Orthodox Army against Uniates, Dissenters and Sectarians: Ideology and Terror of the Russian World
The religious front opened long before the annexation of Crimea and the undeclared war in Donbas. Ukrainian analysts, religious scholars and theologians (in particular, the texts by Yuriy Chernomorets and Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun should be mentioned) have repeatedly drawn attention to this fact, but, unfortunately, no one of the leading Ukrainian and Western politicians foresaw or considered the increasing role of aggressive Moscow-style Orthodoxy in regional and global politics. As the events in Ukraine have shown, Orthodox fundamentalism is no less aggressive than Islamic fundamentalism, and the Russian Spring is no less bloody than the Arabic one. Since this kind of Orthodoxy has government support and claims to play a political role, it can be called ‘political orthodoxy’. Moreover, recently political orthodoxy has manifested itself in the form of ‘orthodox terrorism’ in the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia-backed separatists.
While the monitoring groups working in Ukraine collect and present data on violations of religious freedom that have been previously unseen in this region, the need for a conceptual analysis of what is happening becomes increasingly obvious and blatant - why is this happening and what does it mean for the global community? There is no doubt that the persecution of individuals and groups we are witnessing are based on religion and are part of an integrate policy of the Russian world and therefore are fraught with a threat to regional security and even more– to global order as they challenge the very possibility of global, in particular the possibility of universal freedoms, human values, existing international law.
Events in Ukraine caused not only neighboring countries but also the global Christian community to worry and get involved in politics. In the broader context, it is not the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which is being discussed, but also the conflict between Eurasia and Europe, Russia and the West, the “orthodox Russian World” and “secularized Protestant-Catholic civilization,” between universal human rights and “orthodox” values of freedom and “traditional order.”
The Ukrainian and European choice of the Revolution of Dignity on Maidan (November 2014 - February 2014) was followed by aggressive reaction of the Russian world – the annexation of Crimea (March 2014), the occupation of eastern Ukraine and the creation of quasi-public ‘people's republics’ (April 2014). All denominations except the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in the occupied territories became outlawed and suffered from abduction, torture, murder, seizure of religious buildings.
It is obvious that the international community should analyze and assess the impact of Ukrainian events for cooperation in the region of Eurasia and the protection of religious freedom, and take all possible measures to support and assist victims of religious discrimination.
The facts speak for themselves: the Greek Catholics and the Kyiv Patriarchate were outlawed in the annexed Crimea; Russia-backed ‘Orthodox Armies’ fight in Donbas; dozens of Protestant churches were captured, kidnapping, torture and murder of pastors often occur; priests of the Moscow Patriarchate bless terrorists and refuse to perform burial services for deceased Ukrainian military; Patriarch Kirill predicts the death of Ukraine as a “kingdom divided against itself.”
The ‘hybrid war’ that Russia wages on Ukraine consolidated and intensified a series of inter-ethnic, inter-state and inter-confessional conflicts. Ukrainian state borders were blatantly violated, so were the unity and confessional identity of the Ukrainian political nation. And the religious component of the conflict may be a priority, because it is the Moscow-style Orthodoxy that became a key spiritual tie of the Russian world, and further the main agent of the bloody Russian Spring.
The annexation of Crimea was justified by sacred significance of the ancient Chersonese, and the war against Ukraine – by defense of Orthodoxy. As President Vladimir Putin stated in his address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, “Crimea, ancient Korsun, Chersonesos, and Sevastopol have a great civilization and sacred significance for Russia as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for those who profess Islam and Judaism. This event is of particular importance for our country, for our people, because our people live in Crimea and the territory itself is strategically important, and because there are spiritual origins of the diverse but monolithic Russian nation and the centralized Russian state. It is on this spiritual soil that our ancestors became aware themselves as one people for the first time and ever.”
In fact, the old European principle cuius regio, eius religio – “whose realm, his religion” was challenged, the principle “whose faith, his country” was imposed instead It refers to aggressive dissemination of the Russian world via the Moscow-style Orthodoxy. The Russian Spring began with the words of brotherhood and unity of the three nations of the Orthodox faith, but then come the annexation and war against yesterday’s brothers and fellow believers who dare live independently and believe in a different manner.
A totalitarian bunch of “being Russian is being Orthodox”, well known from the XIX century, became the main motive for consolidation of the Russians and defense of the Orthodox people. “Declaration of Russian identity” (adopted on November 11, 2014 following the session of XVIII World Russian People's Council, themed “Unity of history, the unity of the people, the unity of Russia”) declares: “In Russian tradition, national language is considered to be the most important criterion of nationality (the word ‘language’ itself being an ancient synonym of the word ‘nationality’). Knowledge of Russian language is mandatory for every Russian. The saying that every Russian should recognize Orthodox Christianity as a basis of national culture is justified and fair. Denial of this fact, and, all the more so, the search for a different religious foundation of national culture indicates to the weakening of Russian identity until its complete loss.”
