Priests and politi­cians:

Com­pared to many other coun­tries in Europe, Ukraine’s re­li­gious life is very ac­tive, although there is no state re­li­gion. So how do pol­i­tics and re­li­gion work to­gether here?

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Hanna Tre­hub

How do pol­i­tics and re­li­gion work to­gether in Ukraine?

Ukraine has no state re­li­gion: its Con­sti­tu­tion clearly sep­a­rates church and state and guar­an­tees free­dom of con­science. At the same time, re­li­gious life is far more ac­tive in Ukraine to­day than in many other Euro­pean coun­tries and the ques­tion of faith is gen­er­ally a pri­vate mat­ter. Its civic lead­ers do not re­quire the bless­ing of any re­li­gious lead­ers to be seen as le­git­i­mate, un­like some coun­tries, where the civic and church lead­er­ship are seen as two sides of the same coin. Yet, when Ukrainian politi­cians go to a church or tem­ple for ma­jor holy days, or ap­pear in pub­lic with cler­ics or even heads of re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions, there’s a clear mes­sage for all and sundry: “We have com­mon in­ter­ests.”


The re­la­tion­ship and in­ter­ac­tion be­tween re­li­gion and pol­i­tics is an is­sue that nat­u­rally comes up for any ob­ser­vant re­searcher. The two hold the same in­stru­ment in their hands: in­flu­ence over the peo­ple who are the source of any power that is real, rather than il­lu­sory. Not every­one will con­tinue an­a­lyz­ing along those lines, get­ting more spe­cific about which of the two is more pow­er­ful in terms of govern­ing and in­flu­enc­ing, who sub­or­di­nates whom, and how ex­actly that hap­pens. But the study of the pol­i­tics of re­li­gion has been around since at least the time of Max We­ber.

If we take a closer look at broad Ukrainian dis­course about the re­li­gious­ness of Ukraini­ans, then we can see that it’s quite cus­tom­ary to talk about the coun­try as a state that tra­di­tion­ally and his­tor­i­cally or­bited around Chris­tian­ity and Euro­pean world, a na­tion that, in ad­di­tion to hav­ing an an­cient cul­ture, also leans heav­ily on Chris­tian cul­ture. And so this ar­ti­cle will fo­cus pre­cisely on Chris­tians in their enor­mous va­ri­ety, and not mem­bers of other of Ukraine’s con­tem­po­rary faiths. For now, how­ever, let’s leave the va­ri­ety of forms that Chris­tian­ity takes aside and look at the con­fig­u­ra­tion its re­la­tion­ship to those in power in the state have taken through­out his­tory. In short, this is about cae­saropa­pism vs theoc­racy, or sys­tems in which there is no sep­a­ra­tion of church and state.

Un­der cae­saropa­pism, the gov­ern­ment has a sin­gle leader who com­bines the power of sec­u­lar gov­ern­ment with re­li­gious power, ef­fec­tively mak­ing sec­u­lar author­ity su­pe­rior to the spir­i­tual author­ity of the Church. Here what is ob­vi­ous is the tight in­ter­nal con­nec­tion and in­ter­de­pen­dence of states and the Church. This grad­u­ally moulded them into a sin­gle sec­u­lar-ec­cle­si­as­tic en­tity whose in­ter­ests are closely in­ter­twined. In prac­tice, this kind of holism was not al­ways up­held be­cause such a union in­evitably led to the sub­or­di­na­tion of the church to the im­pe­rial ruler or other type of gov­ern­ment. Theoc­racy, on the other hand, is when the spir­i­tual leader, usu­ally the top cleric, like the Ro­man Catholic Pope, con­trols both spir­i­tual and sec­u­lar power. Both these prin­ci­ples are es­sen­tially a sym­phony be­tween the church and the state. Along­side them is a third prin­ci­ple, the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state—whether that means that their re­la­tions could be those of an­tag­o­nists, neu­tral forces, or al­lies.


The his­tory of the last 300 years or so showed a dis­turb­ing tra­di­tion in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the dif­fer­ent Chris­tian churches in Ukraine and those in gov­ern­ment: in short, lack of free­dom of con­science. It was the Ortho­dox Chris­tians who found them­selves in the worst po­si­tion. In 1685, Gideon Svi­atopolk-Chetver­tyn­skiy be­came Met­ro­pol­i­tan of Kyiv, hav­ing been or­dained by Moscow Pa­tri­arch Joachim and sworn fealty to the Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate. In this man­ner, the in­de­pen­dent, self-govern­ing Ukrainian Ortho­dox Church ceased to ex­ist un­til at least 1919.

