One of the major claimed accomplishments of former Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko’s reelection campaign of “army, language, faith” was creation of an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church (i.e., completely self-governing, with no tie at all to the Russian Orthodox Church).
Western governments and media have uniformly—and inaccurately—hailed this as a reality already fulfilled with the awarding of a Tomos (literally, a small book containing an authoritative pronouncement or declaration) from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople to Poroshenko and religious figures in Ukraine who had up until then been universally shunned as schismatics by all Orthodox jurisdictions. As of this writing, no other autocephalous Church has endorsed Constantinople’s actions, and several, notably the Patriarchates of Belgrade and Antioch, have taken sharp exception to it.
The Ukrainian Church situation is complex and contentious. It will be months if not years before it works itself out. Indeed, it may lead to a permanent split within Orthodoxy, not only in Ukraine but worldwide. Also, despite Patriarch Bartholomew’s stated intention to foster accord and reconciliation in Ukraine, his actions clearly have aggravated already raw feelings among believers there. Far from creating a united Ukrainian autocephalous Church, he has only managed to cobble together a new body under the authority of Constantinople in opposition to the canonical Moscow-linked Church, which continues to exist under its primate Metropolitan Onuphry. Violence in various forms is inevitable as Ukrainian authorities harass the canonical Church and prepare to seize its parishes and monasteries, notably the Kiev Perchersk Lavra and the Pochaev Lavra in Western Ukraine.
THE STATE DEPARTMENT FOR AUTOCEPHALY
Conspicuously, Poroshenko’s blatant politicking in Church affairs—which has been criticized even from quarters favoring autocephaly—has been applauded by Western governments, notably by American officials. Just a few days after a high State Department career officer declared in September 2018 that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal [Orthodox] church matter” he was reversed by endorsements of autocephaly by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker, and U.S. Ambassador in Kiev Marie Yovanovitch. Following the December “Robber Council” of Kiev on December 15, the U.S. Embassy tweeted out its congratulations in English and in Ukrainian (not in Russian, of course). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo placed a personal call to the “newly elected head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Metropolitan Epiphanius” (Dumenko). U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch extended her congratulations to Dumenko in person. It should also be noted that The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank operating in close coordination with the U.S. government (and heavily funded by U.S. and allied government agencies and contractors), has been an active advocate for autocephaly in the policy community and media.
Moreover, there is reason to believe the U.S. State Department’s involvement was not just hortatory. The State Department’s direct hand in this sordid business may not have consisted solely of wielding the “stick” of legal threat: there’s reason to believe there was a “carrot” too. But whatever the details, one still has to ask why the U.S. is so keenly committed to creating an autocephalous Church in Ukraine. Aside from the obvious impropriety of the United States’ taking sides in a question of the Orthodox Church’s internal governance, why is the State Department so committed to promoting a transparently political power grab by Poroshenko, the Ukrainian schismatics, and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople?
THE ETHNIC COMPONENT
Given the various lobbies with a lot of influence in Washington, including those of foreign states and ethnic communities, it is natural to look in that direction to identify relevant actors and driving forces on the American side with respect to formulation of policy towards Ukraine. Among those that might come to mind are the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States (just under a million people), the Greek-American community (variously estimated at between one and three million, depending on self-identification), and so forth. There is precedent for such influences on U.S. policy in Eastern Europe. One is reminded of the role the Croatian and Albanian diaspora communities played in the breakup of Yugoslavia. It should be noted that the Yugoslav conflicts took place as the post-Cold War drive for U.S. global hegemony was only beginning to take form, and Bosnia and Kosovo were catalytic in its development.
It is true that some Ukrainian Americans (heavily weighted by those with Western Ukraine origins) have long taken part in activities of various “Captive Nations” and “ethnic heritage” groups operating after World War II, notably the CIA front “American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism” and the “Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations” (originally spun off by the United Kingdom’s MI6 from the earlier “British League for European Freedom”). Mainly though not exclusively oriented towards the Republican Party they operated under the banner of anti-communism but really (to an extent many non-“ethnic” Americans may not fully have understood) were vehicles for their various ethnic agendas. These agendas related less to communism than dissatisfaction with the territorial arrangements that existed after 1945, giving these groups the character of World War II losers’ associations. Russophobia (and with respect to the Balkans, Serbophobia) was a common point of agreement.
