Threats to religious freedom in the context of the Ukrainian crisis: religiously motivated terrorism against non-Orthodox denominations
Mykhailo Cherenkov, professor at Ukrainian Catholic University and Vice President of Mission Eurasia, served as Rector of Donetsk Christian University, a scholar in social theology and missiology.
Published by Christian Ethics Today, Volume 23, Number 2, Aggregate Issue 97 Spring 2015
Events in Ukraine display a unity of political and religious motives. Long before the annexation of the Crimea and the unproclaimed war in the Donbass region, there was a religious battlefront. Analysts, religious scholars, and Ukrainian theologians repeatedly drew attention to this (special note should be made of the works of Yurii Chernomorets and Archimandrite Cyril [Hovorun]), but unfortunately, none of the leading Ukrainian and Western politicians foresaw or took into account the growing role of agressive Moscow Orthodoxy in regional and global politics. As events in Ukaine have shown, Orthodox fundamentalism is no less aggressive than Islamic fundamentalism, and the “Russian spring” is no less bloody than its Arab counterpart. Because this species of Orthodoxy has government support and aspires to a role in politics, it can be called “political Orthodoxy.” Morever, recently “political Orthodoxy” has manifested itself in the form of “Orthodox terrorism” on Ukrainian territory occupied by pro-Russian separatists.
While groups of monitors working in Ukraine are collecting and presenting information on violations of religious freedom previously unseen in this region, the blatant need for a conceptual analysis of what is happening is becoming increasingly evident – why this is happening and what it means for the global community. There is no doubt that the persecution of individuals and groups based on religion that we are witnessing is part of a coherent policy aimed at creating a "Russian world," and therefore it represents a threat not only to regional security, but also to the entire global order in that it poses a challenge to the possibility of "globality," in particular the possibility of universal freedoms, human values, and existing international laws.
The events in Ukraine have alarmed not only neighboring countries and the political figures associated with the conflict, but also the global Christian community. In the broader context of discussions, the talk is not so much about the conflict between Ukraine and Russia; it is also about the conflict between Eurasia and Europe, Russia and the West, the orthodox "Russian world" and "secularized Protestant-Catholic civilization," universal human rights and "orthodox" values, between freedom and "traditional order."
The Ukrainian pro-European election and "revolution of dignity" on the Maidan (November 2014 - February 2014.) was followed by the aggressive response of the "Russian world" – the annexation of Crimea (March 2014), the occupation of the eastern part of Ukraine, and the creation of quasi-local "people's republics" (April 2014). All denominations except the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in the occupied territories were deemed illegal and experienced such atrocities as abduction, torture, murder, and the seizures of churches and their premises.
What is obvious is that for the international community, it is important to analyze and assess the impact of the events in Ukraine for cooperation in the region of Eurasia and the protection of religious freedom, and to take all possible measures to support and assist the victims of religious discrimination.
The facts speak for themselves: Greek Catholics and Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Churches have become de facto illegal entities in the annexed Crimea; in the Donbass region an “Orthodox army” is active; dozens of Protestant churches have been seized, there have been cases of kidnapping, torture, and killing of pastors; Moscow Patriarchate priests openly bless terrorists and refuse to pray over deceased Ukrainian soldiers; Patriarch Kirill predicts the downfall of Ukraine as a “Kingdom divided against itself.”
Russia’s “hybrid” war against Ukraine united and thereby stregnthened within itself a series of international, interethnic, and interconfessional conflicts. There was a coarse violation of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, the political unity of the Ukrainian nation, and confessional identity. And it is the religious aspect of the conflict that may prove to be the most significant, because it is Moscow Orthodoxy that has become the thing holding the “Russian world” together, and thereby the main actor in the bloody “Russian spring.”
The annexation of the Crimea was justified by the sacred significance of the ancient Khersones, while war against Ukraine was seen as a defense of Orthodoxy. As President Putin said in his speech to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, “For Russia the Crimea, ancient Korsun, Khersones, and Sevastopol, have immense civilizational and sacred meaning, like Temple Mount in Jerusalem for Jews and Muslims. For our country, for our nation, this event has a special meaning, because our people live in the Crimea, and the territory itself is strategically important, partly because the spiritual source of the formation of the multifaced but monolithic Russian nation is here, and the centralized Russian government. It was on this spiritual soil that our ancestors first and forever recognized their nationhood.” 
