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"Agents" of Faith

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Photo: "Agents" of Faith or KGB?, Source: Collage The Gaze
Photo: "Agents" of Faith or KGB?, Source: Collage The Gaze

Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican Congresswoman, actively blocked any US aid to Ukraine at the beginning of 2024. Among her amendments to the bill were demands to stop the persecution of Christians in Ukraine and to close down biological laboratories.

These points were heavily promoted by Russian propagandists who, since 2022, have accused Ukrainians of creating a special biological weapon capable of targeting only Russians, or of religious persecution when it comes to criminal cases against the Orthodox clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. This could be laughed off if it didn't have such an impact on the actual state of affairs.

An information campaign launched in the US claimed that the Orthodox of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine were being persecuted and oppressed, referring to bill No. 8371, which was to be considered by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. If passed, it would have amended the laws "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" and "On State Registration of Legal Entities, Individual Entrepreneurs and Public Formations." The main argument of "persecution" was the prohibition of activities in Ukraine of religious organizations whose leadership (administration) is located outside Ukraine in a state that is waging armed aggression against Ukraine.

Persecution for Faith or Espionage Work?


In November 2022, a video spread across the Ukrainian network showing parishioners of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra singing praises to Russia. This was after eight years of Russian occupation of Crimea and parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, and nearly a year of full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, after witnessing the atrocities and mass graves in Bucha and Izyum. In November, the Security Service of Ukraine began an investigation in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. In January 2023, the Ukrainian police initiated a criminal case against the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, Pavlo (Lebyd), for inciting religious enmity, denying Russian aggression, and glorifying its crimes. Pavlo did not hide his pro-Russian sentiments not only from the faithful but also in phone conversations intercepted by the Security Service of Ukraine. "Pasha Mercedes," as the abbot is known for his love of expensive cars and a luxurious lifestyle, stated during a court session that he is no longer Mercedes but Tesla, as he has changed his car. He is currently under house arrest, and judicial proceedings are ongoing.


Photo: The Abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, Pavlo (Lebyd) better known as Pasha-Mercedes

The privileged status of the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine and their close cooperation with Russian special services have been previously reported by The Gaze Media. After searches in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra and Pochaiv Lavra, not only illegal economic activities were discovered – a candle factory, ceramic production, a restaurant, and a hotel, the profits of which were not taxed. A large amount of pro-Russian propaganda literature, commemorative coins or medals of the Russian armed forces, and even weapons were found. Instead of a centre of spirituality, the temples of the Moscow Patriarchate were brainwashing the flock and setting them up for cooperation with the occupiers.


Photo: A large amount of pro-Russian propaganda literature in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra and Pochaiv Lavra

Today, representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate conduct anti-Ukrainian activities even against the dead. There are numerous cases where priests of the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate do not allow people with the bodies of fallen soldiers in the Russo-Ukrainian war into the church.


There have also been cases of soldiers being beaten by pro-Russian priests. The worst thing the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate do is closely cooperate with the occupiers. After the Russian capture of Ukrainian territories, it was the priests of the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate who informed the invaders about their parishioners, primarily about participants of the Anti-Terrorist Operation, which had been operating in Ukraine since 2014. For example, priest Andriy Pavlenko from the city of Lysychansk, now under Russian occupation, while pretending to help believers, gathered information about Ukrainian soldiers and disclosed their positions to the Russians. It was also proven in court that he compiled lists of people whom the Russians were to detain or eliminate. Pavlenko received 12 years in prison for espionage but was exchanged for a US civilian, Suedi Murekezi, who had been kidnapped in the Kherson region.

Over the two years of the full-scale invasion, the Security Service of Ukraine has initiated seven criminal cases against clerics of the Moscow Patriarchate under articles "Collaborative activity," Article 111-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, as well as articles "Encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine" and "War propaganda."

The most hated by Russians are the priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox or Greek Catholic Church, or Protestant denominations. They are subjected to the most brutal torture. This is testified by Father Vasyl Vyrozub, who survived Russian captivity, or Protestant pastor Oleksandr Khomenko from Donetsk, who was tortured into converting to Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, there are many such testimonies.

