Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 2002, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe
Churches in Ukraine Today: At Odds with Each Other; At Odds with the State
In the new, independent Ukrainian state, a number of previous problems in religious life have been resolved.
- The activities of some major confessions prohibited in the past have been permitted to resume, most notably the Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.
- All confessions have obtained the freedom to conduct their canonical, catechization, and preaching work freely without obstruction.
- An indigenous Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchy has been established.
- Religious buildings and possessions, which were taken away by the Communist regime, are now being given back to confessional organizations.
- Religious organizations are able to establish or renew fraternal connections abroad.
At the same time it seems that no country in the world has a religious life characterized by such complexity and conflict or such uncertainty as exists today in Ukraine. The following problems are evident.
- In an unprecedented crisis, Orthodoxy has disintegrated into three independent churches hostile to one another. This crisis has a distinctly geopolitical character, reflecting state relations between Ukraine and Russia and in Ecumenical Orthodoxy.
- Liberation has led to the clash of interests of differing religious unions, resulting in many-sided and many-leveled conflicts. The acute interconfessional conflicts in Ukraine, especially among different Orthodox churches, as well as between Orthodox and Greek-Catholic believers, have not only a religious ground, but also important political and regional aspects, dividing Ukraine into various regions according to the religious factor. In the L'viv Region alone these conflicts embrace more than 600 communities.
- At the time of the totalitarian regime the traditional churches were so constricted that they now need help from society in order to reestablish their status as dynamic spiritual and social institutions. Otherwise they shall suffer defeat in competition with foreign missionaries.
- Interference of foreign spiritual centers, in particular the Moscow Patriarchy and the Vatican, into the religious life of the subordinate confessions makes urgent the problem of the legal solution of the connections between Ukrainian religious unions and corresponding foreign centers.
- The opposition of traditional confessions in Ukraine to new nontraditional religious formations is becoming more serious. Traditional religious bodies are eager to establish their own representative bodies at some state institutions with the aim of using their influence to place limitations on the activities of nontraditional religious bodies.
- Ukrainian press and other state mass media present religious problems in an excessively unskilled, unprofessional, tendentious way and often even in a confessionally partisan manner that creates the impression of the presence of "state churches," or a "single national religion."
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchy claims the role of state religion in Ukraine, while in the western part of the country Greek Catholicism takes a similar position, thanks to the support of local political forces. In both cases, however, one cannot agree with such an assertion. Both are simply claiming as reality that which they desire.
At the present time, state authority in Ukraine is in search of social, political, and spiritual unity for the country. Under such conditions all eyes are fixed on the church and religion that, until recently, was viewed as a single and legitimate institution that had been in opposition to the former ruling Communist Party and Communist ideology. The post-totalitarian elite sees religion as an instrument of political and ethnic mobilization, a means for carrying these tasks that, properly speaking, are beyond the religious sphere.
Federal and Local Religion Policy At Odds
Existing legislation concerning freedom of conscience is often subjected to criticism by various political forces, and laws that violate the freedom of beliefs are sometimes accepted at the regional level. Local representatives of the State Committee for Religious Affairs lack an attitude of equality towards various confessions. Often they place limitations on the activities of new religious bodies, despite the fact that these newer bodies find their followers among the most active layers of society-the young people and the intelligentsia. The law does not prevent local legislation that may favor one confession. This is already taking place in Galicia where Greek-Catholicism enjoys privileges given by local authorities.
Anatoly M. Kolodny, Ph.D., is chief of the Religious Studies Department of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences, a professor at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and National University, general director of the Ukraine Center for Religious Information and Freedom, and president of the Ukrainian Association of Religious Scholars, Kyiv, Ukraine.
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Anatoly M. Kolodny, Lyudmyla O. Filipovych, and Howard L. Biddulph, Religion and the Churches in Modern Ukraine. A Collection of Scientific Reports (Kyiv: Svit znan', 2001). Copies may be purchased for $10 plus mailing costs. Contact Dr. Lyudmyla O. Filipovych: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anatoly Kolodny, "Churches in Ukraine Today: At Odds with Each Other; At Odds with the State," East-West Church & Ministry Report 10 (Winter 2002), 5-6.
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© 2002 East-West Church and Ministry Report
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