Ctime 444  

Orthodoxy and Ukraine

To the Editor, Catholic Times, 29th October 2000

Fr Francis Marsden



            Last week we saw how the Muscovite Church, “the third Rome,” assumed the leadership of Orthodoxy and separatism from Rome after the fall of Constantinople (1453). “The first Rome has fallen into heresy, the Second Rome is overrun, Moscow is the third Rome, and there shall be no Fourth!”

            The present Patriarch of Moscow, Alexei II, wants all the ancient state of Kyiv under his jurisdiction. Ukraine’s recently achieved independence and the re-emergence of her Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church, makes this claim highly controversial.

            Other Orthodox nations: Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, obtained their own Patriarchates late last century. The demand for a new Ukrainian Patriarchate in Kyiv, seems very threatening to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Moscow, with 15000 parishes, likes to give the impression that almost everyone (over 100 million) in Russia is Orthodox. However, the actual practice rates are extremely low.  Total Sunday attendance is estimated at 1-2 million, up to 4 million on major feasts. Worse still, 8000 (55%) R.O. parishes are within the independent nation of Ukraine, and only 7000 within Russia proper.

            The R.O. Church has already lost 3300 parishes in west Ukraine, which it won only by Stalin’s liquidation of the Ukrainian Catholic church in 1946. These parishes have since voted to return to union with Rome. This has been a bitter blow to Moscow, which had one-third of its parishes, revenue and vocations in this traditionally very religious area.  Consider that in Soviet days Moscow diocese had 800 parishes, but Lviv had 2800, forming the largest orthodox diocese in the USSR.

In terms of church attendance, the Greek-Catholic Church is the largest in Ukraine.

            Another blow to Moscow has been the breakaway of Orthodox Metropolitan Filaret, who set up his own Kyivan Patriarchate church with some 2700 parishes. The Holy Synod in Moscow has excommunicated him. Under Metropolitan Sabadan, Moscow still runs 8000 Ukrainian parishes, many of whose clergy express little allegiance to the Ukrainian state in which they reside.

Within Russia itself the Moscow Patriarchate has unwisely tended to fall back upon the State as the enforcer of Orthodoxy, following the Caesaropapist model, in which the Emperor headed the Church. Such a strategy is no substitute for active evangelisation and solid catechesis. Emperor Yeltsin and Emperor Putin cannot deliver conversions to the Lord Jesus.

            Moscow is weak, and fearful and so reacts bitterly against alleged “Ukrainian Catholic proselytism.” She constantly objects to the presence of the eastern Catholic churches on “her” soil. She launches false accusations of acts of violence and the appropriation of Orthodox parish churches.

If independent Ukraine acquires a rightful Kyivan Patriarchate of her own, Moscow stands to lose over half her faithful, revenue and vocations. She will no longer be the largest Church in the Orthodox world. The dreams of the “third Rome” will disintegrate.

            The Catholic-Orthodox dialogue last July at Emmitsburg, Baltimore, broke up without resolving the so-called “problem of Uniatism.” Constantinople is not so hostile to Rome, but is constantly held back by Moscow, which surpasses it numerically.

Some historical facts would not go amiss in this debate. The Ukrainian Catholic church is centred upon Lviv and Galicia, west Ukraine. This area was historically under Moscow’s political control only during the Molotov-Ribbentrop partition of Poland (1939-41) and from the Red Army “liberation” of 1944 to the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

            The ecclesiastical history of Ukraine is complicated. The first diocese was that of Peremysl (888 AD), following SS. Cyril and Methodius’ mission to the Slavs, then Kyiv (988), as capital of the Slavic nation of Kyivan Rus’. After the Latin-Greek schism of 1054, and the fall of Kyiv to the Mongols in 1240, the Kyivan lands (modern Ukraine) still maintained contact with Rome.

In the west Prince Danylo of Galicia fought the Mongols. He won Papal support for a Crusade, but the western European kings sent no help. Nevertheless the Pope sent Danylo the kingly crown in 1263.

            Petro Akerovich, Metropolitan of Kyiv attended  the Council of Lyon in 1274, in an attempt to re-establish church unity.

The Lithuanian Grand Prince Algirdas, the local Belarus and Ukrainians, defeated the Mongol hordes and established an empire stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. This united with Poland in 1569 to form the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, then the largest state in Europe.

Once the Kyivan Metropolitan abandoned Kyiv, for Vladimir and then Moscow, Constantinople granted Kyiv a new separate Metropolitanate in 1415, despite Muscovite protests.

