The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has become a key player in the ongoing war against Ukraine, using its religious authority and influence to justify and support Russia's aggressive actions.

The ROC not only denounces Ukraine's sovereignty, culture, and religious identity but also engages in a new form of religious warfare, where it organizes and funds private military groups and blesses weapons of mass destruction. The ROC's leader, Patriarch Kirill, has been accused of offering spiritual rewards to Russian soldiers who die fighting against Ukraine, thus creating a religious motivation for the war.

The ROC's role in the conflict has not escaped international attention and condemnation. For example, the European Parliament, in its April 7, 2022 Resolution on the escalation of Russian repression – which also addressed the situation of Alexei Navalny – strongly criticized Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and the ROC's leadership for giving a religious cover to Russia's hostile acts against Ukraine.

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The ROC's clergy have been involved in some of the most critical moments of the conflict, such as the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of violence in Donbas. They have actively backed the Russian occupation forces since the beginning of the large-scale invasion and helped to establish an occupation regime in the areas temporarily seized by Russia.

Despite Ukraine’s record of religious tolerance since its independence – a period during which no church was banned, and the country was praised internationally for its respect for religious freedom – the restriction of the ROC's activity in Ukraine is seen as a necessary measure. This is because the ROC's activity poses a clear threat to the rights, freedoms, and lives of Ukrainian citizens. This measure is in line with democratic principles, based on law and constitutional grounds, and targets only structures that are registered in Russia and subject to Russian law. It is therefore a carefully balanced response to a complex issue.

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At the same time, banning the ROC does not mean banning its Ukrainian branch. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) can continue to operate freely if it decides to break away from the ROC.

It has been given enough time to do so. This process requires the UOC-MP's leadership to formally leave the ROC's ecclesiastical structures, such as the episcopate, the Synod, Synodal commissions, and the Inter-Council Presence, and to officially notify its withdrawal from the Russian Church.

The UOC-MP is not required to change anything in its doctrine, liturgical language, traditional rites, adherence to the Julian calendar, or to declare autocephaly on its own or join another Church. Leaving the ROC does not impose any burden on the conscience of a faithful Christian, as loyalty to the Moscow Patriarchate is not a doctrinal requirement of Orthodoxy.

If the UOC-MP severs ties with the ROC, it would not be affected by draft law 8371. This law, which aims to prevent the use of religion for the destruction of the rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens, applies only to associations whose centers are located in Russia, such as the Old Believers’ Church and the True Orthodox Church. By leaving these associations, they can operate without any hindrance and enjoy all the legal benefits granted to religious organizations.

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Moreover, the termination of any religious organization's activity, especially one whose center is located in a country that has committed aggression against Ukraine, can only be ordered by a court decision. In accordance with the principles of a democratic society, only a court has the authority to make a final decision on such matters.

Russia’s violations of religious freedom

It is important to stress that the attempt to discredit the Ukrainian government's steps to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens from the misuse of religion takes place against a backdrop of severe violations of religious freedom by Russia.

The Russian occupation of Donbas and Crimea in 2014 was accompanied by a wave of violence against evangelical communities, as well as persecution of Greek Catholics and Orthodox Christians who do not belong to the Moscow Patriarchate. Clergy and active laymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) faced brutal attacks, including physical beatings, shackling, intimidation, and prohibition of conducting services in Ukrainian. This assault on their faith and practices became a systematic pattern.

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A large number of religious sites belonging to Baptists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses ("Kingdom Halls"), Mormons, and Adventists, as well as various Christian educational facilities, such as the Donetsk Christian University, were captured by pro-Russian militants. These sacred spaces were converted into military barracks, gyms, or administrative buildings.

A particularly tragic incident in June 2014 was the murder of Pastor Serhiy Skorobahach in Mariupol, and the subsequent discovery of four Pentecostal Church members in Sloviansk after the city's liberation, showing the extent of the violence inflicted on these communities.

In the aftermath of the first years of its occupation, Crimea saw a sharp decline in its evangelical congregations, with reductions ranging from 30 percent to 80 percent due to kidnappings, torture, robberies, and seizures of worship sites.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who face a total ban on their activities, suffer especially severe persecution. This situation of religious oppression shows the profound impact of these occupations on the spiritual fabric of the affected regions.

During the extensive conflict referred to as the “Great War,” the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territories ushered in a chilling era marked by renewed terror, widespread destruction, and the loss of lives, including those of religious dignitaries. In the regions of Kyiv and Chernihiv alone, the occupation forces executed priests from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), among whom were Maxim Kozachyna, murdered in his liturgical garments, and Rostyslav Dudarenko.

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The war, which received blessings from the ROC, showed no mercy to the Ukrainian “brethren” of Russian clergy either, as evidenced by the deaths of UOC-MP priests Volodymyr Bormashev from Irpin and Hieromonk Feodosiy (Honcharov) from Chernihiv during bombardments.

The list of those fallen at the hands of the occupiers includes prominent figures such as Vitaliy Vynohradov, the dean of the Kyiv Slavic Evangelical Seminary found in Bucha, and Oleksandr Kysliuk, a distinguished lecturer at the Orthodox Academy and a revered translator of ancient and modern foreign languages, located in Irpin.

In February 2024, the cruelty reached new heights with the torture and subsequent death of OCU priest Stepan Podolchak from Kalanchak in the Kherson region at the hands of Russian military personnel. Reports indicate that throughout the invasion, 39 clergymen were killed and an additional 26 have been reported, as per the available information, to be in captivity.

The period from Feb. 24, 2022, to Feb. 24, 2024, saw the devastation of at least 630 religious edifices due to the Russian invasion, with over a hundred of these structures either completely obliterated or sustaining critical damage rendering them unusable for worship. This stark tally underscores the profound and far-reaching impact of the conflict on the spiritual and communal life of the affected areas.

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For all of the reasons listed above, the Russian Orthodox Church’s activities in Ukraine should be banned without further delay.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.  

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Comments (2)

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Imokru2
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

Everyone is free to believe what they want to believe. I believe in science and our universe, which is based on fact rather than faith which is based on spiritual fantasy and a mythical heaven “up there”.

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John
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Banning them is logical.

The Russian Orthodox Church is led by billionaire, former KGB agent Kirill. A close ally of putin. He openly supports the invasion and murder of the Ukrainians. His voice only parrots the evil putin regimes propaganda

What good can possibly come from allowing such an organization? Rhetorical question. Answer. NONE.

John2
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Hello John, I did write an apology for an earlier misunderstanding on my part, but it was never 'published'. Again I do apologise for my hasty misunderstanding of you. You obviously have a distaste for fundamentalism which is not my position.
From a Christian point of view, what Kirrill has done is blasphemy, for he has blessed mass slaughter of innocents in the name of Jesus Christ. This, and his spiritual support for Putin's pose as a Christian has fooled many on the American right. Putin has convinced many that he is a 'defender of civilisation'. . . this despite the massive abortion statistics from Russia, the massive incidence of alcoholism and drug abuse, to say nothing of his own lusts and unfaithfulness in marriage! The mass murder which flows from an unjust invasion and war is so anti-Christian it is obvious many Americans have no desire to 'see'. I would guess the position of the ROC in the USA (and maybe Canada) also would bear examination. . . are they Putin shills?
The whole problem of Kirrill/Putin is being approached from a secular point of view. It would be more effective for Ukraine to approach it from a religious viewpoint. Here there is a Russian vulnerability.

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