U.S. Interference in Ukraine’s Autocephaly: An Ineffective, Unnecessary, and Unlikely Affair

Robert C. Blitt is Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee Knoxville

At first glance, extending the Tomos to a newly established Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) may appear to have emerged with lightning speed, particularly in the traditionally deliberative world of Orthodox Christianity. But the reality attests to a much longer campaign to secure autocephaly for Ukraine, and to a larger, ever-seething rift among Orthodox churches over canonical legitimacy and control.

The Long Reach of U.S. Foreign Policy and the Tomos

Boosters and detractors of OCU autocephaly are divided over claims of government interference in the process of issuing the Tomos. An assessment of the effectiveness of Ukrainian and Russian government intervention is set aside for another occasion, though indications are plain intervention was the norm rather than the exception. In the case of the United States, some outside observers have claimed the U.S. government manipulated the Ecumenical Patriarch with millions of dollars in bribes to foster a schism in the Orthodox world, and that consequently, “the State Department, will have the blood of the little Ukrainian grandmothers and old men on [their] hands.” Parties more intimately engaged, including high-level officials from the Russian government and the Moscow Patriarchate, have espoused similar claims, if couched in more diplomatic terms. Continue reading “U.S. Interference in Ukraine’s Autocephaly: An Ineffective, Unnecessary, and Unlikely Affair”

A Language of “Sects” in Russian Reflections of Ukrainian Autocephaly

Stanislav Panin holds a  PhD in Philosophy from Moscow State University and is a Doctoral Student of the Department of Religion at Rice University

Though I am a scholar of religious studies, I am not an expert in Orthodox Christianity. My specialization is the study of both new religious movements and esoteric communities and their roles in contemporary culture. With such unusual interests, it should come as no surprise that my interests in Russian media coverage of Ukrainian autocephaly were equally unusual. For many years, I have observed that polemical narratives against emerging or unorthodox spiritual communities are more than just random attacks. Particularly within the Russian context, most of these criticisms uncover broader political ideologies that universally characterize religious groups as the enemy, building the foundation for large-scale ideological criticism not limited only to religion.

Brief History of the Term “Sect”

To illustrate, consider the language of “sects” that is routinely used in a modern-day Russia to denote groups that fall outside the mainstream. The term “sect” was originally popularized among academics through works of Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch.[1] These scholars used the term to define Christianity within a specific historical context including state churches, legal limitations of religious freedom, and predominantly Christian populations. These three factors are necessary to make a church–sect classification useful, and even then, one might need to introduce additional categories such as “denominations” or “mysticism” to account so many manifestations of the faith. With growing separation of Christian churches from Western states and the advancement of religious pluralism, more and more scholars have argued that the old sociological classifications are problematic. To quote Allan W. Eister’s 1967 article, “efforts at church–sect conceptualization have, to date, produced only a jumble of confused and often contradictory assertions, lacking both reliability and common acceptance by sociologists.” Continue reading “A Language of “Sects” in Russian Reflections of Ukrainian Autocephaly”