WHEN Orthodox priests take to the streets, as in Ukraine, or
officiate at funerals, they always make good photos. Their robes
are colourful, and their faces are bearded. There have been many
such photos in the papers this week, but much less about what they
have been saying.
Ukraine has no fewer than three separate branches of the Russian
Orthodox Church: the largest under the leadership of the Moscow
Patriarchate; the second, the Kiev Patriachate, in opposition to
it; and a much smaller Ukrainian Autocephalous Church, abolished,
like the Kiev Patriarchate, under Stalin, but revitalised in the
past 20 years.
Divisions run right through Ukrainian society. At their most
obvious, the Russian-speaking east is more sympathetic to the
Kremlin, while the Ukrainian-speaking west was the trigger for
Ukrainian independence in the first place. The divisions run right
down the middle of Kiev, centrally situated and seat of the
government. Officially, the capital is Ukrainian-speaking, but not
everyone knows the language.
At a meeting predominantly of clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate
in Odessa (southern Ukraine, on the Black Sea coast, a
Russian-speaking area) last Saturday, the call was for moderation,
but also national unity: "We especially encourage local élites -
political, cultural, intellectual, social - do not rock the boat in
which you sit. Do not think that the current conflicts are careless
political games. Be aware that we are one family and that we live
in the same home - Ukraine."
Last Sunday, the head of the Kiev Patriarchate, Patriarch
Filaret, gave an impassioned interview, in Ukrainian, to Channel 5
TV, in which he repeatedly called for peace, moderation on all
sides, and dialogue, backed up by prayer. The interview included
excerpts from an open-air prayer service to illustrate his point.
Both Churches are opposed to any form of violence.
In contrast with the pro-Russian government, western Ukraine is
strongly nationalistic. Its large Greek Catholic Church (Eastern
Rite, under the authority of Rome) is currently under pressure from
the government. Yet, here, too, the highly respected Bishop Borys
Gudziak has echoed the sentiments of the Orthodox Churches, stating
that different faiths are working together, holding regular joint
prayers, and priests are providing pastoral care on Independence
Protestants have always been strongly present in Ukraine. On 17
January, a meeting in Kiev brought together leaders of Baptist,
Pentecostal, Lutheran, and other Churches. Here, too, there were
moderate voices, but also some more outspoken ones. An Evangelical
church leader, Dr Sergiy Tymchenko, reported back from the front
line and said: "The barricades on Independence Square touched my
heart. I saw the birth of a new nation there. People were ready to
fight for their freedom and give their lives for the sake of
All were united, though, in calling for Protestants to become
actively involved in exercising civic responsibility.