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What Did the Visit to the Ukraine Accomplish?

by Christopher A. Ferrara

The Pope's visit to the Ukraine is over. The long-awaited visit certainly heartened Ukrainian Catholics, and the Pope was courageous in his beatification of Ukrainian martyrs all victims of communism — which he actually mentioned by name. One can hope that, at long last, the facade of Ostpolitik is showing a crack or two. We shall see.

As for the Orthodox, an interesting development has arisen. The Moscow-controlled Ukrainian Orthodox Church orchestrated opposition to the papal visit, including accusations from Russian Orthodox patriarch Alexy II that Rome is "'buying' the faith of Ukrainians . . . 'proselytizing,' and 'violating' the Orthodox 'canonical territory' to which Ukraine belongs." (Zenit, June 26, 2001) Demonstrators called the Pope "Precursor of the Antichrist."

But the tide may be turning against Alexy and Moscow. As Zenit notes "[t]he Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been split by at least two schisms. Metropolitan Archbishop Filaret of Kiev, who wanted to be appointed patriarch of the Russian capital, rebelled when the Holy Synod elected Alexy II. When Ukraine became independent, he proclaimed himself patriarch of Kiev. Irked, Moscow's patriarch responded by excommunicating Filaret and reducing him to the lay state. The Orthodox who were persecuted under Communism also rebelled against Alexy II's appointment, believing him to be a former KGB agent in Estonia. Their disaffection resulted in the creation of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, considered schismatic by Moscow."

So now there are two new branches of Orthodox in the Ukraine which are allied against Moscow. And the adherents of these new branches are much more inclined toward Rome than Alexy, even if they remain schismatic. Patriarch Filaret, "a Soviet-era enemy of the Greek-Catholics," once refused to shake hands with the great Ukrainian prelate, Cardinal Myroslav Ivan Lubachivski. But during the Pope's visit he kissed the Pope and called him "the apostle of unity among Churches." And Metropolitan Methodius of the Autocephalous Church said that "unity is possible between Orthodox and Catholics."

What all this means is far from clear. Schismatics are still schismatics. But the two new branches of Ukrainian Orthodoxy are not (to all appearances) Moscow-controlled schismatics any longer. They appear to have had their fill of Alexy and his Kremlin bosses. Only time will tell if this is a step toward Orthodox reunification with Rome, or just another schism among schisms.