‘Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity, but I’m not so sure about the universe’.
Words Attributed to Albert Einstein
We have never had any doubt that the Russian Federation would win militarily in the conflict in the Ukraine, for which eventuality it had carefully prepared for eight long years. (I stress the word ‘militarily’). During that time the West continually poked the bear and then was surprised when the bear’s patience ran out – on 24 February 2022. That does not mean that I approve of anything that has happened in the Ukraine since 2014. I visited different parts of the Ukraine six times between 2014 and 2021 and my many parishioners from all over the Ukraine only confirmed what I had seen.
I could see only too well its immense problems, the corruption which led to an infrastructure, far worse even than that in the oligarch-dominated UK, and the poverty of the masses, making it poorer than many African countries. In this article I take no sides. All wars are huge human tragedies and cannot be approved of. However, I am interested in the truth, not in propaganda, whichever side it comes from. And here, as everywhere and always on this site, without the burden of any careerism I am free to be interested only in the truth and its causes and consequences for Church life.
Introduction: The Tragedy: 2014-2022
After the 2014 US-organised coup d’etat (cost to the US taxpayer = $5 billion, as officially admitted by the US politician Victoria Nuland), one thing was at once obvious. This was that the new Kiev government needed to carry out internationally-observed referenda. Then they could let the various peoples in the Ukraine, with its purely artificial, Soviet-made borders, assigned to it by the atheist monsters Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchov, freely decide which country they wanted to belong to. Any enforcement of the old atheist centralisation from Kiev would, as in Yugoslavia, lead to exactly the same tragedy and war as in Yugoslavia. Both amalgams, Yugoslavia and the Ukraine, were hangovers from the Communist period with their absurd borders, jamming together peoples who had little in common and no desire to live in the same country as one another.
Sadly, the reality is that this current completely avoidable tragedy in the Ukraine is ‘Yugoslavia II’, that is, it the same thing again, only on a far greater and more serious scale. And here, unlike in Serbia, NATO cannot use its air force, for it will be shot down by superior Russian technology, and its army and navy are shut out. In 2014 an internationally-observed referendum was held in the Crimea, and all went well, with a clear 97% majority choosing to return to Russia, after 60 years of enforced separation from it. However, Kiev itself refused to allow referenda anywhere, including in the Crimea. Therefore, the Kiev government, or rather those behind them who would not allow referenda, are responsible for today’s catastrophic consequences and tens and probably hundreds of thousands of deaths. They have blood, a lot of it, on their hands. What are those consequences?
The Catastrophe: 2022-
- Local Consequences: The Human Cost
In 2014 war broke out in the Ukraine, specifically in the Russian-speaking Donbass, whose language and culture were oppressed and mocked by the racist centralisers in Kiev. Up to 14,000 people, including 400 children, were massacred by the Kiev authorities and the other 6 million were told to leave the Ukraine, if they did not like Kiev’s new ‘democracy’. This year, there has been much worse. Six months of conflict have now passed, though it was clear from the beginning, like it or not, that the small Russian expeditionary force had already won in the first few weeks. Their feint to the North, as if to take Kiev, locked up the Kiev military there (the same tactic as the US used in Iraq with a feint from the sea), enabling Russian forces to achieve their aims of conquering much of the Russian-speaking East and take the Russian-speaking South as far as Kherson, where they were greeted by many as liberators. This was what the Russians had openly stated that they intended doing all along, but they had been disbelieved.
Like it or not, the ensuing decision by the USA/West/NATO to send billions of dollars of their weapons, disarming their own troops, to be destroyed by Russian missiles, sometimes before they can even be unpacked (as on 24 February at Borispol Airport), is only prolonging the inevitable defeat and making the bloodshed far worse. So far the Russians and their Allies have lost over 6,000 troops dead, although over the last two months since they took strategic Mariupol, casualties have been very low, as this has largely become a war of satellites, drones, artillery and precision missiles. On the other hand, the Kiev Army has lost some 250,000, at least 60,000 of them killed, and continues to lose many hundreds of ill-trained, ill-equipped and often very young or very old troops almost every day, whether killed, wounded, or by surrender and desertion.
You should not be fighting a modern war when you do not have air superiority. Kiev does not, as most of its air force was destroyed in the first few days. It is a catastrophe and leaves widows and orphans everywhere. Every son killed had a mother and a father, a brother and a sister. The whole country is in bitter mourning. Its population is now down to 30 million. Of 6 million refugees, Russia is the European country that has taken the most, with 2 million fleeing the bankrupt Ukraine. However, 4 million others have left futureless bankruptcy for various countries in Western Europe, over half going to Poland and Germany. It costs the US taxpayer $5 billion every month just to keep the Kiev government afloat, let alone the billions of dollars of destroyed US military equipment.