As the events in Ukraine manifested, ‘polite people’ with guns in their hands might appear wherever the Russian-speaking and orthodox people live to defend them and place in a single space of the Russian Orthodox world.
“We cannot ignore the fact that the conflict in Ukraine has unambiguous religious underpinning,” Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew wrote in a letter that was published on the official website of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate on August 14, and disappeared already on August 15. “Uniates and dissenters who joined them try to defeat canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine ... I ask Your Holiness to use every opportunity to raise your voice in defense of Orthodox Christians in eastern Ukraine, who live in daily fear for themselves and their families in an environment of worsening violence on the part of the Greek Catholics and dissenters, fearing that if persecutors take power, the Orthodox will be forced to abandon their faith or subjected to severe discrimination,” says the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The fact of manipulating the ‘canonicity’ term draws particular attention. For the ROC there are no other Orthodox Churches in Ukraine, all of them impostors and dissenters. At the same time, the Patriarch ignores the known fact that even for those who operate the medieval term of “canonical territory”, Ukraine remains a controversial canonical territory and refers rather to the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate than to that of the Moscow Patriarchate.
This fact should be comprehended by those sympathetic to Orthodoxy in the West who say‘Orthodoxy’ implying the ROC. But the sign of equality cannot be placed between the Universal and Moscow orthodoxy either in scope or quality.
Identification of the Orthodox faith and Moscow-style Orthodox becomes a powerful propaganda tool. As pointed out by an ‘Orthodox militant’, Counsel to the Minister of Defense of the DNR Ihor Druz: “On the Ukrainian side there are no Orthodox not at all, because no churched Orthodox man will go to war against Novorossia (the ‘New Russia’), because he knows that the unity of the Holy Rus is the will of God. All the saints, who spoke on the subject, unanimously agreed that the Holy Rus should be unified. But the ‘Ukrainian fascists’ are the real separatists, willing to split off the New Russia from the Holy Rus and attach it to the militant decaying West. Therefore, there are no churched people from the Ukrainian side at all. The destroyer battalions mostly consist of the Uniates, dissenters, neo-pagans and sectarians.”
On July 31, 2014, Locum Tenens of the Kyiv Metropolis (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate) Metropolitan Onufriy turned to President Poroshenko with a personal message, in which he was “urged to report a violation of the rights and freedoms of believers and interference in the work of parishes in Donetsk Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the military forces deployed in the east of Ukraine.” On the problems of other religions and abuses by the occupation forces and terrorists, he did not mention. Thus, the UOC (MP) has confirmed not only spiritual, but also political dependence on Moscow. In the conflict between Orthodox supranational empire and nation-state, between the imperial ideology and civil society the ‘Ukrainian’ Orthodox Church was not actually Ukrainian. Obviously, such a stance of the leading “Ukrainian” confession is a threat to national security and sets a dangerous precedent for other countries in the region.
In a way, it is not Russia itself as a state, but Russian Orthodoxy as a supranational movement that becomes a geopolitical factor. It is the defense of the authentic traditional, canonical Orthodoxy that the ‘Orthodox armies’ of Donbas justify themselves with.
In his article titled “Origin of threat to Orthodoxy in Ukraine,” published on the separatist Russian Spring website, aforesaid Ihor Druz (who signs this time as “Chairman of the Popular Council Ukraine”) states: “The Kyivan terrorists ... are in need of ideological justification of their domination over the slaves of Euromaidan. They need to be supported not only by parties and movements, but by religious denominations as well. Western curators have been working long to dominate over various denominations, the State Department recently even set up a special department to work with them. Practically it means the destruction of the Moscow Patriarchate’s agencies in Ukraine and formation of a great religious and political sect from the remnants of various denominations, which will be the ideological support for Poroshenko’s regime. The same processes occur throughout the world, where under the leadership of the western oligarchy a unified world religion is being created, which is rightly considered the Antichrist’s religion by the Orthodox religion.”
Thus, through the efforts of Russian Spring ideologues, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, between Moscow-style Orthodoxy and Ukrainian ‘Uniates, dissenters and sectarians’ is being transferred to global level and is presented as a conflict between the Russian World and ‘decadent West’, ‘traditional values’ and ‘gay-Europe’, saving spirituality and corrupting secularity.
