Ukraine warns church to stop outdoor services for protesters — or face shutdown

posted at 8:41 am on January 15, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Over the last several weeks, Ukraine’s government has spun into ever-closer orbit to Moscow and away from the West, much to the dismay of Ukrainians. Protests have been non-stop in Kiev ever since President Viktor Yanukovych stunned his citizens by reversing course and signing a trade pact with Russia rather than the EU, sending shock waves throughout the former Soviet republics.  While the protests continue, priests from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church have held “religious services,” according to AFP (presumably Mass), several times a day.

Yesterday, Yanukovich’s government threatened to shut down the church throughout Ukraine if the priests continued to offer services outside of their own facilities — sending another shock wave through Ukraine:

The Ukrainian government has threatened to outlaw the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for holding prayer services for opposition protesters occupying Kiev’s central square.

The culture ministry on Monday sent a letter to the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, accusing its priests of “breaking the law” by holding religious services outside a place of worship.

The move may well end up backfiring:

“For the first time since the independence of Ukraine, we have been put on our guard. We have de facto been warned that they could deprive our Church of its legal status,” Shevchuk told reporters on Monday.

“We thought that the prosecution of priests was a thing of the past.”

The government warning has sparked anger among believers.

“It is illegal, it is immoral. Nobody can forbid people to pray. Only Satan does not want people to pray,” said Pavlo, 52, as he came out of one of the tents on Tuesday.

In many countries that profess a freedom of religion, laws still restrict the expression of religion in public. Mexico, for instance, requires that any religious service held outside of a church be approved by the government, which goes back to the anti-clerical movement of a century ago that touched off the Cristiada in the 1920s. This is the difference between the freedom of worship rather than religious freedom, and it arises in places where the church is seen as a threat — as it apparently has become in Ukraine. (AFP notes that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the third-largest church in Ukraine, with 5.5 million members, 12% of its population.)

Usually these efforts backfire, and it’s unclear what purpose the Yanukovich government has in mind. The protests haven’t been based on religion, although that may be one of the cultural undercurrents. The tension between the Orthodox and Greek Catholics may reflect the East-West divide in Ukraine, but the crisis is based more on political history and economic independence. Vladimir Putin wants to tie the former Soviet republics back together in an economic commonwealth run out of Moscow, while the people in those nations would prefer not to fall back under the Russian thumb.  Ukrainians thought they were about to escape that orbit, until Yanukovich pulled a 180 on them. If he starts shutting down churches (or even threatens to do so), it’s going to provide just a much clearer reminder of what it was like living under Russian domination, and Ukrainians will grow even more restive.

Ukraine isn’t the only place where Christian worship comes under attack, of course. Kirsten Powers reminded us yesterday at the Daily Beast that we are entering into a “new age of Christian martyrdom,” where lions have been replaced by much more efficient methods of annihilation:

The concept of Christian martyrdom may seem like something from a bygone, uncivilized era when believers were mercilessly thrown to the lions. Not so. This week, Open Doors, a non-denominational group supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, reported that Christian martyrdom has grown into a pervasive and horrifying human rights crisis.

In their annual report of the worst 50 countries for Christian persecution, Open Doors found that Christian martyr deaths around the globe doubled in 2013.  Their report documented 2,123 killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012. In Syria alone, there were 1,213 such deaths last year. In addition to losing their lives, Christians around the world continue to suffer discrimination, imprisonment, harassment, sexual assaults, and expulsion from countries merely for practicing their faith.

I wrote about the same report a week ago. Not all persecution comes from death squads; most of it starts by forcing Christians to practice faith only within churches, and to be silent everywhere else. Only in silence can persecution succeed.


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In the Ukraine, they go straight up after the church when the ruling fascists have a political desire to control religion. Contrast this dispute with the craven attempts to control The Little Sisters of the Poor via regulation here in the U.S.

The old style Stalinists are at least more honest than the new.

