Thinking Anglicans

Ukraine and Russia, Church and State, and Hope, Prayer and Action

Dagmar Winter is Bishop of Huntingdon in the diocese of Ely. This is an edited version of her Presidential Address at the Ely Diocesan Synod on 5 March 2022.

The Invasion of Ukraine and the Religio-Nationalist Background1

The images on our screen are awful, reminding us of World War II.

There is a religious dimension to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which may in some quarters give rise to that old chestnut that religion is the cause of all wars. (John Lennon: “Imagine … and no religion, too.”) Religion is closely tied up with expressions of identity and what we hold most precious. Given human nature with its hunger for power, taking institutional religion away will not cause the end to all war.

The central question in the current war is whether the church and people of Ukraine are or are not part of the church and people of Russia. Some history will help.

The Baptism of Rus’

In the tenth century a pagan Slavic people known as the Kievan Rus’ lived in present day Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. In c 988 St Vladimir, the ruler of the Rus’, converted to Christianity, was baptised and brought the rest of the people to baptism also. This event is known as the ‘Baptism of Rus’ and occurred in or near Kyiv. This is seen to the present day as a watershed moment in Russian history and one which, in the minds of some, unites the people of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine as the successors of the Kievan Rus’ and as a single, Orthodox Christian Russian people. Such is the importance of Vladimir that he is given the epithet ‘Equal to the Apostles’. (Note Putin’s Christian name!) Also, as Kyiv was the centre of the lands of the Rus’, it has a special status in Russian self-identity.

Over the next few hundred years empires came and went, peoples moved around and borders changed. In the sixteenth century a part of the church in modern-day western Ukraine came into communion with Rome.

The Rise of Moscow and of the Ottomans

The next important date is 1686 and there are two different understandings and interpretations of what happened. (Disputes over what happened at this time formed the basis of the arguments in 2018 about the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.)

One side of the story is that, with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire the Ecumenical Patriarch was not able to get to Kyiv for the consecration of a new Metropolitan and so asked the Patriarch of Moscow (the Moscow Patriarchate had been granted autocephaly — that is self-government — in 1589) to do so, but without the assumption that the church in Ukraine would become dependent on Moscow. The other side of the story is that, for whatever reason, the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1689 transferred authority over the Ukrainian Church to Moscow. Practically speaking, Kyiv did begin to look ecclesiastically to Russia and the difficulty of communication with Constantinople in Ottoman times to some extent forced this.

Modern day Ukraine and the Decree of Autocephaly

In more recent history the territory currently covered by Ukraine has, like much of central and eastern Europe, been controlled by different powers, not least the Soviet Union under which the church was oppressed. There were moves in the early 1990s to set up an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine (the Kyiv Patriarchate), which led to one split with Moscow.

After the annexation of Crimea in 2014 President Poroshenko of Ukraine was instrumental in pushing for a decisive break with Moscow and the establishment of a self-governing (autocephalous) Orthodox Church of Ukraine. This happened in 2018 when the Holy Synod of Constantinople decided that the Ecumenical Patriarch should grant a ‘tomos’ (decree) of autocephaly and erect the new church under the leadership of Metropolitan Epiphany of Kyiv. This move caused a new schism between Moscow and Constantinople.

Ukraine and Russia — Church and State

We see in Ukraine and Russia a clash of two world views in which statehood, nation and church are united.

In the Russian view as expressed (pretty much directly) by President Putin and Patriarch Kirill, Russia is seen to include Ukraine as one people in one church and, as essentially one nation, the descendants of Rus’, who naturally look to Moscow for civil and religious leadership.

Ukraine of course sees itself as a sovereign state with territory, borders and a distinct national identity and view of history. For example, Moscow was not even founded until nearly two centuries after the Baptism of Rus’. The independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine from Moscow is part of the evidence for this wider independence and natural, given that most (if not all) sovereign nations in the traditional orthodox territories have their autocephalous churches.