Today, it is no longer a secret that Russian Patriarch Kirill was an agent of the KGB during the Soviet period. Under the code name Mikhailov, he worked in Switzerland as a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate to the World Council of Churches. Kirill's blessing for the war against Ukraine is also no secret, and the extermination of Ukrainians is considered a godly deed.


Photo: Russian Patriarch Kirill was an agent of the KGB during the Soviet period

Russians often claim they have a special divine mission, but as of June 2024, 630 sacred buildings have been destroyed in Ukraine. According to the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience, in 2023 alone, 5 Muslim, 5 Jewish structures, 30 belonging to Protestant communities, 95 to Jehovah's Witnesses communities, and the rest to various Christian denominations were damaged or completely destroyed. Meanwhile, Ukraine is accused of persecuting Christians, whereas in Russia, Jehovah's Witnesses were recognized as an extremist organization and banned as early as 2017. This is noted in the "Statement of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience regarding the campaign to mask the crimes of the Russian Federation against religious freedom, human dignity, and the rights of believers," published on June 17 this year:

"Since the beginning of Russian aggression in 2014, the Russian occupation of both Crimea and Donbas has been accompanied by pogroms of evangelical churches, persecution of Greek Catholics and Orthodox of the Kyiv Patriarchate. Clerics and active laity were beaten, shackled, intimidated, and banned from conducting services in Ukrainian. The seizure of prayer buildings and the beating of clerics have become systemic. Dozens of Baptist and Pentecostal churches, 'Kingdom Halls' of Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormon and Adventist prayer houses, and Christian educational buildings, including Donetsk Christian University, were seized by pro-Russian militants and turned into military barracks, training bases, or administrative buildings."

Colonels in Cassocks

Where did the Russian Orthodox Church come from in its current form?

After the Bolshevik occupation of Ukraine in the 1920s, attacks on churches operating in Ukraine began. Karl Marx's assertion that "religion is the opium of the people" formed the basis of the ideology of the communist Soviet Union. Initially, churches were closed, then destroyed with impunity, including unique historical monuments from the 12th-13th centuries, such as the St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral, the St. Nicholas Military Cathedral in Pechersk, the Pyrohoshcha Dormition of the Mother of God Church, the Church of the Three Saints, and many others.

"Between 1918 and 1931, over 10,000 churches were closed in the USSR, and this process continued. During the 'decisive assault' of 1933-1936, about 75-80% of the existing churches in the Ukrainian SSR ceased to exist. Of the 12,380 churches in Ukraine in 1936, only 4,487 remained, and services were held in only 1,116 (9.01%), compared to the average of 28.33% in the USSR,"

reports Ukrainian scholar and Doctor of Historical Sciences Alla Kyrydon in her publication "The Destruction of Religious Buildings (1920-1930s): Violation of Traditional Rhythms of Space."

If a church was not dismantled for building materials or blown up, it was turned into a grain storage, club, or even a barn for livestock. Most of the clergy—priests, monks, and higher clergy—were either killed or imprisoned in concentration camps.


Photo: In the years 1934-36, the St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, the bell tower, and part of other structures were demolished in connection with the project to create a government centre at this site

However, in 1943, Joseph Stalin decided to restore the Orthodox Church in the Union. Of course, this was not done out of good intentions, but from pure calculation. On September 4, 1943, a meeting took place between Stalin and three clergymen—those who had survived and were not in prison at that time: Bishop Sergius (who later became the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia of Stalin's church from 1943 to 1945), Metropolitan Alexius of Leningrad (who took the position of Patriarch after Sergius until 1970), and Metropolitan Nicholas of Kyiv and Galicia (who became the Ukrainian Exarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1944). At this meeting, Stalin allowed the election of a Moscow Patriarch, a position vacant since 1925 after the death of the previous Patriarch Tikhon, and to resume the church's work. Thus, a new Soviet church appeared, though this sounds absurd because Soviet ideology denied religion, faith, and God himself. To ensure the connection between the Patriarchate and the Soviet leadership remained unbreakable, a special government body was created—the Council for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church under the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR. The most ironic part of this story is that the council was headed by Georgy Karpov, a man who actively destroyed churches, clergy, and religion as such.


