‒ created in 2018 by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Istanbul, with support from Western governments ‒ has urged the Ukrainian government to finalize legislation that will ban the older UOC.

“There is not a single religious association in Ukraine that would support publicly that religious organizations in Ukraine can continue to be subordinate to structures that are controlled by the Russian state,” said Metropolitan Epiphanius during an April 10 visit to Geneva. The proposed legislation does “not affect freedom of religion,” he claimed, but will “protect religious organizations in Ukraine from becoming a tool of the Kremlin’s hybrid warfare.”

On the other side of that schism, Metropolitan Onuphry marked the second anniversary of the Russian invasion by stressing his embattled flock’s “love for the Ukrainian people and land, even if many prefer not to notice it.”

A native of Western Ukraine, Onuphry added: “The duty to defend one’s Motherland is one of the important principles in a Christian’s life. We should be worthy citizens of the earthly kingdom so as to become equally worthy citizens for the Kingdom of Heaven as well.”

Terry Mattingly is Senior Fellow on Communications and Culture at Saint Constantine College in Houston. He lives in Oak Ridge and writes Rational Sheep, a Substack newsletter on faith and mass media.

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