Essentially, what is under dispute is the old European principle, “Whose realm, his religion” (“Cuius regio, eius religio”). Instead they are advocating the principle, “Whose religion, his realm.” This is related to the aggressive expansion of the “Russian world” through Moscow Orthodoxy. The “Russian spring” began with references to the brotherhood of the three nations and unity of the Orthodox faith, but then continued with the annexation and war against yesterday’s brothers and those of the same faith, who had the gall to live separately and believe differently.
A well-known totalitarian phrase from the 19th century, “To be Russian is to be Orthodox,” is becoming the main motive for the consolidation of “Russians” and the defense of the “Orthodox.” The “Declaration of Russian Identity” (passed November 11, 2014 at the end of the Global Russian National Assembly, dedicated to the topic of “Unity of History, Unity of the Nation, Unity of Russia”) proclaims, “In Russian tradition the most important criteria of nationality is the national language (even the word for language in Russia, yazyk, is an ancient synonym for the word “nationality”). Every Russian is required to know the Russian language. Claims that every Russian must acknowledge Orthodox Christianity as the basis of their national culture are both justified and fair. Rejection of this fact, and even worse, a search for a different religious basis for the national culture, testifies to a weakened Russian identity, to the point of its loss.” 
As events in Ukraine have shown, everywhere you have Russian-speaking “Orthodox,” “polite people” can appear with machine guns to “protect” them and to unite them into a single “Russian Orthodox world.”
“We can’t not notice that the conflict in Ukraine has a clear religious underpinning,” wrote Patriarch Kirill to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in a letter, which was published on the official site of the Department of External Church Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate on August 14th. By August 15th the letter had disappeared from the site.  “Uniates, and schismatics that have joined them, are trying to seize the upper hand over canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine… I ask Your Holiness to do all you can to raise your voice in defense of the Orthodox Christians in Eastern Ukraine who, in a situation of increasing violence on the part of Greek Catholics and schismatics, live in daily fear for themselves and their dear ones, afraid that if their persecutors come to power, Orthodox believers will be forced to reject their faith or be severely discriminated against,” continued Patriarch Kirill’s letter.
The manipulation of “canonicity” is noteworthy. For the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine there are no other Orthodox churches, they are all impostors and schismatics. Additionally, the Patriarch hides the well-known fact that even for those who operate by the medieval term “canonical territory,” Ukraine is on disputed canonical territory and belongs more rightly to the Ecumenical Patriarchate than to the Moscow Patriarchate. This fact should be taken into consideration by those Orthodox sympathizers in the West who mean the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) when they refer to “Orthodoxy.” At the same time the ROC and the Global Orthodox Church cannot be compared, either in size or quality.
The identification of Orthodox faith and the Moscow Patriarchate is becoming a mighty propaganda tool. As the “Orthodox militant,” Deputy Minister of Defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Igor Druz, remarked, “On the Ukrainian side there are no Orthodox at all, because not a single churched Orthodox individual would go to fight against New Russia, because they know that the unity of Holy Rus is pleasing to God. All saints who have spoken on this topic are unanimous in saying that Holy Rus must be united. Meanwhile Ukrainian fascists are the real separatists and they want to divide New Russia from Holy Rus and unite it to the decaying warmongering West. Therefore there are no church people on the Ukrainian side at all. Their battalions are made up mainly of uniates, schismatics, neo-pagans, and sectarians.” 
July 31, 2014 the Locum Tenens of the Kiev Cathedra (of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate - UOCMP), Metropolitan Onuphrius, addressed a personal letter to Ukrainian President Poroshenko, in which he was “forced to draw attention to the violation of the rights and freedoms of believers and interference in the work of the parish of the Donetsk diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Ukrainian military in Eastern Ukraine.”  He did not mention the problems of other confessions or abuses by the occupying forces and terrorists. Thereby the UOCMP confirmed its not only spiritual, but also political dependence on Moscow. In a conflict between an Orthodox supranational empire and a nation, between imperial ideology and civil society, the “Ukrainian” Orthodox Church has turned out to not be Ukrainian at all. It is obvious that this positition, taken up by the leading “Ukrainian” confession poses a threat to national security and creates a dangerous precedent for other countries in the region.
