Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Church


Vladimir Putin

Determined to rebuild the former Soviet Union into an unchallenged Russian sphere of influence, Russian imperialism has a long history with Mr. Putin. Czarist Russia is an expanding power, extending its hegemony over Eurasia to the Pacific Ocean. Lenin, Stalin and their associates, despite their ideological rejection of marketism, in practice acted as the great Russian imperialists in rallying the Soviet Union and maintaining it by force. In lamenting the collapse of the prisons of nations as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, Putin partly mourns the failure of the imperial project initiated by Peter the Great. However, Russian imperialism has even deeper cultural roots that influence Putin’s attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty today.

A pivotal moment in the long process of Christianization of the Eastern Slavic peoples was the Baptism of Rus’ in 988. Thereafter, the baptized Prince Vladimir of Kyivan returned to his capital after a military victory in Crimea and urged people to follow his example by being baptized in the Dnieper River. They did, and others in the area followed suit. More than a millennium later, the significance of Rus’ Baptism for Christianity in that part of the world is still hotly contested – and relevant to contemporary geopolitics.

The Russian Orthodox Church’s insistence on being the sole heir of Rus’ Baptism ‘is an integral part of Russia’s age-old statement, now deployed by Mr. Putin, that Ukraine is not a country. truly engaged with their own culture and history. At best, Ukraine is the “little brother” to the Russian hegemon. However, the various Ukrainian Orthodox Churches and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church have claimed the legacy of 988 at least as strongly as the Russians. After all, Rus’ Baptism took place in Kyiv and its environs when Moscow was a dense forest inhabited by wolves and bears.

While the ethnographic, cultural and ecclesiastical history unfolding from 988 to the present day is complex, a modern incident illustrates the connection between Russian imperialism, Soviet power, claims The Russian Church’s monopoly on Rus’ baptism and Putin’s Ukraine policy.

During Hitler’s onslaught on the Soviet Union, Stalin cynically decided that Russian Orthodoxy, with the tens of thousands of clerics he had killed, could be a useful tool in the “War.” Great Patriotic War” against his former German allies. Stalin restored the Orthodox patriarchy of Moscow, and the Russian church gave legal authority to the Soviet regime by blessing the sacrifices of life, liberty, and treasure on behalf of the Fatherland. Still, the imperialist instincts remained, as did the state-controlled Russian church’s determination to own and control the legacy of 988.

So, in 1946, the Russian Orthodox leadership, working with the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, designed a Sobor, or church council, to liquidate the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which had become a safe deposit box for Ukrainian cultural identity and national aspirations. .

Last year, the leader of the Ukrainian church was arrested. Those who were not murdered were sentenced to the Gulag camp. The coercive “council”, almost by gun, adopted an ecclesiastical variant of classical imperialism, as the Russian Orthodox Church absorbed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which ceased to exist. at legal. It is a miracle that the dissidents among the clergy and faithful of Ukraine, without a parish church or other institutions, maintain the world’s largest underground religious community for the next 45 years. miraculous. Today, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is playing an important role in building a democratic, religiously tolerant Ukraine.

One might hope that a similar post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church would separate itself from state power and help rebuild a civil society that had been morally shattered by communism. Germany, but Patriarch Kirill of Moscow did the opposite. The patriarch, whose career path initially suggested cooperation with the KGB, linked the Moscow patriarchy more and more closely to the Kremlin. This includes endorsing Mr. Putin’s silly claims as the defender of Christian civilization and implementing Mr. Putin’s policy of rebuilding Russian hegemony in the ex-Soviet space. , now in style Russkiy mir (“Russian World”).

If, as Patriarch Kirill and other Russian churches insist, the Russian Orthodox hold a monopoly on the legacy of Rus’ Baptism, then Ukraine is and must be part of Russkiy mir. So there will be no hindrance to Russian aggression in Ukraine from Patriarch Kirill, who, at Putin’s 2012 inauguration, declared God the divine source of presidential power. and describes Russian Orthodoxy as both the guarantor and pastor of Putin’s personal autocracy.

For a Christian in communion with the rich spiritual and theological resources of Russian Orthodoxy to legitimize autocracy and aggression is tragic. Sadly, that is the logic of the distorted history of eastern Slavic baptism performed by too many Russian Orthodox leaders.

Mr. Weigel is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Washington Center for Ethics and Public Policy.

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