Ukraine vs Russia: The Church War No One Is Talking About

By Nadim Siraj
March 31, 2022: It’s been more than a month since Russian forces illegally invaded Ukraine, punishing it for joining the West-NATO empire. As fighting rages in Ukrainian territory, the popular media has decided to hide from us an intriguing narrative – that at the root of this conflict lies a gripping world war that’s taking place between Christianity’s powerful Orthodox churches.

The press has been repeatedly telling the world that this invasion is all about Vladimir Putin trying to illegally dismantle the government of Volodymyr Zelensky in order to recapture Ukraine and physically expand the Russian empire.

Peace symbol drawn on the Ukraine flag (Pixabay)

The invasion is, of course, illegal. But the Putin-Zelensky rivalry and Russia’s anger over NATO’s growing sway over Ukraine don’t make the whole story. Scratch the surface properly, which the popular press isn’t doing for unexplained reasons, and you’ll notice that a fierce dogfight is going on between Ukraine’s unified Orthodox church and the Russian Orthodox church.

The root cause of this war between the two Orthodox churches of imperialist legacies goes back to what happened four years ago. That’s when Ukraine’s unified Orthodox church and the Russian Orthodox church officially declared a bitter split after they existed under the same Orthodox umbrella for about three centuries.

ORTHODOX VS. ORTHODOX

In October 2018, the three main Orthodox churches of Ukraine came together to form the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and jointly declared full independence from the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox church. The Russia-Ukraine divorce of the Orthodox churches was ratified in 2019 in Istanbul. It got the nod of the influential Patriarchate of Constantinople – the spiritual headquarters of the global Orthodox belief system.

Those three revolting churches are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC KP), and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC). The three anti-Moscow rebels formed the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).

The ROC, as the Russian Orthodox church is also called, was angered by this rebellious move of Ukraine’s three churches. In a retaliatory move, the ROC (or the Moscow Patriarchate) declared a total split from the Constantinople Patriarchate. The development sent silent shockwaves across the world’s church circles.

The nasty break-up was a major blow for the Russian Orthodox church, which used to historically control the Ukrainian Orthodox set-up. At one go, the ROC lost control over precious Ukrainian territory and over thousands of its priests in Ukraine.

From that point on, the Russian Orthodox church’s attempt to take back control of Ukraine was only waiting to happen. The ticking time-bomb eventually went off this year on February 24 as the Russian state machinery took up the punitive mission, expectedly with the blessings of the ROC.

Now, here comes an important question: If the Russia-Ukraine conflict stems from an internal war of the Orthodox churches, why are the governments and militaries of the two countries fighting at the forefront?

PUTIN-CHURCH BROTHERHOOD

Well, the worst-kept secret in modern Russian history is that Putin’s government works very, very closely with the Russian Orthodox church. In recent years, the Russian president has repeatedly made it known publicly that the government in Moscow has intimate ties with the Russian Orthodox.

Many observers believe that the Putin-church bonhomie could possibly be a result of the immensely wealthy Russian Orthodox church partly bankrolling the Russian government. And in return, as it is widely speculated, the administration in Moscow pursues the interests of the ROC – such as the punishment or recapture of the rebellious Ukraine.

In more recent times, Patriarch Kirill, who heads the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox church, has openly backed the Russian government’s ambitious plans to take back control of Ukraine, which used to be historically run by Soviet Russia until the latter fell apart in 1991. When Putin launched the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the Russian patriarch supported the move, showcasing his pro-Putin stance.

The scenario is no different in Ukraine. The government in Kyiv is known to be very close to a cartel of US-led Western governments. At the same time, Zelensky’s government also works very closely with the unified Ukrainian Orthodox church that split from the ROC. It has been widely observed that the unified Ukrainian Orthodox church and the Ukrainian government work together on various fronts. It’s just that the state-church camaraderie is less advertised than the Zelensky-West-NATO bonhomie.

THE PROTESTANT FACTOR

It’s important to note the kind of support that Ukraine is getting from the international community. America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are among the countries that are most openly backing Kyiv in this conflict and punishing Russia with sanctions.

Now, all these five powerful governments are historically known to be the ‘Five Eyes’ lobby, or the unofficial English-speaking Protestant group. While there’s no official Protestant church body in the world, the governments of these five English-speaking countries are believed to be historically aligned with Protestant belief system.

So, given their support for Ukraine in this invasion, it is worth thinking aloud that the US-led global Protestant lobby has teamed up with the anti-Moscow Ukrainian Orthodox churches to counter the Russian Orthodox church.

THE CATHOLIC POSITION

It is also worth taking note of the stance taken by the hugely popular Roman Catholic church in this affair. We have seen that Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced the fighting and destruction in Ukraine. But not a single time did he actually mention Russia or the aggressive Russian government by name in his initial remarks. Much later into the crisis, he deplored the invasion and called for peace.

In fact, recently, he rebuked the Western powers, or the Protestant ‘Five Eyes’, for trying to send arms to Ukraine to help it fight the Russians. The pope said increased defence spending of Western nations in favour of Ukraine is “madness”.

Were his initial guarded remarks an indication that the Catholic church has decided to either stay aloof in this war or tacitly back the Russian Orthodox church? Are we seeing the ages-old Protestant vs Catholic fight spill over into this internal fight between the Orthodox churches?

Church wars are not new. They have been raging for centuries. In ancient times, they were overt wars, and in modern times, they have become proxy wars, with the fights taking place through puppet governments and militaries, and also in the form of economic sanctions or shifting political alignments.

The corporate-funded and state-run popular press isn’t telling us that this invasion is as much about the churches as much it’s about geopolitics. But the signs are loud and clear. One has to only join the dots to get the larger picture.

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