Reading Time: 3 minutes

We find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic with our civilization in peril due to a changing climate. Much of the discussions of the day focus on the viciously tribal groups that are all vying for (often artificially-) limited resources. Now we have to deal with all the Washington drama that comes with a Supreme Court nomination.

This, of course, had to happen while Russia continues to ratchet up tensions over Ukraine.

This is a “ghost” story about Ukraine

Terry Mattingly at GetReligion has coined a term for a religious angle to a story that gets ignored by the press despite it being obvious to everyone. He calls them “ghosts.” These stories involve inter-faith tensions and can get rather complicated. 

Ukraine is mostly Greek Orthodox

Vladimir Putin is professedly Russian Orthodox. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the Moscow Patriarchate is at least a functioning component of the Russian oligarchy, though not the largest. 

American Network reportage is awash with relations between Russia and NATO, but Vatican City is a neutral nation to the NATO accords. So I suddenly find myself wondering how things are going between Francis and Kirill, because that might be rather important. What’s also important are the people stuck in the middle of this mess.

Most Catholics in Ukraine belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (as I was raised in Pennsylvania). Most of the rest belong to the Latin Church (“Roman Catholics” in American). Neither of them should be confused with the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church (that you’ve never heard of) or the Armenian Catholic Church (which you probably thought was dead). 

There is no separation of church and business

This makes the potential invasion of Ukraine by Russia take on a whole new set of cultural and theological stakes. We often bemoan the weakening of our own separation of church and state here, what about the separation of church and state in Russia? To what extent can we view the Ukraine crisis as an ethnic conflict where Putin is using Russian cultural identity to other ethnically Greek and Armenian Ukrainians and foment division to rally support for Ukrainian annexation?

Theologically, there aren’t many dramatic differences between the orthodox catholic sects. But there are monetary ones. If Russia invades, surely they’d want Ukrainians contributing to the Russian Orthodox tithing base. What does that mean for the majority of Ukrainians?

Conflict between leaders and local priests

Putin came to power with full-throated support from Patriarch Kirill. He said Putin’s rule was a ‘miracle of God’. He said that the Union of church and state in Russia had never been stronger. This was in 2012.

That remains the party line. But a growing portion of the rank and file Russian orthodox priests are pretty fed up with Putin’s antics. They condemn his persecution of protestors in defiance of their own church leadership. 

The Russian Orthodox Church’s cultural understanding of Secularism is not great. When the Leninists killed the Czar—who was appointed by god—they banned religion and killed 1200 priests. Their churches don’t trust atheists much.

In the spirit of Catholic brotherhood the Latin Church didn’t seem to do a whole lot to help with those killings. That has to be weighing heavily on the minds of Armenian-Ukrainians considering all they’ve been through. Haven’t they been through enough already? 

U.S. media narratives leave this out

As an Atheist in the U.S., I feel pretty detached from this situation. But culturally, I’m a 3rd generation American of Ukrainian and Greek heritage. Most of the American media doesn’t pay attention to these religious nuances. We tend to think of Europe as secular. But that’s western Europe. Ukraine is different.

Many of us come from culturally rigid Protestant backgrounds with no exposure to intra-Catholic conflict or the nuanced history it shares with every major European conflict since the Roman Empire. 

There are housewives buying sniper rifles. They are not messing around with this Russia crap. They’re scared. They don’t want NATO help hinging on Vatican City’s influence over Italian politics. 

By way of religious diversity, 71% of Russia professes Russian Orthodoxy. About 65% of Ukraine is Greek Orthodox. If we are trying to apprehend the state of secularism on a global level then we can’t ignore the role that religion plays in the lives of the people involved.

Putin uses the Russian Orthodox Church as a symbol of his influence. Patriarch Kirill is under pressure from his ministry for strong leadership. GenX Ukrainian moms are ready to take out Russian soldiers from the rooftops of Kiev. 

It is not going well.

In local news

Both the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and the Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix will be praying together about SatanCon in Scottsdale. Considering the potential for humanitarian crises facing their brothers and sisters overseas, their energies might be better spent worrying about that. But, now that Satanists have brought them together maybe they can go do something useful once they’re done throwing a hissy fit. 

FOR INFERNAL USE ONLY Jack Matirko was raised in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, but it didn't take. His projects include The Left Hemispheres Podcast, The Naked Diner Podcast, and An Ongoing and...