In one sense it is no longer Russia as a country, but Russian Orthodoxy as a supranational movement that is becoming a geopolitical factor. It is by claiming defense of “true” traditional canonical Orthodoxy that they justify the actions of the “Orthodox army” in the Donbass region.
In his article, “Where Does the Threat to Orthodoxy in Ukraine Come From?” pubished on the separatist site, “Russian Spring,” the above-mentioned Igor Druz (who signed this time as Chairman of the National Assembly of Ukraine) states that “Kiev separatists… are in great need of an ‘ideological justification’ for their lordship over the Euromaidan slaves. They need not only the support of a party and movement, but of religious confessions. Western handlers have long been busy subjugating various confessions, and the US State Department recently created a special division to work with them. In practical terms this means the destruction of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine and the formation of an enormous religious political sect from the remaining confessions, which will become the ideological foundation of Poroshenko’s regime. These same processes are taking place throughout the world, where, under the leadership of the Western oligarchy, a single world religion is rapidly forming, which the Orthodox rightly consider the religion of the antichrist.” 
Through the efforts of “Russian Spring” ideologues, the confict between Russia and Ukraine, between Moscow Orthodoxy and Ukrainian “Uniates, schismatics, and sectarians”, is becoming global and is being represented as a conflict between the “Russian world” and the “decaying West,” “traditional values” and “Gay Europe,” saving spirituality and corrupting secularity.
Moreover, as the main unifying force, the ROC tries to create an alliance with those Protestants, Jews, and Muslims who agree with the Orthodox view of Russian history and accept without a murmur their subservient position. As the director of external communications for one of the Protestant denominations in Russia told me (at the “Christian Values in Modern Russia” round table in Moscow on May 25, 2006), “We Protestants understand that all the seats at the government table are taken, but we don’t object to feeding on crumbs that fall from the table” (alluding to Matthew 15:26-27, “And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table’”).
It is clear that such allies to “true Orthodoxy” can only be temporary, and will soon become the next victims (which is already happening – while Protestant leaders are participating in government councils and receiving presidential awards, their churches are being mercilessly persecuted).
Unfortunately it is not only the Russian Orthodox Church, but also Russian Protestants who view Ukraine as their “canonical territory” and have already begun dividing up Ukrainian churches on occupied territory. For instance the Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith passed a decision creating a separate eparchial division for the Crimea and Sevastopol.  The new structure will be headed by Bishop Konstantin Bendas, a faithful follower of the party line of his head bishop, Sergey Ryakhovsky, member of the Presidential Council and the Civic Chamber of the President of the Russian Federation.
Russian Baptists see the Crimea as their own. Since the spring they have been persistently inviting Crimean churches to move from the All-Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Christians – Baptists to the Russian Union (RUECB). And it is not just a territorial expansion behind this conflict, but a conflict of ideologies. In a resolution passed by the XXXIV Assembly of the RUECB (May 30, 2014), Russian Baptists condemned the regime change in Ukraine as rebellion: “We declare our loyalty to Biblical teaching, which does not allow forceful overturning of lawful government, nationalism, and the resolution of socio-political conflicts by any means other than through political talks. ‘Do not join with rebellious officials’ (Proverbs 24:21).” 
The assembly’s delegates lost no time in separating themselves from their former “brother in the faith,” then interim president of Ukraine Alexander Turchinov, and sent a fawning epistle to President Putin, in which they assured him of their support and prayers: “May the Lord give you strength and courage to remain faithful in the battle against xenophobia and the preservation of interconfessional peace.”  To be fair, I should note that many pro-Russian leaders in Eastern Ukrainian churches went even further, demanding the excommunication of the “bloody pastor.” According to some pastors from the Donbass Region, when DPR separatists asked them, “Is Turchinov one of your guys?” they had no problem responding, “No, he’s not.”