In 1721, Peter I waved his im­pe­rial hand and Mus­covy be­came the Rus­sian Em­pire. He also re­placed the Pa­tri­arch of the Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church (ROC) with an ec­cle­si­as­tic col­lege known as the Holy Govern­ing Synod. This state in­sti­tu­tion, which op­er­ated in sub­or­di­na­tion and by de­cree of the Em­peror, was headed by an im­pe­rial chief prose­cu­tor—a sec­u­lar of­fi­cial. Thanks to the ortho­dox clergy, who con­trolled preach­ing and school­ing, all the col­o­nized peo­ples across the em­pire were rus­si­fied—in­clud­ing Ukraini­ans.

In 1919, this church in­sti­tu­tion was cut down, along with a slew of others that emerged when the Rus­sian Em­pire col­lapsed and other faiths that had de­vel­oped on its ter­ri­to­ries that be­came part of the USSR, all the way un­til to 1943 when the ROC was re­stored. State and church, church and schools were con­sti­tu­tion­ally sep­a­rated while con­trol over re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties was placed in the hands of the NKVD, the soviet se­cret po­lice, to counter what they called “coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary” el­e­ments among the lay and clergy, and dis­sent. In the mean­time, their taxes were in­creased and a slew of re­li­gious fa­cil­i­ties were closed and de­stroyed. Any­one who served in these churches had to reg­is­ter with the NKVD and vi­o­late the sacra­ment of con­fes­sion at the de­mand of the se­cret po­lice.



Dur­ing WWII, the USSR pol­icy to­wards re­li­gions was soft­ened on the direct or­ders of Josef Stalin. In 1943, the ROC was re­stored and it pa­tri­arch be­came Sergei Star­gorod­skoi. How­ever, there was no in­de­pen­dence to speak of. That same year, the Coun­cil on ROC Af­fairs was set up and in 1944 the Coun­cil for Re­li­gious Af­fairs, whose re­mit was to es­tab­lish con­tact be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the ROC and other re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing a va­ri­ety of Chris­tian churches. When Nikita Khrushchev came to power, a thaw be­gan to­wards the arts but it did not af­fect the re­li­gious sphere. In those times, al­most all of the con­ces­sions that Stalin had made on re­li­gious is­sues were can­celled.

In 1945, Stalin or­dered that the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC), which had en­tered a union with Rome in the late 16th century, be in­vited to sub­or­di­nate it­self to the Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate. In May of that year, dur­ing the Lviv pseudo-So­bor, this move was made. Many UGCC clergy were per­se­cuted and shot, in­clud­ing Pa­tri­arch Josef Slipyj, while the Church it­self was forced to go un­der­ground and be­come a se­cret church in or­der to sur­vive, un­til 1989. This was no sur­prise: the sovi­ets needed to push as far away as pos­si­ble those who still re­mem­bered the time when soviet na­tions ex­isted as in­de­pen­dent states and could be sources of in­flu­ence and in­for­ma­tion in soviet so­ci­ety. Leonid Brezh­nev did ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to re­place re­li­gious rit­u­als in peo­ple’s lives with al­ter­na­tive “civil­ian” ones.


The sovi­ets un­der­stood that it was eas­i­est to con­trol those re­li­gious groups whose lead­er­ship was lo­cated on soviet ter­ri­tory. This, of course, ex­cluded the Ro­man Catholics and Protes­tants, es­pe­cially Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians such as Bap­tists, Pen­te­costals and Ad­ven­tists. In 1944, a res­o­lu­tion was is­sued in Moscow to set up an All-Union Coun­cil of Evan­gel­i­cal Bap­tist Chris­tians, as though a sin­gle large pot to hold com­mu­ni­ties of Bap­tists, Pen­te­costals and an en­tire slew of other late Protes­tant groups. On one hand, set­ting up such an en­tity le­git­imized many re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties of late Protes­tantism, but on the other hand, this le­gal sta­tus was earned at the cost of horrendous con­ces­sions, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing dif­fer­ences in faith among the many de­nom­i­na­tions and re­ject­ing any

and all mech­a­nisms that would en­able re­li­gious tra­di­tions to be pre­served for the longer term.

The­o­log­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion was not avail­able to all Chris­tians in the Soviet Union. The­o­log­i­cal acad­e­mies and sem­i­nar­ies were all ex­clu­sively ROC, and at that were un­der the care­ful eye of the gov­ern­ment and se­cret po­lice, who de­cided who could study for the priest­hood and be or­dained—and even who could be ap­pointed bishop. This ed­u­ca­tion was in­tended to serve the pur­poses of the soviet state’s so­cial poli­cies and to iso­late and marginal­ize the clergy. In this way, ortho­dox priests be­came per­form­ers of rit­u­als rather than not spir­i­tual pas­tors, slowly los­ing the ground be­neath their feet.

