Orthodoxy in Dialogue has shown unflinching support for the ongoing project of Ukraine’s political and ecclesiastical liberation from centuries of oppression at the hands of Tsarist-Soviet-Putinist Russia. We have been especially supportive of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv even when we have not always agreed with them. The grant of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was the right thing to do by every metric, despite some of the worrisome Phanariot ecclesiology that underlay it.
The following article at Bellingcat has been brought to our attention by two of our readers independently of each other. We share it with a heavy heart in the interests of honesty and transparency.
Ukraine-haters will see this report as “proof” that Ukrainians and their Church are all right-wing nationalist extremists. Yet this hardly congrues with the fact that this predominantly Orthodox country handed nearly 75% of its vote to a Jewish presidential candidate and just hosted the nation’s largest and most peaceful LGBTQ festival in the history of Kyiv Pride. Ukrainian democracy continues in its birth pangs, but shows promise of a bright future. Bellingcat makes clear that the right-wing extremism reported below does not enjoy popular support in Ukraine.
The tragic fact of the matter is that the Orthodox Church everywhere attracts right-wing, nationalist, extremist elements whose diabolical ideologies bear no resemblance whatever to the Gospel or to Orthodox spirituality. This is no less true in Russia, Greece, Serbia, Romania, etc., and even in American Orthodoxy, than it is in Ukraine.
While in Russia the Kremlin and Patriarchate are so completely in bed with each other (see Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy) that it seems humanly impossible to pry them from their adulterous embrace, in Ukraine Metropolitan Epiphanius, the hierarchy, and the clergy of the OCU simply must preach—in season and out of season—that there is no place in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ for unrepented nationalist extremism.
Epiphanius on LGBT: We Cannot Call Sin Good
Photo hosted by Tradition and Order (Традиція і Порядок) – reportedly one of Ukraine’s most violent far-right groups
Calls to “Fight” LGBT People by Ukrainian Cleric Emblematic of Church’s Proximity to Far Right
by Bellingcat Anti-Equality Monitoring
Yaroslav Kulyk [Facebook page here] is a fixture at anti-LGBT protests in Kyiv, and has called for “patriots” to “fight”, “crush” participants of Kyiv Pride. Kulyk addressed crowds next to far-right figures, calling one far-right organizer his “leader”. Kulyk is also a priest in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UCO), regularly conducting services in some of Ukraine’s most well-known historic cathedrals, often seen with the hierarchs of the Church.
The case of 27-year-old Yaroslav Kulyk is an extreme example, yet it is also emblematic of how anti-LGBT activism and rhetoric has put members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on the side of the far right fringe, thus further boosting the profile and perceived legitimacy of these groups, which in reality hold relatively little popular support throughout the country.
OCU Priest Accuses “Global Capital” Of Backing Gays In Attack On Ukrainian Traditions
There’s an attack underway on the family as a social institution (…) the Global Capital is heavily invested. It’s imperative that every believer joins the fight. What else can Christians do other than pray, preach, and fight?
In a video address shared online by anti-LGBT groups, a young bearded man in priestly vestments described this “attack”, and further called on “Christians and Patriots” to join a “prayer vigil” against “enemies.” The man, the aforementioned 27-year-old priest Yaroslav Kulyk, introduces himself as “Father Yaroslav” of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
“Father Yaroslav” continued in his conspiratorial line of thought in his video invitation to a “prayer vigil,” saying that, “Our fight is sacred and sacral. It’s the fight of the Grace of the Holy Spirit against the Global Capital. It’s the fight of a single nation against the global government. It’s the fight of Christians against forces of the Devil.”
The video carries more weight in its proximity to Ukraine’s most influential religious organization due to the fact that it was filmed in literal proximity to the headquarters of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The backdrop of the video shows the courtyard of Kyiv’s famed Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery.
The Prayer Vigil Kulyk touted is actually a far-right rally meant as a counter to Kyiv Pride, Ukraine’s premier LGBT event. Kyiv Pride has long been targeted by anti-LGBT groups, religious organizations, and the country’s far right.
This year’s LGBT march is scheduled for June 23rd, while the counter-event, dubbed the “Vigil in Defense of Children and Families,” is set to be a two-day event spanning June 22nd and June 23rd. Last year, this event was used by anti-LGBT protesters to prevent Pride participants from gathering to begin marching, but police broke up the disruptive counter-protest. The anti-LGBT protesters then accused the police of using excessive force.
This counter-event will reportedly be manned by three of Ukraine’s most notorious and reportedly violent far-right groups: Karpatska Sich (Карпатська Січ), Tradition and Order (Традиція і Порядок), and Brotherhood (Братство).
These three larger groups will be joined by a collection of smaller anti-LGBT, far-right, and Christian conservative organizations, including: Katechon (Катехон), National Resistance (Національний спротив), Unknown Patriot (Невідомий патріот), Sisterhood of Saint Olga (Сестринство Святої Ольги), and the Interconfessional Chaplain Church (Міжконфесійна капеланська Церква).
The diversity of these of anti-LGBT protest groups reflects how religious-conservative and violent groups overlap in their anti-equality activism, dovetailing into their respective efforts to curb LGBT rights. Per the recent report “The State of LGBT in Ukraine” by the Ukrainian NGO Our World, religious-conservative circles in Ukraine have focused on pressuring the government to abandon LGBT rights reforms and “effectively impose discrimination of LGBT”, whereas far right groups have attempted “to physically block any LGBT events, and used violence without hesitation”.