It is worth noting that at that same XXXIV Assembly of the RUECB, along with the resolution on Ukraine and the flattering letter to Putin, the Assembly also passed a social charter for the RUECB, which contained the following in black and white: “No nation should dictate its will to another, based on notions of its religious, economic, political, or military superiority. Every nation should focus its efforts not on proving its false exclusivity, but on achieving basic spiritual and moral progress.” 
In order to avoid accusing the honorable advocates of the “Russian world” of a divided consciousness, we have to acknowledge the only remaining option: they truly believe in a “Holy Rus” and its “global mission.”
Most likely it is only the defense of “purity of faith” for the Orthodox and “achievement of basic spiritual and moral progress” for Protestants that can justify the horrors of the “Russian Spring” in Ukraine. Only defense of mythical “traditional values” can cover up the imperial ambitions of soul-saving Moscow Orthodoxy and its epic resistance to the decaying Catholic-Protestant West. Only a fanatical faith in itself and its own exclusivity could close its eyes at the commission by Orthodox crusaders of unmentionable crimes against humanity, against Ukraine and the world, against God and their neighbors.
Sooner or later the global community will have to acknowledge the fact of “political Orthodoxy” and the “Orthodox terrorism” connected to it, supported by Russia and destabilizing the entire Eurasia region. The sooner this happens, the better – for regional and global security, for defense of religious freedoms and civil rights, for the self-determination of individuals and nations. One of the first steps in this direction could be recognizing the “Orthodox” people’s republics which have formed in Eastern Ukraine (Donetsk and Lugansk) as terrorist organizations. This honest recognition would bring clarity to the situation, define the sides of the conflict, the aggressor and the victim, and also allow non-political and non-aggressive Orthodoxy to separate itself from political and aggressive simulacra.
As a conclusion I will offer a few key points about the religious dimensions of the Ukrainian crisis, its global significance and how the international community might position itself.
First, the "hybrid war" unleashed by Russia in Ukraine is not so much anti-Ukrainian as it is anti-Western, and it is quite blatantly religiously motivated, to the extent that it may well be called a "holy war" in which the "orthodox army" is fighting against "uniates, believers and sectarians." In the minds of the ideologues of of the "Russian Spring", the Russian intervention is like a "crusade" against the West, the reconquest, gathering, reunion of the lands comprising this "Russian world."
Secondly, everyone connected with the West by virtue of their origin ("foreigners") or by conscious choice ("traitors") are automatically added to the list of enemies of the "Russian world": Greek Catholics as traitors to the Orthodox faith, Uniates, "Banderists"; Orthodox members of the Kiev Patriarchate as schismatics, apostates, "nationalists"; Protestant sects as Westerners and American spies; and Crimean Tatars as pro-Ukrainians and non-Orthodox. There is flagrant religious discrimination against all denominations except the Moscow Patriarchate.
Thirdly, interlocked with the state with exclusive access to its resources, and directing its ideological influence on state policies, Russian Orthodoxy is increasingly becoming "political orthodoxy." In this case, it is difficult to separate religion from politics. It is this complex relationship that explains the hybrid nature of the war in Ukraine. The state was provided with religious justification and sacred sanction by the ROC to conduct a merciless war. Consequently, economic logic and political expediency were subordinate to the religious motive – to return to the Moscow Patriarchate its "canonical territory" and build on it the Orthodox empire of the "Russian world."
Fourth, the gradual isolation from international contacts was implemented, along with the forced incorporation of religious associations in Crimea and the Donbass to align them with the structure of the Russian doctrine (the Pentecostals and Baptists have spoken up about this). Given the Orthodox-aggressive ideology of the occupying power, religious denominations have lost the ability to conduct services in their houses of worship. They can no longer carry out missionary work in the community, receive international assistance, or organize charitable activities. Often the conditions for the return of confiscated buildings or the renewal of lease agreements is re-registration and the concomitant procedure of "Orthodox expertise." Denominations are left not only without any rights and means to make a living, they are also isolated from the rest of Ukraine and international support.
