Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye and Melitopol I’m often asked about what the faithful of our Church should do in such difficult times, when their rights and freedoms are so brazenly and cynically violated. After all, every day the news has information about new seizures of parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, about insults and threats towards the clergy and parishioners, and also about the illegal actions of the officials who rudely trample upon the norms of law 4128 by organizing votes with representatives of the territory, not the religious communities (for those who don’t know, I’ll give a simple analogy—imagine that the fate of your household is being decided not by the members of your family, but all the residents of the building where your apartment is). Clearly these transgressions are visible to the naked eye and the increase in their magnitude causes a wholly expected wave of indignation from the flock of our Church.
How should we respond to the wave of violations?
First, in everything, we must trust in God. Even in such a difficult situation, our future will depend on our prayers, our repentance, and our ability to be grateful to the Lord. As we know from the Psalter, A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the Lord upholdeth the righteous. But are we these righteous ones? Has not our multitude of sins alienated us from the mercy and protection of God? The future fate of our Church will be built on how we answer these questions, on what effort we put into correcting our lives. The main thing is to be with God. He decides all the rest Himself. Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it. I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.
Second, we must always remember that together we are a force. Do not be afraid to openly defend your faith with dignity. In this context, I recall the situation with the attempt to carry out provocations near the Elevation of the Cross Church in Vinnitsa. Several dozen radicals met several thousand faithful of the UOC who came out to pray for their Church. The enemies of the UOC couldn’t do anything. It wasn’t because some physical force was used against them. Against the background of the scale of this unanimous and firm standing in the faith, any attempts to attack the Church would expose their initiatives in a ridiculous and derogatory light. It’s the same as if a mosquito tried to drown out the powerful signal of a steamer with its buzz.
Third, we all have the full right to protect our freedoms on the basis of existing laws—first of all, filing claims in court, and moreover, submitting personal claims; for example—against every official and representative of the local authorities who grossly violates legislation related to the religious sphere (law 4128). It doesn’t matter if we lose the cases in Ukraine. The truth is on our side and it will be evident when the cases are transferred to the European Court of Human Rights. No one will be able to present the raiding as the “decisions of religious communities” there and they will have to bear responsibility for every crime. By the way, the first case on the violation of the rights of believers in the village of Pticha has already been transferred to the ECHR. I hope that we will have a precedent very soon that will become a harbinger of the coming triumph of justice for all those who have broken the law and participated in the repression of the flock of the UOC.
And finally, the faithful of our Church are citizens of Ukraine. We pay taxes, we serve in the army, we work in various spheres for the good of our homeland. We have the same right as other citizens.
Moreover, the constitution and laws guarantee us various legal methods for protecting our rights. One of them is the direct participation in elections.
Summing up, I like would to stress that you should always take an active position, especially in matters of paramount importance, which is exactly what the question of the defense of our faith is.
As Elder Paisios the Athonite once said: “We must do what can be done in a human way and leave to God that which cannot be done in a human way.”