Ukraine, March 2, 2022
Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine on February 24, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine and other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have called on the governments of both Ukraine and Russia to cease the fratricidal war.
The Holy Synod itself also recently issued a statement, again calling on Pres. Putin, as well as Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia to do everything possible to bring an end to the war.
Recall that especially in western Ukrainian dioceses, where the OCU and Uniate churches are more numerous than the UOC and Ukrainian nationalism is stronger and more violent, clergy are under great pressure to separate themselves from the Moscow Patriarchate.
There are also requests from several dioceses for Met. Onuphry to begin the process for requesting autocephaly, and number of dioceses have ceased commemorating Patriarch Kirill
According to the statutes of the Russian Orthodox Church, neither the Holy Synod nor even the broader Council of Bishops have the authority to grant autocephaly, but only a Local Council, which consists of bishops plus clerical, monastic, and lay representatives.
At the same time, there are voices within the Ukrainian Church calling for clergy to first pray, rather than succumb to emotion and get involved in such discussions on social media, including His Eminence Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye.
Perhaps the first to announce its decision to cease commemoration of Patriarch Kirill was the Sumy Diocese. A number of clerics from the diocese informed His Eminence Metropolitan Evlogy of their decision, and he in turn published the statement on Monday morning. It reads:
Already on the first day of the war, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine published an appeal to the flock, and also recorded a video message in which he unequivocally condemned the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation, fully supported the Armed Forces of Ukraine and called on the Russian leadership to stop this bloody madness. We are in full solidarity with His Beatitude and sincerely thank him for these important addresses filled with pastoral wisdom and responsibility.
At the same time, we are forced to admit with special sorrow that during these terrible days, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia did not condemn the aggressive actions of the Russian authorities in any way. In his address of February 24, 2022, Patriarch Kirill only called on “all parties to the conflict to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.” Thus, the war itself is not condemned here. The treacherous invasion of the Russian army into Ukraine is not only not condemned, but not even named. On Sunday, February 27, during the Divine service in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Patriarch Kirill read a prayer for Ukraine, in which he called what is happening in our country internal “strife and disorder.” And in the word after the Liturgy, Patriarch Kirill literally said: “God forbid that the current political situation in fraternal Ukraine, which is close to us, should be aimed at ensuring that the evil forces that have always fought against the unity of Russia and the Russian Church prevail.” Again, these words do not condemn the act of aggression committed against our motherland. Moreover, these words give reason to think that the Patriarch fully approves of forcing Ukraine to renounce state sovereignty and forcibly incorporate it into Russia.
“In this difficult situation, guided by the dictates of our pastoral conscience, we decided to stop commemorating the Patriarch of Moscow at the Divine services. This decision is also dictated by the demands of our flock, which, alas, no longer wants to hear the name of Patriarch Kirill in our churches,” the statement reads.
It goes on to explain that this is not an act of schism or canonical violation, as the canons only oblige a cleric to commemorate his local ruling bishop. “We remain part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” the clergy write, also noting that some priests already stopped commemorating Pat. Kirill years ago, though they remain firmly within the Ukrainian Church.
When published, the statement was signed by 28 priests and deacons.
Additionally, His Eminence Metropolitan Theodore of Mukachevo wrote concisely: “The Mukachevo Diocese of the UOC ceases commemoration of Patriarch Kirill at all Divine services.”
The same was announced by the Zhytomyr, Rivne, Vladimir-Volyn, Khmelnitsky, Lvov, and Volyn Dioceses—all located in western Ukraine. The Vinnitsa Diocese, also in western Ukraine, published news that the clergy have requested to stop commemorating Pat. Kirill, though Met. Barsanuphius’ response isn’t explicitly indicated.
According to comments from Met. Evlogy of Sumy, the clergy of the Tulchin Diocese are also blessed to not commemorate Pat. Kirill.
Moreover, the clerics of several dioceses are calling for the question of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Church to be raised.
The statement from the deaneries, clergy, and monastics of the Rivne Diocese to their bishop, published on the diocesan site, appeals to Met. Onuphry to convene the Ukrainian Synod to appeal to Pat. Kirill to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. The clergy of the Volyn Diocese also call upon their hierarch to raise the issue of autocephaly.
In the Vladimir-Volyn Diocese, the Diocesan Council called upon His Eminence Metropolitan Vladimir to in turn call for a session of the Ukrainian Synod to appeal for autocephaly, and their request was posted on the diocesan page with the hierarch’s support for their request.
In a video address, clergy of the Kiev Diocese also announce that they have stopped commemorating Pat. Kirill and they call upon Met. Onuphry to call a council and raise the issue of autocephaly.
However, not everyone in the Ukrainian Church is in favor of such calls. In a Telegram post yesterday, His Eminence Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye reminds clergy that their duty is to pray, and that now is the not the time to be having such discussions on social media.
Dear to my heart, the Zaporozhye flock! Today we are going through a difficult and sorrowful time for everyone. More than ever, now we must be one with God and with each other. The enemy of the human race seeks to do everything possible to divide and tear us apart. He did this with the help of the so-called “tomos,” then during the epidemic he sowed enmity between supporters and opponents of vaccination. Now he divides us by the hands of those pastors who bring confusion into the one flock of Christ.
There are different traditions in the Church. In some Local Churches, the clergy commemorate only the ruling bishop, somewhere they commemorate the primates of the Churches together with him. The point is not that, but that right now, when we must all pray together for the speedy establishment of peace in our long-suffering homeland, some clergymen, succumbing to emotions and proud passion, sow division. Is today the right time to have discussions on social networks about this or that? Is this our first concern at such a terrible time? Any war is the work of the devil. For me, not only as a bishop, but also as an Orthodox person, the most terrible thing is that people who came out of the same font, whose mothers pray in the same Church, on whose breasts the same crosses hang, kill each other. Both of them read the same prayers before the battle and turn to the same God. The heart of the Mother of God is rent, seeing all this madness of Her children! I call upon and ask the clergy of the Zaporozhye diocese: Stop sowing confusion among our flock; do not follow the devil’s lead. Remember, you will have to answer for every word before God! Today, more than ever, you must live up to your vocation—to show the image of Christ in this world: to pity everyone, to show mercy to everyone, to show sacrificial love, and not to get carried away with political games.