Russian Church loses ground in Ukraine


Eastern Europe


A man removes debris at a damaged church after a missile strike in Odesa, southern Ukraine, amid the Russian invasion. Photo EPA, Igor Tkachenko

More and more Ukrainian parishes are leaving the Russian Church. However, a different movement can be seen in the occupied territories.

More dioceses are severing their ties with Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) that is affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), and seeking affiliation with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (OCU). In the past week, ten congregations in Ukraine chose to switch to this independent Church. Some 10 congregations had also turned their backs on Moscow the week before.

In almost all cases, the congregation itself chose this step. The Religious Information Service of Ukraine recounts how votes in a congregation lead to these decisions. In doing so, the decision to leave the Russian sphere of influence is often unanimous or by a vast majority.

Since 2018, Ukraine has had its own autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox Church. The desire to operate independently from Moscow had been there for some time. Still, since 2018 that process has been accelerated through a schism. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 provided an additional boost. Many believers took offence at the statements of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who backed the invasion.

On several occasions, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) spoke out in favour of the war. According to him, the sins of fallen Russian soldiers will be forgiven through their fulfilment of military duty. These statements make Kirill an internationally controversial figure. Just last week, Estonia renewed an entry ban on Kirill. “Patriarch Kirill is one of the greatest adherents and proponents of Putin’s ideology,” said Margus Tsahkna, the country’s foreign minister, in a press statement. “It was about time he was blacklisted. He has justified and abetted the war against Ukraine.”


In the occupied territories in Ukraine, a reverse movement is underway. Russian authorities there are forcibly merging dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church. So reports the Institute for the Study of War. With these moves, the occupiers “demonstrate the integral connection and close relationship of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian State”, the influential think tank states.



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