By Paul Goble
Many in Moscow are reacting hysterically to Constantinople’s moves to grant autocephaly to the Kyiv Patriarchate, but instead of getting angry and making all kinds of threats, Pavel Tikhomirov says, Russians should be soberly assessing the situation and recognizing what they can and cannot hope to do.
The reality is, the assistant to the editor of the Russkaya narodnaya liniya portal says, is that “a large part of the Ukrainians will never go to a Moscow Patriarchate church. This I bad and offensive to all of us who believe in the reality of the realization of the ideals of the Russian world, but this is the case” (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2018/09/08/teper_poezd_uzhe_ushyol/).
“For a political Ukrainian – and the number of such people is constantly growing – the Russian world is simply ‘neo-Sovietism’ masked by new names,” Tikhomirov says. Many Ukrainians aren’t committed to Western liberalism or market ideas, but the social state they want would be one very different from that which existed in Soviet times.
According to the commentator, “we Russian patriots feel shy about speaking on this subject. We somehow conflate the Russian world with the USSR and now we are receiving the fruits of this conflation. Everything here is completely logical.” The Moscow Patriarchate had a change to escape from this, but it didn’t take it.
“A quarter of a century ago,” Tikhomirov says, “Russian Orthodoxy could have been viewed as the bearer of the idea of pre-revolutionary Russia. This didn’t please everyone, but this was an alternative both for Ukrainian nationalists and communists. But now Russian Orthodoxy is viewed entirely differently.”
For many Ukrainians now, his contacts among the Orthodox in Ukraine say, “the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is a purely ‘KGB’ structure.” Tikhomirov says that they should recognize that Kyiv has used church structures too, but regardless of that fact, “now the situation has changed” in Ukraine against the ROC MP.
“And so, very many of our straying ex-brothers will never come to our churches,” the commentator continues. It is impossible to heal the split – [at least] with our forces.”
In this situation, Tikhomirov says, the Universal Patriarchate has begun to create a structure “in which various Ukrainians splits will join … a kind of analogue to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church which will exist in parallel to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.”
(For an introduction to the complex history of Orthodox churches in Estonia in the 20th and 21st century, see the article at estonica.org/en/Eastern_orthodoxy_in_Estonia_%E2%80%94_a_brief_overview_of_religious_controversy/History_of_the_controversy/ and the sources cited therein.)
Moscow could have sent its own exarchs to Ukraine and won over many Ukrainians but certainly not the majority. But the Russian church and government weren’t willing to get only part of a loaf; they wanted it all, Tikhomirov says. And now they are left with a situation in which they will not get much at all.
In Ukraine, “the train has already left” the station; and Moscow has been left behind.
In response, Russians should consider the situation in a sober fashion. On the one hand, Russian Orthodox can only be glad that some Ukrainian faithful will go to church and gain access to the mysteries, even if it is not a Russian church and even if the Russian church has misplayed the situation.
And on the other, Tikhomirov concludes, “the time has come for our brothers from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to draw conclusions and make a choice.” They also should approach this with sobriety rather than in an emotional and alarmist way.