A 2007 Act of Canonical Communion of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) with the Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (Russian: Акт о каноническом общении Русской Православной Церкви Заграницей с Русской Православной Церковью Московского Патриархата) reunited the two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church: the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Moscow Patriarchate.
On May 17, 2007, I stood in a modest headscarf at the Church of Christ the Savior Cathedral next to my sister and aunt. Two of my sisters, their husbands, two cousins, and life-long friends were in attendance as singers and clergy. They had come from the United States on a specially chartered flight. I had flown from Armenia where I was working for an American international development project and had gone to a great deal of trouble waiting on endless lines for a Russian visa.
The President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, came out holding a candle, displaying exemplary church demeanor and remaining for most of the service. I stood perhaps 30 feet away from him. He appeared suitably devout. We prayed hard. The ROCOR choir sang like angels above us. ROCOR clergy read litanies. We felt welcomed home. The next day we attended the blessing of the Butovo execution field venerating the graves of executed believers.
I did not personally decide to reunify the ROCOR to the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007. I was not at any of the meetings. (Indeed, there was controversy because at the All-Diaspora Council on the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women—when the issue was decided by ROCOR—there was absolutely no participation by women, which was not typical of church life in emigration.) But I plead guilty because I viewed the issue legalistically. I had read the ROCOR documents, I knew that the ROCOR charter was “temporary,” until the cessation of godless communism in Russia, and I thought that we were legally there. In 1991, when the USSR fell apart and churches reopened, I thought that the time was near.
I, Bohdan Oghulchanskij, a priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, am writing this text on February 27, 2022, the fourth day of the Russian mass invasion. I can’t know what will happen by the time this text gets published. I have poor mobile communication, and it is difficult to access the Internet. Many times a day, day and night, my family and I are forced to quickly descend into the shelter under the howl of an air raid siren. But I want to convey the truth to readers, especially those who are outside Ukraine, who do not understand the reasons for Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Why is this happening? What did Europe, the democratic world, the countries and people defending freedom, human dignity, and the value of human life do that allowed this terrible, brutal massacre in Europe, for the first time since 1945?
I am writing from the experience of my long-time observations. First, my observations of the information field created by Russia, which was very powerful in Ukraine before 2014. Even after 2014, Russia retained considerable influence. Secondly, having almost thirty years of experience of priesthood, including a long tenure in the Moscow Patriarchate, I can testify to how the rhetoric and narrative of the Russian Church have changed during this time. Its policies, in my opinion, made a great ideological contribution to the current tragedy.
Few, if any, would go so far as to claim that Patriarch Kirill, as head of the Orthodox Church in Russia (or “the Russias,” as he likes to say), could be charged with crimes against humanity or war crimes for not preventing unwarranted and unjustifiable military aggression that has cost innocent lives in just the last few days. At the same time, many, if not most, would concur that President Putin should be charged with such atrocities.
Even with his egregious violations of conventional law, however, Putin could never destroy the international order by himself without the loyal support and moral endorsement—whether silent or explicit—of a complicit partner-in-crime. Both state and church there dream of a larger world, a universal Russia, a “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir). But when the punching gloves and the bling vestments are removed, each is using the other for its own interests for imperialism or irredentism; and both are promoting division in an increasingly bi-polar world.
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.