The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) submitted a bill to ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) as it is a “structure working for the enemy.” The bill would allow the Ukrainian state to confiscate the property of UOC-MP, effectively expanding the Ukrainian-Russian conflict to the spiritual battlefield. Although this is the latest move against the canonical Orthodox Church, which began long before the 2014 Maidan coup, provocations from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul noticeably intensified afterwards.
However, what makes the proposed bill even more baffling is the fact that the persecutors ignore that a significant part of the UOC-MP’s clergy expressed loyalty to Kiev, and an even larger part took a position of neutrality. This is unsurprising though as post-Maidan Ukraine has embarked on a human rights-breaking and ultra-nationalistic campaign of Ukrainianization.
In the village of Verkhovyna in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast (western Ukraine), the Anno-Zachatievsky Church was captured by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists. The local administration, having closed the church, expressed its intention to transfer it to the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).
The OCU was granted the tomos of autocephaly (decree of ecclesial independence) from the Moscow Patriarchate by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on January 5 2019, despite major opposition from the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Polish Orthodox Church.
Although the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (the Second Rome) has long been struggling against the false claims that Moscow is the Third Rome and successor of the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire, this rivalry and struggle has mostly been reduced to a spiritual battle for influence over global Christian Orthodoxy. However, the granting of tomos to the OCU was a major escalation that was instigated on the whims of NATO rather than supposedly correcting a historical injustice, thus bringing the Constantinople-Moscow spiritual rivalry into today’s geopolitics.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople does not hide away from serving the interests of NATO rather than Orthodoxy. Take for example that he said just before the Turkish military invaded northern Syria: “We pray that the Turkish Armed Forces will achieve success and ‘Operation Olive Branch’ will bring peace to the area as its name promises.” Not only did “Operation Olive Branch” lead to war crimes, ethnic cleansing and refugees, but an ancient Christian heritage site in northeastern Syria was damaged by Turkish air raids. The bombed site has many Eastern Roman churches and monasteries, including the Julianus Church, which is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, built at the end of the 4th century.
With Patriarch Bartholomew offering prayers to an army that cleansed northern Syria of many Christians and attacked ancient churches, it is unsurprising that he has remained silent as Ukrainian nationalists illegally take property belonging to the UOC-MP. In this way, Patriarch Bartholomew is motivated by serving Western interests rather than global Orthodoxy.
Armed Ukrainian bandits also recently captured the abbot of the Trinity Dukonsky Monastery of the Ivano-Frankivsk diocese, Archimandrite Titus (Drachuk), together with his clergymen. The priests were then released but ordered to leave the region. In addition, Zinoviy Andriyovich, the mayor of the Nadvirna municipality in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, threatened to confiscate property belonging to citizens who, under the conditions of the closure of churches, rent premises to the parishioners of the Moscow Patriarchate for worship.
These are just some of the events occurring in western Ukraine. However, it is not just reduced to this region as the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion has been engaging in similar actions in the port city of Mariupol. The priest of the local Holy Trinity Church in Mariupol said that he and other ministers of the diocese were actually taken hostage by the neo-Nazis, who stated that in Ukraine there is “only one true national church – the OCU.” The neo-Nazi looting of Mariupol’s churches was covered in the French conservative Catholic publication Le Salon Beige, but completely ignored by Patriarch Bartholomew.
Yet again, Patriarch Bartholomew also remained silent when the Ukrainian military considered churches in Donbass to be legitimate military targets.
At the same time, the Azov Battalion use churches as hideouts. It was recently unveiled that foreign mercenaries from the Forward Observation Group, who, together with their Ukrainian comrades, hid in churches and fired at Russian forces in the hope of provoking return fire to fabricate accusations of Russia targeting churches.
Along with the illegal confiscation of property and attempts to provoke Russian forces to fire on Holy sites, public figures close to the UOC-MP are also being targeted. The Security Service of Ukraine arrested the writers Alexander Karevin and Dmitry Skvortsov, and even the well-known journalist and artist Yan Taksyur, who is not only suffering terminally with cancer, but is denied hospitalization and basic medical care.
None-the-less, despite Ukrainian nationalists having the courage to illegally confiscate property, it is worth mentioning that the schismatic Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and All Ukraine (Dumenko), immediately after the beginning of the Russian military operation, fled to Greece, where he withdrew his considerable capital. Now he ‘defends’ Ukraine from afar and makes belligerent statements such as
“killing Russian occupiers is not a sin.” On the website “Spiritual Front of Ukraine”, which is close to the OCU, they call on the authorities to send all the bishops of the canonical UOC to prison for 12-15 years “for collaborationism”.
Under such conditions, the silent rivalry between Constantinople and Moscow has come to the forefront in Ukraine now. Not only did Constantinople instigate a schism in Orthodoxy by granting autocephaly, it now remains silent as Ukrainian thugs continue to illegally confiscate property belonging to the UOC-MP.