It should also be noted that while American Greeks were not notable in these activities the U.S. government has valued the utility of the Patriarchate of Constantinople since at least the 1940s. Today, while his flock within Turkey dwindles to almost nil, Patriarch Bartholomew has sought to expand his profile as a “player” on the world stage, exemplified by his demonstrative environmentalism as “the Green Patriarch” and, together with Pope Francis, welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe through Greece. Moreover, his actions in Ukraine are an expansion of Constantinople’s longstanding quasi-papal ambitions built on uncanonical claims to “universal” status as a kind of “Eastern Pope,” misuse of doctrinally troubling incarnational language, and adoption of a breathtakingly arrogant tone that would cause even the most ultramontane proponent of the Rome’s supremacy to blush. Given strong support for Ukrainian Orthodox autocephaly from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which now sees a new opportunity for it to be elevated to a patriarchate within Roman Catholicism, Ukraine also advances Constantinople’s warm ecumenical embrace aimed at reunion with the Roman Papacy. In short, whatever the carrots and sticks involved, the State Department was pushing on an open door at the Phanar.
By 2005 the ideological and methodological aspects of the U.S. policymaking establishment’s aspirations for global hegemony were already fully formed. A key part of this was turning Ukraine into a salient against Russia, as attested to in the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005 and the 2008 NATO Bucharest Declaration regarding Ukraine’s (and Georgia’s) destiny as part of NATO. Today, attacking the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is another logical—and well-targeted—element of that aggressive aim. While some elements in the Greek and (especially) Ukrainian communities no doubt had a hand in it, they don’t have the influence to set the agenda and should be regarded more as implementing a program thought up by others. I would compare the U.S. apparat in this regard to that of the Soviet Union: the imperatives are ideological and bureaucratic; while ethnic lobbies (comparable in their day to pro-Soviet Third World “national liberation movements”) are useful, they are the tools of policy, not its masters.
WITH IDEOLOGY AT THE READY
The origin of the U.S. focus on Ukraine and its religious issues must instead be sought within the larger perspective of American policy since the end of the first Cold War in 1991 and the development of the current one in the course of the 1990s: the American “unipolar moment,” as the bipartisan U.S. policy establishment sought to consolidate and perpetuate its hegemonic control over the entire planet, taking advantage of the vacuum left by the demise of the USSR. Perhaps the fullest expression of this was a 1996 article by neoconservative ideologists William Kristol and Robert Kagan, misleadingly titled “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,” in which they called for the U.S. to establish and maintain indefinitely “benevolent global hegemony”—American world domination. Kristol and Kagan laid down virtually all of the elements that have guided U.S. foreign policy during the ensuing years. It is no accident that GOP neoconservatives were enthusiastic supporters of Bill Clinton’s Balkan interventions in the 1990s, under the guidance of people like then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who once opined regarding the sanctions-related deaths of a half million Iraqi children that “the price is worth it.” In the U.S. establishment, there is little dissent on either side of the partisan aisle with Albright’s sincere conviction that a militant United States has a special wisdom: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future…”
Not for nothing did Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in 2007 characterize the divide this created in the world as “replication of the experience of Bolshevism and Trotskyism.”
Viewed this way, a revived, non-ideological, nationally minded Russia is an obstacle that must be overcome—one way or the other. (A similar attitude exists towards China and Iran.) Recently the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who as a candidate repeatedly stated his desire to improve ties with Russia but has been prevented from doing so, has taken to describing the neoconservative program of previous administrations as (in Secretary Pompeo’s words) reassertion of sovereignty (but only for the U.S. and our allies!) and “reform” of “the liberal international order.” The rhetoric is new, but the policies are the same as under Trump’s predecessors.
