Religious spilt portends deeper Russia, Ukraine conflict

December 20, 2018 11:15
Metropolitan Epifaniy has been elected the head of the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church that is independent from Russia. Photo: Reuters

Following a bitter years-long political dispute, Ukraine and Russia have seen tensions between them escalate further as Kiev announced last weekend that it is going to create an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church that is split from Russian influence.

This historic move has put an end to the Ukrainian church’s some 300-year-long subordination to the Moscow Patriarchate.

A 39-year-old Kiev clergyman named Metropolitan Epifaniy was elected the head of the new Ukrainian church.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has regarded the creation of his country’s own Orthodox Church as “another declaration of Ukraine’s independence”.

Kiev’s move had already been endorsed by Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian Church, back in October.

The Russian Orthodox Church was infuriated, and immediately cut all of its ties with Constantinople in protest.

As we all know, Ukraine has been bearing an intense grudge against Russia ever since the latter annexed Crimea in 2014.

Now that Kiev has taken its rivalry with Moscow to the next level by setting up its own church, this implies their mutual hatred is likely to intensify, which might threaten regional stability in Eastern Europe and trigger a domino effect that could in the end put Western Europe in danger as well.

Ukraine might have succeeded in breaking off from Russia religiously to create an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but it cannot be ruled out that there is another pressing issue to deal with -- there are a substantial number of pro-Russia priests within the Ukrainian church who may not necessarily be willing to switch their allegiance from Moscow to Kiev.

In fact, at the beginning of this month, the Ukrainian Security Service had summoned about 10 pro-Moscow priests for interrogation in regard to charges of inciting religious hatred and treason.

Apart from that, the security service has also searched 79 Orthodox churches across the nation.

In other words, Poroshenko is determined not to take a soft stance on religious dissent in his country.

In the meantime, it is likely that Moscow may also be prepared to go to any lengths to incite pro-Russia clergy in Ukraine to rise against the newly established church.

Kiev might have succeeded in getting back at Moscow to some extent by getting spilt from the Russian Orthodox Church, but it has also sown more seeds of hatred between the two countries.

If the Russia-Ukraine tensions eventually escalate into a war, Western and Eastern Europe will both suffer negative effects in the form of threat to regional stability.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 18

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal