On September 29, the Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk on the program The Church and the World, broadcast on the Russian state media outlet Rossiya 24. He commented at length on the ongoing situation with the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which is currently making a historic bid for independence from the Russian Orthodox Church. There are two major Orthodox Churches in Ukraine — the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate. The latter is a constituent part of the Russian Orthodox Church and its Patriarch, Kirill.
The Kyiv Patriarchate is in the process of receiving “autocephaly” – a term roughly meaning autonomy – from the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in Istanbul, and it is expected to receive it. This would essentially make the Ukrainian Orthodox Church an internationally recognized independent Orthodox Church.
In the Rossiya 24 interview, Hilarion condemned proposed legislation to rename the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate the “Russian Church in Ukraine,” comparing it to the action of Nazis.
The proposal is genuine indeed. Kyiv Patriarch Filaret has spoken about the idea of renaming the Moscow-linked church in a TV interview. Polygraph.info reached out to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate, which responded with one of Filaret’s statements on the topic, in which he confirmed that actual legislation on the matter had been proposed.
“It is quite important that the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) has adopted the law on the name of the Church – the project’s draft number is 5309,” the Patriarch said in an interview whose transcript was published on the Kyiv Patriarchate’s official website.
Filaret went on to explain that once the Tomos of Autocephaly (official announcement) for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is obtained, it does not make sense to have two “Ukrainian Orthodox Churches” in Ukraine. He went on to say that as the Moscow Patriarchate is under the authority of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, it would be entirely accurate give it a title which reflects its foreign affiliation.
Hilarion and other representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and its Ukrainian branch have argued that such actions would alienate believers who belong to the Moscow Patriarchate Church in Ukraine. In his interview with The Church and the World, Hilarion likened renaming the church to the Nazis’ practice of making Jews wear yellow stars to identify themselves.
However, in an interview with Tatiana Vorozhko of Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service, Kyiv Patriarch Filaret specifically addressed such concerns about the future of the Russian church in Ukraine, denouncing religious conflict and violence.
“Religious struggle is an occasion for Putin to interfere in internal Ukrainian affairs — that is, to protect the [Russian] Orthodox Church,” he said.
“We do not, on the contrary, want this process of association to be linked to violence; if they (members of the Moscow Patriarchate) do not want to go to the Ukrainian Church, let them stay in the Russian Church.”
While the affairs of the Church in Ukraine have led to some protests and incidents, the situation is nowhere near as volatile as Russian state media have portrayed it.
A 2018 report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that in the larger portion of Ukraine controlled by the country’s government, there were only six recorded attacks against Moscow Patriarchate churches between May 16 and August 15, 2018. These attacks were acts of vandalism, and the report noted that criminal cases had been opened involving two of the incidents.
According to the UN report, most of the violations of freedom of religion have taken place in parts of eastern Ukraine that are under Russian control.