Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the West has displayed a significant level of unity and solidarity with Ukraine. Comprehensive sanctions against Russia’s leadership coupled with military support to the Ukrainians have been at the forefront of the Western response. Before the invasion happened, we also witnessed intense and repeated, albeit unsuccessful, diplomatic efforts with the purpose of derailing Putin’s plans.
The same level of solidarity, which now requires a possible refit to better address the increased calls for protection of civilians, has been absent in the Orthodox world. A number of Orthodox churches failed even to call out and condemn Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. After the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) scored several recognitions in 2019 and 2020, the enthusiasm for new recognitions has arguably slowed down. Ever since the granting of the Ukrainian autocephaly in January 2019, the Russian Orthodox Church has been weaponizing the question of the OCU’s recognition by devising and delivering a counter-recognition strategy.
The undecided group of churches that have neither leaned explicitly towards Moscow nor the Ecumenical Patriarchate, namely the Romanian, Bulgarian, and the Georgian Orthodox Church should have done the right thing and recognized Ukrainian autocephaly the moment Patriarch Kirill attempted to deflect and blame external evil forces for the war Putin waged against Ukraine. By staying idle on the matter, they are missing a chance to lend support to the OCU, which would further solidify this church but also provide hope to those in the UOC-MP who are taking steps to cut the cord with Patriarch Kirill.
It’s hard to talk. It’s hard to think. It’s very hard to pray. It’s a shock. And it’s scary to realize that I was wrong not to believe there would be a war. No, I did not believe it at all. I thought that talk about the war would remain just talk, horror stories that adults do not believe in. Most of my friends didn’t believe it either.
On Thursday morning, we woke up to a different world. In this new world, the Kremlin is fighting two wars at once: it has launched a major war against Ukraine and has continued a war against Russia. The consequences of these wars will be severe for the peoples of both countries. If the aggression against Ukraine is an open war, with bombings, troops on the territory of an independent state, and military and civilian casualties, the Kremlin’s war against Russia seems less obvious. Arrests, political assassinations, trials turned into a farce, torture of prisoners, suppression of independent media, pressure on lawyers and civil activists—all these seem incomparable to open armed aggression, and yet it is a war that the Kremlin is waging hard and consistently against its people.
On February 24 alone, the day Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border, 1,700 people were detained in various Russian cities. Almost all of them will be convicted by the “pocket courts” of Putin’s Russia. The Kremlin did not like the fact that Russian citizens dared to speak out against the war with Ukraine.
Hitler delivered his speech of September 12, 1938 to the German Reichstag a few weeks before the German tanks rolled over the German-Czech border to invade Czechoslovakia; Putin delivered his speech of February 21, 2022 to the Russian nation as he was giving orders for the Russian tanks to cross the Russian border with Eastern Ukraine.
As the main reason for invasion, Hitler gave the inflated grievances of the German minority of 3.5 million in Czechoslovakia; Putin often cites the imaginary oppression of the Russian speakers in Ukraine as the main reason for his invasion in 2014 and now in 2022. I am a Russian-speaking Ukrainian. I know from personal experience that Putin’s claim is a lie. Ukraine is a bilingual country, where Russian is nearly as common as Ukrainian. Russian speakers in Ukraine have broader civil rights than their counterparts in Putin’s Russia.
As Hitler was complaining about the imaginary oppression of ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia, he was five years into the persecution of the Jews in Germany. In fact, the first concentration camps appeared as early as 1933, and 400 decrees and regulations were published to restrict the public and private rights of the Jews. As Putin was spreading lies about the oppression of the Russian speakers in Ukraine, he began to brutally oppress and persecute the Crimean Tatars, immediately after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. The persecution of Tatars is well-documented.
Much has happened in the time that has elapsed since Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople granted autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in 2018-19. The world continues to struggle through the pandemic. Natural disasters are destroying lives at home and abroad. Pictures of Afghans trying to flee the Taliban stun our consciences. Europe’s longest ruling dictator continues to brutalize citizens of Belarus.
When COVID brought the world to its knees in 2020, I thought that it would create a much-needed ceasefire in the longstanding informational war among Orthodox Ukrainians. Surely, the most hardened participants in confessional polemical warfare would cool off.
I was wrong. Anger continues to percolate among some Orthodox inside and outside of Ukraine. Opponents of the decision to grant autocephaly to the OCU were incensed by Patriarch Bartholomew’s acceptance of President Zelensky’s invitation to visit Ukraine on the occasion of the thirtieth year of national independence.
Among the patriarch’s opponents, clergy and laity came together to demand that he take responsibility for his actions in Ukraine and meet with them. The group is named “Myriane” (laity). They held a prayer vigil on August 21, the day of Bartholomew’s meetings with President Zelensky and the Ukrainian Parliament.