Meanwhile the Moscow Patriarchate is heightening further conflict with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. By ignoring the rule that you should not trespass on another’s jurisdiction, Moscow is setting up in Africa and offering material rewards to churches of the Patriarchate of Alexandria (which comes under the Constantinople Patriarchate) if they join Moscow. This is a significant flexing and expanding of Russian muscle, an ecclesiological echo of the invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian Church does not have a tradition of speaking truth to power. A particularly unpalatable aspect is the way that the Moscow Patriarch Kirill appears to be literally in Putin’s pay. He, Kirill, has been quoted urging Russian soldiers to fight, to use more high-tech equipment to protect the Fatherland while he himself has been shown to display and then attempt to hide the wearing of very high-end luxury items.

This is what happens when a church loses its critical distance from statehood and nationhood and conflates them with church and faith. There is here a literally hopeless tangle: of faith and historic ethno-nationalist identity, of theological/ecclesiological issues and acquisitive desire for influence, land, resources and people.

We should applaud those courageous Russian Orthodox priests who have voiced their protest against the war and their Church’s support of it.

The Church’s Social and Political Mission — The German Christians

Historical comparisons are always problematic and bound to be wrong at some level, nonetheless, the example of German Christians springs to mind, who under Hitler totally bought into the idea of a new dawn under German Christianity, a vile religious version of fascism.

Various important theological statements have been made, including the famous Barmen Declaration of 1934, but today I would like to quote from the Darmstädter Wort issued in 1947 in the post-war ruins. Despite some of its shortcomings, I believe it still has a poignant message for us about the church’s social and political mission, not least for our day where society is plagued both by political apathy and significant polarization.

Through Jesus Christ joyous liberation befalls us, liberation from the godless ties of this world in order to liberate us for free and grateful service to his creatures.
Do not let despair overwhelm you for Christ is Lord.
Say goodbye to all faithless indifference, do not allow yourselves to be seduced by dreams of a better past …, but in your freedom and in great sobriety be aware of your responsibility which all of us have for the building up of a better polity which serves the rule of law, welfare, peace and reconciliation of the peoples.
Seek first the Kingdom of God.2

Our Anxieties and our Focus this Lent

The situation in Ukraine makes us feel so helpless. What can we do?

There is so much anxiety around: the pandemic, climate change, migration, the economy, and now the nightmare in Ukraine.

While applauding and appreciating the flow of information and the work of brave journalists who bring us the news, I don’t think it’s helpful for us or indeed for our children to expose ourselves to the endless torturous images of the wall-to-wall coverage. It will only either desensitize us or suck us into some black mental hole or both. I am concerned what this is doing to the mental health of our community, including especially children, where many have already suffered with lockdown isolation and pandemic fears.
Seek first the kingdom of God.

Following the tenets of the Christian faith, we hold to the truth of the ultimate weakness of the display of aggression.

I think it is not a distraction but essential that we should focus and refocus on the teaching of the Christian faith (Mt 28:16-20), on the values that have eternal quality: truth, freedom, justice, compassion, human dignity, respect, faith, hope and love.

This Lent, I would suggest to you, is a time in which to discover or rediscover how the church can be a school for discipleship, or a school of virtue.

And this Lent might just challenge us how serious we are about the fruits of our faith, indeed, its virtues.

Although Ukraine is a fair distance away, the conflict will undoubtedly affect us over the next few years, even if warfare is contained within the current region. We are interconnected through the international markets for goods from energy to arables, and the UNHCR estimates there could be 4 million refugees, maybe more. We cannot allow Ukraine’s neighbours to shoulder that alone.

Will we share supplies, accept restrictions and losses, offer hospitality directly or indirectly, will we encourage our politicians that we’re up for it — without the burdens only being born by those who are weakest in our midst, already battered by the current economic crisis?

Nurturing Hope

We feel powerless but powerlessness is where the Christian story begins. Remember the story of the passion, the cruel torture?

And because we have a Lord who was caught up in simmering and often violent conflict between his people and an occupying force, we know that hope is mostly not a victory march but a small, whispered Hallelujah. Sustained by the love divine we encounter in Christ, a love that does not waiver. The journey is from Lent to Easter.

