October 24th, 2023
Tucker Carlson recently claimed that Zelensky has “banned the Christian faith in his country and arrested nuns and priests.” Though purporting to speak on behalf of religious liberty, in reality Carlson is playing fast and loose with the truth and endangering the lives of Ukrainian believers.
The Moscow-backed clergy being arrested in Ukraine are not neutral, but actively working for the Kremlin, some contributing directly to the deaths of hundreds of Ukrainian women and children. These arrests are not merely a whim of President Zelensky either: Eighty-five percent of Ukrainians polled favor the government taking action against these representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church who are causing mayhem in Ukraine—66 percent of Ukrainians want the Russian Orthodox Church banned completely in Ukraine.
Seventy percent of Ukrainians identify as Christians, primarily in one of two denominations of the Orthodox faith – the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). The latter, as the name implies, answers to Patriarch Kirill, the church leader of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow.
The Russian Orthodox Church is not a church in the sense that most American Christians think about churches. It directly serves the Russian government’s purposes, including Russia’s imperialist ambitions. For one example, Russian tank manufacturer Uralvagonzavod recently released a promotional video of priests splashing holy water on Russian T-90 tanks coming off the assembly line headed for Ukraine.
This isn’t just a blip in the Russian Orthodox Church’s record. Whether under imperial, soviet, or federated Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church has worked hand in glove with the Russian state for centuries. In 2000, Russia’s official state church put out a document, The Basis of the Social Concept, which defended “the medieval conception of symphonia to describe the church’s ideal relationship with the Russian state in terms of ‘body’ (state) and ‘soul’ (church). The document argues that “it is in their linkage and harmony that the well-being of a state lies.”
It is no surprise, then, that Patriarch Kirill, who led the committee that wrote The Basis of the Social Concept, calls Putin’s presidency “a miracle from God.” Soviet archives show that both Kirill and his predecessor Patriarch Alexy were KGB agents during Soviet times.
In 2015, the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate was the second largest denomination in Ukraine, behind the homegrown Orthodox Church of Ukraine. 24 percent of Ukrainians identified as parishioners in the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate, versus 33 percent for the OCU.
After the 2014 invasion of Donbas, where Ukrainians saw reports of UOC-Moscow Patriarchate priests sheltering Russian officers in their monastery and blessing the leaders of the breakaway Luhansk Republic, membership in the Moscow-backed church dropped. In 2019, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople—who holds a unique, historic role within global Eastern Orthodoxy—dealt a further blow to public support for the Moscow Patriarchate when he formally recognized the Ukrainian church’s independence from Russia. As Matt Gobush has written, this pronouncement caused Putin to threaten possible bloodshed and purportedly order “a cyberattack on the patriarch’s palace.” An irate Russian Orthodox Church also broke its centuries-long fellowship with Constantinople over this.
As a result, a December 2021 survey, two months prior to the full-scale war, showed only 14 percent of Ukrainians with the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate. And as the Russian Orthodox Church continued to erode away its credibility with its barbaric military tactics, only 4 percent of Ukrainians identified with the Russia-backed church after the atrocities of the full-scale invasion.
For example: In Bucha, the Kyiv suburb where Russians executed 560 civilians ranging in age from 2 to 92 and raped girls as young as 14, a UOC-Moscow Patriarchate clergyman reportedly told invading Russian soldiers who there would be most likely to oppose them.
While Carlson would have you believe these agents of the Kremlin are being persecuted, the truth is that Russians target Christians in Ukraine, having murdered at least 26 religious leaders and tortured many more believers.
Viktor Cherniivaskyi, an evangelical Christian who works with Steven, was evacuating a refugee group from occupied Luhansk that included a pregnant woman and a newborn baby when pro-Russian forces took him captive. He was tortured with electricity and beaten with a baseball bat for 25 days until his wife miraculously found him and convinced a pro-Russian official to free him. Despite enduring these horrors, he has returned to the front as a part-time chaplain, alternating with his work as a software engineer.
Ukraine is not ‘cracking down on Christianity’. In fact, the opposite is true. Even with the backing of Putin’s government, only seven percent of Russians even bother to attend church regularly. Ukrainians, by contrast, are more than twice as likely to attend church, a number that has increased the longer Ukraine has been independent of Russia’s influence.
Tucker Carlson’s willingness to parrot Putin’s talking points is why he is a favorite on Kremlin propaganda TV shows. But make no mistake, what he is saying is perpetuating the persecution of both Orthodox and Protestant Christians in Ukraine.
Read more at Providencemag.com.