Russia and the Uniates
The issues of the Church Union and Ukrainian independence are connected in the official Russian mind. For Moscow, the very idea of Ukraine is a violation of East Slavic unity, while the Union that resulted in the Greek-Catholic Church is a betrayal of Orthodox solidarity. The underlying premise is that Moscow is the arbiter and guarantor of both.
On October 19, UNIAN reported that in an October 16 conversation with the American Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Sirius XM Catholic Radio, Patriarch Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) had said that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was the only canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The interview can be heard at: cardinaldolan.org
This remark seems to have upset some Ukrainians, who expect the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to comment on Orthodox affairs from a political perspective. But as Patriarch Sviatoslav made clear, he has no business challenging the internal rules of the Orthodox world. He is simply doing what all non-Orthodox churchmen must do: respect the fact that according to Orthodox criteria, some Orthodox Churches are canonical and others are not. This does not mean that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate or the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church does not have a right to exist, or even that it may not be in some ways a “truer” or more worthy Church than the UOC-MP. Indeed, Patriarch Sviatoslav may well consider Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko) of the UOC-KP the true leader of Ukrainian Orthodoxy in a moral sense. But not in a canonical sense.
In fact, Sviatoslav’s contacts with non-canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Churches have raised the ire of the Moscow Patriarchate. In the radio broadcast, Cardinal Dolan expressed dismay at the “intemperate” and “inappropriate” words he had just heard at the Synod of Bishops from Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, head of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Metropolitan had criticized Patriarch Sviatoslav’s contacts with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate. But as the Patriarch pointed out, those contacts were of a civil rather than an ecclesial nature. They were conducted in the context of the all-Ukrainian council of churches and religious organizations. They in no way implied any official recognition of the UOC-KP – which would have been an act of disrespect for the canons of the Orthodox communion.
But this is only one of Metropolitan Hilarion’s criticisms of the UGCC. He also accuses the Ukrainian Church of supporting the Ukrainian nationalists who, in his view, are persecuting the “Russian-speaking” population of southeastern Ukraine, whom the Russian government is supposedly protecting. This, he feels, demonstrates the historically mistaken nature of the Union of Brest, by which the Orthodox of Ukraine and Belarus’ joined with the Roman Church in 1596. Indeed, according to Patriarch Sviatoslav, Hilarion had told the Catholic bishops at the Synod that the very existence of the Uniate UGCC was a stumbling-block in Catholic-Orthodox relations.
Metropolitan Hilarion’s linking of the ecclesiastical and the political is not fortuitous. It reveals how the issues of the Church Union and Ukrainian independence are connected in the official Russian mind. For Moscow, the very idea of Ukraine is a betrayal of East Slavic unity, while the Union that resulted in the Greek-Catholic Church is a betrayal of Orthodox solidarity. The underlying premise is that Moscow is the arbiter and guarantor of both – as the capital of both a single Russian Church and a single “Russian World.”
Ukraine, and its Greek-Catholic Church, challenge that conception. Ukraine as a nation presupposes ethnic, cultural, and national pluralism, in a world where unity is strengthened, not threatened, by diversity. The UGCC presupposes religious freedom, where different paths to the unity of Christians may legitimately be pursued.
In pursuing unity, the Kyivan metropolitanate of 1595 chose to join with Rome. The Moscow patriarchate chose to oppose this Union. Today, this opposition of orientations is mirrored in Ukraine’s choice to join Europe, and Moscow’s decision to reject it. The Uniate UGCC, as part of the universal Catholic Church, respects the Orthodox Churches and their canons -- hence Patriarch Sviatoslav’s words about the canonicity of the UOC-MP. The Moscow Patriarchate, on the other hand, declines to respect the Catholic Church and its internal order, denouncing the UGCC as an illegitimate body and even seeking to turn Latin-rite Catholics against it. In this it mirrors the conduct of the Russian state: taking advantage of those who play by the rules of civilization while flouting those very rules.