Yesterday, February 27, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine arrived at the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Podgorica, Montenegro, to a great outpouring of love from the faithful of Montenegro. Together with the local hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro, he led the latest weekly cross procession in defense of the Serbian Church against the machinations of the government, which seeks to confiscate Church property.
His Beatitude also spoke at a press conference in Podgorica today, offering words of encouragement to the Montenegrin faithful, borne out of his own experience of facing persecution from the state in Ukraine. He also emphasized that the great displays of faith in Montenegro in recent months are, in turn, an inspiration to the Ukrainian faithful.
We offer below the text of Metropolitan Onuphry’s initial remarks at the press conference:
Recently, events in Ukraine and Montenegro have been at the epicenter of the attention of the entire Orthodox world. We understand the situation your holy Church is in perfectly well, because our Church has experienced something similar and continues to experience it in part. In Church history, there have been times both of quiet growth and of martyrdom and confession. However, the Lord has always been with His people and has never abandoned His Church. We are confident that the Lord will not abandon His Church now and will help in the trials it is undergoing both in Montenegro and with us in Ukraine.
More than thirty years ago, after the fall of the communist regime, before the declaration of independence, a schism appeared in Ukraine, which, with the support of some government officials and politicians, exists to this day. Unfortunately, this schism has now gone beyond the bounds of Ukraine and threatens to divide all of world Orthodoxy. The Ukrainian schismatics, who were received into communion without repentance by a unilateral decision of the Patriarch of Constantinople, do not have Apostolic Succession. This not only makes Eucharistic communion with them impossible, but also profanes the Church of Christ.
The holy apostle Paul teaches us that Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).
It is regrettable that such unlawful actions violate not only the principles of Church conciliarity and Apostolic Succession, but also defile the moral image of the Church of Christ. In this regard, on behalf of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, I would like to express gratitude to your holy Serbian Orthodox Church for the canonical and Patristic position you have taken on the non-recognition of the schism in our country.
Despite the trials of recent years, our Ukrainian Orthodox Church not only survived, not only remained the largest Church of Ukraine, but became yet stronger. Today our Church numbers 53 dioceses, around 12,300 parishes, and 250 monasteries. More than 100 hierarchs, 12,400 clerics, and 4,600 monastics carry out their obediences in the fold of the Ukrainian Church, nurturing the multi-million-strong Ukrainian flock.
It has often happened, and it happens in our time, that politicians succumb to the temptation to interfere in Church life and to use the Church to their advantage. Politicians want to rule the Church, but the Church must not yield to these attempts. The Church cannot change to meet human demands. We understand that the Church is inconvenient for the sinful man who is used to live according to his passions. However, it’s not the Church that should change and adapt itself to the demands of sinful human nature, but the man himself should change, should try to become better, purer, and like unto Christ. The holy apostle Paul says: “Be ye imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (cf. 1 Cor. 4:16).
Dear Vladykas, brothers and sisters, all faithful of the holy Orthodox Church of the Montenegrin lands! We are pleasantly surprised by your numerous cross processions, which have already encompassed about half of the country’s population and which you hold to strengthen your spirituality and to defend your shrines. We are pleasantly surprised by your standing in the faith, your solidarity, and the rebirth of the Orthodox faith in Montenegro. For us, Orthodox Ukrainians, your example is very inspiring. We are here with you today not only to share in the joy of the feast, but also to confirm once again the truth of the Biblical words that say: A brother helped by a brother is as a strong and high city (Prov. 18:19).