[ by Charles Cameron — playing catchup with a world that seems to spin faster as it gets older, unlike my weary self ]
Here’s a backgrounder from the Ukraine, excerpts from several key articles & letters, in roughly chronological order.
First, George Weigel, from January 14, 2014, writing under the title The Exhaust Fumes of Stalinism:
The religious dimension of the EuroMaidan protests in Ukraine these past two months has gone largely unremarked. Yet in Kiev and elsewhere, the day’s activities at these oases of civil society are punctuated with prayers offered by clergymen of a variety of Christian communities: Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Protestant. That fact in itself says something about the nascent civic community that is being born in Ukraine today. Ecumenical fellow-feeling and cooperation have not been a prominent feature of Ukrainian religious life in the past. Yet now, with the future of the nation (and no small part of the future of Europe) being contested amids snowstorms, tent cities, flying universities, and police brutality, Ukrainian Christians have discovered a common cause: the moral and cultural renewal of Ukraine, which the brave men and women of the various EuroMaidans understand is essential to free politics and free economics in the future.
All of the Churches and religious organizations of Ukraine stood together against the violence of the Yanukovych regime, the annexation of Crimea, and the division of the country. On the Maydan-Square for months, every day, and hourly in the night, in common prayer they insisted on respect of civil rights, non-violence, unity of the country, and dialogue. This civic ecumenical and inter-religious harmony and cooperation has been an important source of moral inspiration and social cohesion in Ukraine.
In annexed Crimea and in the Eastern war zone some of the Churches and religious communities have been targeted for discrimination, enduring outright violence. In Crimea the most exposed have been the Muslim Tatars. The Tatar community as a whole is in daily danger. Some of its leadership has been exiled, barred from their homeland. The existence of Greek and Roman Catholics ministries, Orthodox parishes of the Kyivan Patriarchate, and the Jewish community in Crimea has been variously menaced.
Here’s Timothy, Cardinal Dolan, September 15, 2014:
The Catholic Church in Ukraine is young, alive, growing, and prophetic. This, from a worldly point of view, is illogical, near miraculous, as Greek Catholics were viciously persecuted by Stalin in the years of Soviet oppression. Even after the breakup of the communist empire, and the restoration of freedom in Ukraine, Catholics were not given back their former churches that had been given to the Russian Orthodox, and the courageous yet decimated community almost had to start afresh.
Through the optic of the Gospel, we know that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith,” so believers are hardly surprised by the vitality and growth of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine.
and John L Allen Jr, reporting from the 2014 Synod of Bishops in Rome, October 16, 2014, under the striking title Synod is more and more like a soap opera:
On a different front, Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church used his speech in the synod today to take a shot at the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, basically telling them to stop complaining about Russian foreign policy and the support for Russian incursions in Ukraine voiced by Russian Orthodox leaders.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was sufficiently outraged that be grabbed Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Greek Catholic Church, who was also in the synod hall, and immediately taped a segment for his radio show in New York to object to Hilarion’s rhetoric.
On the other side of things, there’s the close alliance of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church in the person of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to consider:
After weeks of defying international pleas to free eight European officials they had captured in May, pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine released them unexpectedly in June following a public appeal by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.
The role Kirill’s resurgent church played in the release of the monitors, who were from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), sheds light on how a close cooperation between the state and the church in Russia is now playing out in Ukraine.
What the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) presents as its humanitarian mission in east Ukraine, Western diplomats see as a pattern of cooperation in which the church is acting as a “soft power” ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During the OSCE monitors’ captivity, Moscow gave no public indication that it was heeding calls to help their release by using its influence with the rebels fighting to split east Ukraine from Kiev.
But what looked like a solo venture by Kirill was the culmination of a flurry of diplomatic contacts that, behind closed doors, involved the OSCE, Russian and church officials, separatist leaders and a rebel Cossack unit, according to interviews with parties to the talks.
With questions lingering over Moscow’s role in the turmoil in east Ukraine that has killed more than 3,500 people, European diplomats say the ROC was used to strike a deal and conceal Moscow’s influence with the rebels.
There have been church destructions — perhaps the most note-worthy being that of the all-wooden Chuch of the Annunciation in Gorlovka in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, which is reported to have gone up in flames after being hit by an artillery shell:
I should note here that the only reports of this incident I have ound have been from RT, the English-language Russian state new source, and Daily Stormer, a white nationalist site — caveat emptor.
And then there’s propaganda, notoriously a grey area as far as authorship is coincerned. According to RT’s piece, War on religion: Orthodox Christian priests, churchgoers face threats in Ukraine:
Using both the years-long strife between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its breakaway Kiev branch, as well as allegations of the Moscow-tied Orthodox priests particularly supporting anti-government fighters in eastern Ukraine, radical activists have distributed leaflets with alarming threats addressed to the clergy and parishioners.
The rhetoric is worth noting:
Every coin given to the Moscow Patriarchate Church – is a bullet for a Ukrainian soldier. Every candle burnt in a Moscow Church – is your citizen burnt alive.
For every Ukrainian soldier killed in Crimea, one priest from Moscow Patriarchate will be killed. Blood for blood.
As to authorship? Even RT admits it is uncertain:
As the fliers have been widely distributed, the Security Service of Ukraine has issued a warning, saying that citizens should not “fall for this primitive provocation.” Some Ukrainian mass media went as far as saying that “Russian special forces” were behind the distribution of the leaflets.