Plans of Moscow Patriarchate against Ecumenical Patriarch’s visit to Ukraine

Great news from Constantinople. “During a meeting with a delegation of deputies from the (ruling) party ‘Servant of the People,’ Patriarch Bartholomew I confirmed his visit to Ukraine to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Independence.” With these words, MP Yevhenia Kravchuk announced the important news for all Orthodox Ukrainians. But not everyone were so pleased to accept it.

For some representatives of the Kremlin, the Russian Orthodox Church and its branch in Ukraine (Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine), as well as pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to Kyiv seems to be very annoying.

The media, favourably inclined to the Russian Church in Ukraine, analysts affiliated with the Patriarchate of Moscow, theologians, and, of course, priests argued that the Ecumenical Patriarch’s visit would deepen the “schism” in Ukraine that has been fabricated by Moscow.

In fact, they did not limit themselves to unfounded statements but launched a large communication campaign to undermine the visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Some of this campaign’s instruments are the following; fabricated stories aimed at discrediting the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, spreading messages of “persecution” and “oppression” of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, as well as using all means of provoking social and political upheaval in the social and political situation in the country according to the “Montenegrin scenario” standards.

The first thing that the opponents of the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine will try to do is to create impressions against the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which led to the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

The first step in this direction was taken on April 1; both the faithful and the clergy of the Russian Church in Ukraine handed over some boxes with “millions of signatures,” which are questionable, to the Office of the President of Ukraine, with which the Russian Church demands the Ukrainian authorities stop fictitious “persecutions against the church.”

As we can assume, similar moves are likely to take place in early May when the “Russian world” will focus on two dates that are important for Kremlin propaganda.

It is recalled that on May 2, 2014, there were clashes in the city of Odesa between Ukrainian citizens and pro-Russians, which claimed human lives without disturbing the legal status of the city.

However, every year since then, Russian propaganda has used this date to make statements about the “repression of Russian-speaking inhabitants in Ukraine by  radical nationalists.” Among them, the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church in Odessa, Agafangel (Savin), who uses similar rhetoric.

As for May 9, although quite bizarre in recent years, the narrative of the victory of the “Great Patriotic War” has been combined with the invention of the “connecting links” of Russia, used by the Russian Orthodox Church and its Church in Ukraine. This also leads to marches and a mixture of “crusades” of the so-called “immortal order.”

The next step will most likely be the celebration of the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus on July 27-28, 2021. One does not need to have a magical gift to predict the scenario, according to which the sponsors of the Russian Church in Ukraine will pay for the transfer of thousands of supporters of the Moscow Patriarchate to Kyiv to form the “largest crusade in the history of Ukraine.”

At the same time, the representatives of the “political Orthodoxy” of Ukraine will be mobilized, following the example of the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods of Ukraine, whose leader Valentin Lukyanik publicly proposed that the head of the Russian Church in Ukraine, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), and he should join forces to fight against the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

As a next step, the representatives of the “Russian world” will make every effort to demonize the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. We can not rule out the escalation of cases of communication provocation, through which the representatives of the Russian Church in Ukraine will accuse the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of persecution, beatings of believers of the Moscow Patriarchate, and other manifestations of discrimination.

As a special rehearsal of such communication attacks, we can characterize an incident of the beating of a believer of the Russian Church in Ukraine in March, for which the representatives of this Church unequivocally blamed the Church of Ukraine. They tried to present a personal dispute as a religious persecution. The Metropolitan of the Russian Church in Ukraine Luke (Kovalenko) even demanded an apology from the Ecumenical Patriarch for the alleged actions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church against the Moscow Patriarchate.

At the same time, especially the big propaganda media of the “Russian world” may publish fake news with “scandalous investigations” against specific hierarchs of the Church of Ukraine.

On the whole, such intelligence attacks will have a dual purpose: to “demonize” the Ukrainian Church on the one hand and to create an information-toxic climate around the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to Ukraine on the other.

It must be borne in mind that the communication campaign will have significant support from Russia. Representatives of the Russian Church will raise several issues, highlighting the differences between the official positions of Constantinople and Moscow.

For example, we will mention the relatively recent statements of the Metropolitan of the Russian Church Hilarion (Alfeev) about the resolute refusal of the Moscow Patriarchate to reconsider its calendar policy in the light of the recent talks between the Phanar and the Vatican on the approach of a common date for Easter celebration. We recall that the Moscow Patriarchate categorically opposed the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

At the same time, and within Ukraine itself, the potential of the “Russian world” has not been exhausted.

The “Filaret” factor is another important piece of paper that the Kremlin is expected to put on the table.

Representatives of the abolished “Kyiv Patriarchate” continue their subversive action against the Church of Ukraine. These actions were intensified in view of the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine. Supporters of the “honorary patriarch” Filaret published a series of objections regarding the Tomos of Autocephaly and Filaret himself demanded a new Tomos. The aim of such statements is the attempt to devalue the Tomos in the eyes of the television audience and the underestimation of its historical significance.

Pro-Russian politicians, public figures, the clergy of the Russian Church and the Russian Church in Ukraine actively support all of Filaret’s statements to confuse the Ukrainian orthodox environment.

There is one more factor to keep in mind. In case all the efforts of the “Russian world” are fruitless and the visit is successful, all pro-Russian forces will make significant efforts to create an unpleasant information background regarding the visit itself.

And here, of course, the imagination of the leaders from Moscow can be really endless. Representatives of “political orthodoxy”, with the support of the clergy of the Russian Church in Ukraine, have every opportunity to organize protests against the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch.

At the same time, pro-Russian media journalists will seize the opportunity to ask the most provocative questions, such as: “Do you take responsibility for the beating of the faithful of the Russian Church in Ukraine and the seizure of the temples by the representatives of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine?”.

Oleksandr Efremenko, is a theologian and founder of the digital information platform