The Russia Ukraine conflict is being fought not only by soldiers and civilians but also by divided churches.
The Russian occupation of Ukraine has been under way for almost half a year. With the battle raging between the two nations, both Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches have begun a war of words to express their desires for the future. While tempers between the two churches have remained moderate since the Ukrainian Orthodox Church broke off from Moscow’s leadership in 1991, they have now reached a boiling point, with each taking a more active role in the war as the occupation wears on.
The Struggle Within
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is suffering from internal and external pressure. The separatists who wish to see Ukraine returned to Russian control have caused a divide in the church, using their faith to bolster their political beliefs. They have styled themselves as the “Russian Orthodox Army,” and they have interesting plans for the nation. By uniting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and State, the separatists believe that they will help create a “Third Rome” between Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church that has remained faithful to their state as an individual entity is using their rich history to justify their existence, if not supremacy, to Russia. After all, the Kievan Rus, the first federation in this area, was founded a full 150 years before Moscow was settled. Being that many of the Ukrainians regard the church as the sole institution that is trustworthy, much more than their government, it seems that the Russian Orthodox Church will need to defeat the church before they can fight the armies.
While the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is experiencing a high degree of in-fighting, the Russian Orthodox Church is waiting for its opportunity to welcome the separatists back into the fold. For many Russians, the war is as much about returning the citizens of Ukraine to the proper faith as it is an imperialistic land grab.
There has been an increase in pro-religious sentiment in Russia during the last decade. However, this has come at the cost of criticism of Russian leadership being equated with attacks on the Russian Orthodox Church. This has manifested in assaults and arrests of individuals who espouse beliefs which conflict with the increasingly conservative church. As the lines between church and state continue to blur together in Russia, it appears that the outcome in Ukraine will become more dependent upon religion than ever before.