The evolution of empires in history consisted of two stages – ascendant and descendent, of growth and of dismemberment, of conquering of territories and of losing of territories. Even if the history of empires has never been a linear process and included sinusoidal development periods, with ups and downs, when the empire starts to continuously lose territories, its fate becomes predetermined. This historic rule could not be beaten by any of the empires during the millenniums of history of civilization, with the length of the collapse being the only unknown.
All empires had s start and an end, without exception
In the flames of World War I, the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved for good, while the empire of the Russian tsars entered the dissolution phase after losing the territories of Poland, Finland, Bessarabia and the Baltic republics. The further fall of the Russian empire was stopped by the unprecedented terror applied by the Bolshevik regime that managed to reconquer some of the territories lost after the tsarist regime collapsed. But the implosion of the USSR restarted the imperial decline of Russia, showing the irreversibility of the logic of history.
The regime of Putin tries in vain to rebuild the empire by warlike methods. As a matter of fact, history cannot be avoided and the collapse of the Russian empire is ultimately inevitable. But this does not mean at all that the denouement will occur on its own, without the involvement of the subjective factor that amplifies or diminishes the human and material sacrifices. Ukraine now acknowledges this reality the best owing to the war waged on it by the Russian empire in revenge. Ukraine has to defend its freedom and independence not only by military retaliation, but also through the plan of the battle for the minds of the own citizens.
Only imperial liaison after collapse of USSR
In 1991, the USSR politically fell apart into independent states in the borders of the former Soviet republics, but kept intact its unity in terms of the structural organization of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. After the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church entered the “tutelage” of the new Russian state, reanimating the old tradition of subordination to the state, which was launched under the Synod in the tsarist empire and was developed by the KGB practices of influencing the clergy in the Soviet period. This tradition mechanically implied the reinsertion of the Russian orthodoxy into the neo-imperial ideology of post-Soviet Russia since the Church remains the only “depository”, even if only spiritual, of the borders of the former empire. This way, the tsarist imperial spirit that evolved into the Soviet one and developed into the Putinist concept “Russian world” now endures under the church wing of the Russian Patriarchate that openly blesses the imperial revenge through the war in Ukraine.
Struggle for Church is struggle for or against empire
The Russian military aggression against Ukraine dramatically restored the church organization in the independent states of the post-Soviet empire. Against the background of the war, the struggle for forming one Orthodox Church in Ukraine acquires harsher features. At present, in Ukraine there are two Orthodox church bodies – one that is controlled by Moscow and an autocephalous one that reports to the Kyiv Patriarchate. A confrontation around the affiliation of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (Monastery) to the jurisdiction of the Russian Church – the most renowned monarchal entity in Ukraine - arouse in Kiev several weeks ago. In the western regions of the country, the local authorities already started to change the ownership right over the Russian churches in favor of the autocephalous church formed in 2018.
Today, the Russian Orthodox Church numbers about 40,000 bishoprics all over the world and nearly one third (approximately 12,000) of them are part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in canonic connection with the Russian Orthodox Church. In other words, the loss of control over Ukraine for the Russian Orthodox Church means discontinuing of pretentions of supremacy in world Orthodoxy and this also harms the geopolitical and neo-imperial pretentions of the Kremlin. The Russian invasion upset the evolution scenario in the polemics between the Russian Church of Ukraine and the autocephalous church, forcing the sides to take much more radical positions. Now the Ukrainian authorities do not have time and patience to wait for the churches themselves to solve the old disputes – the state is obliged to self-determine actively, while the loyalty to Moscow, even the most formal one in the conditions of war, becomes unacceptable.