After the 1960s, many un­reg­is­tered com­mu­ni­ties emerged in this en­vi­ron­ment who did not agree with the style of life be­ing forced by the soviet gov­ern­ment. Dur­ing the pe­riod of Khrushchev’s athe­ist cam­paigns, late Protes­tant groups were sud­denly de­clared taboo and called “sects”—a fea­ture that has un­for­tu­nately sur­vived to this day—and were seen as threat­en­ing enor­mous harm to soviet so­ci­ety. Some of their lead­er­ship had been shipped to la­bor camps and pris­ons un­der Stalin, while its younger gen­er­a­tion faced other forms of per­se­cu­tion: they were pre­vented from gain­ing a higher ed­u­ca­tion be­cause of their re­li­gious bent and in some cases even lost parental rights. It’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that Pen­te­costals and Ad­ven­tists were protes­tant move­ments that came to Ukraine from the US—the USSR’s bit­ter foe dur­ing the Cold War. Po­lit­i­cal neu­tral­ity, dis­trust to­wards the state and re­ject­ing be­ing part of it, be­ing drawn to Eurasian com­mu­ni­ties or to unity within the CIS were all typ­i­cal of late Protes­tants born in the USSR. For many years, they con­tin­ued to be with­out the least pos­si­bil­ity of gain­ing a spir­i­tual ed­u­ca­tion, let alone en­gage in the the­o­log­i­cal devel­op­ment of their tra­di­tion as it evolved out­side the Soviet Union.

The Ro­man Catholic Church also suf­fered enor­mously un­der the sovi­ets. Prior to 1920, it was largely ig­nored, be­cause at that point the sovi­ets still wanted to main­tain con­tact with the Ro­man Curia in or­der to get around the diplo­matic block­ade. But in 1930, of­fi­cial ties be­tween Moscow and the Vat­i­can were bro­ken off for a very long time. In 1934, a case was fab­ri­cated about “the at­tempt of Catholics to take the life of

Com­rade Stalin,” based on which many faith­ful were ex­e­cuted and al­most all Catholic churches shut down. The Ro­man Catholic Church man­aged to sur­vive only in Lithua­nia, Latvia and Western Ukraine, where the Uzh­horod Vicarage was in charge. Re­la­tions be­tween the USSR and the Vat­i­can be­gan to be nor­mal­ized diplo­mat­i­cally in 1989, just two years be­fore the Union col­lapsed al­to­gether.


The phe­nom­e­non of demon­stra­tive devoutness among Ukraine’s elected of­fi­cials, min­is­ters and pres­i­dents, once so­ci­ety be­gan to pay at­ten­tion to which church a par­tic­u­lar of­fi­cial at­tended at Christ­mas or Easter is a clear in­di­ca­tion of how the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween sec­u­lar lead­ers and re­li­gion is chang­ing. Right now Ukraine is in a pro­found tran­si­tion pe­riod and is clearly post-soviet, mean­ing it com­bines el­e­ments of both the soviet era and of the new one.

What changed the most in the re­li­gious arena in 1991, when Ukraine de­clared in­de­pen­dence, was the re­jec­tion of athe­ism as a state ide­ol­ogy, de­clared in the Law “On free­dom of con­science and re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tion.” This law is in force to this day. At that mo­ment ev­ery Ukrainian cit­i­zen gained the right to free­dom of con­science and the church, mean­ing re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions, and state were sep­a­rated, and ed­u­ca­tion was sep­a­rated from the church as well. The doc­u­ment also stated that re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions would no longer carry out state func­tions, while the state would no longer fi­nance the ac­tiv­i­ties of any or­ga­ni­za­tion based on its po­si­tion to­wards re­li­gion.

