Historically, Ukraine has been dominated religiously by the Russian Orthodox Church. As the Ukrainian government tries to push the independence of their own Ukrainian Orthodox Church, however, the existing Russian church is finding itself a target for its Russianness.
On Monday, Ukrainian police and national troops raided three different Russian Orthodox Churches in the country’s north, along with the homes of the priests running those churches. They are accused of having declared their continued allegiance to the church leadership in Moscow instead of aligning with the new Ukrainian alternative.
“They were ordered to seize everything to do with our church,” noted one official from one of the raided churches. The Ukrainian government says they are suspected of violating a law on “equality of religious belief,” but that there have been no arrests so far.
In the past, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was treated as a constituent part of the Russian Orthodox Church, headed by the Moscow Patriarch. There had been religious disputes over whether the Moscow Patriarch had jurisdiction over the territory of the historical Kiev Patriarch, which the overall Orthodox head, in Constantinople, has said they do not. In October, there was a decision to revoke Moscow’s jurisdiction at an Ecumenial level, though this did not include recognizing Kiev’s claimed Patriarch.
As a practical matter, the Ukraine Orthodox Church is recognized as an independent, full-fledged church equal to the Russian version in theory. Without the recognition of a Kiev Patriarch, however, there are substantial questions about the practicality of this independence.