Unless the 13% of the world, which is all the Western world/G7/NATO is, really wants a nuclear war to annihilate humanity, as Mrs Truss says she does, the West will just have to accept that Russia has taken back the Russian Lands within the former Ukraine. People like Mrs Truss, with her extraordinary ignorance of the basic history and geography of the Ukraine, simply do not realise that this is an existential war for Russia on its doorstep, even though V. Putin explained this quite clearly. Russians will die to win this war to free their brothers and sisters in the East and South of the Ukraine.
However, despite what Mr Johnson has recently proclaimed, no-one in the UK has chosen to pay 400% more for fuel bills, let alone die for the Ukraine, of which country few in the UK had even heard until six months ago. The result of the UK government’s refusal to buy Russian gas and other commodities and to arm the Ukraine, without consulting the electorate, which is not even allowed to elect the next Prime Minister, is soaring inflation, social disruption, strikes and grinding poverty, which will probably topple the UK government in the near future. Here is the difference with Russia. Nobody in the UK wants to suffer, let alone die, for an unknown country.
Local Consequences: What Does the Future Ukraine Look Like?
It looks something like the following – something that could have happened without any bloodshed, had democratic referenda been allowed back in 2014:
The Real Ukraine of Ukrainian speakers, the ‘Kyiv Protectorate’, or whatever it will come to be called, may take 11 demilitarised central and western provinces of the former Soviet Ukraine: Sumy, Poltava, Kirovohrad, Chernihiv, Kyiv, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia, Rivne, Khmelnytskyi, Ternopil. Population: 11.2 million. This will be a landlocked nation, in effect a Second Belarus, with a population of just over a quarter of the 1991 Soviet Ukraine.
Russia may take the 9 Russian-speaking eastern and southern provinces: Lugansk, Donetsk, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhe, Kherson, Crimea (Crimea of course already rejoined Russia in 2014), Nikolaev, Odessa. Population: 14.2 million.
Poland may, with Russia’s permission, take back the 3 far western ‘Habsburg’ provinces: Volyn (though a small number in the north of Volyn might want to join Belarus), Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk. Population: 3.2 million. This is the historic ‘Ukraina’ – the word that simply means the borderlands (that are next to Poland). Clearly, this real Ukraine would have to receive some sort of autonomy within the NATO-ruled Polish Republic as a demilitarised buffer-zone.
Hungary may take 1 province: Zakarpattia. Population: 0.85 million. This is providing that its mainly Carpatho-Russian people vote for this by referendum, though, true, many have already accepted Hungarian passports. This region would also have to receive some sort of autonomy within Hungary.
Romania may take 1 province: Chernivtsy. Population: 0.6 million. This is providing that its largely Romanian-speaking people vote for it by referendum, which seems highly likely.
- Global Consequences: Western Sanctions Cause Chaos in Western Europe
Why is the Russian campaign taking so long, why did Russia not use 25% or even 50% of its armed forces and take the whole of the Ukraine within a few weeks? Because that is not its strategy. By its own admission Russia has never had any intention of occupying the whole of the Ukraine and its capital Kiev. Therefore, only 5%-10% of the highly professional Russian Armed Forces have been engaged in order to take back the Russian-speaking areas, which were separated from it by Marxist diktat exactly 100 years ago. In any case, most of the fighting is being done by the local anti-Kiev Eastern Ukrainians and Chechen allies, who have suffered most of the casualties.
Then there is no hurry – the Russians want to conserve the lives of their own troops and of Ukrainian civilians and to conserve infrastructure. Time in any case is on the Russian side: their greatest ally is, as is usual in Russia, General Winter. By deliberately stretching the conflict out by agreeing to provide arms ‘until the last Ukrainian is dead’, Western European governments have foolishly fallen into the trap of extending the war into the winter. In this way they will have to suffer a winter with little fuel and face national emergencies, probable popular uprisings and riots and the fall of governments. The West has been completely outwitted – by its own stupidity.