Moreover, remaining the main unifying force, the ROC is trying to create an alliance of the Protestants, Jews, and Muslims who agree with the Orthodox vision of the history of Russia and unreservedly recognize their diminutive subordinate position. As the head of foreign relations department of one of the Russian church unions (at the round table “Christian values in modern Russia,” Moscow, May 25, 2006) stated, “We, Protestants, understand that the places at the state table are occupied, but we do not object to eating even crumbs from the table” (an allusion to the excerpt from Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Matthew: “But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.”).
It is clear that such allies of the ‘true Orthodox’ are temporary and will soon become the next victims(which is already happening, while the Protestant leaders sit on various government boards and receive presidential award their churches are mercilessly persecuted).
Unfortunately, not only the Russian Orthodox Church, but also the Russian Protestants see Ukraine as their “canonical territory” and have already begun to divide Ukrainian churches in the occupied territories. In particular, the Russian Union of Evangelical Faith Christians decided to create a separate diocesan administration of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol. The new body will be headed by Bishop Konstantin Bendas, a staunch supporter of great-power policy through its commanding Bishop Sergei Ryakhovsky, a member of the Presidential Council and the Public Chamber under the President of the Russian Federation.
Russian Baptists also believe Crimea is Russian. Since spring they persistently invited Crimean churches to move from the All-Ukrainian Union to the Russian Union of Evangelical Faith Christians. This expansion reveals not just a territorial issue, but also the conflict of ideological positions. In the resolution of XXXIV Congress of the Russian Union of Evangelical Faith Christians (30 May 2014) Russian Baptists condemned the change of power in Ukraine as a mutiny: “We declare our commitment to the biblical teaching that does not accept the violent overthrow of legitimate authority, nationalism and resolution of social and political contradictions, other than through political negotiations. “Don't associate with rebels” (Proverbs 24:21).”
The Congress delegates were quick to dissociate themselves from their “former brother in the faith”, the then acting President of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov, and at the same time send a loyal message to President Putin, in which their assured him of their support and prayers, “May the Lord give you strength and courage to remain faithful in your fight against xenophobia and preserving inter-religious peace.” In fairness, it should be noted that many of the leaders of the pro-Russian leaders of Eastern Ukrainian churches have gone even further, demanding the excommunication of the “bloody pastor” of the church. According to the pastors from Donbas, when they are asked by DNR separatists, “Is Turchinov yours?" they boldly say: “No, he is not ours.”
It is noteworthy that on the same XXXIV Congress, along with the resolution on Ukraine and obsequious appeal to Putin, the social concept of the Russian Union of Evangelical Faith Christians was adopted, which clearly says the following: “No nation or country should not impose its will on others, on the basis of a concept of their own religious, economic, political or military superiority. Each nation should spend their efforts not to prove false exclusiveness, but to achieve a genuine spiritual and moral progress.
In order not to suspect pious advocates of the Russian world of dual consciousness, we have to admit the only remaining option: they really believe in the ‘Holy Rus’ and its ‘universal mission’.
Probably, it is the defense of ‘purity of faith’ for the Orthodox and the ‘achievement of a genuine spiritual and moral progress’ may only justify for Protestants the horrors of “Russian Spring” in Ukraine. Only the defense of mythical “traditional values” can hide imperial ambitions of the soul-saving Moscow-style Orthodoxy in its epic confrontation with ‘decaying Catholic-Protestant West’. Only a fanatical faith in themselves and their uniqueness can make them close their eyes to unprecedented crimes against humanity and humanity committed by Orthodox Crusaders against Ukraine and the world, against God and neighbors.
Sooner or later, the international community will be forced to acknowledge the existence of political orthodoxy and the related ‘orthodox terrorism’ backed by Russia and having a destabilizing effect on the entire region of Eurasia, and the sooner it happens the better it will be for regional and global security, for the defense of religious freedom and civil rights, self-determination for the people and nations. One of the first steps in this direction can be formed by the recognizing the ‘orthodox’ people's republics (in Donetsk and Luhansk) that emerged in eastern Ukraine as terrorist organizations. Such honest admission would clarify the situation, determine the parties to the conflict, the aggressor and the victim, as well as allow for dissociation of non-political and non-aggressive Orthodoxy from political and aggressive simulacra.
I’d like to offer eight key points as conclusions regarding the religious aspects of the Ukrainian crisis, its global significance and a possible stance of the international community.
First, the ‘hybrid war’ unleashed by Russia in Ukraine is not so much anti-Ukrainian, as anti-Western, and is so obviously religiously motivated that one may call it the ‘holy war’, in which the “orthodox army” is fighting against “Uniates, dissenters and sectarians.” In the minds of the "Russian Spring" ideologues, Russian intervention is conceived as a “crusade” against the West, the Reconquista, gathering, reunion of the lands of the Russian world.
