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Kirill could challenge Putin’s intervention

07 March 2014

Michael Bourdeaux

reflects on the

loyalties among

Orthodox Christians

in Ukraine


A rally in Volgograd, Russia, on Tuesday, to support ethnic Russians in Crimea. The placard reads: "Volgograd against fascism"

A rally in Volgograd, Russia, on Tuesday, to support ethnic Russians in Crimea. The placard reads: "Volgograd against fascism"

KIEV is the very cradle of Russian Orthodoxy. It was here, after the conversion of Prince Vladimir from paganism in 988, that the second great stronghold of the Orthodox Church emerged, and ancient Rus inherited religion and custom from Byzantium.

By rights, Kiev should have been the focus of the celebrations of the millennium of this great event in 1988, but Moscow staged it. Kiev's claim was submerged in euphoria, as Soviet people were beginning to throw off their shackles.

Russian-speaking Ukrainians do not automatically owe allegiance to President Putin and all that Russian imperialism stands for. The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is sadly divided between the minority, who belong to the Kiev Patriarchate, and the majority, whose allegiance is to the Moscow Patriarchate. Most of both are Russian speakers, but millions of each want to remain loyal

to their country of citizenship.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has, up to now, openly declared his loyalty to President Putin - this was, after all, the root cause of the indignation of the Pussy Riot demonstrators in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, two years ago (News, 27 April 2012). Further, Patriarch Kirill offered total support to the banished President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.

The acting head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Onufry, unequivocally addressed Patriarch Kirill last Sunday: "I ask you to lift your voice for the preservation of the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state." He sent a similar letter to President Putin.

Patriarch Kirill has replied in equally plain language: "The Ukrainian people must determine their own future themselves without external interference."

What is missing so far is a call by the Patriarch directly to President Putin. He has the unique oppor-tunity, for the first time in post-Soviet history, to challenge the interventionist policy of the Kremlin and the Russian parliament. Patriarch Kirill has never yet offered a hint of criticism of official policy, but now is his opportunity to do so.

Canon Bourdeaux is the President of Keston Institute, in Oxford.


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