In a country with a weak state such as Ukraine, religious bodies have gained respect through their presence with the people during the 2013-2014 protest movement that led to the current political situation.
Now Ukraine must choose either to attempt to use religion as a support for political legitimacy or embrace a secular path in consideration of the religious diversity in society, writes Catherine Wanner (Pennsylvania State University) in an article introducing a collection of analyses on the current situation and challenges of religious groups in Ukraine, published in the last issue of Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West (February).
Regarding Orthodox Churches, attempts to establish an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church clash with the vision of a “Russian world” promoted by the Moscow Patriarchate and incorporating Ukraine. Nikolay Mitrokhin, a Russian scholar who is currently working at a German research center in Bremen, reports his research findings on those Orthodox affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate, who currently make the largest religious group in most areas of Ukraine, with the exception of some Western areas.
Mitrokhin identifies three currents within the (already autonomous) Ukrainian Church under the Moscow Patriarchate. First, primarily in Central Ukraine, there are those who would like to be granted (peacefully) full independence (autocephaly) by the Moscow Patriarchate. Second, most parishes in Northern and Eastern Ukraine as well as in the most Western areas (Transcarpathia) are satisfied with the current autonomous status, which allows them to enjoy full freedom in internal affairs. Third, mostly in Eastern and Southern areas, primarily in large cities, but also at other places across the country, there are those who do not want more autonomy and actually feel that there is no such thing as an Ukrainian Orthodox Church, rather only a Russian Orthodox one.
In such a situation, the church has to act in a very careful way, in order to avoid losing part of its faithful. Since the beginning of the political turmoil, only few parishes have defected to the competing Kyiv Patriarchate, but there are those within parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate who would like to have the ability to have liturgical celebrations in Ukrainian too, Mitrokhin reports.
Regarding the Protestant diversity in Ukraine, Mykhailo Cherenkov (Ukrainian Seminar for Protestant Theology) estimates that, from “Protestants in Ukraine,” they have fully become “Ukrainian Protestants” during the protests at Independence Square in Kyiv, associating with other Ukrainian Christians in a crisis situation. But this has considerably strained relations with Russian Protestants, on the basis of different political views. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (also known as the Eastern Rite Catholic Church) in Ukraine is seeking to become a “major European player,” as it aids government forces in the east fighting separatists. The Christian Century (Feb. 4) reports that the church, which is the largest of the 22 eastern Catholic churches in communion with Rome with about 7 million members, has been supplying Ukrainian troops with military equipment, in hopes that such support will win followers.
The church donates not only medical equipment to the forces but also significant amounts of body armor, ammunition, helmets, sleeping bags, and stretchers, according to church records. Researcher Geraldine Fagan says that the UGCC wants to “assert itself beyond its far western heartland on the back of the growth in Ukrainian self-identity in more central regions of Ukraine. The Kiev Patriarchate has also reported donating military gear, as has the Moscow Patriarchate has been linked to supplying the rebels.
(The Christian Century, http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-12/ukraines-greek-catholic-church-equips-military)