“Religion is a weapon and a victim of the conflict in Ukraine”

This Interview with ICLRS Visiting Fellow Dmytro Vovk, Director of the Center for Rule of Law and Religion Studies at Yaroslav the Wise National Law University in Kharkiv, Ukraine , is reproduced here with the permission of IVERIS (Institute de Veille et d’Études des Relations Internationales et Stratiques) and interviewer Bruno Husquinet .  

The Autocephaly granted to the Ukrainian Church created headlines in the international media about an aspect of the situation in Ukraine that had remained a concern for specialists. Not surprisingly there are two divergent narratives on events. On the one hand, Moscow is outraged by the decision and reads this step as a politically motivated act to tear Ukraine apart from Moscow. On the other hand, most Western chancelleries welcomed the creation of a new Orthodox church independent from Moscow, who stands accused of playing a negative role in Ukraine. On February 3, 2019 Epiphany was enthroned as the first patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, a title that few Orthodox Churches recognize for the moment. IVERIS has discussed the theopolitical situation with Ukrainian specialist Dmytro Vovk to shed further light onto a complex matter that has not finished shacking the world of soft religious politics.

IVERIS: Dear Professor Vovk, before the Patriarch of Constantinople granted independence from Moscow to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, there were three orthodox churches in Ukraine.  Could you tell us what is happening with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the self-declared autocephalous Ukrainian Church (UAOC)? Have they blended their clergy and parishes?

Dmytro Vovk: We need to consider the situation from two perspectives, the canon law and the secular law. Although I am not specialised in canon law, I understand that canonically there are no UOC-KP and UAOC anymore. At the Unifying Council (Sobor) these churches were dissolved and their clerics (along with some clerics of the UOC-MP) established the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). Legally the situation is different. The Kyiv Metropolis of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), that is the ruling center of the new church, was registered at the end of January. So, communities of UOC-KP and UAOC have not dissolved or re-registered as communities of OCU yet; neither are they blended de facto. Over the last two months, around 150 communities of UOC-MP decided to switch church jurisdiction and join the newly created OCU, but in fact, as I understand, they have joined the UOC-KP, that is now under control of a relevant ruling bishop of UOC-KP.

The situation should be regularized soon. Nevertheless, shall clarity emerge within secular law, it does not mean that on the ground everything will be solved. Let’s imagine that leaders of the new church decide to blend parishes of UOC-KP, UOC-MP and UAOC located in the same village into one unique parish. Such a decision could create serious power struggles in these new parishes between the priests belonging to the three churches. We can imagine that some parishes will nominally transfer to the new church, but will continue to exist separately.
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A Peace Cross on Public Property: A Violation of Establishment?

“On Feb. 27, the Supreme Court [heard] arguments about the constitutionality of the 40-foot Peace Cross on government property in Bladensburg, Md., a memorial for local fallen World War I soldiers. Many Americans might see a case like this and assume that keeping the cross means solidifying Christianity’s dominance in American society. To the contrary, protecting these symbols helps religious diversity, because getting rid of the cross also means getting rid of the government accommodations and acknowledgments that religious minorities need in order to thrive.”

— Asma T. Uddin, Why keeping the 40-foot Peace Cross might be good for religious minorities, Religious Freedom Center / Freedom Forum Institute

Read more about this and similar US cases here!