Overestimated declared identity of the OCU faithful and unexpected tolerance of the UOC faithful: analysis of the Razumkov Center’s data

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Some days ago a printed version of the brochure “Peculiarities of religious and Church-religious self-determination of the citizens of Ukraine: trends of 2000-2021” was presented. The electronic version of the brochure is in open access on the Center’s website — https://razumkov.org.ua/uploads/article/2020_religiya.pdf (in Ukrainian). The Razumkov Centre, which prepared it, has been engaged in sociological research in the field of religion and the Church in Ukraine for over twenty years. Therefore, for those who follow the development of the situation in this area, it was a continuation of research of previous years.
It should be noted that this year the brochure has changed significantly — both in terms of paper quality and volume. If in the brochure of similar subjects for the last year 36 pages (pp. 11-46) were devoted to the data of sociological researches, in the present edition these are 95 pages (pp. 33-127).
Here we have paid attention to the significant changes concerning the leading Ukrainian denominations in recent years. The first thing that catches the eye is the decrease in the total share of “believers” — from 71.7% in 2018 to 67.8% in 2021. Similarly, but even more significantly decreased the number of citizens who generally identify themselves as “Orthodox” without specifying jurisdiction — from 67.3% to 60%, respectively. Such a decrease of the “Orthodox” was due to an increase in the group of those who “do not belong to any of the religious denominations”. If in 2018 the last group was 11%, then in three years its share increased to 18.8%, which is a very considerable growth. This is the largest share for the study period since 2000.
It should be noted that over the last three years the share of Greek Catholics and Protestants has slightly decreased as well (from 9.4% to 8.8% and from 2.2% to 1.5% respectively). And the growth was witnessed only by the group “mere Christians” — from 7.7% in 2018 to 8.5% in 2021. These data indicate a probable decrease in the general interest of Ukrainian citizens in the sphere of religion as a whole.
Recently, the share of those who acknowledge their affiliation with the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church” has hardly changed. They make up 13.3% on average in Ukraine with the smallest share in the west of the country (10.4%) and with the largest in the east (16.1%). This regional difference is reflected in the number of adherents of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”: in the west they are 26%, while in the east 19.9% and in the south even less — 14.1%.
Such a significant overall advantage of the OCU is questioned by the state statistics on the number of parishes and clergy. For comparison, you can see the analysis on our website “Is the ‘Orthodox Church of Ukraine’ mainly a church of Galicia? Witness of the state statistics” for June 2021 — https://www.academic-initiative.org.ua/en/2021/06/27/ocu_mainly_a_church_of_galitia/. At the same time, these differences indicate the probable skepticism of a large part of Orthodox believers, who still attend the worships at the UOC parishes, to the information policy of their own church leadership.
It should be reminded here that a significant part of the Razumkov Centre’s polls is the “mere Orthodox” group. It remains the largest in the south — 34.4%, but is also significant in the east (25%) and in the center (23.1%). Although this category of believers has decreased over the last year (in Ukraine as a whole from 26.8% to 21.9%), it remains very significant. It is known that the network of parishes of the OCU in the east and south of Ukraine, as well as in most of central Ukraine is rather poorly represented. This means that such “mere Orthodox” meet their religious needs in the parishes of the UOC. But either they deliberately avoid identification when choosing between the UOC and the OCU, or this identification is not important for them.
Important and new in the analysis of the Razumkov Centre is the relationship between declared identity and recognition of oneself as a member of a certain parish. After all, one can call oneself a believer of a particular denomination, without particularly practicing one’s religious beliefs. This is a common problem for Ukraine, as with a stated total number of “believers” of 67.8%, only 20.9% call themselves members of a certain parish.
If such a weak connection to a particular parish is quite expected by the “mere Orthodox” (5%) and “mere Christians” (7.1%), it is a significant problem for the leading denominations. In the UOC this figure is slightly better — 36.1% against 58.2%, and in the OCU it is only 25.8% against 70.9% of those who do not consider themselves members of a particular parish. In fact, this means that only a quarter of the declared members of the OCU have an opportunity or need to regularly attend church services of their denomination.
Most likely, this indicates a significant amorphous nature of the supporters of the OCU in the practice of their faith. For them, confessional affiliation is an ideological conviction rather than a spiritual need that can be realized in a concrete parish. This is indirectly evidenced by the data on radical exclusivism of believers. In fact, the share of those who are convinced that “only the religion I belong to, is true” is the largest in the UOC (16%) and almost twice as small in the OCU — 9.4%.
Further comparison of the data of the UOC and the OCU shows that the faithful of the UOC are more rooted in the parish life. In particular, the latter are much more likely to attend church services: “once a week” — 18.9% in the UOC against 10.1% in the OCU, and “more often than once a week” — 6.5% in the UOC against 3.4% in the OCU. The similar balance in favor of the UOC is in the question “Have you attended Church service last Sunday?” — 38.5% in the UOC against 25.1% in the OCU.
In recent years the level of trust to the Church as an institution as a whole has remained relatively stable. However, in 2019-2021 we can see significant differences in the trust to the hierarchs of the Churches. Several heads of Ukrainian Churches have significant positive dynamics: Epiphanius (from 38.7% to 49.7%), Filaret (from 28.5% to 34.9%), Sviatoslav Shevchuk (from 27.5% to 35.6%), and even the Moscow Patriarch Cyril (from 15.8% to 19.3%). Trust to Metropolitan Onufriy, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Pope Francis remains relatively stable.
