"…So did the Orthodox Church take a united stand against the man who has now been elected and who is reportedly a member of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (as is his wife)? The answer is no.
There is schism among Ukrainian Orthodox, with three separate jurisdictions within the same territory. Before independence in 1991, the Moscow Patriarchate stood alone in Ukraine, dominating church life there as surely as the Kremlin and communism ruled the political sphere. Just before this, Moscow had suffered a devastating blow: the relegalisation, during Mikhail Gorbachev’s last days, of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the West, that part of Ukraine which had not been under Soviet control until the westward march of the Soviet Army in the Second World War. In 1946 Stalin’s henchmen liquidated the Church of the people there, once designated as “Uniate” — a Church which celebrated the liturgy according to the Orthodox model, had a married priesthood (though celibate bishops), but was also fiercely loyal to the Vatican. Moreover, it contained a nucleus of Ukrainian nationalism. Stalin believed that by forcing the Greek Catholics to become Orthodox and imprisoning all the bishops, he could force people to transfer their loyalty to Moscow. Although some of the clergy, fearing for the lives of their families, yielded, Stalin had buried a time bomb, which ticked away for 40 years until Gorbachev’s policies opened the way for the old wrongs to be righted.
The Moscow patriarchate, in retreat, nevertheless continued to dominate the majority of the churches in the Russian-speaking areas of central (around Kiev) and eastern Ukraine. However, a strong minority established a schismatic jurisdiction, the Kiev Patriarchate, which supported Ukrainian independence.
Yet a third jurisdiction came into being, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which traced its origins back to the brief years after 1917 when Ukraine was an independent state and before it was liquidated after the imposition of Soviet control. These churches offered mostly tacit support for Yushchenko.
However, on November 20, the day before the rigged election, the head of the Moscow jurisdiction, Metropolitan Volodymyr, perhaps recoiling from President Putin’s blatant interference in the process, seemed to feel a chill wind. He called on both candidates to “stand together against those who want to sow discord” and quoted the words of the great poet Taras Shevchenko: “Love your Ukraine and pray for it.” Opposition voices within the Moscow jurisdiction then became stronger. Early last month, three priests and a group of laymen circulated an open letter calling on President Kuchma and Yanukovych to resign.
After the falsified election, events in church circles were now moving as fast as in the political sphere. Amid the turmoil, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, head of the Greek Catholic Church, pointed out on December 5 that “the root of the crisis remains an immoral regime which has deprived the Ukrainian people of their legitimate rights and dignity”, but ten days later his synod of bishops issued a statesman-like call to their clergy “not to take part in election campaigning and not to limit the rights of the faithful”.
There was one remarkable ecumenical Christian intervention from outside. Anticipating, as it were, the visit of President Saakashvili of Georgia to congratulate Yushchenko on December 31, a group of three clergymen from Tbilisi occupied the rostrum on Independence Square earlier in the month and addressed a rally. By now Ukrainian TV was carrying the full story of the demonstrations, so the sight of these three — two Georgian Orthodox clerics, Fathers Basil Kobakhidze and Zaza Tevzadze, unofficially led by the head of the Georgian Baptist Church, Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili — carried a strong message. These men had been prominent in the movement for democracy in Georgia a year earlier and Bishop Malkhaz had several times suffered physical assault from fanatical elements in the Orthodox Church. …"
The Moscow patriarchate, like Putin himself, has lost an immense amount of face. Patriarch Aleksei II in Moscow issued a defensive statement last week in which he said: “I expect the new President of Ukraine will have enough wisdom to go the way of unity and not confrontation” — which is being interpreted in Kiev as both directive and patronising.
Authoritarianism has taken a sharp blow, while independent Christian voices have shown themselves both moderate and effective, raising their stock in Ukrainian society.
Canon Michael Bourdeaux is the founder and president of Keston Institute, Oxford, which monitors religious freedom in the communist