Seated centre left refusing to stand during tribute to Ukraine’s slain soldiers: Metropolitan Onufry (Berezovsky), Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and Permanent Member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church

Russia is using the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) as a weapon of war. It has been over four years since Russia invaded Ukraine. In the Donbas campaign of Putin’s war, clerics and religious buildings of the UOC-MP are being used by the intelligence services of the Russian Federation to carry out hostile intelligence operations against Ukraine. The clergy of this denomination [sic] take part in terrorist activities and support the Russian Federal Security Services fronted terrorist organizations, the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic.” This is the conclusion of the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU), and they’re finally going after the enemy within: the old KGB relic that is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate.

This is all coming in the wake of Ukraine becoming truly independent after 2014, after the Revolution of Dignity and Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas. Ukrainians are spirited and united because they are in a great existential battle. While fighting Muscovite invaders on the battlefront in Luhansk and Donetsk regions, Ukrainians are taking care of unfinished business on the home front. At long last the SBU is starting to investigate the anti-Ukrainian activities of the UOC-MP. Nominally a church but in fact an arm of the Kremlin, the UOC-MP is an outpost of the enemy in the heart of Ukraine. Most Ukrainians will look at this investigation and say: “It’s about time!”

Ukrainians should have done the “housekeeping” of taking care of the UOC-MP immediately after 1991, when the Muscovite occupation of Ukraine ended and Ukraine re-established its independence after a 70 year hiatus. They didn’t. An opportunity was squandered, and a generation was wasted in the shabby oligarchy that took root in Ukraine instead of a normal democracy. The year 2014 changed everything. The Revolution of Dignity saw the spectacularly corrupt Yanukovych flee the country and brought a new hope. Russia invaded Ukraine, occupied Crimea, partially occupied Donbas, and the hope for reform and lustration became a life-or-death necessity. When the historic events of 2014 unfolded, the UOC-MP showed its true colours as an agency of the Russian state in the guise of a church.

Every Ukrainian remembers the Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine’s parliament] session (08.05.2015) held to honour the memory of Ukrainian soldiers slain in the early battles against the Muscovite invaders. Everyone in the chamber, even all foreign guests, stood in silence, out of respect, except for three Moscow Patriarchate priests who pointedly remained seated. At the time, memories were still very fresh of how Kyiv Patriarchate priests had acted in a completely opposite and pro-Ukrainian manner. St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery—a UOC-KP [Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate] church—took in many wounded Ukrainian patriots from Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Kyiv’s Independence Square] when Yanukovych’s goons attacked during the January-February 2014 peak of the Revolution of Dignity.

It’s about time the SBU investigated the UOC-MP. SBU Colonel Julia Laputina spoke at a press conference about the wide-ranging probe of anti-Ukrainian activities of the UOC-MP: “The investigation is carried out by means of scientific expertise, by revealing documents, by the testimony of people who saw or participated in events that were carried out by the UOC-MP.” She also said that witnesses will be interviewed and evidence gathered, such as church literature used for manipulation. Colonel Laputina stressed that Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas was preceded by a long period of latent aggression and the spread of manipulative technology precisely in the domain of the church.

Against the Kremlin-front UOC-MP, Ukraine has two genuine churches for Orthodox believers: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC). Patriarch Filaret (born Mykhailo Denysenko) is head of the UOC-KP. His lifelong effort is to build a united Orthodox Church with a Ukrainian national orientation, centred in Kyiv. While parishioners in Orthodox churches do not have the freedom to choose their priest the way Presbyterians do, more and more Ukrainians are shunning the Moscow Patriarchate Church because of its anti-Ukrainian actions and adhering to the Kyiv Patriarchate Church. Patriarch Filaret said in Chernihiv on 7 December 2014: “We don’t need to capture churches because they are ours due to the fact that they are located on Ukrainian territory. Our main goal is to unite into the only autonomous Orthodox Church, independent from Moscow and Constantinople.”

It is likely that the SBU investigation will establish what most Ukrainians believe already: the UOC-MP is anti-Ukrainian and is a front for the enemy that is invading Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas. The Moscow Church was created in its present form by Stalin in 1945, and is run today by two old KGB men, Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Gundyayev [Patriarch Kirill]. Given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, given proposed bills in the Verkhovna Rada, and given the announced investigation by the SBU, it looks very likely that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate will be banned in Ukraine and its property seized. Russia is at war with Ukraine, and is using its Church as a weapon in that war. In a life-or-death battle to save its freedom and independence, Ukraine is on course to neutralize that weapon and ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. 

This report appeared on April 1 on RL, the Radio Lemberg website. A few minor typographical modifications have been made for improved flow of the text. Orthodoxy in Dialogue takes no position on the current canonical status of the UOC-MP, the UOC-KP, or the UAOC. It seems clear, however, that Ukraine urgently needs a unified, canonically recognized Orthodox Church free of all foreign infiltration. The Kyivan Church has been part of the Muscovite Church only since 1686, having previously existed for 700 years as a metropolitanate under the Patriarchate of Constantinople.