Wednesday, February 23, 2011

COMMENTARY: President of Ukraine Must Stop Favoritism for His Church Preference

The year was 988 -- indeed an inspiring year when Prince Vladimir the Great of Kiev accepted Orthodox Christianity and brought Ukraine and Russia under the influence of the Byzantine Empire.

Unfortunately, Prince Vladimir would be turning in his grave today, if he knew what was happening to the church he so proudly adopted for his pagan homeland.

A brief overview of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches as they exist today will provide a clearer perspective of the current situation.

Orthodox Christianity remains the primary religion of Ukraine, with 70 percent of Ukrainians still belonging to that faith.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is divided into three branches; namely, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- Kiev Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous (self-headed) Orthodox Church which is independent. There is also the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, whose jurisdiction is under the Pope in Rome.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine became an independent nation. Thereafter, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- Kiev Patriarchate came into being by breaking away from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- Moscow Patriarchate, since many Ukrainians believed that the church -- as well as the state -- should be independent of Russia.

Sad to say, this schism has resulted in much controversy -- especially during the past two years -- as Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has been trying diligently to end the Kiev Patriarchate, and thus significantly increase the number of Ukrainians in the Moscow Patriarchate.

At the same time, Viktor Yanukovych, president of Ukraine, has clearly shown favoritism toward the Moscow Patriarchate. For example, during his recent inauguration, Yanukovych publicly snubbed Patriarch Filaret (Kiev Patriarchate), Metropolitan Myfodi (Autocephalous Orthodox), and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar (Greek Catholic) by inviting Patriarch Kirill -- a non-Ukrainian -- to offer the blessing.

Moreover, in January 2011, fifty deputies of the Ukrainian parliament issued a statement that said in part, "We are deeply concerned about the support you (President Viktor Yanukovych), as head of the Ukrainian state, and the government in general, give to one religious organization -- the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate -- while other religious organizations that unite millions of Ukrainians are demonstratively neglected and discriminated by the authorities."

The deputies' statement was prompted by growing concerns that Holy Sophia Monastery in Kiev will be transferred from neutral state control to the Moscow Patriarchate. Currently, Ukraine's four largest Christian groups have access to this sacred monastery.

Indeed, the Orthodox Christian Church in Ukraine is experiencing some serious problems. These problems would not exist if all the Orthodox branches in Ukraine were treated equally by the government. Like it or not, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchate is not going to "disappear," but will remain a part of Ukraine's religion ad infinitum.

It is now time for Ukrainian President Yanukovych to treat all of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches -- as well as all Ukrainians -- equally. To do otherwise will only exacerbate the current problem, in addition to portraying Yanukovych as being autocratic and unfair by using his political power in his attempt to destroy a Church of Christ.

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