Russia’s all-out war clarified the long-standing and painful concerns and doubts about Moscow Patriarchate’s Orthodox Church operations in Ukraine. The Russia-backed church priests have been accused of spreading Kremlin propaganda, sheltering Russian saboteurs, and even adjusting the artillery strikes on the Ukrainian military positions.
The recent searches by the Security Service of Ukraine in the dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) caused a stir in Ukraine. In response to the shocking finding in the Moscow church’s properties, the Ukrainian Parliament has proposed to ban the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church and all other religious organizations that would be subordinate to any Russian organizations.
How did Russian Orthodox Church become a cover for FSB?
The path to “great faith” for the current patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, began back in the times of the USSR when a priest recruited by the KGB approached him. Kirill himself is also accused of working for the FSB under the call sign “Mikhailov.”
The Moscow Patriarchate tends to be a part of the state apparatus of the Russian Federation. The Russian Orthodox Church is a structure under state control that was de facto created at the behest of Soviet dictator Stalin, and with certain modifications has been preserved to this day.
In the 1990s, the FSB turned the church into its spy network. The Security Service of Ukraine was weakened, and Ukrainian President Kuchma decided to build a local church based on the UOC MP, and in fact, the Russian church was given full assistance.
In general, the Moscow-backed church has been conducting subversive anti-Ukrainian activities since the 1990s, the Institute of Foreign Policy Research notes. Assuring people that Ukrainians and Russians are “one nation,” the UOC MP did not want to hear anything on accepting Ukrainian language in the church.
Russian church priests called the Holodomor, an artificial famine in Ukraine organized by the USSR leadership, a “fair punishment,” and considered the fighting against Russian troops as a mortal sin, a fratricidal conflict. They didn’t mention that Russians came to the Ukrainian land.
Researchers point out that the Moscow church continues to spread these Russian myths, adding that Ukraine is responsible for being attacked.
Moscow Patriarchate refused to recognize Russia as an aggressor
In 2014, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate did not recognize Russia as an aggressor, refused to pay tribute to the fallen Ukrainian soldiers, and criticized Tomos and the creation of the local Orthodox Church of Ukraine in every possible way.
According to the research by the NGO “Detector Media”, after Putin called the Euromaidan Revolution a “coup” and launched a war in Donbas, the priests of the Moscow Patriarchate in their religious services repeated the narratives that a “coup” had taken place in Ukraine, Ukrainians join the fight for money, and the Russian language is suppressed in Ukraine.
Researchers emphasize that this was the preparation of the Moscow Patriarchate for the seizure of Ukraine by Russia. This religious propaganda was the strongest in the occupied territories.
Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine
The leadership of the UOC-MP went to Moscow to meet with the Moscov-controlled priests and celebrate the invasion of Ukrainian lands. Metropolitans and Archimandrites of the Moscow-controlled church were present in the Kremlin hall during the announcement of Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian regions that Russian troops had seized.
The UOC MP has supported the Russian army, as seen in many cases. A well-known story is that in Slovyansk, in the church of the Moscow Patriarchate, a whole arsenal of ammunition for militants was discovered in 2014. Cases were repeatedly recorded when UOC-MP priests helped the separatists and Russian troops in Donbas by word and act.
In 2015, representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, led by the head of the church Onufriy, did not stand up during the solemn session of the parliament when President Poroshenko read out the names of the heroes of Ukraine honored for their brave participation in the war against Russia-backed separatists in Donbas. The audience received the news with standing ovations, and the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine demonstratively sat on their chairs.
Russian priests repeat Putin’s regime narratives
With the beginning of the full-scale invasion, some figures of the Moscow-backed church continued to help the Russians in every possible way. For example, on February 25, Archpriest Mykhailo Pavlushchenko, who helped the Russian army, was detained near Gostomel, in the Kyiv region, next to a downed helicopter.
In Dnipro and Kirovohrad regions, the priests of the Moscow Patriarchate called on the parishioners to support the Russian invaders, not to oppose them, and to help in every way to “liberate them”.
At the same time, according to the Institute of Foreign Policy Studies, the Moscow Patriarchate consecrates the weapons of Russians. And during the funeral of the defenders of Ukraine, Moscow priests close the doors of churches in front of relatives of the dead. In particular, in Bukovyna, the priest did not allow the coffin with the body of the fallen soldier into the temple.
Security service findings in the properties of Moscow priests in Ukraine
In November, the Ukraine’s Security Service began regularly searching the properties belonging to the Moscow Orthodox church leadership. They usually find Russian propaganda papers. The Security Service discovered anti-Ukrainian materials in the residence of the head of the Tulchyn diocese of the Moscow-backed Orthodox church, Metropolitan Ionafan.
Correspondence with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, was found in possession of the Metropolitan of Kirovohrad and Novomyrhorod of the UOC MP. The Security Service also seized a large number of pro-Russian materials produced in the Russian Federation.
“Special operation of Moscow-controlled church”
In 2014, the Moscow-backed Orthodox Church in Crimea played a significant role in the invasion of the peninsula. In January, the Russian Federation brought the “Gifts of the Magi” Christian shrines to Crimea – under the patronage of the Russian Orthodox Church, at the expense of Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. It was accompanied by security led by Russian intelligence GRU agent Igor Girkin, who participated in the war against Ukraine in Donbas.
With the beginning of the hybrid aggression, armed “little green men” (Russian forces) were located in the temples of the Moscow Patriarchate. The investigators note that the special operation was planned in advance and precisely under the “roof” of the Russian Orthodox Church.
During the last raid, the Ukrainian Security Service found Russian propaganda and Ukrainophobic and xenophobic papers in the monastery of the Moscow Patriarchate in Mukachevo, Zakarpattia region.
Propaganda papers denies Ukraine’s right to independence
The agency said it found documents with pro-Russian ideological messages, xenophobic books, and pamphlets denying Ukraine’s right to independence and declaring that Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus should be part of a single political entity.
Despite the Moscow-backed Ukrainian orthodox church’s cautious public declarations about the war, its agenda remains faithful to the Kremlin’s ideology. Their priests stay officially subordinate to the Russian church in the global hierarchy.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, spoke in support of Russia’s war against Ukraine. During a sermon in September, he said that sacrificing one’s life in the war against Ukraine “washes away sins”. This declaration was called a Christian heresy by religious scholars.
Religious independence of Ukrainians
The National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine proposed to ban religious groups associated with Russia, President Volodymyr Zelenskyi said.
The most significant of the groups is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The NSDC instructed the government to draft a bill for the ban, and it is expected that the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament of Ukraine, will consider it shortly.
“We will ensure full independence for our state. In particular, spiritual independence”, Zelensky said. “We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul.”
Zelensky also said that Ukraine would introduce sanctions against priests cooperating with Russia, and their names would be publicly announced. The time will come and all agents in cassocks will exposed.