Second, everyone connected with the West by origins (‘foreigners’) or by conscious choice (‘traitors’) are automatically added to the list of enemies of the Russian world: the Greek Catholics as traitors to the Orthodox faith, the Uniates, Banderovites; Orthodox of the Kyiv Patriarchate as dissenters, apostates, ‘nationalists’, the Protestant sects as Westerners, American spies, the Crimean Tatars as pro-Ukrainian and non-Orthodox. A clear religious discrimination of all denominations except the Moscow Patriarchate is taking place.
Third, merging with the state, using an exclusive access to its resources, and its ideological influence on its policies, Russian Orthodoxy is increasingly becoming thepolitical orthodoxy. In this case, it is difficult to separate religion from politics. It is this complex relationship that explains the hybrid nature of the war in Ukraine. The state received religious justification and sacred sanction of the ROC for a merciless war, hence the economic logic and political expediency were subordinate to the religious motive – to return the canonical territory to the Moscow Patriarchate and build on it the Orthodox empire of the Russian world.
Fourth, religious associations in Crimea and Donbas are sequentially isolated and forcedly incorporated into doctrinally close Russian agencies Russian (as Pentecostals and Baptists state). Given the Orthodox-aggressive ideology of the occupying power, religious denominations have lost any possibility to conduct their worship in religious buildings and missionary work in the community, to receive international assistance and organize charity. Often the terms of returning the confiscated buildings or renewal of lease agreement is the re-registration and concomitant procedure of ‘Orthodox examination’. Denominations were not only devoid of the rights and livelihoods, but were also isolated from Ukraine and international support.
Fifth, the spread of orthodox Russian world ideology and religious persecution of other faiths have already led to a significant change in the religious map of the region. Most religious organizations have ceased their activities and their parishioners were forced to move to other regions. The vast majority of refugees do not have the necessary living conditions for their families, as well as any prospects of getting a job in the economic crisis in the country. Entire communities were scattered abroad, and the rest of the ministers from the occupied territories are in constant danger. You can talk about the defeated religious associations in the three regions of Ukraine –the Crimean peninsula, Luhansk and Donetsk regions; accordingly one should speak about many thousands of refugees, victims, dead and wounded. The faithful of these denominations may be victims of religious cleansing.
Sixth, while the interfaith community have coalesced around a Ukrainian anti-corruption “Revolution of dignity”, national unity and opposition to the Russian world’s aggression; Russian denominations united in support of their president’s anti-Western course. The title of the book of former President Leonid Kuchma “Ukraine is not Russia” beautifully conveys a clear demarcation between the nations and represents Ukraine to the world as an independent phenomenon - the ‘Not Russia’. It does not fit into usual concepts of the Western world that called Russian everything that previously fell within the borders of the USSR. But today, it becomes clear that Ukraine, with its rich diversity of confessional, east-west synthetic spiritual culture should be perceived as a separate entity and promising relationship. Moreover, Ukraine should be seen as a victim of foreign aggression, and the aggression have become a cause for pro-Western orientation of the community and the consensus of most denominations that supported the European aspirations of the country.
Seventh, one should see the conflict of universal human rights and freedoms and the so-called ‘traditional values’ beneath the confrontation in Ukraine. It is not the universal or even Christian values that the deceptive traditional values rhetoric conceals, but the traditional values of political orthodoxy - Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality, i.e. the values of the Orthodox Empire. On the contrary, upholding the fundamental value of freedom in relation to the individual and the nation, the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity defends the possibility of religious freedom and religious diversity. In this clash of the emerging civil society and monolithic Orthodox Empire, Ukraine needs more than ever the support from international legal institutions and solidarity of multi-faceted and free Christendom.
Eighth, since the expansion of the orthodox Russian World carries a threat to the religious identity of Ukraine, the protection of its identity requires international assistance – professional monitoring, expert analysis, advocacy of religious freedom, expansion of international relations and integration into the global space. Response to Russia’s intervention can be a consistent and speedy integration into the European space, but not ‘Finlandisation’.
In turn, the international community has only one way to resist the absorption of Ukraine by Russia – to get closer to Ukraine, to be bound with it by strong religious, cultural, political and economic relations; open all doors to the free movement of Ukrainian believers in need of assistance; use all diplomatic means to recognize the separatist ‘People's Republics’ as terrorist organizations and their ‘policy’ towards religious organizations as discriminatory policy, and their victims as victims of religiously motivated terrorism.