How is Russia-Ukraine war linked to religion? - by Peter Smith for ekathimerini.com - 27.02.22

Ukraine’s tangled political history with Russia has its counterpart in the religious landscape, with Ukraine’s majority Orthodox Christian population divided between an independent-minded group based in Kyiv and another loyal to its patriarch in Moscow.


But while there have been appeals to religious nationalism in both Russia and Ukraine, religious loyalty doesn’t mirror political fealty amid Ukraine’s fight for survival.


Even though Russian President Vladimir Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine in part as a defense of the Moscow-oriented Orthodox church, leaders of both Ukrainian Orthodox factions are fiercely denouncing the Russian invasion, as is Ukraine’s significant Catholic minority.


“With prayer on our lips, with love for God, for Ukraine, for our neighbors, we fight against evil – and we will see victory,” vowed Metropolitan Epifany, head of the Kyiv-based Orthodox Church of Ukraine.


“Forget mutual quarrels and misunderstandings and … unite with love for God and our Motherland,” said Metropolitan Onufry, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is under the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow but has broad autonomy.


Even that seemingly united front is complicated. A day after posting Onufry’s message on Thursday, his church’s website began publishing reports claiming its churches and people are being attacked, blaming one attack on the representatives of the rival church.


The division between Ukraine’s Orthodox bodies has reverberated worldwide in recent years as Orthodox churches have struggled with how and whether to take sides. Some U.S. Orthodox hope they can put such conflicts aside and unite to try to end the war, while also fearing the war could exacerbate the split.


What is the religious landscape of Ukraine?

Surveys estimate a large majority of Ukraine’s population is Orthodox, with a significant minority of Ukrainian Catholics who worship with a Byzantine liturgy similar to that of the Orthodox but are loyal to the pope. The population includes smaller percentages of Protestants, Jews and Muslims.


Ukraine and Russia are divided by a common history, both religiously and politically.

They trace their ancestry to the medieval kingdom of Kievan Rus, whose 10th century Prince Vladimir (Volodymyr in Ukrainian) rejected paganism, was baptized in Crimea and adopted Orthodoxy as the official religion.


In 2014, Putin cited that history in justifying his seizure of Crimea, a land he called “sacred” to Russia.


While Putin says Russia is the true heir to Rus, Ukrainians say their modern state has a distinct pedigree and that Moscow didn’t emerge as a power until centuries later.


That tension persists in Orthodox relations.


Orthodox churches have historically been organized along national lines, with patriarchs having autonomy in their territories while bound by a common faith. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is considered first among equals but, unlike a Catholic pope, doesn’t have universal jurisdiction.


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Importantly the article includes reference to the Roman Catholic Church with these words but more needs to be said publicly by the heads of all Churches including the Church of England:


"Recent popes have tried to thaw relations with the Russian Orthodox Church even while defending the rights of Ukrainian and other Eastern Rite Catholics. But after the Russian invasion, Pope Francis visited the Russian Embassy on Friday to personally “express his concern about the war,” the Vatican said, in an extraordinary papal gesture that has no recent precedent."


Image: [Alexei Alexandrov/AP]

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