Vinnitsa, Ukraine, March 30, 2022
While the canonical Ukrainian hierarch of Vinnitsa made an appeal for societal unity during wartime and an end to violent church seizures, his schismatic counterpart responded harshly, with accusations. For Simeon Shostatsky, a formerly canonical hierarch who left the Church to join the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine,” unity means joining the OCU.
Therefore, he is clear that he will not put a stop to church seizures, which he characterizes as the free choice of the faithful to transition jurisdictions.
His Eminence Metropolitan Barsanuphius of Vinnitsa and Bar, the canonical hierarch, wrote to Shostatsky on March 24. His letter is published by the Union of Orthodox Journalists.
The Metropolitan and several priests made a similar video appeal a few days ago.
Met. Barsanuphius begins his letter with a call for unity in defense of the nation: “At a time when the Russian Federation is carrying out armed aggression against Ukraine, we, Orthodox citizens of our state, must be more united than ever, defending the interests of our country, providing all possible assistance to our defenders, taking care of the wounded and injured, and providing shelter to refugees.”
Now is the time for Christian acts of mercy, His Eminence writes.
Unfortunately, many in Shostatsky’s diocese are acting not for unity, but for further division, the Metropolitan laments. Their actions prevent any chance of any meaningful dialogue.
Met. Barsanuphius then recounts three instances from March in which OCU activists disrupted Divine services, attacked priests, seized churches, and desecrated holy altars. At least 6 churches have been seized within the diocese since the fratricidal war began a month ago.
“I think that you certainly know about all the other lawlessness of your subordinates and activists,” he adds. Furthermore, such harassment against the canonical Ukrainian Church only helps Russia, His Eminence writes:
It’s also worth noting that while the authorities of the Russian Federation are trying to justify an armed attack on Ukraine, in particular by allegedly “protecting the rights of UOC believers,” such actions have all the signs of provocation in favor of the aggressor state, and create a reason in the information field to talk about harassment of the UOC by the OCU.
Therefore, Met. Barsanuphius urges Shostatsky to get his clergy under control, in order to prevent a societal split during the war.
Shostatsky published his rather harsh response yesterday. He begins by stating that he agrees that all Ukrainians should stand together at this time, but he is also clear that he has no intention of stopping the church seizures, which he characterizes as voluntary transitions on the part of the faithful.
The formerly canonical hierarch retorts:
It seems that in your imagination, priests and believers are serfs who do not have the right to express their own opinion, which would not coincide with the general line of leadership. You seem to genuinely believe that parishioners can't decide for themselves which jurisdiction they belong to. And finally, obviously, you find it hard to believe that ordinary people can take the initiative and exercise their rights, which, by the way, are guaranteed by Ukrainian legislation.
According to Shostatsky, every case that Met. Barsanuphius mentioned, and many others, are all examples of the faithful appealing to join the OCU “because your ministers [of the UOC—Ed.] refused to support their flock.”
In his view, Met. Barsanuphius is either misinformed or deliberately distorting the facts. Shostatsky even blames one of the canonical priests for the relevant incident because he said he prays for all soldiers. “You should conduct explanatory work with your subordinate so that he doesn’t pray for the invaders,” the OCU hierarch said.
He continues his rough tone:
You and your priests shouldn’t talk about mythical raiders or looters, as you now call believers who don’t want to remain part of the Moscow Patriarchate, the ideological instigator of Putin’s aggression. They don’t encroach on others, and in all cases first ask their rector to stay with the flock, and when he refuses, they naturally indicate to him to leave, not as a shepherd, but as a hired hand.
“And stop saying that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine allegedly divides people,” Shostatsky insists, claiming that UOC and OCU communities have actually united after the OCU managed to get their churches under their control.
And while Met. Barsanuphius pointed out that OCU attacks on canonical churches only help Russia, Shostatsky reverses the argument, claiming that Met. Barsanuphius’ appeals to law enforcement agencies and video appeals for the protection of the canonical churches in his diocese are a “contribution to the propaganda work of the Russian Federation.”
While all other churches in Ukraine have broken ties with the Moscow Patriarchate, only the UOC maintains its spiritual ties, Shostatsky emphasizes, again calling for Ukrainian unity, which for him means joining the OCU, although it’s an organization that is unrecognized by the Orthodox world at large.
“We must forget our past grievances,” Shostatsky entreats, inviting Met. Barsanuphius and all his clergy and faithful to join the OCU, with reference to the recent decision of the OCU Synod aimed at attracting canonical dioceses, monasteries, and churches.