Vinnitsa Province, Ukraine, September 3, 2021
While supporters of the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” are often successful at physically seizing church buildings, they largely fail to seize the people. And for those clerics and parishioners who have gone into schism, it’s not uncommon for them to later return to the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church under His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine.
Clergy of the Vinnitsa Diocese, one of the most embattled areas in Ukraine, have spoken recently about people repenting and returning to the Church.
According to Archimandrite Arkady (Senchukovsky), the secretary of the Vinnitsa Diocese, of the 20 clergy who went into schism together with the former ruling hierarch Symeon Shostatsky, four have already returned to Christ in His Orthodox Church.
Only two out of the nearly 100 hierarchs at the time—Shostatsky and Alexander Drabinko—decided to leave the Church and join the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” that was created by Patriarch Bartholomew and President Petro Poroshenko in December 2018.
In December 2018, there were 280 clerics in the Vinnitsa Diocese. The 20 that left with Shostatsky include one archimandrite, 16 archpriests, one priest, and two deacons. To date, three priests and a deacon have returned, Fr. Arkady said in a new report from Pravmir.
The schismatics have managed to seize 28 churches in the diocese, he said, but “in seizing a church, an unbeliever doesn’t become a believer. They did their job and left, and the church remained empty.”
The schismatics take the churches, but they fail to take the people, the diocesan secretary emphasized, and the canonical communities continue their liturgical life however they can.
And for those who remain in schism, the Church fervently prays, Fr. Arkady emphasized.
In the same article, Archpriest Viktor Mazurenko of Holy Dormition Church in the Strizhavka in the Vinnitsa Diocese talks about parishioners gradually returning from schism, even though the community is now forced to pray in a trailer that can hardly accommodate everyone.
St. Nicholas Church in the same village was also “voluntarily” transferred to the schismatic OCU, and now stands padlocked and emptied.
Fr. Viktor spoke specifically of one parishioner, the 90-year-old sexton Lev, who helped the former rector for more than 20 years, and initially followed him into schism. Thankfully, he later returned to the Church.
“As a priest, I’m struck by this man,” Fr. Viktor said. “He can barely walk, with a cane; sometimes he can’t get to church without help. But he comes to every service. ‘How could I leave? Who would help you?’ he says. He serves at the altar quietly, humbly, and almost always has tears in his eyes. A man of God. And we have many of them.”
Earlier this month, OrthoChristian reported on schismatics repenting and returning to the Church in the Volyn Province.