COLE S. ARONSON at Politico reports from Kyiv on the growing strength, autonomy and orthodoxy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church:
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine … is now Ukraine’s most important spiritual institution. Long governed by the Russian Orthodox Church, it was granted independence (called “autocephaly”) and equality with Moscow in 2019 by the patriarch of Constantinople — who is first among the equal heads of the Orthodox churches. Orthodox Ukrainian priests have played a patriotic role in their nation’s post-Soviet history; they led prayers during the Maidan uprising in 2014 and now supply more chaplains to Ukraine’s military than any other church’s clergy. The OCU’s patriotism is coupled with its conservatism …. For all its centrality to Ukraine’s spiritual life, however, the OCU is an ecumenical church — it does not lead a state religion, and frequently works with Ukraine’s many (and quite traditional) Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Jews.
Unsurprisingly for a nation at war, Ukraine has become more religious in recent years. More than half of Ukrainians now consider themselves Orthodox. Volodymyr Zelensky, the secular Jewish president, has invoked Christian imagery to motivate his nation’s fight for independence. Putin and the Russian church say they want to save Ukraine from faithlessness, and from the Ukrainian point of view, they’re succeeding. In the last five years, 1,500 Ukrainian parishes have left the Moscow Patriarchate to join the OCU.
The OCU will likely end this conflict as one of Ukraine’s major patriotic institutions outside the government as well as the country’s main spiritual authority. Whether it decides to wield its influence together with Ukraine’s other religious groups may determine the country’s path after the war — whether post-war Ukraine adopts the more secular profile of its Western sponsors, becoming a heavily-armed Belgium on the Dnieper or, alternatively, tries to become a nation that’s traditional and European and pluralistic all at once.
Glory to Ukraine!