Russia’s war drives a wedge between the Ukrainian Orthodox and the Moscow Patriarchate

As Russian forces escalate the bloc, clergy and worshipers in the Ukrainian Orthodox churches of the Moscow Patriarchate are turning away from Russia, raising questions about one of the Kremlin’s main channels of influence in their country. Reports from France 24 from the Kyiv South Church.

The choir and worshipers of the Obukhiv Orthodox Church knelt on the ground with their heads bowed, while praying for their loved ones facing the power of Russian fire.

The priest called this prayer for the conciliation of Sunday mass in this church, which is located about 40 kilometers south of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. But it did not relieve the pain. The gloomy faces remained frozen in silent prayer with the nonsense of a few children who broke the leaden atmosphere in the church.

Najda, who is retired, wipes a tear before standing up slowly. “Of course, this invasion is horrific,” she told France 24. “We have to protect the country, but we also have to think about how to end the war.”

Nadezhda (center, in white hat) and Volodymyr, directly behind her, while praying for peace in the Orthodox Church in Abukhiv. © Mehdi Shebeil Volodymyr, on the other hand, emphasized that it was necessary to continue to defend the country against the Russian invaders. The 50-year-old, a former employee of Antonov, a state-owned Ukrainian airline, said he knows people involved in the fighting.

“I did my military service in the Soviet Army in Moscow in the 80s, I would never have imagined this. Our army is inflicting casualties that the Russian army has never seen… I am sure we will win.” He said.

His statements contradict the position of Patriarch Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and the ultimate spiritual leader of this church and many others in Ukraine. Three days after the Russian invasion, Patriarch Kirill denounced the “evil forces” that were undermining the historical unity of Russia and Ukraine.

There are two competing Orthodox churches in Ukraine: an independent Ukrainian clergyman and one operating under the Moscow Patriarchate. The latter has existed for 300 years and oversees the majority of dioceses in Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill, its ultimate spiritual leader, is close to the Kremlin.

The faithful receive the Eucharist in the Sunday service. © Mehdi Chebil But now the war and its horrors are driving a wedge between the two churches. A spokesman for the Ukrainian branch on Friday denounced the Kremlin’s “lies” justifying the Russian invasion.

Father Nikolai Danilevich said in an interview with France 24 and Radio France International: “Yes, lying is a sin and the Russian power lied. Many believed it. Russian officials said there would be no war, and they were not planning anything.” RFI).

He emphasized from his office in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, a prominent center of the Eastern Orthodox Church with its impressive collection of religious buildings on the banks of the Dnieper River.

Father Nikolai Danilevich at the Monastery of the Caves in Lev on March 4, 2022. © Mehdi Shebeil In the modest church in Obukhev, the Sunday sermon was more moderate. The priest, Sergei Stolyarchuk, confined his message to religious generalities, calling for prayer and peace, without taking sides in the ongoing conflict.

The question of the official authority of Moscow Patriarch Kirill is still a taboo topic. The clergyman took a “non-political” position to avoid commenting on Patriarch Kirill’s statements.

Father Sergei Stolyarchuk has kept his speeches apolitical, but refutes the Kremlin’s position that Ukraine is not a sovereign country. © Mehdi Chebil But like all Ukrainians, Father Sarki is upset by the Russian invasion. He learned about it in the early hours of the attack when his daughter, who lives near Boryspil airport, east of Kyiv, called him in a panic to say she was hearing explosions.

The priest asked in an interview after Mass: “This is our country, this is our land, this is our people … How can we remain indifferent?”

“We pray for our army, we pray for our nation, because we are a nation,” the cleric added, rejecting statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin denying the existence of a Ukrainian nation.

“I can’t carry a weapon, my only weapon is prayer.”

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