Photo: Meeting of Russians Orthodox priests with Joseph Stalin

Thus, Stalin obtained a pocket church—a strong instrument of influence on society both inside the country and abroad. Ukrainian churches found themselves in the exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church—a structure of complete subordination to Moscow.

After World War II, when Western Ukraine was annexed to the Soviet Union, the imbalance in the number of churches between the newly annexed territories, especially in Galicia, and the rest of Ukraine was enormous—with over 3,000 Greek Catholic churches operating in the region.

Taming the "Uniates"

In 1946, to subdue the "Uniates" (Greek Catholics), the "pseudo-council" was held in Lviv, which announced the transition of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to the Russian Orthodox Church. Soviet forces had been working on this long before the council, as now accessible archival materials reveal that out of 216 participants of this council, 140 were already NKVD agents.

After this so-called council, the Greek Catholic Church, its clergy, and believers who did not "orthodoxize" went underground until 1989. Secret services, baptisms, and other rites continued to be performed, underground theological seminaries operated, and priests and bishops were secretly ordained.

From older people, one could sometimes hear the joke that when going to church (meaning the Russian Orthodox one, as there was no other), one should be careful not to scratch oneself on the epaulets sticking out from under the cassock. Oral folklore only confirmed the real state of affairs: the Russian Orthodox Church was merely a branch of the Soviet special services. Everyone knew this but remained silent.

"Why are bishops in the Greek Catholic Church young, but in the Orthodox Church only old and bearded?" asks one joke. "Because in the Greek Catholic Church, anyone can become a bishop, but in the Orthodox Church, it has to be at least a colonel, and it takes many years to earn that rank."

Metropolitan Filaret openly stated in an interview that during the Soviet period, no bishop or hierarch was ordained without the approval of the KGB. Even the secrecy of confession was not secret. The KGB knew who among the believers was loyal to Soviet power and the communist paradise and who was not. This was also confirmed by Matvey Gavriliv, a hieromonk of the Order of St. Basil the Great, who was approached for cooperation with the KGB while studying at the theological seminary in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), and later continued to be pressured when he was a parish priest. This led him to sever ties with this church and join the underground Greek Catholic Church.


In the USSR, all faiths were persecuted except the Russian Orthodox Church. The "North" operation, ("Pivnich") which aimed at the deportation of Jehovah's Witnesses to Siberia, is well-known. Only from Ukraine, 6,308 people were deported. Those who managed to survive despite the inhumane living conditions and hunger recount that for 14 years they were not allowed to leave the "special settlements." Today, Russia applies the same methods in the occupied territories of Ukraine, but while in the Soviet Union believers were imprisoned for their refusal to serve in the army, now it is because they are Jehovah's Witnesses or Protestants, as stated by Viktor Yelensky, head of the State Service of Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience.


Photo: Operation "North," ("Pivnich") which involved the deportation of Jehovah's Witnesses to Siberia

The Tomos and Breaking Free from Moscow

Even after the collapse of the USSR, the revival of the UGCC, and the proclamation of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church, Russia did not weaken its influence on Ukraine through the ROC. For twenty-eight years of independence, Ukrainians unsuccessfully tried to revive an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It was only on January 6, 2019, on Orthodox Christmas, that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church received the Tomos of autocephaly, confirming its independence from Moscow. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, represented by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, not only granted the Tomos to the Ukrainian Church but also annulled the 1686 decision of the Act of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which followed the annexation of the Kyiv Metropolis by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1685, granting the Moscow Patriarch the right to ordain the Kyiv Metropolitan.


Photo: On 6 January 2019, Ukraine received the tomos of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in Istanbul

Despite this, representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine continued to claim that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was uncanonical and that true Orthodox believers were only those under the jurisdiction of Russian Patriarch Kirill, while others were "schismatics."

Seeing the true face of the Moscow Church, 1,745 Orthodox communities of the Moscow Patriarchate transitioned to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. According to the monitoring service Opendatabot, 8,097 communities remain under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. Often, the church community, meaning the believers, do not want to belong to the Moscow Patriarchate because their relatives are currently defending their country, their loved ones, and the very right of Ukrainians to exist, while from the pulpit of the church, prayers are offered for Kirill, and the "Russian world," which came to kill them, is preached. Believers organize community meetings to discuss or officially transition to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but MP clergy actively obstruct this process.




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