Zelenskyy Announces Crackdown On Russian-Aligned Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Photo by Ukrainian Presidency via Getty Images

James Lynch Investigative Reporter
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The Ukrainian government announced preparations to curb the activities of the country’s Russian-linked Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP).

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the decision amid the country’s ongoing struggle against invading Russian forces, The Wall Street Journal notes. The UOC-MP, the country’s second largest religious denomination after the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), holds services in the Russian liturgical language of Old Church Slavonic and was, until recently, under the authority of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The UOC-MP had formally maintained its alliance with Moscow until the church’s leaders formally broke with Kirill in May, The New York Times reported. A council of church leaders said they disagreed with Kirill’s pro-war statements, according to the Times. The outlet also quoted a Facebook post from Russian religious scholar Sergei Chapnin, who said it remained unclear how many individual UOC-MP bishops and parishes would follow the council’s lead.

Ukraine’s government moved to curb the activities of the Orthodox Christian denomination historically linked to Moscow

— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) December 2, 2022

Zelenskyy’s decision to crack down on the UOC-MP comes after multiple raids by intelligence services on priests who possess Russian citizenship, communicated with Russian intelligence and own literature denying Ukraine’s right to exist, the Journal added.

The Ukrainian security services believe a large number of priests, particularly those in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory, have been collaborating with Russian intelligence services. Early in the invasion, UOC-MP leader Patriarch Onuphry denounced the invasion as a “repetition of the sin of Cain,” while others connected to the church claim that Ukrainian nationalists have persecuted the UOC-MP. (RELATED: Russia Accuses US Of ‘Direct’ Involvement In War As Pentagon Ramps Up Training For Ukrainian Troops)

Zelenskyy said in a Thursday night address that Ukrainian government is “making it impossible for religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation to operate in Ukraine.”

“We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul,” he added, according to the Journal.

Former Russian president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev responded on Telegram, writing that “the current Ukrainian authorities have openly become enemies of Christ and the Orthodox faith,” per the Journal. Last month, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskok accused Ukraine of “waging war against the Russian Orthodox Church,” the Journal added.