Fifth, the spread of the orthodox ideology of the "Russian world" and the religious persecution of other faiths has already led to a significant change in the religious map of the region. Most religious organizations have ceased their activities, and their parishioners have been forced to move to other regions. The vast majority of refugees do not have access to adequate living conditions for their families, nor do they have any prospects of finding work given the economic crisis in the country. Entire communities have been scattered abroad, and those ministers who remain in the occupied territories are in constant danger. We can talk about decimated religious associations in three regions of Ukraine: Crimea, Lugansk and Donetsk; in the same vein, we must also speak of the many thousands of refugees and victims, and the dead and wounded. The believers in these denominations can be regarded as victims of religious cleansing.
Sixth, while the interfaith community of Ukraine coalesced around the anti-corruption "revolution of dignity," national unity and opposition to the aggression of the "Russian world," Russian denominations united in support of the anti-Western course charted by their president. The title of the book of former President Leonid Kuchma – Ukraine is not Russia, beautifully conveys the clear demarcation between the nations, and presents Ukraine to the world as a self-determined phenomenon – "not Russia." This does not fit into the usual conception of the Western world, which labels as "Russia" everything that previously fell within the borders of the USSR. But today it is abundantly clear: Ukraine, with its rich diversity of denominations, its East-West synthetic spiritual culture should be perceived as a separate entity and promising subject of relations. Moreover, Ukraine should be seen as the victim of foreign aggression, in which the justification given for aggression is the pro-Western orientation of society and the consensus of most denominations to support the European aspirations of the country.
Seventh, the confrontation in Ukraine should be seen as a clash between universal human rights and freedoms and so-called "traditional values." Behind the deceptive rhetoric of "traditional values" are hiding not universal, nor even Christian values, but the traditional values of "political orthodoxy" centered on "orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality" – in other words, the values of the "Orthodox Empire." In contrast to this, by upholding the fundamental value of freedom in relation to the individual and the nation, the Ukrainian "revolution of dignity" upholds the possibility of religious freedom and religious diversity. In this clash of the emerging civil society and the monolithic "Orthodox Empire," Ukraine, like never before, is in urgent need of support from international legal institutions and the solidarity of the multi-faceted and free Christian world.
My eighth and final point, since the expansion of the orthodox "Russian world" carries with it a threat to the religious distinctiveness of Ukraine, international assistance is needed for the protection of this distinctiveness – professional monitoring, expert analyses, help from advocates of religious freedom, and the expansion of international relations and integration into the global space.
For the world community, there is only one way to counter the absorption of Ukraine by Russia, and that is to move closer to Ukraine, to connect with her through strong religious, cultural, political and economic ties; to open all the doors to the free movement of Ukrainian believers in need of international advocacy; to use all diplomatic means to ensure the recognition of the separatists' "people's republics" as terrorist organizations, their "policies" against religious organizations as discrimination, and their victims as victims of religiously motivated terrorism.
 “The Crimea Has Sacred Significant for Russia, According to Putin.” Accessed 29.01.2015: http://ria.ru/politics/20141204/1036533683.html
 “The Locum Tenens of the Kiev Cathedra wrote to the President of Ukraine.” Accessed 19.01.2015: http://news.church.ua/2014/07/31/misceblyustitel-kijivskoji-mitropolichoji-kafedri-zvernuvsya-do-prezidenta-ukrajini-2/
 Druz, I. “Where Does the Threat to Orthodoxy in Ukraine Come From?” Accessed 19.01.2015: http://rusvesna.su/news/1403468914
 “A Decision Has Been Made Creating an Eparchial Division of RUCEF for the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol.” Accessed 19.01.2015: http://www.cef.ru/news/roshve/?id=8704
 “Resolution of the XXXIV Assembly of the RUECB on the Situation in Neighboring Ukraine.” Accessed 19.01.2015: http://baptist.org.ru/news/main/view/rezolutsiya-34-sezda-po-ukraine
 “Letter to the President of the Russian Federation, V.V. Putin.” Accessed 19.01.2015: http://baptist.org.ru/news/main/view/obraschenie-k-prezidentu-rossii-34-sezd
 Social Charter of the RUECB. Moscow: RUECB, 2014, pg. 15.