Nowhere in Western Europe is the situation as grim as in the UK. With its privatised utilities, which are in reality unregulated, the law of the jungle prevails. For example the energy price cap imposed by the French government on its State energy monopolies is 4%. In the deregulated UK, prices by January will probably have increased by 400%. This is unsustainable. Expect a universal bill boycott, already started, and food riots. In the UK, Johnson’s words of 25 August, ‘You (note, ‘you’ not ‘we’) must endure to defeat Putin’ do not work. Nobody in the UK voted for this. Moreover, in the ‘democratic’ UK, 160,000 mainly elderly, wealthier people are taking two months just to choose the next Prime Minister, the fourth in six years. The UK used to mock political instability in Italy; it had better look at itself.
Global Consequences: Sanctions and Dedollarisation
Europe’s own anti-Russian sanctions, even though forced on it by the USA, are suicidal. Bankruptcy stares it in the face. The rouble has stabilised at a very healthy 60 to the dollar (before the conflict it was over 90 and briefly went up to 120) and money is flooding into Russian coffers as the whole Non-Western world wants its oil, gas, grain, fertilisers, rare earth metals, not to mention its highly effective arms. They are available to anyone in Western Europe who does not sanction them, as long as they pay for them in the Russian currency. On the other hand, the euro has sunk to parity with, or is even below, the dollar. The conspiracy theorists are even saying that the whole conflict was created by the USA to destroy, not Russia or even the Ukraine, but the EU, notably the German economy. Probably crazy, but actually quite logical.
China, India and indeed over 85% of the world have no sanctions against Russia, indeed they basically support Russia. The West is isolated, with its manufacturing dependent on China, which will soon claim back Taiwan. And Russia and other countries are now insisting on payment for their essential commodities in roubles or in their own currencies. The world economy is being dedollarised – that is a disaster for the USA.
- Church Consequences
Now we come to the second half of this article, what interests us most. What are the Church consequences of the conflict in the Ukraine, especially, what is happening to the Russian Orthodox Church, 75% of the whole Orthodox Church? Here the situation is grim indeed. On 25 August the Russian Church was forced to abandon plans for its Patriarch Kyrill, already sanctioned and banned from visiting the UK and Canada, to meet the Pope of Rome in Kazakhstan in September. Centralised Church authorities in Moscow had totally misread the public mood and the proposition had led to a huge scandal.
However, the misreading, or just plain non-understanding of the views of the local Orthodox grassroots, is far more generalised than this mere detail. The authorities of the formerly multinational Russian Orthodox Church has tried to impose the political views of Russia on its multinational flock. The result? Its Non-Russian flock has largely left it. This is a repeat of what happened in the 1920s when the leader of the Church then, Metropolitan Sergius, tried to enforce loyalty to the atheist Soviet State on his flock outside Russia. Result? He lost his flock outside the Soviet Union. We can see exactly the same result, all over again, in many regions of the world. For instance:
a) The Ukraine.
Few can describe the hatred felt by Ukrainians, mostly from central and western Ukraine, for Russia and Russians. They are simply boycotting the churches where the name of Patriarch Kyrill is mentioned. I speak from what I have seen. Even here, for example, Ukrainian refugees come to us and ask who our Patriarch is. When I reply that last February we were issued with letters of leave to quit the Moscow Patriarchate (its Western European Archdiocese) for Patriarch Daniel of Romania because of political persecution, they smile and say they will return to us. They feel at home with us; we are neutral. However, wherever the name Patriarch Kyrill is mentioned in church services, Ukrainian refugees, like many other Ukrainians who have already been here for some time, vote with their feet and leave. Understandably so.
Even Autonomy for the only canonical Orthodox Church in the Ukraine, that which is led by Metropolitan Onufry, is now no longer enough. It is too late. Moscow has totally lost control. It is Autocephaly that has to be granted, exactly as the saintly Serbian Patriarch Porfiry recently granted to the Church of North Macedonia. This simple message has yet to get through to Moscow, but it is a fact. Otherwise, the Ukrainian Church will simply be an empty shell. This need for Autocephaly is not a top-down case of political manoeuvrings by a nationalistic elite who want their ‘own’ National Church to command and control, as was the case of the Protestant Churches in Western Europe (e.g. the Church of England or those in Scandinavia) or the purely political group founded in the Ukraine in 2018 under the Church of Constantinople. This is a case of the people demanding Autocephaly, it is a ‘down-top’ movement.
b. The Baltic States
Russophobia here is virulent. There are already two Churches in Estonia and there are about to be two in Lithuania because of nationalism and hatred for Russia. The US-sponsored Patriarchate of Constantinople stands behind both breakaway groups in Estonia and Lithuania. It seems to me that at the very least the three Baltic States must have their own Local, Autonomous, if not Autocephalous, Orthodox Church. Only that will stop the schisms. Again the message is clear to everyone, except to Moscow. Does Moscow really think it can weather the storms and hold on?
