Friday, August 8, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Patriarch Kirill, FSB Backing Different Candidates in Ukrainian Church Election

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 8 – Many in Russia and Ukraine view Patriarch Kirill as a Russian nationalist or even imperialist, but the Russian intelligence services and presumably behind them the Kremlin consider him insufficiently nationalist or imperialist, according to Viktor Chub, a religious affairs expert.


These objections to Kirill are longstanding, Chub says, and focus on the Russian patriarch’s inability “to liquidate the autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and convert Ukraine into a second Belarus.” One result of this split is that Kirill and the FSB have different candidates for head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate  (


            According to surveys of the hierarchs who will vote in the upcoming election, most now support Metropolitan Antony, currently administrator of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, because they believe his progressive approach will help them preserve the UOC as a separate structure for as long as possible.


            Antony is Kirill’s preferred alternative as well, Chub says. But Antony and his hierarchs can survive only by being increasingly pro-Ukrainian and consequently less pro-Moscow than the church has been in the past or than many in the Russian security agencies and some in the UOC hierarchy would prefer. 


            Pro-Russian hierarchs like Metropolitan Ilarion, Pavel, and Agafangel prefer Metropolitan Onufri not only because he did not speak out against Russia’s moves against Ukraine but also because he banned “unofficial talks with bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate.


            Most UOC hierarchs oppose Onufri because they believe he will further reduce the influence of the church and leave them without parishes or power.  Kirill is against him, Chub suggests, because if Onufri became patriarch of Ukraine, some conservatives might use him to challenge Kirill as patriarch of Moscow.


As Chub notes, rumors have been put out by conservatives that Kirill and his hierarchs have “sold out” to the Masons and that it is “the holy duty of true sons of the Orthodox church” to seek his ouster. But that possibility has led the Russian special services to conclude that Onufri could be too dangerous to their interests. And they want someone else in Kyiv.


Neither of its first two choices, Onufri or Pavel, has any chance of gaining a majority of votes, and there do not exist any “real reasons for Ukrainian bishops to unite against Metropolitan Antony,” the analyst says. So what the FSB has done is to start a defamatory campaign against Antony and to recruit hierarchs, with compromat and bribes, to oppose him.


The FSB has also helped organize a group of hierarchs to support Metropolitans Simeon and Aleksandr to assume the two top jobs in the church, but that effort appears to be stillborn, Chub says, because each has enemies within the hierarchy and is unlikely to get many votes regardless of what the Russian organs do.


As of now, Antony, Kirill’s preferred candidate, is likely to win, Chub says, but given how high the stakes are, it is entirely possible that the Russian secret services will try to pull something out of the hat to put in place someone who will do Moscow’s bidding now even at the cost of the church’s membership in the near future.

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