The Ukrainian Orthodox Church in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) continues to broadcast to the masses a range of Russia’s malign narratives about Orthodoxy in Ukraine, including about the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). For example, the UOC (MP) and Russian Orthodox Church claim that the OCU is a “sectarian body” and that ts clergy are “laity sporting cassocks.” This incites inter-confessional enmity in Ukraine and spreads misinformation about the OCU.
Recently, the SBU detained a “blogger” who had been promoting the UOC (MP) and labeled the OCU a “sectarian organization,” insisting on its “illegitimate” status. The culprit branded OCU followers “Satanists, schismatics, persecutors of the Orthodox faith, atheists, and radicals.” He was charged with inciting religious enmity.
After the OCU gained autocephaly in 2019, the UOC (MP) began to actively oppose it, circulating negative narratives about the autocephalous Church. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) also opposed the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine and severed ties with all the Local Churches with which the Moscow Patriarchate had earlier did the same. That is, not only does the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) support the Russian Orthodox Church in terms of media coverage, but they also pass decisions directly following in ROC’s footsteps.
In their statements and interviews, the clerics with the UOC (MP) speak in one voice with the Kremlin hierarchs, trying to convince their followers that the OCU has no legitimacy and that its creation caused a “split” in Orthodoxy. The latest official position of the UOC (MP) regarding the OCU is a statement adopted at the council in Feofania where they demand “reassignment” for OCU clergy. And this is happening at a time when at least four Local Autocephalous Churches co-serve with the OCU clergy. It turns out that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate, which mostly consists of Ukrainians, treats the OCU, which also consists of Ukrainians, worse than the churches outside of Ukraine. The Churches of Greece, Constantinople, Cyprus, and Alexandria, consisting of Greeks and people of other nationalities, became greater allies for Ukrainians because they recognized the hierarchy of the OCU and its Tomos of autocephaly.
The UOC (MP) builds its identity on a pro-Russian view of Orthodoxy in Ukraine
The strategy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate to broadcast Russia’s narratives regarding the OCU and Orthodoxy in Ukraine is part of a broader campaign to maintain influence and control over its congregants in Ukraine, as well as to prevent the loss of its status and resources.
The UOC (MP) seeks to preserve its geopolitical position in the eastern part of Ukraine, which is of strategic importance to Russia. The latter seeks to maintain its influence on these territories. Therefore, the UOC MP actively exploits its religious structures to broadcast Russian narratives, which helps it maintain the support of its parishioners.
The UOC (MP) builds its identity on a pro-Russian view of Orthodoxy in Ukraine. Such a pro-Russian position of the UOC MP not only helps it maintain its influence in the East of Ukraine, but can also become a threat to Ukraine’s national security. In particular, the broadcasting of Russian narratives can contribute to the spread of disinformation and Russian propaganda.
In addition, such a strategy can exacerbate already existing tensions between different population strata. Therefore, to ensure stability and national security, it is important to combat disinformation and propaganda being spread through religious structures.
One of these tools in the fight against Russia’s influence on Ukraine through the Church is a number of draft laws to ban the UOC in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate.
By OCU Deacon Ivan Petrushchak