Hope means believing in spite of the evidence and then waiting and working for the evidence to change.
This includes listening for the voices of hope in our midst and encouraging them, the faithful committed work of people happening in parishes and projects, networks and communities.

When we pray to be generous and visible people of Jesus Christ, can we pray this Lent to learn to be a non-anxious and hopeful presence in this troubled world, because we know that what we hold dear, truth, freedom, justice, compassion, human dignity, respect, faith, hope and love, have an eternal quality that evil acts like brutal invasions and indiscriminate bombings will never have?

Of course we must keep ourselves informed of what is happening. But our focus should be:

“Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8)

It is our job to promote this in everything we do and say, often implicitly and sometimes explicitly.

So what can we do?

Pray — keep an eye on the website of the Diocese in Europe.

As I understand, the most effective way at the moment of supporting refugees and displaced people from Ukraine is by donating money to one of the experienced relief agencies.

Local capacity for effective logistics has well reached its limit in the difficult circumstances, and loads of generous uncoordinated trucks arriving is not as helpful as it may seem to us.

We all want to help personally and tangibly, but for the time being, the best and most effective help we can provide is by donating to the Disasters Emergency Committee (note this is how the Red Cross asks for donations), or the Joint Emergency Appeal by the Church of England Diocese in Europe and USPG.
Note that the UK Government have said they will match public donations (pound for pound up to £20 million) to the Disasters Emergency Committee.

You can also support Christ Church Kyiv through Just Giving (name Christ Church Kyiv). And you can send supportive messages to them on social media.

Write to your MP about visa flexibility for refugees.

Finally, we do well to remember the unspeakable suffering of so many peoples, in Yemen or Sudan, the Uigur in China, Syrians — the list, sadly, is very long.

Let us pray for ourselves as with and for all those caught up in horrific violence and warfare around the world:

O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

  1. I acknowledge and am grateful for a Briefing by the Archbishop’s Ecumenical Adviser, Will Adam, on the historical developments.
  2. Translation DW

 

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
14 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Stanley Monkhouse
2 months ago

Absolutely splendid. Clear, informative, thoughtful, profound, and mercifully unchurchy. I hope Bishop Winter might be able to use her gifts on a bigger stage.

Froghole
Froghole
2 months ago

“In the tenth century a pagan Slavic people known as the Kievan Rus’ lived in present day Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. In c 988 St Vladimir, the ruler of the Rus’, converted to Christianity, was baptised and brought the rest of the people to baptism also.” Volodymyr ruled a Slavic-Varangian (i.e., quasi-Norse) polity. The old tale (recorded in variants by the Povest or Primary Chronicle and in an ‘unknown’ Khazar narrative) relates how he took note of representations made by Muslim Volga Bulgars, Jewish Khazars and Byzantine Christians (the Khazar narrative has him turning to Judaism instead of Christianity). Christianity… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Froghole
2 months ago

“The Primary Chronicle also notes that the people were ‘brought’ to baptism in an unambiguous manner. Pagan idols were overthrown, cut to pieces and burnt, and the citizenry of Kyiv participated in a mass baptism in the Dnieper.”

Thank you, Froghole for making a point hours earlier than I did.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
2 months ago

Lest we forget, this is also how pagan Europe was converted to Christianity a few centuries earlier, with clubs and sticks and the destruction of pagan temples and the burning of books. Even saintly Benedict, on his arrival in Monte Cassino, destroyed a shrine and statue of Apollo, and then toured the area “pulling down the idols and destroying the groves on the mountain . . and gave himself no rest until he had uprooted the last remnant of heathenism in these parts”. See Nixey, “the Darkening Age”.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Simon Dawson
2 months ago

This is a good point. Cuius regio, eius religio often applied well before Westphalia (1648). Those rulers of pagan Europe who converted wanted a slice of Romanitas, because it gave them a greater degree of legitimacy and respectability than the next unconverted thug, and because it was part of what Norbert Elias famously called the ‘civilising process’. Also, if they were successful on the battlefield, it must be because the pagan gods were useless, and the Christian god was more powerful. The process can also work in other directions. If the Christian interpretation of God is less efficacious than Allah,… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Froghole
Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Froghole
2 months ago

