The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (UOCMP) is a geographical appendage or branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate (ROCMP). It takes its directives from Moscow and pays subsidies to Moscow. In fact, for a long time, even post Ukraine’s independence, the UOCMP was the largest contributor to the budget of the ROCMP.

For the sake of credibility in Ukraine since the war started in 2014, over the last few years it has often abbreviated its name, deleting the MP suffix for purposes of public relations as it began losing its faithful and parishes. Nevertheless, its history and purpose have remained unaltered. 

In 1685, an earlier version of ROCMP assumed control over the original Ukrainian Orthodox Church pursuant to Russian abuse of a military agreement with the Ukrainian Cossack state from 1654 and a specious accord with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople who had been held hostage for purposes of consent. That accord was later disavowed by Constantinople. Nonetheless, since then, Russian Orthodoxy has imposed its will upon Ukrainian Christianity by force.

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Even after the demise of the USSR in 1991, the largest contingent of the ROC in terms of faithful and churches was in Ukraine. Such was the case in Russian czarist times as well.

A better understanding of the current ROCMP can be deduced from history. While it functioned in Russian czarist times, for the Soviets intent on implementing atheism as a component of communism, the ROCMP was ineffective. The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin provided an imprimatur to his control of the ROCMP by reorganizing it within his own Ministry. Thus, it became an agency of the special services.

Data Reveals Progress of Moscow Patriarchate Churches Switching to Orthodox Church of Ukraine
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Data Reveals Progress of Moscow Patriarchate Churches Switching to Orthodox Church of Ukraine

Almost 600 Ukrainian religious institutions have left the Moscow Patriarchate and joined the Orthodox Church of Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Stalin proceeded to abolish all other churches, including the Ukrainian Catholic Church, such that the ROCMP under his jurisdiction became the only avenue for religious expression. 

The ROCMP in the US

However disproportionate, it may be interesting to note that the ROCMP operates in the US pursuant to the religious freedom accorded by the non-Establishment clause of the Bill of Rights.

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Despite the fact that the ROCMP works directly with Moscow and has often retained highly paid lobbyists which work to influence US politics and legislation, the ROCMP has never registered as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That has often been commented upon at State level.

This can be partially explained by the reluctance of the US Department of State to address arguments or defenses by the ROCMP that other churches are subservient to foreign capitals such as the Vatican or the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul. Religious organizations are afforded the widest latitude in the US because of the Establishment Clause to the point that, unlike other tax-exempt organizations, they are not even required to file annual tax returns.   

In the US, the role of the ROC, while certainly not benign as evidenced by the recent recruitment of highly priced lobbyists, is certainly not as dangerous as its mission and work in Ukraine. Its purpose in the US is largely disinformation and its work often lacks credibility, particularly in today’s Russia-sanctioned environment.

Ukraine is at war with Russia – a war which was instigated entirely by Russia for not only territorial enlargement but historical enhancement. According to a spokesperson for the ROC, this is a war “to wipe Ukrainians off the face of the earth.”

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Both the Constitution of Ukraine and the European Convention on Human Rights are circumspect in this regard, perhaps cognizant of their neighbor’s historical and rhetorical proclivities.

Paragraph 35 of Ukraine’s Constitution guarantees religious freedom. However, it goes on to specify that freedom may be limited in the interests of the public good. Well, certainly, stopping Russian aggression and saving the Ukrainian nation from extinction may be the public good. 

The European Convention on Human Rights guarantees in Article 9 “Freedom of thought, conscience and religion” yet subject to such “limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Certainly, the right of Ukrainians to exist is one such limitation. The ROCMP has made itself clear in this regard, as it serves Moscow’s aim – to “wipe Ukrainians as such off the face of the earth”.

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