The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (UOCMP) is a geographical appendage or branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate (ROCMP). It takes its directives from Moscow and pays subsidies to Moscow. In fact for a long time, even post Ukraine’s independence, the UOCMP was the largest contributor to the budget of the ROCMP. For the sake of credibility in Ukraine since the war started in 2014, over the last few years it has often abbreviated its name deleting the MP suffix for purposes of public relations as it began losing faithful and parishes. Nevertheless, its history and purpose have remained unaltered.
In 1685 the earlier version of ROCMP assumed control over the original Ukrainian Orthodox Church pursuant to Russian abuse of a military agreement with the Ukrainian Cossack state from 1654 and a specious accord with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople who had been held hostage for purposes of consent. That accord was later disavowed by Constantinople. Nonetheless, since then Russian Orthodoxy has imposed it will upon Ukrainian Christianity by force.
The Ukrainian faithful were somewhat vulnerable because od their deep belief in Christianity. In fact as noted above even after the demise of the USSR in 1991 the largest contingent of the ROC in terms of faithful and churches was in Ukraine. Such was was the case in Russian czarist times as well. Religion, after all, is a very strong moral and communal factor in life.
A better understanding of this ROCMP can be deduced from history. While it functioned in Russian czarist times, for the Soviets intent on implementing atheism as a component of communism, the ROCMP was ineffective. The Soviet dictator Josef Stalin provided an imprimatur to his control of the ROCMP by reorganizing it within his own Ministry. Thus it became an agency of the special services. Stalin proceeded to abolish all other churches including the Ukrainian Catholic and the ROCMP under his jurisdiction became the only avenue for religious expression.
For purposes of some perspective, however disproportionate, it may be interesting to note that the ROCMP operates in the United States pursuant to the religious freedom accorded by the non Establishment clause of the Bill of Rights. Despite the fact that the ROCMP works directly with Moscow and has often retained highly paid lobbyists which works to influence American politics and legislation, the ROCMP has never registered as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That has often been commented upon at State.
This can be partially explained by the reluctance of the United States Department of State to address arguments or defenses by the ROCMP that other churches are subservient to foreign capitals such as the Vatican or the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul. Religious organizations are afforded the widest latitude in the United States because of the Establishment Clause to the point that unlike other tax exempt organization they are not required to file even annual tax returns.
In the United States the role of the ROC while certainly not benign as evidenced by the recent recruitment of highly priced lobbyists is certainly not as dangerous as its mission and work in Ukraine. Its purpose in the United Sates is largely disinformation and it works often lacks
credibility, particularly in today’s Russia sanctioned environment.
Ukraine is at war with Russia, a war which was instigated entirely by Russia for not only territorial enlargement but historical enhancement. According to spokesmen for the ROC, this is a war “to wipe Ukrainians off the face of the earth.”
Both the Constitution of Ukraine and the European Convention on Human Rights are circumspect in this regard, perhaps cognizant of their neighbor’s historical and rhetorical proclivities.
Paragraph 35 of Ukraine’s Constitution guarantees religious freedom. However it goes on to specify that freedom may be limited in the interests of the public good. Well, certainly, stopping Russian aggression and saving the Ukrainian nation from extinction may be the public good.
The European Convention on Human Rights guarantees in Article 9 “Freedom of thought, conscience and religion” yet subject to such “limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Certainly the right of Ukrainians to exist is one such limitation. The ROCMP has made itself clear in this regard – “to wipe Ukrainians off the face of the earth”.
December 6, 2023 Askold S. Lozynskyj