Staunton, July 23 -- Patriarch Kirill’s current visit to Ukraine is having the opposite effect he intends. Instead of generating pressure for an end to the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Russian church leader’s latest visit is in fact “provoking the growth of autocephalous attitudes” in Ukraine, according to an expert on religious affairs.
In a commentary on Portal-credo.ru, Aleksey Malyutin argues that Kirill does not understand that his repeated visits to Ukraine and his use of terms denigrating the independence of that country and its religious communities are having “exactly the opposite” impact the Russian patriarch intends (www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=comment&id=1769).
It is one thing for Orthodox people in Ukraine “to have the Patriarch as a banner and symbol far away,” Malyutin says, but it is “an entirely different thing to constantly have to cope with his administrative interference,” the scandals involving his limousines and security details, and his “unsuccessful political declarations.”
“All this,” the commentator says, “inevitably leads to the devaluation of [Kirill as] the bright symbol of ‘church unity’ and to the undermining of the very idea of this unity.” Indeed, Malyutin points out, “not one of the hierarchs likes such constant interference in his see,” whatever Kirill may think.
And as a result the very “frequency and length of the visits” of Kirill to Ukraine “deprive them of the exclusiveness or if one likes sensational quality and gradually reduce them to the level of protocol ritual,” a trend that means his current visit, all the hype of the Russian press notwithstanding “will be less successful than the one he made last year.”
In short, Malyutin suggests, Kirill is overplaying his hand in the religious sphere even more than Vladimir Putin is doing so in the political one, pursuing an approach that is so Moscow-centric that even those who would be willing to cooperate with the Russian center more closely are being driven away.
One reason for the counterproductive nature for Kirill’s approach, the religious affairs specialist says, is that the Russian churchman has shown no interest in going to Western Ukraine, “an inalienable part of his ‘canonical territory’” and the location of a large fraction of Orthodox parishes in Ukraine.
Kirill has tried to reach out to the faithful there by opening a Ukrainian-language version of the official site of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate this month, but the patriarch has shown no interest in going to a place where Ukrainian national identity is strong and where few people would accept his ideas about a single “Russian world.”
Another reason for judging his visit counterproductive, Malyutin suggests, is that despite his reputation for diplomatic skill, Patriarch Kirill in this case is pushing too hard and too quickly for the “resolution of questions,” forgetting that the new rapprochement between Moscow and Kyiv is not proceeding as fast or as consistently as he may want to believe.
An example of such haste is Kirill’s designation of Kyiv as “synodical capital of the Moscow patriarchate” and Odessa as “one of his residences.” Such statements are “paradoxical” given that “all this is taking place on the territory of the most independent part of the Moscow Patriarchate which independently creates sees, forms bishoprics, and elects a leader.”
As specialists have “frequently and justly noted,” Malyutin notes, “the level of the real independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Moscow Patriarchate exceeds the analogous measure not only in autonomous but even in autocephalous churches of ‘world Orthodoxy,’” something Kirill has failed to take into consideration.
Moreover, “the Ukrainian church question is very delicate, much more delicate than the question about the relations between Yanukovich and Putin.” That is because historically the Kyiv metropolitanate has been the “mother” see for the Moscow Patriarchate and because Moscow’s subordination of it in 1686 was anything but transparently legal.
Support for Ukrainian autocephaly has “deep roots” extending back to the 19th century and, after Ukraine regained its independence in 1991, these attitudes have only increased. There is no going back, Malyutin argues, because “in the history of humanity there has not yet been a single empire which has not been subject to dismantling.”
And by his actions, Malyutin continues, Patriarch Kirill is “strengthening autocephalous attitudes within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate,” something that Kirill appears unable to understand given “the deeply rooted imperial stereotypes in the Moscow mentality in relation to Ukraine.”
But in Ukraine, he notes, people “perfectly well understand that the Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Moscow Patriarchate is the most powerful ‘symbolic capital’ of Ukraine because the 17,000 Ukrainian Orthodox parishes (of which almost 12,000 are part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate) can tilt the balance in Orthodoxy as a whole.”
Consequently, “the latest change in the foreign policy conjunction hardly will lead mechanically to the destruction de facto of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.” Indeed, Malyutin says, “the canonical status of the Ukrainian Church is more stable and fixed than the state status of Ukraine itself.”