One Moscow voice for healing in Ukraine

As violence escalates in Ukraine, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church appears to distance himself from President Putin, calling for healing and reconciliation. Churches that align with the state often learn the hard way that Caesar has his own kingdom.

The struggle over Ukraine’s future took a worrisome turn Friday when more than 40 people died in political unrest between demonstrators in the port city of Odessa. The tragedy is seen by some as the start of further large-scale violence.

But there is an alternative path that can reconcile the divided Ukrainian people.

Since the crisis began last November, President Vladimir Putin has justified meddling in Ukraine in part because the country is home to Christianity coming to Russia more than a thousand years ago. That history unites Russians and Ukrainians in “culture, civilization and human values,” he stated in a March 18 speech announcing Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Yet the more that Mr. Putin relies on violence – or at least the threat of it – in Ukraine, the more the Russian Orthodox Church seems to distance itself from his regime.

Last week, the head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, told clerics that the church must “safeguard its peace-making capacity” in Ukraine. “Our Church is not succumbing to any political temptations and refuses to serve for any political positions,” he said.
 
Ukraine is home to three different Orthodox churches, with the Moscow Patriarchate dominating the eastern part of the country.

After the mass violence in Odessa last week, Kirill insisted that Ukrainians resolve their differences by dialogue and not by weapons.  “Ukraine can heal itself and embark on a path of building a decent life for its citizens only as a common home for people with different political convictions,” he said.

In 2009, after Kirill became head of Russia’s dominant church, he appeared to draw close to Putin. His own view of uniting all Russian speakers under the Moscow Patriarchate overlapped with Putin’s geopolitical vision of extending “Russian civilization” into many former Soviet states.
 
But as any organized religion eventually learns, aligning itself with the power of the state can come at a high price – especially when the state too easily resorts to violence to resolve political disputes.

 In addition, the Russian Orthodox Church could end up losing all its influence in Ukraine if the country adopts either a neutral or anti-Moscow position after elections slated for May 25. And the role of the Moscow Patriarchate among Orthodox churches worldwide could also be diminished.
One possible sign of Kirill distancing himself from the Kremlin was his absence at the March 18 speech by Putin. Other clerics, notably Muslim ones, were in attendance.

Last month, Kirill said that the Russian Orthodox Church “cannot have political enemies.” He urged that “peace return to Ukrainian soil, that people find reconciliation, that law and order be restored, human rights guaranteed and human dignity not trampled underfoot.”

This is not the language that Putin uses for events in Ukraine. But they express the best alternative for the country to decide its future.

Churches must always remain above a conflict, bringing healing rather than reasons for conflict. In Ukraine, that choice becomes more clear by the day.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.