Metropolitan Isidor of Moscow attended the Council of Florence in 1439. He signed the Act of Reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. He returned to promulgate the union in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. However, upon reaching Moscow, he discovered that the Tsar’s mind had already been prejudiced by Greek priests hostile to the Re-union. He was gaoled, escaped and fled to Rome, where he died as a Cardinal.

The Greek Archbishop Mark of Ephesus refused to accept the Act of Reunion, canonically signed by the Patriarchs, and renewed the Orthodox schism. “Better the turban of the Sultan than the tiara of the Pope,” was the cry. That was what they got. The Turks conquered Constantinople and brought the Byzantine Empire to an end in 1453.

The Muscovite Church separated itself from Constantinople and declared its independence. Tsar Ivan the Terrible prevailed upon the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to grant Moscow the rank of a full Patriarchate only in 1588. So she became “the third Rome,” considering herself the true Church, whence “Salvation comes from the east.”

Kyiv remained temporarily in union with Rome, under Constantinople. In 1458 the Patriarch of Constantinople erected a new Metropolitanate of Kyiv, Galicia and all Rus’ incorporating 10 dioceses in what is now Ukraine and Belarus. In the Bull “Decens reputamus” Pope Pius II recognised this territory as distinct from the Muscovite church. The Moscow metropolitan’s title was altered to that of “Moscow and all Rus’”

            In 1596, at the Union of Brest, most of the Orthodox bishops of Kyiv, Ukraine and Belarus – with Polish encouragement – signed an act re-establishing union with Rome. They retained their orthodox rites and married priests, but recognised the Pope, and are referred to as the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics.

Sadly many laity, monasteries and Orthodox brotherhoods resisted this Act of Union. The schism was renewed in 1620 when Constantinople installed a new Orthodox Metropolitan of Kyiv, in opposition to the Catholic incumbent.

            After 1654 the Cossack state of Ukraine signed the fatal treaty of union with Muscovy, in exchange for military help against the Poles and the Tatars.

In 1686 Moscow finally managed to wrangle ecclesiastical control of Kyiv and Ukraine away from Constantinople.

The Tsar sent presents to the Phanar, the Patriach’s palace in Istanbul, asking him to transfer Ukraine to Moscow’s jurisdiction. He refused. So the Tsar sent 120 sables and 200 golden ducats to the Turkish Sultan, bribing him pressurise the Patriarch to acquiesce. Under threat, the Patriarch grudgingly gave away the Kyivan Metropolitanate to Moscow. However the Patriarchal Synod strongly opposed the move, deposed the Patriarch and cancelled the decree later that year.

            Constantinople had no military forces, whereas the Tsar had his armies. De facto, if not de jure (ecclesiastical law), Moscow could now assert its jurisdiction over Kyiv. Henceforth the Moscow Patriarch appointed the metropolitan of Kyiv.

            Furthermore, the Tsar wanted total control of the Church within his domains, with no outside interference from Rome. He exterminated the Uniate Catholic church and forcibly converted their congregations to Orthodoxy. The Catholic dioceses of  Polotsk, Smolensk, Pinsk, Kholm, Volodymyr-Volhynsky, Lutsk and Kyiv disappeared off the map. Only the dioceses under Austrian rule survived: Lviv, Peremysl, Stanislaviv.

Tsar Peter the Great renamed Muscovy as “Russia.” In 1700 he left the Moscow Patriarchate – the second highest office in the Orthodox world – vacant. He arranged that the Holy Synod, aided by a lay representative called the Procuror or “Tsar’s eye,” should rule the Church as a department of state. This lasted until 1917. Again from 1925-43 Stalin left the Patriarchate vacant.

            Soviet governments propagated a very Moscow-centric view of history. This ignored the claims of Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states to nationhood, and subsumed them under Big Brother in the Kremlin. Most western history books have uncritically accepted this Muscovite view of history, written by the victors.

I have tried to show that historically Moscow has no canonical or moral right to claim jurisdiction over Catholics in Ukraine. Her claims are founded upon Soviet psychology, lies, bribery and political force. Only the ignorance of western churchmen (some of them apparently in Rome) affords such claims any credibility.

            Without Moscow’s agreement, the ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is unlikely to offer the Ukrainian Orthodox Church full self-governing status with its own Patriarch. His own situation is too weak to oppose Moscow.

The future of Eastern Orthodoxy depends upon the solution to the Ukrainian question. If the Ukrainian Orthodox unite, obtain their own Patriarchate, and enter into full union with Rome and the Greek-Catholics, others such as the Romanians might follow. Rome should not curtsey to Moscow, but negotiate more intensively with Kyiv and Constantinople.