Thanks, there is some wisdom in what you say, but I think some of the evidence for the 4th Century points to it being the bishops and abbots who led the violence and forced conversion, not the secular rulers.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Simon Dawson
2 months ago

Many thanks. I will need to read more into what steps were taken by hierarchs to effect forcible conversions during that period. It had been my understanding that the secular arm had taken the lead, especially in book 16 of the Theodosian Code (438). The main turns of the ratchet taken up to that point had been by means of imperial legislation enveloped within the Code: 313ff.: Clergy exempted from public service (extended to lower clergy from 330, and to the sons of clergy, provided they remained in the service of the Church, from 359). 320ff.: Clergy and acolytes exempted… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Simon Dawson
2 months ago

It’s why I’m not amused when some Christians in the US (UK, as well?) talk about how African peoples are hungry for Christianity.
A lot of people seem to have a need for spiritual connection. If European colonizers/missionaries destroy the faith structures that were in place (because they are “pagan” or “barbaric”), those people will seek what the Europeans are offering

Considering the sad history of European authorities who acted brutally in the name of Jesus of Nazareth towards Jews, “heretics”, “witches”, etc., I can’t see how the native African religions could have been any more barbaric.

Froghole
Froghole
2 months ago

“…for whatever reason, the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1689 transferred authority over the Ukrainian Church to Moscow” The very erudite patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril III Lucaris (strangled in 1638 under the orders of Murad IV), established a metropolitanate of Kyiv in 1620, largely to subvert growing Muscovite influence in Ukraine, Galicia and Ruthenia. 1659 to 1689 was the ‘period of ruin’ in Ukraine: it arose because of the disintegration of the Cossack hetmanate after the death of the ‘liberator’ Bohdan Khmelnytsky in 1657. During that period many Ukrainian bishops and abbots looked to Moscow, not least for security. However, the Ukrainian… Read more »

T Pott
T Pott
2 months ago

The Church of England, specifically the Archbishop of Canterbury (the office not the man) was perhaps uniquely placed to bring increased understanding, perhaps even a rapprochement. Kiev/Moscow and Canterbury found themselves in a sense head of communions brought about quite unintentionally by the conversion of Constantinople to Islam and the apostacy of Rome respectively.

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
2 months ago

Unless I’ve missed it, nothing of this depth and usefulness has come from our Archbishops. Just a lightweight prayer that is beginning to wear a bit thin, just goes to show that when bishops stop strategising/managing and start teaching/pastoring good things can happen. Back to the ordinal please.

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
2 months ago

“In c 988 St Vladimir, the ruler of the Rus’, converted to Christianity, was baptised and brought the rest of the people to baptism also.” And I’m sure every single one of the adults came peacefully and cheerfully and knowingly into the Eastern Orthodox fold. Jews threw away their Torahs, Muslims threw away their Q’urans, polytheists dropped all but one god happily and willingly. Yeah, right. “Convert or die!” is not the monopoly of any one religion. Maybe President Putin, a long-time KGB operative and mover-up-the-ranks, suddenly had a literal “come-to-Jesus” moment — and maybe I can sell him the… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
2 months ago

Whatever the history of the relationship between Church and State in Russia today, there can be little doubt that Putin is using (abusing) that cultural (not necessarily theological) link in order to excuse his pogrom against the people of the Ukraine. this is somewhat ironical – in view of the FACT that most Russians are not Church-goers who participate in the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church and have, themselves, a very broad moral outlook that is not too different from the secularity of the West This cultural situation, however, allows Putin to enlist Patriarch Kirill in an attack on… Read more »

Edward Prebble
Edward Prebble
Reply to  Father Ron Smith
2 months ago

Ron, I agree with everything you say, except that it’s Ukraine, not The Ukraine. It’s a sovereign nation, not just a district. Lenten greetings, Edward

14
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x