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MOSCOW, February 11. /TASS/. The political standoff in Ukraine has spread as far as matters of religion and faith. Radical nationalists have launched an onslaught against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate - the largest religious organization in the country - which they see as an agent of Moscow and want to make everybody else think so, too. In the meantime, experts say, the Moscow Patriarchate’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church is quite independent and distinguished by political pluralism, reflecting the situation in Ukrainian society in general, so the risk it may split up is very low, if at all.
Metropolitan Mitrofan, of Luhansk and Alchevsk, on Tuesday addressed the secretary-general of the Council of Europe and representatives of other European international and human rights organizations with requests for a response to the attacks against churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Of late, there were quite a few reports about persecutions of priests and seizures of Orthodox churches by members of the breakaway Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and by armed nationalist groups. Some 90 churches of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church have been burned down, destroyed or damaged as a result of hostilities. Attempts to seize the Kiev Pechersk Lavra and the Holy Dormition Pochayev Lavra monasteries drew the strongest public protests.
Patriarch Kirill, of Moscow and all Russia, last week voiced concern over the position of clergymen and believers in the zone of the conflict. "I have evidence of threats to and in some cases death sentences passed in absence on at least ten clerics of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate," he said. "Many clerics have since been subjected to unlawful detentions by nationalist groups, beatings and violent interrogations."
At the end of January 78 members of the Kiev City Council voted to strip the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate of all tax benefits. The Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, Greco-Catholics and other religious organizations have retained their tax benefits. In the meantime, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has more churches (and parishioners) in Ukraine than any other church. In Kiev alone it owns more than a hundred real estate items.
"The enforcement of that decision might lead to major discrimination of the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine - the largest religious organization in that country," the Moscow Patriarchate’s representative at the Council of Europe, Hegumen Filipp, has told Ogonyok magazine. "It runs counter to international law and is indicative of the sentiment widely spread among the members of the ruling establishment, who are prepared to declare a religious organization as their political enemy."
"The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is in a precarious position - its parishioners are found in both confronting camps, so the Church cannot afford to take an unequivocal stance on all issues," the first deputy president of the Political Technologies Centre, Alexey Makarkin, told TASS. "Besides, the most radical part of society suspects it of supporting Moscow, although the Ukrainian Church has a great degree of independence."
The nationalists who label the Ukrainian Orthodox Church ‘pro-Moscow’ obviously distort the reality, Makarkin said. Its far greater independence is seen at least in what its hierarchs have been saying and doing: some are against mobilization into the Ukrainian army for war in the East, while others have been collecting humanitarian assistance for that army.
"In general, the Church is a mirror of Ukrainian society. There are supporters of both viewpoints. It is pluralistic," Makarkin said.
The problem will be getting worse, but the Ukrainian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is unlikely to split up, Makarkin said. "After all, it is the sole canonical church in Ukraine that is recognized by the world Orthodoxy, while the Ukrainian Church of the Kiev Patriarchate is not recognized by other churches, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople."
"The believers have no intention to go into schism. Compliance with the Canon is important to them most of all, but neither the Ukrainian president nor Kiev’s city authorities decide such matters," Makarkin said.
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