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From Russia, Without Love: Ukraine Marks Orthodox Christmas with Biggest Schism Since 1054

ukraine russia tomos autocephaly
(Via UNIAN)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on January 6, 2019.

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine has been born again.

On January 6, it received the tomos of autocephaly—the documentation of its independence among Eastern church bodies—from one Orthodox heavyweight, the Patriarch of Constantinople, despite the vociferous opposition of another heavyweight, the Patriarch of Moscow.

To understand the significance of the biggest Christian schism since the Protestant Reformation, unfolding since last fall and formalized this weekend as Eastern churches celebrated Christmas Eve, a brief history is in order.

Founded in Kiev in 988 A.D., Vladimir the Great accepted Christianity on behalf of the Rus peoples, who would eventually constitute the nations of Russia, Belorussia, and Ukraine.

Tradition holds that the formerly pagan Vladimir wished to give a religion to his realm, and queried representatives of Judaism, Islam, and the different rites of Christianity.

Astounded by the majesty of the Byzantine mass, Vladimir chose Constantinople. In 1054, the Great Schism split Christianity—and the Rus remained in the Eastern Orthodox world.

Geopolitical winds shifted, however, and in 1686 the Patriarch of Constantinople—considered within Orthodox leadership to be the first among equals—placed the patriarchate of Kiev under the ascendant patriarchal church of Moscow.

In the modern era, geopolitical and religious winds continued to blow…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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A Christian Taliban

Ukraine Christian Taliban

In case anyone needed reminding, the use of religion to further militant political goals is not exclusive to Islam. The Intercept reports from Ukraine, where middle aged Dmytro Korchynsky has formed a private battalion, the Jesus Christ Hundred, dedicated to St. Mary, to fight the Russians.

In the 1990s he fought alongside Muslims in the Caucasus. Now he consciously borrows from them:

Korchynsky points approvingly to Lebanon. There, Hezbollah participates in government as a political party, while its paramilitary wing wages war independent of the state (and is thus considered, by the United States and the European Union, a terrorist organization). Korchynsky believes that sort of dual structure would be beneficial for Ukraine. He sees himself as the head of an informal “revolutionary community” that can carry out “higher order tasks” that are beyond the formal control of government.

That’s the theory. In practice, Korchynsky wants the war in eastern Ukraine to be a religious war. In his view, you have to take advantage of the situation: Many people in Ukraine are dissatisfied with the new government, its broken institutions and endemic corruption. This can only be solved, he believes, by creating a national elite composed of people determined to wage a sort of Ukrainian jihad against the Russians.

“We need to create something like a Christian Taliban,” he told me. “The Ukrainian state has no chance in a war with Russia, but the Christian Taliban can succeed, just as the Taliban are driving the Americans out of Afghanistan.”

The article is long and interesting, but here are his Christian foundations:

Just as Islamic extremists selectively highlight Quranic passages that endorse violence, the St. Mary’s Catechism opens with the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” The Catechism then adds its own interpretation: “Christianity should be treated like a sword, and not as a pillow.”

And like the jihadi emphasis on the glories of martyrdom and life in the afterworld, the Catechism explains that only those who follow the path prescribed by the Brotherhood shall receive the highest reward in heaven: “The end of the world is joyous, the destruction of the solar system will be a great celebration, and the second coming of Jesus to earth will be unexpected, and the terrible Final Judgment will become joyful. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

The battalion naturally has a chaplain. Here is how he came to fight:

When the fighting first started, he saw supporters of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic bullying young girls on Ukrainian Independence Day simply because they wore traditional Ukrainian embroidery. One time, he says, the separatists brutally punished a woman for wearing the embroidery. They drove nails into her feet and forced her to walk through the street.

It was pure evil, he explains, and is why it’s now necessary to fight. Father Volodymyr invoked the words of St. Paul, who said, “if you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bears not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that does evil.”

Here is the testimony of one of his fighters:

“Everything with us is based on faith in Jesus Christ,” says Partisan. “We believe that only a religious community can win in today’s world, and in a society where all our values have declined in importance, and only faith survives. War makes this evident. There is no place for atheists when there are mortars and rockets firing.”

In posting this story, I do not wish to claim an equivalency between Christianity and Islam, concerning violence. This topic is deep and nuanced, deserving of careful analysis. But the misuse of religion for any goal is as well known as the inspiration of religion toward any ideal. Drawing the lines between them is crucial.

And besides, Korchynsky does not claim an equivalency either:

I asked what distinguishes his organization from Islamic jihadists. The radical Islamists in Afghanistan and the Middle East are, according to Korchynsky, interested in destroying the world order. Not so with the St. Mary’s Battalion.

“We really like civilization,” he explained. “We want to have hot water in the bath and a functional sewage system, but we also want to be able to fight for our ideals.”

Maybe he has something to teach the Christian pacifists of this world, rightly divining the goals of jihadists through purer methods? Maybe not. Here is the article’s closing quote:

Korchynsky wants to move the war to Russian territory, and he says his people have already formed underground structures there. Like the Islamic State, one day his “brothers” will receive orders and begin their work.

“We will fight until Moscow burns,” he says.