Battle For Ukrainian Autocephaly Over; Battle For Russian Church Only Beginning – OpEd


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 (

“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.”

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

2 thoughts on “Battle For Ukrainian Autocephaly Over; Battle For Russian Church Only Beginning – OpEd

  • December 20, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    Is Paul Goble even Orthodox?

    I can’t seem to find the answer to that online. If not, his prognostications regarding the future of Orthodoxy are about as useful as a Quaker commenting on Roman Catholic ecclesiology or a Buddhist offering Quranic exegesis. There are also significant holes in what he presents as the historical background to the events we are now seeing unfold.

    Not having a horse in the game may lend itself to impartiality but it also deprives one of authentic insight.

  • December 21, 2018 at 12:36 am

    Contrary to what’s suggested, most of the national Orthodox Christian churches haven’t supported Bartholomew’s Vatican like decision, regarding the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

    At issue, isn’t breaking relations with the Istanbul (Constantinople) based Orthodox Church, while simultaneously not necessarily agreeing with all of its stances – the matter of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church being a case in point.

    In actual reality terms, the Russian Orthodox Church is more influential than the Istanbul situated Orthodox Church.


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