The situation in Lithuania is especially disastrous, where priests have been defrocked for a purely political disagreement with Moscow. This is an abuse of the canons. As our bishop, Metropolitan Joseph, said to us in a recent conversation, defrocking happens to clergy for moral, financial or criminal reasons, not because the clergy disagree with their bishop about politics or, as missionaries, are defending their churches from predatory and anti-missionary bishops. Nobody in the free Orthodox world recognises political defrockings. They are not only uncanonical, they are anti-canonical. They are particularly ironical, when those who should be defrocked for molesting women parishioners or stealing money from parish funds are not only not defrocked, but receive all manner of awards!
Already 20% of churches in Moldova have left the Russian Church for the Patriarchate of Romania. The conflict in the Ukraine is making Moldovans shudder. Will we be next? The tiny Russian Transdnestria was of course long ago lost to Moldova, but what about Moldova itself? It seems inevitable that Moscow will lose the remaining 80% of its parishes there to the Romanian Church. Large parts of the Russian Diaspora are also composed of Moldovans, for example some 70 of the 72 Moscow Patriarchate parishes in Italy are Moldovan. Surely they too will leave for the Romanian Church?
Already in England most Moldovans have had to leave the Russian Church because of Slav nationalism and, sadly, a certain corruption. Here too, Russian nationalism appears to have destroyed the Russian Church’s once multinational character, as everywhere in the Western world. One nationalist bishop of the Russian Church in the Diaspora actually said in public: ‘I don’t like Romanians and I only half-like Moldovans’. That seemed to amuse him: it did not amuse the Romanians and Moldovans, or any of the Non-Russians, present. Here there is cause for the suspension of the bishop, if not for his actual defrocking. As far as I know, Christ never commanded us to hate other races.
d. The Western European Exarchate
In 2018 Moscow at last set up a Western European Exarchate, its centre in its brand-new, purpose-built Cathedral and centre in the most prestigious part of Paris, rumoured to have cost 50 million euros. Today, the Exarchate too is shattered, seemingly destroyed by Russian nationalism. Its first head lived in the Cathedral with his wife and child, and had another vice. He was duly sent away. (Though not sent so far as their Bishop Gury in the 1990s, who did something so serious that he ‘had to go’ and freeze in Magadan, opposite the Sea of Japan). The second head, a very politically-minded and very ecumenically-minded and very young man, who has not spent any time in a monastery and who speaks no French and poor English, now lives in Moscow and does administrative things.
Meanwhile, the Moscow Patriarchate Diocese in the UK no longer has a bishop, he is in Moscow. Few even remember who was the last Englishman to be ordained to the Russian Orthodox clergy in the UK. And the Moscow Patriarchate bishop in the Netherlands also seems to have disappeared. He got into great trouble with the Dutch government for threatening the clergy of his huge church in Amsterdam with ‘the Russian Embassy’, because, as Non-Russians, they had expressed purely political disagreement with the conflict in the Ukraine. As a result, the parish and about 70% of the people transferred to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, as did a parish in Italy and another in Germany. Frankly, it appears as if the Western European Exarchate had its chance and failed. Does it have any future after the events in the Ukraine? That it might become the foundation to set up a future Western European Orthodox Church, as Patriarch Alexiy II wanted twenty years ago, now sounds like a bad joke. Hopes have been dashed by those who have betrayed their pastoral duties.
e. North America and ROCOR
In the USA the Moscow Patriarchate has also lost its bishop. Its forty or so parishes are left without a leader and, it seems perhaps without any possibility of even survival through new ordinations, let alone expansion. However, in general, all parts of the Orthodox Church in North America are in chaos. The largest group by far, the Greek Archdiocese, is facing scandal and disorder with the probable deposition of its new, highly political and secularising Archbishop Elpidiphoros. The second largest group, the OCA, which has Russian origins, is facing many difficulties, mot least the behaviour of its administration in over-zealously closing churches and persecuting clergy during lockdowns. The third largest group, Antioch, sometimes called ‘The Church of the Four Families’, faces a scandal involving allegations against its Metropolitan Joseph.