Sometimes we are told that the current Washington-Moscow standoff is just a turf war, that unlike the 1945-1991 rivalry it “lacks an ideological dimension” beyond the authoritarian determination to elevate “the Russian state, ruled by [Vladimir Putin] and his clan.” Such a view totally dismisses the fact that following the demise of communism as a global power bloc there has been an eerie spiritual role reversal between East and West. While it’s true that during the original Cold War the nonreligious ruling cliques in Washington and Moscow held basically compatible progressive values, ordinary Christian Americans (mainly Protestants, with a large number of Roman Catholics) perceived communism as a murderous, godless machine of oppression (think of the Roman Catholic men’s organization Knights of Columbus’ campaign to insert “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance). Conversely, today it is Western elites who rely upon an ideological imperative to justify a materialist global empire and endless wars, much like the old Soviet nomenklatura depended on Marxism-Leninism both as a working methodology and as a justification for their prerogatives and privileges. In that regard, promotion of nihilist, post-Christian morality—especially in sexual matters—under the guise of “democracy and human rights” has become a major item in the West’s toolkit.
THE CHURCH AS THE KREMLIN’S SOFT POWER TOOL?
This has a special importance with regard to Russia, where under Putin the Orthodox Church has largely resumed its pre-1917 role as the moral anchor of society. This elicits not only political opposition but a genuine and heartfelt hatred from the postmodern elites of an increasingly post-Christian West, not only for Putin personally and Russia generally but against the Russian Orthodox Church—and by extension against Orthodox Christianity itself.
This points to why, from the point of view of the State Department, the Russian Orthodox Church—and hence the canonical autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church—is nothing more than an instrument of the Kremlin’s soft power. According to one person rather new to the relevant issues but nonetheless considered authoritative by the State Department: “The Church, for its part, acts as the Russian state’s soft power arm, exerting its authority in ways that assist the Kremlin in spreading Russian influence both in Russia’s immediate neighborhood as well as around the globe. The Kremlin assists the Church, as well, working to increase its reach. Vladimir Yakunin, one of Putin’s inner circle and a devout member of the ROC, facilitated in 2007 the reconciliation of the ROC with the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile (which had separated itself from the Moscow Patriarchate early in the Soviet era so as not to be co-opted by the new Bolshevik state), which reconciliation greatly increased Patriarch of Moscow Kirill’s influence and authority outside of Russia. Putin, praising this event, noted the interrelation of the growth of ROC authority abroad with his own international goals: “The revival of the church unity is a crucial condition for revival of lost unity of the whole Russian world, which has always had the Orthodox faith as one of its foundations.” Hence, weaken “the Russian state’s soft power arm,” weaken the Russian state.
AN ALTERNATIVE MODEL
But unfortunately, there is even more to it than that. The authors of the current U.S. anti-Russia, anti-Orthodox Church policy know, or at least instinctively sense, that the revival of Russia’s Church-State symphonia after a hiatus of eight decades is not just a political alliance of convenience but is the source of deep spiritual, moral, and social strength. This is reflected, for example, in Putin’s warm remarks on the dedication of a Moscow monument to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the acknowledged godfather of Russia’s restoration as a Christian country, on the centenary of the writer’s birth.
In Russia’s reborn symphonia, President and Patriarch speak as one.
Such sentiments can hardly sit well with Western elites for whom celebration of the same-sex partnerships decried by Putin (and placed by him on a moral level with belief in Satan) is a mark of social enlightenment. That’s why an inseparable part of the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made during the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity” is wholesale acceptance of “European values,” including the kind of “Pride” symbolized by LGBT marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like Athens, Belgrade, Bucharest, Kiev, Odessa, Podgorica, Sofia, and Tbilisi. (Note that after the march in Odessa in August of this year a priest of the canonical Church targeted by Poroshenko cleansed the street with Holy Water.)
There is a curious consistency between advocacy for non-traditional, post-Christian sexual morality and support for the schismatics sponsored by Poroshenko and Patriarch Bartholomew. This is well understood by Constantinople’s pseudo-Church in Ukraine. In December 2018, shortly after his “enthronement,” “Metropolitan Epiphanius” (Dumenko) responded to a phone caller claiming to be a Western parliamentarian (but in fact was a Russian prankster), suggesting that “if the new Church softens its position regarding the LGBT community, the gays of Ukraine, and if it takes liberal values, it will be a great stimulus to develop European values. We spoke with Secretary Pompeo and he agrees that you should increase your LGBT and gay values in the future.” Taking the bait, Dumenko said that “because we are moving towards Europe … we should depart from the Russian conservative tradition” and adopt a progressively more “open” position on such matters.