The Republic of Moldova has particular similarities with Ukraine as regards church life. In both of the states, there are two Orthodox church entities. In Moldova, as in Ukraine, most of the citizens consider they are Orthodox Christians. In the Republic of Moldova as well, the orthodoxy is managed by the two large church institutions – the Metropolitan Church of Moldova, in the jurisdiction of Moscow, and the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia, in the jurisdiction of Bucharest, which is within the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Romania and is the canonic one, with roots that come from the first national church entity – the Metropolitan Church of Moldova that was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople first in 1401. The second entity, the Metropolitan Church of Chisinau and all Moldova, which is within the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, started to operate as a church entity when Moldova was dismembered by annexing the eastern part to the Principality of Moldavia in 1812 by the tsarist Russia.
As regards the title that was arrogated to itself by the Orthodox Church of Moldova that is within the jurisdiction of Russia, it is conceived according to the Russian model, which says that the Russian Orthodox Church does not belong to Russia, but to all Russia. This term was extended also to the Russian Church in the Republic of Moldova, together with the false phrase “of all Moldova”, with almost disclosed claims to the Romanian canonic territory from the right side of the Prut. This term reflects the real essence of the Russian Church that has been for centuries in the service of the Russian imperial expansionism that in the Republic of Moldova is based on the anti-Romanian ideology of restoring the so-called Greater Moldova. As the idea from political viewpoint could not be expressed directly, this was placed on church ground. This way, the phrase “of all Moldova” was added and this implies claims to a territory that does not belong to the Republic of Moldova.
Moldova is urged to contribute to keeping unity of “Holy Russia”
A national church always represents the nation and serves the interests of the given nation. This certifies the fact that the church and its hierarch are representatives of the nation they serve. In the case of the Russian Church in Moldova, this represents only a section of parishioners, not the whole nation. This creates a special situation against what the canon implies. Given the identity situation in the Republic of Moldova, where the population does not have a clear national identity owing to the imperial denationalization policies, the church therefore looks for jurisdiction supporters, not for faith in terms of national consensus.
On August 21, 2010, in a meeting of Patriarch Kirill and a delegation of Moldovans hierarchs led by the metropolitan Bishop of Chisinau and all Moldova Vladimir at the Monastery in Solovetsky (the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea), the Primate of the Russian Church said: “We today pray for Moldova, for the prosperity of the people of Moldova so that the political orientation of Moldova contributes to keeping the unity of Holy Russia.” So, the ecclesiastical formulation “Holy Russia”, the canonic territory that incorporates the Republic of Moldova too owing to its affiliation to the Russian church, is easily turned by the geostrategists from the Kremlin into a laic space of “historical Russia”, which is claimed as belonging to the Russian empire that is being restored. Not at all accidentally, on Sunday the Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his message on the occasion of the Orthodox Easter, insisted on talking about the “unifying” role of the Russian Church for society and the young people as the Russian Patriarch Kirill expressed support for the Russian aggression against Ukraine in the name of the church he manages.
Decolonization is impossible without...
In Ukraine, the thorny road to independence from the empire is paved by the difficult effort to adjudicate for the national Ukrainian church its status of autocephaly. In the Republic of Moldova, this path of returning to the national church is impossible. Chisinau cannot seek independent ecclesiastical organization. On the territory of the Republic of Moldova, there has never been a recognized independent church entity. Canonically, Bessarabia formed part of the Metropolitan Church of Moldova and then, after the Romanian national state was created, it formed part of the Romanian Orthodox Church. According to canonic legislation (Canon 34), each bishop must report to the hierarch of their nation. The superior hierarch of the Romanian-Moldovan ethnics in the Republic of Moldova, from canonic viewpoint, is the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Daniel. Therefore, the Moldovan ecclesiastical authorities do not have any reason to claim the right of autocephaly.
At the same time, the ecclesiastical institution called the Metropolitan Church of Chisinau and all Moldova is non-canonic. It was created by the Russian ecclesiastical authority as a result of the occupation of a part of the Romanian territory, turning Bessarabia into a colony of the Russian empire. The effective decolonization of the Romanian space westward the Prut will never be complete if the domination of the national church in this territory is not restored and the affiliation to the church space self-styled “Holy Russia” is not rejected, while the national church in the Republic of Moldova cannot be another one than the Romanian Church.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.