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About the way religion is used both to construct and resist a new East–West divide. 

             Nov. 4 Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center hosted an international panel of experts to discuss the complicated role of religion in the current Ukrainian – Russian conflict. Claims of religious underpinnings got a completely different take in the well argued panel discussion. Olena Nikolayenko (pol. science, Fordham U) gave statistical overview in which economy has been dominant in the Donbas region and not religion as some would want us to believe. 

      There were a number of concepts presented and specially interesting was the instrumentalization of religious institutions by political powers. The other – Russky myr (Russian world) – as it is related to it with its overarching cultural link. 


            Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich spoke of the drive to co-opt religious institutions citing Kremlin’s effort to create a patriarchate of Jewish believers a la Eastern Christian model. (Needless to say this is an artificial construction.) Under the auspices of the government an elected chief rabbi with residence in Russia was to head the Jewish faith in Russia and Ukraine. For a while one such chief rabbi was elected with government salary, but it fell apart. The Soviet legacy of state control of religious organizations was the norm in the independent Ukraine until 2004, when the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations rejected government intrusion and works independently.

            Contrary to patriarch Kirill’s and the Moscow patriarchate’s foreign affairs agent archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev’s statements that the conflict is a religious war inspired by the Greek Catholic and non-canonical Orthodox Churches, data shows that Putin unleashed a war between the Orthodox causing a serious crisis in the Orthodox world. The war with Georgia of 2008 was of Orthodox of same jurisdiction. Vast majority of Kiev’s residents – the Maidan’s location – are Orthodox.

            Fr. Peter Galadza cited the enforced ethnocentrism in Putin’s Russky myr concept. Even though the czar was the head of the ROC (Russian Orthodox Church) he never entered the holy-of-holies as did Putin. On the occasion of unification of ROC with ROCOR in 2008 Putin charged from the royal doors of the iconostasis the ROC with the responsibility for the patriotism of the nation. This ethno-dogmatism is outright not Christian.

            Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun presented the Maidan as a religious event of collective prayers, full of icons and biblical quotations and reinforced the compatibility of religious beliefs and democracy. The anti–Maidan assumed a distorted view of the Maidan with its own religious symbols. He regards the narrative in the East as socio-political and in terms of a civil religion, like the Russian Orthodox Army. Constructed to use as a weapon it combines old imperial Russian narrative, and Soviet central control of through the Council of Religious Affairs, and some modern to legitimate Putin as “prophet” to further mythologize the Russky myr’s exceptionalism. 

            Adrian Karatnycky’s talk was from the civil perspective. He illustrated the construction of the instrumentalization of religious institutions that in the last decade was accelerated. Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) was subject of the long campaign by Kremlin and Russky myr policies and the Party of Regions. Yanukovych’s agenda included cultural war to mobilize the East. 

            In the Q & A portion Karatnycky completely rejected the argument of NATO encroachment or imagined invasion, instead it is Putin’s fear of political and economic liberty. 

         The Maidan was a deeply religious experience that united its participants across religious affiliations – Orthodox of different jurisdictions, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim, and even non-believers. It is also true that the Anti-Maidan was religious where religion became the tool of a political power. In addition to Ukraine’s national plight to withstand the aggression, it has Putin’s the instrumentalization of religious institutions has set the Orthodox world into real crisis.