We don’t know whether St. Andrew did visit Kyiv or what he may have said, but recent developments in Ukraine herald, if not a “new Jerusalem,” at least a center and leadership of vibrant Christian Orthodoxy and ecumenism. In fact, despite the lackluster results o fthe Vatican’s Russo-centric policy of reconciliation between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, the reunification of the two in Ukraine appears to be much furtheralong then the Vatican’s accomplishments……with serious consequences for Putin’s own efforts at geopolitical “reunification.”
Just last week Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-K) invited the smaller Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) to unite into a single Church that would better represent the interests ofthe Ukrainian people and further limit the Kremlin’s ability to exert influencethrough its Moscow Patriarchate.
The revival of Christianity in Ukraine after nearly a century of persecution, and the rapid growth of an entirely independent (of Moscow) Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been truly remarkable. Between 1994 and 2009, Ukraine experienced a doubling of Christian religious communities to 31,000.
Of its 45 million population, 84% are Orthodox, 10% are Catholic (including 2% Roman Catholic), and 2-3% are Protestant. Two thirds of its citizens identify themselves as at least somewhat religious, while average church attendance varies between 23 times/year in the western and 8 times/year in the eastern parts of the country.
By comparison, although 90% of ethnic Russians identify themselves as Orthodox, 75% say they never attend or attend church only once a year. Only 55% acknowledge they believe in God or identify themselves as being at least somewhat religious.
Of particular interest among all these numbers is not only the anemic influence exerted by the Russian Orthodox Church on its domestic adherents, but also its declining influence on Ukrainians through its Ukrainian subsidiary.
As recently as a quarter century ago the Moscow Patriarch had almost complete sway over Ukraine’s Orthodox believers. Today, his authority extends to fewer than 25% of Ukraine’s Christians, and largely inparts of the country where church affiliation and observance is weakest. The two other independent Orthodox churches have more than twice as many adherents, and, together with their Catholic and Protestant brethren, have broken the cycle of religious intolerance, distrust,and recrimination that had kept the nation divided for centuries on ecclesiastical grounds.
During the Maidan upheavals, priests and ministers of all the Christian churches could be found working and standing together in defense of human dignity. Confessions were heard and last rites wereadministered interchangeably by Orthodox and Catholic priests; and the exhausted protestors were grateful for the respite offered by attendance at liturgical services without regard to the celebrant’s affiliation. They all - Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Jews – stood side by side on the stage, but with one notable exception – the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate were conspicuously absent.
Ukraine’s Kyiv-centered Orthodox Church will almost surely continue to consolidate andbring under its jurisdiction most of the country’s Orthodox faithful.
As such, it will become the second largest Orthodox church in the world - second only to Russia’s – but with more dynamic and ardent adherents and with universal recognition as the birthplace of Christianity for Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.
Although, thus far, it has failed to gain canonical recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, this does not seem to matter much to its Ukrainian adherents. And, indeed, why should it?
Its priests and bishops share the same direct line of succession, authority, and sacramental power to the apostles as do those of Catholic and other Orthodox churches. In addition, there are very serious questions concerning the fraudulent means by which the Moscow Patriarchate obtained canonical recognition of its authority over Ukraine, and sooner or later the other eastern churches will have to address this issue and come to terms with Ukraine’s rejection of Moscow’s pretentious claims. (See: https://www.kyivpost.com/opinion/op-ed/the-patriarc...)
Kyiv may never become a “new Jerusalem.” But it may well become a key player in the spiritual life of Eastern Europe; and, perhaps, a leader in the reunification of Orthodoxy and Catholicism.