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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ukrainian Protesters Find Powerful Ally in Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate

 

 KIEV, Ukraine — After helmeted riot police stormed Independence Square here early Saturday, spraying tear gas, throwing stun grenades and swinging truncheons, dozens of young protesters ran, terrified, scattering up the streets. It was after 4:30 a.m., the air cold, the sky black. As they got their bearings, the half-lit bell tower of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery beckoned. 


Inside, the fleeing demonstrators found more than warmth and safety. They had arrived in a bastion of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, where they were welcomed not only on a humanitarian basis but because the church, driven by its own historical tensions with Moscow, is actively supporting their uprising. It strongly favors European integration to enable Ukraine to break free from Russia’s grip, and has joined the calls to oust the Ukrainian government.

“Our church is together with the people,” the Kyivan Patriarchate’s 84-year-old leader, Filaret, said in an interview. “It supports Ukraine entering the European Union. We pray to God that he will help us enter the European Union in order to keep our statehood, to keep peace and to improve the life of the people.”
On Wednesday, the demonstrators who have laid siege to public buildings in the rattled Ukrainian capital expanded their protest, blockading the central bank, setting up tents and lighting bonfires on the sidewalk outside. 
        

Protest leaders had vowed to surround additional government buildings after the Ukrainian Parliament on Tuesday defeated a measure calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his government. But as of Wednesday morning, their goal of blockading the presidential administration building had not been accomplished. 

While the situation remained fluid, the protesters could count on the support of the church and of Filaret, whose oppositional posture provides a striking contrast with Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church, a close and increasingly important political ally of President Vladimir V. Putin. 

Filaret is neither as powerful nor as influential as Kirill. The Kyivan Patriarchate is one of three governing entities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, along with the Moscow Patriarchate, led by Metropolitan Volodymyr, who reports to Kirill, and the smaller Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
There are also many other faiths in Ukraine, including the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which dominates the western part of the country. Experts said religious pluralism made religious leaders less likely to echo the views of the government. 

“Ukraine has the most pluralistic religious market in Eastern Europe,” said Viktor Yelensky, president of the Ukrainian Association for Religious Liberty. “Because none of the churches unite more than a quarter of citizens, there is a balance of forces.”
“In Russia,” Mr. Yelensky added, “there is a main church, which cooperates with the authorities, while in Ukraine the church is more dependent on the people.” 

A number of religious leaders in Ukraine, including Volodymyr, have issued statements condemning violence and urging a peaceful resolution to the unrest here. Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, urged the authorities “not to permit the shedding of even a drop of blood,” and that church’s former leader, Lubomyr Husar, spoke at a large protest rally on Sunday. 

Filaret also had some advice, perhaps wishful. “My opinion, personal, about how we should exit from this situation: First, Ukraine’s entry into the European Union. Second: resignation of the government,” he said. “If those conditions will be met, people will be happy with that.”

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