‘Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationalism?‘

KIEV, Ukraine -- The intertwining of church and state has deep roots in Ukrainian history. Before 988, the medieval Kyivan Rus was pagan until Prince Volodymyr converted to Christianity and ordered his subjects to adopt the same faith and undergo baptisms.

Religion is again used as political tool.

History professor Volodymyr Serhiychuk, from Kyiv’s Taras Shevchenko National University, said the Orthodox branch of Christianity was chosen for purely political reasons: “Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which is independent from the state, the Byzantine church was fully patronized by the state.” The Byzantine Empire lasted from 323 to 1453.

Baptisms in the country were forced and sometimes violent as many people resisted the new religion. Many sacred pagan shrines were burned and pagan priests murdered while, for centuries to come, people secretly kept statues of pagan gods in their houses.

In later medieval times, as in the rest of Europe, the church played a huge role in state affairs. “In the 17th century, when part of Ukraine turned to the Russian empire, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church fell from [control by] Byzantium to Russia. In fact, Russians paid 2,000 rubles and numerous sable furs to Byzantine to get control of the Ukrainian church,” Serhiychuk said.

In the 19th century, Russian czar Nicholas I – who reigned from 1825-1855 – even enshrined an official ideology known as “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationalism,” in which the state religion and autocratic elite protected each other’s status at a time when serfdom existed and poor people were treated more as property than human beings.

However, much of the western part of Ukraine, which was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, remained partly Orthodox and partly Catholic– or Greek Catholic, with adherence to Rome while practicing Orthodox rituals. In contrast, Crimea was a Muslim stronghold and Jews were widely spread throughout Ukraine.

After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, communism became the new religion and atheism spread. In the 1920s and 1930s, most churches were either destroyed or turned into storehouses with many priests assassinated.

In post-Soviet Ukraine, closer ties between church and state were revived by President Viktor Yushchenko, in office from 2005-2010. Yushchenko set a goal of uniting the three branches of Orthodox Church in Ukraine. He also made numerous public and well-photographed church visits.

Yushchenko was closer to the Orthodox Church of the Kyiv patriarchy, unlike Yanukovych, who shows his devotion to Moscow patriarchy. A former member of the Communist Party, Yanukovych is resuming a Kyivan Rus-style cohesion of church and state.

“Religion is again used for politics as a tool of straightening the power of the state and bringing the people together, just like in Russia,” Anatoliy Kolodniy, professor of religious studies in Kyiv, said. “Let’s also not forget that Orthodoxy is a huge business.”

Source: Kyiv Post