In the last three years, in the public has been growing an impression that “the Church is playing a positive role”, in fact, the church has returned its positions that existed before 2018. In 2020-21, the positive attitude towards the Church increased from 39.9% to 49.5%. At the same time, a significant part of respondents believe that “the Church does not play a significant role” — 32.6% in 2021.
A significant number of the research’s questions [pp.71-80] concern the adequacy of Churches to respond to the challenges and problems of our time. In most cases, the answer here is “I do not know anything about their reaction”. Although on some issues — as upbringing of children and crisis of morality — the most believe that the Churches have an active position. In general, when comparing denominations, the OCU clearly has an advantage in such an “adequate reaction” (31.8%), while in other denominations it is significantly lower: 14.5% in the UOC and 14% in the UGCC.
The reverse side of such a general alienation from the problems of our time is the data on the meaning for existence of the Churches. According to respondents, the main goals of churches should be common prayers (47.7%), psychological support for people in spiritual crisis (47%) and assistance to the socially disadvantaged (30.5%). This means that, in general, Churches occupy a relevant niche in the public consciousness, which does not require them to address these “challenges and problems of our day”.
It is interesting to note that while the survey shows a general impression of the OCU as a church more open to the modern problems, the data of real personal experience testify in favor of the UOC. In the question “What kinds of social ministry of the Churches have affected you personally?” the UOC is gaining on average 1.5-2 times more support than the OCU: more psychological assistance (29.5% vs. 22.2% in the OCU), better developed religious education (16.4% vs. 10.8 % in the OCU), better protection of vulnerable groups — homeless and displaced persons etc. (14.3% vs. 5.3% in the OCU), more frequent financial assistance (8.6% vs. 4.3% in the OCU) and so further. Compared to the “adequacy of reaction” figures, where the OCU is clearly ahead, this probably means that the OCU is more likely to create a positive image in public opinion, while many UOC’ parishes are much more likely to provide real social assistance to specific needy.
An interesting situation can be seen in the answer to the question of whether “the Church should be nationally oriented”. If high rates are expected in the OCU in general and in the west of the country, the UOC in general and the central and eastern regions of the country have become significantly more nationally oriented. In the last year, the share of supporters of the nationally oriented church in the UOC has almost doubled (from 25.5% to 43.3%), despite the fact that in the south of the country the share of critics of this orientation has increased sharply (from 40.2% to 60 .6%).
The general trend of the last twenty years is a gradual increase in the share of those who advocate separation of the Church and the State. While in 2000 the supporters of this idea were only 36.4%, in 2021 they were already 49.3%. Such a position should warn the leadership of the OCU, because when answering the question “which churches do the authorities treat better?” the OCU with 65.2% is here an undisputed leader, while only 16.6% see the support of the secular authorities in favor of the UOC, and only 9.9% in favor of the UGCC.
Other data support the idea of ​​separating the Church and the State as well. In particular, it is a fairly stable position that “the Church should not interfere in the relationship between citizens and the state power”. During 2010-2021, this share ranged between 54.2% and 64.9%. The same trend is confirmed by data on the need to introduce the status of the “state Church” in Ukraine. Although in the last two years the share of “statesmen” among believers has increased from 9.3% to 17.9%, it remains significantly lower than the share of opponents of this idea — their number in the same period ranged between 57.1% and 59.9%.
Against this background the data on “wider involvement of the Church in participation in state or public rituals” look at first glance paradoxical. 41.7% of respondents are positive about this, while only 17.5% are negative. This probably means that respondents are more inclined to the symbolic presence of the Church in public space, but seek to limit its real impact on the state policy.
This review can be concluded with the question of the attitude of the faithful of different Ukrainian denominations to the faithful of other denominations. In general, there is an obvious skew between the attitude of the faithful of the UOC to others and the attitude of the faithful of other denominations to the UOC. This is probably the result of some informational harassment of the UOC in connection with its canonical subordination to the Moscow Patriarch, who lives in the “aggressor-state”.
To say concretely, in the UOC the potential of a positive attitude towards the OCU (42.4%) significantly outweighs the negative attitude (12.2%) with 33,1% of indifferent. Greek Catholics are seen also quite positive in the eyes of the UOC believers: 29.9% are positive, 41% are indifferent, and only 2.9% are negative. At the same time, only 28.9% of the faithful of the OCU have a positive attitude towards the UOC, led by Metropolitan Onufriy, 24.2% are indifferent, and 36.9% have a negative attitude. The attitude of the faithful of the UGCC to the UOC is distributed as follows: positively — only 10.1%, indifferently — 26.4%, and negatively — 52.8%.
In general, the attitude of the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church towards Roman Catholics is even more positive. Although the share of “indifferent” attitude (41%) or “did not think about it” (25%) is significant, almost a quarter (24.6%) are positive and only 2% express a negative attitude. This generally positive attitude of the faithful of the UOC to other denominations carries an important charge of ecclesiastical reconciliation and good neighborliness and far outweighs the share of those who think exclusively, as mentioned above.