Religious Policies under President Zelensky

Dmytro Vovk is Director for the Center for the Rule of Law and Religion Studies at Yaroslav the Wise National Law University (Ukraine)

When Volodymyr Zelensky won the April 2019 presidential election, he became the sixth president of Ukraine, prevailing over his predecessor Petro Poroshenko by almost 50 percent.  To all Ukrainian presidents so far, religion has mattered greatly. After coming to power, these leaders develop their own model of church-state relations by favoring one or the other branch of the split Ukrainian Orthodox Church. For instance, President Poroshenko’s crucial support allowed for the creation and recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Due in large part to this support in context of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, church-state relations have culminated in religion becoming an inalienable part of state policies and public discourse on national security.

When Zelensky took office, questions about his religious policies were raised immediately. OCU sympathizers publicly warned the newly-elected president not to undermine the new church and not to support the UOC-MP, which they considered to be an agent of Russian influence in the country. In contrast, the UOC-MP itself called to vote against Poroshenko (that is in favor of Zelensky) and after his victory avoid criticizing him.

Zelensky’s religious policies have been shaped by at least five factors: his personal attitude towards religion and churches, the expectations of his voters, the attitudes of his team, high public trust of religions in Ukraine, and geopolitics worldwide. Continue reading “Religious Policies under President Zelensky”

A Year after the Tomos: The Moscow Patriarchate’s Narratives About the New Church and Itself

Andriy Fert is a Doctoral Student at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Ukraine)

For the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), it seems that the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in 2018 was an unexpected gift, one that strengthened and united its ecclesiastical structure around one narrative—the narrative of persecution.

Two Bishops

On December 15, 2018, two active members of the so-called “pro-Ukrainian wing” of the UOC-MP, Metropolitans Olexandr and Symeon, officially left the Moscow Patriarchate and joined the OCU. Their departure, however, appears to be a relief for UOC-MP leadership.

For instance, Olexandr, spiritual son of Metropolitan Volodymyr Sabodan (the head of the UOC-MP from 1992 to 2014), had been actively criticizing UOC-MP leaders since 2014 for cooperating with pro-Russian oligarchs, refusing to engage in dialogue with other Ukrainian churches, and reacting hostilely to the possibility of independence from Moscow. He established a foundation named for his mentor Volodymyr to advocate for autocephaly, citing Volodymyr’s authority among Orthodox believers. Continue reading “A Year after the Tomos: The Moscow Patriarchate’s Narratives About the New Church and Itself”