By Paul Goble
The battle for autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox is now over, Aleksandr Soldatov says, whose outcome has “gigantic political and cultural-symbolic meaning.” But the battle for the Russian Orthodox Church is only beginning, and that fight has if anything even greater significance.
The outcome of the Ukrainian battle, the Russian commentator says, “restructures world Orthodoxy” and Christianity as a whole and “pushes aside the Moscow Patriarchate with its “’Russian world’ pretensions into quite marginal positions” not only internationally but at home (graniru.org/opinion/m.274312.html).
“Symbolically, autocephaly raises the status of Ukraine as a state, making it not just ‘a remnant of an empire’ seeking its independence but as a self-standing Christian nation with its own thousand-year church tradition,” something Moscow-centered states have sought repeatedly to deny and suppress.
With Ukrainian autocephaly having been achieved, Soldatov says, “there is a 100 percent chance” that the Moscow Patriarchate will again enter into a new period of “isolation because its break with canonical communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate over Ukraine has not been supported by a single [Orthodox] church.”
“The independence of the Kyiv church was annexed by Moscow together with left-bank Ukraine at the end of the 17thcentury. On October 11 of this year, the Constantinople patriarch officially denounced its agreement on the temporary administration of the Kyiv metropolitan which it gave to Moscow in 1686,” Soldatov points out.
Constantinople “asserts that Moscow immediately violated all the conditions of this act but that Constantinople for all these 330 years did not have the political possibility to restore justice. Now such a possibility has appeared: for this was required the bloody war in the Donbass. The majority of Ukrainians agree that it is impossible to reach agreement with Putin.”
Ukraine has tried to achieve autocephaly over the past century, but not one of its efforts until now achieved that goal. Moscow was too strong. But the events of this week show the world “that now neither the Moscow Patriarchate nor the Moscow Kremlin has the weight” necessary to stop this restoration of historical justice.
This achievement would not have happened without the efforts of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and his goals were“above all” political, Soldatov argues; “and Moscow reacted to Ukrainian autocephaly above all politically” rather than as a church issue. The main question remains whether Putin is prepared to launch ‘’a war for the faith’” in this century.
“Undoubtedly, the triumph of Ukrainian autocephaly has already led to a significant decline in the rating of Patriarch Kirill both in Russia itself and beyond its borders,” a decline that is even more striking because of the rise of Putin favorite, Metropolitan Tikhon, who appears to be a more flexible and clever church politician than Kirill.
But Tikhon and Putin are not now ina position to restore Moscow to the position it once occupied. “On the map of world Orthodoxy, Ukraine is a key territory: namely control of Ukraine guaranteed the Russian Orthodox Church the status of the leader of Orthodox by number of parishes.” The ROC MP will now lose most if not all of those.
“Despite all the ‘heroic’ rhetoric of the present leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate,” most priests and parishioners now within it view the hierarchy as a state institution rather than a church. They might not have been willing to break with it before Ukrainian autocephaly, but over time, most of them will.
“The battle for Ukrainian autocephaly is thus finished,” Soldatov says; but the most interesting aspect of this development is beginning: the global restructuring of Orthodoxy promises to be enormous and – sooner or later – will reach Russia as well.”