MTF on January 15, 2014 at 8:47 AM

Kind of like a certain administration telling nuns that they know best what serves the conscience or telling the black robes in the Supreme that they should tell Hobby Lobby what their conscience should be….Sound familiar….

crosshugger on January 15, 2014 at 8:48 AM

When is Ms Powers going to give up her idols of abortion and gay marriage and the dem party if she sees fit to talk about persecution.

crosshugger on January 15, 2014 at 8:52 AM

Ed: Most people including nominal Catholics don’t care about the persecutions of Christians.

Many people mocked the Church for the ‘Crusades’ ,but in retrospect who was right?

celtic warrior on January 15, 2014 at 8:57 AM

When is Ms Powers going to give up her idols of abortion and gay marriage and the dem party if she sees fit to talk about persecution.

crosshugger on January 15, 2014 at 8:52 AM

Not sure how onboard she is with abortion. She decried Gosnell and similar butchers.

Bitter Clinger on January 15, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Not all persecution comes from death squads; most of it starts by forcing Christians to practice faith only within churches, and to be silent everywhere else. Only in silence can persecution succeed.

That pretty much defines every atheist group in America. They are so intolerant of religion that just the very display of it “offends” them and send the skipping off to court to demand Christians stuff their faith into a church.

Happy Nomad on January 15, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Basically, the church situation in Ukraine is a mess, with several churches vying to be the main church in the country.

Most adherents to the Ukrainian Catholic Church are in Western Ukraine and the church’s main stronghold city is L’viv. Many saw the UCC building their main cathedral in Kiev in the 2000s as a threat, being as it was seen by many as an encroachment into eastern territory. The Orthodox are split between those who are part of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (which has a number of splinter groups, even here in the US).

The UCC is very western-oriented, and many of their young people were leaders of the Orange Revolution. They generally want to be more and more integrated with western Europe rather than with Moscow. Most speak Ukrainian, rather than Russian. In eastern Ukraine, most people only speak Russian, and don’t mind being more closely aligned with Moscow. I have friends from both eastern and western Ukraine, and seriously, you can hardly have them in a room together without some sort of major disagreement arising.

Katja on January 15, 2014 at 9:06 AM

The gays are completely on board with this of course. You can practice your faith only inside a church but it cannot influence anything else.

Vanceone on January 15, 2014 at 9:08 AM

Kirsten Powers becomes more interesting by the day.

Cindy Munford on January 15, 2014 at 9:15 AM

Kirsten Powers becomes more interesting by the day.

Cindy Munford on January 15, 2014 at 9:15 AM

Yeah but there is something unsettling about an attractive liberal.

Happy Nomad on January 15, 2014 at 9:19 AM

“It is illegal, it is immoral. Nobody can forbid people to pray. Only Satan does not want people to pray,”

Well Putin is behind this and he did come from a communist background, so. . .

rbj on January 15, 2014 at 9:28 AM

The battle is not against flesh and blood.

Galtian on January 15, 2014 at 9:36 AM

most of it starts by forcing Christians to practice faith only within churches, and to be silent everywhere else. Only in silence can persecution succeed.

Those who can’t handle the truth,
try to silence those who speak it.

(Hat tip: Red Pill on June 7, 2008 at 2:12 PM )

ITguy on January 15, 2014 at 9:38 AM

This is the difference between the freedom of worship rather than religious freedom, and it arises in places where the church is seen as a threat

…things seem to be changing in this country regarding religion too…and the government …has been throwing the stones

KOOLAID2 on January 15, 2014 at 9:45 AM

Russian tanks rolling through the streets of Kiev? It could happen.

Ward Cleaver on January 15, 2014 at 10:04 AM

It is shame that the Ukrainian government is using thug tactics and allying itself with Russia instead of Europe. My prayers are with the protestors.

SC.Charlie on January 15, 2014 at 11:06 AM

Barnhardt had a post on this from Dec 11th.

Murphy9 on January 15, 2014 at 11:58 AM

This is the difference between the freedom of worship rather than religious freedom, and it arises in places where the church is seen as a threat — as it apparently has become in Ukraine.

Not always, though. It also can arise when the main threat is thought to come not from the existing established church(es), but instead from new independent, underground, and grassroots movements. See China’s crackdown on Falun Gong, for example.

RINO in Name Only on January 15, 2014 at 5:13 PM