And so, re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions are not al­lowed to en­gage in party pol­i­tics or to pro­vide fi­nan­cial sup­port to po­lit­i­cal par­ties, to nom­i­nate can­di­dates for pub­lic of­fice, to en­gage in pol­i­tick­ing or fund­ing the elec­tion cam­paigns of in­di­vid­u­als run­ning for of­fice. Clergy are al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate in po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties just like all other cit­i­zens. Mean­while, re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions gained the right to solicit fi­nan­cial and other do­na­tions and to ac­cept them. Fi­nan­cial and ma­te­rial con­tri­bu­tions, to­gether with other in­comes of re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions are not taxed, in­clud­ing their ex­penses on char­i­ta­ble ac­tiv­i­ties. At the same time, re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions have no right to force their faith­ful to con­trib­ute funds. On the other hand, en­ter­prises be­long­ing to re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions are sub­ject to taxes on in­come from their man­u­fac­tur­ing or other com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, in ac­cor­dance with what­ever laws are in ef­fect, in the pro­ce­dure and amounts es­tab­lished for com­mer­cial com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The lead­ers of some Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tions in Ukraine can be seen to be mak­ing both de­ter­mined ef­forts to pre­vent politi­cians from in­ter­fer­ing and de­ter­mined ef­forts to par­tic­i­pate ac­tively in pol­i­tics. Many others re­mem­ber soviet times and prac­tices very well, and have less de­sire to gain po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence by par­tic­i­pat­ing in a de­lib­er­ate in­de­pen­dent game in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles than to en­sure that the gov­ern­ment pay as lit­tle at­ten­tion as pos­si­ble, let alone con­trol, what they are do­ing in their busi­ness and com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties as re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions. Au­dits, tax in­spec­tions, fi­nan­cial re­port­ing, trans­parency and per­sonal in­come dec­la­ra­tions just like other mem­bers of so­ci­ety are things that such in­di­vid­u­als are not es­pe­cially happy to deal with. And so they try to re­solve is­sues like this not through leg­is­la­tion

but through back­room deals, through agree­ments not to at­tack but to co­op­er­ate. Cor­rup­tion goes a long way here, as well be­cause it is a sys­temic phe­nom­e­non. To change this state of af­fairs means a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to in­ter­ac­tions be­tween so­ci­ety and its gov­ern­ment in Ukraine, and so far that has proved very dif­fi­cult, in­deed.


Re­li­gion is one of the more pow­er­ful chan­nels of in­flu­ence in a so­ci­ety, right next to the press. The faith­ful are, after all, cit­i­zens of the state with the right to vote dur­ing elec­tions. They are an enor­mous re­source whose mass vote de­ter­mines who will or will not be elected to a post, from the lo­cal to the na­tional level. How to in­flu­ence them is what in­ter­ests those seek­ing sec­u­lar power. And this in­flu­ence is how some part of re­li­gious lead­ers thank the gov­ern­ment for not pay­ing too much at­ten­tion to their ac­tiv­i­ties, es­pe­cially com­mer­cial and busi­ness ones, and to their re­la­tion­ship to for­eign ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­ters where those hap­pen to ex­ist. And so, pol­i­tick­ing, even if in­di­rectly, and suc­cess in an elec­toral race de­ter­mine all.

In­ter­est­ingly, since Ukraine be­came in­de­pen­dent, po­lit­i­cal par­ties that were based on re­li­gious prin­ci­ples gained nei­ther broad pop­u­lar­ity nor pow­er­ful in­flu­ence. A party like the Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union in Ger­many, which unites all Chris­tians on an in­ter­con­fes­sional ba­sis, or the Chris­tian So­cial Union, is nearly im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine in Ukraine.

Of the 352 par­ties reg­is­tered in Ukraine as of Jan­uary 2017, only five can be con­sid­ered re­li­gious in ori­en­ta­tion: the Chris­tian-Lib­eral Party, the Chris­tian-Demo­cratic Party, the Repub­li­can Chris­tian Party, the Chris­tian Move­ment, and the Ukrainian Ortho­dox Assem­bly. Few Ukraini­ans have even heard of most of them, but should the need arise and fund­ing be found these par­ties could sud­denly ap­pear on the list of those who are par­tic­i­pat­ing in an elec­tion cam­paign, es­pe­cially in 2019. After all, “place­holder” can­di­dates are al­ways needed.

When politi­cians and min­is­ters show up with the top cler­ics of a church, it’s a clear mes­sage to parish­ioners that “these are our boys and girls,” and you have to sup­port yours. This works just as well as some­one do­nat­ing to this or that re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tion so that they can look good in others’ eyes. In­di­rect cam­paign­ing hap­pens in var­i­ous ways in var­i­ous places: it doesn’t take much to drop a hint in a ser­mon or, even more sub­tly, dur­ing in­for­mal con­ver­sa­tions at peo­ple’s homes. This kind of thing shapes pref­er­ences, not just about world­views, but about pol­i­tics as well. Dis­tribut­ing in­for­ma­tion fur­ther in the com­mu­nity be­comes easy enough just using the grapevine.

