THERE are no simplistic or partisan answers (either political or
ecclesiastical) to the crisis in Ukraine, which the Churches have
been following with anxiety and prayer.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Conference of
European Churches (CEC) have kept a watching brief: the Secretary
of the WCC has visited Moscow; I have been listening to
Constantinople. There has been a WCC delegation to Ukraine
(News, 27 March), of which I was a member. These
reflections are, however, personal.
AS I travelled to Kiev, I reflected on the diversity of Ukraine,
and on the divisions between its Churches.
The majority of Ukrainians follow the Orthodox tradition, which
is itself divided. In western Ukraine, what is sometimes called the
Greek Catholic Church is strong. Following Polish and Lithuanian
influence, from the late 16th century a significant number of
Orthodox believers came into communion with Rome, without losing
their Eastern liturgy and spirituality. This meant that they looked
west rather than east - to neither Moscow (like the Russian
Orthodox) nor Constantinople (like the Greeks). In Soviet times,
these Ukrainian "Greek"' Catholics were systematically persecuted,
even more than other Orthodox who also suffered terribly.
The larger Orthodox community in Ukraine has been part of the
wider Moscow Patriarchate since the time of the Tsars.
Nevertheless, Kiev remained its spiritual heart, by virtue of the
first baptisms in "Rus" under Prince Woldomyr in the tenth century.
There is the legend of the prince wanting to determine Kiev's
religion, and sending out ambassadors. They went to the Western and
Eastern Churches, and to Judaism, and to Islam. When they came to
Constantinople, the liturgy in Hagia Sophia was so numinous that
without hesitation they recommended Orthodoxy (good liturgy can be
missional in a big way!).
Over the centuries, there developed the complex of monasteries
known as the "Lavra of the Caves"; Kiev was compared by pilgrims to
Jerusalem. This spiritual history is important in trying to
understand the dismay of the Russian Orthodox Church when, after
Ukrainian independence, part of the Church broke away from the
Moscow Patriarchate to form a self-designated Independent Ukrainian
Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate). There is also a further,
smaller Orthodox body that designates itself the Autonomous
Neither of these bodies is recognised by any other Orthodox
Church. In addition, there are other Churches and denominations of
Western origin; of special significance are the Hungarian-speaking
Reformed in Transcarpathia, and the smaller number of
German-speaking Lutherans, who are dispersed throughout Ukraine.
And there are Tatar Muslims in the Crimea; and Jewish communities,
especially in Kiev itself.
OUR delegation spent time with the majority Church, the
Ukrainian Orthodox Church (OUC, in communion with the Moscow
Patriarchate); the All Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious
Organisations; and the Papal Nuncio. I visited displaced families;
another member joined an aid convoy to the east.
We heard from the UOC of the difficulties that they face because
of popular pressure (from one TV channel in particular) in favour
of the self-designated Independent Orthodox Church; the party line
is that "to be patriotic you must reject all things Moscow." Its
head recently defended, uncompromisingly, the divine right to
Changing jurisdiction is facilitated by the state law, in which
only buildings and congregations are recognised rather than
Churches as institutions. So a congregation with a real or imagined
grievance can "swap" its parent church, subject only to the
agreement of the local (secular) parish council.
This mechanism was devised in Soviet times, to divide and
conquer. But, for the record, the majority Ukrainian Orthodox
Church has twice stated its commitment to the integrity of Ukraine;
and still exercises jurisdiction in the Crimea (rather than cede
this to Moscow). It calls for peace. A priest who used inflammatory
language about the present government of Ukraine, supporting the
pro-Russian militias, has been removed from his parish, and is
being investigated by the Church.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church must be an essential part of any
process of reconciliation, because it is the only large Church in
both eastern and western Ukraine: it spans the political divide.
The small Lutheran Church is also found in the east as well as the
west; its bishop also courageously works for reconciliation between
I heard at first hand of atrocities on both sides, from victims
who had fled from the devastated cities in the east, homeless
refugees in their own country, being cared for temporarily by a
local Evangelical church. Since then, news has emerged of serious
restrictions on Christian and Jewish groups in the Crimea (News, 10
A WISE observer spoke of the complexities of two Ukrainian
economies. In the west, Europe and the euro are attractive, but in
the east - the old industrial heartland of Ukraine - industry is
still orientated to Russia and the old Soviet economy. In addition,
east Ukraine contains large Russian-speaking communities. In the
recent past, speaking Russian and nurturing that culture were not
seen as un-Ukrainian; now they are, further dividing
One real hope is the unity of the All Ukrainian Council of
Churches and Religious Organisations. All the Churches and faiths
are active members; the divided Orthodox are here together. The
state-sponsored Council was set up in Soviet days as an instrument
of control; now, the Churches use its strength in speaking to the
Above all, the complexity of Ukraine - a Janus-like,
double-facing country - has to be recognised. Simply laying blame
unilaterally does nothing to help, although this is not to say that
there are no villains (including certain billionaire "oligarchs").
e should pray for Ukraine and its Churches, that the Churches may
be part of an ultimately peaceful solution - rather than simply
reflect existing political and economic rivalries.
The Rt Revd Christopher Hill is President of the Conference
of European Churches.