We offer our readers more thoughts on the current political and ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine by an Orthodox-leaning Anglican priest of the Church of Ireland, who serves in County Kilkenny, Republic of Ireland. Fr. Patrick Burke is a graduate of National University of Ireland and Trinity College, Dublin, with a Masters degree from Troy State University, Alabama.
Recent political developments in the Ukraine might be described as comical in a very literal sense.
Following the results of the first round of the presidential elections in the Ukraine it seems increasingly likely, unless there is a dramatic change in the mood of the electorate, that Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a man who was up until now pretty much unheard of outside of his country and most famous there for playing a politician on a TV show, will be the next president; and that the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, will suffer a massive defeat and be ousted from office. Observers in the West, naturally enough, are less than thrilled by what is happening.
The reason for the dismay is obvious. Poroshenko is very much seen as being not only pro-Western and a liberalizing force in his nation, but also as wishing to distance his country ever further from Russia. The Western media are pointing to his failure to deliver on promises to clean up institutional corruption and the undue influence of wealthy businessman in his country as key reasons for his thrashing at the polls. And no doubt these played a significant part. However, I would suggest a further reason that is not being mentioned by the media; and that is that he chose to meddle in the internal affairs of the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine.
It is, of course, deeply ironic that a politician who presents himself as liberal and West-leaning should make such a move. The separation of Church and State is one of the mantras of Western liberal democracy—although, it is to be noted that this might be well be seen more as a stick used by secularists to beat religious people whenever they say anything that goes against their agenda. Nonetheless, it is incredibly inappropriate for the leader of a state to interfere in the governance of a church; and it absolutely beyond belief that he should try to orchestrate what was essentially an attempt to abolish one church and replace it with another as was the case here.
This is behavior that anyone, even the most extreme secularist, should find outrageous (yet it was applauded in the Western media). The cynic in me can only see it as an opportunistic move on the part of Poroshenko to exploit the tensions between the Ukraine and Russia to his own political advantage in the Ukraine while at the same time winning him even greater approval from many in the West. Presumably he thought that nationalists would love him for it and that the Orthodox faithful would fall quickly into line—after all, one church is as good as another, isn't it?
His lack of understanding of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian is breathtaking. When news of his interference began to break some months ago I found it impossible to believe that the Orthodox faithful in the Ukraine would so easily be persuaded to abandon their Church; and so it has proved to be. The attempt seems to have failed miserably, with only a handful of parishes and clergy having chosen to align themselves with this new church. It would almost be funny were it not for the great suffering it has caused among members of the faithful.
The result is a mess in which Poroshenko has managed to disappoint nationalists by failing to deliver the Church to them while alienating a great number of the Orthodox faithful in the canonical Church, who, by the way, make up the vast majority of Christians in Ukraine. Far from gaining him votes, the only reasonable conclusion is that it has cost him votes—and rightly so. It is never wise for a politician to get too involved in Church affairs. It is particularly silly to do so when he’s not doing a great job of running the country. Put it all together and it really is no surprise that the electorate are thinking of replacing Poroshenko with Zelenskiy. An actual comedian can hardly prove himself any worse than an accidental one.