The fourth largest group, quite small in fact, a Russian group, ROCOR (the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), faces very embarrassing accusations of defamation, precisely from a Ukrainian priest, Fr Alexander Belya. The US courts will clearly favour him, though they must first justify his allegations to find out if they are true. Several other scandals in the USA involving properties and Russian clergy who have fled it for the Greek Church are also left unanswered. On top of all this, questions have been raised about the use of the electronic signature of the late Metropolitan Hilarion of ROCOR. He was clearly very ill for quite some time, at least for a year, if not for several years, before his death in May 2022, and yet all manner of very serious documents were being issued in his name by others. His death also leaves his Western Rite group, already dissolved in England, all at sea.
Moreover, ROCOR faces huge difficulties outside the USA. In Western Europe it lost half its English Diocese, 12 clergy, 5,000 people and two million pounds worth of Church buildings, ultimately to the Church of Romania, which canonically received them all, with the blessing of Patriarch Daniel himself. In 2007 they had already lost their only two monasteries in England to an Old Calendarist Church only because their analysis of the degree of the deSovietisation of the Church inside Russia varied with that of their bishop. On top of that, that English diocese then lost another four clergy to various other jurisdictions. Although still (!!) in complete denial of this reality, ROCOR here has now largely become an internet presence. The churches that left it for the Romanian Church are full and growing in clergy and people. Its very few remaining churches are very small. Meanwhile, in Geneva it also faces yet another court case on internal matters concerning administration and very embarrassing sackings, allegedly illegal, involving its appointment of freemasons.
From 1917-1991 ROCOR existed as the free and unpersecuted branch of the Russian Church outside the Soviet Union. After the atheist Soviet Union fell in 1991, and even more after ROCOR’s long-awaited reconciliation with the post-Soviet Russian Church in 2007, many began to question the reason for its continued existence. Some felt that Providence had given it a chance to justify its continued existence as the missionary part of the Russian Church outside Russia. It had the chance to prove itself as such from 2007 to 2017. Then all was still possible. Sadly, it failed to realise its potential and openly abandoned missionary work in whole areas of the world, such as Latin America, Indonesia and most of Western Europe, and instead concentrated on trying to amass money and striving to obtain impossible-to-obtain properties gained by previous unsupported missionary work. It seems as though the once persecuted Church has become the persecuting Church.
At the same time, some of its members turned inwards and selected Trumpism, and not Christ, as their ideology. It was clear that some in ROCOR had lost their way. Having chosen not faith, but a political ideology, and one which fails to work outside narrow US Republican ghettos, and lost most of itself outside North America, ROCOR may now be obliged to retreat to North America and lick its wounds. A well-known Russian Orthodox Metropolitan wrote to me only last week and told me that he does not think that it can survive at all; ROCOR risks becoming an embarrassment to the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia. This is a Church Titanic, of which Fr Alexander Belya is only the tip of the iceberg.
The curse of nationalism has been lose-lose for all who have taken that particular acid bath. The Kiev government has lost by persecuting its own people and playing with several different nationalist and schismatic ‘Glory to the Ukraine churches’ and persecuting its only canonical Glory to God Church. Its false ‘churches’ have not only not created unity, but they have destroyed all remaining unity by persecuting and striving to seize the properties of the canonical Church (more parallels with the situation in the Diaspora). The Church of Constantinople has lost by playing with Greek and then Ukrainian nationalism. Western Europe has lost by playing with European nationalism (its ‘freedom and democracy’ myths) and enforcing Russophobic sanctions to cut off its nose to spite its face. ROCOR has lost by playing with American nationalism, exactly as the much persecuted St John of Shanghai prophesied. And the once multinational Russian Church has lost most of all by betraying its multinational vocation, that very vocation set by Tsar Nicholas II, with Russian nationalism, thus wrecking its multinational reputation. It will not recover from that for at least a generation.
Everyone is a loser. However, Divine Providence can and does make good out of bad. You will see and are already seeing it. Here is the possible end of schisms in the Ukraine and its opportunity, shorn of its Russian territories, to find its true identity and unite around a liberated and demilitarised Kiev. Here is the opportunity for scandal-ridden Constantinople to become a missionary Church, having understood that nobody is interested in a secular-minded, political and racist Church. Here is the opportunity for Europe, including the UK, to make peace with Russia after nearly 1,000 years of hatred based on jealousy and intolerance. Here is the opportunity for the two parts of the Russian Church in North America, the OCA and ROCOR, together with the bishopless Moscow parishes, to unite and love one another, instead of hating one another. (The apparently still unknown commandment of loving one another is to be found in the Gospels). It is all so simple. Here is the opportunity for the Russian Church, having for now lost Europe, to turn to serious missionary work in Asia and in Africa. God always gives opportunities. Sadly, men do not always take them.