Metropolitan Kliment of Nezhin and Priluky, Head of the Synodal Department on Information and Education of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church spoke about the experiences of his Local Church in the winter of 2021.
For the last two thousand centuries, the news agenda of the Orthodox Church was governed by the Church calendar. Therefore, the major events of the first months of the year had to do with the Christian feasts. First was the Nativity of Christ, but this year’s celebration was affected by the epidemiological situation in Ukraine. Over six million faithful chose to watch this year’s festive services online as they were streamed live from the Kiev Caves Lavra with His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, presiding. Such a great number of viewers may be explained by the fact that many people are still worried about visiting crowded places and instead chose to view the services online.
The COVID-19 vaccination program has just started in Ukraine, but the public discussion of the issue of vaccination has been going on since the end of the last year. His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry has voiced his opinion in the sermons pointing out the necessity to make healthy life choices and stressing the need for the faithful to focus on repentance, our “vaccine to eternity.”
How often people use double standards when, instead of being afraid of sin, or what’s worse, of pushing God aside, they are fearful of things that are so obscure or have no affirmation in Holy Scripture.
Metropolitan Anthony of Borispol and Brovary, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s Chancellor, as well as Bishop Victor of Baryshevka, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church representation to European and international organizations, have not once issued official statements regarding vaccinations. The latter remarked in his commentaries that the international community insists on voluntary decision-making regarding the vaccinations that should eliminate any enforcement actions to accept or reject this medical procedure.
Anti-Church laws, church seizures, and the crisis in the OCU
The activities by Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, which has become known for its deep interest in the religious life of the country, were the focus of attention this year. There were three proposed laws registered there that, according to expert opinions, would one way or another attack the existence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and pave the way for the liquidation of its structures in the future.
Sadly, in the first months of 2021, we haven’t observed a decrease in attempts to seize the church properties of the canonical Ukrainian Church by schismatic structures supported by the Ukrainian state and various nationalist factions. One of the most recent examples was the expulsion of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church parish in Delovoye Village, Rakhov District, Transcarpapathia Province, by followers of the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”. Notwithstanding that the local news media announced the transition of Orthodox faithful to “OCU,” in truth, the local Orthodox believers simply weren’t allowed to enter the church they had built and, to this day, they are left with no other option but to conduct the Church services outside.
There is nothing new about this kind of behavior. From the 1990s till today, the schismatics have been resorting to the same kind of routine. Just as before and until now, there were usually neither new church communities founded as a result of church property seizures nor any Church services held inside the seized churches. It means most of the church takeovers are part of the political campaign aimed at spurring public reaction and creating the impression of “OCU” presence in society, whereas the actual number of faithful in this structure remains truly negligent. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have seized other churches but resorted to building new ones instead. What we see in reality is no one can build new churches and fewer yet who come to pray in the seized churches. According to the latest data, the “OCU” is in dire need of new priests and few of their followers are willing to join clergy ranks in this organization. There are even fewer of those willing to join the rank of monastics there. That’s why, in his annual statistics report for the previous year, Sergei “Epiphany” Dumenko didn’t even mention the monastics present in his religious organization. It was likely omitted to deflect attention from the deep crisis the “OCU” is currently going through.
On February 22, the council of representatives of seized churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church convened at the Refectory Church of Venerable Fathers Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves at the Kiev Caves Lavra. The clergy and the faithful representing practically all regions of Ukraine adopted an appeal to Vladimir Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, D. Shmigal, Prime Minister, D. Razumkov, Rada Speaker, and the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. In this appeal, they voiced the resolute demand to bring to an end the shameful practice of abuse of rights of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church believers by way of church seizures, the annulment of statutes, and the adoption of law initiatives violating the constitutional principle of freedom of worship and impeding the free exercise of any religion.
The new Serbian Patriarch thanks exclusively His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry
The election of Metropolitan Porfirije to the throne of Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church has become an event of great importance not only for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church but also for the Slavic Orthodox world in general. The Ukrainian and Serbian Churches are united with the longstanding links of brotherhood. In confirmation of this spiritual unity, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, accompanied by the archpastors of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, visited the Montenegro-Littoral Metropolis last spring as a sign of support of Metropolitan Amfilohije of blessed memory and his flock who were receiving threats from the local authorities in power at the time. After the blessed repose of Metropolitan Amfilohije and His Holiness Patriarch Irinej, the representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church took part in the funeral services of spiritual leaders of Serbia and, on behalf of Ukrainian faithful, expressed condolences to Orthodox Serbs. After Patriarch Porfirije’s election, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry sent a congratulatory letter expressing best wishes and hopes of further strengthening of friendly ties between the Churches of Serbia and Ukraine.
Meanwhile, another letter, written to the newly elected Serbian Patriarch by Sergei (Epiphany) Dumenko, the “primate” of the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, unrecognized by the Orthodox world, received widespread publicity. Although his message was handed over by the Ambassador of Ukraine to Serbia, the Serbian Patriarchate forwarded a letter of thanks exclusively to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry as the only canonical primate of the Orthodox Church on Ukrainian territory.
LBGT comic books
In January 2021, the religious community of Ukraine was outraged by the news from the Ukrainian Book Institute and the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine regarding the procurement of 1240 copies of comic books popularizing same-sex marriages geared for distribution at the school libraries and local children’s libraries. The representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have repeatedly appealed to the Ukrainian authorities about this issue, addressing it at the forum of the Civil Council at the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine as well. Our indignation is caused by the fact that the state funds are allocated to promote a gender-based ideology, while not one hrivnya was used to promote traditional family and moral values inherited by our society that, together with the Christian tradition, it had originally adhered to.
Escalation in Ukrainian politics against the UOC
We approach the beginning of Great Lent [at the time of this writing], the time allocated every year for spiritual exploits and known as a period of particular temptations for the Church. Over the last few months, we’ve seen an uptick in the activity of Ukrainian politicians in the religious sphere that could serve as a sign of forthcoming attempts at creating new problems for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. These concerns are largely caused by the preparations for Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople’s visit to Ukraine planned in August of 2021 in response to the invitation issued by the President of Ukraine. By all means, this visit will go along with the theatrical show of state support of the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine.” Besides, it can’t be done in any other way than the mistreatment of the canonical Ukrainian Church by the state.