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Post A Separate Patriarch of Kiev
Created by John Eipper on 10/17/18 2:55 AM

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A Separate Patriarch of Kiev (David Duggan, USA, 10/17/18 2:55 am)

The recognition of a separate patriarchate of Kiev has more than symbolic import for Christians globally, and geo-political realities specifically. To understand, a mini-deep dive into Ukraine-Russian history is necessary. Kiev was a thriving town in the 8th century CE while Moscow was simply a mud-bank layover on the Norse-dominated Volga river trade. In 988 CE, Prince Vladimir of Kiev, later taking Basil as his Christian name on baptism, made Christianity the state religion of Kievan-Rus, the loose agglomeration of city-states between the Baltic and the Black Seas. This evangelization of the northern Slavic tribes created a rich theological culture stressing an immanent God (i.e., at hand) and a devoted piety somewhat foreign to those in the West.

Whether there is any truth to the two myths about how Vladimir chose Orthodox Christianity over Judaism, Islam, and Latinate (i.e., Roman) Christianity will probably never be known. One of the myths has Vladimir (or his ambassadors) in Constantinople's Hagia Sofia Cathedral and not knowing whether he was in heaven or on earth. The other myth has him summoning representatives from these four faiths in a sort of theological bake-off. To the Jewish representative, paraphrasing, he asked: "You do not believe in an after-life. How can you hope to control people on earth unless their actions are rewarded or punished in Heaven?" To the Islamic representative, he asked: "You do not allow your people to imbibe alcohol. How can you hope to control their actions on earth, let alone reward them for their endeavors?" To the Latinate representative (actually from Ottonian Germany of the Holy Roman Empire), he asked: "You do not allow your priests to marry. How can they have any understanding of the problems of their flock?" Orthodox Christianity, not having any of these disabilities, was chosen by default if not by affirmative election.

After the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, by the mid 14th century Moscow became dominant in the bi-polar Kievan-Rus relationship, if for no other reason than it was more remote from the then more pressing Islamic legions (in 1482, the Crimean Tatars sacked and burned much of Kiev: this was less than 30 years after Constantinople fell; there were other border skirmishes until the Ottoman retreat of the 17th century). Catherine the Great solidified Russian dominance of Ukraine in the late 18th century, completing a functional annexation begun a century earlier, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church became subservient in fact if not in theology to the Moscow patriarchate. Of course, the Holmodor (state-instigated and enforced Ukrainian famine) of the 1920s-'30s largely killed whatever semblance of good will existed between Ukraine and Russia, and Ukraine was one of the first former socialist republics to declare its independence from Russia after glasnost and perestroika of the early 1990s.

At least as significantly, however, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church tried (and may have succeeded) in avoiding infiltration and co-option by the KGB, as undoubtedly happened with the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian Orthodoxy therefore perpetuated the theological premise that the church exists to support the secular rulers, who are God's emissaries on earth (Romans 13:1), regardless of the secular rulers' inherent evil or godlessness. Since the Western Reformation, this union of the secular rulers with the spiritual authorities has been attenuated if not eliminated. As I am not a theologian, I can offer only comment and not rationale for whether this difference in church-state relations stems from Orthodoxy's dropping of the "filioque" clause from the Nicene Creed: In the West, Christians believe that the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from "the Father and the Son." Orthodoxy states that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from "the Father." One upshot of this can be the belief that Christianity, like first-century Judaism, should in itself be a sort of religious practice wrapped in a civil state. The provenance of the Holy Spirit from the Son as well in some way sets Christians against the civil state which had after all crucified Christ.

The significance? More than virtually any other geo-political entity, Ukraine sits at the border of eastern Islam, western (Roman) Christianity, and Russian Orthodoxy. As an equally odd case-in-point, three miles from my Chicago house and two blocks away from each other lie two Ukrainian cathedrals: St. Volodymyr Orthodox Cathedral, and St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. And these two cathedrals are within spitting distance of Holy Trinity (Russian) Orthodox Cathedral, consecrated in 1905 by Archbishop Tikhonov from Moscow (during the Russo-Japanese war), and famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan's last commission. The Ukrainian Church's willingness to step out from under Moscow's shadow now suggests that its independence, both temporal and spiritual is complete.

JE comments:  An excellent historical overview, David.  I heard a different version of the religion bake-off, in which Judaism got the boot because of circumcision.

Next:  Harry Papasotiriou on Herod and the "Holy Infants."


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