Public expressions of piety at civic events may tell us something about a culture, but they rarely disclose geopolitical ambitions or strategic designs. One exception to that general rule of religion and public life took place this past February, in Kiev, capital of Ukraine-an exercise in hardball politics under the veil of public piety that was, in fact, a harbinger of danger for religious freedom, for Ukrainian democracy, and for the future of Europe.
Prior to Ukraine’s two previous presidential inaugurations, an ecumenical and interreligious prayer service had been held at the Church of Holy Wisdom in the Ukrainian capital, with all confessional leaders invited to participate and pray for the country and its about-to-be-inaugurated leader. In a country as fractious as Ukraine, with an underdeveloped political culture and little experience of the tolerance essential to democratic civil society, these two prayer services were important indicators of a national intention to build a political community in which Ukrainians of all ethnic and religious persuasions would have a place in the public square. Indeed, Ukrainians of all parties seemed sufficiently impressed with what the pre-inaugural prayer service symbolized for their future that provisions for such an ecumenical and interreligious service were legally codified, in a presidential decree, as an integral part of presidential inaugurations.
That protocol was ignored in February at the inauguration of President Viktor Yanukovych. There was no ecumenical and interreligious service at the Church of Holy Wisdom. Rather, at Yanukovych’s invitation, pre-inaugural prayers were offered at Kiev’s Monastery of the Caves by Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. No other religious leader was invited to participate.
For that matter, no religious leaders other than those affiliated with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate-one of three contending Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine-have been invited to meet with . . .
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This article was originally published on First Things — On the Square