This kind of scheme can be seen in the links be­tween the mem­bers of the one-time Party of the Re­gions and Op­po­si­tion Bloc with the Ukrainian Ortho­dox Church of the Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate (UOC-MP)— Vadym Novyn­skiy gets around a lot—and in the open co­op­er­a­tion be­tween ex-Kyiv Mayor Leonid Ch­er­novet­skiy and the founder and se­nior pas­tor of the charis­matic New Gen­er­a­tion Church, Olek­sandr Le­di­ayev, and be­fore that with the Nige­rian founder of the Em­bassy of God church Sun­day Ade­laja, and with Volodymyr Muntyan, the di­rec­tor of the Re­nais­sance Spir­i­tual Cen­ter who took Ade­laja’s place.

This was also ev­i­dent in the way that politi­cians tried to in­sure them­selves sup­port on both sides of the bar­ri­cades dur­ing the Euro­maidan, be­cause they weren’t sure who would win. And so Ukraini­ans saw Yu­lia Ty­moshen- ko with the head of the UOC of the Kyiv Pa­tri­ar­chate at the All-Ukrainian Con­fer­ence of young mem­bers of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian faiths in Ukraine. Deputy Speaker Ok­sana Sy­royid (Samopomich) and Samopomich fac­tion leader at Kyiv City Coun­cil Ser­hiy Husovskiy both spoke at the Re­nais­sance Spir­i­tual Cen­ter. Var­i­ous MPs have made high-profile pil­grim­ages across the en­tire coun­try, also rais­ing the ques­tions: were they in­spired by priests or pol­i­tics and did they not per­haps cut a deal amongst them?


How­ever, not all the lead­ers of Chris­tian churches in Ukraine have ob­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions. There are also those who are work­ing to over­come the sys­tem of re­la­tions be­tween politi­cians and churches that is all too fa­mil­iar in Ukraine, and have al­ready taken spe­cific steps to­wards this end. Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Chair Olek­sandr Turchynov, Na­tional Front MP Pavlo Un­gurian, both of them from the Bap­tist com­mu­nity, and a long string of those who came from the Greek-Catholic com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially mem­bers of Svo­boda and Samopomich, have shown the ex­am­ple here.

Re­li­gion and churches have al­ways been a pow­er­ful chan­nel for shap­ing pub­lic opin­ions and at­ti­tudes, and, in the case of Ukraine, they have also led in pub­lic trust. The ques­tion is how this in­flu­ence was used and in whose fa­vor. The power of politi­cians is un­sta­ble and change­able. What’s more im­por­tant is whom so­ci­ety is re­ally sup­port­ing. Those po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists and re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions that are able to lis­ten to the pub­lic’s re­quests and de­mands, who have a so­cial doc­trine and carry out so­cial work, have the sup­port of Ukrainian cit­i­zens.

The thing is that mere per­form­ers of rit­u­als are not Martin Luther Kings who can force an en­tire so­ci­ety and its politi­cians to change. Or­di­nary folks are in­ter­ested in work that is im­por­tant for all of so­ci­ety: help to or­phans, the el­derly, the crip­pled and the poor; the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from var­i­ous ad­dic­tions… and with the Euro­maidan and Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion, this ex­tended to vol­un­teer­ing, re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing and re­turn­ing pris­on­ers of war and the wounded to nor­mal life, and, last but not least, chap­laincy.

Yes, nei­ther the Amer­i­can nor the Ger­man or French sys­tems work in Ukraine. But state recog­ni­tion of church doc­u­ments on higher spir­i­tual ed­u­ca­tion and of aca­demic de­grees and ti­tles is­sued by post-sec­ondary the­o­log­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions is a clear in­di­ca­tion that re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing Chris­tian ones, in­flu­ence the sec­u­lar gov­ern­ment, not just the other way. And so, in mod­ern-day Ukraine, politi­cians may speak through the voices of spir­i­tual lead­ers, but the op­po­site is true as well, es­pe­cially when it comes to sup­port or lack of sup­port for cer­tain re­forms, fam­ily val­ues, mi­gra­tion abroad, and Ukrainian or other world­views. The point is that, in a mod­ern, demo­cratic Euro­pean so­ci­ety, we should hear the voices of all stake­hold­ers, not just one par­tic­u­lar group.


Croziers and swords. When built on the sup­port of peo­ple, both pol­i­tics and re­li­gion be­come al­most in­vin­ci­ble. The cover of Thomas Hobbes' orig­i­nal Le­viathan: The Mat­ter, Forme and Power of a Com­mon­wealth Ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal and Civil of­fers an il­lus­tra­tion

Source: Polls by Razumkov Cen­ter and Kyiv In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of So­ci­ol­ogy (KIIS)

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