Indeed, the relevant U.S. government officials cheering on Poroshenko and the Ukrainian Church schismatics are remarkably up-front and visible in their advocacy of the LGBT agenda in Ukraine. The website of the U.S. Embassy in Kiev displays Pompeo’s declaration on behalf of all Americans that “the United States joins people around the world in celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Pride Month, and reaffirms its commitment to protecting and defending the human rights of all, including LGBTI persons.”
Ambassador Yovanovitch has really gone the extra mile—literally. Not only did she tweet out her Pride message, she also participated in the parade (and took 60 Embassy personnel and family members with her!) proudly marching behind the American flag (as shown in a video tweeted by the U.S. Embassy). Additional video was posted by HromadskeUA, an “independent” Ukrainian media outlet reportedly funded by, among others, the U.S. Embassy, the Canadian Embassy, and George Soros’ International Renaissance Foundation, though the cited HromadskeUA financial reports no longer seem to be available. Both Yovanovitch’s remarks in the video and the posted text draw an explicit connection between the “freedom” of the 2014 regime change and the new sexual morality (Google auto-translation from Ukrainian): “The atmosphere is wonderful. It is important for us because we maintain equal rights. In 2014, people in Ukraine were in favor of freedom, and this is an organic continuation—U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch goes to the March of Equality Column, together with about 60 representatives of the U.S. Embassy.”
The locals were quick to make the same connection. KyivPride, a local LGBT advocacy group unsurprisingly supported by the U.S. Embassy, the Canadian government, the German Embassy, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Freedom House were quick to hail the creation of the new pseudo-Church, no doubt reflecting the deep Orthodox piety of the group’s members. As posted by OrthoChristian.com, the organization posted a message on several platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, reading: “KyivPride congratulates all LGBTI Orthodox believers on the formation of a united and independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and reminds everyone that love does no harm to others! Also remember that Article 35 of the Constitution of Ukraine states: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of personal philosophy and religion. This right includes the freedom to profess or not to profess any religion.’ Human rights above all!’”
Last but certainly not least should be noted the involvement of certain fringe elements in the Orthodox Church itself, who perhaps can be compared to the Roman Catholic Church’s far more powerful “Lavender Mafia.” As this analyst warned months ago the Ukrainian Church crisis seemingly facilitates the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. As Anatoly Karlin points out, “many of the biggest supporters of Ukrainian autocephaly in the West are for all intents and purposes SJWs [social justice warriors]. The website Orthodoxy in Dialogue, for instance, wants Orthodoxy to get with the times and start sanctifying gay marriage”:
“We pray for the day when we can meet our future partner in Church, or bring our partner to Church. We pray for the day when our lifelong, monogamous commitment to our partner can be blessed and sanctified in and by the Church. We pray for the day when we can explore as Church, without condemnation, how we Orthodox Christians can best live our life in Christ in the pursuit of holiness, chastity, and perfect love of God and neighbor. We pray for the day when our priests no longer travel around the world to condemn us and mock us and use us as a punching bag. We pray for the day when the one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ ceases to be our loneliest closet.”
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In sum, U.S. official involvement in Ukrainian Church affairs is not really about Ukraine or Ukrainians at all. It is about hostility to Russia, which in turn reflects Washington’s own drive for unlimited worldwide political and moral supremacy. Breaking Ukraine’s spiritual ties with Russia is at least as important to breaking of political ties and enlisting Ukraine as part of NATO’s anti-Russian deployment. Even something as simple as Poroshenko’s making (Western) December 25 Christmas a public holiday with (Orthodox) January 7 is hailed by The Daily Signal, a publication of the neoconservative Heritage Foundation, as “a leap of faith” towards “ditching Russian influence.”
But underlying this geopolitical aspect is another, darker motive: to inflict on Ukraine and indeed all Orthodoxy the social, especially sexual, pathologies that have wrought havoc in Western societies. As an ideological imperative built on Cultural Marxist dichotomies of oppressor and victim classes (according to sex, race, language, religion, etc.) this effort to transform all human society supplies a missionary zeal no less relevant to American officials’ and their fellow travelers’ efforts than their aspirations of global political dominion.